For 40 years, my family and I have fished for salmon out of a tiny resort town in northwestern Washington. For about half of those years, we rented a small kicker boat from one of the local marinas. It was always stable, clean, in good repair, and equipped with a reliable, fueled outboard motor. The best part was at the end of the day we just stepped onto the dock and we were done. Someone else cleaned it, maintained it, insured it, and refueled it. Those were carefree days.
Then we bought our own boat—and our carefree days were over. Now we invested time and resources to keep it running. Over the years, it has proven to be a hole in the water into which we pour money.
This is an apt metaphor for a fundamental struggle we face as Christian leaders: living and leading as faithful stewards versus giving in to the temptation to grasp at control by pretending we are owners. I believe it is the most important and difficult spiritual battle we may ever face.
As stewards, we understand that all of life is on loan, and we respond by living lightly in this world as caretakers of that which is not ours. This results in a life of real freedom to which we respond with joyful obedience. These are the marks of the victorious steward: freedom, obedience, and joy.
At battle with this freedom is an enemy who seeks to steal our joy by luring us into playing the owner. As owners, we claim to have control over our time, talents, and resources that we can employ for our own good and gain. Once we shift our perspective from steward to owner, we become enslaved to the never-ending work of maintaining our control and gaining more of it.
This is the battle of our lives and it is a battle for lordship.
The stakes in this battle increase greatly when we are called to lead.
As leaders, we now fight this battle with and on behalf of others. And for the people we lead and the organizations we serve, everything depends on whether we choose to be owner leaders or steward leaders.
Owner leaders take their organization on their own shoulders and tie their own self-worth to its success, which requires that they protect turf, use people as a means to an end, and exert control over every situation. Their leadership is typified by power and fear, and results in anxiety, stress, and burnout. They are leaders in bondage and they, in turn, enslave the people they lead.
Steward leaders yield their organization to God and seek only to be an obedient, responsive servant of the true owner. As a result, they are set free to lead! In this freedom, they give away power and build up the people around them. They are at peace with success or struggle, because they are at peace with themselves. And God works through them to set their people free.
As Christians called to lead, we are on a journey from our old ownership ways to the victorious life of the steward leader. The journey is marked by an almost continuous battle to let God to be the absolute Lord of our life, and of all aspects of our calling as leaders.
This world is desperately in need of steward leaders who have sold out completely to Jesus Christ, who stake no claims for themselves but who rejoice in the success of everyone around them—leaders who are genuinely free!
You can know that freedom for yourself. It starts with a simple prayer, “Lord, it is not mine, it is yours . . . all of it!”
Pray it every morning before you leave your bed and don’t get up until your spirit knows that sweet sense of freedom that comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit into the heart of a steward leader who is set free to lead.
How are you faring in this battle? What are the greatest challenges you face each day?
Dr. R. Scott Rodin is the President of Kingdom Life Publishing. He also serves as a Partner and Executive VP for Strategic Alliances for Artios Resource Partners and he is a Director and Principal of the consulting group of OneAccord NFP. Excerpt Outcomes Magazine Spring 2011.