The word comes from the Old English stigward or stigweard: stig, meaning ‘hall,’ or ‘pen,’ and weard meaning ‘guard.’

Yep, a keeper of the sty.

Bummer, huh?

Interestingly, the name “Stewart” is related, which seems awfully obvious once you think about it, and if you know a Stewart, you may want to think carefully about whether you inform him of what his name means.  Especially if he’s a lousy housekeeper.

So a steward is one who tends to the house when the owner is away.  They care for the home instead–that is, in the stead–of the master (or mistress!).

Stewardship as a concept in the Church (as in, “stewardship campaign”) used to bug me a lot, almost to the point of breaking out into hives whenever I heard it.   While in seminary, I decided that my antipathy to the notion probably wasn’t particularly healthy, and so I forced myself to take a class about it.

The first day of class, the professor said, “O.K., folks.  You show me your checkbook, and I will show you your god.”


Suddenly I understood that stewardship was not at all about a campaign, but about an ethic, a way of life that oriented oneself around whatever one’s God is.

Theologian John Westerhoff says that “Stewardship is what we do after we say we believe.”

Stewardship understood in this way invites us to consider that in which we believe, what our center is, and how our daily moments reflect that orientation.

O.K.  So both the religious world and the secular world employ the word “steward.”  It’s adaptable in both arenas, actually.  Again, the specific definition of God isn’t perhaps immediately as important as considering that one’s God is that in whom or in which one places one’s ultimate trust.

It’s a two-way street:

We can identify what our God is, and live our lives in a way that is consistent with that God’s agenda and claim on our life.

We can also look back at the wake of decisions and priorities, and observing the results of those choices, figure out what or who our God is.

Either way is a route to figuring out whose way of being in the world we are stewarding.

Now, as a Christian, I make the claim that Easter is God’s quintessential revelation (more on that in a week or so) that although death is real, life is realer.  And so I like to encourage people to be ambassadors of life in a world where death’s claim appears so real, so palpable.

What is your God, and how do you steward that God’s agenda?