Stewardship in the Church

Stewardship

Discipleship, Stewardship and Evangelisation

In 1992 the US Bishops’ Conference published two major documents. One was on Evangelization and called “Go and Make disciples”. The other was on Stewardship and titled “A Disciple’s Response”. It is not clear if the Bishops had planned this but while the documents don’t explicitly relate to each other they are closely linked theologically: Discipleship is lived out in Stewardship and an essential part of Stewardship is Evangelisation. A disciple is one who answers the call of Christ, follows Jesus along the way and, to extend the image of sacrament, makes Christ present in the here and now. A Steward, according to the U.S. document, is “one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible manner, shares them in justice and love with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord. The message of salvation is the inheritance of each steward and each is told, “you too go into my vineyard”(Matt. 20.4).

So what is Stewardship?

The U.S Bishops give a definition of the steward rather than of stewardship: “One who receives God’s gifts gratefully ….” Somebody said ”it is not expressed in a single act, even a number of actions over a period of time”. It is more a way of life, a complete lifestyle of responsibility and complete accountability to God, the source of every gift and talent that we have. We become caretakers of God’s gifts of nature and of grace: gifts that are personal to us; gifts that are given to the world and its present and future inhabitants; gifts that are the spiritual patrimony of the church, a church that is ours and whose future is in our hands. Stewardship is part of gratitude and is expressed in praise and worship and prayer and in sharing with others with a generosity that reflects the generosity of God.

Stewardship then becomes a way of living a grateful life and of returning to God, directly and through our neighbour, a portion of what God has given us in time, talent and treasure. It is a day-to-day living of the vocation to love as we are loved. It is a sharing in joy and a caring for one another in a way that brings joy to the giver and the receiver. It is the responsible management, like the faithful steward of the gospel, of all that we have received. Much has been given to us; much will be expected (Luke 12.48). Those who practice this kind of stewardship speak of the joy they experience. Stewardship parishes are noted for their infectious happiness that is defused throughout the parish.

The “Practical Guide” produced by the U.S based International Catholic Stewardship Council says Christian Stewardship is one way of saying to God that we belong to the Lord and to one another (P.76). It is an

Act of Faith:            We profess we belong to God and that all we possess is his

Act of Trust:            We place our life in God’s loving hands and make him our treasure and we trust he will look after us

Act of Worship:      We adore Him as the giver of all good gifts

Act of Belonging:     We unite our offering with the rest of our parish family so that together we might care for the needs of one another, especially the poor.

The Old Testament spoke about the very practical, here-and-now, reward for tithing. The New Testament speaks of heaven as the reward for the faithful Servant. Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium go further: our lives have meaning and are valuable both because of our ultimate destiny and because of what we contribute to the progress of the world and to the building of God’s Kingdom here and now, in our time and in our place.

A Spirituality of Stewardship

Stewardship must be solidly based on what the Church is and what it means to be a disciple. All of the literature I have read speaks about the “spirituality” of Stewardship. One master’s thesis linked it to the daily examine of St. Ignatius and spoke of it as “a spirituality that the ordinary lay man or woman can take home with them”. “It is not a programme”, she wrote, “but rather a life-long continuous process: “It is a conscious commitment of one’s very self to the Lord, becoming aware of his presence and action in all we see, in all we do, in all we meet”. This demands an initial conversion, a “God experience” that turns members into disciples and servants into friends. The result is a life focused, in love and gratitude, on the Giver of all we are and have. That conversion will generally be a life-long project. Like the Church itself, we are imperfect images of God. We commit ourselves to stewardship as an expression of our desire to live discipleship, and our discipleship itself develops as we practice stewardship. The authors of “Making Stewardship a way of Life” speak about four growth points:

In our identity, as unique individuals made by God for God, living temples of the living God; intimately one with Christ as the branch and the vine are one; intimately united with all other disciples as members of the same body sent as bearers of the Good News as Jesus himself was sent.

