By Wil Wilhelm, former UGM Director of Development
How many times have you heard a Sunday message at church about stewardship and the main point was about how to manage your personal finances? Well, this blog about stewardship is not like that.
There are a couple different definitions of stewardship in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The one I like most is, “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” There is something about the idea of being entrusted with somebody else’s belongings that resonates with me, and I think it has to do with the concept of trust.
In the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), we have a wonderful example of stewardship and trust demonstrated for us. The master gives his three servants bags of gold and entrusts them with the care of this money. He gives one servant five bags of gold, another servant two bags of gold and the third servant received one single bag of gold. The two servants that received multiple bags of gold put their abilities to work and produced a profit for their master. As we know, the third servant did nothing, and therefore, did not increase his master’s gold. But if we use the definition for stewardship listed above, then didn’t the third servant also carefully manage his master’s money, even though he did not produce a profit for his master?
I used to wonder why the master was so upset with the third servant that did nothing with his money. The third servant received the least amount of gold as compared to the other two servants and this was clearly because the third servant was lacking in ability. Scripture points this out, that each servant received gold “according to his abilities.” Clearly, the master knew the third servant must have been lacking in his abilities, otherwise, the master would have given the third servant more gold. It didn’t make sense to me that the master would get so upset until one day I realized that the third servant didn’t even try. Even though the third servant “carefully managed” his masters money, by doing nothing, he was not a good steward because he did not use his capabilities, though limited, to grow what was entrusted to him.
The third servant, though lacking in ability compared to the other two servants, was not without any abilities at all, otherwise he would not have received any gold. This servant chose to do nothing. Why did he choose to do nothing? One word: Fear. The text of this parable points this out. The third servant was afraid of his master and therefore did nothing. Fear stopped the third servant from even trying to grow what was entrusted to him. The third servant was given the same opportunities as the other two servants, but because he was so afraid, he went out and buried his master’s money.
Now I understand why the master was so angry. I wonder if God gets upset when he looks down on us and sees that we are not trying to use the abilities and skills he has given us. This understanding has shaped my concept of stewardship. Stewardship, to me, hinges on my growing, using the skills and abilities God has given me to become more than I currently am and to increase the impact I can have on others.
Have you ever thought about the gifts and talents God has given you in this context? God has created each of us as unique creatures, blessed with certain talents and gifts that he calls us to use to serve him and his people. Like the third servant in the parable of the talents, we can be immobilized by fear, consumed by our own doubt, and give in to the deceiver that tells us we can’t do it and that we are not good enough.
On the other hand, we can be brave, we can trust in the one that gave us these gifts and talents that he will protect and guide us. We can demonstrate true stewardship of what God has given us by using our skills, knowledge and abilities in an effort to serve him. We can also demonstrate stewardship by working to grow and expand our gifts so as to increase the impact they can have on others.
I apply this perspective of stewardship to the financial, material goods and volunteer time donated to UGM. Not unlike the talents given to each of us by God, the “resources” that come in are also a gift from God, they are just received through the generosity and faithful support of our ministry partners. We have an obligation to carefully manage these gifts that have been entrusted to us in a way that enables us to grow the impact we have on those that come to UGM for assistance.
I appreciate the fact that we seriously look at how we can leverage the gifts that come to us to help expand our impact on others. 88% of every dollar donated to UGM goes towards program expenses. This leaves only 12% of every dollar designated for administrative costs, marketing and fundraising. Proper stewardship of all our gifts, be it our personal talents given to us by God or the financial and other gifts that God directs to us through his people, is essential. Like the first servant in the parable of the talents, when we prove ourselves to be trustworthy and are willing to grow and expand the gifts given to us, God and others will entrust us with more.
Helping those in need and being a good steward is a big deal. If you're interested in giving to charity, check out these 5 tips to help you choose one that spends what they have wisely and allows you to be a good steward in the process.