Stewardship and the Church's Mission
Stewardship and mission, I would suggest, converge in a life of discipleship.
The mission of the church is often explained by using the text found in Matthew 28:18-20. However, we sometimes read it with the wrong emphasis.
The mission of the church is often explained by using the text found in Matthew 28:18-20. However, we sometimes read it with the wrong emphasis. We speak of evangelism and baptisms as the primary objective. A closer analysis of these verses in the original language indicates that the primary imperative verb is “to disciple,” or “to make disciples” of people throughout the world. This is a broader perspective of the mission. Evangelising, baptizing and teaching are ongoing parts of the disciple-making process as are nurturing, personal spirituality, and godly living. So discipling is the essence of the mission of the church. Jesus can give us this command because verse 18 tells us that “All authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Him.
A disciple is one who follows a teacher and seeks to be like him. For Christians the teacher is Jesus. Easton’s Bible Dictionary puts it this way: “A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example.”1 By extension this means that the disciple of Jesus will live a lifestyle that incorporates Jesus’ ideals and example, continuing the ministry of Jesus on the earth. Jesus is his or her Lord and Master. This is true discipleship.
A steward is also one who serves his or her master. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, although it does not use the word steward or stewardship, conveys in simple language what stewardship is all about. A property owner is going on a journey and he leaves his property to his trusted servants. The steward recognizes that he is given a trust of something that he does not own. With that trust from the Master who has all authority comes a responsibility to take care of and improve the property because a time of accountability will come. If the steward has been faithful there will be a reward. Not only does the owner trust the steward, but the steward trusts and respects the owner.
Ellen White writes about the principle of stewardship: “A steward identifies himself with his master. He accepts the responsibilities of a steward, and he must act in his master’s stead, doing as his master would do were he presiding. His master’s interests become his. The position of a steward is one of dignity, because his master trusts him.”2
If the overall mission of the church is to make disciples, stewardship is another way of describing the practical life of a disciple.
If the overall mission of the church is to make disciples, stewardship is another way of describing the practical life of a disciple. Both the disciple and the steward have a Master who has all authority and ownership. The steward describes the disciple who is following the will of the Master. So the mission of the church includes stewardship because they both are the result of dedicated discipleship. We cannot separate them.
All that we have been given: our lives, our skills, our resources (including time and money)—even our health—has been entrusted to us to “disciple” people who do not know Christ. How can world mission take place without the stewardship of returning to God what He owns and the faithful and sacrificial giving of what He has entrusted to us? Mission is always linked to our stewardship. Mission without stewardship—can it really happen?!
1. Easton, M. G. (1893). “Disciple” In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.
2. White, E. G. (1940). Counsels on Stewardship (p. 113). Review and Herald Publishing Association