Word Magazine October 1982 Page 4 – 5
STEWARDSHIP: A TOTAL DEFINITION
by Ron Nicola
Department of Stewardship
When a person encounters a new vocabulary word, two questions usually arise: How is it pronounced? What does it mean? In about 1975, the word “stewardship” began to be used more frequently in parishes throughout our archdiocese. Since it was an unfamiliar word to many at that time, the issues of pronunciation and definition had to be addressed. Stewardship is an easy word to say, so that problem was easily overcome. The question of definition and meaning, however, presented a more formidable challenge, and this became a major part of the Department of Stewardship’s work.
(The Department of Stewardship was created by Metropolitan Philip in 1975 in order to help our churches incorporate the principles of Orthodox Christian Stewardship into the everyday life of their parish community. This task has been undertaken mainly through the development and implementation of workshops designed to explore the meaning of stewardship and its implications for the local churches. This article is the first of a nine-part monthly series. It represents an expansion of the department’s work to include written materials which will augment the continuing workshop program.)
Attempting to define stewardship proves quite difficult for a couple of important reasons. First, the word has application in the secular world as well as in the spiritual world. Many people are familiar with the term steward, who, according to most dictionary descriptions, is a person hired on a large estate to manage all domestic affairs. At many fine restaurants, a steward is employed to supervise the purchase and presentation of the house wine collection. Confusion can arise then, when a word, commonly used in the secular world, is applied to the Church and its related affairs. In the case of stewardship, this confusion can be eased when it is pointed out that the dictionary also defines a steward as a person actively concerned with the direction of the affairs of an organization. The Church is much more than a simple organization, but this description does allow for a transition from the secular world to the Church world.
Difficulty in defining stewardship also stems from the fact that the Church is a multifaceted organization, and there is a tendency to limit the scope of stewardship to only one or two parts of parish life. The title of this article refers to a total definition of stewardship, and this is intended to suggest that every aspect of parish life can be touched by the encompassing range of this principle. Remembering that a steward is concerned with the direction of the affairs of an organization reminds us that this caring attitude cannot be limited to one aspect at the expense of another, but rather must reflect a total caring for the entire body.
Recognizing that stewardship has applications in the Church world as well as in the world at large, and accepting the notion that its implications can touch all parts of parish life serve as a basis on which to build a definition.
From this point, it is necessary to be reminded that the Bible contains numerous references to the role of stewards in the Church and to the importance of stewardship as a vehicle for fostering the Faith. This solid scriptural basis is assurance beyond doubt that stewardship has a central role to play in the life of every congregation. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, the essence of stewardship is revealed. “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” It is clear that God has made us stewards here on earth. In expressing our belief in Him, we automatically accept certain gifts and assume certain responsibilities. Among the gifts are the guidance and comfort of our faith, and the promise of life everlasting. The responsibilities center around heeding God’s word and living our lives according to His teachings. To aid us in the fulfillment of our responsibilities, each of us receives gifts from God in the form of unique abilities and talents. These are our tools to use as stewards or managers of God’s affairs while we dwell in this world.
Given this scriptural foundation, it is possible to now compose definitions of stewardship which are consistent with the understanding that each of us are ordained by God as managers of His affairs on earth. The following list of statements are all different, each explaining the meaning of stewardship in a unique manner. They are all, however, valid, since they contain the essential elements of service and faith. This particular set of descriptions comes from people who have participated in stewardship workshops over the years, as well as from materials developed by Mr. Ernest Saykaly, the first chairperson of the Department of Stewardship and the current Vice-Chairman of the Archdiocese Board of Trustees.
1. Stewardship is learning how to be a responsible and concerned caretaker of Christ’s Church. It is also learning how to enjoy Church life and be happy in Church work.
2. Christian Stewardship is our commitment to the proportionate giving of time, talent, and material possessions. These are a trust from God to be used in His name for the benefit of all mankind in grateful acknowledgement of Christ’s redeeming love.
