A noted British economist recently submitted to the government a review of the equity markets in England. In writing about the current situation of financial institutions in general, John Kay noted that “trust in the financial sector is at an all-time low.” He chose an intriguing title for his piece: “Finance Needs Stewards, Not Toll Collectors.” That is a very biblical recommendation for a secular crisis, but one that church leaders may also need to heed.
The administrative dimension of God’s work for us in the church can never be separated from the gospel that informs it. Stewards are not “ecclesiastical civil servants,” but bearers of the riches of God’s grace.
The biblical “steward” was a household administrator; but this administrative sense of steward cannot be pressed too far because, in scripture, it was always conditioned by and operated within our responsibility to God. The steward’s ultimate loyalty is to “the manifold grace of God” (I Peter 4:10). The administrative dimension of God’s work for us in the church can never be separated from the gospel that informs it. Stewards are not “ecclesiastical civil servants,” to use C.K. Barrett’s phrase, but bearers of the riches of God’s grace. The steward always labors on behalf of the gospel.
Stewardship is about more than occupying roles and fulfilling functions. Stewardship is about accountability to God and to others. To use Paul’s language, is our leadership “building up” or “tearing down”? “Stewardship begins,” according to Peter Block, “with the willingness to be accountable for some larger body than ourselves — an organization, a community . . . It requires a level of trust that we are not used to holding.”
Leaders are willing to do what is required, to accept responsibility for the mission, to pursue an appropriate vision, and to maintain the healthy functioning of the group. Such leaders pursue the mission, not their personal agendas, and admit mistakes and change direction when necessary. Everyone suffers when leaders do not become seriously focused on what is most needed by the context and never see themselves as accountable to others for the results.
This is not an easy time to be a church leader. One reason is a slippage in trust not unlike that in the financial sector and other institutions. Institutions, including the church, tend to forget their reason for being and become ends in themselves. The last thing such a church needs is caretakers for an institution; but we must have stewards of the manifold grace of God, which is the story that called the church into being in the first place.
The church has a story so far superior to its own survival that it is inexplicable why that founding narrative receives so little attention. Fewer people every day assume the church matters to the world and to their lives. In fact, the church does not matter apart from its story of the “manifold grace of God.” There is finally no power apart from the message that gave birth to the church of which we are privileged to be stewards.
- Church Leadership by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.