What if Steward Leaders are the Only Ones Left Standing?
Testing a hypothesis
I want to test a hypothesis with you. It has three parts and it goes like this.
- Our American culture is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian message, to our biblical, kingdom values and to everyone who strives to live as a true follower of Jesus.
- This hostile culture will eat up and ultimately destroy owner-leaders.
- Steward leaders are uniquely prepared to lead effectively and faithfully in this environment.
If this hypothesis is true, we would draw the rather audacious conclusion that as our culture grows more hostile to the Christian message, it is only steward leaders that will be left standing.
Let’s test this hypothesis.
First, I don’t believe I need to say much to substantiate the claim that our national culture is not just becoming more secular, but its headlong pursuit of a human-centered ethic is fueling a campaign that seeks to drive a theocentric worldview from the public square. We are not just being marginalized, we are being mangled in the process. All in the name of open-mindedness, tolerance and non-judgmentalism. As this crusade gains momentum, we must anticipate an even-darker future for the proclamation of the gospel and the work of the kingdom in our nation.
Second, there are five reasons to support the claim that owner leaders will fail miserably in the face of this cultural aggression.
- Owner leaders depend on their ability to control outcomes in order to bring about success. They take their organization or business on their shoulders and bear the weight of responsibility to make the right decisions and lead effectively to reach their goals. The worst thing that can happen to an owner leader is to lose control of those things they must manipulate to produce the outcomes that drive their metrics of success. In this increasingly hostile environment, leaders are realizing how little control they have of outcomes, and consequently, their metrics of success are being obliterated. The loss of this cause-and-effect type of control will ultimately destroy an owner leader.
- Christians who lead as owners may have a heart to seek after and follow God’s guidance, however their ownership mindset always throws them back on themselves. Instead of relying on God’s provision, they resort to trusting in their own skills and experience, knowledge and expertise. As societal pressure increases and scrutiny of Christian leaders magnifies every flaw and wrinkle, this self-dependence will cause an owner leader to implode under the pressure.
- Leaders who own their work will consequently tie their self-image, reputation and self-worth to their job. They will seek affirmation from their vocational success. Their value and worth is tied to their ability to please people, achieve goals and further a positive reputation. In a climate bent on tarnishing the work of Christian organizations and intimidating leaders through attacks on their character and competency, owner leaders are easy targets. When attacked, the foundations of their self-image are quickly eroded and the source of their affirmation evaporates. Few owner leaders can stand when the source of their self-worth is damaged.
- Owner leaders, in order to defend their self-image and reputation, will absorb praise and deflect criticism. When Christian communities come under significant external pressure, they look to their leaders to stand strong and lead them with grace and humility. Owner leaders are not equipped for this work. Instead they will default to those activities that protect their own reputation and leave their people unsupported. They don’t do this maliciously, they simply can’t help it. They have not been equipped to lead through surrender, so they are left to a default of self-protectionism that will cost them the loyalty and trust of their people.
- Finally, owner leaders operate from a scarcity mindset, which means they are always scrambling to secure more resources while carefully protecting what they have. They place their security, and that of the organization, in the quantity of their resources rather than the provision of God. As a result, when outside pressure erodes the stability of those resources, they respond with fear and protectionism. The scarcity mindset of an owner leader will destroy an organization in times of increasing external hostility.
For these reasons, we believe that owner leaders face a dire future as our national culture increases its hostility toward our work. We are already seeing leadership failure on an unprecedented scale as Christian leaders, under the scrutiny and attacks from this secular opposition, are not equipped to respond. Unfortunately, many if not most of the current leadership books, courses and training opportunities are only helping owner leaders become better owner leaders. They are providing tactics and techniques that only bolster a fundamentally flawed approach to leadership.
To our third point, steward leaders are uniquely fitted to stand amidst the challenges of a hostile culture. Here are five corresponding reasons to support our claim.
- Steward leaders know that their success starts with their full surrender. They acknowledge that everything belongs to God and they enter their role as leaders from this perspective of a humble steward. By relinquishing the need and desire to control outcomes, they are set free to serve faithfully and trust God for the increase. In the face of external opposition to their work, steward leaders keep their focus on planting and watering, and look to God as their source of outcome and provision (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). In this way, they stand firm and continue to work with courage and humility despite antagonism that may surround them.
- Steward leaders are driven by a single passion to know the will of the owner and do it obediently. Their highest calling is to maintain an intimate relationship with God in Jesus Christ and discern his will for the future of the organization. They do not trust in their own capabilities, but trust in God to work in them and through them to bring about his will. In times of turmoil and assault, they go back faithfully to this one source of guidance and strength and, therefore, are emboldened to stand and lead with courage and humility.
- Steward leaders tie their self-worth, identity and reputation to Christ alone. They are stewards and not owners of their position and title. In this way, they are set free to take risk and fail while keeping their self-worth firmly intact. They are immune from external accusations and are able to make difficult and challenging decisions without the need to maintain popularity for the sake of their own ego. With their identity firmly in Christ, they are equipped to endure the slings and arrows of a culture bent on destroying them.
- Steward leaders absorb criticism and deflect praise. Because their identity, security and confidence is in Christ alone, and because they have surrendered everything back to him, they are able to invest fully into the lives of people around them. In times of external pressure, they can lead their people with confidence and selflessness. They are not afraid of criticism, nor of the success of the people around him.
- Steward leaders lead from the perspective of abundance. Because they trust God to be their provider they find their security and him and he is always enough. When external pressures threaten resources of time talents and treasures, steward leaders seek God’s guidance, obey unequivocally, and trust God’s abundance to meet their needs. In this way, they stand firm and weather the storms that may rage around.
Steward leaders are best equipped to stand firm, lead with confidence, and be used by God to weather the storm of a hostile culture, remaining true to the values of the kingdom of God in the furtherance of his work.
If this thesis is correct then we face a compelling and highly urgent task to train steward leaders as quickly as God grants resources to do so. Our culture will certainly continue its slide away from Judeo-Christian values and toward a morally vacuous secular humanism. Attacks on the fundamental principles of a biblical worldview are intensifying in scope and ferocity. Emerging leaders face challenges we never imagined possible in America and more seasoned leaders are not equipped to navigate a culture they were never trained to address.
God has given us the framework of steward theology for such a time as this. We must equip steward leaders as rapidly and widely as God gives us resources to do so.
Will you join us?