by Bob Sitze


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819231918
Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/10/2016
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Bob Sitze is a former ELCA staff member in the ministries of hunger education, Christian education, stewardship education, and family life. An experienced ecclesiological observer, Sitze has more than 40 years of experience as a congregational leader and denominational executive. He is the author of (Not) Trying Too Hard, Your Brain Goes to Church, Starting Simple, It's (Not) Too Late, and Simple Enough. He is a leading proponent of asset-based approaches to congregational development. A graduate of Concordia University, Seward, with an MS in Education, Radio/Television, and Communications from Indiana University, Bloomington, he lives in the greater Chicago area.

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An Economia for Congregational Change

By Bob Sitze

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2016 Bob Sitze
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-3192-5


Economia: A Short History of Stewardship Theology and Practice

Although there are only a few places where "steward" is used in the New Testament, the impact of these passages has lasted throughout the Church's history. The story of this concept's growth and development comprises the pages of this chapter.

Depending on the translation, there are between eighteen and twenty-three instances in the New Testament where economia or economos appear. "Steward" can also be translated from a less frequent term, epitropos, whose meaning approximates economos. Leonard Sweet advocates that both terms be more accurately translated as "trustee," a term he believes is better understood by postmodern minds.

The history of stewardship — an Anglo-Saxon approximation of the original Greek term economia — carries with it the notion that God's original and continuing providence runs through all of history. New Testament theologian John Reumann calls this "God's working towards a goal" — which includes, but is not limited to God's continuous line of redemption.

Back to the Beginnings

No Hebrew words capture the Greek terms economia or economos. There is no exact equivalent for "stewardship" or "steward" in Hebrew. When it appears in the Septuagint, the concept is transliterated from the Greek into Hebrew letters.

Still, some of the stewardship-related themes in the Old Testament connect to New Testament–era understandings of the term:

• God's directive to the first humans — essentially to care for the natural world — lies at the heart of psalms that extol the wonders of nature and the God who creates them.

• Isaiah compared God to an insistent gardener.

• In economic matters, the prophets railed against unjust business practices.

• The tithe was instituted to support the functions of the Old Testament Temple.

In their faithful service to rulers, biblical heroes such as Joseph, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Esther may exemplify some of the characteristics of New Testament stewards, but in a limited way. Joseph comes the closest. He was in charge of Potiphar's entire household and later functioned in the same way while in prison. But when he assumed a steward-like role for the entire country of Egypt, he eventually foreclosed on landowners suffering during the seven years of famine, turning them into landless sharecroppers who were forced to give 20 percent of their crop earnings back to the Pharaoh (Gen. 47:13–26). Nehemiah was only a sometimes wine-steward for King Cyrus. Esther and Daniel behaved like stewards, but undertook their roles primarily within political spheres. Moses was a kind of steward, in the sense that he was constantly serving the will of God.

God's people before Christ lived through a catastrophic history. It was filled with unjust economic systems, captivities, oppressions, and occupations — at the hands of despotic rulers, Babylonians, Persians, the Hasmonean priest-kings, and finally the Romans. That continuous chaotic social order may have precluded the development of an enduring stewardship theology.

Jesus and Stewards

Jesus's view of stewards was shaped by his cultural context. In the decades before Jesus's birth, the ancient Greek role of steward had been corrupted by a socioeconomic system that was enforced by the iron fist of Roman rule. The near oppression of the Temple cult's taxation added to the weight of a dys-functional economy.

In first-century Palestine, "stewards" were middlemen who prospered in an unjust economic system. Exorbitant interest rates on agricultural loans benefited the wealthy elite, increasing their incomes and adding to their land holdings because of inevitable foreclosures. As agents of these injustices, stewards were despised by the people among whom Jesus ministered.

This is why the parables and other teachings of Jesus that deal with economic matters — for example, the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 — can be read more accurately as Jesus's exposure of the injustices perpetrated by the haves on the have-nots of his time. This may also be the major reason why "steward" appears only twice in Jesus's narratives, in both cases describing a negative role.

It seems clear that Jesus disapproved of the role of a steward in his semi-monetized society — one harmful to illiterate farmers whose land was being stolen by the super rich. This context also helps explain Jesus's thoughts about money, economics, and even the Temple — all of them connected to a socio-political system that oppressed people who were poor.

Paul and Stewards

The overwhelming majority of our understanding about stewardship comes from Paul. Educated in Greco-Roman cultural traditions — and also schooled as a Pharisee — Paul was familiar with the understanding and practice of stewardship. He was likely to see the steward less as a despicable agent of oppression, and more as an admired functionary in the economic life of Roman society.

