We are living in a shift. With cultural changes in the U.S. and our global financial situation in turmoil, it is important that the work of the church expands to talk about every aspect of discipleship, including church finances.

In Rich Church, Poor Church, Arkansas’ J. Clif Christopher addresses a transforming understanding of stewardship. Some may say that the economic condition of the church and community determine whether or not the church is poor or rich, but in Rich Church, Poor Church, such is not the case. Throughout the book, Christopher compares tendencies associated with various types of congregations, leading the reader to discover that churches are not merely measured by finances, but also by intentional mission and focus.

Christopher begins the book by sharing some of his many experiences with local churches during stewardship campaigns. Once, a faithful giver in a declining congregation asked this question: “Pastor, can you honestly tell me that my church is the best place for me to give my money?”

This person could see the mission and focus in other organizations she supported, but she saw decline in the church.

It’s an honest question that local churches need to answer. Christopher names three reasons why people give to the church: a belief in the mission, regard for staff leadership and financial responsibility. He then explains how a congregation can move beyond a poor mentality to a rich reality.

Rich Church, Poor Church works to shift congregations from a mindset of survival to a missional focus, driven by lives and not money. It addresses stewardship as a part of the overall workings of a church, not as a separate issue. Each chapter begins with a comparison between qualities of “rich” and “poor” churches. These tables help the reader understand how congregations can develop a more holistic approach to finances in the life of the church.

The rest of the book explores some tools needed to make your church rich: leadership built on effective communication, talking about God instead of numbers and casting a vision for the world, not just for the day. It then moves to practical tools essential for stewardship without apology: asking, expecting and transformation. A financial transformation doesn’t just pay bills; it changes lives.

The book closes with a 63-week plan to becoming a rich church. These weeks are filled with visioning, planned retreat times and collaboration between lay and clergy.

As I was reading this book I kept asking myself, “This is a book about stewardship and church growth?” It explores so much more than numbers; it redefines what it means to be the church.

I confess that I usually separate finances from the function of ministry, seeing ministry as one thing and money as something separate. But in this book I have discovered one major lesson: Rich churches are not measured by their bank accounts, but by their mission “to serve the present age.” Stewardship is a part of the overall work of the body of Christ, and we become better stewards by focusing on Christ instead of on survival in a struggling economy.

The Rev. Norman serves as associate pastor of First UMC Benton, Ark.

Rich Church, Poor Church