Good Leaders Are Stewards of God’s People

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"Listen, Janet," Richard said in frustration, "this report is not acceptable. You need to redo it and have it on my desk by the end of the day."

After just six months of working in his new management position, Richard was almost ready to quit. It was so much easier when he had just been in sales. He was responsible for his own performance and that was it. Now he had a team of 27 direct reports and what felt like reams of paperwork due each month. Some promotion this had turned out to be!

Richard's frustration is not unusual. Each year, thousands of workers are promoted to management in companies of all kinds with little or no training to make them successful at their new duties. Sure they know how to perform; that's why they were promoted. But how do they get others to perform?

While serving in my first management post many years ago, I learned that good leadership meant simply being a good steward over the people God had entrusted to me. We tend to think of stewardship in terms of finances and property, but it is so much more than that. What is a more precious resource in God's eyes than the people for whom he gave his Son? Shouldn't we be more concerned with how we handle them than our silver and gold?

Jesus as a Model of Management

During Jesus' time on earth, he not only taught his disciples, he also managed and supervised them. His example offers us stewardship lessons that are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. Jesus began with the basics: he knew his team (see John 10:14; John 15:16) and he made sure they knew Him (see Matt. 4:19; Matt.16:24; Luke 9:23). He both instructed and coached his disciples in their ministry work (see Matt. 5; 17:20-21; 28:19-20; Mark 4:34; 13), articulating clear expectations and demonstrating how the job was to be done. Jesus kept them mindful of the "big picture" throughout their time together: the Kingdom vision and strategic plan (see Mark 1:15, 4:11; Luke 8:10; 9:62; 22:16; John 3:3). He encouraged them (see Luke 22:32; John 16) and gave them recognition (see Matt. 16:17-18; 14-37-38; Luke 22:29; Mark 14: 33-34) for a job well done. He protected them (see Matt. 14:30-31; Mark 4:38-39; John 10:29) from those who would harm them and corrected and disciplined them (see Mark 4:40; 8:33; 6:60-67) when they needed it. His work with his disciples is perhaps the greatest demonstration of wise and just management the world has ever seen.

Jesus also led by his irreproachable character and integrity. Whatever our specific position in the marketplace, God is calling us to steward it with holiness and righteousness. We accomplish this by praying and reading our Bible so that we can have benefit of God's counsel (see Judg. 18:5; Ps. 107:11; Isa. 9:6; 25:1; Heb. 6:17) and by refusing to engage in sinful behavior. In Numbers 16, we read about the righteous stand that Moses took and how God not only supported him, but also made the correction of the people a memorable one: they were swallowed up by the earth!

Good Leaders Imitate Christ

It may look like we are giving something up when we discipline staff for performance issues or when we are required to restate the company's earnings because of a loss or mistake. However, our response to challenges like these will reveal our stewardship of both spiritual and natural matters. It will disclose how much God can count on us to be righteous representatives entrusted with his kingdom business. It will also reveal our ability and willingness to perform our jobs for the authorities set over us. The cost of failing to act responsibly can be quite enormous, perhaps resulting in the loss of an opportunity or even the loss of a job.

If someone like Richard can be mindful of Jesus' leadership lessons, he will soon find his job a lot less frustrating. He can ask himself how thoroughly he has instructed Janet about how the report should be prepared and whether he has made it clear exactly what she did wrong. More importantly, he can also make sure he recognizes Janet and others when they perform well, not just when they make mistakes. Lastly, he can work to keep the larger purpose of the department and the company—the "big picture"—before his team at all times so that they can all work together toward a common goal.

As we seek wisdom according to James 1:5, maintain righteousness, and strive for excellence in all that we do, we can become good stewards of the human, material, and financial resources that have been entrusted to us. This is a leadership standard that God has set for us through Jesus Christ—one that we are more than able to replicate with Christ as our guide (see Ps. 48:14; John 16:12-14) and our intercessor (see Rom. 8:34).

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Skim back through the many biblical references in the article and choose one to read closely. How do the truths in this passage apply to your daily work?
  • Think about your specific goals for this week. How can you best steward resources to work toward these goals and honor God?
  • In dealing with performance issues, have you been clear about your expectations? How can you be more clear?
  • In serving your boss, do you have a good understanding of his/her expectations for your performance? How can you understand his/her expectations better?

Dr. Vera R. Jackson is president and CEO of a nonprofit organization in the Washington, D.C., area and author of Taking Jesus to Work (Chosen/Baker Publishing Group, An accomplished executive, she has senior leadership and consulting experience with government, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations.