The word Stewardship stems from the Greek word Oikonomia which means “the management of a house or household.” It is the administration of duties or goods in one’s care. It can be defined as the aspect of the church’s administration, which deals with the individual’s responsibility for sharing systematically and proportionately his time, talent and material possession in the service of God.
We can trace this idea of stewardship from the slave and master relationship in the culture of the Bible. The slave master will appoint a slave to administer his household, which may encompass the teaching and disciplining of the children, other slaves and all members of the household. A typical example of this was Joseph in Portiphar’s house. (Gen. 39:4-6). Joseph was steward who administered the home until the return of his master.1
The idea of stewardship is also rooted in the New Testament. In his teaching and parables, we see Jesus talking about the unjust steward who poorly manages what was entrusted to him by his master (Luke 16:1-8). In the Epistles, Paul wrote that a steward was required to be found faithful in administering the task entrusted to him.2
The Scope of Biblical Stewardship
In discussing the meaning of stewardship, three basic concepts must be remembered. Firstly, the word stewardship itself implies that there is an owner. God is the owner of all things. Looking back to the Old Testament, the Psalmist declared that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.” (Ps. 24:1). Secondly, if God is the owner of all things then man is a trustee and a steward. He has been entrusted to oversee or take care of all that is in the universe. Thirdly, we must acknowledge that a steward is expected to give an account for what was entrusted to his care.
The term stewardship can be broadly divided into two main aspects. Stewardship of the earth and stewardship of the gospel. Stewardship of the earth denotes that God created the universe and entrusted it to man to take proper care of it. It includes taking proper care of the life and natural resources given to us by God. Since God entrusted to man dominion over this creation, man is responsibly accountable to God.
The second division of stewardship is that of the gospel. The gospel is a priceless message committed to every Christian to care for. Jesus himself commanded us to go into the world and relentlessly spread the good news of salvation (Matt. 28:19-20).
The urgency of this command is pictured by the apostle Paul when he stated ‘Though I preach the gospel I have nothing to glory of: For necessity is laid upon me. Yea, woe unto me, If I preach not the gospel. For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward, but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me,’ (1 Cor. 9:16-17).3
When we consider the two broad aspects of stewardship we are confronted with two pertinent questions: (i) what should we give to enhance stewardship of the earth and stewarship of the gospel? (ii) what will God appreciate from us if He owns everything in this universe, including our life? This though may seem perplexing; yet, the Bible reveals answers. There are basically three things which God expects us to give: our treasure, our talent and out time.
Firstly, we are to give our treasure to God. Treasure is something with great value and worth. Treasure may include money or material wealth. It may be paradoxical to give a good and perfect God money or material possession. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1Tim.6:10). Moreover, scripture says that it is easier for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.4 We should note that the Bible is not saying that money is evil, instead, “the love of money” is what the Bible condemns. Accumulating money for one’s selfish ends is improper. The Christian should recognize that whatever treasure he has belongs to God. We should take from the treasure which God gives us and give back to God for the enhancing of His Kingdom.
Secondly, we are to give our talent to God. Many of us do not have treasure to give but God will appreciate our natural talents. It is biblically and practically true that God has given everyman a gift to exercise. Therefore, no person can say I have nothing to give God. God has given some people the gift of singing, healing, natural abilities, strength and resourcefulness to build His kingdom on earth. In the Old Testament, we see God’s people involving in projects. For instance, the building of the temple of God by Solomon and the wall of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. In these projects, we see the people of God using their manual labour and talents to accomplish the will of God.
In a similar trend, our churches today need to harness the natural resources in our congregation. Everyman or woman has something to offer to God in the form of service. Our churches will have little or no kingdom. The church should identity potential people in the congregation and put the right person in the right place. God will appreciate any little service you will offer in His temple.
The third thing that God expects us to give is our time. God has given us 24 hours everyday to work and rest. It depends on us as to how wisely we use our time. Nevertheless, we should allot most of our time for the service of God, be it in sharing the gospel or working for the good of our society. We need to give up our time in propagating the gospel to the unreached. In fact, this is the core of the Christian faith. A call to Christian stewardship is a call to surrender our time for the progress of God’s kingdom on earth.
The Necessity for Promoting Stewardship
Stewardship is necessary for the life and survival of the church. In fact there can be no church without stewardship. There are five basic reasons why stewardship should be promoted in the church or community.
1. God’s Ownership
We need to promote stewardship because God is the owner of all we have. We need to create awareness in our world that God is the true giver and owner of everything in this universe. We can relate this to Jesus’ answer about paying taxes to Caesar. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21). This clearly depicts that God is to have all or the best of what we have. Acknowledging this act the Psalmist wrote: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
In his prayer, David recognizes this necessity for good stewardship”…. For everything in heaven and earth is yours…. Wealth and honour come from thee… of thy own are we giving thee” (1 Chron. 29:11). It is only when we realize and acknowledge God’s ownership that faithful stewardship will be effectively promoted.5
2. Response to Grace
Another important reason for promoting stewardship is to show our appreciation and response to God’s grace. Since God owns everything and has given all to us, we have nothing equivalent to pay in return for God’s life and grace. Nevertheless, our commitment and dedication to a life of faithful stewardship is our way of saying thanks to God for what he has done for us in Christ. In response to God’s grace the Apostle Paul wrote: “I beseech you therefore by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service.”
