Entitled or Entrusted?
Are we entrusted with our leadership role, or we are entitled to it? Given the state of leadership in our country and in the church, this is an increasingly poignant question.
Are we entrusted with our leadership role, or we are entitled to it?
While these may not be categories common to the leadership question, if we look at the respective definitions below, we may find some surprising terms.
- “Believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” (Merriam Webster)
- “Feeling that you have the right to do or have what you want without having to work for it or deserve it, just because of who you are.” (Cambridge Dictionary)
- “Assuming or acting as though one has an innate right or claim to wealth, success, recognition, etc.” (Dictionary.com)
- “To deliver something in trust to, to commit to another with confidence.” (Merriam Webster)
- “To give someone a thing or a duty for which they are responsible.” (Cambridge Dictionary)
- “To charge or invest with a trust or responsibility; confide, as for care, use, or performance.” (Dictionary.com)
The contrast in these definitions is striking. They mirror the terms “owner leader” and “steward leader” that we use in our work at the Center for Steward Leader Studies. We teach that owner leaders see their work mostly through the lens of control, self-reliance, and performance, where steward leaders focus on surrender, obedience, and faithfulness.
For those in leadership, the discipline of giving up our claim to any ‘rights’ is a journey of faith and freedom.
For those in leadership, the discipline of giving up our claim to any ‘rights’ is a journey of faith and freedom. Scripture breaks down every claim we may have to any inherent rights and entitlements. Only Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, was truly entitled. However, the kenotic hymn in Philippians 2:5-8 demonstrates his own willingness to set aside his rights and take on our human form in ultimate humility.
Chelsea Patterson Sobolik reminds us, “Humility and the willingness to give up our rights are not prized virtues in our world, but they are stunningly beautiful to Christ.”
Scriptural Perspectives: Rejecting Self-Reliance
Scripture is consistent in its renunciation of the kind of self-reliance and human-centered wisdom that is characteristic of an entitlement mindset and owner leader approach. Here are a few select texts that illustrate the theme.
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Rom. 1:22-23)
Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips. (Ecc. 10:12)
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Cor. 3:5)
The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ (Obad. 1:3)
Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach. (Prov. 18:2-3)
Do you see a person who is wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Prov. 26:12)
Scriptural Perspectives: Embracing Dependence on God
Scripture is equally consistent in its emphasis on our total dependence on God for wisdom and strength. Here are a few examples of this pervasive biblical tenet.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Prov. 16:9)
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13)
When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice. (1 Kings 3:28)
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
Four Comparisons: Owner Leaders versus Steward Leaders
With these Scriptures as our guide, I will conclude by briefly considering four comparisons between the entitled owner leader and the entrusted steward leader.
1. Leadership: Earned or Given?
- Owner leaders: They believe they have earned their leadership role through their own hard work, education, and preparation. They work with a sense of self-reliance, being thrown back upon themselves to employ their skills and expertise to make their organization, ministry, or church successful.
- Steward Leaders: For the steward leader, leadership is a gift – all they can do is accept and steward it. They did not earn it, they don’t deserve it and if they are honest with themselves, they know they are not fully equipped to succeed in it. It is God who places them in roles of leadership to carry out his work on his behalf as his stewards. Their work is a sacred trust, made sacred by the one who entrusted it to them.
2. Identity: In Role or in Christ?
- Owner Leaders: For the owner leader, the lure of entitlement will tempt them to tie their identity to their role and find their self-worth primarily in the measurements of success in that role. If their organization, ministry, or church ‘succeeds’, they are a successful person. If it fails, they take that failure to their very soul. The fear of failure looms over everything they do. This is bondage.
- Steward Leaders: For the steward leader, their identity and self-worth remain anchored in their adoption as a child of God in Jesus Christ. They view their leadership role as a temporary opportunity God has given them to shepherd the organization he has entrusted to them. Through severe challenge and abundant success, they keep Christ as the center and source of their identity. They work without fear, and as a result, they are set free to lead.
3. Reliance: Upon Self or upon God?
- Owner Leaders: For the owner leader, the demands of the job slowly rob them of the time and attention needed to stay centered in Christ. Consequently, their role as leader grows larger when Christ grows smaller. Their reliance on God is replaced by the reliance on self, and when reliance on Christ wanes, owner leaders’ step into the gap believing they have enough skill and experience to navigate their leadership role.
- Steward Leaders: For the steward leader, the single most important work they do is knowing the will of the owner and doing it faithfully. Therefore, intimacy with Christ is the highest calling and singular priority of the steward leader. Steward leaders know that victory begins with surrender, so they guard the time and disciplines needed to keep them centered and focused on Christ as the source of guidance, strength, power, and promise for everything they do. Nothing, nothing robs them of that work.
4. Resources Mindset: Scarcity or Abundance?
- Owner Leaders: For the self-reliant, entitled, owner leader, the need for resources falls directly on their shoulders. And in that frame, there is never enough. Owner leaders operate from a scarcity mindset. Having cut themselves off from reliance on the God of abundance, they are once again thrown back upon themselves to cast vision, raise money, secure board members, etc. Regardless of how much they accomplish, they live with a relentless sense of discontentment, believing that true peace and satisfaction always require more. This, too, is bondage.
- Steward Leaders: For the steward leader, the God who called and provided the leadership opportunity will be faithful to resource it. Steward leaders operate out of an abundance mindset that focuses on planting and watering with excellence and trusting God for the increase (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Steward leaders trust God for the resources needed for their work, and what God provides is always enough. They work with a holy contentment and seek to steward what God has given them faithfully. This is the freedom of the steward leader.
Center for Steward Leader Studies
We believe that the body of Christ can no longer afford to perpetuate an owner leader model or accommodate an entitlement mindset in its leaders. It is time to return to the foundational, Scriptural premise for God-honoring leadership – the posture of the faithful steward called to lead.
That is our calling at the Center for Steward Leader Studies.
That is our calling at the Center for Steward Leader Studies (CSLS). We are pleased to announce the launch of the new Center at this year’s Outcomes Conference. Our mission is “to advance the awareness, understanding, and practice of the steward leader, inspiring and equipping leaders globally to advance the kingdom of God.”
We invite you to join the CSLS team at the Outcomes Conference in our Leadership Intensive, “Set Free to Lead.” We will discuss these ideas and more and we pray that God may use our work to set leaders free to stand against our entitlement culture as steward leaders whose one driving passion is to do God’s work, God’s way, for God’s glory.
Dr. Scott Rodin has a passion for helping God’s people discover the freedom and joy of the faithful steward. He is the Steward Leader Content Expert for the Center for Steward Leader Studies and Senior Consultant and Chief Strategy Officer for The FOCUS Group. Dr. Rodin has authored seventeen books and he blogs weekly on the life of the steward and the work of the steward leader.