There are a number of our Lord’s teaching stories that have to do, I believe, not only with individuals, but institutions. One is that of the prosperous farmer who thinks his success relieves him of the tiresome necessity of doing business with God. He decides to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store his accumulated wealth, henceforth doing what he pleases. Another is that of the unjust steward who, when told that he is about to be discharged, calls the master’s debtors and strikes bargains with them, radically reducing their accounts so that when he is put out on the street they will owe him favors, thus assuring his survival.
The first story applies to a good many institutions with endowments, not because endowment as a form of stored wealth for continued operation in lean times is evil, but because as a matter of fact they often stand in the collective mind of the enterprise as protection against the direct action of a God who might otherwise tell it, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee!”
The second represents the mind of churches, schools, and other Christian agencies that are losing their grip on the faith they once guarded and advanced. For them, dealing with the Master’s debtors usually takes the form of becoming partisans of the Nice God, the God of Greatly Reduced Accounts, whose religion is nowhere as stark, bloody, and demanding as that of one’s less enlightened ancestors. These institutions are kept alive by those who appreciate this form of religion, since they have a strong personal interest in having it called “Christianity,” at least for a generation or two.
The history of our family’s giving includes a fair number of transfers of loyalty from institutions that are, so to speak, dropping the ball, to those that are picking it up. This, we believe, is an important part of our own stewardship. It is doubtful that the loss of our small gift has ever made an administration think twice about whether the new direction it has decided to take (and usually attempts to hide from its donors) is wise or good. On the other hand, the relative insignificance of the gift makes it safer for them to confirm our decision by telling us, in one of the many ways they have of doing it, “Sorry you feel that way, but we know our business, and put the loss of people like you—donors who have discovered what we are doing, know what it means, and are willing to drop us as a result—into our calculations when we made the change. There aren’t too many, and none of you is high on the list of people we need to please.”
Behind all this we usually perceive a story very much like that of the prosperous fool or the unjust steward, who doesn’t understand that the true wealth he has been entrusted with is the ministry of the gospel of Christ, the Truth of God, so that the institution’s true survival or prosperity has nothing to do with mere continued existence as such, but with doing something that pleases the Master.
From our vantage point in the publishing world, it is clear that changes taking place within Christendom these days will be signaling considerable redirection of giving on the part of those concerned that their gifts will be placed in the hands of faithful stewards who will use them wisely and well. If this is the case with you, we urge you to consider the ministry of Touchstone.
—S. M. Hutchens, for the editors
S. M. Hutchens works as a reference librarian in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He holds a doctorate in theology. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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“Just Stewards” first appeared in the March 2004 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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