A Celebration of Gifts
By Kelsey McFaul
Julie Olson stewards talents and resources in Christian education
When Julie Olson first transitioned from development director to full-fledged administrator at Firm Foundation Christian School in Battle Ground, Washington, there were days she didn’t look forward to going to work.
“I used to dread coming into my office and seeing the message light on my [desk phone] because I would know it was a parent who was disgruntled about something.”
Prior to her leadership role at FFCS, Julie worked in politics, was a partner in an architectural firm for 19 years, and ran her own consulting firm. She’d even devoted ten years to advising the school board on management and administrative issues and served as interim administrator before being asked to fill the position full-time. But she still worried about others seeing her as a newcomer.
“I looked at the team here and realized that I inherited it. They didn’t ask for me; the board picked me to lead them. I began to realize that all of this is part of a divine tapestry, a beautiful weaving that in its compete form sends these students out prepared to live their God-given gifting, to serve others with passion, to demonstrate a life of following Christ on a day-to-day basis.”
Julie’s revelations about gifting began to take shape when she took part in the inaugural Becoming a Steward Leader cohort, an all-inclusive 50-day online course for leaders in ministry, nonprofits, business, government, and military created by Dr. Scott Rodin.
“I did not fully understand the impact that BSLE would have on me personally when I started it. Going through the process and especially the exercise of daily evaluating how I feel, what I think, what my existing perceptions are about what God’s word teaches about stewardship, created a fundamental shift in my thinking.”
Most profoundly, BSLE helped Julie see stewardship as a way of celebrating gifting—her own, and the gifts of others.
“Now I see those parents who call to discuss issues as assets. I want to hear what they have to say because even if they’re unhappy there’s still truth in what they’re bringing to my attention. Those are the gems that we need to extract to use to further improve our school.
“We all know intellectually that it’s all God’s, but transferring that knowledge from your head to your heart to have it flow out of you in your interactions with other people is life-changing.”
In her role as head administrator, Julie stewards others every day: staff, students, parents, and involved community members. She believes that God brings people to Firm Foundation for a season, and she’s surrendered control of how long that season will be.
“I don’t know the length of the season. But what I do know is that God is in control, and every person He’s brought here has gifts and talents and things to offer for our broader community. Are we embracing them where they’re at with those gifts and talents? Are we using them?”
While it’s easy to view people in terms of their shortcomings and failures, a stewardship perspective invites us to view others in terms of what talents they possess versus those they lack.
“When we quit looking for our perceptions of what their shortcomings may be and start viewing people from the lens that they are made in the image of God, it’s awe-inspiring. How does God want them involved today? How are they going to minister to others today? When you take that perspective, it fundamentally shifts how you interact with others.”
For Julie, stewarding her relationships in this way frees her from the responsibilities of ownership and the fear of letting people down.
“When I stepped into the administrator position at Firm Foundation, I felt that I was responsible for success. I was responsible for our teachers being happy. I was responsible for ensuring that the budget was balanced. I was responsible for students growing in their faith.
“When we fully embrace that it’s all God’s, we are freed from the fear of failure that we’re somehow letting people down. We’re not. We may on a day-to-day basis disappoint individuals, but in the global scheme of things, these all belong to God.”
Approaching her administrative tasks as a steward leader led Julie to reframe the way she approaches budgets, strategic planning, fundraising, and board relations.
“When I look at the budget, I understand more fully that God is a God of plenty. He provides for us. He’s given us enough for the basics, so is what we’re asking for more than what we need to fulfill our mission here? We must still exercise discernment and wisdom, but we can trust him fully for the outcome.”
With her previous experience in politics, Julie initially approached fundraising with strict metrics and quotas to measure success. The success of fundraising campaigns were directly tied to the success of the school and her own competence as a person.
“That’s not the case at all. Now I can let it go and believe that God is working in the hearts of people. We’re praying for the school, we’re praying for the fundraiser, and God will bring people who have a heart to support us. While we may not meet the goal we initially set and hope for, it will still be enough for that moment and for what we need at that time.”
Julie’s new spirit of freedom and joy impacts not only her leadership approach, but also the experience of those she leads every day.
“As I’ve gone through the process of really fully embracing the concept of being a steward leader, it has given me much more confidence in decision making because I’m less concerned about if people will be upset with me and whether they think I’ve made a mistake.
“There’s a change in the relationships with the teachers and staff here, a spirit of unity as we focus on really embracing and rejoicing in the giftings that God has given and brought here. And I have this desire, it may just be the teacher in me, to share stewardship with others. I want the team here to fully experience this as well.”
Celebrating the giftings of others helps Julie see her own gifting with more clarity. As she stewards the gifts of others, she also has new opportunities to steward herself, and her gifts.
“When I look back over my career, one of the recurring themes is teaching. I love teaching. I’ve known since day one that teaching is my calling. If I could give any piece of advice, it would be to understand that the gifting God gives us is part part of who he created us to be, and to fully embrace that gifting. There’s so much joy when you do.”