In our Trust, as we gradually let go to God who provides for the birds of the air and who will look after us even when we give away more than we can afford. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Trust in God is a preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God” (2457). As one American Bishop put it, “it is not what I own that matters but what owns me”

In Gratitude, as we grow in the realisation that all we have is gift, that God takes care of his own, that he “makes all things work for good for those who love him” (Rom. 8). Gratitude is the child of trust. The ultimate trust is letting go to God, giving over control to him. Out of this, gratitude is born. And we can add a fourth,

In Love, the greatest of the gifts and the one that we will carry with us into the next life. In the meantime, it becomes more and more like God’s love, always giving, never selfish, always kind. Paradoxically it is in giving that we receive and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

4    Stewards of Creation

While for some Stewardship is a synonym for tithing, for others it stands for the care of creation. It is both of these but a lot more. Christian Stewards see all material things as the work of God’s hands entrusted to the care of people. They are conscious of an obligation to look after it, to probe its secrets, to leave it better for future generations. Care for the environment, respect for human life, working for a better life for the poor, beautifying this world of ours, all are integral to Stewardship.

5    Steward of Vocation

The U.S Bishops speak about the call of all to discipleship but add that we are not called as a nameless mass but individually, by name: “Each one of us: clergy, religious, lay person, married, single, adult, child – has a personal vocation. God intends each one of us to play a unique role in carrying out the divine plan”. The challenge is to understand our role and to help others understand theirs and to live it with generosity.

6    Stewards of the Church

If we accept the Vatican II models of the Church as the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Sacrament of Christ, then every baptised person is a steward of the church. All are called to be collaborators with God in their own salvation and that of others. Proclaiming and teaching, worshipping and serving and sanctifying is the work of all and of each. Each will be a good steward of the church in his or her own way: in the home, at work, in the parish, the diocese, the conference, the universal church.

–         Each has different natural talents and the Spirit has conferred different gifts on every baptised and confirmed person.  In the parish setting we cherish this variety of gifts of the same Spirit.

–         Each one is a servant of Christ, “entrusted with the Mysteries of God”. (1 Cor. 4.1). Paul goes on, “what is required of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of the trust: (4.2.).

–         Each one is priest and prophet and shepherd, each responsible for the Church’s mission of proclaiming and teaching, serving and sanctifying.

–         As Stewards entrusted with the mysteries, each is responsible for evangelisation, for proclaiming the good news. All are sent into the vineyard, sent as Jesus was sent. The vineyard is the home, the neighbourhood, the work place, the parish, the local school, the youth group, the catechism class, the neighbouring parish, the diocese. It may be the ends of the earth to which our local church sends its local priests and lay volunteers. As stewards, we feel driven to tell others what we ourselves have experienced and live.

–         The Eucharist becomes the “source and the summit” of Stewardship spirituality (LG. 11). In the Eucharist Stewards experience a unique union with Christ and with each other. Here his love continues the process of members becoming disciples, servants becoming friends. Here too the whole work-a-day life of the steward is gathered up and offered and transformed. The burnishing and transforming spoken of by the Council has already begun (G.S. 39).

 7    Time, Talent, Treasure

Few can speak of Catholic Stewardship without mentioning the “three Ts”. Time, Talent and Treasure. This may have a limiting effect, as happens every time we try to express mystery in words that are already loaded with all kinds of meanings. Also words that are over-used became “tired” (as anybody in the pew can tell us) and don’t convey their original meaning any more. Keeping that in mind, we can still employ them as a way of describing in practical terms a steward’s life.

7.1         Time

The Irish say “the Man who made time made plenty of it’! But the problem is that when it is gone, it is gone. Like oil, it is a wasting asset.

Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything; the Greeks spoke of Kairos; and a famous Englishman said “there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune”. Maybe this time of the interdiocesan consultation is such a time. Paul warned the Ephesians, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5.15-16).

Stewardship encourages us to see time as God’s most precious gift and suggests that our use of it, should be intentional, planned and proportionate (Stewardship Manual, Diocese of Charlotte):

–            Intentional, that is a deliberate decision to make the best use of God’s gifts;

–            Planned, determining how much time I will give to work, family, prayer, recreation, church etc each week in my life;

–            Proportional, based on what is important to me.

