The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


No stale bread

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been struck by the willingness of some church leaders to serve “stale bread” in their communications and utterances. This has seemed especially true in the area of stewardship. Leaders who would never serve stale communion wafers or stale lemon bars at potlucks seem nevertheless content to serve up huge helpings of verbiage that may have passed its usefulness several football seasons ago.

I’m not sure what makes one person’s “truth for life” into someone else’s “stale bread,” so I want to be careful here. I also want to be honest: some of our stewardship utterances may be musty mutterings or grand flourishes of ancient rhetoric that just don’t carry the message very well anymore.

These possible examples:

  • Is there a better way of saying “time, talents and treasures”? How about “useful gifts of God” or “God-given assets” or even “the stuff that makes life worth living”? (And is active alliteration attractive anymore?)
  •  I don’t know what to do about “the giver’s need to give.” It seems to me that if we encourage or fill that need, we’re primarily benefiting the giver, which feels kind of selfish.
  • “Blessed to be a blessing” is true, but so is “We get to do God’s work together.”
  •  “Give back to God what God has first given us” seems both stale and a minor heresy. Nothing in our lives belongs to us, so how can we “give” God anything? (Yes, I know that Bible passage.)

The solution is not to invent spanking-new expressions that call so much attention to themselves that folks get lost in our gosh-darn cleverness. Spiffy could also be silly. If stewardship is about serving the will of God wherever we are with whatever we have, it seems that the language of stewardship should be as delightfully ordinary as the discourse of everyday conversation.

So how does “stale bread” (not) work where you are? How have you been able to find fresh and honest ways to talk about things like money, generosity, God’s will for your life or being mindful of blessings? What would it take for you to start baking and serving what’s clean, bright and unsullied by overuse?

I wish you well in your consideration of these questions. And when you find good answers, share them with someone else.

May your stewardship be fresh and simple!

To learn more about these and other stewardship concepts, visit http://bit.ly/oODN6v to view a set of whimsical animated movies about “Pig Boy” (one way of describing the Anglo-Saxon term “steward”).


Matthew Bolz-Weber

Matthew Bolz-Weber

Posted at 6:47 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/18/2011

I agree that we should probably come up with ways of talking about stewardship that are relevant and appropriate to the particulary time and societal setting.  And yes, some of the author's examples could comfortably be done away with. 

It seems to me, though, that his final example (give back to God what we have been given) is actually a good way to come at stewardship, because, in fact, not everything that is mine came from God.  Sure, all my material wealth certainly did.  Of course, all the tangible stuff in my life came from God.  However, my life is infused with spite and malice and greed and selfishness ~ part of my stewardship discipline is to work to remember that those things do not come from God, and when I give back to God what I have received from God, then the others (which come from me) seem to not play so big a role in my life. 

Thank you for the thoughts in this article.

Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.

Log in or Subscribe to comment.

text size:

this page: email | print

February issue


Embracing diversity