All these ideas are partially correct. They refer to a person who actively manages affairs and looks after people. It wasn’t always that way. Originally a combination of two Old English words, “sty” and “ward,” steward meant a “keeper of the pigsty.” Over the centuries, it adopted a loftier definition: the keeper of a lord’s estate.
A Christian steward is also a keeper of a lord’s estate—with two critical distinctions. In a Christian’s case, the lord refers to God, creator, redeemer and sustainer of all life. The other distinction is that the duties of a keeper are not a paid position—but a way of life.
“…Stewardship is a spiritual issue in that it impacts individual members who adopt an owner mentality.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to stewardship, “many pastors tend to see [it] as an institutional issue and not as a spiritual issue,” Rev. Dr. Wayne Knolhoff said, former stewardship director and consultant with the LCMS Office of National Mission, Concordia Seminary and LCEF. In other words, stewardship is what you talk about when it is time to repair the roof, build a new building or set next year’s budget.
“As a result, they think their time is better spent on more important ‘spiritual’ issues.” However, “stewardship is a spiritual issue in that it impacts individual members” who adopt an owner mentality. “I own my money. I own my life. I own this. I own that. I get to choose how I use it.”
What’s needed is an understanding that “at the foundation of what it means to be a steward is that God is the one and only owner of all that is,” Knolhoff said. “He owns us by both creation and redemption.”
Rev. Heath Curtis, pastor and coordinator of the LCMS Stewardship Ministry, puts it this way: “stewardship falls under sanctification: how we are to live a godly life and grow in the image of Christ. So, the preaching and teaching of stewardship will always display our shortcomings, failures and sins.”
But it doesn’t end there. “As our hearts get filled with Christ by Word and Sacrament,” said Rev. Dave Miller, pastor at Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta, “God swaps out our old stingy, selfish, joyless hearts, and transplants in us His own. One that’s generous, selfless, joyful—ready to serve our neighbor.”
Time, Talent, Treasure
The other way of looking at stewardship in the Church is with the three T’s: time, talent and treasure—and how we share these gifts. While this is better than the last notion we looked at, it’s still an incomplete view, one that can lead to lives that are compartmentalized. What we need is a comprehensive view of life.
What does a comprehensive vision of life look like? Rev. George Karl August Koenig, former Atlantic District president (1941 – 1942), wrote, “Christianity involves more than church attendance, giving, decent behavior and occasional church going. Perhaps church membership has been made too easy. Perhaps it has become a polite gesture where it ought to be a fervent surrender.”
How many of us can say we are living a life of fervent surrender?