Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Seven Secrets of Successful Stewards
In our Church today, few concepts are more misunderstood than the concept
of Catholic stewardship. I know, I know, many hear the word stewardship
and immediately it morphs into fund-raising. But that is not really what stewardship
is about. Not at all.
Quite simply, the good steward is the person who takes care of whatever
it is that she or he has been entrusted. Uses it well, to good purpose. Doesnt squander
it. As the U.S. Catholic bishops said in Stewardship: A Disciples Response:
A Christian steward is one who receives Gods gifts gratefully, cherishes and
tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with
others and returns them with increase to the Lord.
When we think about it, good stewardship affects every part of our lives.
If we have wasted a talent, or dawdle our time away with worthless pursuits, or squander
our resources, something inside of us just doesnt feel right. Thats because
our inner compass senses the right direction, even when we sometimes wander off course.
On the other hand, when we are using our time, our talents and our material
resources well, we feel in balance, in tune with God. We realize we have been generously
given those gifts and, in turn, we are using them for good purposes.
As Ive been traveling around the country and visiting in parishes,
I wanted to find out more about stewardship and, if you will, wanted to see if there are
some common qualitieslets call them secretsthat good stewards
have in common. Here they are and Ill bet at least half of them will surprise you.
1. Give until it feels good
Genuine, thought-out stewardship is not about pain or depletion. Stewardship
is most deeply about pleasure and increase. If you think about it for just a moment, you
realize how good you feel when you are generous, when you are doing something that makes
a difference in someones life. That is what underlies good stewardship, which makes
it actually quite natural in our lives.
I have a simple saying that, to me, makes ultimate sense: Stewardship
its already in your heart. There is something deep within us that is good and
generous, some almost biological sensation that is triggered when we see a need. It is
that good feeling that wells up within us when another persons needs and our shared
It is better to give than to receive
might seem like so many lofty words, but as we look back on our lives, we find they are
absolutely true. How many times have we found ourselves saying, after we have extended
ourselves (even when a bit begrudgingly): I like doing this. Giving feels great; Im
not depleted at all. In fact, Im enriched!
And so, good stewards capitalize on such moments. Why not, they say, feel
absolutely wonderful when I have given some of my time, or talent or treasure to something
or someone and have realized the sharing of that gift has made a difference?
2. See not obligation, but opportunity
Loveor good stewardshipcant be demanded from a person as
an obligation. There is no vitality, no life when actions are little more than a
When Catholics really begin to understand good stewardship (usually because
of someones example of generosity and then in becoming more generous themselves)
a light often goes on. This is exciting; this is actually fun, the person discovers.
And then the entrepreneurial side of stewardship kicks in. Where can
I help? What are the needs here? What difference can Ime, specifically me, with what
I have to offerwhat difference can I make?
The good steward is awake, alert to opportunities about them, actually looking for
chances to make that difference. But note: The good steward is a conscious steward,
not a guilty steward. Successful Catholic stewards are not hand-wringing worrywarts: Am
I doing enough? Did I spend enough time there? Did I use my talents to the fullest? Am
I as generous as I should be?
Nothing is more corrosive to a good, healthy spirit of stewardship than to
be constantly second-guessing yourself. That isnt the way God works with and through
us. He is not some sort of unappeasable grouch who is never satisfied with what we do.
No, the good steward joins in Gods own generous nature by quite simply and directly
addressing the needs of the moment.
3. Give to specifics
Good stewards dislikeand rightly sogeneric appeals. Good stewards
also are less generousand rightly soif they do not know to what or to whom
their generosity is being directed. That is why good stewards give and give generously
of themselves and their means to their parish.
And there in the parish, good stewards are eager to hear the stories, the
modernday parables of lives changed, enriched, made better and more human because of their
generosity. They understand that good stewardship is not lived by merely dumping their
time, talent and treasure into some dark hole, while piously folding their hands, eyes
cast heavenward, uttering, I gave. That actually would be testimony to poor
stewardship. Good stewards, carefully marshaling their gifts, are willing to be generous
to their parish, but in turn expect accountability for those gifts they have shared.
But it is more than good bookkeeping. It is about common sense. If the good
steward has seen or heard of a parish need and has responded, that steward would logically
want to know what role he or she has had in meeting it. Good stewards want to know they
helped paint these walls or put on a roof or pay a decent salary to a teacher.
It is not that every hour, expression of talent or dollar must be specifically
targeted and then directly attributed to the giver. But there is a real satisfaction, a
deserved satisfaction, in knowing that because of their efforts a young mother was provided
a safe home for her baby and herself, the youth mission trip went smoothly, the RCIA program
is deepening peoples faith, or dinners and visits to the widower made an enormous
difference after the death of his beloved lifes companion.
4. Have an ‘attitude of gratitude
Without sounding like some kind of ditz, good stewards are constantly aware
and amazed by what they have been given. How lucky I am! easily comes off their
lips and is radiated in their faces.
