After an extended time off, my spunky horse needed to go back to basic training. For horses, this instructional time includes ground work, safety issues, and fundamental cues for mutual respect and attentiveness. It emphasizes communication and affirms our core relationship (including who leads whom). Such basic training is not once-for-all-time. It needs to be reinforced throughout our years together.
This exercise with my equine partner got me thinking, “So what is basic training for Christian stewards?” I believe it involves one key theological understanding and one essential practice.
The key theological understanding is this: “Generous God; Generous Lives.” That’s the way church consultant Mark Vincent summarizes it, and I agree. So here is how I unpack the statement: All generosity begins with God, the ultimately generous giver of life, love, and the entire good news. As John 3:16 puts it, “For God so loved the world that God gave. . . .” And, of course, the Person whom God gave makes all the difference in the world!
God gave first. God always gives first. Always, everywhere, it is God who first loves us (see 1 John 4:10). So because of God’s incredible self-giving and unconditional love, we seek to live generous lives with everything God has entrusted to us as people, as congregations, as creatures, as children of God. Gratitude is where we begin and where we end. No matter where we go theologically from there as different denominations or as different individuals, this is the basic lesson for Christian stewards.
And here is the one essential practice: first fruits living. Because of the reality of this cosmic, kindred, gracious God, we try to give back to God the first and the best of everything God has entrusted to us, and we try to manage all the rest — everything — according to God’s generosity. This audacious exercise has two parts: First, we give the best percentage we can of our time and money (working up to and beyond a tithe) and skills and relationships to God, off the top. This shows up in our income, daily devotions, weekly worship, and core Christian relationships. And second, we keep practicing the fundamental cues for all the fruits of the Spirit in how we manage and use all the rest: the families we love, the money we earn, the neighbors and strangers we encounter, the communities in which we live, our possessions and passions, and everything else God has entrusted to us in this life. Between the giving half and the managing half of this practice, I am not sure which is more audacious. But it’s a process, learning with mind and heart and muscle: a lifelong endeavor.
This brings us back to my wonderful horse and two personal learnings from his basic training. First, whatever your discipline, partnership is all built upon a personal relationship from both sides. And second, “more advanced” simply means going deeper into the basics. So it is with Christian stewardship. The more we grow as joyful, generous stewards, the deeper we go into a personal relationship with our generous God, and the more fully our lives reveal first fruits living.
Your partner in ministry,
Written 1/11/2011 for the General Board of Discipleship
of the United Methodist Church