May 19, 2011

A Rose by Another Name

Filed under: Financial Commitment — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 5:32 pm

Someone asked me recently, “Couldn’t we come up with a better name than ‘stewardship’?”

My knee-jerk reaction was, “But that’s the correct term for it. It would be like changing a medical word, or a legal term. Stewardship is what it is.” I also rushed to point out that authentic stewardship is much more than just talking about money. It’s unfortunate that we have come to equate stewardship with fundraising, but that’s part of my job—to expand our understanding of what stewardship is all about.

But the question didn’t go away. It has sat with me, even though I have avoided sitting with it. So why do we call it stewardship? And is there a better word, one less associated with money?

First stop: the dictionary and thesaurus. I wanted to see what our most general, most secular sources have to say and what some alternatives might be.

Webster offers the definition we are most familiar with: a steward is one entrusted with the affairs of the household. Roget suggests management, administration, governance, husbandry, or housekeeping. (My word processor’s built in thesaurus doesn’t offer any synonyms at all.)

Next stop: Resources more specific to the Christian life. Surely I’ll find something there. After all, Jesus, in his teachings, reminds us over and over again that, as people of God, we have been entrusted with a wealth of gifts and talents, resources for which we are responsible in their right use.

The King James Dictionary offers five entries for “steward,” the last one being “In Scripture and theology, a minister of Christ, whose duty is to dispense the provisions of the gospel, to preach its doctrines and administer its ordinances.”

Last stop: One of my favorite popular definitions of stewardship–All that we do, with all that we have—and a visit to my kitchen cupboard, where a mug given to me by a colleague in the national church declares Stewardship: The Main Work of the Church.

So it appears that the word “stewardship” will remain with us for a while, for as long as we are willing to wrestle with our manifold gifts, for as long as we are willing to acknowledge, “All things come of thee, O Lord.” It appears that stewardship really is what it is.

What my brief exercise has revealed is a new breadth of possibilities. What might happen if a stewardship committee were to launch an All that We Have campaign? Might we respond differently to an invitation to the main work of the church, rather than a request for money? What conversations might open up if we approached one another as ministers of Christ, dispensing the provisions of the Gospel?

Now that could be exciting!



  1. Ooh, I love the idea of an “All that We Have” campaign!

    Comment by Nancy Moore — May 19, 2011 @ 10:24 pm |Reply

  2. The wonderful thing about All that We Have is that it opens up so many possibilities for creative thinking and engages a high rate of participation. It is ideal for small congregations or congregations that have, or believe they have, very limited resources.

    When we talk about All that We Have, we give ourselves room to talk about both financial and non-financial gifts. It also engages thinking not just about gifts to the church, but about the gifts that flow from the congregation as well.

    Add in some Asset Mapping and you have some rich possibilities for congregations of all shapes, sizes, and circumstances.

    Comment by Lisa Meeder Turnbull — May 20, 2011 @ 5:47 pm |Reply

  3. I also like “All That We Have ” looking internally and externally at what we haves is a very good place to start .

    Comment by Nancy Matulis — June 10, 2011 @ 10:45 pm |Reply

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