18 January 2007

More on Stewardship

More on Stewardship

Here are some more thoughts on Stewardship as a model for leadership.

1 Peter 4:10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

The associations here are Grace, Steward, and Serve. Unusual associations. Let’s look first at the word Grace.

When we look at grace in the New Testament, we are looking at the first century world in which Paul lived, and was based on reciprocity. Reciprocity was basic to all forms of social interaction in ancient Mediterranean society. Cicero, for example, tells us that if obligations are incurred between two parties, an adequate response is required, for no duty is more imperative than that of proving one's gratitude. Seneca does not hesitate to point out reciprocal interchange was the chief bond that holds people together in society. Within the Graeco-Roman world the exchange of services were never voluntary, but always reciprocal.

In this context was the benefactor, who was someone who could provide you with access to goods, advancement, resources, assistance, and so forth. There were variations on this theme, but the main characteristics seem to be:

  • There was a difference in status between the benefactor and the beneficiary, the one who received assistance;
  • It was a voluntary relationship;
  • It was based on trust, loyalty, and obligation
  • It was the role of the superior (benefactor) to provide protection for the beneficiary.

The motivation that moved the benefactor to give assistance to the beneficiary was the free and good will of the benefactor. It was solely the choice of the benefactor to help the potential beneficiary or not, but accepting the gift meant accepting an obligation of loyalty and service to the benefactor.

In the New Testament it became know as Grace. God was the Benefactor for his people. Like the Roman-Greek world that Paul moved and lived, God was not compelled or required to respond to those who came to him for a benefit (indeed, we can make the case that God acted unmoved and unasked to bestow benefits on his people).

Grace then is the foundational understanding of how God related to his people. Unasked and unmoved, he bestowed benefits on his people, and expected a reciprocal relationship of loyalty and service in response to his grace. This is the motivation for the New Covenant and the sending of Jesus Christ to become a human being (If you want to understand this a little better, I suggest a few hours of reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics).

The second idea that comes into play is that of the steward. Peter applies the concept to God’s grace and the relationship between Christians. Each Christian receives Grace from God, which manifests itself in various ways. Each of us is called to be stewards of that grace, to act as brokers in a way. This means we are responsible to see that God’s grace is extended to every person, and that they experience that grace in real and meaningful way.

As we receive this grace from our benefactor, we are called upon to show loyalty and service to him, and to use that grace and as well as carry it to others.

The final result is that this will all amount to the glory of the benefactor. He will be honored and recognized for his generosity to his beneficiaries.

Finally, as brokers of his grace, we are to serve each other. The concept of the steward as it is used here is that I have been given a trust and a commission to use God’s grace in my life to minister to others. When we speak, we speak the very words of God; when we serve, we do so with the strength that God supplies.

And I must give accountability for all this someday.

This is why I like the concept of the steward better than leadership. For me, leadership moves the focus from God to me and what I can do for God, and how I can be used by God. Stewardship says that what I have is not my own, it has been given to me, and I have to respond to God’s gift of grace by my loyalty and service to him. When I do that, others benefit from his grace. If I do it as a leader, I have a great program as the result. I think lives count more.


08 January 2007

Stewardship vs Leadership

Stewardship vs Leadership

I have some issues with the idea of leadership as used in a Christian context. It is less about leading than how to manage power. Much of it seems to be concerned with justifying current business practice and theory and how it is used in the church. Most of the people that I know in a business context tend toward a "High D" personality. This is fairly important for succeeding in the world of money and power. But I’m not always comfortable with the way it is translated into practice in the church. That is why I find this passage in Matt. 20 interesting. What is the real issue concerning power? Read on, and I try to explain what I mean.

Matt. 20:24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

A. We find a lot of kingdom language this passage. If you are familiar with George Eldon Ladd, you know what I'm talking about. (If not, check out this link: The Gospel of the Kingdom.)

The kingdom, if course, is all about power. Stated quite simply, it is about the rule of God. It is the ultimate example of power. We think that the kingdom of God is about the place where God rules, and not about that actual rule. It is interesting to note that up until about the 13th century of this Christian era the focus of a king's power was on the people. They gave their allegiance and fealty to the king, no matter where they were in the world. Land was incidental to his rule for the resources that any good king needed to show that he was wealthy, powerful, and whatever else. It was about the time of the 13th century that French kings began to see themselves as rulers of a geographical area, and the people who lived there were their subjects. The rest is history.

Maybe this is why Jesus was a threat to the Romans, and why they bought into the accusations of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was seen as a king claiming the loyalty of the Jewish people in the midst of Rome's area of sovereignty. Rome didn’t like competition.

Having said all this, let us take a look as what Jesus says about power.

24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers.

This is a great scene. It occurs after the story of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for special consideration for her two sons when he comes into his kingdom. The other ten were really put off by what she had done. Why? Maybe because they hadn't thought of this first?

