Summer 1984, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 135-150.

Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead:
      The Evolution of Stewardship

Childhood's dependence and playfulness, adulthood's religious decisiveness and discipline, and mid-life's sense of responsibility and personal authority create stewardship, the mature exercise of Christian faith.

The Whiteheads -- she a developmental psychologist, he a pastoral theologian and historian of religion -- are writers, lecturers, and consultants in education and ministry. Their most recent publication is Community of Faith: Models and Strategies for Developing Christian Communities.

WHAT is expected of stewards is that they be found worthy of their trust' (1 Cor. 4:2). Who are the stewards among us today? What is the trust of which they must be found worthy?

The image of steward has a long and rich history in our Christian tradition. From the New Testament parable of the faithful steward to a contemporary emphasis on lay financial support of the parish, we have understood Christian stewardship in a variety of ways. Perhaps it awaits yet another interpretation, now in the context of adult Christian development.

Stewardship should be envisioned as an exercise of Christian faith and responsibility that finds its special season in mid-life. Stewardship as the mature exercise of Christian faith emerges gradually in the course of religious development. What are the earlier movements of this development? How might we recognize and celebrate the appearance of stewardship in our own lives and in the Christian community?

The maturing of a Christian may be envisioned as involving three movements: the experience of self as child of God, as disciple of the Lord, and as steward in the church. This movement is not one of substitution, in which a new stage replaces a former one. Rather, as we shall see later, the child is meant to survive in the disciple and the disciple to continue in the mature steward.

We begin our lives, both biologically and religiously, as children. As children we know ourselves to be dependent, necessarily and properly so. We receive life and care from our parents; as Christians we confess a profound and unending dependence on God. Our maturing involves the gradual transformation of this dependence rather than its abandonment. In this early experience of dependence we learn to trust the power of others. And we start the long journey of becoming, ourselves, both powerful and trustworthy. This foundational experience of dependence -- of finding strength in others who are reliable in the face of our needs -- is the first stage of the lifelong journey toward adult interdependence. Maturity invites us toward a complex dependability: we become able to be depended on even as we remain able to depend on others, to be vulnerable to those we love.

If dependence is the first characteristic of childhood, a second is playfulness. A child is essentially a player. In the free space of childhood, before the "serious business" of adult life overtakes us, we begin our play. Feeling the delight of our bodies and testing the limits in our environment, we "play' at life. The root of this play is imagination. In childhood, if we are fortunate, the extraordinary power of imagination begins to be flexed and developed within us. In play we are able to alter our world, to invent new playmates, to name -- and in this way begin to befriend -- some of the surprising forces arising within us. These two strengths of childhood, dependence and play, are important in maturity as well.


Christians experience a peculiar paradox in their ambition to mature. We share the development described by St. Paul: "When I was a child I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue like a child, but now I am an adult, all childish ways are put behind me" (1 Cor. 13:11). These "childish ways" are specified elsewhere in the Pauline letters: the child suffers the severe dependency of the slave (Gal. 4:1-2); and the child, without the experience to give it a sure sense of purpose, is necessarily "tossed one way and another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks men play and their cleverness in practicing deceit" (Eph. 4:14).

Yet we know that childhood is not to be too thoroughly abandoned. We remember that peculiar statement of Jesus: "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). A conversion -- a recovery of childhood -- is demanded for Christian maturing. How shall we outgrow childhood and simultaneously return to it?

We can approach this paradox by noting two temptations in the movement out of childhood: we may fail by leaving behind the strengths first experienced as a child, or by refusing to accept the new strengths required of the adult. In the first temptation, the attempt is to escape dependency. In an eagerness to become an independent and able adult, we shrug off every manner of dependence. We become "our own person," a full individualist. We wrench ourselves away from "childish" attachments to other people, those ambiguous ties that bind us both by love and control. Especially if we have experienced childhood dependency as demeaning and manipulative, we are likely to be wary of adult intimacy and its commitments of affection and fidelity. Defensive and cautious about getting too close to others, we try to become strong enough to stand alone. Following this path of "mock maturity," we are also likely to abandon imagination and play. If, like dependency, we identify these as childish, we must leave them behind in our trek into the grey sobriety of adult life. Thus the American stereotype: an adult who is serious and independent, an earnest achiever who can "go it alone," a "grown-up" in whom the child (and all its delights) has truly died.

