R. Paul Stevens' mission is to empower ordinary people to good stewardship by integrating their faith and life from Monday to Sunday. A Professor Emeritus of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College, he does this through teaching, coaching, advocating, and publishing, and has spoken in as many as 28 countries of the world. He has also written numerous books, most recently Doing God's Business. ChristianBibleStudies.com asked him more about how stewardship involves our whole lives.
How would you define stewardship?
Stewardship is another way of talking about ministry, and it would revolutionize ministry if people could think of it in terms of stewardship—that we are accountable to God for what we do and with what he has trusted to us.
The word stewardship comes from the Greek word oikenomous, which means somebody who manages a household. A person doesn't own the household but manages it. And stewards in the ancient world, of course, were trusted with everything from seeing that the floors were clean, to the finances, to the public face of that household. Joseph is a good biblical example of that.
We are not the owners but have been trusted with resources and the care of everything—Creation, gifts and talents, money, time, the gospel—for the sake of God's purposes in the world.
You mentioned that stewardship is another way of talking about ministry. Would you expand on that?
People define ministry by what they see the minister doing, which is proclaiming the Word of God and caring for people's souls. And that's tragic, because ministry is more than that. The word ministry in both Greek and Hebrew is the same word as servant. And servants are people who are at the disposal of another. And so once we replace the word ministry with the word service, we begin to see that stewardship is ministry in the sense that all of us, not just pastors, are responsible to do what God wants and are accountable to him. Of course, we hope to do that in the power of the Spirit, with the anointing touch of God. But it's a service to God and to the world simultaneously. So, the word ministry points to the source and the ultimate goal, and the word stewardship implies the care of people, resources, gifts and talents, and the grace of God.
Is our accountability to God just individual, or is it also corporate?
The rights of the whole in some ways precede the rights of the individual. We do have an individual responsibility—in the home, family, neighborhood, local church, workplace, etc. But churches could undertake the idea of stewardship much more holistically than they do. We think of stewardship as fundraising to pay off the building and to cover the pastor's salary. But we should see that we're trustees of talents, gifts, time, treasure, and the culture and values in the society around us. The evangelical church has been reluctant to embrace that, which is a heretical understanding of what Christian ministry is.
Because it's unbiblical and diversionary from the wholeness of what is involved in being a servant or minister of God, which the whole people of God are, not just pastors and missionaries. And it's heretical because it's untrue. It's not untrue that God cares about people's souls and that we should come to eternal life in Christ. That's not heretical. What is heretical is the sacred-secular distinction that has been with us like a fog that penetrates everything. I've given literally 50 years of my life to teaching against that and trying to find models and ways of moving towards a holistic view of what it means to be a Christian in the world and in the church.