Not Ownership but Responsibility (Leadership is Stewardship: Part 2)

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To be faithful stewards, we must understand four important leadership principles.

1. The principle of ownership. A leader has privilege, responsibility, and authority because he has been given these by his master. A steward doesn't own; he holds in trust and uses what he has been given for the one who owns it. Arrogance and pride don't have any place in this equation. The title deed to our lives and the entire universe is in God's name. He holds all the rights of ownership.

No organization—be it a family, company, or church—is created for the leader, nor is it created by the leader. Everything we have comes from God. The Bible is clear. He owns it all:

"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." (Ps. 24:1)

In response to this divine claim, Abraham Kuyper, prime minister of the Netherlands at the turn of the twentieth century, proclaimed: "There is not one square millimeter of this entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, 'This is mine! It belongs to me!' " Everything in this world is God's by right of creation and by right of preservation as well. All that we have added to Creation—the skills and abilities we've used and the things we've developed—are from God. We don't even own the fruit of our own work. He reminded the Jews of this before they entered the Promised Land.

You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deut. 8:17-18).

Every individual is also His by right of creation and by right of redemption.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

Nothing belongs to us, not even our lives. As much as I might like to define myself by the size of my home, the speed of my car, or my title at work, everything I am and everything I have is God's. As leaders, we must be constantly aware that our time, skills, and energy, and every resource, person, and opportunity comes from God. These are not ours to use as we wish, no matter how hard we may have worked and no matter what we have contributed. We are stewards, not owners. I like how C. S. Lewis puts it.

Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything of God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to his father and saying, "Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present." Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child's present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.

2. The principle of responsibility. When I was a college freshman, I borrowed my resident assistant's car to drive a friend and myself on an off-campus errand. To impress my friend, I hit the accelerator when the light turned green and left no small amount of rubber on the pavement. Rather than being impressed, he said to me, "Remind me never to lend you my car."

That was not only a blow to my pride, but a memorable lesson in stewardship. The Bible teaches us that the human race was created to exercise stewardship over our planet. Just like the car I borrowed, this planet doesn't belong to us. We were given authority and are held responsible as God's stewards for what happens here, to the physical world and the creatures and people who dwell here. Whether or not we like it, we are responsible for what God has given. Paul understood this principle. That is why he preached the Good News whether he expected payment for his work or not.

If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust (1 Cor. 9:17, NLT).

Although God gives us "all things richly to enjoy," nothing is ours. Nothing really belongs to us. God owns everything; we're responsible for how we treat it and what we do with it. While we complain about our rights here on earth, the Bible constantly asks, What about your responsibilities? Owners have rights; stewards have responsibilities.

Though we don't own anything, God has graciously entrusted us with the care, development, and enjoyment of everything he owns. As his stewards, we are to manage his holdings well and according to his desires and purposes. And it stands to reason that if everything belongs to God, then every decision a leader makes has spiritual implications. Whether we consider something "spiritual" or not, there are no spiritually neutral decisions. Michael Novak puts it like this:

We didn't give ourselves the personalities, talents, or longings we were born with. When we fulfill these—these gifts from beyond ourselves—it is like fulfilling something we were meant to do. . . . The Creator of all things knows the name of each of us—knows thoroughly, better than we do ourselves, what is in us, for he put it there and intends for us to do something with it—something that meshes with his intentions for many other people. Even if we do not always think of it that way, each of us was given a calling—by fate, by chance, by destiny, by God. Those who are lucky have found it.

Most of us can grasp being a steward of money and tangible property. But when it comes to taking responsibility for the intangible things, such as our abilities—and especially our relationships—things start getting a little fuzzy.

I have a friend who has done a magnificent job of providing for his family. He has been an excellent steward of his own talent and the financial resources God has given him. However, he often treats family members as if they exist for his convenience. A lot of people tell me they've never considered that they are responsible before God as leaders for the way they deal with others. But we are. When it comes to people, God is very clear. They belong to him, not the leader, and they must be led according to his purposes. Every person has been given abilities to serve the purposes of God. Peter reminds us,

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Pet. 4:10, NASB)

It follows then, that we have responsibility for other people in our homes, companies, churches, or communities. We are not only responsible for using our own gifts for God's purposes, but for helping others use their gifts as well. This means our most important responsibility is to empower the people under our authority to discover, develop, and use the abilities God has given them. This includes our family, those who work with or for us in the workplace, and men and women in the church and community we serve.

Thoughts for reflection and discussion:

  1. Do a preaccountability assessment. Look at each area of responsibility. How are you doing?

Editor's Note: This article has been adapted from Bill Peel’s book What God Does When Men Lead. It is part 2 of a 3-part series called "Leadership Is Stewardship."
>> Read Part 1, Leadership Is Stewardship
>> Read Part 3, Living as Faithful Stewards in a Fallen World