But there is an opposite temptation in childhood -- to cling to dependency too long. Instead of gradually letting go of many of these dependencies, we hold on to them as the best defense against a confusing adult world. Here dependence, originally a childlike grace, becomes childish. Religiously this is evidenced in the mid-life Christian who, while responsible in family and career matters, remains overly dependent in religious affairs. Unable to depend on inner resources (which should, by now, have been tested and seasoned by several decades of adult experience), such an adult acts "like a child" in religious and moral arenas.

This path of immaturity does not always result from personal failing alone. It is engendered and reinforced by institutions that have succumbed to the temptation of paternalism. Paternalism, as sociologist Richard Sennett has shown in the provocative discussion in his book Authority, twists the compelling symbol of the family into a model of social control. Paternalism freezes the categories of parent and child: certain of us are seen as "parents" who care for (and control) others of us who are seen as -- and must remain -- children. The expectable movement of the child into adulthood, into a position of responsibility and authority for one's own life, is frustrated or denied. Paternalism needs children. As "an authority of false love" (in Sennett's words), it thrives by enforcing a childish dependency, by requiring that its subjects remain children. Only as Christian institutions resist this temptation of paternalism are they able to support our religious maturing into adult children of God.


As we move beyond adolescence into young adult life, we make those choices which signal a new stage of maturity. In our initial commitments of love and work we manifest our hopes, test our values, and begin to define our adult responsibilities. This first stage of adult maturing, ranging from late teens well into the thirties, is a period of discipleship.

The word disciple is so thoroughly a part of Christian rhetoric that its developmental sense is easily lost. We will focus here on several practical characteristics of this stage of maturity. The move into young adulthood is marked by its decisions: I choose to pursue this career path; I initiate this relationship; I select this lifestyle for myself. There is often a tentativeness about these choices, but they are, nonetheless, personal choices. To be an adult is to be able to, to have to, make these kinds of decisions.

To be a disciple is to experience myself as religiously decisive. I must choose to follow Jesus Christ. I choose to be a Christian, rather than simply continuing to attend the church of my parents or new friends. Some of us experience this movement into religious discipleship in our late teens or early twenties, as part of a young adult conversion or vocational choice. But for many, a period of time intervenes between the child and the disciple. Leaving behind the simplicity and even naivete of their childlike faith, these young adults do not directly enter a period of discipleship. Their twenties may become a time-in-between, a moratorium when they are no longer children, but not yet Christian adults. It may be only in their early thirties, as their own children grow, that they decisively involve themselves in the Christian faith. Or it may be an experience of parish renewal, cursillo, or marriage encounter in their forties that moves them to choose, in an adult fashion, their Christian faith. Whether in our late teens or mid-forties, discipleship begins in an adult decision to follow Christ.

So the disciple is an adult who both initiates and follows. The word disciple itself means a learner. The cultural equivalent is an apprentice. In our first jobs most of us experience ourselves as learners and apprentices. Whether in an agency or a parish, as a nurse or a teacher, there is much that we have to learn "on the job." New to adult responsibilities, we are still learning from those more experienced than we are. This kind of dependence, which differs from that of childhood, is proper to young adult life. As beginning ministers or nurses or teachers, we find ourselves asking, "How do we do it around here?" Even in our commitments of intimacy we begin as apprentices. In the first years of marriage many young couples define their relationship from the outside, either imitating other marriages or resisting doing so. Only gradually do they grow into a confident sense of what their own marriage requires. The person who enters a vowed religious life goes through a period of formal apprenticeship in which the titles themselves -- candidate, novice, junior -- designate the process as one of discipleship. Already capable adults, through our twenties we are still learning how the interplay of society's expectations and our own deepest hopes will shape our careers and vocations.

The special quality of the religious learning that goes on during this period is captured in a word that shares the same root as disciple: discipline. During these first decades of adult life our instincts and intuitions continue to mature as they are challenged by new experiences, shaped by our hopes for the future, and expressed in the decisions we make. As Christians we attempt to hold these experiences, hopes, and decisions accountable to the values and aspirations of Jesus Christ. This gradual discipline is a seasoning of our instincts. Over time the values of the gospel slowly shape our sensibilities about love and commitment, work and success, power and justice. As we experience this seasoning, we become more confident in following these instincts and intuitions. Now disciplined, they are more reliable. The disciple matures as these instincts become increasingly trustworthy. This developing inner resource (described often as a mature adult conscience) will be a crucial part of the person's future stewardship.

