What is stewardship? What is the minister’s stewardship responsibility? What are the best ways to promote stewardship, and how can it best be preached? What is its relation to tithing? The aim of this article is to seek answers to these questions in order to give practical aid to the minister as he faces his stewardship task.
THE PROBLEM OF DEFINITION
The word stewardship is a translation of the Greek oikonomia from which we get our English word “economy.” Thayer in his Greek-English Lexicon defines this word as “the management of a household.”
This concept of stewardship finds abundant illustration in the Old Testament. Every king had a steward in charge of his household and finances, and every well-ordered house had a steward in charge of the master’s money and property. Such a steward was often a slave elevated to a position of trust, and was therefore more than a servant. The steward was next to the master himself as “the highest official in the household.” Abraham had such a steward named Eleazer (Gen. 15:2; 24:2, 10). Joseph was a steward in the house of Potiphar (Gen. 39:4) and finally became the steward of the house of Pharaoh and of all of the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:40–44). Joseph in turn had a steward in charge of his own household (Gen. 43:19).
Stewards are also mentioned in the New Testament. A reference is made to Chuza, the steward of Herod (Luke 8:3). Another illustration is the Ethiopian eunuch who was the treasurer or steward of the Queen of Ethiopia, “a man of great authority” who “had charge of all her treasures” (Acts 8:27). In three parables Jesus deals specifically with the theme of stewardship. These parables, listed in the order in which they appear, are: the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30), the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1–2), and the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:12–27).
As the leader of his people, the minister faces a problem in relation to his own stewardship responsibility. Paul speaks of ministers as “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). J. B. Phillips in his translation of this passage speaks of ministers as “trustees of the secrets of God.” One of these divine “secrets” is the truth of stewardship. In order to be true to himself and his God the minister must faithfully share this message with his people, for “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).
THE PROBLEM OF PROMOTION
Of all the problems facing the minister in his stewardship responsibility the problem of promotion requires much careful planning. Fortunately, considerable help is available. Here are some suggestions.
Hold a School of Stewardship. Designate a Stewardship Week at a convenient time of the year, and, well in advance, appoint a committee to help develop plans for a successful week of training. The school might meet five nights, Monday through Friday, with two classes and a brief chapel period each evening. A small school would offer one course. Larger schools would offer four to six or more classes at the same hour, such courses being designed for the various age and interest groups. The Joint Department of Stewardship and Benevolence, 297 Fourth Ave., New York 10, provides a Stewardship Bibliography, price 10 cents. Also, The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, 127 Ninth Ave., North, Nashville 3, Tennessee, issues a Catalog of Stewardship Materials.)
Use Motion Pictures and Filmstrips. Motion pictures and filmstrips can be used effectively for stewardship education. High-quality films are available from many denominational and interdenominational agencies (Stewardship Bibliography, pp. 15–20). Films should always be previewed, and are most effective when followed by discussion under the direction of a competent and prepared leader.
Use of Tracts and Pamphlets. Tracts and pamphlets dealing with every phase of stewardship can be ordered from the various stewardship organizations (ibid., pp. 9–13; also from stewardship publishers, listed on pp. 21–23). Such stewardship literature, often well designed and well printed, may be secured in almost any quantity at cost, and in many cases without cost. During periods of stewardship emphasis, such literature may be enclosed in mailings of church announcements or distributed at the close of worship services. Church tract racks should carry at all times a selection of good stewardship tracts and pamphlets.
Other Methods of Promotion. Stewardship may also be publicized by means of posters, church offering envelopes, special Sunday School lessons, essay contests, plays, and special church bulletins. Various denominational publication houses provide church bulletins. The Layman Tithing Foundation, 8 South Dearborn Street, Chicago, has for many years published bulletins with stewardship messages, giving special emphasis to the tithe, on the back page.
THE PROBLEM OF PREACHING
Preaching involves the twofold problem of preparation and presentation.
It has been said that “a call to preach is a call to prepare to preach.” He who feels the burden of preaching on stewardship should feel the burden of adequately preparing himself to preach on this subject. The minister’s preparation should embrace a thorough acquaintance with the major Scripture passages dealing with stewardship, as well as the kindred subjects of tithing and giving. It should include an acquaintance also with some of the best books on stewardship. Valuable books for study as the minister prepares to speak on stewardship are Earle V. Pierce’s The Supreme Beatitude (Revell, New York, 1947) and Alphin Conrad’s The Divine Economy (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1954). The Stewardship Bibliography, mentioned earlier, provides a good list of stewardship books.
The presentation may employ many approaches.
