The most neglected area of discipleship in the American church

Lately, I’ve witnessed a lot of pastors grappling with this question: “Why have most people in our churches not shown themselves to be significantly different than the people of the world?” I often wonder why they don’t consider the discipline of financial stewardship and generosity.

It’s heartbreaking. “We thought we’d taught them better,” they say. “Discipled them.” But, often, the fruit is not there. This has brought the topic of discipleship to the forefront of conversations among pastors I know and work with.

Interestingly, while there is much consensus around the need for a better process of forming true disciples in our churches, I’m not hearing any conversation about generosity, stewardship, or giving as part of discipleship. This seems to be the most neglected area of discipleship in the American church.

That’s a problem.

Over the last 50-60 years, we have allowed the conversation in the church about giving and generosity to become more transactional than transformational, especially in our worship services. In other words, it has become more about how to give (in person, online, through an app, etc.) and where to give (to this budget, to this project, to this church) than why to give.

I’m not saying the “how to give” conversation is unnecessary. But we have allowed it to monopolize the conversation to the exclusion of the “why,” which leads to the transformational part – the piece that makes it a conversation about discipleship.

Photo courtesy of Jim Sheppard

What God is after

A lot of people have a problem with the Church and money. They think the Church is after their money. Well, let’s clear that up.

God doesn’t want your money. God doesn’t need your money. God is not after your money. God is after your heart. And so is the Church.

God wants to see your faith increase. And so does the Church.

Once you are a Christ follower, your relationship with money is spiritual. What you do with it is financial, but your relationship with it is spiritual. Because of this, each act of stewardship of your money or possessions is an encounter with God. And that is a discipleship issue.

Our giving has the power to transform us. It can play a role in our sanctification. How we use it can make us more like Jesus. And that is a critical missing element in our discipleship strategies.

God knew money would have great power – even the power to draw our hearts completely away from him. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

He did not say, “You cannot serve God and Satan.” He said “God and mammon,” a word for money, wealth, and material possessions. Mammon is materialism and worldly gain. It is the evil influence pursuing wealth can have on us. More importantly, the New Testament personifies it as a false god. Matthew uses the untranslated word, as if it were a name (6:24).

Money has power, great spiritual power. It has the power to draw you away from the altar of the one true God to another counterfeit altar. Have you thought about that? We get hung up thinking, “The Church is just after our money,” and ignore the reality that our money has this tremendous spiritual power in our lives. The need for us to give, regardless of any church’s intentions, is not about the church; it’s about us and our relationship with our Lord.

If we want fully formed disciples, financial discipleship must become an integral part of our church strategy. Yes, we absolutely should focus on other marks of discipleship, but not to the exclusion of stewardship and giving. Generosity is one of the marks of a person whose heart has been profoundly transformed by Christ. Let’s not ignore this.

Our relationship with money is critical, and if we seek to honor God with it, he can use it to transform us into Christlikeness. And if we leave it out of our discipleship discussions? It has the power to destroy us.


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