When many church members hear the word “stewardship,” one idea pops into their minds: capital campaigns.
They think about building projects and fundraisers. They can’t help it. That’s how stewardship has been defined in churches for years. It’s become part of our Christian culture.
But stewardship—and being a steward—really isn’t a Christian idea at all. It’s actually an Old English concept drawn from the days of castles and realms and the people who ran them. In those days (think Braveheart), people lived in realms—areas of land approximately the size of three counties today. In the middle of that realm was a castle, where the lord of the realm lived.
Now, the lord owned everything in the realm. He owned all the land, all the farms, all the buildings, and all the commerce. Everything was under his control and authority.
Of course, the lord’s castle was the nicest home in the realm, but another house nearby was pretty nice as well. That’s where the lord’s steward lived. The steward didn’t own anything, but he took care of everything that belonged to the lord. He managed the crop rotations, the labor force, the taxes, the banking, the commerce, and any of the lord’s other interests.
That’s what stewardship was all about—asset management. So, in the early 1600s when the translators of the King James Bible needed a word to describe how God wants believers to handle money, the idea of stewards and stewardship was a natural fit.
On one hand, God is the Lord. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” He owns it all. On the other hand, we are responsible to manage his stuff for his glory. That makes us stewards—or managers—of his resources. And just like the Old English lord held the steward responsible for his stewardship, we are going to give an account of how we manage God’s resources (1 Corinthians 4:2).
As believers, we can’t disconnect the ideas of ownership and stewardship. When we understand our responsibility as asset managers, we can gratefully receive what God passes to us and enjoy what he has entrusted to us. But if we start thinking of ourselves as owners, it becomes much harder for us to open our hands (and our hearts) to use his money for his purposes.
If we’re going to reclaim the biblical definition of stewardship in the church, we’ve got to make sure believers understand the facts about God’s ownership and our stewardship. We’ve got to help Christians embrace a paradigm shift that changes their thinking across the board in every area of life.
We’ve got to help them stop thinking like owners and start acting like managers.