Teaching Stewardship

August 19th, 2012

What do you think of when you hear the word stewardship? You responded typically if you said money or finance campaign. Too often, stewardship discussions focus on how to raise money for the church budget. Too often, stewardship education consists of training visitors to make an appeal for funds.

While stewardship does include how we get, spend, and give our money, this narrow definition of stewardship as church fund raising falls far short of the rich, comprehensive understanding of stewardship that we find in the Bible. This article will help you study the biblical concept of stewardship and consider ways you can teach this holistic understanding to students of all ages.

Stewardship in the Bible

A biblical understanding of stewardship rests on the foundation that God is the creator and owner of all things:

"The earth is the LORD'S and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it" (Psalm 24:1).

Persons do not truly own anything--even themselves--but hold their time, talents, material resources, the created world, and "God's mysteries" ( 1 Corinthians 4: 1) in trust to be used for God's purposes.

Within this understanding, we cannot truly give anything to God--all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. We can, however, return to God a portion of that which is God's (1 Chronicles 29: 14). We offer this portion not out of a sense of duty but as a response to the gracious love of God. As Christians, we have seen God's love most clearly demonstrated in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus we see the model of stewardship to which God calls each of us.

Stewardship is a Way of Life

Stewardship is not a particular activity such as serving on a committee or making a financial pledge. Rather, stewardship is a way of life that requires us to put God first in all things, trust God to meet our needs, and be accountable to God in the way that we use all of the resources entrusted to our keeping. If we use these resources as God intends, the earth and all who dwell in it will be cared for.

A look at several Greek words used in the New Testament and their meanings in English will help us to clarify this holistic understanding of stewardship. Oikos (oy' kos) means home or household. Oikonomos (oy ko no' mos) is the household manager or administrator; the steward. Oikonomia (oy ko no mee' ah) signifies the management or administration of a household-stewardship. Oikoumene (oy kou me' nay) means the whole world-God's entire household.

The English words ecology, economy, and ecumenical have their roots in these Greek words. These words help us to see that stewardship encompasses the ideas of caring for all of creation, economic management, and the inclusiveness of the entire world within the family or household of God.

Jesus and Stewardship

In addition to words related to stewardship, we can learn from Jesus' parables about how to live as stewards. In the Parable of the Talents {Matthew 25: 14-30), Jesus depicts three slaves who were each entrusted with money (talents) as their master left on a long journey. Jesus' listeners would have identified these men as stewards since the responsibility of administering the affairs of a wealthy biblical household was assigned to trustworthy slaves. In Luke 11:5-13 Jesus teaches us that God will provide us with the resources we need. God's generosity is also evident in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15). Our generosity, willingness to take risks, and compassion for others is seen in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9) shows that we are stewards of God's word as we respond to it in our own lives.

Jesus not only taught us about stewardship but lived as the chief steward. He reached out to persons on the fringes of society-the poor, the sick, the woman, the outcast-to care for all members of the household of God. He used the gifts that God entrusted to him to teach, preach, and heal. He pointed others to the kingdom of God as a trustworthy steward of God's mysteries.

Stewardship in Your Church

We, too, are called to be trustworthy stewards of God's mysteries. As leaders in the educational ministry of our congregations, how can we help persons learn what it means to be a steward? Here are some ideas and resources that may help you with this important task.

Through Studies

Highlight stewardship issues as they appear in the regular small group and Sunday school curriculum. As you lead a overview at the beginning of each new study, point out stewardship stories, topics, and activities in your groups material. Identify as examples of stewardship learning activities that show biblical and modern persons sharing their resources, caring for others, and using their abilities in service to God.

Offer special stewardship studies on Sunday or at other times during the week. lf your church has a stewardship committee, volunteer to work with the chairperson to plan these studies or events.

Through Events and Projects

Work with your church staff, key leaders, and pastor to provide special events and projects that help persons of all ages experience themselves as stewards. Hold a spiritual gifts class or workshop to help adults discover their own talents as they identify and affirm the abilities of each member of the group.

Offer a retreat on stewardship of the environment. Sponsor an environmental project, such as recycling within the church, planting trees, or picking up litter around the church neighborhood. Create a flyer (for an ongoing project) or gather for a brief introduction (for a one-time project) to help persons understand that what they are doing reflects their stewardship of God's creation, include appropriate Scriptures.

Create a short drama with characters demonstrating several facets of stewardship. Present this short drama in worship or hold a special evening event to perform it. Provide time in Sunday school, children's after-school groups, or youth groups to create posters or murals illustrating a stewardship theme. Display all of the posters around the church building as a means of educating the whole congregation about stewardship.

If you have children's sermons, discuss with your pastor(s) stewardship themes that might be used during this time in worship. Coordinate these with preaching emphases on stewardship so that all worshippers will be challenged to consider their faithfulness as stewards.

Stewardship education is an ongoing process

Highlight different facets of stewardship at different times. Weave stewardship into the fabric of Christian education throughout the year. As an educator, teach the concept of stewardship and enable persons to experience themselves as stewards. Help persons learn that to be a Christian is to be a steward in all of the rich, biblical dimensions of that word.

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