A blog post by Terri Elton
It is November, a month set aside for giving thanks. What a great practice that is. Pausing and giving thanks is something we can’t do enough. As you make your way toward Thanksgiving I encourage you to fully participate in this season’s rituals. But our focus for this month is going to be on something deeper and wider than giving thanks. Our focus is going to be on the question, what is it to be a steward?
As we take a look at the word steward, we get a glimpse what a steward is. As a noun, a steward is the person who looks after something…a ship, a plane, or a train, for example. As a verb, it is the activity of looking after, managing, or supervising, something like a plane, train, or ship.
In the Bible,there are many references to steward as a noun. This means people living in those times where familiar with the role of a steward. Interestingly, there are less references to it as a verb. But one reference is 1 Peter 4:10. It says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (NIV) What can we learn about what it means to be a steward from this text?
First, being a steward has a purpose. Why are you managing or looking after something? So you might serve others. Simple, right? Yes, and no. Yes, in that serving others is easy to remember, even on our busy days. No, in that serving others is hard work, and it’s not our natural bend. Serving others means putting others needs alongside, perhaps even before, our own. And that’s hard.
Second, being a steward isn’t something “out there.” Being a steward is tending to, taking care of, what’s right in my midst. In other words, we don’t have to go look for something to steward. No, there are plenty of things to steward right under our nose, right in our neighborhood, and right in our homes.
Third, what are we stewarding? God’s grace. What does that include? You name it. God has gifted this world with so much, and these gifts are simply that…gifts. These gifts are first God’s and secondarily ours. We are to remember that and hold them loosely.
So what does this all mean? Two short stories. First, I grew up as a pastor’s kid. You might say, so what. One thing I knew, all my life, was that all that we received, the salary my dad made, and all the things that provided for our family, was because people first gave to the church. If people didn’t give, we didn’t receive. This framework was just a reality for me. And at a very young age I came to appreciate the act of giving. Why? Because it makes a difference for people. And knowing that made me use the gifts wisely. This recognition stays with me today, and to this day it is hard for me to attend worship and not give something in the offering. Remember this, your giving makes a difference in the lives of others.
Second, I have experienced times when I didn’t think I had anything to give. There have been many times in my life were my needs and my resources didn’t align. Maybe I needed groceries, and it was several days until my paycheck came. Maybe it was a bill that needed to be paid, and my resources didn’t cover it. Or maybe I wanted to help a friend in a particular way and did not have available funds to follow through. Each and every time those moments surfaced in my life, I was required to rely on God’s grace. And as I did, something happened. Sometimes resources came, other times my needs changed, other times another creative solution surfaced, and often, quite often, others stepped into the gap.
Like manna fed God’s people as they wandered in the wilderness, so too God has taken care of me. And that grace extended to me has propelled me to steward what I have, sharing as I see need, and always looking for ways to multiply what I have. Sometimes I’m sharing a meal, other times I’m opening my home, and sometimes I’m opening my heart and offering a listening ear.
What does it mean to be a steward? We are going to hear many angles and approaches to this question in the month ahead. I hope you will join us, making reflecting on this question one of your November practices.
Terri is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She’s our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change. She also serves as Director of the Center for First Third Ministry and hopes to help ministry leaders create environments that cultivate a faith that matters. Growing up in southern California, Terri discovered her love for the city, cultural diversity and the beach. You can usually find Terri running or biking the streets of Minneapolis/St. Paul, or wherever she happens to be. When not moving, she’s watching a movie with her husband or traveling with her two young adult daughters.
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