When We Steal From God Without Knowing It

by | October 9, 2017

Stewardship may be about much more than you think. The Parable of the Talents is a great lesson in what it really means to be a steward.

Here’s how the story starts:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents and to another one talent, each according to ability.  Then he went on his journey.” – Matthew 25:14-15 (NIV)

In reading these verses, some important themes pop up right away:

  1. The master owns the money. “Talent” is used as a currency term. The story is about money. Everyone knows the master owns it.
  2. Each servant has the trust of the master. The master’s business depends on the servant’s productiveness in his absence.
  3. Each servant has freedom to manage their money. With it, the have an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.
  4. The master chooses the unequal distribution of talents. Not equal gifts, but equal opportunity.


We are Stewards of the Master’s Resources

The story continues:

“…the man who received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.

The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master, he said. “ you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ The man with the two talents also came. ‘ Master,’ he said, ‘ you entrusted me with two talents; see I have gained two more.’ His master replied, Well-done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” – Matthew 25: 16-23 (NIV)


Each steward had the potential for equal reward.  The master gave the first two identical commendations, even though they didn’t have equal amounts. They learned that is was not the amount of resources in their possession that determined their reward, but rather how they used the resources. Such great news for us:

We can be successful stewards even without great wealth.

What we do with what we have been given? This is the focus of God in our lives. We are not only responsible for the use of money given but also for the use of all gifts given to us (Body, Mind, Spirit, Time, Talent).


Stewardship is About God Using Money to Partner With Us

What about the one who hid the talent?

“Then the man who had received this one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and I went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sewn and gathered where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one that has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” –  Matthew 25:24-30 (NIV)

Each steward had a personal responsibility and a partnership with the master. We face the same question: “What did you do with what you were given?”  The third steward knew that all he had belonged to the master, but he made a choice to accomplish nothing. This action was a disappointment to the master. How do we feel about the master’s response? Was the response fair?

This story teaches us that God shares wealth with us so we can participate in a partnership—an important relationship.  Consider the actions of the steward who hid the talent.  He had not wasted the master’s resources on wrong things, yet the master was angry. The steward had not done much wrong; he just had not done anything.  Would the master have been less angry at a bad investment?


Doing Nothing Makes the Master Angry

It seems there was something in the attitude of the steward that brought on the condemnation. Could it have been the disregard for his master’s business?  The steward knew the master’s business interests yet disregarded them. He had the ability to do the job but lacked the willingness.  He simply made no effort to participate in the partnership. The story suggests to do nothing is worse than to do the wrong thing! In doing nothing, he became a thief.

When do we become thieves?  When we as stewards assume the rights and privileges that belong to the master.

The Old Testament Malachi proclaimed, “You have robbed God.” The people denied it, asking, “how have we robbed God?”  They were acting as if their possessions were their own property. There is a significant distinction between possession and ownership. It is the difference between stewardship and ownership. This is a serious and subtle danger to which every steward is subject.


Just Being a Steward Isn’t Enough

Can I be trusted? God has called us into partnership. How are we doing in such relationship?  It can never be enough to simply believe we are stewards of God’s resources. We are to live out our belief in a trustworthy relationship as stewards working to be productive partners with God in this journey of life. Our behavior must reflect our belief.

We’re more than stewards; we’re partners.


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Everything you need to inspire generosity.


Three Prescriptions for Curing a Scarcity Mindset

Do you hear things like, “Money is tight! We need to tighten our belts?” Or “People are giving all they can. We can’t ask them to do more?”


If the answer is yes, then your church may be afflicted with a scarcity mindset.


In this video, Kristine Miller, CFRE, Partner and SVP at Horizons, will discuss ways to overcome a scarcity mindset and the fear and hesitancy created by a glass-is-half-empty attitude. Also, you will learn how to build a culture that celebrates God’s abounding blessings and grows generous hearts.


In this next video in Horizons’ Giving Intelligence Series will help your church giving and move to the next level of generosity.



Horizons’ Next Level Generosity (NLG) framework can help you create and carry out your Generosity Battle Plan. Beginning with a comprehensive 360-degree analysis, your Horizons Ministry Strategist will create a clear and effective strategy for shifting your generosity culture. The result is more money for ministry and authentic life-change for your congregation. To arrange a free 20-minute consultation, contact info@horizons.net


Did you miss the first installments in Horizons’ Giving Intelligence Series? Find them in our free Giving365 vault by clicking on the Giving365 logo below.

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To find out more about Kristine Miller, click here.


What Church Leaders Need to Know About New Giving Trends

Ten years ago, in Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, I voiced my concern that giving to religion, as a share of overall giving, had fallen significantly over the last several decades and was half of what it once was. At the time, the giving trends indicated that if we did not change the way we do overall stewardship in the church, the decline in giving would continue. Well, now it has happened!


For the first time ever, giving to religion as a percent of overall charitable donations has dropped below 30%.


