What's stewardship all about?
By Paul Lutter
However important it may seem, stewardship is primarily about something more profound than asking either how much people give in money, time, and other gifts or how to get people to increase the ways they give. These questions have their place, of course. Every year, stewardship committees seek to both ask and answer these questions given ever-new realities facing the church and world.
While both questions are important, neither is sufficient. When these questions and their answers rule the roost, stewardship is seen to be almost exclusively about money and the quest for more of it for the mission and ministry of the church on both local and more global levels. Those concerned about stewardship, then, try to find ways to compel people to give more of what they have so that others who have nothing will then have something.
This isn’t really what stewardship is about, though. Stewardship proceeds from a different question, and thus lives out of a different reality.
The foundational question from which stewardship lives is neither how nor why people give what they do.
At its heart, the core question of stewardship is who does the giving in the first place? In other words, who owns all that we have?
The answer to this question may be surprising. It is certainly radical given our common thinking about what we have and how we use what we have. The answer even widens the scope of how we think about stewardship to move beyond what we have to even encompass who we are.
God owns all that we have. All of it. And, perhaps even more radically in a world that is hell bent on individual autonomy, God owns us, too.
Martin Luther on stewardship
Now, before you click to another article or laugh at the mere suggestion, hear me out. Or better yet, listen to what Martin Luther has to say. In 1529, Luther writes in his Small Catechism in explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”, that God not only creates us, but also, “…God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property -- along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life.”
God owns it all because God creates it all, right down to the “shoes and clothing” we wear. This God creates these things for us not once long ago, but “daily,” Luther says.
Daily, God creates and gives us what we need. And why wouldn’t that be the case -- it’s God’s to give. It is interesting to note that Luther pairs “daily and abundantly,” which suggests that as much and as often as God “provides” for us at all levels, God never runs out of good things to give us. No, this God who creates all things, “provides … all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life.”
God never runs out. What if this provided the focus of how we think about and live out stewardship?
Maybe then we could put away the stewardship programs and, instead, roll up our sleeves and do what we are called to do with all that God gives us, namely, to care for all that we’ve been given.
This isn’t a euphemism for hoarding what God gives us! Rather, it is about releasing the death grip we have on everything -- including ourselves -- and rest, instead, in the hands that create and hold us anew every day.
Paul Lutter is a visiting instructor at Gustavus Adolphus College. He is working toward his Ph.D. from Luther Seminary.