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Faith: A life of stewardship

"Stewardship" is perhaps the second most feared word in mainline denominations (right behind the intimately connected "evangelism").

But is stewardship really so bad?

Let's begin with some errant preconceptions: Stewardship is all about the church asking for money; stewardship is all about law (what you must do) rather than gospel (what it is your privilege to do); and stewardship enables exploitation of the natural environment.

I would contend that what drives these preconceived ideas is that we do not spend enough time exploring stewardship across our whole life.

First, some historical etymology: "Stewardship" arises from a sociological role that was much more prevalent in an age of absentee landlords, where the steward was the person who was put in charge of the upkeep of the landlord's possessions.

So, a steward takes care of things that are not his/her own and does so not for his/her own good, but for the good of the "true" owner of the property.

Second, theology: Psalm 24:1 (NRSV): "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it."

Thus, God is the "true owner" of all that is, and everything - from the grass to the trees, from the rivers to the oceans, from the fish to the cattle, to you and me and all that we claim is "ours" - really is God's; we are but caretakers of this natural world, and we are called to be caretakers not for our own benefit or acquisition of wealth, but for the goodness of creation through sustainable usage of natural resources.

Indeed, this is what Genesis means when God gives humans "dominion" over the "good" earth (Genesis 1:26 also see v. 4, 21, 25).

By discussing stewarding of "natural" resources, we arrive at perhaps the most common misconception of stewardship: that it's the church just asking for money. Money may indeed be what makes the world go around and makes our economies work. However, the economy of faith is almost antithetical to most modern economic systems.

The problem is that the church has to work in that economic system. So, yes, the church needs money: It needs money to pay salaries, it needs money to maintain facilities, it needs money to share the good news of Jesus, which is what all churches should be about.

While giving money may be a duty and obligation, it also signifies our joy of proclaiming Christ's salvation with our whole being, with everything we have. Money may talk, where we put our money may say a lot about our values, but we are so much more than just our money.

Most of our readers are aware that nearly 16 percent of the population of Cass and about 10 percent of Crow Wing County live below the poverty line; if we were to define ourselves and our worth only on our money, we would be in a sore state indeed.

Here is where the economy of faith differs from typical economic systems: You aren't defined by how large your bank account is, but by your identity in Christ - and its associated abundant, though sometimes less tangible, riches.

It is also these riches of which we are stewards. Stewardship is ultimately a spiritual discipline of one's whole self and whole life, and we do a grave disservice if we limit stewardship to money at a yearly fund drive.

I love NPR, but the Church is not NPR, and the church really should operate no more on NPR's economic model than on that of Goldman Sachs.