By Michael Kelley
Every group you’re a part of has its own language. If you’re a marathoner, a stay-at-home mom, a video gamer – it doesn’t matter. With each one, there is a separate kind of vernacular you learn to speak as you get deeper and deeper into that particular subculture.
The same is true with leadership. When people who are in positions of supervision and authority get together either virtually or in person, you can expect to hear certain terms. Words like vision, strategy, mission, and a host of others are common. So common, in fact, that they don’t even need explaining any more to the people involved in the conversation. It’s like that with any of these groups – because of your shared interest or responsibility you start to speak the same language.
But there is one word, if you’re a Christian leader, that I believe you should stop using. The word is “my.” It’s an adjective, so it always is accompanied by a noun. And in leadership circles, you hear it all the time:
- My team.
- My people.
- My strategy.
- My vision.
- My church.
Why should we stop using this word? After all, isn’t the leader the one who came up with that vision or that strategy? Isn’t the leader the one who bears the weight of responsibility for that team or those people?
Fair enough, and yet for the Christian, our usage of this word betrays a misunderstanding about the very nature of authority and leadership we have. Namely, using this word implies a level of ownership, rather than stewardship. And for the Christian, the notion of leadership is inseparably linked from stewardship.
As Christians, we believe that God is ultimately responsible for setting up leaders and deposing them, whether that’s in a government, or in a corporation, or in a church. Whatever leadership responsibilities we have been given, we have been given by God who actually owns all those responsibilities. He has entrusted them to us, not to own, but to steward, be they many or few, for the kingdom of God. We should understand that we are responsible for what has been entrusted to us whether that’s in our own family or a company or a Bible study class or whatever. God is the one who ultimately assigns leaders, and we are only stewards of these responsibilities for a given period of time.
So armed with that knowledge of God’s providence, we accept it. We don’t run from responsibility; we don’t feel it is too great a burden to bear. We humbly accept that for such a time as this God has seen fit to entrust us with this particular arena.
Or at least we should.
Problem is, though, that with leadership comes power. And with power comes pride. Oh, it might not be that kind of audacious pride that is offputting to others, but it’s the subtle kind of self-reliance that shows itself in little ways. Ways like the use of that word.
Christian leaders, consider this. Consider that you have been given stewardship, not ownership. Consider that to lead, as Jesus told us, means being down in the dust washing feet not necessarily out in front of the pack. And perhaps one, small way to remind ourselves of our continual reliance on the grace and wisdom of God is to remove this little word from our leadership vocabulary.
May the name of God
be praised forever and ever,
for wisdom and power belong to him.
He changes the times and seasons;
he removes kings and establishes kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those
who have understanding (Dan. 2:20-21).
Michael Kelley is the Director of Groups Ministry at LifeWay and author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life