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In his college dorm room at Stanford, Jeff Ryan hung a poster given to him by his father: a large mansion with a shiny Rolls Royce parked in the driveway, and the caption, “My tastes are simple. I like the best.”
These days, Jeff chuckles at how differently his life has turned out.
I’ve had to redefine leadership, because I haven’t had the titles that leadership means to a lot of people. Seeing leadership as influence and not necessarily as being in the role of a title where you actually command people, I see myself as more of a steward influencer. I persuade people to consider other options, rather than commanding them to do certain things.
A managing director at a large Swiss private bank in Hong Kong, Jeff works with ultra-high net worth individuals with investment portfolios of at least $50 million.
Growing their money and reaching their financial goals is what they want. I see my role as also trying to impact them in terms of how they invest in things that have different kinds of values, even though we may not share the same spiritual persuasions.
Rather than owning the mansion and the Rolls Royce himself, Jeff has built a career working with those who do, influencing them to steward their resources well even as he seeks to steward his own.
If I’m honest, it’s really hard not to compare. They have a lot more zeroes than me. On my desk I have a whole bunch of verses about contentment so that I can fight back against those things. Hebrews 13:5 – “Keep your life free from the love of money; be content with what you have, because the Lord Jesus Christ has said never will I leave you, nor will I forsake you.” That’s a very reassuring verse to me.
Despite the poster in his dorm room and his current career, Jeff had no intention of working with money. In fact, his first trip to Asia right out of college was as a volunteer English teacher in Taichung, Taiwan.
I didn’t join the big firm; I went to Taiwan to teach English, so I guess that was a first moment of surrender. I ended up with a short-term mission role with the YMCA that was run by Christians, and they asked me to teach a Bible study to my students as a way of teaching them English.
I also met a bunch of missionaries who I thought were social misfits, who left their own culture to go some other place, who didn’t dress well and were running away from things. I found out that they were fully sold out and were going where God had called them, and I felt the same call on my life, that where I was delivered was not in my own hands.
Surrendering his location was Jeff’s first step on a stewardship journey that would transform his relationship to money and to God.
It would have been much easier to just stay in the States and continue to operate in a comfortable environment there. Interestingly enough, I would have been better off financially if I’d stayed in the States. But God drew me to surrender where I live, and by doing that has given me a much richer and more impactful life.
Just as Jeff surrendered location, so too he surrendered his specific professional preferences and goals.
Professionally, I did not want to be in this field. I was scared of money. I saw business owners trying to make the most money or get the biggest paycheck and that frightened me because I thought that money could have a negative impact on me.
Aware of his own weaknesses, Jeff took the risk to surrender his fear and professional ambitions to God’s plan. It’s only now, more than 30 years into his professional career, that he can see his own faithfulness in perspective.
I struggled with the fact that I had degrees from the best schools in the country, but I wasn’t moving up the ranks to management positions. Then I talked to a guy who’s doing that and he said he wanted to be demoted so that he could spend more time on ministry-related activities and didn’t have to pour his whole life into maintaining at the management level.
I suddenly realized that I’ve been given the flexibility that I might not have had, had I been in one of these senior management roles. In my role, it’s a Monday to Friday thing, rather than a seven-days-a-week thing. It’s working with individuals, not traveling all the time.
Surrendering his location and his vocation radically changed the shape of Jeff’s life, but it allowed him to steward his work, his family, and his experience in ways that impacted the lives of those around him.
I came to realize that God had put me in a particular position that I could only see looking backwards. I wasted a lot of time trying to fight my way to the top, but I would not have been able to parent five kids effectively or have the roles I did in church leadership if I’d climbed the ladder.
At the same time, Jeff’s location and vocation have provided him with new and exciting spheres of influence to communicate what he’s learned about stewardship in his own life.
I’ve been teaching on financial stewardship for a couple decades now in Hong Kong where there is a lot of Christian wealth, but people are still very immature in their understanding of their own responsibilities to be stewards.
Jeff’s own experience with stewardship helps him influence and counsel those who experience financial success and desire to make a significant impact in line with their faith. As wealth grows among Chinese Christians as well, he sees new avenues for influence.
As China becomes so much wealthier and people of faith have this wealth also, there are so many opportunities for them to be the next generation of money sources to send missionaries around the world. I get to be involved in coaching them to see opportunities, to be doers themselves. When I look forward and ask, what am I doing for the next 10 years? This sounds really cool.
Speaking to Hong Kong and Chinese Christians about the principles of stewardship, Jeff is fond of an illustration from Exodus 3 where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush.
God asks, “What’s this in your hand?” Moses says, “A staff.” God says, “Throw it down.” Moses throws it down, and it becomes a snake. When he picks it up, it becomes a staff again. So when it was in his hand it was dead, but when he threw it down, it became alive. We make the comparison with stewardship, that if we hold onto our stuff we miss out on God turning it into something living and impactful.
When we surrender our need to control our location, vocation, or the fate of our money, we acknowledge they are not ours to own, but God’s. Throwing them at His feet allows them to take root and come alive in more powerful ways than we could imagine, while freeing us from their weight and the expectations of worldly success.
For me, success is being number one in God’s eyes rather than the world’s eyes. God is not looking for me to add a zero to my bank account or a title. My desire to live in a certain place or be the number one producer in the bank is less important than doing my job with excellence and using the platform I have … so I can be of influence in the areas God wants me to influence.
As a steward influencer, Jeff has surrendered expectations of affluence and accumulation and the slogan that goes with them. In their place is an understanding of the flourishing and abundance that stewardship brings.
An idea that’s important to me is, “Bloom where you’re planted.” I’ve become more comfortable recognizing that this is what God calls us to surrender to. God moved me here, gave me the opportunities to do the things I’ve done, and now I get to help influence another generation to use their time, talents, and treasures for His glory.
Shared with permission from Jeff Ryan.