The Indirect Approach. This approach was used by the late Dr. George W. Truett. Dr. Truett’s classic book of evangelistic sermons, A Quest for Souls, will reveal an abundance of stewardship emphasis and many illustrations.
The Sermonette Approach. By the sermonette technique, stewardship truth is administered in pleasant capsules. Constant weekly emphasis on stewardship is an effective method of indoctrination.
The Direct Approach. This approach consists of the delivery of one or more sermons on stewardship by the minister, or the giving over of a whole week of evenings to what is called a “Stewardship Revival.” Such a revival is sometimes brought to a climax with a visitation program for the enlistment of tithers.
If a School of Stewardship, as outlined in a preceding section, is conducted, a stewardship message or two from the minister just before the opening of the school would be helpful. Perhaps a message following the school would give opportunity for enlistment.
The minister, desiring to bring only one message on stewardship, may use as his Scripture lesson the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30). His text can be 1 Peter 4:10: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The subject might be “A Good Steward.”
A study of this passage of Matthew in the Greek will indicate that the servants referred to were in reality bond servants or slaves. They were the property of their master, for we are told “he called his own servants.” They were his servants by right of purchase in the market. In Romans 1:1 Paul uses the same word for servant. According to the literal translation of the verse in Romans, Paul, by the phrase “a slave of Jesus Christ,” recognized himself as the property of his Lord.
That the possessions of these servants did not belong to them is clear because they were slaves. They themselves were property, and for that reason had no legal right to own property. Moreover, we are told that it was “his goods” that the master delivered to them.
Christians need to learn the truth that in the final analysis property and earthly possessions do not belong to them. “The silver and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). “The land is mine” (Lev. 25:23). “Every beast of the forest is mine and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). Again it is written, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). “It is he that giveth thee power to gain wealth” (Deut. 8:18).
It was Paul who wrote, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we will carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6:7). All our possessions were here before we came into the world, and they will remain here after we are gone. These possessions are but the gifts of God. With David we too must confess, “All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chron. 29:14).
Again the parable of the talents illustrates the truth that the bondservant is an administrator for his absent lord. Though he does not own the things that are his possession, he is duty bound to administer the property of his lord in such a way that it will yield the highest possible dividends for the master upon his return. This is what the man traveling into the far country desired of his servants to whom he delivered his goods. This is what our Lord desires of his servants as well. To put it another way: the chief aim of the good steward is to bring glory to his absent Lord.
The anticipated day of his Lord’s return is in the future. Everything must be in readiness for the day when the Master “cometh, and reckoneth with them” (Matt. 25:19). It will be upon the occasion of his return that the Lord will say, “Give an account of thy stewardship” (Luke 16:2b). Then “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10). “So then every one of us shall give an account of himself before God” (Rom. 14:12). In that day the Lord will speak to the good steward wonderful words of commendation, saying “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21a, 23d). The two-talent man who is faithful will receive the same commendation as the man with greater ability, having the five talents. Such words of approval from the divine Master will give a glow of satisfaction to the faithful steward throughout the ages of eternity.
THE PROBLEM OF PROPORTION
The problem of proportion concerns the question of the tithe. Authorities differ as to the wisdom of emphasis upon the tithe. Since in any age no smaller proportion than the tithe for God has ever been suggested, and since our Lord placed his approval upon the tithe by putting it in the category of duty by using the word “ought” (Matt. 23:23), and since Paul in speaking of Christian giving refers to proportion when he says “as God hath prospered” (1 Cor. 16:2), and since the giving of the tithe seems to be the most practical way for the disciple to recognize his stewardship, it would seem logical that the tithe should be regarded as the minimum standard for Christian giving.
This brings our study to a close. It has been found that a steward is a trusted servant charged with the management of resources which are not his own, but which belongs to his Lord.
The stewardship of the minister is unique. If his people are to grasp the concept of stewardship and becomes sacrificial in their giving to Kingdom interests, the minister must lead in both precept and practice.
Stewardship must be taught. The minister with vision and resourcefulness will use every available method to proclaim this vital truth to his people, because he realizes that a sacrificial church is also likely to be the church that is devoted to truth in doctrine and purity in life.
To make the stewardship emphasis practical, the tithe must be held up as the minimum standard for Christian giving. The recognition that the tithe in a special way belongs to God and that it is to be used only for the advancement of his work in the world is a fundamental step toward the recognition of all of life and its resources as a sacred trust.
The stewardship spirit must also be caught, and when the church of our century catches this spirit she will give herself in whole-souled abandon to meet the tremendous needs of this age, and will one day hear the gracious words of the Master saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.
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