What is Stewardship?
What do you think of when you hear the word stewardship? Money? Giving? Work? Air travel? If you’re a Tolkien geek like me you might picture Denethor on his chair in Minas Tirith, ruling over Gondor until the king should come again. A quick Google search shows that the top results relate to travel, events and management. A steward might serve meals on a plane, keep a football crowd under control or ensure the smooth running of an event. There’s usually an airline safety demonstration or a hi-vis jacket involved. Searching for stewardship instead will start to hint at a wider understanding: an ethical approach to managing resources, theological beliefs and financial accountability. Or you can go one better and search the Bible, where I can find 12 references to stewards, all but one referring to a household official with allotted duties. All of this is true. But it’s so, so short of the full truth.
As I mentioned in my latest blog-post, I recently attended a generosity conference in Spain, hosted by Compass Europe and attended by men and women of God from all over Europe. I came away greatly encouraged and challenged, armed with a suitcase full of resources and plenty to think about. I’ve already written about my sight-seeing around Malaga after the teaching had finished because that was shorter and easier, whereas the real purpose of the conference I’ve been reflecting on and chewing over. Now I’d like to share with you some of the things that I learned. Two to be precise.
The first and most important point is that stewardship is about far more than just finances. As Jay Link of The Steward’s Way said, “It’s not a synonym for giving.” It’s not a way of getting you to give more to the church, or to any other cause for that matter. No, stewardship is a core part of what it means to be a Christian. It’s a crucial element of being a disciple. Discipleship is the process by which we become more like Jesus, living out His teaching and doing as He did. And Jesus was a steward.
In John 17 we see Jesus as a steward of souls, as a steward who faithfully discharged the work God gave Him to do. In His prayer for them Jesus reveals that the disciples were entrusted to Him by God the Father so that He might teach them and train them to change the world. Jesus recognises that everything He has is God’s, and in this prayer we see that everything He did in His ministry was to faithfully serve God with what He had been given.
The same is true for us. Everything we have is God’s. He owns everything, including us. In fact He owns us twice, for He created us and then He redeemed us (another quote from Jay Link). Everything is from Him: our breath, our food, our water, our environment, our possessions, our jobs, our relationships, our personal characteristics and our giftings. And we’re given those things for a purpose: so that we might serve Him. That’s what makes us stewards rather than just recipients. Denethor forgot that.
That purpose is to serve others. To love them, to care for their needs, to help them know God. That’s why the apostle Peter said this:
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)
We’re stewards of God’s grace. We’ve all been given different gifts, and grace can manifest itself in different ways, but the purpose is the same for everyone: to serve others. By serving others we serve God. So stewardship is the art of using whatever we’ve been given to serve others. If you’ve been given money, use that money to serve others, whether it’s buying someone a cup of coffee or investing in a major charitable undertaking. If you’ve been given an ability, use that ability to serve others, whether it’s brick-laying or preaching. If you’ve been given a strong body, use that strength to help those who lack it.
We can serve God by stewarding whatever He has given us. We steward the bodies God has given us by looking after them and employing them gainfully; we steward the world around us by caring for God’s creation and not trashing it; we steward our finances by managing money effectively and using it to fund the work of God; we steward our relationships by nurturing those God has put in our lives; we steward our careers by being a good influence in the workplace and an inspiration to others; we steward the Gospel by making sure we pass it on to others. There’s nothing we do that can’t come under the umbrella of stewardship. Stewardship touches all parts of life.
My church has run two workshops as part of its stewardship ministry called Time, Treasure, Talents. It reflects this very point: that we can serve God in all areas of life, not just with our money. It’s putting our time at His disposal and using our talents to help anyway we can. Treasure is important, but treasure goes nowhere if no one’s got the time to put it to work or the talent to use it well.
And this brings me on to my second point: stewardship is more than just a course. It’s an on-going way of life. It’s a journey of faithfulness. Yes, go to the stewardship course, find out how to manage your money well, attend the big events, but see the bigger picture. This isn’t just a tick in the box, a feather in our Christian caps. It’s not something you do and then move on from. It’s not something you learn and then forget. You live it. You don’t stop living it. As long as we’re here, we can use what God has given us to serve Him.
“As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent me.” (John 9:4)
So you see, stewardship is big. Really big. I hope I’ve opened your eyes to that fact. What I’ve learned is just the shallows of a great ocean; what I’ve shared is just the tip of the ice-berg. But this is a good place to start. Stewardship is more than just finances; it permeates every aspect of our lives. Stewardship is not an event or a destination; it’s a journey. And stewardship is not a way to gain favour or rack up Christian brownie-points; it’s our response to God’s grace. He has appointed us to be stewards, and we practice stewardship to do His work well. That’s what stewardship is.