The Rev’d Erin Hougland, Pathways Deacon
The unfortunate result of these stewardship habits we have formed is that we have created a misunderstanding of the word “stewardship”. A “steward” is someone who has been given something. They have been entrusted with something important and precious, and are now responsible for taking care of it. Stewardship, therefore, is something much bigger than raising funds or managing budgets. To be a “steward” of something implies that we have been given something special and we must use all of ourselves and all of our resources to tend to and care for that gift.
Stewardship is Synonymous with Discipleship
The mistake we often make as Christians is thinking that the gift we are meant to be stewards of is our budget, our building, or our liturgies. But these are not the gifts we are caring for. The real gift we are caring for is the unconditional love of God, made known to us in Jesus’ life and his death and the promise of new life for all of creation made known to us in the resurrection. How we honor that gift, in our buildings, liturgies and budgets, is how we make sense of our discipleship and this is what characterizes our Christian stewardship.
Characterizing and understanding stewardship is more than just money-talk. It is a way of describing what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To talk about stewardship, then, is to talk about discipleship. What would our faith and ministry look like if we heard the word “stewardship” and we also heard “discipleship”? What if when someone asks: “What does your church’s stewardship plan look like?” we heard them asking, “How does your church practice discipleship?”
The connection here is important because when we make it between stewardship and discipleship we are making a connection between what happens inside the church on a Sunday morning and what happens outside of it every day of the week. To make the connection between stewardship and discipleship is to make the connection between what is prayed in our liturgies and what we do in our everyday lives; what is sung in our hymns and how we treat others in the world around us; what service and mission projects we foster and the way we welcome newcomers and visitors.
To make the connection between stewardship and discipleship is to make the connection between receiving the bread and wine at the altar and the ways we give of ourselves and our resources to care for this gift which we have been freely given — the gift with which we have been entrusted.
When Jesus heard the call to spread the Good News of God’s unconditional love, his first step was to call disciples. Jesus met these people, at random, on the road of their lives, at that intersection of their mundane routines and said, “Come and see that there is more than this. Come and see that the Lord is good. Come and be transformed and help transform the world.”
When Jesus began his ministry he didn’t sit down and write the tagline for his work. He didn’t craft a mission statement. He didn’t create the rules for his ministry or create strategic plans. He didn’t begin to source funding to build a building and he definitely didn’t set up a bank account and start balancing budgets. He starting calling others and asked them to follow him, which is to say, he asked them to help him realize the ministry that God had given him; the ministry with which we have all been entrusted.
This is our discipleship and how we make it happen is our stewardship. If we can understand the connection between the dollars we spend, donate, give and our faith, missions and ministry, then we can begin to integrate, in healthy ways, the function of money as one tool of our discipleship toolbox. If we can begin to make these connections, then we can begin to see stewardship as something more than an annual fundraising endeavor and as something that is practiced intentionally, carefully and spiritually, as part of who we are as disciples and followers of Jesus. Maybe even one day, stewardship will become a word we can get excited about; a word that encourages us to deepen our relationship with God.
Stewardship Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- What are the building blocks of your church? What is the foundation (beliefs and practices) on which your church rests?
- How does mission inform your worship, your culture around money and stewardship practices?
- What are the growing edges for your congregation around stewardship? And similarly, what are the growing edges for your congregation’s’ understanding of their discipleship?
- Is your congregation stuck in some way that inhibits the way you all understand stewardship and discipleship as a community? How can you, as a community, dig yourselves out?
- What are the creative and new ways you all might understand your practice of stewardship and discipleship?
- What are some ways your church could help you understand your personal relationship and your family’s relationship with money?