Funny thing. Writing about stewardship all this week resulted in a 30% drop-off in my readership. I’ve gotten a handful of emails this week expressing sentiments like “I expect better from you,” and “you’re as bad as my local church,” and “why are you marching out this tired old song,” and “you’re selling out to the mainline.” First of all, I wonder if these people actually read more than the titles. The other emails I have received are telling me that I am full of fertilizer and that if any of the stuff I am writing is true other people would be saying it, too. The bottom line is that people struggle with stewardship. The wonderful term and concept of “stewardship” has been usurped, co opted, and compromised by the institutional church so that it makes almost everyone squirm. I wish the concept could be redeemed.
In my understanding discipleship and stewardship are two sides of one coin — the yin/yang of the authentic Christian life. Discipleship is based in learning, growing, developing, and following. It is a lifelong process of discovery and empowerment. Stewardship is based in doing, leading, teaching, working, improving, and testing. It is a lifelong journey of managing and employing all that God has placed in our care. There is a dynamic tension between the two that propels a Christian to ever higher expressions of faith and ever deeper relationships within the body of Christ. It is about the whole person — including his wallet and her pocketbook — and all they are and can ever be. It is too bad we have so radically reduced both concepts. In research I did for the denomination, 71% of United Methodists define discipleship as “believing in Jesus as the Son of God,” and 84% define stewardship as “giving time, talent, and treasure to the church.”
Is it any wonder that we produce such meager fruit from such barren soil?
I spoke with someone the other day who wasn’t too keen on my recent blogs. He asked me, “when are you going to get back to the really important stuff? When are you going to shake things up? Your blog is pretty tame these days.” Well, excuse me for being boring! (Just kidding. I mean this jokingly, but written out it looks defensive…) I wish stewardship were controversial. I wish it were “important stuff.” I wish these blogs would “shake things up.” But I’m living in a fantasy world, I guess. What’s important to me is dull and pedestrian to someone else. (But keep an eye out for my article, Cannibalistic Wiccan Libertarians Seek Ordination, coming soon…)
The one aspect of stewardship I didn’t explicitly talk about this week is trust. To speak of money, to speak of lifestyle choices, to speak of spiritual commitment and lived values — these things require a great deal of trust. And trust is one thing lacking in many of our congregations. One appropriate definition of a steward is “trustee” — one proven worthy of trust. Perhaps the greatest challenge to our stewardship is our inability to build trust in the church. Where there is no vision the people perish, but where there is no trust there is no “people,” just an assemblage of individuals doing their own thing for their own reasons. Nothing kills stewardship faster than a lack of trust. In fact, nothing kills the church faster than a lack of trust. “Think of us in this way,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Furthermore, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” Perhaps we need to hold annual trustworthiness campaigns instead of financial campaigns.