Stewardship. It’s not a simple topic, and yet at the same time it is deceptively simple.
First to understand stewardship we need to understand community. The book of Acts, according to its author, demonstrates the true meaning of community in the desirable form of common union. (Acts 2:44-45) This concept is essentially where all who are part of the community gave all they had and pooled their several resources. This model is the ideal and works when all who are in the community participate. Not works best but works at all. No exceptions. Because if a portion abstain, there will be jealousy, Ill-will and division of spirit. The point is to depend on themselves and each other rather than on outside resources. This is a very high calling to ascend to. But a simple one. Even Jerry Springer closed each show with the words to “..take care of yourselves and each other.” If he understands this, why can’t we? It requires an incredible amount of trust in each other and a willingness to believe that the needs of the community will supply all our wants while God will supply all our needs. This is a difficult concept and way of life that God wants but most have not “bought” into.
Stewardship in this verse of scripture is not limited to material possession. Though many would have us believe that a stewardship ministry is centered around the maintenance, acquisition and growth of material possession, wealth and other profits that is low hanging fruit. In other words, that is too easy a target to discuss. Even Jesus knew that money was an easy target because that is what was prescient on people’s minds then and now. He spoke on the subject of money more than any other subject. Interestingly that focus hasn’t changed today. Whenever someone chooses to cast a charge of hypocrisies against a Christian, they typically level aim at prosperity gospel churches and the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Fair enough. But stewardship needn’t be mired in conversations of money. In fact to limit the discussion of stewardship to money is foolish because the issues of stewardship far outweigh the narrow topic of money.
Stewardship is about giving. Money is only one thing a person can give. But if all I ever give is money, at some point I’m either going to be driven crazy by it or pushed away by it. Money is not the best we can give. Time. Talents. Skills. Song. Prayer. Assistance. Griot tales. Food. Drink. Connection. Gardens. A job. All these are things we are stewards of and can share. All of these are things that a person can allow a portion of into the care of another. And this gets to the heart of true stewardship.
True stewardship is not money raising campaigns. True stewardship is honoring and caring for the gifts that God has given us.
This means that stewardship cannot be labeled with a price tag. How can you put a price on life? A price on sustenance? A price on grace? A price on freedom? These are some of the greatest gifts that God ever gave us. Being a steward means to nurture, grow and share with others these glorious gifts that God has so gently offered us. I say offered because He didn’t demand we accept them. But once we do, it is our responsibility to care for them as they are now ours. It’s as the poem attributed to Dr. Ben E. Mays once wrote:
Just a tiny little minute
I’ve only just a minute,
only 60 seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can’t refuse it,
didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
but it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it,
give an account if I abuse it,
just a tiny little minute,
but eternity is wrapped up in it
So how do we foster these ethical notions of generosity and stewardship in our places of worship? How do we spread the Christian ethic of stewardship and an Acts 2 methodology of community living in the church? I submit the following for consideration:
It begins with understanding where a person is in their spiritual walk soon after meeting them. No judgement. Discernment. Recognizing their humanity and accepting it as it is. Remember, we’ve only a tiny little minute. So we must not abuse it. It takes a lot for someone to walk into a church. Even a long time member. There’s overtime hours at work available. Children’s sports. Horrendous traffic. Low bank accounts and crippling debt. Television evangelists and neighbors BBQ’s. All contending for our Sunday morning attention. We absolutely must recognize this and not take a persons presence for granted.
Next we establish a true Christian relationship with each person in and out of the church. What does this look like? This is where I see the Deacon responsible for not just wearing white gloves on first Sunday and offering bread and wine. Not just praying with and for individuals when they ask for it. The Deacon is to call, write, visit and actually know on sight his or her fellow church members. This will not be easy or immediate. It will take a lot of time and connection. But it is necessary otherwise how can the gifts we have and the members have ever be realized or known by any but God?
Next we honor the spiritual walk our charge to keep has. Not every one is ready for steak and potatoes. Some are still on that mothers milk. And that is just fine. Honor it. Embrace it and allow the parishioner to own their stage and let them understand that where they are is where God wants them to be, for now. And gently, kindly, and consistently encourage them to continue to walk. To actually do what the children of Israel didn’t when they were told to go to Canaan but instead settled in Horan (Genesis 11: 27-32). They settled for less, when God had more. People of faith already know the power of God and what He can do in our lives. They know that they know that they know that God is a loving God. A God who walks with us when we are up and sits with us when we are down. A God who cares for us when we are well and nurtures us when we are not. We know a God who sees our future and desires more for us than we can possibly see right now. Because we know these truths it is our responsibility as Christians and stewards of Gods’ most precious gifts to be sure that others who are also gifted by the Almighty, not settle for the known gifts they have when God wants so much more. Rather to share those gifts as a true steward does. Willingly. Gladly. Consistently. Fervently. Joyously and without jealousy or reservation or secret evasion of mind whatsoever.
Next church’s subordinate leadership should regularly meet as a whole to discuss with the ministerial leadership the direction of the church and recognize the needs of the community we serve. This requires a certain level of trust in the leadership as well as a knowledge of what the community needs. At such a meeting, the church leadership will then be better enabled to write the vision and make it plain. This goes to the heart of being the kind of church a community is hand-on-heart, shout from the mountaintop, proud of. There must be regular meetings like this. Perhaps biennial or quarterly at first then annually as we become more communal in our thoughts and deeds.
Next, share the vision with all. Not just in the pulpit. Not just in the sanctuary. No. Farther. Share it in the streets. Share it online. Share it on our jobs. Share it in the grocery checkout lane. Share it in the car wash. This vision and community focused mindset must be shared with all. Not in a bludgeoning way. No one wants to be beaten down with amens and hallelujahs. But think on it this way. If you love a song or sermon or monologue or quote you just heard from a favorite singer, minister, comedian or civil rights leader…. Do you keep it to yourself? So then if you are excited about the good word you heard and the vision you agree is worth pressing towards and the generosity you own is to become contagious, how can you keep silent about it? More directly, WHY should you keep silent about it?
Finally, invite others to join in the quest to see these visions made real and to join in the creation of true community. This is an invitation not a directive. We are not on a crusade King Richard style. This is an un-requitable desire to “tell it”. As the songwriter wrote: “said I wasn’t going to tell nobody but I just couldn’t keep it to myself.” We must be willing to have others join us in the quest to see real and lasting change in our community. Then the people of God will want to fund these things because we believe in them and cannot bear the idea of them failing because of a lack of hands, time allocation or funding. We spend money on iPods and cable TV because we think we get something out of it. We drop big money and time on our jobs and homes because we see a benefit from doing so. When the churches vision is beneficial to the community, the people of God will be unable to see a future without the churches ministries being the source of that benefit.
But it all starts with one on one, each one reach one. It all starts with recognizing the spiritual walk and stage of faith our people are at and nurturing that faith every step of the way.
Stewardship isn’t just money. Stewardship is the generous giving of that which God trusts us with. And make no mistake. God did trust us with it or else He wouldn’t have given it to us to begin with. And as we learned reading Luke 12:42-48, to whom much is given, much is required. This means to not take in any more than you will use and use no more than you give and give no more than you have and you will have no more than God has to offer and God has much to offer. It is a cycle. It is community. It is a true sense of giving. This is true stewardship.