One of the concepts in Christianity is a thing called stewardship. It’s something we are supposed to value and one of our jobs as good Christians is to be good stewards. But the term and the concept can be really obscure. I rarely hear the term explained well, and have yet to get a satisfactory lesson on the Christian concept of stewardship. In fact, different Christians seem to explain the idea in sometimes vastly different ways. So I’m going to do my best to break it down here on my own.
A steward is someone who manages someone else’s money or other resources. So it involves both sound management and taking care of stuff that doesn’t belong to you. I guess we could call this responsibility, but there seems to be more to it than that. Otherwise we would just call it responsibility. Sometimes stewardship is equated with giving, especially in terms of money. That’s fine, except we already have a term for that too: generosity. I’ve also heard the explanation that all our gifts are from God and we need to remember that they are ‘on loan to us’. To some this explanation means we should always be feeling humble before God who is everything and has everything. This doesn’t seem super useful to me, especially if it messes with self-esteem. Another way to look at the ‘on loan’ aspect is to let it remind us we are to be using our gifts and resources for the things God would want. For me that means we need to be doing stuff to help people.
What I seem to be getting at here is two-fold. First the nature of what we have is God-given, so when we use our resources and talents, God expects us to be striving for certain things and avoiding other things. This is as simple and as complex as doing good and not doing bad. Since I’ve already spent time on this blog getting into good and bad, I’m going to move on to part two.
The second piece to stewardship is proper management of the resources we have. Resources people have can include just about anything from time and energy, to money and stuff, or talents and skills. Managing resources means making the best use of what you have, and usually it involves finding ways to increase and reach further. Stewardship of a business would entail growing the business. So our goal is not to spend our energy doing stuff until we are tired and broke, but to manage our resources so they perpetuate and grow to do more good. This I think is at the heart of what a good lesson on stewardship needs to teach. The reason this kind of concept is so hard to grasp is the fact that it involves choosing to do some things and choosing NOT to do some things.
Some examples are in order I think.
Starting very simplistically, say you own a forest of 100 trees that can be made into 100 packs of paper. You cut down all 100 trees and help 100 needy schoolchildren have books. You just helped a lot of people! But now you have no more trees and can’t help anymore kids until more trees grow. On top of this, you have only the seeds from the cut down trees to use for regrowth. If those seeds should fail you have no more to work with. Better stewardship might involve saving some trees for generating seeds, cutting branches off instead, or coming up with a way to use just the leaves for paper.
Next a more realistic example. Heifer Project is a charity that I’ve collected money for in the past. They have programs that help struggling families in poor countries by teaching them about farming and raising livestock. They also give animals to the families they help. This type of project could help more people faster if instead of animals, they bought rice and gave that away, BUT that kind of help is short-term. Spending the extra money to actually purchase and give away an animal is a longer lasting help that perpetuates itself. Usually the family is asked to give back to the program by donating the first offspring of the animal they were gifted to help another family in need, furthering the resources even more. This is good stewardship.
For my last example I want to get at the usage of time and talents. And I’m going to borrow from my absolute favorite TV show right now. Yes, I am about to synopsize The Aquabats Supershow; specifically episode 2 of season 2. This episode is also available on YouTube (which is how I saw it). The beginning of the episode details the return of the Aquabats from space. They are heroes who have saved the world, but don’t remember anything about it. Once they regain their memories they offer to help everyone with everything. From cats in trees to pickle jars that won’t open, they want to help, however the crowd decides they aren’t helping enough and chases them for a song-montage-sized chunk of the episode. In the end the Aquabats realize they can’t help everyone with every little thing. This, I think, is a stewardship lesson. If you have a talent for something big- like saving the world- it might not make sense for you to spend all your time doing smaller things. Time and energy are finite and good stewardship entails using both wisely. Again I’m seeing the lesson is not simply what to spend time doing, but what NOT to spend time doing. I think we need to balance both in order to practice good stewardship.