For many of us, our own experience of discipleship includes a relationship with a mentor. A mentor is someone to whom we can apprentice ourselves -- a teacher or supervisor, an older member of the congregation, the principal or pastor in our first ministry. The mentor is not a parent, but an older and more experienced adult who fosters our growth into adult competence. Mature mentoring -- an instance of non- manipulative adult care -- can heal our adolescent biases against dependency and authority. We find we can rely on others in an adult way that is not demeaning. The authority of the mentor is not an authority "over us," but an authority that urges us to believe more in ourselves.

The process of discipleship can be frustrated when a mentor is lacking. With no particular person to encourage and challenge us, "following Christ" can become too private a journey -- an experience without practical accountability. A ministry to those in discipleship in our parishes and other communities will mean, among other things, providing such mature mentors.

If there are temptations characteristic of childhood, there are specific temptations for the disciple as well. One of these arises from the very nature of discipleship: the seriousness and earnestness that is part of being a beginner. The disciple, like the apprentice, wants very much to do well. Intensely focused on our task (whether this is the success of our ministry or the development of a spirituality), we are likely to be terrified by the possibility of failure. Errors and mistakes appear to us as threats to our life's ambition. Many adults report that the earnestness of this discipleship period, with its attendant fear of failure, left them unimaginative and without a sense of play. Only later would these childlike qualities return, as part of a movement into mid-life maturity.

A second temptation may arise as the disciple is challenged to mature. Comfortable as a follower, and grateful for the luxury of having others make the final decisions, the disciple may resist new invitations to leadership and greater responsibility. But the increased demands that accompany our journey through our thirties and forties call us toward a new stage of religious maturity and a new level of service in the Christian community.


The transformation of the disciple into the steward occurs in diverse and often subtle ways. For many Christians the transition happens in the late thirties or forties. An external event may trigger this change, perhaps an assignment change in ministry or a promotion in one's responsibility at work. The triggering event may be within the family, as parents realize that it is they who must decide about their children's religious education. Or the impetus toward stewardship may be more interior: I sense I must begin to take my own religious experience more seriously, or I feel a need to be a more active contributor to the future of this religious congregation.

Whether the impulse is external or internal, the movement toward stewardship is recognized in a surge of responsibility and personal authority. We find we are called to trust ourselves in new and, perhaps, frightening ways. Formerly we could turn to others to ask, "What's the best way to do it?" Now, more experienced and in positions of greater responsibility, we realize we must turn more to our inner resources in making important decisions. If we are frightened by this increased responsibility -- "How do I know I will make the right decision?" -- we are also consoled by the increasing authority of our own experience, accumulated and tested over the past several decades. During our years of discipleship we have been learning how to care well for others, how to express both our affection and our anger, how to act justly. We find that we have become more dependable. This increased personal authority and dependability mean that we are now more than followers; we are becoming stewards.

Stewards differ from disciples in sensing the trustworthiness of their inner resources and the reliability of their convictions. The steward, of course, continues to be a disciple: this internal authority continues to be complemented and challenged by the authority of Scripture and the church. But the central characteristic of stewardship is the need and ability to trust the authority of one's own maturing convictions.

This surge of responsibility and authority is matched by a paradoxical realization: as stewards we are responsible for what we do not own. Invited in mid-life into more responsible jobs and more authoritative positions, we are reminded that what we care for -- children, schools, parishes, the land -- we do not own. A steward is, by definition, not an owner. When Christian faith takes root in us, we recognize that creation and all its fruits belong to the Lord. Yet adult responsibility calls us to be assertive and decisive in our care for this creation. The challenge is to be caring without controlling, to be decisive without becoming possessive. The temptation we experience here is the one that accompanies any investment: when we care deeply for something, we are inclined to try to control it, to possess it. Being a parent can initiate this discipline of stewardship. Gradually, sometimes painfully, parents must come to acknowledge that their children are not, in any final sense, "theirs." They are neither reproductions nor possessions. But it is not only by being a parent that adults are taught the lessons of stewardship. If we are fortunate, we also learn these in our jobs and projects and other "investments." Mid-life maturing -- its name is stewardship -- entails a continuing purification of our care and decisiveness. We become able to sustain our investment in what we do not possess.

The paradox of non-possessive care has a long tradition among Jews and Christians. It is rooted in our most basic relationship with our Creator. The writer of Psalm 39, impressed with the brevity and fragility of human life, expressed this relationship most powerfully: "I am your guest, and only for a time; a nomad like all my ancestors." This sense of belonging in a world that we do not own becomes, in our better moments, our religious sense of identity. This "guest involvement" describes a Christian steward today: parents discover that they are guest parents; a pastor is always a guest pastor. Every adult performance of responsibility and authority is recognized as a guest performance. That we fail at this more often than we succeed only reminds us that stewardship is an extraordinary ideal that demands a severe maturity.

