Editor’s Note: Articles from LCMS Stewardship Ministry are hosted here on The Lutheran Witness site. Visit the “Ministry Features” page every month for additional stewardship content.
Stewardship is a constant struggle. Human beings were created in the image of God to be stewards of everything the Lord has made (Gen. 1:26–28). This was true even before the Fall — Genesis 3’s “first stewardship crisis.” The male and female stewards in the Garden failed to work and defend its perfection from the alien word of the serpent, and all hell broke loose: Separation from God. Separation from each other. Separation from the creation from which the steward was taken.
Fallen stewards, redeemed stewards
While the stewards failed, at no point were they relieved from their vocation as stewards. Read Genesis 3 frontwards and backwards. Nowhere is the steward terminated. And yet, they bear the consequences of their failure in their lives and bodies.
We were created for this purpose. We are stewards of all that the Lord has made. Our Creator set out to restore us to the role of steward. To do this He sent His One and Only Son to be the perfect steward. He, the image of the invisible God, did what we could not do. He is perfect. Never missed a step. Never failed to steward the Word and will of His Father. In His death and resurrection, He paid the price for our failure and opened the door to our future stewardship.
The original stewards had one task: to steward creation. Redeemed stewards have one task: to steward the Gospel using the created order. Word and Sacrament are the core of this stewardship. Further, our stewardship of the Gospel includes all that we do, say, live and give. As stewards, we strive to reflect the will of the Father, who desires all men to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved! This is the thing for which the baptized steward exists!
But remember, we are at the same time sinner-stewards and saint-stewards. We are living out a pre-fall vocation in a fallen world. Too often, we reflect our own will rather than the Lord’s will. This is what the devil has been after since the Fall. He wants us to fail in our stewardship. And our flesh is a willing participant in this sabotage effort!
There are reasons that we self-sabotage our stewardship. The greatest is our idolatrous desire to be in control. When we self-sabotage our stewardship, we make things predictable. This gives us the sinful illusion of control. But that illusion is just a mirage. It does nothing other than harm us and those for whom we have been called to steward the Gospel.
There are several ways that we self-sabotage our stewardship:
1. An idolatrous focus on the past.
The past can be a great indicator of God’s faithfulness. But when we turn it into an idol, it becomes a tool for self-sabotage of our stewardship. We allow “what we have always done” to be the predictable but limiting force in our stewardship of the Gospel. The congregation that longs for “the good old days” is self-sabotaging their present stewardship. There are new generations of people in the community that need the very same treasure of the Gospel that has been entrusted to us. The past is the predictable, familiar self-sabotage of faithful stewardship.
2. Focus on what we do not have.
The scarcity mentality is a great cause of stewardship self-sabotage. Every congregation that has the Word and Sacrament has everything it needs to be the church. The Lord placed the congregation there for this stewardship. Focusing on what is not there can prevent faithful stewardship of what is there!
Individual stewards do this. Congregations do this. When we compare ourselves to others, there is always a perceived lack. This is as much of a lie as the serpent’s in the Garden. Comparison is the thief of joy. When we compare our size, our wealth, our work and other things to what we see in others, the devil will always make sure that it appears we are lacking. This is false! The standard to which the steward is called is faithful stewardship of that which has been entrusted to them (1 Cor. 4).
4. Focus on things that cannot be controlled.
Many things are beyond the control of the steward. Congregations cannot control how the message of the Gospel proclaimed is received either by the members or the community. How often does the preacher subconsciously or even intentionally avoid teaching stewardship because it might make a hearer angry? The steward is called to be faithful with what is entrusted to him. The individual gives, serves and trusts knowing the Lord is at work. The preacher proclaims the truth of the Word regardless of how it is received. The only thing we can control is the faithfulness of our stewardship. We cannot control the results!
There are things that can get us down. The news media and social media’s airbrushed message of perfection to which we compare ourselves and our stewardship makes us look lacking. This is the devil’s ongoing work. Discontent, discouragement and dissatisfaction are his favorite tools. This self-sabotage gets us asking, “Did God really say … ?” Discouragement that flows from comparison is a common way that the devil gets us to self-sabotage our stewardship.
A distracted steward is not a faithful steward. When the cares and concerns of the world, comparison to others and nostalgia for the “good old days” become the focus, stewards lose their way. Stewardship happens in the here and now. The faithful steward is the one the Holy Spirit enables to remain focused on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. Faithful stewardship is the Spirit’s work in our lives that flows from only one place: Jesus.
7. A little bit of success.
Jim Collins was right: Good is the enemy of great. It is so easy to let our guard down. We start to believe our own press clippings and think that God is blessed to have us as His stewards. Arrogant pride in a bit of faithfulness can open the door to self-sabotaged stewardship. We do not do anything for the Lord. He is the One who has called us to the stewardship. He is the One who carries it out in and through us. Believing that we are “all that and a bag of chips” as stewards is self-sabotage and unfaithful.
Repentance is the only answer. Confessing daily that we do fall short of the glory of God that has been entrusted to us to steward is the only place to start. When the Lord then forgives, renews and restores us to our stewardship of the Gospel, we can see that He is the One who works in and through us for the sake of our neighbor and the glory of God. This is what faithful stewardship is!
LCMS Stewardship ministry features may be reprinted with acknowledgment given to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.