He appropriated this secular role into a theological image that emphasized God's ownership of all that exists. He further developed this thought into something useful for understanding a life of faith. For example, Paul thought of himself as a steward "of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1–2) and as a "servant" (or minister) of the economia of God (Col. 1:25). He understood the matter of trustworthiness in the life of stewards (1 Cor. 4:2). He considered bishops or overseers as stewards (Titus 1:7).

An important side note before we proceed further: Taken together, the relatively small collection of New Testament references to stewards and stewardship does not warrant the consideration of stewardship as a major New Testament theme, not for the Gospel writers or for Paul. Grace, covenant, love, or redemption are examples of more strongly rooted doctrinal pillars that also extend back into the Old Testament.

The Economy of God

Paul's use of economia and economos rested on a foundation of long-standing economic, political, and religious constructs. A significant portion of first-century Christians would have been familiar with this knowledge and practice.

At its root, economia started with the household (oikos), the essential core of economic life in Greco-Roman times. In Greek antiquity, small households and large estates were managed by rules that were carried out largely by a spouse or a trusted slave. In that part of Paul's cultural context, economia was essentially the "art and science of household management."

The household could also include small businesses or enterprises. (Recall, for example, Paul's colleagues, Lydia and Priscilla and Aquilla.) By extension, the city/state (polis) could benefit from an "economy" — a way of managing larger-scale matters. Thus the term could also apply to the work of military leaders and administrators in civil society. Economia also described administrative matters within cults and temples.

In an even broader use of the term, economia also referred to the order of things — more literally, "arrangements" — in matters as diverse as writing, history, oration, ethics, architecture, or even one's last will and testament. For example, at the beginning of his Gospel, Luke proposes "an orderly account" of Jesus's life (Luke 1:3). It was a logical extension of these uses of the term to think of the entire universe as being organized, most likely by the gods. It made sense to early Greek philosophers that the order of the natural world was a sign of the original and continuing creation, ordering, and management of the gods. That's why the Stoics thought of Zeus as administrator of the universe.

This train of thought led early Christian writers to think of economia in its broadest sense — as it applied to God's ordering, God's will, or God's plan to reconcile the world to God's self. Thus the concept of "God's economy" was derived.

In this book, "God's will" embodies the larger and more encompassing understandings of economia, centering on God's desire to save the world through Jesus Christ. In other manifestations, "God's will" can also be seen in Scripture and the creeds — God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies. Echoes of God's will can be seen in the Lord's Prayer. God works continually to combat evil. God's intention is to love and forgive unconditionally. God wants people to live peacefully, purposefully, patiently. This greater plan of God wraps the entire cosmos into continuing purposes and possibilities.

God's economia (plan, ordering, arrangement) becomes the guiding principle by which God's people could know God and carry out God's will for the world. In this framework, God is considered as Owner, but also as "administrator" of all that exists.

Thus we can see that God's arrangements extend beyond mere "household rules." (That earlier translation of economos is derived from the mistaken notion that oikos referred only to a small household, where rules would perhaps be necessary for a spouse or slave.) Because of the term's broad use in the secular world of the New Testament, we cannot confine economia — and by derivation, economos — to this simple meaning.

The Anglo-Saxon Gloss

The history of stewardship thought and practice did not proceed to our times directly from Greco-Roman or early Christian understandings. Along the way were centuries during which the entire concept was not considered that important. Larger ecclesiological and societal matters pressed for the attention of lay and clergy alike. (Plagues, empire-building, crusades, and enlightenments come to mind as examples.) Mechanisms for funding the Church's ministries were intertwined with the complex relationships between Church and state.

Even the Renaissance's dawning did not reveal any great need or opportunity for Church leaders to take hold of stewardship as an important feature of ecclesiastical life. Never rising to the status of key doctrine or creedal linchpin, stewardship lay dormant in the Church for centuries.

Lest you forget the premise of this book, economia still maintained relative importance — or at least interest — in the secular world of Western societies. The underlying fundamentals of stewardship — the ordering and management of civil and economic affairs — remained important to rulers, merchants, and other societal leaders.

During the Middle Ages, economia was transplanted into the orderly maintenance and governance of European castle life. As early as the thirteenth century, the term stigwaerden appeared in Anglo-Saxon references. Gradually morphing toward its present linguistic form, the stigwaerden became the stywarden. The work of this individual was named by his title: warden or keeper of the sty, which was the repository of the ruler's meat supply.

Over time, faithful stywardens were invited to tend to matters in the Great Hall — where management of the castle and its holdings took place. Now "stewards," these individuals became critical components of the economic and (later) political well-being of the castle.

