Stewardship - being left in charge of the house
- To consider the Christian idea of stewardship, in terms of being accountable to God for making the best and most responsible use of whatever resources we have in our control.
- To find out about ancient ideas of what constituted a good steward of a household, and to roleplay these ideas using music and dance.
- To discuss what this might mean for a Christian believer
The Christian concept of stewardship is based on an analogy that likens every Christian to a head servant who has been left looking after the house while the owner is away. This is seen as a position of great trust and responsibility, ultimately accountable to the owner.
Jesus encouraged his followers (in Luke 12:35-48) to think of their own lives like this, seeing everything they valued as a gift from God, to be used responsibly. This idea can be taken in several ways. It could be about the use of money, personal property or personal time, but it could also be about any responsibility - in the family, at work or elsewhere in the community. The idea might even be applied to our care for the natural or built environment.
You will need:
- a large space in which a class of children can move around
- a display board for noting down ideas as they are discussed
- the means to play an appropriate dance music track, such as 'Variations 1-4 on a theme by Paganini'
Are you a responsible person - someone who can be trusted to look after things or do something to the best of their ability, without having to be watched all the time? For example, how good are you at looking after your things at home or in school? How tidy is your room, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 means ‘very good’? (Discuss in pairs, then feed back.)
Does anyone here like tidying their room? Why... or why not? Why do we have to keep things tidy? (So that we don’t lose or damage things.) The more stuff you have, the more tidy you have to be, or else things do get lost or damaged.
Sometimes, very rich or important people pay other people to look after their things. What do you think of that? Would you like to have someone to do that for you? (Any child who says, ‘I’ve got Mum to do that’ should be instantly, but humorously, reprimanded!)
In the past, a rich person might hire someone to take charge of the whole house, like the head butler or housekeeper (think of Downton Abbey). This was a very important job, and a good butler or housekeeper was very valuable. Why? (Because it meant that the master or mistress didn’t have to worry about looking after the house or the other servants, and knew that their precious things were being kept safe.)
Another word for a butler or housekeeper is ‘steward’ or ‘manager’. This job has been around for a very long time, and there were stewards or managers making a living like this in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. (If you know the story of Joseph and his brothers, then you’ll remember that Joseph had that job in ancient Egypt.)
So, in those days, what sorts of jobs do you think people had to do around the house? (Discuss, and list them on the board. Examples could be cleaning, cooking, keeping guard, and mending clothes.)
Home security was an important part of the job, in the days when there weren’t any police officers about. In the past, if the owner of the house (the ‘master’ or ‘mistress’) was out for the evening, the steward or manager would stay at home with some servants, looking after the house, to make sure a thief didn’t try to break in when everyone else was out. Imagine having that job. I wonder what could go right if you had that job... and what could go wrong. (Discuss.)
Jesus told his followers to think of themselves as being like servants left in charge of the house, imagining that Jesus was their master who had gone out to a party overnight but was likely to come back at any moment. Jesus put it like this:
‘Be ready! Be fully dressed and have your lights shining. Be like servants who are waiting for their master to come home from a wedding party. The master comes and knocks, and the servants immediately open the door for him. When their master sees that they are ready and waiting for him, it will be a great day for those servants. I can tell you without a doubt, the master will get himself ready to serve a meal and tell the servants to sit down. Then he will serve them. Those servants might have to wait until midnight or later for their master. But they will be glad they did when he comes in and finds them still waiting.
‘What would a homeowner do if he knew when a thief was coming? You know he would not let the thief break in. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at a time when you don’t expect him!’
Luke 12:35-40 (Easy-to-Read Version)
Jesus is painting a picture with words. Let’s do some imagining. Some of the people hearing Jesus’ words would have been servants in the ancient world. Think of the jobs they had to do (refer to the list on the board). Now let’s do some role-play.
Begin by sitting pupils in spaces in the hall, then set them the challenge of simply walking slowly in random directions without bumping, following or circling. At a signal, everybody has to stop.
Then set the challenge of becoming a statue of one of the ‘jobs on the board’ when you make another signal. Repeat this three times, so that they have to come up with four different servant poses in all.
Then play some music with a steady 4/4 beat (‘Variations 1-4 on a theme by Paganini’ is good for this), during which they must stay on one spot, but have to act out the four roles with clear movements, moving from one to the other as you call out the changes.
The music should allow you to act out one job on the beats 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, then change to the second on 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, the third on 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, the fourth on 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, and finally back to the first one.
