At Work & Theology 101

The First and Last Lessons My Father Taught Me about Christian Stewardship

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My father taught me my first lesson in understanding stewardship.

He was meticulous at keeping his woodworking tools in order. Each tool was stored in a clearly identified place, was cleaned after use, and was only used for the purpose it was intended (something I have not mastered yet).

My father would let me use his tools with the following conditions: “Timothy, I want you to use these tools, but remember, these tools are mine, and you need to treat them like they belong to me. But, most importantly, make something, don’t let the tools just sit there.”

As I have grown older and accumulated my own workshop tools, some of which belonged to my father, I now place the same conditions on my son.

The First Lesson

Stewardship is taking care of what we have been given. A related term, co-regency, is taking care of someone or something on behalf of the owner.

I have been exploring the ancient rhythms of work inherited from centuries of Christians living out their faith in the workplace. Last time we explored personal purpose, leaving stewardship, justice, modesty/generosity and being Christ’s representatives to be explored.

This list is based on research from Princeton University’s Faith and Work Initiative, where we consider these practices to be historically central in the lives of Christians as they seek to live out their faith in the workplace.

After the global crash of 2008, many began to associate the “wealthy” and those “in charge” as being corrupt. It is true that some of the “wealthy“ and those “in charge” are corrupt, but our research at the Princeton Faith and Work Initiative suggests the opposite.

Our research indicates that as employees attain higher levels of management, they become more concerned about ethical problems and the societal impact of their organizations. Basically, they become better at stewardship. Stewardship means taking responsibility.

Jesus teaches this idea in the Parable of the Talents, by teaching us that those who have been given gifts and talents (all of us) are responsible to multiply those gifts.

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28).

The same important message is heard in the words of Christ: stewardship means taking responsibility.

Anyone, Christian or not, can be a steward, and will need to be a good steward (according to our research) if they want to advance in their career.

But Christian stewardship is different in one very important way. We as Christians believe that all of what we have been given, every living thing around us, seen and unseen, belongs to God.

Christian stewardship means we are given responsibilities to tend and grow what we have been given by God: talents, gifts, community, the church and the earth – because all of these belong to him. We are working in God’s workshop, using his tools.

When we take responsibility and we inherit the good results of our stewardship, we as Christians should realize that all of what we have is on loan from God, and we know he is the giver (blessed be his name). We also realize God wants us to take responsibility so we can mature, and when we mature, he gives us more responsibility. In turn we inherit more good results from our labor.

The Last Lesson

I remember clearly when as a kid I lost a wood rasp, one of my dad’s favorite tools. I spent the day in fear, waiting for him to get home. When I found the courage to tell him, he responded gently, “were you working on a project when you lost it”?

“Yes,” I replied. My father smiled and said, “Thanks for your work, your efforts alone please me.”

The last lesson of stewardship my father taught me is that just trying to take responsibility is success (Matthew 25:14-30).

Stewardship means taking responsibility, but if you try and fall short, remember your efforts alone please God.

To remember all of this, make a list of all you have, own and do. Then at the top of the list write the title “All this belongs to God.” Carry it around, and see how your week changes.

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