The Office of Stewardship
Module 1: What is Stewardship?
The Incomplete View
Often times when someone hears the word stewardship, they automatically think of money. I have a co-worker who, for many years, did all of the administrative work necessary for the annual appeal every year. I still often hear her say, “When I worked in Stewardship.” In fact, to reduce stewardship just to money is a very impoverished way to look at Christian Stewardship. Stewardship is about our money, but it is about so much more than just our money.
Let’s step back a little and look at the word “steward.” A steward is someone who cares for something that is not his own.
In Luke chapter 16, Jesus tells the parable of the “dishonest Steward” – A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ (cf. Luke 16:1-2). What was this man’s job? It was to manage the property and affairs of the rich man.
In general, a steward is anyone who takes care of something not his/her own.
Christian Stewardship: A More Complete View
Christian Stewardship builds on this understanding of a steward and at the heart of it is the belief that every good thing in our lives is a gift from God. Our material wealth, our health, our talents, the time we have each day, our faith.
A Christian steward believes and makes decisions based on the truth. St. James gives us this in the first chapter of his letter in the Bible, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
In 1992, the US Bishops produced a document on Stewardship entitled, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” In that document the Bishops say this: “As Christian stewards, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.”
Let’s Break that Apart
“We receive God’s gifts gratefully”
A Christian Steward believes that all is gift – Bishop Kemme, of the Diocese of Wichita says, “There is nothing we have; nothing; that is not a gift. Everything we are and everything we have is founded in the loving generosity of the Creator. When we know this, not just in our minds but in the depths of our hearts, then life takes on a whole new meaning.
Then we have a whole different perspective about our time or our talents or our treasure, our bodies, our minds, hearts – everything that we are and everything that we have—takes on a completely different perspective.”
They intentionally cultivate a sense of gratitude – 1 Thess. 5:18: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
–> We find what we are looking for.
I have a friend, Peg, who once told a story about her mother. Growing up, Peg often heard her mother say, “Say 3 Hail Mary’s before lunch on Monday and something good will happen to you before Friday.”
Chuckling she shared that I might just dismiss this as foolish superstition, but she believed that her mom, in her wisdom, was simply teaching her children to look for the blessings present in their lives. She set up the expectation that something good would happen and with expectant faith, they would find what they were looking for.
The book 1000 Blessings, a NY Times Bestseller, tells the story of how one woman’s life was transformed by the decision to write down 1000 things she was grateful for. Ann suffered many tragedies in her life, she watched her younger sister be crushed under the wheels of a truck, suffered alongside her brother-in-law as they buried two of their infant sons. She suffers the many trials of daily life, raising a large family on a limited income, a farmer’s wife, whose livelihood is often determined by things outside his control. However, in the midst of it all, she discovers the secret to a deep interior peace and a joy beyond all understanding – she finds it in a dare to write down 1000 gifts. 1000 blessings that she receives in the midst of daily life with all its ups and downs.
Christian stewards believe and trust in God’s generosity and goodness. Realizing that all good things come from Him and knowing that his goodness and love are infinite, they live life with an attitude of abundance. They believe there will always be enough to meet their needs and the needs of their neighbor. A steward understands that God will never be outdone in generosity and lives from this truth. He/she is free to be generous with time, talents, material goods. Most importantly, his/her heart is open to others. He/she is willing to give of him/herself because he/she doesn’t just draw from themselves, but from the infinite capacity, love and mercy of God.
“Cultivate them responsibly”
We tend to take good care of something which we have borrowed from another, particularly if that item is expensive.
Christian stewards recognize that all they have been given actually belongs to another –another who is worthy of all their love, worship and admiration. Therefore, they care for the gifts they have been entrusted with.
Growing up I was taught to return something borrowed in better condition than you received it. This is the attitude of a steward.
But this isn’t just about material possessions, our talents and gifts, our time; indeed our very lives are gifts. So a steward is committed to cultivating these things as well. We are committed to personal growth, to becoming the “best version of ourselves.” We are committed to using the gifts and talents we have been given to serve others. We use our time wisely and share it generously with others.
“Share them lovingly with others and return them with increase to the Lord”
Once we understand, not just with our minds, but with our hearts that all we have is gift and once we have received them generously and cultivated them well, our natural response is to give them generously to God and to others. This is because the openness and acknowledgement of the gifts forsters gratitude.
Gratitude, then, rooted in the trust of God’s goodness, the abundance of his gifts, leads to generosity, what Fr. Jarrod Lies calls a cycle of giftedness –
God gives the gift of life and love. –> I must receive that gift –> I must accept it and allow it to transform me. –> I must share the gift of God’s life and love.
Gift given –> gift received –> gift accepted –> gift transformed –> gift shared – this is the cycle of giftedness.”
Fr. Lies’ cycle helps us to see how the Holy Spirit desires to work in and through us in the world. In Disciple’s Response, the U.S. Bishops remind us that “when we accept our lives as sheer gifts, the Holy Spirit can use us as apt instruments . . . and where the Spirit works, there is joy. Good stewards are always JOYFUL bearers of the Good News of Salvataion.” (emphasis mine)
Joy, generosity, freedom, gratitude — these are the fruits of this cycle of giftedness. These are the gifts of embracing stewardship in our lives.
“The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”
A Tendency toward Selfishness
So what stops us? Why do we sometimes step outside of this cycle of giftedness? Because of the effects of the Fall (original sin), we all have a tendency toward selfishness. We all have a tendency to mistrust both God and others. So we live with a temptation to grab for what we need, to “look out for number 1”. We can be tricked into thinking God will not provide for us and then we won’t see the ways he wants to give to us. We also have often times been hurt by others. Our hurts can make it difficult to live a life of openness and trust.
The Beatitudes given to us by Jesus can free us from this temptation and from these tendencies toward selfishness and mistrust. Fr. Philippe in his book on the Beatitudes (The Eight Doors to the Kingdom) shares that all of the Beatitudes are found in the first: Blessed are the poor in spirit.
He says, “What does Spiritual poverty consist of? I would say it is essentially a form of freedom, the freedom to receive everything freely and to give everything freely.” So Jesus offers us, in the Beatitudes, a remedy to our tendency towards selfishness and mistrust. With Him, with His grace, with His wisdom we can begin to live a life of great freedom and joy.
This freedom opens us to receive abundantly from the Lord and it also allows us to base our generosity towards others, not on their response, but on our desire to do the right thing for the Lord. We then escape the temptation to base our generous response on the actions (or inactions) of others. We do not find ourselves in the position of judging the worthiness of another. We don’t have to, because we are giving out of an infinite “storehouse”, God’s storehouse.
It helps us live in the reality that we all have equal dignity in the Lord. As St. Paul reminds us, “there is neither Gentile nor Jew, slave or free, man or woman.”
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