On Stewardship & Discipleship

Stewardship is not just about duty, responsibility, or financial giving. Stewardship is not about who gives most, or who can give enough to be considered for "naming opportunities." Neither is stewardship disconnected from how we live as Christians. Stewardship is not about giving time without treasure; treasure without talent; talent without time; nor any other combination; but rather, the triune and complete use of all three of these aspects for the glory of God. It is, in its final analysis, about the pilgrim road of discipleship. Stewardship is at its core an act and expression of love.

Stewardship is so intrinsically part of our vocation as Christians that we cannot place it above or below prayer; but essentially with it. Our acts of generosity can and should be an essential part of our ongoing prayer for humanity. We give in gratitude, and therefore praise God. It can even be argued that our vocation as Christians is based in our faith, and lived out (expressed) through our acts of personal stewardship. It is not enough for us as Christians to say we love – me must demonstrate it as we were taught by Jesus Christ. A good steward is mindful of time, talent, and treasure, and uses all three to engage in prayer, worship, acts of charity, mercy, kindness, humility, and love, sustaining them all by embracing an ethic of good stewardship.

The notion of biblical stewardship obviates the distinction between wealth and poverty. What matters is generosity. A good steward understands his or her wealth as gift and shares it proportionately. This means that even the poorest of the poor can be a good steward. The small gift of a pauper may be vastly more generous than the large gift of a rich person. Like St. Mark's widow with the mite that was "all she had to live on" (Mk 12:41:44), good stewards are impelled to give from the well of their deep desire. Poor stewards, by contrast, are more concerned with the dollar amount, recognition, and what might be gained in return for their gift. Those who choose not give (and not giving is a choice) cannot claim to call themselves stewards at all.

Stewardship is not the by-product of a committee meeting or a fundraising campaign, nor even of the Sunday sermon. Stewardship is a relationship with God that both gives and receives, making all things possible. Christian stewards recognize their gifts, contemplate all that is in their lives, and devote themselves daily to the conviction that they, as Christians, are invited into a state of duality: as a child of God, the Christian is gift, and as steward, giver. Life as a steward, contained in the covenant of our baptismal promises, and embodied in the daily journey of our lives, is inseparable to our lives of Christian discipleship.

Stewardship, however, is not a vocation that stands independently, but rather, as part of our greater vocation as Christians. Stewardship cannot, therefore, be achieved in singular acts of giving, but instead through the total conduct of our lives as followers of Christ. Like Christian life itself, stewardship is a journey. It takes time, we stumble, we fall, and we rise again to pursue our Christian vocation. We progress as stewards even as we progress as pilgrims. In this sense, we grow after the example of Christ who matured "in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor" (Lk 2:52). Christ, in his generous self-sacrifice, sets before us the perfection of loving self-donation. He is the Passionate Steward; the model we are called to imitate.

Doubtless, our journey as stewards, much like Christ's journey, will be punctuated by particular milestones; moments of sacrifice or special generosity which will stand out always in our lives, or perhaps of learning or insight which "form" us as stewards. Perhaps a Sunday School teacher will encourage in us an indelible desire to share, or one of our priests deepens our sense of gratitude for blessings we have not earned. As adults, we may find ourselves moved by a sermon, enriched by an experience gained only through the gift of our time and talent as volunteers, or transformed by a pilgrimage to Armenia, especially in Holy Etchmiadzin. With each of these experiences we learn, and yet, none of them can ever represent the full attainment of our vocation to stewardship whereby we seek to emulate Christ in the totality of his salvific and generous self-offering.

Here is why. Good stewardship is not predicated on a single act. No vocation is. While the act of ordination may make someone a deacon or priest, for example, we would not consider this a fulfillment of that person's vocation, but rather a single milestone in living out his or her life "in orders." Nor can we achieve the fullness of our vocation as good stewards by a single act of generosity. Indeed, it most often works the other way round: being a good steward is what compels us to a life filled with singular acts of generosity.

As our lives evolve, then, so should our understanding and practice of stewardship. Just as we pray to deepen our faith, or to better understand what God calls us to be in life, so we must also continually work to discern our vocation as stewards. Anyone who has engaged in the life of prayer knows that the more we pray, the deeper our prayer life and faith becomes. The stewardship journey is no different: the more deeply we engage in it, the better we understand it, and the better we understand it, the more richly we are called to participate in the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ.

The passionate steward desires to be generous with his or her time, talent and treasure, and therefore acts upon that desire. Motivated by an understanding of one's Christian vocation as a steward, the individual Christian gives, gives generously, gives freely, and gives without expectation of reward or recognition. For the passionate steward such a gift conforms to the norms of scripture. It is an act of love, freedom and generosity - not an act of obligation, duty, or social expectation.

Passionate stewardship calls us to recognize that all that we are and have is gift. It comes from God, belongs to God, and is meant for the purposes of God: it is only in our possession "in trust," as it were. We are the stewards of God's grace, freely and generously given for our sake. Hence we are enabled to give from the abundance of God's own blessing, and to give sacrificially.

Giving in this way is so much richer a transaction than parting with a sum of money we believe to be our own in order to meet some perceived need. In this way, stewardship is the generous spending of ourselves in the fulfillment of our baptismal covenant, and could accurately be described as all that we do after we say, "I will, with God's help." In this understanding of stewardship, gifts are freely and happily given; they are generous and accountable, a visible sign of worship and gratitude to God. This has been the rich history of Armenian Christians for over 1,700 years and is a rich tradition that continues to this very day.

Adapted from The Passionate Steward: Recovering Christian Stewardship from Secular Fundraising by Michael O'Hurley-Pitts, Ph.D. (St. Brigid Press – 2002)

Download a chapter of the above book in Armenian. (72 KB PDF File)

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