One the most powerful tools to transform a leader’s soul, organization and constituency is how that leader handles the stuff he or she is entrusted to steward. It is no accident that God’s Word has more verses on our use of possessions than on any other topic – (three times more than on love, seven times more than on prayer, and eight times more than on belief.) The largest portion of Jesus’ parables (17 of 38) is also about possessions.
Stuff is the critical catalyst God uses to transform his disciples.
Stuff matters to God because there is a vital link between stuff and soul maturity. Stuff is the critical catalyst God uses to transform his disciples. But this transformation isn’t easy! It requires sacrifice, surrender and the intentional conditioning of our heart, mind and soul.
In Romans, Paul tells his readers to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:12) A central way to encounter God’s transforming grace more abundantly is to give up control of the stuff you are to steward, and put it at God’s disposal. When a leader is a faithful steward of God’s stuff, his or her soul is transformed as it matures. Other results are that organizational staff is more focused on ministry than money, and ministry partners become generous as Christ is generous.
This critical catalyst for transformation is facilitated by adhering to and implementing these five biblical directives:
- Acknowledge that God owns it all.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it…” (Psalm 24:1)
“Our” things are not really ours at all, they are God’s.
God owns it all. That includes the things that surround you every day — from your house, to your car, to the pennies in your couch cushions. Everything we have is on loan to us. “Our” things are not really ours at all, they are God’s. This seems obvious on the surface, but it is a foundational truth often ignored. We have been redeemed to be faithful stewards, not owners.
If God owns all, then we or our supporters are not donors or philanthropists. Those descriptions imply ownership. Rather our supporters are ministry partners as stewards of what God owns and entrusts to us.
When we realize that God owns it all we shift our focus from accumulating resources to our organizations and see stuff as a tool to participate in God’s work. Further, when we realize that God owns it all, our concern shifts from organizational growth to shepherding a constituency of faithful stewards ultimately accountable to God.
- Act in all you do as a steward of God’s resources.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Pet. 4:10)
A steward or manager is someone who uses his or her master’s things to do the master’s work. Part of God’s transforming process in our lives is teaching us how to let go of our hold on stuff and to trust God to lead us into doing his work. As we lead our organizations from the perspective of the steward, our focus shifts from productivity to discipleship. Assets (endowments etc.) are not viewed as a source of security or a means of production. As leaders shift from producing to bearing eternal fruit, they can use the resources of their organization to help grow the hearts and souls of their people. As a result they will be generous.
God’s worldview is one of abundance, not scarcity.
God’s worldview is one of abundance, not scarcity. This changes how a ministry sets its budget – with what God provides rather than what the ministry hopes will be provided. A steward’s mentality even allows a ministry to say to their constituents “give no more” after a goal has been met. To the steward, the priority isn’t to accumulate resources, but rather to be faithful. Do you live each day from this perspective?
- Live as accountable to God.
“For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ …” (2 Cor. 5:10)
All of us are accountable to God for our behavior in this life, and God is paying attention. Christ’s disciples must lead their organizations not considering tomorrow’s profits, but eternity’s judgement. This means that our aims are transformed from being merely quantitative to qualitative: we want to walk in good works that stand the test of eternity.
A good steward leader will help others see the eternal significance of the actions of constituents, and their measurement of success becomes the eternity-focused assessment of faithfulness to Christ. With this change in how success is measured, all other attitudes and actions shift from a focus on money to a focus on ministry and bearing eternal fruit.
- Give priority to being rich toward God.
Be “rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21)
“The object of life, according to Jesus” John Ortberg says, “is breathtakingly simple: Be rich toward God.” The transformed life is one that is not rich toward ourselves, but is instead a life that is rich toward God. When organizations are concerned with being rich toward God, they measure success by faithfulness to God’s Word, not financial growth. An organization is rich toward God when they grow godly employees, pursue faithful administration, measure eternal fruitfulness and pursue generous gifts, goods and the gospel.
A faithful steward is more concerned with what the ministry is in Christ than what it does. Stewards have their priorities straight when they are rich toward God both with their personal stuff and with the resources of their ministry.
- Be motivated by God’s rewards, not the world’s rewards.
“…he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matt. 16:27)
Nowadays everyone has a rewards program. Credit cards, sandwich shops and airlines use reward programs to encourage customer loyalty and incentivize business. Jesus is quite clear that God also has rewards for those faithful to him. But unlike the slew of business reward programs, God’s rewards are not a marketing scheme to get you to use his product. God wants to give out rewards to his children for work well done—not because he wants to trick us into doing his work but because he’s a loving Father and desires our best.
Our use of stuff on earth is a test with eternal consequences of crowns and responsibilities. Christ asks us, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11).
Leaders, staff and ministry partners should be motivated to give sacrificially in exchange for receiving eternal rewards and should avoid supposed earthly rewards like naming opportunities, giving clubs or give-and-get-something premium offers. As believers, we can make the sacrifices of transformation knowing that we will be rewarded in our eternal life.
When leaders implement these five key biblical directives into their lives, and across their areas of influence, they will see a radical transformation that will result in greater spiritual fruit and healthier souls. Once leaders are themselves transformed through a godly use of stuff, they will be equipping themselves and those they lead to be tools in God’s transformative plan to set others free.
Dr. Wesley K. Willmer, CCNL and Micah Hogan recently published Stuff and Soul: Mastering the Critical Connection (Kingdom Life Publishing, 2020). Wesley Willmer is principal of the Wes Willmer Group LLC. He is a seasoned leader and author of 25 books with four-plus decades of professional experience in nonprofit executive leadership, research, publications, speaking and consulting. Micah Hogan is a recent graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University pursuing his Masters of Divinity from Nashotah House Theological Seminary as an aspirant for holy orders in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).