I really dislike how the church talks about stewardship. Too often it reduces a divine mandate to care for all things into a conversation about money. And while managing finances falls under the call to steward, stewardship is so much more.
In Genesis 1, God gives stewardship to the man and the woman over all of creation. In light of Genesis 1, thoughts about stewardship usually fall into two camps. Camp 1 sees stewardship as dominion over creation and a license to do whatever we want. Drill freely, cut liberally, dump copiously, and mine deeply. Why? Because we have dominion. Camp 2 see stewardship as a call to leave creation as pristine and untouched as possible. Eliminate GMO’s, eradicate pesticides, stop drilling, and wipe our carbon feet.
Stewardship – administration, care, charge, control, direction, governance, handling, management, operation, oversight, superintendence, supervision – is what we have been given over all that is created.
See why making stewardship just about money is a serious reduction?
What if we began to talk about stewardship as responsibility? I find that a very helpful way to re-frame my thought about what it means to steward creation. We as humans, as the church, have responsibility over creation. We have responsibility when it comes to our money. We have responsibility as it pertains to our communities and neighborhoods and politics and systems. This changes things dramatically. If we have responsibility, then I have responsibility.
I am responsible for the condition of the world around me.
Our community is an affluent, bedroom community for Indianapolis. In other words, it’s suburbia. And it is everything you would expect suburbia to be. Planned neighborhoods where houses are chosen from one of eight models and the mailboxes all look the same. Strip malls. Never-ending, soul-stealing, ridiculously convenient strip malls. Safe neighborhoods, lots of good schools, awards from Forbes and Money magazine as one of the best places to live. If people sent postcards from suburbia, ours would be the picture on the front.
The church I pastor is in the heart of our city. Half a mile from our church is an elementary school where 1 in 4 students are on free and reduced lunches. 1 in 4. In a city where the median household income is $90,330.
I am responsible for the condition of my neighborhood. And it isn’t as magazine cover ready as it would appear. It needs me, and every other person bearing the image of God and given stewardship, to take responsibility for the condition of our community.
And your city needs you.
The rugged individualism that defines modern American culture has little understanding of a collective responsibility for the world around us. We understand individual responsibility for me and mine. But the idea that I am responsible for you, or for a community…that’s foreign.
But it goes beyond that. Even the idea of taking personal responsibility seems to make us squeamish. No one wants to take it, but everyone wants everyone else to have it. Even our emotions are something we want another person to take responsibility for. If I get mad or offended, that isn’t my fault. I don’t have to take responsibility for my emotions. That’s your fault or their fault or the systems fault. It’s why we say, “You made me mad!” or “You offended me.” We claim exemption from responsibility over our emotions and place that responsibility on the other person.
But they are my emotions. I am responsible for them.
As much as pundits and loud talk show hosts want us to believe that this is new evidence of the erosion of the America our grandparents knew, failure to take responsibility goes back farther than a generation or two. Much farther. Like to the moment sin entered the world. At that moment, humanity stopped looking to take responsibility and started looking for who should. Adam thought Eve should take responsibility. Eve thought the serpent should. Even if you think that happened roughly 6,000 years ago, you gotta admit we humans have had a long time to perfect the art of not taking responsibility for the world around us.
Maybe that’s why adolescence now is thought to last into the 30’s. Responsibility stinks. Especially when it comes with a car insurance bill. (I think I just became crotchety pundit guy…)
The world is crying out for us to take responsibility for the world around us. I think this might be one way to read Romans 8 when Paul says that “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” Creation is longing for its stewards, those who have been given responsibility, to take responsibility for the condition of the land. Creation eagerly waits for a people to say, “I am responsible for the condition of the land.”
I am responsible for my neighborhood.
I am responsible for my community.
I am responsible the marginalized in my community.
I am responsible for reconciliation.
I am responsible for those 1 in 4 students on free and reduced lunches.
Those aren’t overly inflated, grandiose ideas about how great I am. Those statements are a sober understanding of how great a responsibility it is to be called a steward. That doesn’t mean I know how to solve the problems. I have no idea what to do about those 1 in 4 students on free and reduced lunches. I just know that isn’t the way it is supposed to be, and that it is not good enough for me to be satisfied that my son is fed. How to solve the problem is beyond me. So that idea of responsibility creates a little discomfort in me. It’s the pebble in my shoe. At some point I have to do something about it.
Right now, it means talking with city officials and other pastors about how we can work together for the good of our community. That’s what I am doing. That’s how I am taking responsibility.
The question each us my wrestle with is, “Where is God calling me to take responsibility for the condition of the land around me?”