So, you just found out that stewardship is an identity issue, that you’re always a steward and that your entire ministry is actually about stewardship. Have a seat, take a deep breath; you’re going to be OK. I would be lying to you if I said I, too, wasn’t rocked by such a revelation. I, like many, thought of stewardship as a part of the puzzle that I would address from time to time when we talked about giving money or taking care of our possessions or the possessions of others. But when it was put to me as a way of life, as an identity that found its way into every bit of teaching and ministry I do, I was a bit overwhelmed. It wasn’t that it was a foreign concept, because when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. The overwhelming part was changing the way I did ministry to reflect these truths.
Teaching the Teachers
As anyone who has done youth ministry for an hour will tell you, parents are the key to successful youth ministry. If they are not on board, you might as well be talking to yourself in an empty room. And while sometimes the visual cues from your students make you feel as though you are in an empty room, if you have parental support in what you are teaching, it really does get through. So when it comes to stewardship, teaching the parents becomes an opportunity to recruit more teachers.
Framing stewardship as an identity for the parents allows them to reinforce that identity with their children at home. So whether it’s cleaning their room, doing their homework, or taking out the trash, all of these tasks are placed into the context of a created identity and thus an expectation not of their parents, but of God. That might not mean parents saying, “Brian, God wants you to clean your room,” or, “Megan, God wants you to do your homework,” but it may mean that the parents explain to their kids that their expectations didn’t originate from them, but from God as He has created them as stewards. Placing home life in this setting will help to reinforce the student’s identity and make your teaching that much easier.
Talk the Talk
Another way to shift ministry toward this larger view of stewardship is to begin to speak in the language of the identified steward. Conversations about sin start to take shape as issues of identity crisis. “Substance Abuse? Why would you be involved in that? That isn’t you,” or “I heard you saying some pretty bad things about Casey. That doesn’t sound like you. Can you explain to me what happened?” When we start to speak about sin from the perspective of stewardship, we are able to point out sin in a way that speaks to our godly conduct as stewards who care for ourselves and those around us, while at the same time positively reinforcing their loved and forgiven identity.
And yes, this also works in the positive. When your students act in a way that is consistent with the steward identity we can build them up, but not act surprised. In other words, the steward identity should be treated as the expectation and the norm for Christian living. To return to the apple tree analogy, when an apple tree produces fruit we shouldn’t be surprised; that is what apple trees are supposed to do. Rather, we should appreciate the fruit and show how it supports the will of God in its use. This might sound like, “Hey Andrew, nicely done helping out with the food pantry. That is an incredible help to a bunch of people. Not that I’m surprised, it’s Andrew being Andrew. Good work.” This might seem like a no-brainer to many, but unfortunately most teenagers are not used to being spoken to this way.
Fight the Fight
We have to start pointing out to our students the way the world has stripped them of their identity as stewards in an effort to redefine them according to the world’s image. Teenagers have been classified and identified with low expectations. (Explore this more in the book Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris.) As a result, their identity has been wrapped up in a lifestyle of endless partying and apathy that moves them away from the work of stewardship. They have to be made aware of this. Teaching your students how the world has deceived them into believing that stewardship is something reserved for adults will allow them to realize the beautiful created reality they live in and give them an opportunity to practice stewardship within the safe guidance of family and the church.
Now, don’t you love it when articles make it sound so easy? Just make these intentional all-encompassing shifts to your entire ministry and everything will work great! But you and I both know that this stuff takes time. We are changing a culture among young people to give them the truth of their identity as stewards, and culture shifts take time. But this shift is absolutely critical to the future of not only our church, but of the world. To show these young people their steward identity gives them an understanding of who they are in every place: church, school, work, you name it. This, in turn, shapes their vocations and builds them up to be a powerful force for God wherever they are. This isn’t youth ministry, this is truth ministry directed at the masses, but I can’t think of a better place to start than with a group of amazing and talented stewards who are full of life and ready to take on the world. May God grant that to all of us.