The word steward appears in Luke's Gospel at two points. The first appearance is the famous parable of the faithful steward (chapter 12). This story highlights three features of a steward. The steward acts as a servant, rather than as an owner or ruler. The main strength of a steward is a combination of wisdom and trustworthiness -- an experienced dependability. The context of stewardship is absence -- the steward acts in the absence of the master. The second appearance of the steward in Luke is in the story of the unjust steward who, about to be fired, is astute enough to reduce what his master's debtors owe (chapter 16). Again the steward acts with a certain wisdom or astuteness, on his own authority, and in the absence of the master.

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, describes the same characteristics of the steward: such a person acts as a servant, is trustworthy, and performs in the absence of the master -- "until the Lord comes" (1 Cor. 4:5).

The position of servant is meant to deprive the steward of independence and possessiveness. The virtue of trustworthiness points to a reliability, an inner authority, that has developed "on the job" and on which the steward can depend. The third characteristic is more complex and perhaps frightening: the context of stewardship is absence. The authority of stewards arises both from their trustworthiness and from the absence of their master.


The absence of Jesus Christ, begun in his traumatic death and celebrated in his ascension, is the context of Christian stewardship. In his death Jesus absented himself from the community. This abnegation had startling results: it brought the Spirit into our midst in new and stirring ways, and it lured us into more authoritative roles in our shared life. In the presence of Jesus we had but to follow; we had a leader possessed of God like no other. When the Lord is present, we are all fittingly disciples. In the "generous absence" of Jesus Christ a space was created, a leadership vacuum generated. Jesus' absence invokes our stewardship:

To be sure, Christ is not gone forever. But if we really believe in the second coming -- the culmination of human stewardship -- we must believe in Christ's absence now. We must learn to honor that absence. Our willingness to become stewards is one of the significant ways in which we honor the Lord's absence.

Developmentally, absence seems to have an important role in every kind of leadership and adult maturing. In our forties -- expectably the first full season of stewardship -- we come into a new intimacy with absence. Our parents are aging and approaching death. We are likely to have experienced the death of a friend or colleague and to have mourned this kind of loss. Mentors and leaders once so compelling and directive in our lives are less present. We taste absence in a new way in mid-life as we are gradually but surely orphaned. But this loss of parents and mentors creates the space for our own authority and leadership. Absence is the empty but fertile soil in which our mid-life authority is compelled to grow.

But such absence is frightening and Christian tradition has been tempted to disguise it. One strategy for avoiding this absence is paternalism. Paternalism substitutes a simplified world of parents and children for the complex adult world of shared responsibility, conflict, and negotiation. A paternalistic church divides its believers, rigidly, between parents and children. It then provides "paternal" ministers (whether named "father" or not) to preside over a "childlike" laity. The exciting and graceful image of the family is thus distorted in the static dichotomy of clergy and laity. The laity are guaranteed care; they need never confront the absence of the Lord. But the costs of this care are high.

A new awareness of the adult nature of Christian faith, reawakened in Vatican II, has alerted us to the limits of family imagery. In its warmth and intimacy, the metaphor of the family can be used to prolong our childhood. If family is the only image we have of our life together as believers, we can fall victim to the subtle shift from knowing ourselves to be children of God to acting as children toward church leaders. Paternalism improperly fills the gap of Christ's absence. It makes present to us "other Christs" who would parent us in faith. But this strategy, we are coming to see, does not honor absence. Either frightened by absence or fearing its implications (the demand that all adult Christians come to trust their own consciences and act with the authority of stewards), paternalism tends to distract us from this pregnant absence.

To be a steward is to be authoritatively involved in the Christian faith. More than a child or a disciple, a steward is responsible for handing on this faith. Special challenges of stewardship are being felt today in two areas of Christian life: Scripture and liturgy.


We are all disciples of Scripture. Whatever our education or maturity or ministerial role, we continue throughout our lives as learners toward this sacred text. Our lives are interpreted by Scripture. Ideally, from childhood on we are apprenticed to these texts, learning their imagery, experiencing their complex and profound influence. Disciples of the Scripture in these ways, we are gradually invited to become stewards of the Scripture as well. A steward assumes a more authoritative attitude toward the sacred text. Responsible for handing on the faith in our communities, we become -- necessarily -- interpreters of the Scripture. We select certain images from Scripture for special emphasis, we call attention to the contemporary significance of a biblical story that goes beyond its conventional understanding, we arrange passages in an attempt to hand on their revelation more gracefully. As stewards, then, we stand in that precarious position of being both interpreted by God's word and interpreting it.

