when do converts become stewards?
by Jeff Crabtree
Find out more about Free Will Baptist Home Missions at www.homemissions.net.
Free Will Baptists love missions, but missions has changed! According to the 1938 minutes of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, the total missions expense for the first three years of our existence as a denomination was $6,650.18. This money was used for foreign missions. In 2007, Free Will Baptists spent $13 million through their missions departments. Sixty-one percent went to international missions efforts, 39% percent to church planting efforts in North America.
Budgets struggle to keep up with expectations. No longer are churches born out of great spiritual awakenings, tent revivals, old-time camp meetings, or brush-arbor meetings. No longer do we organize churches with a handful of people in a new convert’s living room. Instead, we ask missionaries to “plant” churches on strategically located property using state-of-the-art buildings and full-time, salaried staff. Only when a congregation is self-sustaining and indigenous will we extend the privilege of church membership.
We shouldn’t wonder that it is taking longer for each church to go self-supporting, as costs soar and the “competition” for dollars increases. The expectations for today’s Free Will Baptist church planter in North America are different than those for missionaries of previous generations.
The size of the church plant requires substantial income (a sizeable weekly offering) just to meet normal expenses such as mortgage payments, insurance, heating and cooling, and building maintenance.
Such a standard has a multimillion-dollar price tag. This raises the question: When should a new congregation begin to assume responsibility for kingdom costs? Or to put it another way, when does the new church plant become a steward?
Stewardship is management. Biblical stewardship is management of property that belongs to someone else. Like secular stewardship, biblical stewardship includes the expectation of a coming evaluation where one’s faithfulness as a steward is assessed.
This concept has a rich history in Scripture. Generally, the idea referred to a house steward, a servant who had been placed in charge of his master’s household. Abraham had a servant who was in charge of all he had (Genesis 24:2). Joseph was Potiphar’s steward, and he later had a steward of his own (Genesis 44:1).
The position was familiar in New Testament society. Jesus spoke of the “faithful and wise servant, whom his lord . . . made ruler over his household” (Matthew 24:45). Paul wrote that faithfulness is a requirement of stewards (1 Corinthians 4:2).
According to Jesus’ parables, all who follow Him are stewards, both immediately and for a lifetime. Each has been entrusted with the use and care of the Master’s goods. Stewardship is not a later calling or a higher level of discipleship. Jesus required all who accepted His message to follow him immediately (Luke 9:59-62) and to accept stewardship responsibilities as well.
The stewardship responsibilities of new converts can be found in Jesus’ instructions to the 70 (Luke 10:1). Jesus not only required these evangelists to go without a “purse” (Luke 10:4), he also commanded (Greek, diatasso; rendered “ordained” in the KJV) those who believed their message to support these kingdom laborers as they continued spreading the gospel. Jesus went on to say, “The laborer is worthy of his hire,” a statement that legitimized the gospel-spreading ministry as worthy labor, i.e., labor worthy of remuneration, and also placed immediate obligation on believers to financially support those who spread the gospel.
Jesus practiced this lifestyle Himself. According to Luke’s record (8:3), followers of Jesus paid His living and ministry expenses as He traveled from city to city. Scripture contains no indication that Jesus earned money from secular employment after He began his public ministry. It appears that He relied totally on the support and ministry gifts of followers.
All believers have not accepted this teaching and example of Jesus. For example, while some early Christians were quick to support Paul’s ministry, even multiple times (Philippians 4:16), others were hesitant (see Philippians 4:15 where Paul says that no church in Macedonia gave except the church at Philippi). Sadly, the same is true today.
Three Stewardship Principles
Paul addressed this problem by appealing to Old Testament principle and practice and then to Jesus’ teaching. First, the Old Testament principle is found in the prohibition to muzzle animals as they work (1 Corinthians 9:9; Deuteronomy 25:4). This, according to Paul, was written primarily for human laborers, not oxen. All laborers have the right to expect to enjoy fruit from their labors (1 Corinthians 9:10).
Second, the Old Testament practice (founded on a direct command of God) was for temple workers to receive the tithes given by worshipers. These tithes were given to the Levites as wages for their work in the temple system. Without this, Israel’s vast religious system would have been impossible to maintain (see the records of Nehemiah 13:10 and his contemporary Malachi 3:8, 9). The requirements were far too many for volunteers to keep up with, so God ordained a payment plan to support full-time temple workers.
Third, Paul says that Jesus set up the gospel ministry, the New Testament worship system, in the same way. He writes that in the same way the “Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). In other words, the tithes and offerings of Jesus’ worshipers are the source of the gospel minister’s income even as the tithes and offerings of the Old Testament Israelite worshipers provided income for the Levite temple workers.
Taken together, the Scriptures teach that (1) God’s worship systems in both the Old and New Testaments have regular and ongoing financial responsibilities; (2) both Testaments include a plan to address these financial expenses; (3) every believer, from the point of conversion, has stewardship responsibilities, namely to assist in paying the expenses of gospel ministry, and (4) all congregations, even newly formed ones like those at Philippi and Corinth, are to help underwrite the cost of the continued spread of the gospel.
In the early days of the Church, even before there were buildings and budgets, there were local congregational obligations. Each congregation was obligated to support their local ministers, itinerate ministers, traveling evangelists, and missionary church planters.
The Question Answered
So, when do the new converts and new churches become stewards? New converts become obligated at conversion to support further spread of the gospel. And based upon what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the same goes for all congregations—even new ones. Salvation is free, but spreading of the gospel is not without expense. Obedient stewards cover those expenses.
About the Writer: Jeff Crabtree and wife Donna serve as home missionaries at Serenity Free Will Baptist Church in New Brunswick, Canada. Read more about the work of Free Will Baptist Home Missions at www.homemissions.net.