Editor’s note: Monthly articles from LCMS Stewardship Ministry will now be hosted here on The Lutheran Witness site. Visit the “Ministry Features” page each month for additional stewardship content.
The steward leader and the steward face many challenges. Some challenges stem from stewardship teaching that is disconnected from pulpit, altar and font. Other challenges arise when stewardship is taught too narrowly — when it is connected only to the local congregational budget, to serving those already gathered in a given location.
These challenges produce what might rightly be called “acedia,” the steward’s deadly sin.
Acedia, while a fancy-sounding word, is a deadly concept. Acedia is one of what other Christian traditions call the “seven deadly sins.” It is sometimes wrongly translated as “sloth.” While it is true that the unfaithful Christian steward is often guilty of what seems to be laziness, that is not what acedia is. This deadly sin of the steward is better understood as indifference or apathy.
If there is anything about which congregations can get apathetic, it is stewardship! God’s people often get excited about things like missions, evangelism, education, fellowship and community engagement.
But after more than a quarter century of ministry, I don’t ever remember people getting excited about learning what the Lord says about stewardship. Rather, eyes roll, the sighs are deep, and some get offended that the preacher might dare to talk about money. When the pastor talks about stewardship, women clutch their purses and men guard their wallets!
This is the heart of stewardship acedia. When the steward is indifferent or apathetic toward stewardship, things can truly become deadly. When the individual steward is apathetic toward being the steward that the Lord has created and redeemed them to be, their own soul is in jeopardy.
This is true because failed stewardship is not being miserly or cheap. The faithless steward is actually an idolater. Stewards that think that the stuff they have is theirs rather than a trust from the Lord of creation are at risk of pushing God right out of the center of their lives.
Stewardship acedia gets even worse. In the local congregation, stewardship acedia causes the assembly to become more worried about sustaining the local institution than about being stewards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in that place for the sake of the neighbor. This makes for pretty buildings and good coffee, but it also leaves people in the shadow of the steeple languishing in darkness apart from Jesus.
The true heart of stewardship
Remember, what has been historically called stewardship really isn’t. Time, talents and treasure are not the heart of stewardship. They are the means of stewardship, but true stewardship has at its heart the Gospel of Jesus Christ which the Lord has entrusted to the individual steward and the congregation.
How the local steward lives, serves and gives has an impact on the work of the Gospel locally and around the world. When there is acedia (that is, apathy) toward stewardship, there is apathy toward the work of the Gospel. This deadliness strikes both the steward and those whom the steward is called to serve.
There is only one answer to stewardship acedia. It comes in the Gospel itself. When the steward is regularly (that means weekly) connected to the Means of Grace, stewardship acedia is crucified and buried. The Gospel, in Word and Sacrament, is a breath of fresh air that gives rise to those stewards that ensure that the Good News of Jesus flows freely from their lips and from their congregation. As Christ has shown His overwhelming care at the cross and empty tomb, the steward reflects that same care in the way they live, speak and serve!
There is no room for acedia in the life of a faithful steward. They can’t do anything about it themselves. It is not about trying harder, using the right sermon series, or filling out the right commitment card. All of these tools can and do help, but the only thing that undoes the deadly sin of stewardship acedia is the Gospel. We have more than enough Jesus for that!
LCMS Stewardship ministry features may be reprinted with acknowledgment given to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.