We continue our new year romp through stewardship resources — books and beyond — with a word from Bob Sitze. His brand new book, Stewardshift is among those I’m eagerly waiting for my postal carrier to deliver. I especially appreciate how Bob pushes those of us serving in theological institutions (like me) to think beyond our walls to fields like neurobiology and philanthropy. Next week we’ll take a look at a new video resource for congregations.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
What Would It Take?
by Bob Sitze
I may be wrong, but it’s possible that stewardship doesn’t hold the Church together as much as we hope it could. Funding God’s mission seems to get harder, we keep circling around time-honored stewardship concepts that don’t seem to carry much emotional freight, and an unspoken sense of dread often accompanies any mention or use of this word in churchly matters.
At the same time, secular stewardship wisdom is available all around us. In fields such as positive psychology, financial planning, natural history, neurobiology, philanthropy or wisdom research, the ideals of stewardship are an integrating principle, a common part of the working vocabularies of these enterprises.
A look back
How did we get here? About two hundred years ago, “stewardship” and “funding God’s mission” got conflated. Great awakenings and global mission fervor motivated devout leaders to find ways of increasing support for the good work that churches could accomplish. Some parts of Scripture were pressed into promoting ideals that may not have matched the passages’ original intent. St. Paul’s “steward” analogy from first-century economic life was fashioned into a larger doctrine that seemed to merge purposed mission with the means to achieve those goals.
The Church took an originally secular concept and brought it into what seemed like ecclesiastical safe-keeping. But those who led the Church towards godly ideals such as generosity, simple living, altruism, or sacrificial living may not have noticed in the secular world similar stewardship revelations of the Spirit.
Now, two hundred years later, some energy may have drained out of what had seemed to be a useful way of framing our identity and purpose as God’s people.
What would it take to change?
Perhaps we need to reset some of our thinking and behaviors. Some possible action strands come to mind:
- What if we re-examined more insistently some of the commonly used biblical sources for stewardship theology?
- What if we expanded our Scriptural stewardship searches into surprising and delightful places that we may have missed?
- What if we tried to learn from the wisdom of leaders of secular enterprises who share our passion for stewardship at its radically practical levels?
- What if we pared down our congregations’ central identity to this: We’re more than disciples — we’re stewards?
A way forward
Instead of constantly reemphasizing those two hundred year old beliefs, we may benefit from rethinking our stewardship theology and practice:
- We might accept the possibility that we’ve overlooked the larger implications of stewardship theology for the vocational callings of God’s people.
- We could seek their wisdom in these matters — these are people who live as stewards out in the world that God so dearly loves.
- We might unhook “funding God’s mission” from its grip on stewardship, so that, unencumbered by each other, both ideas could use their own strengths and power.
- We could find new wisdom, excitement and energy in applying new exegetical tools to time-honored Scriptures. (e.g., What if the story of The Widow’s Mite was less about sacrificial giving and more about the ways religious leaders oppressed devout widows?)
- We could retrace this part of sanctified living back to its first-century roots, and rebuild a theology (with accompanying practices) that centered on fulfilling God’s will.
If we engaged in these fundamental changes, we could garner the attention of church members — because we were paying attention to them! We could learn more about ethical, workable fundraising approaches. We might find new ways to express congregational vision.
And we could follow the Spirit’s guidance into confident, courageous identities as faithful and capable stewards!
Congregational consultant and neuroecclesiologist Bob Sitze is the author of the recently released Stewardshift: An Economia for Congregational Change. www.churchpublishing.org/stewardshift (Morehouse, 2016)
[A neuroecclesiologist attempts to frame church structures and behaviors within the parameters of applied brain science.]
These possible changes in stewardship theology are informed by the writings of Jack Reumann, Lutheran New Testament scholar (Stewardship and the Economy of God) and William R. Herzog, American Baptist New Testament professor (Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed.)
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