It’s always fun to describe my job to people who have no connection to the Christian faith. They have heard the word, “stewardship,” of course, but not exactly in the way the church uses it. Sometimes, though, I wonder if their first impressions might be healthier than many impressions of stewardship in the church. Today’s newsletter article by Dwight DuBois seeks to revise our appreciation of stewardship through the lens of the gathering and the scattering. Curious what that means? Read Dwight’s thoughtful piece below.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Stewardship for the Scattering
Dwight L. DuBois
It should come as no surprise that stewardship is one of the two dirty words in the church (evangelism being the other). I once heard a church leader joke about stewardship being “the f-word” (finances). While we may be reluctant to engage this topic, there is hope! We can reclaim stewardship by expanding it to include the many ways God is at work in and through our daily lives for the benefit of our neighbor.
Getting to the heart of the matter
In conversations about stewardship with pastors and congregational leaders, I use a worksheet with two columns: on the left participants define stewardship in gathered church terms and in scattered church terms in the right column. (These phrases, expanded in my book The Scattering: Imagining a Church that Connects Faith and Life, are shorthand for what the people of God do when we gather, and the many ways God is at work in and through us when we scatter into our everyday lives.)
Participants work alone on the left column to establish a baseline. I ask them to list legitimate, theologically valid definitions of stewardship. I give them permission to add jaded, stereotypical definitions as well.
Next, I distribute a conversation guide designed to expand their vision from stewardship as what we do for the church to a matter of caring. Stewardship is a matter of caring for family and friends so that they live full lives. The workplace is a setting in which we have regular opportunities for caring. As Craig Nessan has written, community service is also a way of caring. As we continue the conversation additional insights flourish.
Stewardship in the gathering
As one might expect, the left column comments most often refer to giving of time, talent, and treasures — inviting everyone to participate in the various ministry opportunities the church offers. One person summed up: “Stewardship is a matter of meeting the ministry plan that has been set by the church council in financial terms.”
The surprise, though, is that valid theological definitions are fairly rare. Some refer to stewardship as a faith practice. One person started with the theological foundation, “Give in response to God’s grace to us,” but then added the jaded parenthetical… “to support the church’s program.”
Signs of stress and pain are frequent. Stewardship is seen in should terms; it’s something that we don’t want to talk about but have to. No wonder it’s one of the dirty words of the church.
Is our persistent focus on the gathering (i.e., the institution’s vitality) the driver of our reluctant embrace of stewardship? Do we somehow sense that our focus is on “keeping our (corporate) life” while knowing that we are supposed to be about losing it for the sake of the world? (Luke 17:33)
Stewardship in the scattering
Here’s where hope blooms: when the conversation turns to stewardship as a matter of caring — principally in the roles and relationships of our everyday lives — excitement and possibilities quickly replace fear and dread. Among the more frequent comments in the right column are references to activities and programs the church doesn’t often give much attention to: community gardens, advocacy and political involvement, living simply, caring for friends and family, volunteering, citizenship, or donations to non-profits.
The surprise in this part of the conversation is that participants frequently note theologically orthodox approaches to stewardship. Stewardship as caring is described as “the things God empowers me to do/live out.” One person said it’s “the willingness to risk what I have been given or my whole being.” Like the faith practice comments in the left column, one person said it’s “a way of experimenting and developing faithfulness.” Others talked about stewardship in terms of naming daily activity as holy.
Don’t misunderstand me: stewardship has legitimate, theologically valid uses in the gathered church. Conducting an annual appeal that supports the vitality of the congregation is necessary and helpful. As one participant said, in the gathering it’s a matter of “giving of self for the sake of the institution.” In the scattering it’s “a generous response to God’s abundant blessings in all that we do, say, believe.”
Expanding stewardship to include the many ways God is at work for the benefit of our neighbor in and through our daily lives is a move that will bring hope and vitality to our corporate lives and to our individual lives.
For More Information
The Rev. Dwight DuBois (MDiv, STM) is the author of The Scattering: Imagining a Church that Connects Faith and Life. He is a parish pastor, congregational renewal professional, teacher, and presenter. In recent years he has worked extensively on making the connection between faith and life, in congregations, with college students, and at the seminary level.
Visit the website for the book on which this article is based: http://thescattering.org. Visit the website for the ELCA’s Life of Faith Initiative: http://lifeoffaith.info. Both include links to books, articles, web pages, and other resources for making connections between faith and life.
Rethinking Stewardship: Join us on July 25-27 for three days of conversation and exploration at Luther Seminary’s Rethinking Stewardship: From Solemn Obligation to Inspired Choice. More information here.