This money, this talent, this time that I have is all
owned by the one who shaped and fashioned me into his child. It all belongs
to the one who made me and who claimed me in holy baptism. So I am pointed
in the direction of how I can best be shaped by the potter who fashioned me.
For nearly a century, Lutheran Laity Movement for
Stewardship assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways.
LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the
Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its
web resources available to a new generation of stewards.
Five Principles for
Stewardship in the Congregation
Unless we as leaders/servants in the church personally own something or
acknowledge its faithful presence in our lives, it becomes difficult to
accept the responsibility to care for it. Developing stewardship models in
the congregation requires the freedom to care for and nurture
relationships at the personal and interpersonal levels. We need to find
ways to nurture trust and responsibility and faith among those who would
share a common vision and mission. We must develop a sense of community, a
readiness to acknowledge both our dependence on others and our commitment
to others. Stewardship development in the congregation seeks to integrate
three very important foundations.
Experience shows that results happen when we acknowledge 1) we are
gifted; 2) we are stewards; and 3), we are accountable. The message of the
book of Genesis is that we have been created in God's image, and that we
have been given responsibility to take care of and to enjoy God's
creation. We live under the Biblical premise that everything we have, even
life itself which is lived in relationship with others, is a gift of God.
Nothing is ultimately our own. God is the giver of everything. Creation is
still God's; the people of God have only been entrusted with the
stewardship of it.
When the Israelites were fleeing the Egyptians and problems compounded,
God worked through Moses to give his people the Ten Commandments. A person
living by these commands would surely be a good steward. The Commandments
were the foundation under which people lived in relationship with their
God and with each other for centuries. In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus repeats
this law of Moses as the basis for every action in life. Loving God above
all else and our neighbor as ourselves would make us all good stewards of
Yet, when we showed that we could not be faithful stewards with the Ten
Commandments alone, God gave us Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Through his
life, we have an example to follow. Through Jesus' parables his teaching
on stewardship became specific. Through Christ's death and resurrection we
are accepted as God's children and given God's Spirit to help us live in
relationship with God and humanity as intended at creation. It is in
accepting this gift of God and allowing his spirit to live in us through
faith that we become the stewards we were intended to be.
So being a steward suggests that it is a process of developing a
disciplined Christian lifestyle that is practiced in and through the
church, but it is also practiced through one's occupation, community
involvement, neighborhood, anywhere and everywhere a Christian goes and in
whatever she or he might do. We learn stewardship in the church not for
the sake of serving the church -- but basically to serve -- in and through
the church, in our lives.
The stewardship of the gospel begins where we are. It is within and
outside the congregation that we share the responsibility and
accountability with other stewards of the gospel. And it needs to be said
as forcibly as possible that what we do is as important as what we say.
Someone has wisely observed that "It is not enough to talk the talk,
unless we also walk the walk." A similar message appears on a recently
observed sign: "If you don't live it, you don't believe it!"
Soren Kierkegaard wrote: "Order the parsons to be silent on Sunday.
What is there left: the essential thing remains, their lives, the daily
life by which the parsons preach. Would you then get the impression by
watching them, that it was Christianity they were preaching?" What we do
to and with each other in the congregation is of primary importance.
committed community reveals itself in patterns of caring and sharing.
Stewardship unfolds with "the willingness to be accountable for the
outcomes of a community that affirms our choice of being a servant over
the pursuit of self-interest" (Stewardship, Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler,
1993). This choice requires a high level of trust. Trust comes out of the
experience of pursuing what is true and is the highest form of human
motivation. What is true lies within each of us.
To serve is to grow as persons, and through the process of being served
to learn new ways to share our Christian faith for the benefit of the
people we touch. We must stress the value of interrelationships and
communication rather than focusing on things. Accountability and
partnership should be centered on principles. Principles are human
qualities that form the core of effective servant leadership. The most
effective stewardship programs are principle-centered. Here are several
principles that should be modeled in the congregation.
