Father Stephen Jones sums up Catholic stewardship in two words.
That invitation from Jesus echoes throughout salvation history, calling all who encounter Him not just to believe in Him, not just to worship Him but also to imitate Him.
“Sharing in His sacrifice, sharing in His radical self-giving, realizing that our gifts are not our own, that they belong to God, and giving back to God in gratitude from what He has given us — these are all benchmarks for the Christian life,” said Fr. Jones, diocesan director of stewardship.
His job is to build up and promote a proper understanding of Catholic stewardship, which has the power to transform and magnify all aspects of Christian life.
It is an ongoing response to the invitation to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
“Stewardship is first and foremost about a relationship,” Fr. Jones insisted.
It is anchored in the understanding that God is the source of all good things, which are given and made holy through His Son.
In fullness of gratitude, the Christian steward works to maximize those gifts in order to make a suitable offering to the Lord in the form of time, talent and treasure.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight appointed Fr. Jones to the newly established role of stewardship director on July 1.
Since then, Fr. Jones has been busy visiting parishes on weekends, preaching and teaching about stewardship and its inseparability from the call to discipleship.
During the week, he spends time in the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City, working with Bishop McKnight and his advisors on ways to promote stewardship as a way of life.
“I serve as a resource to pastors and lay leaders of parishes as they work to create a culture where stewardship can thrive,” Fr. Jones stated.
Although revolutionary and forward-thinking, Catholic stewardship is simply a restoration of things to their right order.
“It comes right out of the Upper Room,” said Fr. Jones, referring to the place where Jesus and the apostles had the Last Supper, and where the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The concept finds eloquent expression in 1 Peter 4:10 — “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
“It has its roots at the foot of the cross and in the call to the apostles at the Ascension to ‘go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,’” the priest stated.
“Use it to serve”
Fr. Jones is always quick to address the misconception that stewardship is the same as fundraising.
“Stewardship is NOT primarily about money,” he insisted. “It’s about something much deeper and much, much, MUCH more important than just money.
“Authentic stewardship is about our response to the love that God has shown us — the gifts He has freely bestowed on us,” he said. “It is about our faith, our trust and our response to an encounter with the living God, which unites us to Him.”
It is what motivates followers of Christ to invest themselves fully in becoming disciples — followers of Christ — and in making disciples.
“It is the difference between being faithful Catholics and faith-filled Catholics,” Fr. Jones stated.
And when Catholic stewards give, they do so freely, generously, sacrificially, as a manifestation of their overwhelming gratitude.
“A Catholic steward does not give to a need but gives simply out of the need to give,” he said.
Giving thanks to the Lord
Bishop McKnight was a member of St. Francis Assisi parish in Wichita, where Monsignor Thomas McGread (1928-2013), founder of the Catholic Stewardship movement in the United States, was pastor.
Msgr. McGread spent 31 years helping his parishioners grow in the understanding that God is the source of all time, talent and treasure, and that these precious gifts are to be managed thoughtfully in order for a sacrificial gift to be made to God for the good of others.
The parish thrived on that message as the priest continued to articulate it with increasing clarity.
Fr. McGread frequently spoke of four pillars of stewardship: hospitality, prayer, service and formation.
“The order of those is important,” Fr. Jones pointed out. “We are called first to welcome people into the life of the Gospel and to form relationships with people through hospitality.
“Once you have forged that relationship, once you are in a place where you can invite someone to discipleship, then the rest falls into place,” he said.
As the people of Msgr. McGread’s parish came to understand that God’s work is also theirs and that their blessings are also His, the parish and its families became more unified, the overall mission broadened beyond the parish boundaries, and begging for money and volunteers became a thing of the past.
Bishop McKnight believes stewardship as a way of life is essential for the continued growth and success of the Church in this diocese.
He is so convinced of its transformative power, he made it one of the three reference points for creating pastoral plans for parishes and for the diocese as a whole.
“Stewardship and discipleship are inseparable,” Fr. Jones pointed out. “They are like the strands of fiber in a piece of cloth. As much as stewardship is not about money, it is all about discipleship.”
