Stewardship and Discipleship: Two Sides of the Same Coin

“…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” – Abraham Kuyper

These words, penned by the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper nearly one hundred years ago, powerfully convey the essence of holistic biblical stewardship. Kuyper understood that effective stewardship and intentional discipleship are two sides of the same coin.

Christians today urgently need to revive their commitment to whole-life discipleship. Millions of churchgoers are “Christians” for only an hour a week—Christianity is something they do on Sunday morning rather than a way of life. The withering of discipleship is one of the gravest threats facing the Church today.

Recovering a Holistic Theology of Stewardship
It is urgent for the future of the Church that we recover a whole-life model of discipleship that understands every legitimate human activity as responding to a call from God. Every human being is called to be, in all of life, a steward of God’s creation.

In most churches today, stewardship only means giving and volunteering at church. But the biblical model of stewardship encompasses how we cultivate the entire world. Whatever you do, Paul says in Colossians 3:23-24, work heartily, because whatever you do you are serving the Lord Christ! Our individual discipleship, our church communities, and our witness to society at large must recover a holistic theology of stewardship and calling. We must reintegrate our model of discipleship with the call to cultivate the world.

So often in our church-going experience we hear stewardship messages that speak to the issue of what we have been called to steward. Much of the dialogue in Christian circles revolves around how we are called to exercise stewardship. Even in the unlikely setting of politics today, there is a vague understanding that we must be good stewards. Pastors and presidents alike invoke the word stewardship to reflect our responsibility toward something.

For the Church, the term stewardship has become synonymous with giving, fundraising, or capital campaigns. For much of the world, the first stewardship responsibility that comes to mind is environmental conservation. Younger generations immediately gravitate toward issues of social justice (poverty, human trafficking, etc.) when speaking about stewardship. All of these things represent important facets of stewardship.

Two Questions
But there are two more fundamental questions to answer in order to understand stewardship in all its fullness.

First, who exactly are we managing for? By definition, stewardship is the management of someone else's property or affairs. This very definition requires a definitive answer to this question of who. Throughout the Bible, it is God who is crying out, “Mine.” Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the earth and all who live in it…”

This commonly quoted verse is only one of dozens of passages throughout scripture that point to God’s uncontested ownership. In fact, at no time do we ever read of God relinquishing ownership of anything that he set in motion. The cash in our wallets, the children in our families, our creative capacities, the breath we breathe, and the gospel message itself—tangible and intangible; all belong to God. 

At face value, the idea of God’s ownership of all things does not appear to be a profound insight until we consider the why of stewardship. Why would an all-knowing and all-powerful God entrust us with any of his stuff? I would suspect that a God who so capably and intricately set this world in motion could manage “every inch” of his creation without our help. Don't you?

Second, if God does not need us to manage on his behalf, why have we been given stewardship responsibility? Part of the answer is that God is ultimately gracious and benevolent toward us. He chose us to manage on his behalf. A close study of scripture identifies at least seven purposes for our stewardship of God's stuff:

  • Unique calling: a prompting toward fulfilling our unique role in the Body of Christ

  • Unquestionable character: a prompting toward who we are called to be as individuals
  • Unquenchable compassion: a prompting toward placing others' needs before our own
  • Undying commitment: a prompting toward obedience to God regardless of the cost
  • Unparalleled commission: a recognition of the privilege to share in the fulfillment of God's mission
  • Unwavering conformity: a prompting toward conforming to God's will and desires
  • Unending celebration: a constant expression of worship as God's stewards fulfill their calling

As Christians, we bear the image of God. This is a profound stewardship responsibility in and of itself. Stewardship is the path God uses to make us into the people he wants us to be. Our obedience and intentional stewardship of “every square inch in the whole domain of our human existence” provides us with an opportunity to vividly reflect his image.

NIV Stewardship Study Bible
The NIV Stewardship Study Bible uses a variety of engaging notes to lead individuals through a comprehensive study of what it means to be managers entrusted with the resources of God.

  

Through a year-long exploration organized around the seven purposes of stewardship; profiles of biblical stewards; notes on challenges to stewardship; quotes on stewardship from respected Christians throughout the ages; and other articles and helps, the NIV Stewardship Study Bible projects the privilege we have to manage what God has given us to his glory and to the building of his kingdom.

This study Bible is a powerful tool and can help ignite the global Christian conversation for developing sustainable models of ministry that will fuel the priority of world evangelization well into the twenty-first century. If you’re interested in learning more about the NIV Stewardship Study Bible, watch this video and take a look inside the Bible here.


Brett Elder is executive director of the Stewardship Council.