Nine Disciplines of a Steward Leader (Part II)
Become the Leader God Called You to Be.
Steward leaders succeed because they are attentive first to who they are and what God is doing in them. There are no ‘traits of a successful steward leader’ to emulate but there are consistent disciplines that position us to be used by God most effectively. We previously covered disciplines one and two. Here are the third and fourth.
3. From Producing to Bearing.
Two years ago I was confronted with the realization that I had been reading John 15 from a fundamentally flawed perspective. Take a moment and read the first nine verses, and count the number of times the words ‘abide/remain’ and ‘fruit’ are used. In most versions each are mentioned at least seven times in these nine short verses. Clearly they are the focus of this text.
From my perspective there was an inherent contradiction in these verses. To ‘abide’ or ‘remain’ is a passive activity. It means to be quiet, be present, be open and be still before God. ‘Abiding’ requires time, focus and priority with the sole purpose of, well, just being with God.
That is all fine and important, but I always questioned how this ‘remaining’ could result in producing more fruit for the kingdom? To get things done for God, to be successful and ‘fruitful’ requires work, and lots of it! The downside is that Christian leaders are burning out and stressing out everyday frantically trying to produce more fruit.
But isn’t that the core message of John 15? And if so, if John 15 is so focused on how we can be more fruitful, where does all of this ‘abiding’ come in to play? Is Jesus really saying, ‘to get more done, do less’? To produce more fruit are we to just sit around quietly in God’s presence? How do we meet our increased annual goals for work if we increase our time away from work and spend more time in the presence of God?
Jesus’ words in John 15 seem woefully impractical. So what’s the real story here?
It was in the face of this paradox that I was helped to realize that I had been reading my own production-oriented, doing-driven, success-focused perspective into this text. When that was stripped away, I saw for the first time that Jesus is not calling us to ‘produce’ fruit from the work of our hands, but to ‘bear’ fruit as God works in us and through us. And that only happens in a heart that abides in the presence of God.
That was a seismic shift in my understanding of my calling as a child of God. The obvious question was, ‘what is this fruit we are suppose to bear?’ Immediately Galatians 5:22 came rushing to mind,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galations 5:22)
Is Jesus calling us to be so engrafted as branches to the True Vine that the Spirit of God will flow through us, and the world will see in us the fruit of the Spirit? Could this be our first and highest calling? Does this root out our drive to ‘produce for God’ and replace it with a passion simply and humbly to ‘abide in the vine’ as our life’s greatest calling, our true vocation? How radical is that?
As you sit here reading these words, ask yourself honestly, is your life dominated by the drive to produce the fruit of your hands or an unquenchable desire to bear the fruit of the Spirit?
Look at your calendar, your to-do lists, your goals. Examine your stressors and the sources of your fears and anxieties. What do they say about what is driving you today?
Steward leaders seek first and foremost to abide in the vine; seeing it as their highest priority, believing the promise that bearing the fruit of the Spirit is to the Father’s glory and joy, and living confidently in the knowledge that he will do all we ask in his name if our hearts are intent on remaining in Him.
4. Affirming the Tension.
Is your self-image in balance? As leaders we face persistent temptations and pressures designed to knock us out of balance. Here is an uncomfortable and uncompromising question for you; what drives your self-image? That is, what are the sources that you listen to each day that will ultimately determine the way you see yourself, value yourself and judge yourself? Be brutally honest with yourself and make a list of those driving forces, those influential voices and important opinions. Now ask yourself, how many of these sources are God-pleasing? That is, how many are likely to reflect the true way in which God sees you?
The correlate is perhaps even more important. How many voices, opinions and perceptions are you listening to that are likely to give you false messages and distorted impressions? Put more bluntly, which voices speak God’s truth to you and which are whispering the lies of the enemy?
I am convinced that one primary tactic that is leveled at every Christian leader is the enemy’s work to get us to think more of ourselves or less of ourselves than we ought. He really doesn’t care which it is; left unchecked, both are equally destructive to our souls and our vocations. He is happy for us to be lured away by a sense of spiritual pride, which is the desire to go it alone and the belief that we can. He is equally happy for us to be drug down by self-doubt that eats away silently at the foundations of the walls of confidence we erect for the outside world to see. The fear wrought of unchecked self-doubt can become immobilizing.
Whether we find ourselves ‘going our own way’ or ‘not going at all’, the victory belongs to our enemy. What then are we to do? Follow the discipline of the balanced self-image. We need to be stewards of our self-image, which means praying daily, sometimes hourly that we would see ourselves as God sees us.
Scripture speaks of this balance. It tells us that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and that we are ‘jars of clay’. It testifies that we are both holy children of God and sinners in need of daily repentance and grace. It reminds us that with Christ all things are possible yet apart from him we can do nothing. Scripture paints for us the picture of the balanced view.
Right now, as you read these words, is your self-image in balance? If not, how have you wandered from the path? What voices are you listening to and whose opinions are determining your self-perception?
Choose right now to be a steward of your self-image by naming the powers and influences that drive you, surrendering all that are not God-pleasing, and praying for a Holy Spirit-driven new understanding of who you are in Jesus Christ.
With his leading you can return to that balanced perspective from where we can truly be a steward leader.