“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received…so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 4:10-11 – New Revised Standard Version
A friend of mine, Bob Seitz, challenged me one day after a meeting when I had talked a lot about discipleship. Bob wondered if a better category to frame my ministry and my sense of following Jesus was stewardship—a deep, wide, and enduring understanding of our response to God’s grace as we live our lives as a hymn of praise. Generous disciples of Jesus lead expansive lives as stewards of everything and every relationship God gives us. As I look toward what stewardship might look like in 2030, I see the church engaging in expansive, enduring work that will benefit our communities for years to come.
Expansive stewardship recognizes that stewardship happens in all kinds of ways and on all sorts of timelines. Some gifts are given for use now, and other gifts are designed for use later. Both types of gifts require thoughtful imagination.
Through Christ Jesus, we learn that God’s grace relentlessly seeks to make our broken lives and communities whole. God’s Holy Spirit breathes faith and new life into us. When we understand what God has and continues to do for us, what will we do in response? Stewardship is not something we have to do to be saved; it is something we get to do in response to God’s wildly abundant love.
Expansive stewardship does not come from a scarcity mindset. It is not focused on what we don’t have or how little we have. Expansive stewardship starts by assuming an abundance of gifts, and invites us to explore all of them as assets. Asset Mapping helps us name the resources, people, property, and gifts and talents we have in our communities, congregations, circles of friends, and families. Identifying assets allows us to think expansively and imaginatively about what we have right in front of us to solve problems, identify opportunities, and celebrate all that we are for the sake of God’s kingdom. When we look for assets, we notice that “by God’s grace, together, we have everything that we need.”
God created and continues to create through us and with us, and we are called to expansive stewardship by nurturing our relationships and communities. That happens in all kinds of ways as we love the places and people where God plants us, naming gifts and offering encouragement every step of the way.
Vernon and Ardys were people whose imagination led to financial gifts for seminary students. “We don’t want our gifts to go into an endowment. We would like to have you use these gifts now to help the students and protect them from debt.” They believed God would take care of the church in the future, so they gave their gifts to make a difference now. They touched and transformed so many pastors through their persistent gifts to grow leaders with less educational debt so they might better serve Christ and Christ’s Church. While these gifts had a direct impact on the students while they were in seminary, these gifts will be bearing fruit in the ministries of these leaders for years to come.
Stewardship of the Land
Being a steward of the Land is an enduring call. I remember the day as a teenager when I came home grumping after plowing the contour fields that gently circled the hill on our farm land. Plowing contour strips around the sandy loam soil of the hill took lots of extra time and kept me from doing more of what my teenage self wanted to do. Contour strips also serve a critical function in farming. They prevent heavy rainfall from creating deep gullies in the fields.
In response to my grumping, Dad said with patience and strength, “Our goal is to take good care of the land and pass it on to other generations in better shape than we have received it.” Caring for what God has given us is part of how we respond to the gift of creation. Expansive stewardship sees our relationship with the land as part of our stewardship.
When it comes to stewarding the land, I also think of my brother-in-law, who planted walnut trees on farmland, and has tended them for many decades. His imagination included dreams of providing walnut and pine wood for building, so he devised a plan to make it happen. My brother-in-law’s stewardship of the farmland and the stream that flowed through it allowed a walnut and pine forest to flourish. In a symbiotic dance, the pines push the walnuts to grow straight and tall. Ultimately, the trees will bear fruit in the lives of his great-grandchildren. This kind of stewardship is enduring and makes me wonder about God’s creative imagination and investment in me, you, and so many other creatures.
Gracious God, pull and push us into your enduring, expansive, and promised future. Amen