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.
So what can we do corporately?
At one level would be teaching these ideas in theological schools and through publishing—but also preaching about stewardship of all of life in the pulpit to help people connect their stewardship to their Monday through Friday life and world.
We need models of people and churches that are doing this. One of the reformers actually locked the church doors Sunday night and told his congregants not to come back till the next Sunday because they couldn't serve God there Monday through Saturday. That's a powerful statement. And if churches could turn themselves inside out, there could be a continuation and fulfillment of the Protestant Reformation.
How can pastors and churches do this?
You can change the culture of the local church by doing something very simple. For 52 weeks of the year, don't give airtime to missionaries, visiting pastors, or theological professors. Instead, give five minute interviews every Sunday of different members of the church. Ask them: What do you do for a living? What are the major issues you face in your daily work? What difference does your faith make to how you address those issues? How can we pray for your ministry in the workplace?
If you do that for 52 weeks, you have turned the church inside out. You've ordained 52 people to ministry in their workplace and have effectively broken down that sacred-secular distinction, which is counterproductive for the mission of the church.
Give an example of how a person can practice stewardship in their everyday jobs.
Here's a classic example. In the small village of Walkerton, Ontario, stewardship was not exercised in the water department, and E. coli bacteria got into the water system. People died and dozens of people were sick. If the folks that had worked in that water department had thought of themselves as stewards, they would have seen that the proper testing took place so that the water was pure. So maintaining the infrastructure is good stewardship.
John Calvin was fantastic, but one thing he said was problematic. He said if you have a choice of an occupation choose the most direct way of loving your neighbor. I think that's bad advice because it means that most people are going to choose counseling, teaching, pasturing, or missionary service. Whereas, a lot of people are superbly gifted by God to be lab technicians, researchers, to work on infrastructure, and so on. These are indirect ways of loving our neighbor and being stewards of people's lives.
How can we individually help encourage people who are doing this?
Affirm those who are indirectly loving their neighbors just as we affirm those who pastorally care for people, are good evangelists, are able to counsel, and so on. We don't really exalt, pray for, and affirm lab technicians. But we should.
When I had a blood test recently, I said to the lab technician, "What you're doing is really important." And she answered, "I know it's really important. This is where diagnosis starts. It may lead to surgery. It could lead to medication. It can lead to real help for a person." And I thought, Wow, that's great. Here's a person who can see that she is indirectly loving her neighbor.
As one of my friends once said, "Vancouver can manage quite well for a long time without a mayor, but we can't manage many days without garbage collectors."
How can we be good stewards without feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility?
This is where worship is critical for us, because without worship we live eccentrically, and with worship we live centrally. Worship reminds us continuously that we're not God. God is God, and we are not God. And that's, I think, the critical element in not feeling overwhelmed. We're not messiahs. We're not God. We are not responsible to bring in the whole kingdom. We have accountability, responsibility, and opportunity, but we're not messiahs. Worship brings us back to that truth.
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