A decade ago, Gunnar Johnson was working in construction. Now, he’s the executive pastor of Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, as well as the chairman of the board for the Christian Stewardship Network (CSN).
Gateway Church runs one of the most successful stewardship ministries in the nation. Gunnar remembers being confronted in 1999 with the truth of Matthew 6:24: You cannot serve both God and money.
He prayed a simple but dangerous prayer: “God, do I serve money instead of you?” He answered, “Absolutely. That’s where your problems stem from.”
That’s when he realized that financial issues were really spiritual issues. “I was broken,” he said.
Gunnar knew at age 17 that he was supposed to teach people stewardship and went on to surrender to that call at age 23. He spent the five years in construction getting financially prepared to enter the ministry.
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“I went from a business owner to a pastor,” he said. “That season of time is when we paid off $80,000 in unsecured debt and got our financial household in order. The lessons we learned equipped us for ministry, and I’m glad we went through it, although it was painful at the time.”
When Gunnar came on staff at Gateway, his pastor empowered him to do what he felt called to do. Their stewardship ministry now serves over 3,000 people a year. About 350 churches will contact Gateway this year to ask how to start or re-energize a stewardship ministry. “God is doing something,” he said.
Senior Pastor Support
Gunnar says it’s critical that the senior pastor not just support stewardship ministry but have a heart for it. It’s one thing to say “that’s great!” and let someone loose to fulfill their call. It’s another to view things through the lens of stewardship.
“My pastor is a radical giver and that leaks into all of the things he teaches and writes,” Gunnar said. It stirs up an interest for people to come to the stewardship department. It flavors the church.
“You can have a good stewardship ministry with the support of the senior pastor, but if you want to have a great one, the senior pastor has to experience the same heart change and life change.”
Gunnar compares having a stewardship ministry in a church to having a razor-sharp scalpel. “If you have a senior pastor or leadership team that doesn’t know how to use it, it’s dangerous. They will hurt a lot of people, waste a lot of time, and give the body of Christ a bad reputation.” Prosperity preachers driving $100,000 cars have created a bad reputation and distorted the perspective of why Jesus taught us about money. “If they know how to use it, it’s a tool and a blessing.”
Taking Weight Off The Senior Pastor
Gunnar explained that putting a stewardship ministry in place can actually take some weight off the senior pastor rather than adding more to their plate. “I’m not asking senior pastors to pick up this mantle and do all the stewardship ministry themselves, because they can’t,” he said. “They need to have a vision for it and hand off that vision to be implemented by the stewardship pastor and team.”
The pastor’s role is largely to get people excited about it. “Outside of preaching on the subject, the ball gets moved over to the stewardship team that teaches, shows testimony videos, trains and equips others to teach, and counsels.”
Many pastors fear talking about money because of negative responses like, “Why are you teaching me about money? What’s your motive? You’re trying to get me to give, aren’t you?”
Having a stewardship ministry and an army of volunteers, like the 160 they have at Gateway, alleviates that. “Our people are excited, and testimonies are flowing,” Gunnar said. “There’s something about hearing it from other people and volunteers in the church that’s different.”
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