How Many Kingdoms?
By Kelsey McFaul
Bobby Arkills applies stewardship theology to youth ministry and family
With over 25 years working for Youth for Christ, Bobby Arkills is no stranger to the organization’s mission to engage teens and families in meaningful relationship and provide tangible care. He’s also no stranger to how well Youth for Christ’s work fits with principles of steward leadership.
“As Executive Director of Tacoma YFC, stewardship forms the basis of our fund development strategy as ministry. To encourage steward leadership in our giving partners, we don’t say, ‘Thank you for this gift,’ but ‘We thank God for you, because God’s doing something in you because of this gift.’”
Stewardship at Tacoma YFC isn’t just about financial partners but touches every aspect of leadership development, including paid staff, volunteers, and the over 100,000 11-19 year olds the ministry serves in high schools, middle schools, juvenile institutions, and neighborhoods in Pierce County, Washington.
“We’re obviously interested in the bottom line: do the funds come in? How many kids do we work with? But we measure our staff on the activities they do and not just the results. Are we doing everything we can to develop leaders, both with the volunteers we bring up and the kids we serve?”
For Bobby, the distinction between a one kingdom and a two kingdom mindset is key. In a two kingdom mindset, we may have relinquished many of the areas of our lives to God, but there are still some places where we maintain control, sitting on the thrones of our own small fiefdoms.
A one kingdom mindset, by contrast, relinquishes all the territories of our lives to God. He is leader over them all in a single kingdom.
“A lot of volunteers volunteer with us, but there’s a disconnect with how they live their lives when they go home or work their jobs. The best volunteers we see have a one kingdom mindset where it all flows together.
“That’s evident to the kids we work with too. They wouldn’t use the one kingdom, two kingdom language, but they could answer the question, ‘Do you think your leaders are healthy people who treat you the same way they treat their families at home or their coworkers at work?’”
Bobby believes in steward leadership’s contagious effect, which begins with Tacoma YFC’s board of directors and impacts every aspect of the organization’s interactions.
“For our board members approaching their role as steward leaders, how do they see YFC? Do they see it as God’s? The way the board treats each other, their sense of stewardship versus ownership trickles down to me, because their leadership is over me as their one staff, and that affects how I treat our leadership team, the ministry staff, and the volunteers.”
The board stewards Bobby as a whole person and not just an employee, taking into account not just accounting metrics but spiritual health and balance. Likewise, his stewardship of others creates downstream effects.
“Being a steward leader is identifying areas where you best use your time, focusing on that and releasing others to do the same. I look at ways to shepherd my executive team, the three leaders that oversee development, ministry, and finance, and build up this team so that they understand that they are steward leaders over their staff.”
Stewardship principles are integral to Bobby’s organizational leadership, but he discovered new and more intimate applications when he participated in the inaugural Becoming a Steward Leader cohort last year, an all-inclusive 50-day online course led by Dr. Scott Rodin.
“I came in with the mindset that this will be a brush-up on some things that I already know. Organizationally, this will make me a better leader. But to come into it and very quickly have that one kingdom, two kingdom experience not with my ministry or my finances, but with my daughter. I’m now realizing it’s a whole life process.”
At the time, Bobby’s oldest daughter had graduated from high school and was preparing to move away and begin college.
“It was easy for me to say, ‘Oh, I live one kingdom in all areas,’ and then I’m looking at my 18-year-old and realizing I’m holding on so tightly because I think she’s mine when she’s completely the Lord’s. I had to stop and pray, ‘Lord, it will be much better if You take this because it is eating me up, and I need to hand this to You.’”
As he relinquished ownership of his daughter, Bobby began to see the applications of stewardship not only to his ministry and resources, but also to his family and marriage.
“As I worked through the material, my wife and I talked about it. We could be overwhelmed by this fiercely independent child, the kind of child that will change the world one way or another, but ultimately she’s Jesus’ daughter. We have to be able to let go, not abdicating our parenting but also not taking the blame or the credit for it.
“We walked through this together, asking each other, ‘Are we holding on too tight? Is this one kingdom or two kingdom? Is it ours, or is it the Lord’s?’ It was so good we were on the same page and we could remind each other, she’s not ours.”
Developing a sense of stewardship within his marriage and parenting is changing the way Bobby and his wife approach their younger children.
“We’ve gone into it with a different mindset that our twin 16-year-old girls are automatically the Lord’s. There’s a time when you’re parenting and there comes a time when you guide. For us right now, we’re asking, ‘How do we guide these girls so they’re making good decisions?’ Ultimately they’re the Lord’s, and the decisions they make, good or bad, are all credit to what Jesus is doing in their lives.”
Bobby, who’s seen stewardship transform his definition of success within his professional context, now defines it differently in terms of parenting as well.
“It’d be easy for us to measure success by their church attendance or that they’re doing their Bible study. But it’s success for us when they’re thinking critically about their faith. They own it on their own. And they’re starting to think about their relationships with others in light of being a Jesus follower.”
Applying steward theology to his relationships with his daughters draws a new arena of Bobby’s life into the one kingdom mindset.
“What’s amazing is that it’s consistent with everything I’ve learned throughout the stewardship process, but it was an eye-opening moment when I realized that this was an area that I’ve really wrestled with, that I struggle with, and I need to let it go.
“It’s helped me be not only someone who manages and shepherds people and manages resources, but a better father and husband and steward of the family God has created for me to enjoy.”