It is an open secret that money is a taboo in the church, especially in our North American context. This reminds me of two key principles from Walter Brueggemann’s Money and Possessions because of their impact to my pastoral leadership: God constitutes the source of gifts and all goodness (First Principle) and human beings have been trusted to be faithful stewards of God’s gifts (Third Principle). These two principles are important not only for our Christian life but also for our development as leaders in the church. One thing is claiming that God is the source of everything, and another is living this truth out. It is my belief that many problems in the church which involve money seem to start with a misunderstanding of these basic principles. When a church lacks financial resources, leadership worry and tend to forget that God is in control and is the source of all good resources on earth. A good example that illustrates this issue is the paradoxical comment an elder once said in a consistory of a congregation that was facing serious financial problems. When the pastor of the church invited all members of the consistory to pray for finances, this elder replied: “I cannot believe we have reached this sad point of praying for money.” Yes, this was the elder’s answer. For him, praying for finances was the ultimate resource to get the money that the church needed. In other words, prayer for him was an act of desperation!
Brueggemann finds support to the First Principle in the Genesis narrative of the creation in Gen. 1-2 as a whole. The passage of Ps. 24:1-2 is also significant for our purposes, although Brueggemann uses this verse for his Second Principle, not the First one. In any case, both passages highlight God’s autonomy (something Brueggemann does discuss within the first principle). The Psalmist writes, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all is in it.” God is not only the creator of all living creatures but also the owner and provider on earth. God owns everything and has made available “all commodities of value [which are derived from] the generativity of the earth.” (p. 2) Among those commodities are found money, gold, silver, and alike. Important to note is that possessions, for Brueggemann, should be understood as “gifts and not achievements or accomplishments.” (p. 2). The implications of this principle are many.
In my view one important implication is that God provides our needs according to his providential care and not according to what we think about those needs. There’s a difference between the two. We might tend to overthink our situations, especially those dealing with finances. Sometimes we downplay the blessings we already have. When I tend to forget the principle that God is the source of everything good and that He provides us for our needs, I think about how blessed I am. Emphasizing the providential care of God in our lives, especially in our finances, is something I would definitely highlight in my pastoral leadership. In this regard I think the church ought to be reminded of this emphasis frequently. This could help the way church members view and understand finances, especially how the Scriptures inform us about money and possessions. As it is stated in Phil.4:19 says, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” As I understand this passage, God is proactive in taking care the church’s needs, including finances. Although this verse has tended to be misunderstood overemphasizing the individualistic interpretation of this verse, Paul is indeed talking about the church as a collective group. Because the Philippian church had previously invested in the Kingdom of God (they had riches in glory), God promises He will provide the Philippian financial needs as well. What this passage highlights is the covenantal dimension that exists between God and us as the body of Christ and the connection between obedience and prosperity that Brueggemann also discussed.
Related to the First Principle, Brueggemann offers the Third Principle, which he deduces it from passages such as Psalm 24:1-2, 2 Samuel 3:12, Isaiah 22, and Luke 12:16-21. The Third Principle claims that God, as the sole owner of everything, has entrusted human beings to manage His gifts in a responsible way. Brueggemann deduces his principle from these passages, with an additional support of the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:27-28. Brueggemann recognizes the significance of the Third Principle for the church. He believes that from a practical view, it is this principle “that stands behind all thinking about stewardship.” (p.4)
Something many Christians tend to confuse is the meaning of the term “dominion or subdue” of Gen. 1:27-28. Dominion, here, is connected with the divine command to subdue the earth. A literal meaning of the Hebrew verb is problematic: it can mean “rape, dominate, rule” when the context is negative. In a positive statement, as the one we have in Gen. 1:27-28, the other meaning of the verb is related to stewardship. This change of meaning is useful when liking the cultural mandate to money and possessions as Brueggemann does. The importance of the stewardship principle is that it serves as a solid framework to talk about possessions within an ecclesiastical environment. That is, God expects us to be good stewards of His resources.
In my view part of the problem the church has is interpreting stewardship in a narrow and limited sense. Unlike English, in many languages, including Spanish, the terms “management, administration, stewardship, and alike” is the same, something that broadens our understanding of the stewardship principle. In my application of the cultural mandate to finances, a good stewardship in the church is more than supervising the finances. It also deals with the distribution and guidance of all finances (fundraising, uses of the money, etc.). I think the more holistic our concept of stewardship is, the better we can integrate biblical principles about money and possessions. Such an integration is significant for me as a church leader. A good theology of money and possessions not only highlights the stewardship principle but also the role of all church members in developing such an understanding. Being good stewards of money is not the responsibility of the leadership teams only, but of the whole church. In my vision of leadership, aspects such as biblical stewardship and a communal-informed vision of money will definitely help church leaders church to overcome false beliefs of finances possessions found in our society and avoid many of the reason pastors avoid money discussions.