Discipleship, stewardship and evangelization are three areas of Catholic life that may seem independent, but they are actually connected. They all focus on our relationship with the Holy Trinity and with each other.
Discipleship is being a follower of Jesus. Stewardship is being grateful for all that we have been given by God and generously sharing what we have been given.
In 1992, the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote a pastoral letter called “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” So, if we use the title as a guide, stewardship only makes sense to people if they are disciples of Jesus. If not disciples, stewardship will look like a recruitment drive to boost Mass attendance. Or it will look like begging for more parish volunteers. Or it will look like endless fund-raising requests. If there is no relationship with Jesus, there’s no discipleship and no stewardship.
Father Jarrod Lies, a priest from the Diocese of Wichita, says this about the relationship between discipleship and stewardship: “Discipleship precedes stewardship. Discipleship determines one’s identity in Christ while stewardship describes one’s mission to fellow disciples.”
Now, the third area — evangelization. Evangelization is going out and proclaiming the Good News by our words and actions. Here’s how stewardship and evangelization are connected. Many people who have an ongoing friendship with Jesus are grateful and generous with their gifts. Their love for Jesus is something they want to share because they want others to have the same love, joy and peace that they have. Living a faith-filled life provides many opportunities to share their faith with others.
Father Lies says of the relationship between discipleship, stewardship and evangelization: “The practice of stewardship inevitably leads to evangelization. Stewardship depends immediately on its fidelity to discipleship and commitment to evangelization. They are, so to speak, the front and back end of stewardship. Just as a long train can have engines pulling from the front and pushing from the back, so stewardship will lose momentum if it is not situated between the two engines of discipleship and evangelization.”
As we go forth in our evangelization efforts, it’s important that we determine where people are at in their faith journey. If people have accepted their discipleship out of obligation, and not out of love, we should accompany them and help lead them to an encounter with Jesus; to strengthen their friendship with Him — we have to build their discipleship.
If people have accepted their discipleship out of love, we should help them to “go out” beyond their parish boundaries and become more intentional in their evangelization of others. We should help them become disciple-makers.
Conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit. But, we need to do our part to provide opportunities for others to ask questions and travel on their own path of discipleship.
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County. He can be reached at (314) 792-7215 or [email protected]