Managing Pigs for God
Managing Pigs for God
By Lyle Miller
This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 21, No. 3 in 2019. You can access the full issue here.
The word steward comes from the words sty ward. The sty ward was the ward of the pigsty. As pastors, we know that we are called to steward the entire gospel, but we often feel more comfortable thinking of ourselves as shepherds of the flock than as wards of the pigsty. (At least, that’s what we are probably most likely to say in public.)
When I talk to pastors as a stewardship consultant, I often hear that they are uncomfortable preaching and teaching about stewardship, especially as it relates to money. I’ve heard them say that they do not want to come across as a money-grabbing televangelist, they’re uncomfortable talking about money to folks paying their salary, and they’re not comfortable with their own money-management skills.
Before I started work as a stewardship consultant, I served at a church as pastor of financial stewardship, so I understand those hesitancies. But I think there is often a deeper, underlying issue why pastors do not want to talk about money: not many pastors have a healthy, coherent theology of stewardship. As shepherds of the flock, we like to help people, and we resonate with scriptures that emphasize justice for the poor. But our reluctance to manage the pigs often comes from misunderstanding texts like “money is the root of all evil,” “don’t build bigger barns,” and “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” all passages often taken out of context or otherwise misinterpreted.
As a pastor, I found it helpful to use the following principles in guiding my teaching and preaching about stewardship.
God created everything, and everything belongs to God
God created everything, and everything belongs to God. In the Bible’s first verse, we are taught that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” We worship God as creator, redeemer, and sustainer.
When I give a gift to my son, it is his. I might hope that he uses it well and not irresponsibly, but ultimately, I have given up control and the gift is his. God does not give up control of anything. The time, the talents, the stuff that comes into our life—it is all God’s. And yes, the money that flows into and out of our lives—it is God’s as well.
I recognize, of course, that generosity is at the heart of who God is. After all, the first verse many of us memorized is, “For God so loved the world that he gave…” It’s almost impossible to talk about biblical stewardship without using the word give, but when I put money in the offering plate, I try not to think of it as giving back to God. Rather, it is recognizing that God is already the owner of everything in my life, and I want to acknowledge that ownership.
Generosity is an act of worshipping a generous God
Generosity is an act of worshipping a generous God. The first thing Noah did when he got out of the ark was to make an offering. We tend to think of how in Genesis 6, Noah took a pair of each animal into the boat, but Genesis 7 tells us that he took seven pairs of each of the clean animals. In chapter 8, upon returning to dry land, one of Noah’s first acts was to make an offering from each clean animal and bird.
I’m not an expert in manufacturing, but it seems to me that if one is told to “be fruitful and multiply,” the prudent thing is not to take 14.2857 percent of one’s raw materials and destroy them. But that’s what Noah does. He’s like many others in the Bible. We have a book with 150 psalms, but the most-named act of worship in the entire scripture is not to sing. It is not to preach or pray. The most common act of worship in the entire scripture is to make a “good and acceptable offering to God.”
We are called to manage well the resources God has entrusted to us
We are called to manage well the resources God has entrusted to us. The scriptures are full of passages describing how we should handle our money, and a particularly helpful text is in Proverbs 30:8: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need.” This is likely the verse Jesus was thinking of when he taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
That sty ward mentioned earlier didn’t own the pigs, but was called to manage the pigs well on behalf of the owner. In the same way, we don’t own the things coming into and out of our lives, but we are called to manage well, to steward these resources. We are called to manage our pigs for God.
Stewardship is a spiritual practice that draws us closer to God
Stewardship is a spiritual practice that draws us closer to God. Matthew 6:19- 21— some of the center verses of the center chapter of the Sermon on the Mount and what many of us consider the center of Jesus’ teachings—remind us that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We tend to think of this teaching in negative terms, emphasizing the ways that money and other things can draw us away from God. If I’m honest, the money I spend on MLB Network and going to baseball games with my family can turn my passion for the sport from a healthy diversion into an idol in its own way.
But it can work the opposite way as well. When I give my money to the congregation, when I am intentional about spending less than I earn, when I consider the ethical dimensions of how I invest, I am making choices that draw me closer to God’s heart, to the missions and causes that God cares about, and I am helping to bring God’s reign on earth.
These principles provided guidance to me as a pastor and continue to do so as I help other pastors find their voice in helping their congregations better understand stewardship, including their attitudes about the financial component. Pastors, I encourage you to make understanding stewardship a personal and congregational priority as you strive to tend your flock well.
Lyle Miller, M.Div., serves as a stewardship consultant for Everence, a financial stewardship agency of Mennonite Church USA and approximately 30 other denominations and faith groups.
Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at email@example.com.
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