For 2018, Giving USA reports gifts to religious organizations are down 1.5% to just 29% of total charitable giving. Total giving to charity rose to 427 billion dollars, but this came more from foundations and corporations and not from individuals–the church’s primary revenue source. On average, Americans gave away only 1.9% of their disposable income.

These giving trends are as alarming to me today as they were back in 2008 when I first rang the bell of concern. Financial resources are not our mission, but they are the fuel that propels the mission.


Without money, there can be no mission and no ministry in these days when the faith is struggling around the world.


What caused the latest decline? Some will blame the last tax law changes that significantly increased the standard deduction and thus reduced the number of people who itemize. Others will say that it just reflects that fewer people are in church and the world is more secular. I do not buy into the theory that the causes are all external and thus any solution must be external. I still hold to the conviction that the solution is within the church to save the church, but we have avoided the hard work necessary to make the cultural adjustment to get it done. In the strongest possible way, I am encouraging you to re-examine how you are teaching and preaching financial stewardship. How are you moving your church away from the stewardship methods of the 20th century and responding to a new 21st century culture?


How will you respond to the latest giving trends?


You do not need the new 2019 annual campaign in a box. You may not even need a capital campaign. What you do need is a systematic long-term culture shift that creates not just funds for the budget but generous hearts and minds. As I shared in my latest book God vs. Money, you need a Battle Plan.

Right now, many of you are thinking about what you are going to do for a fall stewardship emphasis. That is fine, but that is not going to fix the problem. Let me encourage you to form your fall campaign committee and put them to work if you must, but at the same time form another group that will go to work on a Battle Plan for generosity to change your whole church. If you are brave enough, go ahead and start to execute the plan ASAP and just skip the old approach. Why would you think just doing the same old thing will produce a different result? You may not be able to change America’s giving to religion, but you sure can do something to change your congregation to be generous followers of Christ.


Horizons’ Next Level Generosity (NLG) framework can help you create and carry out your Generosity Battle Plan. Beginning with a comprehensive 360-degree analysis, your Horizons Ministry Strategist will create a clear and effective strategy for shifting your generosity culture. The result is more money for ministry and authentic life-change for your congregation. To arrange a free 20-minute consultation, contact info@horizons.net


The Top 5 Ways To Accidentally Reduce Church Giving

In my over forty years of ministry, I have never heard a pastor say he/she has more money than the church needs. I have certainly found pastors who shared that their people were very generous or that they had out-given their budget, but never that they had too much. The mission is too big and the need is too great to not always need more. Yet every year I come across dozens of pastors and laypeople who are doing things that absolutely reduce church giving.


Are you doing things right now that unintentionally reduce giving in your congregation?


Here are five ways to accidentally reduce church giving:


1 – Emphasizing numerical targets versus missional objectives.

I have seen so many pastors encourage their people to give “an increase,” “do 3% more,” or “help us balance the budget.” The facts are that people today just do not care whether you achieve some arbitrary target or not. They want their gift to have impact and change lives. Spend your energy sharing with people how their giving to the church will make the world a better place.


2 – Publishing church giving figures in the bulletin and/or newsletter.

This sends a signal to all that this is what you really are about. You are wanting to bring in more than you send out. It says nothing about your mission and it usually appears to reflect an unhealthy church because you are behind for the year. Facts are 90% of all churches are behind until December. It is normal, not a sign of impending death. Just stop doing it.


3 – Using a line item budget to communicate with the congregation.

There is nothing about a line item budget that helps your people understand what you are truly doing in ministry. From appearances it seems that all that you are supporting are some people and a building. Line item budgets should be used only by the finance people. Distribute a missional budget to the congregation.


4 – Apologizing or joking prior to delivering sermons on money.

When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf that the people had made to worship, he did not make a joke about it or apologize for what he was about to say. He was forceful and direct and they knew he meant what he was saying. There was no misunderstanding that he considered this a very serious matter. They had put worshipping a golden calf ahead of worshipping God. Your people are doing this every day that they choose money over God. It is a big deal. People need your help to give up that which they love more than God. Quit acting like it really does not matter.


5 – Thinking that “not knowing” what people give is a righteous act.

For some reason pastors think people will think more of them if they deny themselves knowledge of individual gifts. This behavior will keep you from putting the right people in leadership, being able to diagnosis spiritual health in persons, and thanking people when they truly need and often expect thanks.


Now, go forth and quit doing those things that hurt the Kingdom!




Have you missed the first installments of the Giving Intelligence video series?

If you’ve missed the beginning of the Giving Intelligence series, they can be found on Giving365 which is a free subscription from Horizons Stewardship that includes this new video series, blogs, ebooks, webinars, and more! Subscribers receive bi-monthly blogs including information on best practices, the latest trends in giving, and helpful tools to use immediately to grow giving. In addition, Horizons’ team of Ministry Strategists will share their insights and expertise through a series of webinars. To access more of Horizons’ free stewardship resources, click the Giving365 logo below.
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The blog was updated from the original published April 29, 2017.




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