Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Best Practices in the Teaching of Stewardship: The Need for Comprehensive and Effective Strategies

Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Best Practices in the Teaching of Stewardship: The Need for Comprehensive and Effective Strategies

Article excerpt

How do pastors and other church leaders learn what they know about stewardship? What are seminaries teaching students about the meaning and practice of stewardship? Which are the "best practices" in the teaching of stewardship from which others may learn? The Tithing and Stewardship Foundation of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago recently engaged in preliminary research with theological field educators to explore the teaching of stewardship at theological schools in North America. (1) While more extensive research is warranted, initial findings suggest surprisingly little focused attention on the teaching of stewardship across the spectrum of theological schools. Based on the number of courses devoted explicitly to the teaching of stewardship and the content of other courses in which stewardship is one topic alongside many others, this research raises questions about how adequately pastors and other church leaders are currently being prepared to give congregational leadership in the area of stewardship.

Current Practices

Douglas John Hall has proposed that stewardship needs to become the lead category for interpreting Christian faith in our time. (2) While theological field educators resonate with this sentiment, very few schools report curriculum objectives or educational practices that are commensurate with this claim. Two patterns in the teaching of stewardship seem to predominate in the schools represented in our sample. First, stewardship is taught as one topic among many others in general courses on leadership. Such courses also may be the only occasion for the teaching of other subjects crucial to the life of congregations (including evangelism, administration, conflict management, pastoral ethics, etc.). How much attention can be given to the theme of stewardship when only a single week or even a single class period is devoted explicitly to stewardship in the entirety of a seminarian's education? Second, the teaching of stewardship is expected to occur in the congregations where students are placed for field education. However, not all congregations are equipped to provide excellent field experiences in the area of stewardship. To operate with the assumption that congregational field placements can compensate for the lack of attention to stewardship in the seminary curriculum is dubious. If field education is to promote excellence in stewardship education, then focused attention must be given either to the selection of field education congregations according to the quality of their stewardship education, or those field education congregations must be cultivated as contexts for the teaching of stewardship.

Those schools reporting entire courses in teaching stewardship are relatively few. In our initial survey, only three schools offered courses devoted exclusively to the teaching of stewardship. One of these provided an excellent syllabus on "financial management," however, in this course the theme of "stewardship" was not forefronted. A second school reported offering two distinct courses in stewardship, both of which, could be taken together to fulfill the school's "three hour requirement" in stewardship. This school also offers another elective on stewardship and evangelism. A third school provided extensive materials for a series of workshops and a "capstone course" on stewardship for its students in their final year. The workshops covered a variety of themes, including biblical perspectives on stewardship, preaching stewardship, and care for the environment.

Desired Outcomes

Theological field educators were asked to offer perspective on their own understanding of the place of stewardship in the seminary curriculum. What are the desired outcomes for the teaching of stewardship in terms of what graduates should think and be able to do? The most extensive answers related to the thoughts and convictions which should be instilled in students: to understand the biblical texts about stewardship, to believe everything we have is a gift from God, to assist students to develop their own theology of stewardship (time, talents, treasure, environment), to expand the notion of what stewardship involves (including relationships, community involvement, recycling, etc. …

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