The Church’s Call to Steward God’s Mission in the World

Stephen Garbill

Although Christians across denominational lines often use stewardship language to describe our calling to live out God’s mission in the world, what we mean theologically by “stewardship” varies greatly across religious traditions. Some think stewardship is tithing; others think it means volunteering or living a simple lifestyle. Still others identify stewardship with environmental conservation, social action of some kind or another, charitable giving, or making disciples through evangelism.

Each of these good and necessary activities points to an essential facet of stewardship, but each—on its own—falls shy of capturing the inspiring vision of biblical stewardship as a form of whole-life discipleship that embraces every legitimate vocation and calling to fulfill God’s mission in the world. In this sense, holistic stewardship, transformational generosity, workplace ministry, business as mission, and the theology of work movement all share a common point of origin in the biblical view of mission as whole-life discipleship. In other words, the essence of stewardship is about finding your place—that is, all the dimensions of your many callings—in God’s economy of all things (oikonomia).

Why We Get Stewardship Wrong

In recent years, however, this inspiring vision has suffered a setback. Why? I think there are two significant reasons. First, as a church, we have narrowly applied our understanding of stewardship mainly in the contexts of funding global missions and supporting programs in the local church.

Second, at the same time, we have upheld and reaffirmed—in priority and honor—the distinction between clerical vocations and ordinary vocations, which only serves to reinforce the age-old wall erected between sacred and secular callings. In this narrative, clerical vocations are the one, true trustee of God’s mission in the world. Other callings may service God’s mission, but only on the side, not as intrinsic or integral to their work.

Bigger Story

In the immediate aftermath of the First International Congress on World Evangelization, John Stott pinpointed the theological root cause of the problem...

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