Stewardship: What It Means to Be a Steward
It’s stewardship season at St. Brendan’s. During the next few weeks, you’ll hear people talking in church about why it is important to give to St. Brendan’s. And I hope, if you’re a member of St. Brendan’s or if you’ve read some of the other blog posts about the things that go on at St. Brendan’s, you already know why St. Brendan’s matters and why it is important to support our church financially. You’ll also be receiving more information from our treasurer in the coming weeks about our financial need and what it actually takes to keep St. Brendan’s afloat. However, in this post, I want to address a broader question about what stewardship is and what it means to be a steward—from my own perspective and from the points of view of some other St. Brendan’s members.
This is how the Episcopal Church defines stewardship:
Stewardship is about being grateful, responsible stewards of the gifts we receive from God. The tradition of giving back to God and to the church comes from the Biblical practice of “tithing,” which means to give back a tenth of our earnings to God (Numbers 18:26). The Episcopal Church sees stewardship as more than simply contributing money to the church; it’s also about contributing time and talents and volunteering for ministry and mission. It’s about reaching out to build relationships from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity. (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/stewardship)
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stewardship as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stewardship)
What strikes me in these definitions is that they both suggest that, first, stewardship must be a careful and thoughtful process, and that, second, as stewards, we are managing things that are not ours but rather things that have been entrusted to us—in this case by God.
Historically, a steward was somewhat like an estate manager for wealthy families or a chief executive officer for businesses. In most cases, he (for it was usually a man) was not a member of the family, but rather a slave or a servant. In Greek, the word for stewardship is oikonomia, which is a combination of oikos, meaning household, and nomos, which means law or rule. Together these terms implied the administration or management of a household. However, the ancient Greek word also carried a connotation of leadership, authority, and accountability that are often lost in translations today. (https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/blog/leadership-stewardship-part-1)
I never heard the word, stewardship, until I was in college; and I never understood it until I started to become more ecumenical in my religious practices. As a Catholic in a coal mining community, we gave to the church regularly but only what we had left in our wallets –it usually was a dollar or two. We would stuff that into our envelopes and felt like we were doing a good job of supporting the church.
What I didn’t understand was that Stewardship is primarily about “intentionality.” To be a successful steward means that I want to care for, provide for and contribute to something because I find value in it. It means that it is important enough to me that I don’t want to give to it from what I simply have left over, I want to choose to give to it and budget for it ahead of time. Steward-shipping, if you will, is very proactive and not reactive.
– Fr. Regis Smolko
Today, the term steward is used for flight attendants, or attendants on a ship or train, and sometimes for officials at sporting events. The phrase stewardship is also used in relation to concepts like environmental stewardship, which promotes the active preservation and protection of our environment and our natural resources. For many people, as Fr. Regis described, however, the only time we hear the phrase stewardship is during the stewardship campaigns at church and so we come to associate the term with fundraising or other money-raising activities.
There are a few things that make stewardship different from a just putting money in a collection plate or even participating in a fundraising campaign you might find at nonprofit or charity. From an individual perspective, stewardship implies that the money we give to the church—or spend on coffee, or pay in rent—is not ours; it has been entrusted to us by God. We are stewards of the gifts that God has given us or that we have earned through the talents God gave us, and part of the work that God wants us to do with these gifts is to support the Church. From a collective perspective, we are all stewards of the Church—and our church—and it is our responsibility together to manage and care for the church, financially and otherwise.
This is what sets stewardship in the church apart from just fundraising. Unless you are on the board or staff of a nonprofit to which you donate, you are most likely not involved with the inner workings of the charities to which you give money. You may care about the cause to which you are donating, but you don’t necessarily care for that organization. But, if you are a member at St. Brendan’s, or even if you just attend services and events occasionally, you are probably involved in the management and administration of St. Brendan’s. You may help on a committee, serve on the vestry, pray with other parishioners during worship services, volunteer on a service project, or be involved in any one of the many other ways Brendanites contribute to our church. Stewardship means that you care about St. Brendan’s and its mission.
For me, stewardship means acting responsibly on an individual basis to preserve and protect something worth caring about. Everything we do to further St. Brendan's mission and vision for the fulfillment of life through worship, service, loving care for each other, and educational enrichment contributes to that preservation and protection. When each person responds according to their calling, we strengthen our community of faith and make that mission and vision achievable.
-- Darrell Johnson
As I get older, and have less money available, I find it necessary to contribute to a few really important places [including] St. Brendan's. I wish my contributions could be greater to all … each is so important in my life and in the lives of all of us. St Brendan’s has always been here for me, and without it, my life would have less meaning.
-- Charlotte Pierce
You will often hear churches talk about giving time, talent, and treasure. And indeed, careful stewardship involves all three. As stewards, it is our responsibility to ensure the health and success of our church and to use our personal gifts, financial and nonfinancial, in ways that glorify God and honor God’s creation.
Personally, I see stewardship having three components: talent, time and treasure. I feel these are what keep a church running and, with the right balance, thriving:
Talent: The important thing, I feel, is to figure out what talent you have that can contribute to the life of our parish. We balance one another with our various skills and interests.
Time: Our church family depends on us to help maintain the church and to support our community. There is something available to everyone who wishes to help care for our church.
Treasure: The way I see it, we all have a place to live that costs money to live in, and we also have a church, God’s house, that we need to help pay for so we can meet with God for worship. Every cost we have for our homes, except for taxes, we also share responsibility for at St. Brendan’s: mortgage, phone, gas, electricity, cable, lawn care and snow removal, furnaces, roof maintenance, etc. I feel this is where tithing comes in.
St. Brendan’s sets a remarkable example of tithing through CRIES Advocacy. [CRIES stands for “Christian Response In Emergency Situations”, the open group meets monthly at St. Brendan’s to determine where to distribute St. Brendan’s tithe.] Every month, ten percent of our pledge/commitment donations along with plate offerings are distributed to God’s world beyond our church. CRIES does not, however, receive 10% from ALL sources of income: designated gifts, memorial donations, the annual Yard Sale and other fundraisers are excluded from the tithe.
Following St. Brendan’s example, I don’t feel tithing has to be based on ALL income: it can be based on whatever portion of it that you decide is doable. Whatever we decide, though, I feel we need to be willing to dig in and do without something each week to feel the effect sacrificing has on us. It’s easy to spend on non-essentials unless we’re committed to giving more to the church than we thought possible or practical. I eased into tithing by first committing 5%, then 7% of my family’s income. From there it became a matter of recognizing how important St. Brendan’s is to me and offering my thanks to God for his blessings. Ten percent is a small gesture of appreciation for all He has given to me.
-- Rob Latta
So yes, in the next few weeks St. Brendan’s will be asking you to consider what you can pledge to support our church financially—whether that is a 10% tithe or $20 a month. And I urge you to give this question prayerful thought. But we are also asking you to make a larger, non-financial commitment to invest in and care for St. Brendan’s as its steward.
Grace and peace,
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A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.