1. Stewardship -- A Spiritual Matter
T. A. Kantonen says "that in the final analysis, the doctrine of the
priesthood of all believers is the answer to the central question of
stewardship: what does it mean to be a Christian? (A Theology for
Christian Stewardship, Philadelphia: Muhlenburg Press, 1956). He further
states "Unless Christ has priority in the life of a church member, he or
she may be persuaded to support the church but will not be a true steward.
Thus the main problem in the financial support of the church is not
getting into the people's pocketbooks but getting Christ into people's
hearts." The priesthood of all believers is the reality that every
Christian, by virtue of baptism, is to be the conduit through which the
love of God flows into the life of the world.
2. Where Your Treasure is -- There Your Heart Will Be (Matt.
Christian giving has to do with our stewardship of the gospel. Christ's
call to proclaim God's love to all people remains our charge. "The end,
the goal of all Christian teaching, all prayer, all study of scripture,
all theologizing is to live with open and grateful hearts. In our journey
of life, our quest for meaning and the purpose in our spiritual
pilgrimage, the test is in how we invest it" (Donald W. Hinze To Give and
Give Again, Pilgrim Press, New York, 1990). Each one of us is called to
share the good news with those we contact in our daily lives. At the same
time our prayers and gifts can support others who are called to proclaim
the gospel to those beyond our reach. It is in regard to the stewardship
of the gospel that the extension of self through our gifts of money is
most evident. I was reminded of this when I visited the small farming
community (53 families) of Lava Lava, in central Bolivia, part of the
Andean Region of South America. This community of Quechua Indians
installed, through the assistance of a Lutheran World Relief project
organization, a distribution system through which running water was piped
into each farm yard. Instruction was given on basic medical care and
personal hygiene. One mother stated, we have not had a child's death since
the water came."
3. Need of the Giver to Give
Always concentrate on the need of the giver to give rather than on the
need of the congregation to receive. In a recent letter to the
congregation of St. James Lutheran Church, Gettysburg, PA, the
stewardship/finance committee had this to say: "This past year has been
one of education and transition for us as we learned that stewardship
begins when we say, 'We believe.' Our Lord will provide us all our needs
while we are here. ... All He asks is that we give a portion of
what has been given to us back to assist in helping others. It matters not
where or how you give it. If you don't have a favorite charity in mind,
your church acts as one body in Christ to search out the greatest needs of
many." Giving is living. Giving adds meaning to life and reflects the
priorities of God's people, who love God and their neighbor as themselves.
As Luther said, "I no longer live for myself, but I live in Christ and my
4. Affirmation of Our Baptism
William 0. Avery defines stewardship as "the process of living in/into
our baptism in such a way as to be co-workers with God in God's
stewardship for this world." He further states that, "'Living in our
baptism' indicates that our stewardship is always based on something
given, namely, our relationship to God established in our baptism. We
never have to earn our place as stewards. It is given as God's free gift
in Jesus Christ." (Lutheran Theological Seminary Bulletin, Volume 70,
Number 4, Fall 1990). The understanding of stewardship is always rooted in
the gift of our baptism.
5. Serve the Kingdom -- Keep it Spiritual
The apostle Paul laid down a clear stewardship foundation in his
letter to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Paul suggests to
this young struggling church, full of controversy, to turn its attention
outward. He presents a cryptic understanding of stewardship education in
the congregation. "In verse two, he makes four admonitions: First, giving
is an act of worship. On the day of worship, Sunday, set aside an
offering. Second, give systematically. If we give when we worship, we will
give regularly. Third, give proportionately to income. We cannot give what
we have not received. But we can withhold what we have received. Fourth,
plan your giving in advance. "By the time I have arrived," Paul is saying,
"the offering will be in hand." (Generous People, Eugene Grimm, Abingdon
Finally, this message greets me as I walk in my front door: "We did not
inherit the world from our parents; we borrowed it from our children. We
are not owners but stewards."
Roger Smith is a stewardship specialist with the
ELCA Division for Congregational Ministries. He is deployed in Region 8.
Smith is also a member of the board of directors of the Stewardship of
© Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay first appeared in the Summer 1994 issue of Faith
in Action. Articles in Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA
and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
Copyright 1994, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.