” This is what the LORD says — your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”
– Isaiah 48:17
As the steward grows in the life of prayer, God reveals Himself more intimately in this personal relationship. The steward also sees that the gifts received from God are to be shared and not buried. The steward remains deeply rooted in humility, recognizing that the gifts one has been given come not from self, but from God. Those gifts are to be shared with others. Here lies the heart of the steward’s personal response as a disciple – to share what one has received and to share with a generous, grateful and loving heart.
The formation of each individual becomes part of the formation of the whole parish community. As members of the Body of Christ, the parish recognizes that it has a call from God to give. Inherent within each individual is the need to give – to move from selfishness to selflessness. This formation is a life-long journey of conversion. The stewardship parish journeys constantly in this formation of conversion As one grows more deeply in this formation to a life of stewardship, the more deeply one loves as God loves us. This is true for the individual steward and for the stewardship parish.
Such formation is a formidable task, involving education of the mind and conversion of the heart. To know the “stewardship way of life”, does not make one live a “stewardship way of life.” Formation includes quality education, but the knowledge itself is not enough. Ongoing Catholic education, (for children and adults), is important if we are to grow in our lives as stewards. This formation should include a proper knowledge and understanding of stewardship since it is a primary means to lead the faithful to holiness. Catholic schools, Parish Schools of Religion, youth ministry programs, adult education offerings and parish stewardship committees are wonderful and essential places where this faith formation begins. Yet, it is foolish to think that these are the only parish organizations responsible for this faith formation of parishioners to grow. Every parish organization has a role to play in nurturing the faith formation of the parishioners. It is in this collective parish effort and the grace of God at work through our sincere efforts that faith formation thrives. The meaning of faithful stewardship and how to live this way of life is at the core of the disciple’s response to the gift of faith we freely receive from our loving God.
Listed below are some of the “building blocks” a stewardship parish considers as they form individual stewards within the parish:
Pastor: The pastor is the primary communicator of stewardship to the parish. He teaches by his personal witness the spirituality of stewardship: in the pulpit, in parish gatherings, ministry meetings and in each and every interaction with his parishioners. Often, a priest must journey through his own spiritual conversion to embrace stewardship completely. This personal conversion as well as his visible support for the message is needed to teach the stewardship way of life throughout the parish and wider community.
Stewardship Committee: The stewardship committee assists the pastor and Pastoral Council in facilitating the stewardship formation process throughout the parish. Members of the committee work closely with the pastor in executing a well-planned stewardship renewal process; seeking lay witnesses for presentations and to find inviting ways to provide stewardship opportunities to parishioners through other ministries. The Diocese of Grand Island has a person who coordinates the Stewardship and Development at the Diocesan level.
Witness Talks: Lay witness talks often take place at Sunday Mass during the parish’s annual stewardship renewal. These presentations often inspire parishioners to discern and pray more fervently about embracing a stewardship way of life. By parishioners sharing with the entire parish family their own personal conversion stories to the stewardship way of life, the message becomes real, inspiring and practical. These talks are effective tools to the wider parish congregation as well as to smaller groups or parish organizations.
Parish Ministries: All parish leaders best teach the stewardship way of life by their own living witness as stewards. One cannot teach well what one fails to live. Leaders should also be prepared to educate those in their respective organizations about the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the parish. The pastor assists in forming parish leaders to nourish and equip them in their ministries. This is accomplished through parish leadership training days and retreats as well as other on-going formation.
Catechesis: Catholic education programs such as Catholic schools, adult education, Parish School of Religion, youth ministry programs and retreats are vital components in the role of faith formation, including the formation of the stewardship way of life. Educating parishioners in the spirituality and beauty of stewardship forms them to become faithful disciples of Jesus to live their Baptismal call. Stewardship parishes begin teaching this way of life to their youngest members and continue this on-going formation through all stages of the lives of their parishioners.
Volunteers: Education, formation and appreciation of parish volunteers build and sustain the stewardship way of life. The pastor, pastoral council, stewardship committee and parish ministry leaders are key people in this effort, though this responsibility is not theirs alone. Volunteers need opportunities to carry out their discipleship. The myriad tasks that stem from the pastoral planning efforts create many opportunities for parish volunteers to carry out their call to discipleship. If limited opportunities are available, the importance of stewardship loses meaning.
Youth: Forming young stewards begins first in the home by families living a stewardship way of life. As children understand and live stewardship, so too do they grow individually on the journey toward holiness. Catholic schools, religious education programs, and youth ministry need to include stewardship education in their curriculums and objectives to foster lived stewardship among the youth. One cannot run before one learns to walk. One begins to walk at a young age by taking small steps. It is natural for a parish to ask parishioners to take a leap of faith to live stewardship when those parishioners have been continually formed as to the meaning of stewardship.
Evaluation: Continual evaluation of formation and education offerings in the parish helps to determine the effectiveness of such formation. Do the programs teach God’s love and mercy and meet the needs of the parishioners? Do the parish programs support the spirituality of stewardship as a way of life to lead all on the path to holiness? Written evaluations by the participants in the programs and self-evaluations by those who prepare these offerings are beneficial tools to answer the above questions.