Stewardship, Choice, and Discipleship

Stewardship, Choice, and Discipleship

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One aspect of stewardship that struck me afresh the other day is that biblically speaking, stewardship is not presented as optional for us. In Genesis 1.27-28 we are told that we are created in the image and likeness of God and given dominion over all living creatures. In Genesis 2.15 the adam is placed in the garden “to till it and keep it.” (Importantly, the Hebrew word translated as “till” is most frequently translated as “serve”.) Psalm 8 affirms Genesis 1, placing us humans as intermediaries between God and the created world and giving us dominion over the latter.

Nowhere in these texts, or any other, does God ask whether we want to be stewards of God’s world. Being stewards is never presented as an option that we can either accept or reject. It is part of who God created us to be and a role given to us by God.

So, the question before us is not whether to be stewards and practice stewardship, but rather what kind of stewards are we going to be and what kind of stewardship are we going to practice. We can work to be good stewards and practice good stewardship, or we can do the opposite. I suspect most of us, including me, fall somewhere along the continuum between these two poles depending upon the time and circumstances. At times we are aware of our role as God’s stewards, embrace it, and make efforts to fulfill it faithfully, while at other times we try to reject it or relegate it to low status, concern, and effort.

As stewards of God’s world entrusted with God’s resources, including time, talent, treasure, and the breath of life, we are called to use these in ways that promote God’s vision for the world, not our own.
What does this mean? It means that all that surrounds us in this life – our possessions, our time, our talents, our life itself, our world – are not ultimately ours to do with as we wish. Rather, they are God’s, and it is our privilege to manage and care for some of God’s “stuff” as we journey through this life.
It is not for us to ask, “What do I want to do with this?” But rather we are to ask, “What do I think God wants me to do with this?” and then following up with, “How do I do that?” We are not owners. God is.

We are stewards, with all the honor, responsibility, and humility that goes with that role.

This understanding of stewardship begs the questions: How do we think God wants us to manage the resources God has entrusted to our care, and how do we figure this out? We certainly can discern at least part of the answer through prayer and listening to the still speaking voice of the Holy Spirit whispering in our heart. We can also look to the physical, natural, and social sciences and disciplines, understanding that God has given us very good brains and expects us to use them. A third source we can employ is our own human experience in the present world, and a fourth is our biblical tradition.

The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are filled with important guidance and instruction regarding the proper and improper use and care of the Earth and of divinely entrusted power, privilege, position, and economic resources. Similarly, the Greek Scriptures (New Testament) overall also contain stewardship guidance and instruction. But most importantly and specifically they include accounts of Jesus – his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. As Christians, we claim Jesus is God incarnate, that Jesus revealed to us as much of God as possible within the constraints of his humanity and his particularity; i.e., a first century, Palestinian Jewish man. In Jesus, we see a life lived completely in sync with the divine will, including as a steward.

If we want to know how to be faithful stewards, how to manage God’s resources, and what God’s vision and will for this world are, we can look to Jesus for answers, as he exemplifies the ideal steward. We can look at what Jesus said and taught, and how he managed God’s “stuff” – his time, talents, treasure, and life – during his earthly life to learn how we can and are called to faithfully manage God’s “stuff” – our time, talent, treasure, and life – during ours.

Some images that emerge from the Gospel accounts of Jesus include, but are not limited to: initiating a radically inclusive, loving, grace-filled, compassionate ministry; advocating for the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, the excluded, and the voiceless; promoting and embodying God’s love and justice; ushering in the kin-dom of God; stressing the strong relationship between one’s faith and one’s money and possessions; using his power and position for others, not over others, and coming to serve, not be served; often crossing and breaking down humanly created barriers and traditions; bringing healing and liberation; not only proclaiming God’s good news, but also being God’s good news.

When we use our time, talent, treasure, and life to further Jesus’ ministry by expanding the radically inclusive, loving, grace-filled, compassionate kin-dom of God, working to make God’s love and justice real, combating racism, advocating for the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless and the voiceless, the marginalized and excluded, when we generously share our economic resources and use them to repair and help heal past and present injustices and create a more just world for all, we are not just being good, faithful disciples of Jesus, we are also being good, faithful stewards, stewards of God’s resources using them according to God’s wishes to bring about God’s vision.

Stewardship and discipleship are not separate categories or aspects of our Christian life. They are two sides of the same coin. Stewardship and discipleship are intertwined and in a symbiotic relationship with one another. As we grow deeper in our discipleship, as we are transformed, develop the mind of Christ, and become more Christ-like, the better we will be able to live out our role as God’s stewards. We will be better able to understand and accept that despite what our culture says, what is under our management is not under our ownership and does not ultimately belong to us. We will also understand how to faithfully manage God’s resources for the good of all and for the sake of the world God so deeply loves and called “good”. On the flip side, the more we embrace and live into our role as God’s stewards, the more we are transformed, become Christ-like, have the mind of Christ, and become better disciples of Jesus.

During this pandemic, it is very inspiring and deeply moving to see and hear how many of, and in how many ways, our people and congregations have lived out their discipleship and the love and justice of Jesus utilizing the resources God has entrusted to their care and use, thereby exercising good and faithful stewardship. Thank you!!  

Photo by Avel Chuklanov, Unsplash

Author

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David Cleaver-Bartholomew

Rev. Dr. David Cleaver-Bartholomew is the Transitional Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development for the SNEUCC.

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