When the owner of a large estate decided to go on a long trip, he called his stewards together. He gave them large sums of money with instructions on how he wanted them to manage the money in his absence. The unique Greek verbs that he uses tell us that his instructions were specific: “I want you to put this money to work [ergazoumai] by conducting business [pragmateuomai] while I am gone” (Matt. 25:16, Luke 19:13). He knew something about money and resources that is as basic as Economics 101…money is a non-working asset until it’s put to work.
The Parable of the Talents tells us one of the most important and fundamental roles of a steward…to put resources to work for the purposes of gain or growth. There are many resources in their raw form that can be considered “non-working” assets: money, seed corn, the talents and gifting of people, knowledge, truth, and experience. These resources can sit idle and not grow or produce value. But when they are applied or converted to another form, they start working and hopefully will produce gain or growth. Money can be converted to inventory, people’s skills can be applied to a challenge, and truth can be shared with those that are seeking it.
It is the steward’s job to figure out the best way to put resources to work. Not all applications are equal or produce the same growth or ROI. In the Parable of the Talents the master was explicit in how he wanted the stewards to put his money to work: to conduct business. He condemned the third steward for not putting his money to work by at least investing the money in a bank so that interest could be earned. As modern stewards of the resources of nonprofit organizations or businesses, our mission gives us general guidelines as to how resources are to be invested or put to work. But the details are generally left up to the steward leaders to decide. Do we use a new gift from a donor to hire more staff, buy more program supplies, invest in people’s development, or create a new program? Putting resources to work isn’t an easy decision. There are many options available to us, not all options will produce the same growth in the end, and no option comes without risk.
So, what resources in your organization do you need to “put to work”?
- Do we possess unique knowledge that we need to share or apply in the ministry?
- Are there skills our staff or volunteers have that we have not tapped or encouraged?
- Are we too comfortable with a large reserve bank account or should we put some of those funds to work in ministry?
- Do we own buildings that are not fully utilized?
Kent Wilson (PhD) is an executive coach and nonprofit leadership specialist. After running nonprofit organizations for 30 years, he now serves as an executive coach and program coordinator for CLA’s Leader2Leader peer advisory program. He is also co-founder of the Steward Leader Initiative and recently published “Steward Leadership in the Nonprofit Organization” (IVP, 2016).
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