7.2.       Talent

Like time, out talents are gifts; they do not belong to us. Paul asks, “What do you have that you have not received?” (1 Cor. 4.7). These talents may be natural: musical, artistic, academic, social, athletic, poetic etc.

Or they may be spiritual or charismatic, given by the Spirit of God for the building up of the Body of Christ. St. Peter seems to have been speaking of these when he said, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold gift of God” (1 Peter 4.10). Paul is more specific: “To some his gift is that they should be apostles; to some prophets; to some evangelists; to some pastors and teachers; so that the Saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4.11-13).

Pope Benedict has on many occasions spoken of the special charisms given to the founders of the new Ecclesial movements, charisms that determine two things, namely the apostolate and the spirituality of the members.

7.3.       Treasure

As I’ve said, the cynics say stewardship is just a gimmick to get money transferred from the pocket of a parishioner to that of the parish priest. If it is introduced for this reason it will not just die; it will never be born. But is is an integral part of Stewardship.

A decision on how to use money and manage one’s financial affairs will demand a basic choice between the values of a materialistic society and the values of the Bible, a decision that must be made by everybody, clerical and lay. Somebody pointed out that “While the Bible has about 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 verses on faith, there are over 2,300 biblical verses that deal with money and possessions”. It may be that God knew we would be faced with a decision between him and money (Luke 16.13); or that the love of is the root of a lot of evil (James 6.10); or that the way we use money is a measure of our commitment to Christ. John asks “Whoever has this world’s goods and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3.17).

As with time, a steward’s decision on what to give to the Church or to other charities or directly to the poor has to be intentional, planned and proportional. It is a deliberate decision to do it on a regular basis and in proportion to what one has. 

The Diocese of Rockford gives five “Principles for Giving”:

 As a symbol of my total commitment to Christ, I give back to God:

  • In thanksgiving and gratitude for all that God has given to me
  • As a sacrifice – both meanings of the word

to make something holy
to do without something – to re-order my priorities

  • In a planned way – my gift comes from my first fruits – off the top
  • In proportion to what I have received – a tithe of my Time,Talent. Treasure and assets

5% to my parish
1% to my diocese
4% to other worthy charities, i.e. Universal Church ministries, United Way, college, community and/or international charities.

  • Wrapped in my Sunday envelope

I unconditionally give my gift – no strings attached
For my Sunday offering, I use the envelope provided to wrap my gift as an example to others of my commitment.
For other charities, as I send it, I dedicate my gift to God for His use through these groups.

If the Conference or a particular diocese decides to go the stewardship way, they must be prepared to “render an account” of their own Stewardship. The International Stewardship, Council says, “The Catholic Faithful demand and deserve the highest standards of Stewardship, rigorous financial controls, and a commitment to transparency”. We have to set our own “standards for excellence”.

  • 8    Conclusion

From what I have read, and heard from people already involved, there are some things that are essential:

  1. Stewardship should never be reduced to fund-raising and building up the Sunday collection.
  2. There will have to be wide-spread education on the nature of the Church as the People of God, the Body of Christ and on the Priesthood of all the Baptised. Some priests are inclined to think that the ordinary Catholic cannot grasp those concepts. For example if the Church is the Sacrament and all the baptised share in Christ’s priesthood, these concepts must be made intelligible to the Merchant Banker in Sandton and to the primary school learner in Mogwase. An essential characteristic of the church that the normal member cannot understand doesn’t make much sense.
  3. Most who write on the Spirituality of Stewardship speak about the need for conversion that turns a member into a disciple totally committed to Christ. Maybe too many of our sermons concentrate on external things and too much of our “renewal” is concerned with structures with too little emphasis on God and Christ (as the Pope reminded the bishops at the opening of the 1985 Second Extraordinary Synod).
  4. There would have to be great commitment to continuing formation and celebration at conference, diocesan and parish level. Otherwise it will all degenerate into a sermon on stewardship every time we want to talk about money.
  5.  

Fr. Vincent Brennan SMA
Secretary General