One of the areas of theology, ministry, neighbor love and leadership that I love is stewardship. I have written some occasionally on the blog about my perspectives about stewardship, but thought it might be good to do some intentional wrestling about stewardship. To do some wrestling though, I believe takes some definition or at least some expression of what assumptions might be being made.
First of all, what does stewardship mean?
One of the best definitions that I have found as a starting place comes from Helge Brattgard. In God’s Stewards: A Theological Study of the Principles and Practices of Stewardship, Brattgard explains that stewardship is expressed “by the willingness of church members to take active responsibility in the service of the church through a voluntary contribution of time, money, and natural gifts” (Brattgard, 2). You could broaden it out so that its not limited to church members and I believe that the definition would hold. The key though is that stewardship means more than just the voluntary contribution of money. It means this, but it also means time and natural gifts. These gifts I would argue include vocations, passions, gifts, opportunities and talents of all kinds. Stewardship in its fullest sense for me then is the practice, expression, belief, study, etc., of offering one’s own time, money, and talents in service of others. In the sense of ministry, this is in service to God.
If you want to take this a step further theologically, stewardship is not just about being in service to God. It’s grounded in a belief that all that we have and all that we are, are entrusted to us by God. Our time, talents, our treasure, they are entrusted to us and meant to be stewarded by us in service.
This idea leads to a second question then, what does it mean to be a steward?
I could offer my own answer, but two of my friends who are wiser than I when it comes to stewardship, do a nice job of answering this question. Rev. Chick Lane and Grace Duddy explain that, “A steward, by definition, cannot be the owner. A steward is a person who takes care of that which belongs to another. A steward is a manager of someone else’s property. A steward is the trustee of that which is owned by someone else.” This builds upon the idea of being entrusted to. It also points to a relationship that stewards have with the one who is doing the entrusting. In the Christian understanding of stewardship, this is God. Duddy and Lane explain further that “God owns everything, and has seen fit to entrust some of God’s stuff into our care, our management, our stewardship.”
When you put these understandings of being a steward and an overall understanding of stewardship together, one’s view of relationship with God, creation, money, possessions and others is forever changed. It also requires a move beyond basic definitions to a deeper understanding. This is where we face questions about how we view money and resources. Do we believe that we live in a sense of abundance or scarcity? What does this mean for our faith and relationship with God? How about our understanding of scripture?
These questions and ideas lead to much further discussion. A good starting synthesis can be found in this post on “The Bible, Stewardship and Money” by Chick Lane and Grace Duddy. I share their conclusions here to help broaden the conversation. They write:
“Stewardship is about how you understand yourself to be in relation with God. Do you understand God to be a generous loving God who has entrusted more into your care than you could ever deserve or exhaust? Or do you understand God as one who must be appeased by you diminishing your already scarce possessions through giving some to the church, because you really ought to? Is your relationship with God characterized by abundance or by scarcity?
Stewardship is also about how you understand yourself to be in relation with the rest of creation. Do you live so that you can make the lives of other people and the created order richer through encounters with you? Or do you live in competition with other people for a finite pool of resources? Is your life invested in others, or is your life invested in yourself?
Stewardship rightly understood is about money, but it is also about these very basic spiritual matters. The writers of the Bible understood that money and possessions have a distinct hold on our hearts and what we do with the money that God has entrusted to us has the capacity to affect not only us, but our neighbors and communities. The Bible invites us to use the money and possessions that God has entrusted to us to love our neighbors and by doing so enrich our relationship with God” (Grace Duddy & Chick Lane, 2014).
So, what do you think about being a steward and an idea of stewardship? What do you make of these ideas, definitions, understandings and assumptions?
I wanted to provide some grounding so that I can offer an upcoming post or two about what “Stewardship Leadership” means and might mean. In an upcoming post I will begin to make some connections between stewardship and leadership and see what we think and make of these connections. I will also offer some thoughts about what this means and might mean for congregations.
Resources and Sources:
Helge Brattgard, God’s Stewards: A Theological Study of the Principles and Practices of Stewardship, trans. Gene J. Lund, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), 2.
Chick Lane & Grace Duddy, “The Bible, Stewardship and Money,” (2 January 2014), http://www.enterthebible.org/blog.aspx?m=3783&post=2982.