Often when we hear the word stewardship, we equate it with our finances. But we're not thinking broadly enough, says R. Paul Stevens. We need to think in terms of all of life—everything we own, have, and do. And Paul Stevens lives what he preaches. His mission is to empower ordinary people to good stewardship by integrating their faith and life from Monday to Sunday. A professor emeritus of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College, he has written numerous books on this theme, most recently Doing God's Business (Eerdmans Publishing). We wanted to know more about his take on stewardship.
How do you define stewardship?
The word stewardship means somebody who manages a household. Stewards in the ancient world were trusted with everything from seeing that the floors were clean, to the finances, to the public face of that household. Joseph is a good biblical example of that.
Like Joseph, we aren't the owners of the things we have, but we've been entrusted with the care of everything for the sake of God's purposes in the world.
Stewardship isn't only church fundraising. It means that we're trustees of talents, time, treasure, leisure, work, our soul, the environment, the gospel, and the culture and values in the society around us.
You mentioned the gospel.
Stewardship is another way of talking about ministry.
People define ministry by what they see the pastor doing, which is proclaiming the Word of God and caring for people's souls. It's more than that. The word ministry in both Greek and Hebrew is the same word as servant—people who are at the disposal of another. So once we replace the word ministry with the word service, we see that stewardship is ministry in the sense that all of us, not just pastors, are responsible to do what God wants and are accountable to him for that. True stewardship connects that idea of ministry to our daily life.
In what ways can we practice that idea of stewardship?
Regardless of what you do, do it the best you can to love God and others. John Calvin said if you have a choice of an occupation, choose the most direct way of loving your neighbor. That means that most people would choose counseling, teaching, pastoring, or missionary service. But God has superbly gifted a lot of people to be lab technicians, researchers, infrastructure workers, and so on—all indirect ways of loving our neighbor.
For example, when I had a blood test recently, I said to the lab technician, "What you're doing is really important." And she answered, "I know. This is where diagnosis starts. It may lead to medication or surgery—to real help for a person."
I thought, Wow, that's great. Here's a person who can see that she's practicing good stewardship by using her daily tasks to indirectly love her neighbor.
We obviously think of money when we think of stewardship. How can we be good stewards of our money?
Tithing is the Christian norm, which in the Old Testament was more of an obligation, like a tax. It affirmed God's ownership of everything and provided for the temple and priesthood. But when we come to the New Testament, we have something bigger and better—hilarious, cheerful, uncalculating giving. Cheerful means you love to go beyond the requirement to maintain the servants of God and care for the poor—not from obligation but from a spontaneous overflow of gratitude for Christ's blessings.
And our time?
Unfortunately, the idea of redeeming time has led to a workaholic exploitation of every second. Devoting our time to God should include keeping Sabbath. Most Christians in our society don't have a day of rest, and it's taken its toll in everything from heart disease to ulcers to family relationships. So instead of squeezing yet one more activity into our overloaded schedule, stewardship of time might involve the opposite—playing with our families, enjoying conversation with friends, and renewing our relationship with God. Stewardship of time allows us to make room for interruptions, which is important because most of Jesus' ministry took place in interruptions.
How can we be good stewards without feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility?
This is where worship is critical. Without worship we live eccentrically, and with worship we live centrally. Worship reminds us that we're not God. We have accountability, responsibility, and opportunity, but we're not messiahs. Worship brings us back to that truth.