Towards Wholistic Stewardship
Erika F. Puni inverviewed by Larry R. Evans, DS Editor
LRE: You haven’t always been in stewardship ministries. How did that change come about?
EFP: It came as a surprise. I was teaching applied theology at Avondale College in Australia when I was invited by my division to lead the Stewardship Ministries, Sabbath School and Personal Ministries in 2000. Then I was called to lead the GC Stewardship Ministries Department in 2005.
LRE: You speak about wholistic stewardship. What does wholistic stewardship mean to you?
EFP: My understanding of wholistic stewardship comes first from the Genesis account where God presents the concept of creatorship and invites the first humans to continue His management. From this I understand it to mean that we are stewards of the total life rather than stewards with a limited or conventional understanding of finances. The second idea supporting wholistic stewardship also comes from the Genesis account. If “rule over”(Gen. 1:26, 28) means that Christ rules through me, then I also connect that with the call of Jesus for me to seek the kingdom of God. This means that Christ reigns and has dominion in my personal life. I don’t believe this is limited to only my finances. It’s a call for my total life as Christ’s steward.
LRE: Why do you think whole-life stewardship is so important?
EFP: Traditionally, life is viewed from a compartmentalized perspective dividing the secular from the spiritual. I think God views life as a whole. I hear Jesus talking about this wholistic understanding of stewardship when He responded to the question, “What’s the greatest commandment?” He comes with a relational response by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). I see that as addressing the total person. When Jesus rules my life, He desires to be in control of my entire life—not just a part of me. Stewardship becomes wholistic when in its broad sense it becomes an imitation of God; when I allow Him to rule and to control my whole life.
LRE: So if stewardship is more than finances, for example tithe and offerings, what else does it include?
EFP: If stewardship is my total response to God, then my total life will include my worship of God. It will include my influence in society at large and in the local community. It would include my relationship with other beings outside of myself. It would include, for me, my attitude toward the things of life called possessions, whether that be the job of creating things or accumulating things. I think even that is included. There’s no question that finances do come under the total picture of stewardship. Then, of course, one can add other subsystems of our human experience. Such things as language, and the arts, would be included. All should come under the rule of Christ.
LRE: Do we have any indication that this wholistic approach is making a difference in the financial giving?
EFP: Yes. There are exciting stories coming from the South American Division and some of the African divisions where this approach is being applied with significant success. There are also places in Asia where this approach is being implemented, and the life of the Church is being enriched beyond tithe and offerings. It is making a real difference.
LRE: With such a broad view of stewardship, how does it relate to other ministry areas of the church?
EFP: I often illustrate this point with a colorful pizza. I see pieces of the pizza as categories of our human experience. Stewardship is like a ministry platform of the church where all of us, irrespective of what ministry, i.e., Personal Ministries, or Sabbath School, or Health Ministries, for that matter—all of us minister to bring men and women, boys and girls, to experience Christ both as Lord and Savior. I don’t think that is the responsibility of any single department. All of us are called to do that.
LRE: You speak about stewardship as if it is impacted by both internal and external forces. Are there two levels of stewardship?
EFP: No, I don’t think so. I do believe that as humans we live our lives on two levels. Sometimes I use the imagery of a tree or a plant where there are roots, and there are the fruits. And while these are two different levels, so to speak, they are part of the one reality. So it is with stewardship—there is the inner or deeper level of our being and there is the outward manifestation of stewardship in terms of actions or behavior. The two are connected, I believe with one informing the other.
LRE: So stewardship involves my reaction to the world around me, such as the environment?
EFP: Yes, but I probably would prefer the word “response to.” I’m not just reacting to something. It is part of my calling as a Christian steward to take care of all of this on behalf of God. Our God-given values, then, begin to inform who we are and what we are to do? Yes and I believe there’s biblical support for that. When Christ takes His rightful place in our life, when I accept Him as my Savior and Lord, something takes place within, whether we call it transformation or conversion. That something does not stay within myself. It will be expressed outwardly, in terms of what I do—my behavior. Transformation is an initiation of God and He works within me.
LRE: So what we do in the Stewardship Ministries Department is not something we initiate. We work as partners with God to facilitate and explain His initiation. Is that what you are saying?
EFP: Yes, it’s part of the total process and experience.
LRE: Is it possible for a faithful steward to live in this world but not be dictated by the secular values of this world?
EFP: I think of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 where he says in verses 11 and 12 “Holy Father, protect them” from the world. I think that part of our calling as stewards is to be like “yeast” in society, to be “light” in the world. How can I continue to manifest the life of a faithful steward despite the context in which I find myself? This is where our personal choice comes in. We must continually submit to the values of the kingdom of Christ and allow Him to be Lord of our life. Joy enters into life as we remain connected with Him and, of course, worship is an important part of this experience.
LRE: With this view of a wholistic stewardship, how do you see tithe and offerings fitting into this big picture?
EFP: If we accept the wholistic understanding of stewardship, then we would also accept that finances are a part of our human life and Christian experience. If we allow Christ to be the ruler of our lives then we return tithe, not because God needs it but because He is the Creator and Owner of everything. It expresses in financial terms who God is. It is about worship. Offering, on the other hand, is an expression of gratitude for the blessings of God and the gift of life, and especially for Christ, His Son. Our stewardship, then, is God-centered but it is also sensitive to the needs around us. Stewardship is also a call to care for the less fortunate of society, the poor. I think Jesus makes it very clear when He said to the disciples, “The poor will always be with you.” And of course we find God speaking to His people in the Old Testament about it. Financial stewardship includes our support for projects and initiatives for people even outside of the church who, for whatever reason, have special needs. God is calling us to act responsibly towards them.
LRE: In view of what you have shared, what can each administrator and each stewardship director do to encourage faithful stewardship among our members?
EFP: First, I think as church administrators, we have a responsibility to talk about stewardship in our personal conversations and to teach where opportunity is given. We should lead by example by demonstrating our own faithfulness to God both in tithe and offerings. In other words, there is a place for education, but there is also a place for inspiration and encouragement through personal example. Stewardship becomes a way of life and not just a program that is being pushed.