And, quite frankly, isnt it so? That among billions of tiny sperm cells
and hundreds or thousands of eggs, two would join up to make that very individual. That
a measure of years has been allotted to that person, this unique combination of abilities
showered upon them. And that through some miraculous confluence of abilities, good fortune
and time they have been able to earnor often times, been given outrightmaterial
wealth or possessions far beyond anything they might have imagined.
Good stewards have good memories, recalling where they came from, the struggles
of their parents, the struggles of their own lives, those peaks and those valleys that
shaped them and brought them to this very moment. And they find themselves deeply grateful.
Its an attitude of gratitude. Good stewards know that they
didnt earn their time, talents or treasure. These are truly gifts from a generous
miraculously and randomly scattered over the human racewho asks only that we also
5. Share various gifts at the right times
Good stewardship is not a calcified formula or a specific recipe. To
four parts time, add two parts talent and sprinkle three parts treasure over the top and
serve. Not at all. At various times in our lives, we will be more able to give of
our time, our talents, our treasure.
The busy young executive may not have the time to sit in a retirement home
and play bingo every morning, but she may have the organizational skills to put that ministry
together. A retired couple with a fixed income may have to be careful about their limited
finances, but they may be able to spend time in the day-care center with children of working
The good steward practices, once again, that stewardship truism, Do
what you can. Not what you cant.
Different situations in the life of our families, our parishes, our communities will call
forth different applications of those three trusty pillars of good stewardship: time, talent,
I know of a North Carolina plastic surgeon who makes a handsome income, contributes
generously to his church, but also spends two weeks a year in a remote village in the Caribbean,
employing his talent: repairing cleft palates and disfiguring burns that have marginalized
these unpaying but no less needy patients.
I know of a woman who cleans offices in Alaska who contributes her widows
mite each week, but also beautifully arranges the altar flowers and lovingly irons
the altar cloths used in the liturgies.
I know of people with a short attention span who perform ministries that
call on them to see many people in a limited amount of time and I know people who have
enormous patience and can listen for hours.
Each is a goodand sensiblesteward. Each looks inward at what
she or he has to offer and offers it. Good stewards are intentional stewards, consciously
setting aside for Gods use some portion of their time, talent and treasure, but in
proportion that makes sense at that point in their lifes journey.
And good stewards dont envision themselves as solo singers. Rather,
they are happy to take their place as members of a vast chorus of goodness, with a rich
combination of gifts making a joyful noise.
6. Realize God will point the way
Stewardship is in our hearts, but like any other discipline, good stewardship
takes time to infuse our total being. And so the operative word that the good steward uses
God is with us on this journey. He will point the way.
It is not so much that good stewardship has a learning curve; it is more
an experiential curve. In other words as we do or live good stewardship, we
become better and better at it. And, as we experience that satisfaction (it is really Gods
grace streaming into our lives) that comes from sharing some portion of our time, our talents
and our treasure, we hunger for more. It becomes easier, more natural.
I was listening to a talk by Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J., who wrote the
book Dead Man Walking as she retraced her own journey to becoming a powerful advocate
against the death penalty. She admitted she didnt know what to do or where she was
going when that first death-row prisoner wrote her. But God gives you a little flashlight, she
writes. You wont see too far ahead, but youll usually know where to place
your foot for the next step.
So it is with the process of becoming a good steward. Once a person actively
commits herself or himself to the first stepbecoming a conscious or intentional stewardthe
next steps and portions of the stewardship journey will reveal themselves. In people they
meet, situations they see, words they hear, they will begin to hear the soft, gentle call
of God, asking them to respond.
The good steward then responds, not out of guilt, but out of gratitude. Not
responding to every one of the cacophony of voices and needs that cry out, but to certain
ones that, at this particular time of life, can be addressed.
7. See stewardship as a spiritual act
If you think about it for a minute, the realization sets in: God doesnt
actually need us to return anything to him. Its all his anyway.
First, God gives us lifetime. Then he provides the various physical
and psychological components, DNA, education and temperament that create and shape our
various talents. Finally, without the application of those talents and abilities over a
period of time, there would be no treasure for us to even consider. (Those who inherit
have to hearken back a generation or two, but the same principles apply for our forebears.)
It is we who need to return some portion of time, talent and treasure as
an act of love, of appreciation, of acknowledgment.
Good stewards see this love relationship as a spiritual act. Its an
offering to God that in some small but real way mirrors Christs own lifeand
a way to return the Fathers great love.
As good stewardship is a beautifully spiritual act, it is also dangerously
contagious. When we see people in our parish leading by example of good stewardship, of
not calling attention to their generosity, we are very likely to become infected.
We surely are affected. The practice of good stewardship is enormously attractive and appealing.
I love that adage, attributed to St. Francis, Preach the gospel, and
use words if necessary. That is how good stewards share this bountiful life with
God in Christ. Not by mouthing pious words, but by actions that speak to the deepest parts
of us. Good stewardship calls out to us all. Its possible, exciting, fulfilling,
while bringing us ever closer to the giver of the gifts we have been given.
Next: Treasures of Vatican II (by Edward P. Hahnenberg)