What is stewardship?

One of the basic misconceptions about stewardship is that it is fund-raising. It is mistakenly thought of as how Christians pay for the church's budget. Some have erroneously treated “stewardship” as an awful code word used by church leaders for “money.”

The prophets of the Old Testament warn us against offering material goods as a substitute for offering ourselves to God. Presbyterians believe that stewardship is an essential aspect of a life lived in and for Jesus Christ—a life of simplicity, generosity, honesty, hospitality, compassion, receptivity, and concern for God’s creation. Stewardship is certainly more than offering material goods. Stewardship is not about meeting the needs of the church—which is God’s purview. Rather, stewardship is about the gratitude of God’s people.

How is stewardship related to gratitude?

Because we human beings are often preoccupied with ourselves, we tend to focus on the problems which fill our lives and on the blessings of others which we lack.  Routinely, we assume that we deserve better and that God owes us better. But when we become aware of the arrogance and selfishness behind such assumptions, one inescapable truth comes to the fore: the truth that God does not owe us anything!

Now, if God does not owe us anything, then anything—any crumb of grace—any tidbit of blessing—which we have and which God has given us is pure grace. It is an undeserved gift from God—a gift which is in no way owed to us; and yet, God has given it to us anyway. This means that the purpose of our lives is realized when we live lives of unqualified gratitude to God.

Gratitude, like unconditional love, is a choice. Gratitude makes every day sacred. Expressing our gratitude is a gift to the giver. Gratitude for small things makes every day a gift. Gratitude is the realization that we have everything we need, at least in this moment. And, this moment is really all we have.

Stewardship is the journey of discovering gratitude in our everyday lives. Stewardship is our growing in awareness of the blessings of our daily lives.  Presbyterians believe that our gratitude to and for Jesus Christ naturally results in stewardship—in an outpouring of our time, our talents and treasures for Christ’s service.

We believe that stewardship is the offering of ourselves in gratitude to God.

Why do Presbyterians give?

Presbyterians believe that stewardship has to do with how we live—it has to do with our daily commitments to Jesus Christ as Lord.  In worship, we are presented with the costly self-offering of Jesus Christ. We are claimed and set free by Him, and we are led to respond by offering to God our lives, our particular gifts and abilities, and our material goods.

Giving has always been a mark of Christian commitment and discipleship. The ways in which Christians use God’s gifts of material goods, personal abilities, and time should reflect a faithful response to God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ and Christ’s call to minister to others and to share with others in the world. 

What do Presbyterians give?

Tithing (the giving of one tenth of one’s gifts) is a primary expression of the Christian discipline of stewardship. Presbyterians believe that those who enjoy tithing do so, not out of a legalist Biblical interpretation, but out of gratitude to God for God's grace given to us in Jesus Christ.

But tithing is a discipline which applies to more than just financial resources. When we give only our money, we give very little; it is when we give of ourselves that we truly give. Presbyterians believe that stewardship is a spiritual matter. Tithing, therefore, is not just giving our money. Tithing of our time and talents (as well as our treasures) is an integral part of our faithful response to the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is an offering of one's self to God. As it says in one of our hymns, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

How is stewardship related to faith?

Presbyterians believe that God created us to love God—to find our greatest happiness and fulfillment in a relationship with God. We believe that we were created by God for God—that we properly belong to God and not to ourselves. 

Of course, we sinful human beings often seek happiness and fulfillment by substituting our love for God with any and all other objects of desire—wealth, popularity, social or political power. In the end, all other desires are really nothing more than our own efforts to meet our love for God with other less valuable desires—none of which can take the place of the One for Whom we were truly created. We mistakenly assume that such possessions will insure happiness, but the more we own our possessions, the less satisfying they prove to be. Faith in our possessions is ultimately unfulfilling, because it supplants our faith in the One in Whom we have true purpose. We may think that we own our possessions, but all too often they end up possessing us.   

Presbyterians believe that our very existence is an act of God’s grace. We believe that all that we have, all that we do, and all that we desire—all that we are—are also acts of God’s grace. God sees us and our time, talent, and treasures as inseparable. All belong to God.

Stewardship, then, is really our faith in action. When we claim to have faith in God, we are actually returning to God. We are giving to God what is already His and has always been His. Stewardship is our affirmation of God’s full ownership of ourselves and of everything entrusted to us by His grace.

As Augustine, one of the church’s great theologians, once said in a prayer: 

To praise You is the desire of humankind, a little part of Your creation. You stir humanity to take pleasure in praising You, because You have created us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.    (Confessions, 1.1)