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What does it mean to be a Christian steward?

"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" — Micah 6:8, NRSV

In Jesus' time, the steward was the manager of the household. The steward was not the owner of the assets, but a responsible administrator of the owner's property.

We are all stewards of some possessions and influence. We either take care of the earth or we pollute the earth. The question is: "What kind of stewards are we?"

A starting place is the recognition that God has invited us to be responsible for our lives and resources. We are not likely to manage well unless we acknowledge that we are managers. We are not likely to exercise good stewardship unless we recognize that we are stewards.

Imagine Jesus standing before you and saying, "Take thou authority to be a steward." Then explore what that will mean in your daily life.

How are stewardship and financial giving related?

Giving money for the work of the church is one very important aspect of stewardship, but it is not the whole of stewardship. When stewardship is reduced to financial giving, the richness of a biblical symbol is dismissed. When financial giving is magnified to the whole of stewardship, the richness of a whole life committed to Jesus Christ is missing.

Christian giving is a responsive act. It represents gratitude to God. It is a symbol of self-giving. Therefore, giving is not a once-for-all event, but a regular part of life. It is a spiritual discipline that reminds us who we are and whose we are.

What is stewardship education?

Stewardship education takes place in formal sessions through Bible study and curriculum. It takes place in the life and actions of the congregation. It takes place when we read the newspaper or watch television. It takes place in families.

When parents discuss their investment of time and money in the presence of their children, the parents are conducting stewardship education. When people talk about how the gifts of the church have made a difference in individual lives or in communities, stewardship education takes place. When the church says "Thank You" for people's generous gifts, stewardship education takes place.

Formal opportunities for stewardship education are available for adult classes and study groups. Persons may explore what Jesus had to say about money in a six-week study of Money Isn't (Is) Everything(Discipleship Resources) by Herb Miller.

Full Disclosure: Everything the Bible Says About Financial Givingby Herb Miller (Discipleship Resources, 2003) identifies financial stewardship themes that recur and evolve in the Old and New Testaments. It is a valuable resource for anyone looking for practical information and help in planning for preaching or teaching about financial giving.

Does The United Methodist Church encourage tithing?

The United Methodist Book of Discipline affirms and encourages tithing. Throughout Christian history, tithing has been a helpful way for people to assess their giving. The roots of the tradition are deep within Hebrew history.

Most Christians view tithing as a spiritual discipline rather than a mathematical legalism. It is a gift from God to help us "put God first in our lives" (Deuteronomy 14, Living Bible).

Urging tithing without providing guidance is not helpful to people who did not grow up with the tradition. Is tithing encouraged? Yes. The best people to encourage tithing are those who tithe and can talk about what tithing means to them. Invite tithers to tell their stories of giving.

What about preaching?

Many pastors cringe at the prospect of preaching a "stewardship sermon." Many laypersons fear that their pastor will preach a "stewardship sermon." Yet the Scriptures call upon people to take care of the earth and its creatures, to use their possessions in responsible ways, and to manage their relationships in the image of God.

Jesus often related faith to the ways people managed their possessions. His example is worthy of following in our era.

In a culture that is so affected by economics, it is imperative that the gospel relate to this dimension of our individual and corporate lives. Theological reflection and spiritual struggles around the power of money and possessions are critical matters for living in these days.

Some helpful resources related to preaching about stewardship include Right on the Money: Messages for Spiritual Growth Through Givingby Brian K. Bauknight andDon't Shoot the Horse ('Til You Know How to Drive the Tractor)by Herb Mather.

Is giftedness an important stewardship issue?

Giftedness is an important dimension of stewardship. We are called to name our gifts, to help call out the gifts of others, and to give our gifts to God as an offering.

When we wear our giftedness as a badge or use giftedness as an institutional recruitment tool, we miss the joy of giftedness described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4.

Gifts are to be affirmed. One gift is not more pleasing to God than another. All are a part of God's plan for God's creatures.

Each congregation is gifted. The congregation is also called to name its gifts and to use those gifts in the community and around the world in Christ's name. For more information, seeEquipped for Every Good Work: Building a Gifts-Based Churchby Dan R. Dick and Barbara Miller Dick (Discipleship Resources, 2001).

Is stewardship something that is done in the fall?

Stewardship is appropriate for all seasons of the year. When stewardship is defined in terms of a fall financial campaign, the rich biblical meaning of the word is severely limited.

It is appropriate to talk about the different facets of stewardship — time, talents, treasure, trust, the earth, thankfulness, tithing, tradition, and truth — during Advent, Pentecost, Lent, Easter, or any time of year.

A financial campaign needs to be conducted within the context of healthy stewardship. The term "stewardship," therefore, should not be limited to the annual financial campaign or to the institutional church. We are called to be stewards of all our time and all our resources. Satisfaction comes to those who do not separate stewardship from the rest of their lives.

Does God really own it all?

Historic Christian theology has affirmed God as the ultimate owner. "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it" (Psalm 24:1, NRSV). It is more than a cliché to affirm that "we can't take it with us."

God calls us into responsible partnership. We are given great responsibility. We are to "till the earth." It is a privilege to make important decisions as we work "in the vineyard."

Today, many of society's historic standards are being tested. The biblical story of the exile rings true to numerous people. Structures that gave us security are crumbling. How do we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? How do we act as responsible stewards in a world that is so different from the one our parents experienced? God invites us to look for new ways of living as stewards in this "strange land." This is a task for us to work on together.

What stewardship training is available?

Several major training experiences are offered every year from a variety of "stewardship experts." Be careful about looking for the latest gimmick or the hottest program. There is no substitute for listening to the yearnings of the people for connections with God and for the guidance and inspiration that come through the Bible. The Holy Spirit grants insight and strength to the steward. Don't substitute workshops for the work of listening!

If you visit another congregation to learn, exercise caution before applying their actions in your situation. Discover what questions they asked. Explore the process they went through to come to their actions. The questions and the process are likely to be more helpful to you than trying to fit their solution to your location.

Older people and younger folks don't seem to look at stewardship in the same way.

They often don't. That does not mean that one group is wrong and the other is right. It means that they have different perspectives.

In the case of financial stewardship, older people are usually more open to considering wills and other forms of deferred giving. Younger people often desire more opportunities for designated giving.

It gets more complicated than that. There are differences in attitudes toward giving between people who grew up in the church and those who have come into the faith from outside. There are differences between affluent and poor folks. Treat each person as an individual!

In some congregations, a cluster of people may see stewardship primarily in environmental terms. In another, the focus may be on justice ... or management ... or money. Let us work to find the common threads of faith that bind us to one another and to God so that our stewardship reflects the love of God and love of neighbor.

What Help Does the Discipleship Ministries Offer?

Numerous stewardship resources are available from theUpper Room Bookstore. Pastors and laity are also invited to contact the Center for Christian Stewardship with questions from their congregations and to share stories of what is happening throughout the connection.

Training and learning experiences are held in districts and conferences throughout the year. Most of these are arranged by invitation of the district or conference. In addition, the Center for Christian Stewardship staff at the Discipleship Ministries attempt to be aware of ecumenical and other national training/learning experiences in stewardship.


Herb Mather is retired from the staff of the Discipleship Ministries.

Categories: Personal Stewardship

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