The Dreaded S-Word.

shhhhStewardship has a really bad rap in the Church. The reasons for this are numerous and all have to do with the ways in which we customarily approach stewardship in the Church. We typically don’t talk about it most of the year. As we get into fall, we realize that, in a few months, we’re going to have to figure out how to keep the church operating for another year, and that’s going to require money; so we haul out the stewardship rhetoric and begin to couch all of our financial needs in well-worn terms of giving away what we have, because it’s the right thing to do, and the local church needs our money. For three agonizing months, we hang all of our hopes for next year’s budget on our shaky and terribly myopic view of what we call stewardship, all the while protesting that it’s not only about money; but, since that’s usually all we talk about, we lose that argument every year. Is it any wonder that, for many churchgoers, stewardship has become the dreaded S-word?

Stewardship is not only about money, or materialism, or time and talent, or preserving the environment. Stewardship is about all of these things, and much more. Stewardship is about how each of us, as a unique creation of God, relates to God and the rest of God’s Creation. It is no less comprehensive than that. Stewardship is not a program; it is a way of life. It is not a task we accomplish; it is how we live. So when we talk about creating a “culture of comprehensive stewardship” in a church, we are talking about undertaking a journey of discovery that will lead us to an understanding of what it is to live in the fullness of God’s Creation in a proper relationship with God. In this “culture,” the church budget becomes a means for visionary ministry, rather than a list of objectives for fundraising. The church becomes a conduit through which each person responds to the love and generosity of God in his/her life, while fulfilling the Great Commission as a living member of the Body of Christ. For the Christian, responsible stewardship is synonymous with responsible discipleship. There is no difference between stewardship and discipleship. There is no aspect of one that is not part of the other. They are two sides of the same coin: as children of God, we are stewards of God’s Kingdom; as Christians, we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

The instructions for a proper understanding of stewardship have been with us for thousands of years. A good starting point is Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” That pretty much sums it up. God is the source of all reality, all of life; we did not make any of it. Everything we have, including life itself, we have received through the generosity of God. We cannot take credit for any of it, but we are responsible and accountable to the Giver for all of it. Every decision involving anything about who we are or what we have, every choice we make about how to spend every second of our life, is a stewardship decision. It is a decision about how to use something that has been entrusted to our care by the one who still owns all of it. We can decide to use God’s gifts towards our own ends, or we can decide to use God’s gifts towards God’s ends; and one of God’s greatest gifts to us is the free will to make that choice. How we make the myriad of such decisions throughout all of our life is stewardship.

It’s really not just about annual fundraising in the Church.