LCMS Stewardship Feature Story

The Elements of Stewardship

Editor’s Note: Articles from LCMS Stewardship Ministry are hosted here on The Lutheran Witness site. Visit the “Ministry Features” page for monthly stewardship content.

The LCMS has defined stewardship as “the free and joyous activity of God’s family — the church — in managing life’s resources for His purposes.” Let’s take a few moments to break this definition down, consider its implications and applications, and seek the Lord’s blessing as His Holy Spirit leads us to faithfulness in this vocation for which He has created and redeemed us.

Here are a few of the elements of what stewardship means:

Stewardship is free.

This means is it without compulsion. While Scripture speaks of the tithe, to turn it into law is to miss the point! Stewardship is not a system of taxation used by the church to survive and pay the bills. This does not mean that the steward is free from any responsibility to the church — the opposite is true. Stewards are created in the image of God to manage creation and redeemed and reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus to be stewards of the ministry of reconciliation in the Gospel. Thus to be anything less than faithful in all of life and life’s resources for the sake of the Gospel and the benefit of our neighbor is sinful. Faithfulness is the standard. But we can’t attain nor maintain it apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Our stewardship is not our creation. It is the Holy Spirit at work in and through us. This is what makes it truly free. We are simply conduits of the work of the Spirit as we steward and support the work of the Gospel through the local congregation, district and Synod.

Stewardship is joyous.

There isn’t anything sad about doing what we were created to be and do. When the Spirit leads us to give of ourselves, we are not losing anything. The faithfulness which the Spirit works in us is used to bring and keep people in the one true faith. The cheerful giver of whom Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians rejoices not in what he does but rather in what the Lord does through him. The joy of the steward is akin to the joy that the Gospel speaks of when one sinner repents. When the work of the local congregation or the missionary in far lands is used by the Spirit to call even one to repentance, there is unbounded joy. The faithful steward gets a glimpse of this every Sunday as sins are forgiven even as the gifts are given.

Stewardship is the work of the church.

Stewardship is more than just a “me and Jesus” thing. There is a corporate nature to every aspect of stewardship in the local congregation. While each person and family are led by the Spirit to set aside what they give on the first day of the week, when it is done in the setting of the Divine Service the Body is working together for the sake of the Gospel. And this doesn’t stop locally. Districts are supported by the faithfulness of many congregations. Synod is supported in faithfulness by the 35 districts. Like the human body, stewardship is so much more than the sum of its parts. When faithful stewards are banded together in faithfulness by the Holy Spirit, freedom and joy and stewardship is the result!

Stewardship involves life’s resources.

Here is where things can get muddy. It is obvious that when the church speaks of “resources,” very often we fast-forward to the discussion of finances. And this is almost always a cry of lament. After all, financial resources are finite. But we ought to consider the three categories of stewardship — time, people and money.

Stewardship includes time.

Time is the single most finite resource entrusted to the individual steward. No matter how hard they try, the steward will only have 168 hours to invest in the Lord’s purpose each week. No amount of timesaving, productivity-increasing strategies will ever add one moment to the week entrusted to the steward. The amount of time that the steward must manage is the most precious. This is a call for the church and the individual steward to faithfully manage this most finite of resources.

Stewardship includes people.

Individual Christian stewards are the ones who have that finite resource of time entrusted to them. It is crucial that the local congregation is faithful in its management of the time of every member of the Body of Christ. If we invest time and effort in things that do not flow from our true purpose of the stewardship of the Gospel, we are not being faithful. This will rob our people of their freedom and their joy. For this reason, it is critical that WHAT the congregation does and HOW they do it all flows from a knowledge of WHY they are placed there by the Lord of the Church.

Stewardship includes finances.

This is indeed the least finite of the resources entrusted to the steward and to God’s family of the church. I learned this lesson firsthand from a faithful Lutheran farmer decades ago. My wife and I were looking at purchasing land and building a house. When we approached a member about purchasing a section of long abandoned pasture on which we would build, the response came, “Pastor, we love you. But we can always make more money. God’s not going to make any more dirt.” Congregations can always find ways to increase what comes into the congregation in offerings and be more faithful with what is already entrusted. While it is critical that we are indeed faithful with what is entrusted, we dare not make the least finite resource the biggest deal!

Stewardship is about God’s purposes.

This is what sets Christian stewardship apart from any other kind of stewardship. Worldly stewardship flows from fear. If we are not faithful in our stewardship of the air, water and land, fear says we are going to die! But the Christian steward comes from a totally different perspective. The Christian seeks to be faithful in every aspect of creation because it was created by God and redeemed in the blood of Jesus. Our stewardship flows not from fear but from faith. This faith is driven by the promise of God’s purpose. This purpose was seen in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. God’s purpose is that the church’s faithful stewardship be an instrument of His purpose that all people come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. Our stewardship of the Gospel is central and instrumental in this!

God made us for this stewardship. We failed. In Christ He has redeemed and restored us to this task. We don’t deserve it in any way. But we are free. This freedom is the initiation of our joy. This joy is what leads us to be faithfully active as stewards of all that God entrusts to us for the sake of the Gospel and the benefit and salvation of our neighbor.

THIS is stewardship!

LCMS Stewardship ministry features may be reprinted with acknowledgment given to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

1 thought on “The Elements of Stewardship”

  1. RE: “If we are not faithful in our stewardship of the air, water and land, fear says we are going to die! But the Christian steward comes from a totally different perspective.”

    Jesus taught that the second greatest commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And because of the way water, air and energy flow through nature and across the planet, there are countless connections between our environmental stewardship and the wellbeing of many others, including generations yet unborn.

    So might we, out of Christian love, fear for them?

    “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:9 ESV).

    Or which one of you, if your daughter pleads with you to protect the well which supplies water for her family, fields and flock, will draw the well dry and fill it with your garbage, saying, “Fear not. Have faith in God”?

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