In addition, some people go beyond spiritual giving to material stewardship as a sign of appreciation for God’s work of salvation in Christ. A typical example of this is Zachaeus. In response to the master’s saving grace he declared the following: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” (Luke 19:8) Stewardship and care for others has always characterized those who appreciate Christ’s saving grace. 6
In a similar vein, the response of the Samaritan woman after talking with Jesus was, “Come and see a man who told me all things that ever I did, is not this the Christ.” (Jn. 4:29). In Paul’s teaching and life, stewardship is nothing but a response to God’s grace in Christ. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul encourages them to give liberally because Christ became poor to enrich them. He also told the Ephesians to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3. Spiritual Growth
Stewardship is indispensable to the spiritually growing Christian. This is because spiritual growth itself is characterized by good stewardship in Christ. Good stewardship guards the believer from numerous spiritual problems. The New Testament is full of warnings against worldly possession which impedes spiritual growth. “The cares of the world and the delight in riches and desire for other non spiritual things enter in and choke the word and it proves unfruitful. (Mark 4:19).
Poor stewardship is one of the strongest stumbling blocks to spiritual growth in the life of Christians. A biblical example of this is the rich man who claimed to have obeyed the laws but became sad, disturbed and unwilling to share his riches to the poor.7
The story of Lazarus and the rich man is another example of poor stewardship. The story clearly depicts the cause for the rich man’s suffering. “But Abraham replied, son remember that in your life time you received good things while Lazarus received bad things….” The complete story implies that the rich man did not faithfully take care of the riches entrusted to him by his maker. Consequently his reward was spiritual death.
4. Expectation of Reward
A very important reason and motive for stewardship is reward. Every steward expects a reward whether good or bad. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal.6:8). A good steward will expect a good result from his master and a bad steward will expect a bad result from his master.
Stewardship is contractual: the steward acts faithfully and the master brings blessings. The fact is depicted in the Old Testament when the writer of Proverbs underscored, “honour the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce, then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine. (Prov. 39:9-10). This fact is also emphasized by the preacher who wrote: “Cast your bread upon water for you will find it after many days.” (Eccl. 11:1)8
This concept of reward is also depicted in the book of Chronicles. King Hezekiah did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. This was reflected in every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God, in his observance of the law and commandments. (2 Chron. 31:20-21).
5. Welfare of Society/Community
Stewardship is also necessary for the welfare of our society and community. It is only through good stewardship that the environment will be kept healthy. Since this sinful world is characterized by insufficiency, irregularities and suffering, Jesus admonished us to be good stewards by taking care of each other and even our environment. In talking to his disciples, Jesus told them that “whatever you do to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40). It is our responsibility to take care of all God’s creatures.
It is also our responsibility to care and help improve our environment and the God given resources inherent in it. We will give an account someday to the creator about our contribution to maintain and care for our life and natural resources.
The Mode for Promoting Stewardship
In discussing the mode for promoting stewardship we seek to contextually apply the biblical perspective of faithful stewardship. We shall consider the following: tithing, offering: community development; societal interaction; and gifts and abilities.
Tithing is an essential method of stewardship. Tithing in a broad sense is giving one tenth of all our income to the Lord. The first example of tithing is found in Genesis 14:16-20 with regards to Abraham and Melchizedek. We also see the practice mentioned by Jacob when he vowed to the Lord saying “If God will be with me and watch over me, on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then … of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (Gen. 28:20-22).
This concept of tithing seemed to have been a customary practice among the Cananites even before Abraham and Moses. Nevertheless, we see the concept permeating throughout scripture. Tithing became a requirement for the people of God. (Lev. 27:30).9
The principle of tithing is a relevant means of stewardship for the church today. The Pastor must instruct his congregation about tithing through preaching and teaching. He must develop a tithe culture in his congregation: tithing in cash and kind.
Offering is another method of showing stewardship. It is a very good method of funding God’s work. This method of stewardship is found in the Old Testament. This free will offering can be divided into two: weekly and occasional offerings. The weekly offering, as the name denotes is given perpetually every week. This also like the tithe provides daily food and finance for God’s house. In times of emergency, this fund will always be available. The apostle Paul made use of that offering as relief aid for the church in Jerusalem: “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there may be no collection when I come (1 Cor. 16:2). We can deduce from this a system set by the Apostle Paul which is useful not only for the church in Corinth but even for the universal church.
