A BRIEF HISTORY OF STEWARDSHIP MINISTRIES
Since the 1840s and 1850s, Seventh-day Adventists have recognized the importance of responsibly managing God’s resources. Because the “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” and “it is God who giveth thee power to get wealth,” Adventists considered stewardship as a holy responsibility, encompassing the whole person and touching every aspect of life. Since the Church’s mission was to share the gospel with the world, the support of the ministry through tithing was also an essential facet of stewardship.
To educate and encourage Church members on effective stewardship, the Stewardship Ministries Department was originally established at the Autumn Council of 1958 as the Church Development Service with W. J. Hubert as leader. Its offices were located in the General Conference in Washington, D.C., and its primary duty was to provide fundraising counseling and direction to churches within North America.
During the General Conference Session of 1966, an actual department was organized under the name of Church Development Service. The Spring Meeting saw a vote to appoint a representative committee to give study to the name and also the work of the Church Development Service. At the Annual Council of 1967, the department was officially established with the official name Stewardship and Development.
The Annual Council of 1971 made provision for church stewardship leaders to be called secretaries and departmental directors. In 1975, the Church Manual Committee further recommended to more clearly define the department of Stewardship and Development and also the role of the Stewardship Secretary. By an action taken at the General Conference Session of 1980, the Stewardship Department was merged with the Ministerial Association, the name becoming Ministerial and Stewardship Association. In 1986, the Stewardship Department was attached to a larger department called the Church Ministries. The department was reorganized and regained the name, Stewardship Department, in 1995.
In 2010 at the General Conference Session in Atlanta the Church voted to change the name of the Stewardship Department to Stewardship Ministries Department. Later that same year at Annual Council, the General Conference Executive Committee voted to encourage the appointment of fulltime Stewardship Ministries directors at the conference level because of the importance of this ministry to the spiritual life and mission of the Church (see references below). At the 2011 Spring Meeting, Dr. Larry Evans was voted as Associate Director for the Stewardship Ministries Department.
Dr. Erika F. Puni is the current director of the Stewardship Ministries Department.
Major Contributions by Stewardship Ministries to the Mission of the Adventist Church over 150 Years
Since its organization in 1967, the major contributions of the Stewardship Ministries Department to the world Church are:
1. The implementation of the plan of God for His church known as Systematic Benevolence.
With a spirit of sacrifice and a desire to spread the gospel throughout the world, the General Conference Executive Committee voted and approved three offering programs which included the Combined Offering Plan (COP), which is now implemented in most of the divisions of the world. The department gives assistance to the training of leaders in stewardship education and the development of church resources for a completed work.
2. The introduction of Conference-wide Development (CWD) plan. With this plan the conference was able to organize the spiritual and financial resources comprised by the sisterhood of churches. In this way, the conferences could accomplish projects that local churches could not achieve individually. This concept of ‘conference-wide advance’ reaches beyond the geographical area and/or spiritual and financial resources of individual congregations.
3. A shift towards holistic stewardship which includes faithfulness in the return of the Lord’s tithe and offerings. It is the believer’s spiritual relationship with God that transforms the life and this is manifest in the way they live and the way they support God’s work. Understanding God as Creator and Owner of all that we possess, stewards regards their blessings as gifts to be managed in this world on behalf of God.
This same emphasis is required today for a Church that is committed to the making of disciples for Jesus and desires spiritual revival before the return of Christ.
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