Deeper Understanding – Financial Stewardship
A way of life allowing us to become grateful, generous, loving, hopeful people
Sadly, for many stewardship means raising money for church. In the Bible a steward is the manager of another person’s property. This definition can make stewardship sound like a job where we are employed by the owner. But it’s really a fundamental aspect of Christian discipleship, involving holistically how we live and how we give. Stewardship is a response of gratitude and thanksgiving for what God has done for us and the world in Jesus Christ. It is a way of discipleship of embodying God’s grace and love to people and a world in need.
Maybe then a big part of the answer to reclaiming stewardship is to strongly re-anchor it in what it means to be a disciple. Disciples are called to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves. Even though we have a tendency to say 10 percent is a practical goal or limit of a steward, stewards are also called to have the same deep commitment of a disciple. Stewards are called to be generous to their neighbors as themselves.
Think about how love and generosity are interconnected. Is it possible to love and not be generous, or to be generous but not have love? Certainly God exhibits both intense love and generosity through God’s gracious presence in creation. John 3:16 is pretty explicit in connecting God’s loving and self-giving. Jesus models for us both the love of a disciple and the generosity of a steward by putting his love into action through generosity.
Maybe the nuance we are looking for is this? Stewards act out love through their generosity, and in the process grow in their identity as disciples. The job description of a disciple is a little more abstract, focusing on love, hears and soul. That of a steward is a bit more concrete: use the abundance of creation to multiply abundance and then act with generosity toward God and neighbor. (More concrete yet, stewards work with money.) God invites us into this kind of life through example, not as a requirement but out of generosity so we might know what real and abundant life-the good life-is all about.
Potentially then, stewardship might be a more practical, hands on way of getting going with what it means to be a disciple. “For where your treasure is, there your heat will be also” in Matthew 6:21 suggests it might be the behavior of a steward that precedes the conviction of a disciple.
Financial stewardship is also a spiritual practice that helps us grow in trust in God’s abundance and move from fear of scarcity to hope and love. Henri Nouwen, the Dutch born Roman Catholic pries and writer, once said, “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity I know I am moving from fear to love.”
Financial stewardship is a way of life, a way of discipleship that allows us to take steps toward becoming more grateful, thankful, generous, loving and hopeful people. Why have we limited it to church fundraising?
CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE
A theological key to deepening an understanding of financial stewardship is Genesis 1:26-27: we are created in the image of God, a God who is a gracious, generous and abundant giver. God gives life to all of creation. Jesus gives us up his life for out salvation and reconciliation. The Spirit gives us faith, talents and abilities; transforms us; and calls us into the body of Christ. God gives graciously, abundantly and generously. Created in the image of God we are created to be generous givers.
Just as in breathing we must both inhale and exhale, we are called to a patter of receiving and giving and receiving. It’s who we are created to be.
In addition to having generosity in our DNA, God has also made us to be creative. God has given us an additional blessing, and invitation to be co-creators with God of a world order that makes “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” It is an invitation to work with God and God’s team with purpose, passion and creativity, to have a life of meaning and significance.
The wisdom of God tells us that this is what true life is all about, being part of something bigger than ourselves, making a difference, having a positive impact.
Being part of something bigger than ourselves resonates with a second key identity-our corporate identity as the body of Christ, which comes to us as God’s gracious gift at our baptisms. As we grow in faith and understanding we see that we are invited to participate i Christ’s own mission of stewardship.
Jesus is the perfect steward of all of God’s good gifts through his life, ministry, death and resurrection. He healed those in need, welcomed and brought hospitality to the outcast and unloved, and proclaimed God’s rule of justice, love and peace. On the cross he conquered sin, death and evil and brought forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.
We are invited into Christ’s continuing mission of healing and doing the kingdom work of justice and peace. Some of this can be done through the generous gifts of our time and talents. In other places, as generous financial givers, the church reaches out in places we cannot go.
Paul also tells us we are stewards of the mysteries of God’s grace (1 Corinthians 4:1). As we proclaim and embody God’s abundant grace, we experience the life-changing, transforming power of God’s grace in people’s lives. We see people discover freedom, hope and joy in experiencing God’s grace. There are many nonprofit institutions that help address people’s needs. but only the church proclaims God’s gracious love and the gospel of Jesus Christ that the world desperately need to hear.
WHAT GETS IN WAY
If the call to discipleship is such an obvious part of our faith, and if stewards are disciples that act out love through generosity, what gets in the way of us loving and giving more?
The life of a disciple and steward is not low-energy lifestyles that fits in nicely with concepts of leisure, tranquility and the “good life” as defined by modern marketing. We life in a world where the economic system is driven by the incessant marketing of brands using narratives that emphasize taking care of yourself. These messages resonate with our survival instincts and the reality that our energy and willpower is a limited resource.
As much as we have been created in God’s divine image, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Paul talks about this same think in Romans 7, when he says he cannot do the good he wants to do, but is instead stuck doing just the opposite. This is the everyday challenge of being a steward and disciple.
By Ann L. Fritschel and