3. Stewardship is the caring for the needs of one another.
4. Stewardship is offering of one’s self as He Himself was offered to us.
5. Stewardship is what a person does after saying “I Believe”, as proof of that belief.
6. Stewardship is being devoted and totally committed to serve God and His Church morally, spiritually, physically, and financially as an individual and collectively as a family unit.
7. Christian Stewardship could be defined as the effective commitment or investment of human and material resources in participation with Christ in his love for others. Certainly this is not an exclusive list of definitions. It does prove, however, that stewardship can be defined in many different ways. Perhaps one of the seven statements is phrased in a way that you find especially meaningful. It is even possible to consider the material presented here and to then develop your own definition. As long as the basic elements of stewardship are preserved, definitions can legitimately vary, each designed to meet the needs of a specific set of circumstances.
It is somewhat ironic to note that after giving so much attention to the development of a “total” definition of stewardship, the suggestion is finally made that there is no single description of this important word. The definitions cannot be totally based upon individual whim since there are basic criteria which must be met, but there is room for diversity. This notion, while it might be a source of some of the confusion over stewardship’s meaning mentioned earlier in this article, also raises the possibility that something more important than a simple definition must be discovered in order to comprehend the totality of this concept.
Referring to stewardship as a concept is both deliberate and significant. Concepts are usually thought of as ideas. An idea is a plan for action which a person can envision through mental pictures and articulated plans. It is possible for people to have differing visions of the same idea, but still to share a common perception of the idea’s shape, form, and general meaning. This translates into the suggestion that definitions may vary, but basic understanding of a concept remains consistent from one person to another. The hope then is that members of a church or an archdiocese or the entire Christian community, will share a uniform vision of the conceptual meaning of stewardship, knowing that this will allow for some individual expression when the need arises to develop a specific definition.
As a concept, stewardship contains three essential elements which the Church hopes will become universally accepted and understood.
1. Acceptance of the belief that all things are conferred on us by God.
2. The ability to express this belief happens when a Christian becomes free of the constraints, pressures, and temptations of this world.
3. The way we express this belief is to fulfill our role as God’s stewards. This is done with the talents and abilities given to us by God and nurtured through our own commitment to His teachings.
The goal then is to develop among us an understanding of the concept of stewardship. Once this is achieved, parishes, groups of parishes, and even an entire archdiocese can build programs based on stewardship’s sound foundation. A key element in the development of a clear understanding of stewardship is the issue of freedom. Christians must freely express their faith in God and then be able to take the actions which that belief prescribes. Robert M. Cooper, an Anglican theologian, speaks about freedom in an essay entitled, “Gift and Freedom: A Biblical Basis for Stewardship.”
To be able to give, however, is a mark of freedom. In fact, giving is freedom, since truly to give is to act without constraint or obligation. To pay wages, to meet obligations, is not . . . meaningfully or truly spoken of as freedom, though we may have freely entered a wage or contractural relationship. “Freely you have received. Freely give.” Matthew 10:8.
What is stewardship? What is its total definition? These questions are very important, yet they are difficult to answer. A first step has been to view stewardship not as a word which we must define, but as a concept we must understand. Exploring the concept of stewardship will reveal an idea with many dimensions. Consider this statement by Dr. Hugh McCandless, Rector Emeritus of the Church of the Epiphany in New York City.
So stewardship is more than giving money, it is giving time and skills and prayer and thought to the church. It is more than giving to the church; it is giving to all the good causes that will help bring in the kingdom of God. It is more than giving money; it is also the way we earn our money and the ways we spend it. Good stewardship means budgeting our time and energy and attention; it means analyzing our life priorities and counting costs; it means being aware that some day we shall have to give an account of ourselves.
These many facets of stewardship will be dealt with in the months to come. If stewardship is a new vocabulary word for us in the context of our lives in the Church, then perhaps we have begun the process of building an understanding of this concept which will enable us to fully integrate it into our lives and into the life of our parishes and our archdiocese.