When you think of stewardship, what comes to mind? Taking care of the environment? A finance, fundraising, or capital campaign committee? Or maybe it’s nothing but an old, stale church word that’s lost pretty much all importance to you.
Many leaders aren’t exactly sure how to define stewardship, and that’s tragic. First, because stewardship is our highest calling as Christ-followers. And second, because if we truly understood the biblical definition of stewardship, it could be the catalyst for changing everything in our lives and our ministries.
Stewardship is actually the first assignment God gave us in Genesis 1:28 when He told Adam and Eve to have dominion over everything that moves on this earth. He commanded us to steward, or manage, these things for Him. That brings us to the cut-and-dry definition of biblical stewardship: Managing God’s blessings, God’s way, for God’s glory.
The Bible tells us in Psalm 24:1 (NIV) that God owns it all: “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, right? And although the concept of stewardship is in the original text, the word stewardship was first introduced when the King James Version of the Bible was written in the 17th century.
In medieval times, a steward literally managed a lord’s (not the Lord’s) assets. A lord was a ruler over a realm, which was equal to about a three-county area. The translators of the King James Bible used this language to explain our relationship to God (as His asset managers), since it was familiar to them in the context of their culture. So when it comes to all the stuff in your life—money, health, talents, possessions, time, relationships, ministries—well, you don’t own any of it. God does, and you and I are managers, entrusted to oversee it for His glory. That’s an honor, a privilege, and a huge responsibility!
Fortunately, God gives us plenty instruction throughout the scriptures on how to do that. For example, 1 Corinthians 4:2 (KJV) tells us, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
When we understand this perspective of stewardship deep in our spirit, we start transforming our behavior, and for church leaders, that manifests in ministry results. We begin treating our teams differently. We think differently. In certain circumstances, we follow differently. We react to conflict differently. We approach our church budgets differently. We give differently.
Viewing our lives through the lens of biblical stewardship changes everything. As our personal transformation occurs, our congregations take notice, and they begin to embrace it in their lives too. There’s a beautiful example in the Bible of this concept: In Leviticus 8:10, Moses anoints Aaron by pouring oil onto his head. The oil then ran down through the beard and onto the body and clothing below. Old Testament kings were also anointed with oil as a symbol of God’s Spirit being poured out onto the new leader. The symbolism was clear: As goes the king, so goes the kingdom.
By modeling biblical stewardship yourself, you can change your church’s entire culture—including your giving culture. People might have been reluctant to part with their money, but understanding that all of it is really God’s—not just the 10% they might tithe? Well, that’s a game-changer.
Biblical stewardship begins to weave its way into the very fabric of your ministry’s DNA, and your ministry experiences a culture change. But it starts with your own foundational gratitude to the Creator of the universe for entrusting you enough to be in ministry, to represent Him in your current role and to manage the sphere of influence that you do.
Let’s reclaim stewardship for God’s glory. Let’s be unbelievably grateful for what we get to do. Let’s ask God to use our leadership to impart biblical stewardship into the hearts of those we lead. Then let’s watch lives change, marriages heal, teams unify, and people become more generous as a result.
When we give an account one day of how we lived and led on purpose and for a purpose—how well we managed God’s blessings—my prayer is that we all hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Let’s lead well, God’s way, and for God’s glory.