Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Money, Churches and Kenya

What follows is an introduction to the first of ten chapters in what has become a book on money and the churches of Kenya.  These chapters are presently at a publisher for consideration and which I am hoping will be published here in Kenya.  The more precise topic is that of stewardship, and in my research I discovered that almost nothing has been published on stewardship here in Kenya at either the academic or popular level in more than 30 years.  And given the fact that money is such a central, crucial and controversial issue in almost every local church, I find this astonishing.  There are a thousand Kenyans more qualified than I am to take this subject on, but in light of the ongoing silence on the part of academic colleagues and church leaders on this issue, and because the situation on the ground has become simply ridiculous, somebody needs to start the conversation and challenge our churches into something better.  So that’s what this is.

I presented the first chapter of my ‘book’ this past weekend at a conference sponsored by ASET (The African Society of Evangelical Theology, of which I was a founding member when we pulled it together back about seven years ago in my previous life as a lecturer at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology - now Africa International University).  The presentation I gave on Saturday is part of a wider body of research in which I cover the radical ways money and possessions are dealt with in the Old Testament.  I then look at the gospels where I bring out the revolutionary way Jesus deals with money and possessions and the implications for his followers then and now.  Next I look at the New Testament church where I discover that the first Christians took Jesus’ teachings seriously and where we see the impact of this on their life together and on their ministries and mission.  After this I then look at the early church, and consider the teachings about money given by the church fathers, and I discover that far from compromising the essential dominical and apostolic teachings about stewardship, the first 500 years of church history saw concerted efforts made to put Jesus’ teaching and the apostles example into practice.  And what was Jesus’ teaching about money and the church?  What was the example set by the apostles when it came to money and giving?  Many people assume that the correct Christian position on money and giving is that of tithing.  But tithing is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament epistles of Paul or anyone else.  And to the surprise and discomfort of many, tithing is nowhere mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels.  And even in the Old Testament Torah, the tithing commanded there is not the 10% ordered by many legalistic Protestant and Pentecostal churches.  Instead, OT ‘tithing’ required 23 1/3 % of one’s yearly income, a practice I see no one rushing out to keep.  So even in their attempts to be biblical about church offerings, many who insist on ‘tithing’ have missed the matatu completely.

The issue for Jesus, for the apostles, for the New Testament church, for the early church Christians is not tithing; rather, it’s stewardship.  By stewardship I mean the understanding that everything that I have is a gift from God intended by God for me to use for God’s purposes.  Steward is a slave word.  It was a position of responsibility in the master’s household.  I am a steward, which means I’ve been given responsibility to care for and make wise use of my master’s money, possessions and things.  And I will be held account for how I make use of the master’s possessions.  So I don’t give a tithe of my salary and then I’m done with my Christian obligations.  Rather I’m on call to help however I can with whatever I have, both time and money, in whatever the Master wants me to do. Stewardship is thus a fundamental element of Christian discipleship – I’ve been called out of my old life into a new life; I’ve been called to follow Jesus, to make him my Lord.  My life is no longer my own.  I have been bought with a price.  I make it my priority now to do what he tells me to do, to go where he tells me to go, to make myself and all I have available to Him and to His mission according to His priorities.   This is discipleship.  This is stewardship.  This is Christianity.  And yes, this is radical.

So after I cover the biblical and historical aspects of stewardship, I take on the twin plagues afflicting Kenyan Christianity.  The first is the issue of dependency, which is what I introduced in my presentation of my first chapter this past Saturday.  The second is the so-called health and prosperity heresy that is gutting our churches of recognizable Christianity.  Both dependency and the prosperity heresies destroy  stewardship and discipleship in our churches.  And both, for different reasons, have contributed to the life-threatening weakness of Kenyan Christianity.

A doctor cannot help the patient unless he first diagnoses what’s causing him to be sick.  And so once we see both dependency and the prosperity heresies for what they are, we can take steps to bring our churches and our fellow believers back into health, at least with respect to money and stewardship.  And so I give practical steps that individuals and churches can take to become good stewards of what God has given them.  And I give examples both of parishes that get stewardship right and are seeing some amazing things happen in their midst as a result, and examples of churches who are still doing money the old way, and the awful things that are going on there as a result.

In the penultimate chapter of my book I demonstrate the connection between discipleship and stewardship and to call my fellow ministers here in Kenya and my fellow church members to hear Jesus’ call to stewardship as fundamental to what it means to be a Christian, to repent of our wrong attitudes towards money and possessions, as if they were ours, and to give ourselves and all we have to Jesus to use as he wants us to do.

The last chapter shares an experience I had at an institution that demonstrates how pervasive the curse of dependency is among many churches and Christians and how difficult it is to lead someone, or a church, or an institution out of that perspective.

Those of you who pray, please do so, specifically that this project may be published and that it may be useful in God’s hands in the life of the churches of Kenya and in the lives of individual Christians.  Those of you who have gardens know that for your shamba to flourish, you’ve got to keep on top of the weeds, otherwise the shamba’s potential is utterly wasted.  Kenya’s churches have gone at least thirty years without anyone addressing the issue of money.  You can just imagine the shape we’re in.

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