A few months ago I attended a day-long seminar on stewardship led by a nationally known speaker and author. One of the key principles he wanted to get across that day was “You cannot understand stewardship until you understand Lordship.” In other words, his theology of stewardship was based chiefly on the premise that God is the Owner of all things, the Lord of all, and we are managers who have the duty and the responsibility to care for and properly use the gifts God has given us.
This week, on the other hand, I read again the core values of Lutheran World Relief. One of those core values is Gratitude. "We are grounded in profound thankfulness for God’s gracious, self-giving love for all humankind, revealed in the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ. Gratitude marks the way we relate to one another and to all creation." It is clear that one of the distinctives of a Lutheran view of stewardship is that you don’t understand stewardship until you understand God’s action of love in Jesus Christ. At that point we say with LWR, "We are grounded in profound thankfulness for God’s gracious, self-giving love for all humankind, revealed in the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ. Gratitude marks the way we relate to one another and to all creation."
The difference is between a theological system that begins with (material principle) the sovereignty of God as compared to one that begins with justification by grace through faith. This is not to deny the idea of God as Owner and we as managers. It speaks, instead, of motivation. It speaks of action that is motivated by gratitude for God’s gracious action in Christ rather than obedience to a role of managing the King’s affairs.
Perhaps the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s definition speaks to both the joyful motivation of gratitude and the action of management: “Christian stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God, and God’s family, the church, in managing all of life and life’s resources, for God’s purposes.”
Does it make a difference what motivates our stewardship? The nationally known speaker in the first paragraph may be able to claim as good a “response rate” for his stewardship program as any grace-based effort may claim, but I believe there is a difference between a response based on duty and one based on gratitude. The Wikipedia article on “Gratitude” notes that “…indebtedness motivates the recipient of the aid to avoid the person who has helped them, whereas gratitude motivates the recipient to seek out their benefactor and to improve their relationship with them.”
Perhaps it has been a sense that stewardship involves the fulfillment of a Christian duty or responsibility that has made people want to avoid the subject. It is only the proclamation of God’s love in Jesus Christ that can begin to evoke that spirit of gratitude that motivates free and joyous stewardship.