An important example of contemporary stewardship of Scripture concerns its sexist language. In these sacred texts we find God's people called "the sons of men." The persons of strong faith and remarkable deed that we find in its stories are most often men. The psalms and prayers seem to imply the believer is always "he." A disciple may wonder at this use of language. A steward, in concert with other trustworthy interpreters, begins to change it. This is, of course, dangerous business, for these are sacred texts that we are altering. Yet the responsibility we experience in ministering to a contemporary world authorizes us to participate in that process of interpretation which has always been a part of handing on God's word. In every age, Christians have chosen for emphasis the scriptural passages that will influence their lives; the steward is someone who does so with an experienced sense of caution and confidence.

Guided by our Scriptures, we Christians celebrate God's presence in the liturgy. Here, too, we can trace a maturing of discipleship toward stewardship. As disciples we participate in the church's worship: we attend the liturgy, following the lead of the celebrant. Catholics especially have had a rather severe distinction between disciples and stewards in regard to the Eucharist. The altar railing stood as the clear barrier between the steward who was "saying Mass" and the disciples in attendance. In most of our churches the altar railing is gone, allowing for greater mobility at the liturgy. Parishioners come up to proclaim the readings; a variety of ministers distributes communion. With more members of the community sharing in the planning of the Eucharist, liturgical stewardship is expanding. The steward of the liturgy differs from the disciple not in excellence, but by the mode of participation. A steward initiates the liturgy in some way -- in selecting the readings, in planning the music, in giving the homily, in presiding.

Throughout the Catholic church more adult believers are coming forward to complement the traditional, sacramental stewardship of the ordained priest. In parishes in South America, in a priest's absence lay leaders celebrate the presence of the Lord in the community. In congregations of women religious, stewards with the community are imaginatively designing communion services and other liturgies in the absence of a more traditional chaplain. Small groups of lay Catholics are celebrating the presence of the Lord in their homes -- not in defiance but as an expansion of the parish's liturgical life. In all these instances, as well as in the greater sharing of the planning and presiding at parish worship, Christian liturgical stewardship is blossoming. The changes that this portends in Catholic liturgical practice are great. Without doubt, some efforts to re-imagine liturgical stewardship may include excess and immaturity. Growth seems seldom to be achieved without embarrassment and even error along the way. More impressive, however, is the potential maturing of the adult worshiping community as its members come to a more assertive sense of their responsibility and authority regarding this central exercise of the faith.

In both these examples of stewardship -- in regard to Scripture and liturgy -- we notice a special characteristic of the steward. While the disciple is one who ministers from within the Christian tradition, grounded in and shaped by it, the steward is also able to minister to the tradition itself. Disciples are still learning about the best of our religious heritage; stewards have matured to the point where they are able to, and need to, care for the worst of our Christian tradition. As disciples of the church we begin to care for the wounds of the world; as more experienced stewards we must also come to care for the wounds of the church. Such a stewardship arises from a certain vision of the church. Our Christian church, as graced as it is with God's enduring presence, is also the wounded and scarred body of Christ. Because it is human as well as divine, the church is sinful and immature and grievously wounded. Many of these wounds are self-inflicted -- appearing in the gaps between our high ideals and our halting practice. Who will minister to these wounds in the body of Christ? Children of God are not strong enough to do so; disciples are not yet sufficiently experienced or hardy for the task. It is the stewards, tested and strengthened by decades of adult Christian living, who are strong enough in faith to take up the task of carefully and patiently binding up the church's wounds. Such a role demands extraordinary maturity and a deep awareness of one's own woundedness. Yet this is the stuff of Christian stewardship.

Just as children of God and disciples experience certain temptations, stewards are typically tempted in specific directions. The central danger of this stage of Christian service is possessiveness. Involved in responsible choices and authoritative decisions in the community, stewards may forget they are servants. The community or parish or diocese comes to be seen as "theirs." An arrogant or defensive "I'm in charge here" replaces the more open and listening posture of the steward. Thus the need for the special discipline of this stage of leadership: to recall, again and again, that our authority is a guest responsibility, a gift to be exercised for a short time in the service of the Lord.

