The concept of stewardship emerges out of creation. The Creator placed our first parents in the garden as caretakers. In the Old Testament people were familiar with the responsibilities and relationships of caretakers and stewards. Joseph was a steward in Potiphar's house. When he became ruler of Egypt, he had a steward (a "man over the house," Genesis 43:19) who took care of his household affairs. All Christians are to be stewards of God's mysteries (oikonomous; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Peter 4:10). Jesus speaks of the faithful and wise steward (oikonomos, Luke 12:42). This is the word from which economics is derived (oikos - manage + nomos house). Another Greek word translated steward is found in the parable of the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard told the steward, or foreman (epitropos, i.e., one to whom a thing is committed), to call the workers and pay them their wages (Matthew 20:8). From these and many other Scriptures, both the word and concept of stewardship is clear in biblical usage. Steward derives from Old English words meaning the keeper of a hall. An English dictionary defines stewardship as "a person entrusted with management of estates or affairs not his own; an administrator" (Funk and Wagnalls).
God is the Creator of the earth and all that is in it, including humankind. Adam and Eve were formed from the dust, just as the creatures of the field. There is one amazing difference! God ". . . breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life, and [Adam] became a living being" (Genesis 2:15). They were given specific responsibilities and commandments. The relationship of caretaker and steward is further established when the birds and beasts were brought to Adam to see what be would name them. God the Creator and owner, and people the caretakers and stewards, is a major theme that flows throughout biblical revelation. God's relationship as owner and lord of the world is constantly reaffirmed in both the Old Testament and New Testament, e.g., Psalms 24:1; John 3:16.
After disobedience in Eden and after the first couple was evicted from the Garden, redemption becomes a dominant theme of the Old Testament looking forward to the coming of Christ. The covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, and fulfillment of covenant in a promised land are a confirmation of God to his people that he called them into a special relationship with him. The prophets continually call a disobedient people to return to be faithful to the covenant.
The New Testament is the fulfillment of the promised redemption in Christ. Jesus comes to establish the kingdom of heaven of which he is the king. In one of the many kingdom parables, he says, ". . . it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them" (Matthew 25:14). Faithfulness is the standard of judgment when the master of the servants returns. The stewardship parables (e.g. Matthew 20:8; Luke 12:42; 16:1-3) clearly establish Christ as Lord and Master. His people are called to be stewards and managers of the Master's goods. Jesus' teaching on stewardship is set in the context of managing material possessions. The intent of his teaching clearly goes beyond material goods to show his hearers they have the responsibility of a steward to act on the manager's behalf in his absence, "until I come back" (Luke 19:13).
Stewardship teaching among churches in the Anabaptist tradition carries a strong discipleship emphasis. H. S. Bender stated "First and fundamental in the Anabaptist vision was the conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship." This is not so much the inward experience of God's grace as the outward application in all conduct and relationships. "Following Christ" was the emphasis (Bender, "Anabaptist vision").
"A new concept of the church with newness of life and applied Christianity" is cited by Bender as a second major element in Anabaptist faith. One of the Swiss martyrs of 1528 said, "If they know of any one who is in need, whether or not he is a member of their church, they believe it their duty, out of love to God, to render help and aid." Swiss Brethren applicants for baptism were asked "whether they would consecrate themselves with all their temporal possessions to the service of God and His people."
Persecution or the threat of it tended to help Anabaptists solve the problem of indifferent members and the demands of church discipline. By the middle of the 19th century the political situation shifted in most European countries, and in some of the American colonies there was a relatively free religious climate early in the 18th century. The fervor of faith was kept alive in part by emphasizing responsibility toward one another through mutual aid. Alms books were more important than records of baptism, marriages, or funerals. The Skippack (Pennsylvania) alms book, for instance, lists assistance to immigrants, maintenance for a poor man, and a pound of sugar for Maria von Fossen; along with church property maintenance, communion supplies and costs for operation of the schools. (MacMaster, 160-64).
Mennonites who followed the frontier, or came to the frontier as immigrants, found that establishing homes and a livelihood consumed most of their energy and resources. By the 1950s the poverty of the 1930s gave way to growing prosperity. As communities prospered, many church members did not have a clear biblical sense that who they are and what they own is the Lord's. Nor did they understand that their assets belong to God and that they are stewards entrusted to administer these assets until lie returns. The baptismal commitment often did not carry the specific expectation to consecrate " themselves with all ... temporal possessions."
