Perhaps you have someone who manages your life savings—a financial planner or retirement consultant. You have given the manager authority to decide how your money is invested with the hope that he achieves a good return. You need that manager to be two things: honest and smart. If your financial manager is smart but corrupt, you have a problem. If your manager is honest but ignorant about investing, you also have a problem.
King David wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). God doesn’t own just our tithe. He owns one hundred percent of our money and time and skills. Our Father has entrusted us with those many blessings, which ultimately are still his, so that we might manage them for his glory. What will that take? Jesus himself answers: “the faithful and wise manager” (Luke 12:42). The stewardship God wants requires both faith and wisdom.
Stewardship requires faith. God’s gift of faith lets us recognize that everything we have actually belongs to him. Faith in all that Christ has graciously done for us is what makes us want to use all we have and all we are to give Jesus glory and carry out his mission.
Stewardship also requires wisdom—a sanctified shrewdness and prudence. God’s gift of wisdom helps us identify both challenges and opportunities and respond accordingly. Wisdom is what enables us to plan ministry that makes sense for our time and place.
One cannot practice God-pleasing stewardship if one is wise but lacks faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). But it is just as true that one cannot practice God-pleasing stewardship if one sets aside God’s gift of wisdom. “We don’t need to talk about the challenges. Let’s just trust God.” That is not demonstrating faith in God. It is putting him to the test. True stewardship requires both faith and wisdom.
Statistics are one of the tools believers use as they seek to steward God’s blessings wisely. Each year, WELS congregations track certain statistics: membership totals, attendance figures, ministrations, offerings, types of gains and losses, etc. That information can help churches with their ministry planning. WELS compiles and publishes the congregational information in the annual statistical report, which aids us as we plan our collective ministry. The complete statistical report is hundreds of pages of information. WELS Congregational Services annually produces a briefer statistical summary report.
The statistical summary gives us reasons to praise the Lord of the church. For example, the 2021 report notes the 6,500 new souls that the Holy Spirit pulled into our church body last year. We rejoice to see “back door losses” declining somewhat. We thank the Spirit for the generosity of WELS members, evidenced by record levels of offerings both for local and synodwide ministry.
The statistical summary also identifies challenges that deserve prayer and planning. For example, the 2021 summary confirms that WELS’ birth rate has crashed in the past half-decade, which will have multiple long-term implications. Weekly worship attendance is still 36,000 fewer than it was before the pandemic. We have more congregations today than we did in 1990, though we have 81,000 fewer members. That data helps us better understand the pastoral vacancy challenge as we discuss possible solutions.
“You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Corinthians 1:7). God has richly blessed our congregations and our synod with every type of resource we need to proclaim his gospel. May his Spirit give us the faith and the wisdom to steward those resources well.
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Author: Jonathan Hein
Volume 109, Number 08
Issue: August 2022