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Reclaim the Meaning of Stewardship

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When most people hear the word “stewardship,” they grab a wallet or purse, either to open it or to get a firmer grip.

But as Chris Goulard, Pastor of Stewardship at Saddleback Church, would tell you there’s a movement going on in the church today—a movement back to true, biblical stewardship.

In the past, well-meaning churches misused the term “stewardship.” “Many have mischaracterized it and used it interchangeably with giving or, even worse, the annual stewardship message from the pastor who’s just talked about tithing,” Chris said.

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This has got to stop. Giving is important, sure, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. “I would love to see the word reclaimed,” he said.

What does stewardship really mean?

How do we begin to reclaim a word that’s so widely misunderstood? First, we must clearly define stewardship in our own minds. “Stewardship is foundationally understanding that we are not owners of things, but managers,” Chris said.

At its core, Chris sees stewardship as something quite simple. It basically encompasses three major points:

1. God owns it all.
2. We are all stewards.
3. We have a responsibility to manage everything for His glory.

“If we understood these pieces, we would do things differently and everything would fall into place,” Chris said.

Once we understand stewardship ourselves, we can effectively communicate the message to the congregation. As you know, people resist change! That’s why it’s so important to be bold, clear and convincing when offering a paradigm shift.

“Don’t be afraid to push people,” Chris said. “Look, if you’re going to call yourself a follower of Christ, what does that mean? If you’re going to be a disciple, you have to get dirty and be a little bit different. Jesus said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me.’ We have to be willing to go against the grain.”  Sometimes that means saying the things no one wants to hear.

Chris also encourages leaders to work toward a change of heart—not just a change of situation—in the lives of individuals. The best way to do this is by regularly sharing the biblical truths of stewardship. “In the church, we have a unique opportunity to talk about this in a different way and really dive into a biblical perspective on things, not just get people out of immediate pain.”

Stewardship for the masses

The stewardship ministry at Saddleback has grown exponentially since it began. Saddleback hopes to see every member of the congregation financially discipled, but many people don’t see their own need. One way they’re able to attract people who aren’t initially interested is to offer a broad range of resources.

A person who doesn’t see the need to attend a budgeting workshop might be intrigued by something else. A family who believes they’ve got their money under control isn’t likely to sign up for a class on getting out of debt. That’s where the broad range of resources—a stewardship ministry—comes in.

“If we start with giving them tools to teach their kids about money, then they’ll come. Same thing with a class on estate planning. It opens the door,” Chris said.

And while stewardship may not be something that’s widely taught at seminary, Chris has found that the pastor’s understanding of the importance of stewardship is key. “The majority of people in the church are in the middle of the bell curve—not in extreme wealth or poverty, but middle class. You reach these people from the pulpit very strongly by a pastor who lives it out.”

That doesn’t mean teaching about stewardship is easy. Regardless, Chris believes it is essential to the growth of believers. “If you get the foundation of what stewardship is in the simplest sense—that you are a steward and not an owner—and a strong desire to follow God, then you’re off to the races.”

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