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Friday, April 24, 2015

STEWARDSHIP: God’s Way of Recreating the World (Steve Kindle) -- Review by Bob Cornwall

STEWARDSHIP: God's Way of Recreating the World. (Topical Line Drives volume 18). By Steve Kindle. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. 44 pages

Every Sunday in my church one of the Elders will invite the congregation to consider their stewardship responsibilities. They may speak of the need to support the ministries of the church (though conveniently most leave out the fact that the pastor is a major expenditure), and perhaps they will expand the definition of stewardship to include our gifts and talents. The latter are non-monetary gifts, but they still largely benefit the congregation. Each year, in the month of November we will conduct a stewardship campaign. Normally I will begin and end the season with a stewardship sermon. I will talk about money but perhaps other elements of stewardship as well. We preachers dread the season of stewardship, because most of us don’t like to talk about money. Perhaps that is due in large part to the fact that we are the predominate beneficiaries of these gifts (that’s not a problem, it just uncomfortable to talk about). But is this all there is to stewardship?

My friend and Disciples ministry colleague Steve Kindle suggests that stewardship has a much broader definition. The subtitle of this little book (just 35 pages of text that can be read in about 90 minutes) hints at the breadth of this broader definition. Stewardship has to do with “God’s way of recreating the world.” Stewardship, as a biblical concept, is guided by our prayer to do the will of God on earth as in heaven. While churches are struggling with budgets, declining membership, and identity questions, while individual Christians are seeking closer connections to God and each other, Steve suggests that “stewardship, comprehensively understood and applied, will lead a congregation and individual Christians out of these problems and into mature and effective relationships and significant ministry” (p. 3). The way to do this is to think globally, to think in terms of our relationship to God in the context of creation. Rather than being a program of the church, stewardship becomes our lifestyle.

One of the key elements in this presentation, which could be transformative if taken seriously, is the message of Jubilee. Jubilee is Jesus’ own calling, as laid out in Luke 4, which picks up on the message of Isaiah 61, which is rooted in Leviticus 25. Jubilee is call for justice that lifts up the poor, the captive, and the imprisoned.

While stewardship messages often focus on giving, including tithing, Steve turns this message on its head. The question is not how much to give, but how much to keep. Wealth in itself is not the problem, it is the way it is understood and used. Are we hoarders or are we givers? Do we put our trust in God or in that wealth? Part of this conversation is rooted in the question of community, and how we not only understand it but practice it. That is, congregations are not teaching stewardship as a way of life. Our problem is that our culture is so individualistic, that we find it difficult to be in true fellowship with each other. True stewardship, however, has as its goal the development of a sense of community where we live our lives for the sake of the other. Thus, “when life is lived this way, everyone wins, and so does the earth.” He writes further that when we base our decisions on how they affect others, from family to the earth itself, “life will be lived on its highest level” (p. 28). If we continue to see stewardship as simply a program designed to benefit the institution then it will not lead to transformation. But, if we change our focus, something amazing might happen.

The book doesn’t have chapters in the traditional sense, but there are discernible sections that move us along toward the goal of seeing stewardship in its fullness. It closes with a stewardship sermon that takes up the insights and principles developed in the book to that point, including the principle of jubilee. For those of us who believe that government has an important role in bringing fairness to the world, Steve reminds us that as Christians, Jubilee is not a government program developed by politicians. It is a life we are called to live as followers of Jesus.

So, what shall we make of this little book? Could engaging with its message be transformative? The only way to truly answer that is to read it in community and ask the question of how we can move from stewardship as a program of the church to a way of life that calls for us to join with God in recreating the world. With that in mind, I would recommend this book be read in community, perhaps a small group or a bible study setting. It could be useful for church leadership to read (as a Disciple I’m thinking of our Elders who are charged with teaching on stewardship on a weekly basis).

There is a further benefit to be gained from broadening our understanding of stewardship—to do so can help overcome the belief among so many outside the church that all churches are concerned about is money. The offering we take, while essential to the ongoing work of the congregation, is not just a way of taking donations. It is more precisely a symbolic way of expressing our corporate commitment to joining in God’s work of recreating the world. To truly understand stewardship in this way can be transformative for church and Christian both, not to mention the earth!

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