Bishop McKnight said he wanted a priest to serve as stewardship director because so much of it involves preaching and teaching, articulating theology and working with pastors and priests.
Fr. Jones is starting out by acquainting and reacquainting parishes and individual priests and laypeople with the fundamentals of stewardship.
“I think people are ready to hear this message and embrace it with the support of their pastors,” he said.
He is grateful for the work that has already taken place. He pointed to parishes that convened stewardship commissions under the leadership of Jane Rutter, who served as diocesan stewardship and development director from 2000-15.
Right now, he’s focusing on tilling the earth and planting seeds.
“Someone else might come after me to water and prune,” he stated. “But I believe the work will be fruitful and that the harvest will be abundant.”
“Lighting a fire
Fr. Jones predicted that if a stewardship culture takes hold and gets built up and put into practice in every parish, “it will improve our cultural and theological health and wellbeing, our vocations health and, yes, even our fiscal health.”
The people will create parishes that are welcoming, that equip their parishioners to actively live out their discipleship in their daily lives.
Families will imbue an unconditional ethic of sacrificial self-giving in their children, freeing them to answer God’s calling to Priesthood, consecrated religious life or Christian marriage and family life.
“Lighting a fire of faith in our people can only strengthen our local Church,” he said. “And we will certainly recognize it by its fruits.”
Fr. Jones is eager to help his fellow priests promote stewardship in their parishes.
“Every priest I’ve talked to who has embraced the stewardship way has had his Priesthood enriched and strengthened by it,” he said.
“So I want to really be a resource and cheerleader for them and do whatever I can to help them get from here to there,” he stated.
The lay leaders in every parish will also have a crucial role to play.
“The pastor has to support it, to preach it and teach it,” Fr. Jones noted. “But the lay leaders of the parishes will make it happen, make it successful and keep it going.”
Learning is power
Fr. Jones grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, in a devoutly Episcopalian family and became aware of his calling to ordained ministry at age 8.
He taught high school biblical theology and coached junior-high football while earning a master’s degree in divinity at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. He also served as a part-time youth director at an Episcopalian parish.
He believes his upbringing and education helped him develop a knack for energetic preaching and relationship-based pastoral care.
Ordained an Episcopalian priest in 2001, he served as a curate, chaplain and teacher, then as a pastor in the Fort Worth area.
Drawn at first by Roman Catholic teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Fr. Jones became Catholic with his wife Kerri and three children in the summer of 2010.
Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City, now retired, hired him to serve as diocesan youth ministry director and agreed to allow him to start the process of determining whether Fr. Jones would be ordained under a special Pastoral Provision approved by the late Pope St. John Paul II in 1980.
Because of that provision, married clergy from other Christian faith traditions, under certain circumstances, may be ordained Catholic priests while remaining married.
With permission from Pope Benedict XVI, Fr. Jones was ordained a Catholic priest in the summer of 2012.
Since then, he has ministered as a chaplain at Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City and in parish and sacramental ministry at St. Michael parish in Russellville, St. Thomas the Apostle parish in St. Thomas and St. Martin parish in St. Martins.
In 2013, Bishop Emeritus Gaydos appointed him president of Helias Catholic High School.
He served in that role for seven years and is now the school’s chaplain in addition to his diocesan responsibilities.
Called to be saints
Fr. Jones frequently reminds the students at Helias Catholic that they belong to God and are called become saints, to spend all eternity in friendship and fellowship with Him.
By helping parishes and families become incubators for stewardship, Fr. Jones believes he can help everyone in the diocese recognize and work together toward claiming that destiny.
He asked for prayers for the success of his ministry and for that of the emerging diocesan pastoral plan, which will include a strong stewardship component.
“I realized on Day 1 that I alone cannot implement the stewardship way in this diocese,” he said. “Bishop McKnight alone cannot implement the stewardship way in the diocese.
“It can only be implemented by all of us, priests and faithful alike, working together,” he said. “It’s not going to rise and fall on me. It’s going to rise and fall on whether all of us as the People of God embrace it.
“I pray that I will be able to help them do that,” he stated.