Explain that you’re going to tell the story of the servants together. Assign one pupil to be the master or mistress, and two more to be the ‘watchmen’ with sound effects (a bell or similar).
Have the master/mistress say. ‘I’m going to be out at a party, but I need you to be looking after the house. I will be back - so don’t let me down!’ Send the master/mistress ‘out’ and play the music so that everyone goes through the cycle of jobs three times.
Afterwards, sit everybody down. Ask: ‘What questions do you think the servants would be asking each other if the master/mistress was gone a long time?’ (When are they coming back? Can I stop? When do we get a rest? and so on).
Get them doing the mime with the music again, but then have the master/mistress return, with the watchmen ringing their alarms and saying, ‘He’s/She’s coming!’
The master/mistress enters, and all the staff line up. Then the master/mistress says, ‘That was a great party! You’ve all done a brilliant job… so I’ve brought you all some presents - and plenty of food from the meal. Help yourself!’
With that, the master/mistress walks along the line, giving out (in mime) presents, food and drink. Mime opening the presents, eating and drinking.
Afterwards, sit everybody down again. Ask: ‘What do you think the servants would be saying now? What do you think they would be thinking or feeling about their jobs, and about working for their master/mistress - especially when they get treated to presents, food and drink?’
Explain that Christians today often think of themselves as being like these servants, waiting for Jesus to come back again. People have been left to get on with their lives, but it all actually belongs to someone else - to Jesus. Christians believe that everything they have, in a way, belongs to God, who expects them to make the most of it, not to waste or break it, and to do good things with it. This is called ‘stewardship’.
So a Christian might be earning money, but they need to think of themselves as a steward or manager of that money, trying to use it in the way God would want. What do you think that might mean? (Discuss: it could mean giving to charity, being generous to others, not being wasteful, and so on.) Could stewardship mean being generous or careful in other ways, too, that don’t involve money?
How do you think Christians might think or feel about the idea of Jesus coming back, like the master or mistress in the story? Would his return be something to look forward to, or not? (It might depend on what they’ve been doing!) How might it affect the way they live their normal lives?
Regarding your own responsibilities, are you ‘good’ just because the teacher is watching, or are you responsible when the teacher isn’t watching, too - because your work is worth doing well? If you want people to think you’re a mature and responsible person, it means doing your work for its own sake, and not because an adult wants you to do it. This is all about ‘growing up’, and some people are slower at learning it than others.
If you want to be treated as somebody who is growing up and learning to be mature, are there any things in your own life that could do with a little ‘work’, in school or at home? What do we think about that?
You could choose to extend the lesson by adding this extra Bible passage and developing the discussion further.
We’ve been talking about stewardship - the idea of acting responsibly with the things we have. But in the ancient world, you could get bad stewards too - butlers or housekeepers who were awful at their job. What sorts of things might a bad butler or housekeeper get up to, especially if the owner of the house was away? (Discuss, and share ideas. A bad steward might steal the owner’s goods, have a party while they’re out, not bother keeping watch for burglars, and so on.) Dear me!
After Jesus told the story of the good steward, one of his disciples, Peter, asked this question: ‘Lord, did you tell this story for us or for all people?’ (Luke 12:41).
Jesus answered him like this.
The Lord said, “Who is the wise and trusted steward? The master trusts one steward to give the other servants their food at the right time. Who is the steward that the master trusts to do that work? When the master comes and finds him doing the work he gave him, it will be a day of blessing for that steward! I can tell you without a doubt, the master will choose that steward to take care of everything he owns.
‘But what will happen if that steward is evil and thinks his master will not come back soon? He will begin to beat the other servants, men and women. He will eat and drink until he has had too much. Then the master will come when the steward is not ready, at a time when the steward is not expecting him. Then the master will punish that steward and send him away to be with the other people who don’t obey.
‘That steward knew what his master wanted him to do. But he did not make himself ready or try to do what his master wanted. So that steward will be punished very much! But what about the steward who does not know what his master wants? He also does things that deserve punishment. But he will get less punishment than the steward who knew what he should do. Whoever has been given much will be responsible for much. Much more will be expected from the one who has been given more.’
Luke 12:42-48 (ERV, adjusted, replacing ‘servant’ with ‘steward’)
Do we think the master is fair to treat the evil steward like this? Why? Does this change the way you think about the returning master in the other passage? How? And how might this passage affect the way Christians think about Jesus coming back?