So, what's wrong with this? Any good business person wants to secure their future and keep their options open. And how could a good Jewish boy ignore a mother's plea? (This is not a slam, but a very admirable trait that I've seen countless times with Jewish mothers). The text says that they were really angry with James and John. The word "angry" describes the irritation and vexation that someone feels toward an object or person. In the scene in Phaedo where Socrates is committing suicide by drinking hemlock, he expresses a vexation about what lies after death. He says:

And therefore, so far as that is concerned, I not only do not grieve, but I have great hopes that there is something in store for the dead, and, as has been said of old, something better for the good than for the wicked. Socrates, Phaedo

Socrates is grieved that he knows nothing anything about the afterlife; we can feel the vexation and anxiety surging through his veins; Socrates feels a real sense of powerlessness in his position. The ten disciples felt the same kind of vexation when they thought they were going to lose out on their place in the kingdom.

How does Jesus respond to this attitude in the ten disciples? Basically, he calls a huddle, saying “come here and pay attention.” Jesus is calling them to a sense of accountability.

B. Who has the juice?

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

Jesus then begins a discourse on power and authority. The first issue is how power is wielded in this world. He uses the “…lord it over them”, which means to become lord, subjugate, or to rule. This is a power word. This is what rulers do. But Jesus goes deeper. Implicit in this phrase is the idea of this kind of lordship that personifies a sphere of power opposed to God. Jesus is focusing on the grasping for power that occurs by coercion.

Following this word is another power word: Tyrant. In the New Testament it is when one uses their power against someone or something. It is used mostly of rulers who misuse their power against the people. Here I found that the German word Herrschaft is a pretty good way to define this concept.

Herrschaft is a term that refers to a relationship that exists between two or more people in a relationship, one who is dominant and the one who is subordinate. The power of the dominant person is seen as legitimate, which functions as an institution. Here we have to understand that Institutions are structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation which govern the behavior of two or more individuals. So, an institution refers to a recognized form of social control, not just an organization or group. Herrschaft focuses on the behavior of the subordinate party, with an emphasis on obedience and influence.

The idea that Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples that to “exercise lordship/dominion” was a trade mark of the gentile rulers and authorities. They need to control and influence their subjects to support the throne, and to give themselves wholly to it

I am reminded of Karl Marx, who said that power involves both constraint and enablement (cf. Michel Foucault) Power is the ability to make choices or influence outcomes, either by influence or by coercion.

(I should note here the difference between power and authority. Power refers to the ability to achieve certain ends; authority refers to legitimacy, the justification and right to exercise that power.)

26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;

Jesus addresses the attitude of the twelve disciples and their desire for power and position in the kingdom, and how to attain it. However, he sets their expectations upside down. They could look around them and see all kinds of examples of power, but it was power that was abused, and it started with Augustus and Tiberius, the Roman emperors, and went all the way down to the Herod and his ilk.

Jesus tells them that this was not to be their way. Mainly, because this way just uses people as grist for the mill and then spits them out. Power is institutionalized. It is always the same, the only difference if that different faces wielded it. No, the way of Jesus was different.

Jesus starts out with a big word: If.

If, a little word used in conditional sentences to designate what is expected to occur under certain circumstances: “if, as is to be expected …”

This is not how you will acquire power, and it is not how you will exercise power in your lives. Note the dialectic about power that Jesus sets up in this passage:

  • “The great ones” (ο μεγάλοι) vs. 25, vs. “To be great” (μέγας); what is the measure of greatness? ο μεγάλοι was a title that a ruler took upon himself. This is the opposite of the phrase μέγας γενέσθαι, to be great. If you wanted to be great, it was not conferred by a title. For Jesus, greatness comes about by a change is one's very existence.
  • Serving (διάκονος) vs. 26, vs. Serving (δολος), vs. 27. The first word has the idea of serving, as in waiting on tables, etc. (cf. deacon), while the second word is usually translated as slave. Jesus says that if you really want to serve someone, you have to sell out to them, let them “own you” lock, stock, and barrel.
  • To be served, vs. 27 (διακονηθναι) vs. to serve (διακονσαι) vs. 28. The first word means that we receive the action of the verb, the second is that we initiate the action. Jesus did not come to have people serve him. Instead, he came to do the serving.

Pretty radical. What kind of power do we want?

Do I serve someone as long as it serves my interests, and I can get something out of it, or am I sold out to serving someone else totally, putting aside my own needs, desires, and even my identity.

Do I assume positions of power so that I can get my needs taken care of, or do I assume the role of taking care of others despite the cost to me.

The word Ransom (λύτρον) means that a price or ransom has been paid to redeem a person out of the servitude of which they can't get free. Someone from the outside has to liberate a person in this situation.

This is exactly what Jesus meant. He is the picture of what it means to serve others. By setting aside all his prerogatives, he accomplished what everyone since Adam has tried to do --have power.

There are a couple of phrases that I often come across, CW and CCW. CW refers to conventional wisdom; CCW is counter conventional wisdom. Jesus is definitely CCW.

I think that years later Peter had this story in the back of his mind when he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor:

1 Peter 5 Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2 to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it--not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3 Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.

And thus the title, Stewardship vs Leadership. I don’t think can understand what power and authority in the using current management and leadership theories. The model given to us by Peter of Christ in the scriptures is radically different. Christ is the model, the poster child, if you will, of what is expected of us. Stewardship may still not be the most useful term but it implies that we have been given a trust, and we are responsible for that which has been entrusted to us.

That’s a topic for another post.