By Rev. Dr. Joshua Brockway, Ph.D,
Financial analysts remind us that we are living into a new normal. When we once basked in the seeming abundance of time, money, and resources of the late 20th-century economy, the markets have finally born out the implications of debt and dwindling resources. While some celebrate the rebound of the world economy, the ramifications of the housing bubble have worked their way into our collective imagination.
Our models of stewardship, however, were formed in the culture of abundance. As such, they have yet to translate appropriately into the new normal. Our experiences of mounting debt, declining resources, and more demands on our time do not match the mantra of abundance. All the while, we live in economies and cultures that operate on the principle of scarcity. Even when the economy operates well, that very principal guides the accumulation of wealth and resources. To achieve what one desires, the scarce resources must be gathered together or borrowed. The satisfaction of our desires is limited only by the amount of money we can accumulate. Thus the hurry to gather wealth and resources is, at its core, a competition.
Douglas John Hall has argued that our current models of stewardship follow easily on the cultural logic of markets and finance. When congregations begin their annual budget planning, stewardship is the signal term that is time to talk about giving. The annual pledge drive, and the weekly practice of giving of offerings is cast in the means and ends logic of scarcity. The mission of the church, as the desire of the community of faith, is limited by the ability of the congregation to collect enough time and money from its members. Since both are scarce, resources on stewardship often adopt the practices and perspectives of money management so that church members can optimize their abilities to meet their desired ends and contribute to the church.
Reading through the biblical imagery about stewardship reveals that our task is much more than just creating a balanced budget. From beginning to end, the imagery of stewardship is cast within the relationship of the believer to God. In short, stewardship is a matter of discipleship. What we do with our money, time, and resources is defined by not by the scarcity logic of the economy, but by the care entrusted to us by God. Our encounter with God and the resulting way of life defines not only how we see and understand our resources but establishes what we do with them. This course, then, will approach stewardship as a practice of our discipleship. As such, the categories and practices of stewardship take on decidedly biblical and theological perspectives. That is to say that what we do with our money and time is not about optimizing our capacity to accomplish things with scare resources, but rather that our resources are set within the larger context of God’s reconciling mission in the world. In short, we manage our resources according to the economy of the Kingdom of God.
This course begins with defining what we mean when we say we are disciples of Jesus and citizens of the Kingdom of God. This model of discipleship, then, sets our way of life in the context of scripture and worship. From there, we will explore the scriptural and theological accounts of God’s economy, thus putting our practices of stewardship within the frame of sufficiency. For God’s creation and providence gives us all that we need, and from the surplus we can share with those who have a greater need. Our commitment to follow Jesus transforms both how we understand the world and live within it. Stewardship, then, is the constellation of our practices with time, talent, and treasure according to the principles of the Kingdom of God.