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Imagine the following scene. You take your car into a repair shop because it is not running well. After a thorough check your mechanic tells you that your engine is damaged and will need a complete overhaul, which will be expensive and take a great deal of time. You respond by suggesting that perhaps if you clean the windows, put more air in the tires, and hang an air freshener on the rear-view mirror, the problem will go away. Your mechanic insists the problem is much deeper and more substantial, but you respond with confidence that if you just get the car washed and replace the wiper blades, it will run just fine.
The attempt to fix a major engine problem with only superficial changes makes no sense. Neither does simply trying a few “proven” techniques or attempting to emulate a list of leadership traits in order to become better leaders. The shortcoming of so many leadership books is that they start with what effective leaders do and then assume that if everyone does the same things they, too, will be successful.
What they miss is that leaders are effective primarily because of who they are.
Leadership in the kingdom of God is an “inside-out” process. God prepares his people to be leaders in His kingdom by changing their hearts, their attitudes, and their views of themselves first. Only as we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ are we the clay in His hands to be shaped and formed into the leaders He will use to build His kingdom.
I have been advocating that when it comes to studying leadership, we need to start by “docking the ship.” That is, we need to look at the leader not just at the practice of leadership. Throughout Scripture God shaped the hearts of men and women in preparation for their service as leaders. Moses awaited God’s call in Midian, Joseph endured in prison, David spent years on the run from Saul, Elijah hid under a broom bush, Paul spent three years in Arabia and so on. Each had to be prepared internally and spiritually before they could lead powerfully and faithfully.
If we are God’s children then we are on a journey of transformation. Moment by moment we are being guided by the Spirit along the path of Christ-likeness. I see this process in terms of our call to be faithful stewards of every area of our lives. To be a steward means to acknowledge that everything belongs to God, our relationship with God, our self-identity and worth, our relationship with our neighbor and everything in the created world around us. God also owns our time, our occupation, our ministry, our marriage, our business, our reputation, our safety, our security and our future. We own nothing, ever, for even an instant. We may pretend that we are owners, but we can only play at it. We can waste our time and damage our ministry by grasping at control and trying to pretend that we own what we can only steward carefully and faithfully for the One, true rightful Owner.
As God’s people we are called to be faithful stewards in a world of would-be owners. We are called to be free from the bondage of ownership and live lightly with the things of this world. We are on a journey of submission and obedience that results in deep peace and absolute joy.
As stewards on this journey of faithfulness, when we are called to positions of leadership, we will lead and serve in ways that set people free. Not because we use some leadership techniques or try to emulate the traits of other leaders, but because God is at work changing our hearts. Before we are called to lead, we are commanded to live as stewards. As we become more faithful stewards we will lead others on the same journey. As steward-leaders who are being changed from the inside out, we will be usable by God to bring true transformation to His people through us. What a blessing it is to experience in our own hearts the true freedom of being an obedient, faithful steward. What incredible joy it is to be used by God to set His people free that they might experience the same. That is your calling and your privilege as a leader in the kingdom of God.
So let me ask you, are you a steward or do you see yourself as an owner of your ministry, your church, your congregation, your business, your career, your identity? If you sense in your spirit an ownership attitude, then it is time to repent, to let go, to submit everything back to the God who owns it all anyway. It is time to humble yourself before God and take up the mantle of the faithful steward. It is time to be set free, believing that, If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)