It made sense, then, for the translators of the King James Version to render economos as steward. Both individuals dealt with the affairs of a larger economic unit. Both were originally of low estate — slave and peasant. Both shouldered responsibilities when owners or rulers were absent. Both carried out their duties within the general framework of the larger plan or wishes of the owner or ruler. And both were highly regarded because of their trustworthiness.

The shift from economos/economia to steward/stewardship now took on a distinctly Anglo-Saxon character. The subsequent assimilation of "steward-ship" into English paved the way for stewardship to undergird the funding of Church enterprises, especially global missions. Thus, a linguistic gloss took on presumed substance.

A More Recent History

Stewardship came out of hiding in nineteenth-century North America, when two important ecclesiastical matters needed attention. First, the mechanisms for providing sustenance to an increasingly professional clergy were woefully inadequate. Secondly, the emerging passion for sending missionaries to "foreign lands" became a central feature of a stewardship great awakening that swept the United States.

In their reading and study of Scripture, devout lay leaders found solace, encouragement, and strategies for addressing these funding problems. Looking for a term or ideal that could gather together biblical teachings, stories, and concepts in one place, they came upon "stewardship" as a suitable way to express their views about godly living. Some examples: In 1832, Congregational minister Leonard Bacon was preaching sermons about the "the right use of property on Christian principles." The Old School Presbyterians were advocating for "the use and management of talents, time and substance." Chicago businessman Thomas Kane "rediscovered the tithe," and by 1890 had published and distributed millions of pamphlets on tithing.

It was at this juncture in history that stewardship emphases were narrowed. Ideals such as generosity, gratitude, abundance, and tithing became important touchstones for an emerging body of practice that supported stewardship primarily as mission-funding. The presence of these themes in Scripture seemed to warrant gathering them together into a stewardship theology.

Sometimes called "biblical stewardship principles," the majority of these concepts still concentrated on church funding and support. Waxing and waning during subsequent generations of thought, stewardship now became a revised standard version of the original concepts found in Scripture and secular society.

In more recent church history, some theologians and stewardship leaders have attempted to retain the larger scope and meaning of original steward-ship theology. Matters such as creation care, parenting, simple living, social justice, supportive relationships, and life purpose are now included in the conversation. The work of Ron Vallet, Robert Wuthnow, Douglas John Hall, Leonard Sweet, Gary Moore, Walter Brueggeman, and Tony Campolo come to mind.

Limiting Side Effects

The outcomes of the gradual shift toward a concentrated, targeted focus for stewardship — the financial sustainability of the Church as locus of ministry — were positive. The reach of religious enterprises into the world would never have happened without this effort. For example, think of hospitals, social service agencies, or relief and development organizations. Congregations and denominations — and their related enterprises — grew and prospered, sustained by the generous financial support of committed members. Another enduring result: For decades, church members have consistently ranked as the most generous donors across all forms of philanthropic giving.

But this contraction of the original concepts may have created unintended consequences as well. Conflating the biblical witness about steward-ship with fund-raising may have prohibited the development of a livelier and more realistic concept of the steward's role. When confined only to "giver," the image of the biblical steward might discount other important tasks and functions. In the role of carrying out an absent owner's plan (economia), stewards may also have found it necessary to take, receive, plan, borrow, sell, save, reuse, invest, repair, manufacture, or collect. They might have sown, harvested, and learned efficiency, effectiveness, humility, and honesty. Stewards would have been accountable and even shrewd in their dealings. They would need to be wise and careful decision-makers. That's why, when you limit stewardship only to "giving," you may be casting aside other worthwhile activities that could add to your personal and congregational mission.

Other possible side effects ripple out from a narrowed scope of stewardship.

The broader biblical witness for stewardship might have gotten lost. Other scriptural wisdom about God's economia could be overlooked. Bible stories and passages could be pressed into service as supposed foundations for "stewardship-as-giving" themes. Other stewardship-related scriptural themes — e.g., forgiving debt, contentment, the perils of riches, purposed living, or inequities in economic systems — might get short-shrift, or be ignored altogether.


Excerpted from Stewardshift by Bob Sitze. Copyright © 2016 Bob Sitze. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv

Part I A Net of Stones

Chapter 1 Telling the Stories of Our Lives: Narrative Pastoral Care 3

Chapter 2 The Church's Story: Called to Live Out Love 15

Chapter 3 Stories about God 27

Chapter 4 A Love Story 45

Part II Being Story Companions

Chapter 5 Becoming Story Companions 61

Chapter 6 Reading Stories: Narrative Environments and Development 79

Chapter 7 Reading Lifestories: The Art of Close Reading 101

Chapter 8 Restorying in Transition and Trouble 119

Afterword 141

Exercises and Questions for Discussion 145

Notes 157

Selected Bibliography 195

Index 209

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