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As is my habit, I sat at the back of the room where the seminar was taking place. Close to the door, you know. Ready to be first out the door to get to the airport on time. The last speaker had launched into his talk, but it was after lunch and I was sleepy. I thought I would doze through his presentation, but by his third point, I was not only wide awake, I was doing something I rarely do. I was taking notes.

The speaker shared how he had been led of God to start the business offering the seminar I was attending. To leave his secure ministry position, God showed him that he would have to sell his house to launch this new venture. It never crossed his mind that he wouldn’t. His wife was all in because she knew this was what God wanted them to do. Their freedom in stewardship over what God had given them is still making an impact on the American church today as this business continues to offer great resources, training and tools for growing churches.

What he said that day was fairly simple. But among those simple ideas emerged part of the answer to why so many church leaders are frustrated by the stewardship of those in their congregations.

Why is it that helping people to become generous in giving is such a challenge for us? We know that God wants this for His people—that they have generous hearts. And we have told them this in many ways over and over again. But for some reason, too many never seem to become financially invested in the kingdom work where God has placed them. Churches end up financially tight, unable to do the ministry they wish to do. I am not speaking here of sometime extravagant plans of church leaders which are more about their glory than God’s. This is about care for the poor and oppressed, the sowing of the gospel, the support of those we ask to minister vocationally, the making of disciples. It is about furthering wisdom and justice in a world system built on indifference and privilege, corrupted by sin.

Here’s what I learned. Leaders often are more focused on what believers do—or don’t do—in the area of stewardship than why they are doing it. We should be concerned about what is going on inside their hearts. As I woke up and listened, I realized the speaker was talking about the transformational journey that leaders need to nurture in believers. We best help the people we serve to grow in the area of stewardship when we show them where their heart is and where it needs to be.

He then talked about the five stages of giving that disciples need to see for themselves. These are 1) tipping, 2) gratitude, 3) tithing, 4) vision, and 5) love. Tipping is the starting point for most disciples who see that the rest of the church is serving them, so they need to chip in to cover costs. Gratitude comes as they begin to realize the hope of the glory of God in which they stand. They are free and thankful. Their giving becomes a little more consistent, more of an offering than a tip. Tithing is the stage where disciples begin to feel the weight of duty. They give because they see this practice in the Scripture and notice it as a mark of maturity.

Vision moves them beyond duty. They see the work of the kingdom with fresh eyes. There is something God is doing that is bigger than they, maybe through their own local fellowship or a mission to which they are drawn. Their desires change. They see God furthering the gospel in the world. Sometimes it is about buildings, sometimes missions to the lost, sometimes bringing health—physically, emotionally or spiritually—to the needy. Their hearts are captured for something so big that God is doing that they are ignited and want to personally invest in it. This kind of maturity goes way beyond ten-percent thinking.

But the speaker did not stop there. Love, he pointed out, is the essence of the law. It defines what it means to be holy like God is holy. God beckons believers to Himself, to love Him and to respond to His prompting without hesitation. Love causes us to be extravagantly generous in the same way He gave up His Son for the world.

What leaders can miss is being after the mechanics of giving instead of nurturing the hearts of believers towards maturing in their love for God. We want healthy givers. We might forget to ask what causes people to become healthy. Or challenge people to become healthy before we ask them to give. Financial investment in Jesus’ kingdom flows from the inside out.

If you have never thought about approaching biblical stewardship this way before, let me suggest a first step for you who lead in local churches. Teach these stages to your people. Explain what it means to grow up in the faith. Then ask them to consider what stage they are in. And ask them what they would want God to do in them to move them to the next stage.

There is a second issue for you as a leader. Think about the church’s stewardship of what is being given. Evaluate where you spend the treasure invested by the people. Is the church on mission? Is it moving forward because of a God revealed vision or is it just doing a week to week ministry? Knowing the answer to this matters. You will never guide people to take the next step in the grace of giving unless they see that what they give to God is handled with fidelity and a focus on what matters.

I learned. And I made my plane.

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