In spite of shortcomings in practice, stewardship became a dominant church concern in the decades after World War II. Practice was ahead of theology. It is easier to respond to tangible need than to abstract mandates. Before the 1950s many congregations had no budget, no systematic plan for giving, and offered little financial support to pastors.
The events surrounding World War II transformed the outlook and economics of the inter-Mennonite and Amish family. By joining efforts under the Mennonite Central Committee umbrella, vast quantities of food and clothing were shipped to war-torn Europe. MCC workers personally distributed these relief supplies "in the name of Christ.'' The impact on the North American churches was amazing.
In the post-war decades mission and service expanded at home and abroad beyond expectation. Young people were drafted and others volunteered for service in Canada, United States, and around the world. Mennonite colleges added courses of study preparing the young for work in service professions. The colleges were expanding enrollments while church secondary and elementary schools were being established. Mental health centers, hospitals, nursing homes and retirement communities began to flourish. Inter-Mennonite service programs such as Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and church camping associations were organized.
There was work to be done. Mennonites were doers, so they joined forces, organized and developed varied and diverse service programs and ministries. Service projects close to the people found it easy to raise financial support. The post-war cash economy provided new resources to support the opportunity offered by the expanding church vision. Congregations and denominational institutions became interested in budgets, financial planning, and fiscal responsibility for church-sponsored programs. Tithing and stewardship became important issues. It was important for people of financial means to take part in forming the new vision for the emerging ministries. It was not always clear whether the emphasis on tithing and stewardship was a concern to promote biblical principles of faith, or a way to motivate people with means to support expanding programs. The 35 years from the early 1950s to the late 1980s were a time of growth for Mennonites and related groups in North America and beyond. The church faced many problems, but God supplied material and spiritual resources to accomplish ministries important to the life of his kingdom.
A review of denominational yearbooks indicates that most of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ conference structures include commissions or directors with responsibility for stewardship ministries. Staff serving under the denominational boards are available to hold workshops and seminars in congregations that want to strengthen their understanding of stewardship. Specialized services are available in estate planning, building congregational budgets, and guidance to families for financial planning and tithing.
As Mennonites move toward the 21st century, there is a growing emphasis on the broader aspects of Christian stewardship in preaching, Sunday school literature, and in the church periodicals. A listing of topics and frequent concerns follow: (1) Spiritual renewal and a reordering of life's priorities, often emphasizing the meaning of discipleship in a secular age and seeking Christ's kingdom first (Matthew 6:13) are frequent references. (2) Stewardship of time, talents, and vocation are topics people are exploring. Humans are created in God's image. Believers bodies are referred to as God's temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). (3) Care for the environment, global ecology, and concern for the welfare of exploited people are emphasized. As science and technology advance, the potential for destruction of God's creation increases. (4) Personal and family financial management, including an emphasis and study of biblical teaching of the tithe, of the jubilee principle, and of what constitutes an appropriate life-style are discussed. Estate planning and planned giving are increasingly important to people who wish to practice biblical stewardship.
The biblical themes of creation, redemption and discipleship, which include the call to holy living, are the lofty base on which stewardship practices are built. Management of money is an issue that never quite goes away. It is still the scorecard that shows how we understand the Christian gospel. Ultimately, however, money is not the issue. The issue is how one gets it, what one does with it, and what one lets money do to oneself.
MacMaster, Richard K. Land, Piety, Peoplehood: the Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America, 1683-1790, The Mennonite Experience in America (MEA), vol. 1. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985: 160-64.
Bender, Harold S. "The Anabaptist Vision." Church History 13 (March 1944): 3-24, reprinted with slight changes in Mennonite Quarterly Review 18 (1944): 67-88; and reprinted in The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, ed. Guy F. Hershberger. Scottdale: Herald Press, 1957: 29-54.
Kauffman, Milo. The Challenge of Christian Stewardship. Scottdale, PA, 1955.
Kauffman, Milo. Stewards of God. Scottdale, PA, 1975.
Yoder, Robert A. Seeking First the Kingdom: Called to Faithful Stewardship. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983.
Bair, Ray and Lillian Bair. God's Managers: a Budget Guide and Daily Financial Record Book for Christians. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985.
Kauffman, J. Howard and Leland Harder, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: a Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975: 233 ff.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 858-859. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Peachey, Laban. "Stewardship." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 19 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/S759ME.html.
APA style: Peachey, Laban. (1989). Stewardship. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/S759ME.html.