I believe that the three primary metaphors for spiritual leadership from the Bible are Servant, Shepherd and Steward.
The Servant metaphor points to our relationship with God vertically, the Shepherd metaphor points to our horizontal relationships with people, and the Steward metaphor points to our ability to manage well the resources entrusted to us.
We can define a “steward” as “one who has the authority and responsibility to actively invest and manage the resources of another to their benefit and expectations.”
The main Greek word that we use for “steward” is often translated as “overseer.”
The Apostle Paul is the primary biblical writer that applies the notion of a steward to leadership. But there is a rich cultural context that is extremely helpful in understanding the power of this metaphor.
In the Ancient Near East a steward was almost always a slave.
The master of an estate would choose the most trustworthy slave and place him in charge of the other slaves and the overall management of the property. This could include the finances as well. This cultural reality has several implications.
- A slave who was also a steward was one who ruled and one who was under subjection.
- This meant that the slave was one who ruled and one who was under accountability to the master.
- The steward was expected to grow the resources entrusted to him, not simply manage them. We see this from several different passages in the Bible.
- A slave could not simply be committed to someone but belonged to someone, by definition.
- And a slave was to live wholly surrendered and could not quit.
As spiritual leaders, the connections begin to become obvious. If we see ourselves as steward slaves then we understand that we too are wholly owned by the Lord Jesus Christ. We too are under subjection, accountability, and expected to grow the resources entrusted to us. We too are are to live wholly surrendered lives and not see quitting on the Master as an option. Paul understood this well. Though he certainly knew that he was a child of God and fully accepted by Him, he chose to open four of his letters as “Paul, a slave of Christ.” I believe that Paul was speaking to his role as a steward of that which God had entrusted to him. In the days ahead we will look at some other aspects of the leader as steward. But it is sufficient to say that seeing ourselves as Paul did places us in the right posture to be entrusted with God’s resources.
What are your thoughts?