The strategy of Paul in organizing the collection of the offering alleviated the rush that can accompany emergency collections in the church and the embarrassment it may cause those who do not have. The type of offering should be a model for us today.10 This develop in members the ability to practice stewardship through regular offering.
The second type of offering is the occasional offering. This type of offering is seldom taken except when the church needs to undertake a project like erecting a temple edifice or raising fund for relief purposes. It is a time in which people are expected to make pledges for challenges to give for the progress of God’s work. A Biblical example of this is found in Exodus. Moses challenged the people of God to give in order to build the tabernacle when he said. “This is the thing which the Lord commanded saying take from among you an offering to the Lord. Whoever is of a willing heart let him bring it as an offering to the Lord, gold, silver, and bronze.11
The response of the people of Israel to this challenge was extra-ordinary and superb. We read that the people “continued to bring to him free-will offering every morning” (Ex.36:3) In fact, the craftsmen who were doing the work in the Sanctuary went to Moses and said, “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the Lord commanded, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp saying let neither man do anymore for the offering of the Sanctuary (Ex. 36:4-6). This is the type of stewardship that God expects from the church.
Occasional offering is also seen when the Christians in Antioch raised relief fund for he brethren in Judea. We are also told that “each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.” (Acts 11:29). The two methods of stewardship of giving are the most clear-cut methods seen in the Bible for the support of God’s work on earth.12
We must also note that tithing and offering does not necessarily denote money giving. It includes the products of our farms like cassava, potatoes, rice, groundnuts. It also encompasses resources from any trade or business. God will appreciate any good thing that we have and not necessarily money. This kind of tithing or offering is being practiced in some churches in the provincial towns and villages of Sierra Leone. A typical example of this practice is found in the Kamakwe Wesleyan Church. There, the members will bring to the church their farm products and business materials as offering to the Lord. This practice was very common in ancient Israel.
The Pastor can also promote stewardship among his members through cultivating the awareness for involvement in community to build latrines, water wells or do environmental cleaning. The church as the light and salt of this dark and saltless world should lead its community into faithful stewardship of God’s creation. We can see today that through building hospitals, schools and clinics the evangelical church in Sierra Leone had greatly contributed in enhancing the health and educational standards in Sierra Leone. This is all part of God’s commission of faithful stewardship.
Our Christian stewardship should also be extended in the leadership of our community or society. Many Christians today have been indoctrinated to believe that Christians should not partake in politics or social affairs. Some even went on to state that Christians must be totally separate from worldly activities. This is a reflection of irresponsible stewardship. If Christians do not mingle with unbelievers to correct their thinking and way of living, who then will do that. God has entrusted to us a big responsibility. We must be in the world to influence it with God’s standards but not be of the world to compromise in its ways. This fact is also depicted in Jesus’ prayer for his disciples when he prayed that they may not be taken away from the world but live to be salt and light in the world.
Gifts and Abilities
Another way the Pastor can promote stewardship is by motivating members to develop and/or utilize their gifts and abilities and providing the avenue for such utilization. Members in the church can be dramatists, playwrights, writers, musicians or musically inclined, singers, teachers, communicators, administrators, artists, nurses, doctors, engineers, lawyers, farmers, craftsmen or women et cetera. Each person should be encouraged to be a faithful steward of his or her gifts and abilities, with particular reference to the enhancing of God’s kingdom.
Even though we have identified the ways through which we can exercise our stewardship, we also need to note that good stewardship can be affected by our attitude towards that service. Paul instructs the people of /Corinth not to give reluctantly but cheerfully (Cor.9:7). He also pointed out that we should give sacrificially and wholeheartedly. He praised the church in Phillipi for giving out of its extreme poverty. The church even begged earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. (2 Cor. 8:2-4). Right attitude in giving should be the mark of the church today.
Finally, the Bible teaches us to be honest in our stewardship. We are not to behave like Ananias and Saphira who secretly stole from themselves and lied to Peter saying that they had given everything. God expects us to be good and faithful stewards through the demonstration of honesty. In the end, we would expect our rewards and the master’s great welcome, “Well done you good and faithful servant” (Steward).
1W Curry Mavis, Advancing the smaller Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1957), p. 82.
2Ibid., p. 83
3A Grace Wenger, Stewards of the Gospel (Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1965), p. 4.
4Tumbull. s v ‘Steardship’ by G Ernest Thomas
5Ruck Benjamin, “We are God’s stewards”, Herald of His Coming. Vol. 51, no. 6, 1992, p. 3.
6Wenger, pp. 29-30.
7Ibid., pp. 29-30
8Webley, p.p. 13-14.
9Samuel Young, Giving and Living (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1974), pp. 54-60.
10Leopold A Foullah, “Biblical Motivation and Methodology for Giving and Fund Raising”, Evangelical Ministries, vol. 6, no. 3, 1987, pp. 22-23.
12Ibid., p. 24-25