A second threat to the exercise of stewardship is seen in the Christian leader who is unable to let go. Accustomed to leadership and its perquisites, a steward may find it difficult to give these up, to step aside, to hand over leadership to the next generation. Clinging to the status or protection of their authority, such stewards contend that the next generation is not yet ready for leadership. And, of course, from the sagacious position of those of us currently in charge, the next generation is, almost by definition, never ready. They do not have -- our experience or our savvy or our plain good sense. They have not lived our lives. Worst, they are not us. But they are the future. And it is in overcoming this temptation of stewardship, in learning to share with the next generation the control of the world that will be theirs more than ours, that our stewardship makes its richest contribution.


Perhaps the most important feature of this understanding of Christian maturing is the continuing interplay and the survival of all three aspects of our religious life. As we mature into adult discipleship, we ought not leave all of childhood behind. To fully abandon childhood means to lose our ability to be dependent and imaginative and playful as adults. And we know from experience how often this happens. The earnestness with which we pursue our careers and other commitments commonly leaves us competent but unplayful. In becoming "successful" in our adult responsibilities, we may become wary of the interdependence required for adult commitments. How are we to become (in Erik Erikson's phrase) "independent enough to be dependable"? How can we learn to combine an adult sense of responsibility with a playful imagination? These are the challenges we face as young adults.

As we mature into stewardship -- whether in regard to our communities or careers or the church -- we are reminded that we continue to be disciples. As followers of Jesus Christ, we remain apprentices for a lifetime. We must always remain learners as well. We sense the illusion in those people who consider themselves so learned that they need not listen any longer, so authoritative that they need not learn from anyone else. We recognize here the distortion of a stewardship that severs itself from a continuing discipleship.

Each of us is called to become a disciple while remaining a child of God. We are also each invited to mature into the style of religious stewardship that fits our life even as we continue to live in discipleship. But we do not experience these challenges of religious maturity in a social vacuum. We live in a church that has structured barriers into this developmental process. We have already noted the influence of paternalism, with its expectations that some of us are parents and others remain children. The church's understanding of its sacramental ministry has, at times, led to a frustration of religious development. The assignment of the newly ordained priest in his late twenties to a position of major pastoral responsibility has often resulted in a premature demand for stewardship from a person still more appropriately a disciple. Conversely, the experienced hospital chaplain, a mid-life woman religious, has been prohibited from administering the sacrament of reconciliation to those in her pastoral care. This sacrament, an integral part of stewardship in this ministry, is reserved for a formally designated sacramental steward. Such barriers not only weaken the ministry which the church can offer but also retard the maturing of its ministers as well.

Religious maturing involves us in the interplay of child, disciple, and steward. The image that captures this movement best is not that of successive stages but of an expanding spiral. The goal of growth into discipleship is not to leave behind the strengths of the child but to enlarge these. The movement into stewardship is not meant to be a repudiation of the strengths of the disciple but an expansion of these.

One of the intriguing aspects of this interplay is the connection between stewardship and the return of the strengths of the child. Many of us have sensed, in the movements of our own maturing in ministry, the loss of the child along the way. The earnestness of our twenties and thirties left us little time or tolerance for play. Imagination was gradually abandoned in the seriousness of young adulthood. Many in ministry report that it was with the advent of stewardship in their lives -- the movement into a more responsible job or the development of a more confident sense of personal authority -- that the child surprisingly returned. An important connection between stewardship and the strengths of the child is a comfort with error. Several decades of adult living give us experience with failure. We come to learn that mistakes and errors are unavoidable and do not, in fact, destroy us. This insight not only prepares us to be more tolerant of others, but allows the child to return in our own lives. Stewards, like children, can take more risks because they are able to laugh at their mistakes. This freedom seems to release resources of both courage and creativity. The "seriousness" of the disciple is lifted and we become both more authoritative stewards and more imaginative and childlike.

The second characteristic of childhood -- dependence -- is also involved in the advent of stewardship. In our young adult years, many of us struggle toward a satisfying independence. We are still busy letting go of a dependency on parents that no longer fits; we may be wary of new dependencies, of either an affective or cooperative nature. As we mature in our sense of adult identity (and independence) we become more dependable in both senses of the word: we become reliable, strong enough for others to be able to depend on us; and we become better at depending on others, for we have learned that such dependencies need not enslave or belittle us. After the earnest seriousness of our twenties and thirties, the emergence of stewardship may include the surprising recovery of these gifts of the child within us. Now more capable of being both imaginative and faithful followers, we are better able to contribute to shaping the community of faith for the future.