When it comes to church, are you a Steward or are you a Benefactor? (hopefully you are one or the other and a generous giver of at least some measure of your resources!) If you can’t describe yourself as either… you may want to look to the verses below and purpose to get started in some meaningful way.
A Benefactor… (Vocabulary.com) a person who helps people or institutions, especially with financial help
A Steward… (Collins English Dictionary) a person morally responsible for the provision and careful use of money, time, talents, or other resources (a manager), especially with respect to the principles and needs of the community or group
I really like the all-encompassing nature of the definition of a steward (above). It speaks to proper moral responsibility and management of a variety of resources and principles that are assigned to a group. That pretty much sums up Church stewardship! While the Church definitely appreciates its benefactors, and there are quite a few, God has actually called each of us to be stewards of both the resources and the spiritual gifts that He has given to us. Being a generous benefactor can be a part of good stewardship...but it’s certainly not the entire stewardship Job Description, so to speak! See below for some examples of what the Bible tells us about comprehensive stewardship:
1 Peter 4:10 (NASB) As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
1 Corinthians 4:1 (NASB) Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Luke 13:7 (NASB) And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?'
Luke 16:1-2, 11-12 (NASB) Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' ... 11 Therefore, if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?
While benefactors typically give generously of their “treasure”, they are frequently not “all-in” with their time and talent. You see, they are very busy people with other important life issues (work, family, hobbies, social things, household chores, etc.) going on and so they just trust that the stewards (who by the way, have the same “life issues” going on) will serve the Church in the other ways, like leadership and important volunteer roles that require a lot of time and talent. If you have looked at the definitions and descriptions above, and you can’t quite see yourself as a Steward, don’t be too upset if you label yourself as a benefactor. Let me emphasize, benefactors are still servants (possibly very faithful servants) and they are serving the Church!
With that being said, there is a difference between serving and “having a servant’s heart”. Those who take stewardship seriously have chosen to be mindful of the image of “having a servant’s heart” that a loving Christ laid out for us. Good stewards serve thoughtfully and graciously whenever and wherever they are needed. They choose not to pre-define the type, amount or duration of their service. They see what needs have to be met, and they meet them with a loving and selfless response. They are sometimes needed in the background and sometimes they must be “front and center.” It might be holding a baby in the Nursery or serving coffee in the Lobby, it might even be running to Sam’s Club to get napkins. Most of us might consider those “easy” servant roles... but good stewardship could also be serving as an Elder or a Deacon, maybe teaching a Life Apps class or leading a small group. Those are BIG time consuming, faith developing, spiritually maturing, Kingdom needs for every church… and they are fulfilled by normal everyday people like you or me!
Additionally, while benefactors often give their finances generously to the Church, good stewards give their finances as well. And they give in a systematic and sacrificial way for Kingdom purposes. The actual percentage of their giving is not the most important thing. They know that the greatest importance is found in giving to God the “first fruits” of their income, (not the excess or what’s left over at the end of the month). This giving of first fruits celebrates the faith held in God to provide beyond all of their earthly desires, beyond human understanding and even beyond their greatest fears. They simply trust that their God is bigger than any and all of their personal situations!
Further, while we may think that the type of giving and serving mentioned above are way outside of our “comfort zones”, remember that God doesn’t recognize any comfort zones. He is the One that faithfully equips the called...He doesn’t necessarily “call” the already equipped! (What kind of faith would that yield?) Rest assured, God is patient, and there’s so much room for our “benefactors” (and for those who haven’t even gotten to that point!) to grow and mature into the stewards that they need to become. As a good first step, they must allow themselves to trust that God can and will work “miracles” in their lives to allow them to accomplish all of “it”. Take some “little steps”. The next time you are made aware of some church “need” (be it a service opportunity or a financial need) and you feel the Holy Spirit tugging at your conscience to do something...give in and listen to Him. Start small...and continue to build your way to stewardship. Isaiah 6:8 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" Trust me, you won’t ever regret saying “Yes!” to becoming a better and more faithful steward!
Finally, Jesus’ own words from John 15:12-17 come to mind: 12 "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. 17 This I command you, that you love one another.” Sometimes we show the greatest love for Jesus and for His people not by physically dying, but by dying a little to “self”. By systematically and sacrificially giving of our precious time, talent, and treasure for the betterment of the Kingdom and its “citizens”, we can play out the commands above and bear great fruit as the stewards we are called to be.