Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, is known as a pioneer of holistic stewardship ministry. Founding Senior Pastor Robert Morris’ The Blessed Life has become one of the best examples of a sermon series that really digs into the substance of biblical stewardship. As a result, Gunnar Johnson, executive pastor of financial stewardship at Gateway, is consulted regularly by pastors nationwide on crafting a stewardship ministry that becomes part of church culture. Gunnar spoke at the Stewardship Conference last November and shared his wisdom with more than 260 pastors. Here’s his advice.
On his day-to-day duties as a full-time stewardship pastor:
At Gateway, I’m a leader of leaders. I train staff to put stewardship into all areas of ministry, whether it’s men’s groups, women’s groups, all age ranges. We run a lot of ministries, so I need to train about 200 stewardship volunteers. I also train a lot of churches outside of Gateway, so my job is really to influence the culture to live this intersection of faith and finances.
On how he built a stewardship ministry from scratch:
When I came to Gateway in 2005, Pastor Robert Morris had preached a series called The Blessed Life, and he stirred up a lot of interest in giving and stewardship. I was actually helping Gateway as outside personnel, as a pastor at another church who went out and helped other churches. Pastor Robert had this interesting problem. All these people were trying to figure out how to be discipled to be better givers and better stewards. And he didn’t know what to do with them. So we looked across the church landscape.
Gateway was about 3,000 people at that time, and we divided everybody into four socioeconomic groups: struggling (people hurting financially); stable (one paycheck away from a mess); solid (folks who are doing fine, like a lot of us); and surplus (families who have wealth). We knew we had to minister to these groups in different ways, not favoring one group over another. So we designed a full spectrum of comprehensive stewardship ministries to each level.
I began pulling leaders together, and I found that God had already placed in our midst people who knew that was their calling. All I’ve had to do is give them the track to run on.
On utilizing volunteers:
If the church’s leadership team can come together and decide what they want for their people, you can get a vision for what needs to happen. Then simply look around the staff, find people who know folks who are interested in money—not necessarily financial professionals, but not excluding them. Then you can gather people who are fans of this type of ministry, lay out your vision and say, “How do we disciple to get people here?”
Obviously pastors have ideas, but the reason you throw the question into the room is once they have thought up the solution, you now have buy-in because they own it. They need to figure out what works best. Is it one-on-one counseling, a seminar, a sermon series, a class through groups, stand-alone classes in Sunday school?
I work with 200–300 churches per year, and I have not found a church yet that would say, “I don’t have anyone who can do this as a volunteer.” I spent five or six years as a volunteer when I started.
On what’s worked best to make stewardship part of the culture:
There are four things that need to happen to create culture change: You have to preach on it, teach it, celebrate it and apply it.
The church that doesn’t apply this in the corporate setting looks like a hypocritical church. People look at the church and say, “You want us to get out of debt but you’re not willing to do it?” So you have to apply it corporately as well as individually, among staff, volunteers and the congregation.
Concerted efforts work well for Gateway. Here’s an example: Pastor Robert is giving his sermon series The Blessed Life in January. He teaches this life message about every three years. We’re going to do a full-on groups ministry on the weekend services, and then we have 23 different stewardship classes that our team has written that will go out. I’ll do a seminar midway through The Blessed Life called Generous Life Journey. We have all hands on deck. We’re ready to do this, and it’ll make a massive change in our church.
On landmines to avoid:
Stewardship tends to be seen as a program and not a part of the culture. Stewardship ministry is like the contact lens on the vision of the church. It clarifies everything. But if it’s viewed as just one of 40 initiatives, then it becomes pigeon-holed off to a corner and won’t have cultural impact. Now how do you avoid that? If the leadership team of the church is not willing to go there personally, they should not bother teaching anything on money or generosity in the church. Everything rises and falls on leadership, so, pastors, it’s up to us to model it, because, like Rachel Cruze says, more is caught than taught. So I have to be willing to do that.
I’m on the executive team of the church, and all of our discussions are stewardship discussions because everything we do either builds or takes away our credibility.
And let me differentiate between something. Generosity and stewardship are two sides to the same coin. Stewardship is the management of financial stuff, while generosity is the giving. People get excited and say, “Man, let’s get some giving going in the church. That’ll help the budget!” That’s good, but you also have to have the management side.
Want to learn more about stewardship ministry? Visit our Stewardship Ministry page for resources, encouragement and more practical wisdom.