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Perspectives in Leadership: Leadership Is Stewardship

I prayed that God would give me wisdom to lead. In return, I was led down a path toward a special kind of slavery.

I was initially intrigued when I discovered God’s habit of calling leaders his slaves. Moses (Joshua 1:1), David (2 Samuel 7:8), Paul (Titus 1:1), and Jesus (Philippians 2:7) are called slaves. Most English translations bypass slave-language by using the word “servant.” But there’s no way around the fact that the face value of the words “ebed” in the Old Testament and “doulos” in the New Testament mean “slave.”

I also grew in the conviction that Scripture’s slave language has never been an affirmation of the evils of our country’s history. The patterns of the trans-Atlantic slave trade are what Moses was referring to when he made kidnapping a capital offense in the Mosaic Law (Exodus 21:16). Race-based kidnapping is not the same thing as the Roman practice of seeking financial security by selling oneself to a benefactor.

In addition, I learned what made slave language, in leadership, worth fighting for. Murray J. Harris, in Slave of Christ, says,

“In twentieth-century Christianity we have replaced the expression of ‘total surrender’ with the word ‘commitment’ and ‘slave’ with ‘servant.’ But there is an important difference. A servant gives service to someone, but a slave belongs to someone. We commit ourselves to do something, but when we surrender ourselves to someone, we give ourselves up.”[1]

Humans owning another is not a part of God’s creative intent. But humans belonging to God is an essential understanding for redeemed leadership.


“Humans belonging to God is an essential understanding for redeemed leadership.”


I concluded that slave language is essential for understanding leadership because the leader’s behavior will be driven by whom they belong to. We are either slaves of God, slaves of self, or slaves of the people we serve.

Jesus dressed like a slave and began to do the slave’s work of washing the feet of guests. In another instance, Jesus predicted His great act of slavery: crucifixion. Peter protested both. Thank God that Jesus wasn’t a slave of Peter. Peter didn’t drive Jesus’ behaviors. Jesus was a slave of God, who served God’s purposes in Peter’s life. Thus, Jesus could kneel to wash Peter’s feet and die to wash away Peter’s sins.

I was brought down an unexpected path when I was shown that leaders in the Bible are not merely called slaves, but they are referred to as a special kind of slave. A steward is a slave who is privileged to be entrusted with caring for the master’s people, managing the master’s property, and overseeing the master’s business practices. Stewards would manage households and work in political leadership. As it turns out, the steward is Scripture’s strongest symbol for leadership.

I began to see stewardship language all over the Bible. God, the King, says that He gave David the throne in Israel. The Ancient of Days gives the Son of Man, Jesus, the kingdom and dominion. Paul pleads with the Corinthians to consider him and Apollos as stewards of God.


“I began to see stewardship language all over the Bible.”


I began to see the pattern everywhere: God makes leaders by entrusting them with influence and resources. I saw it in God’s creative intent as He entrusted Adam and Eve with dominion over the garden. I saw it in God’s redemptive plan as He entrusted humans with leadership over Israel, the church, and nations. I saw it in God’s promise as He will entrust us with dominion as we reign with Christ in the New Creation.

As a leader, I’ve concluded that God has entrusted me with the people whose lives I have influence in, as well as the amount of influence that I have in their lives. As a husband, I am a steward. As a father, I am a steward. As a pastor, I am a steward. As a professor, I am a steward. As a traveling speaker, I am a steward. As a writer, I am a steward. In all things, I am a steward.

What doors has this perspective unlocked?

  • A stewardship perspective unlocks contentment as we recognize that our current situation, and abilities, have been intentionally entrusted to us by God. In response to news that Jesus’ popularity was eclipsing his own, John the Baptist said in John 3:27, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.”
  • A stewardship perspective unlocks confidence as we recognize that God has entrusted us with stewardship over that which He has given us the ability to manage. Instead of hiding and hoarding our gifts, we are encouraged to “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

“Use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”


  • A stewardship perspective unlocks purpose and direction as we recognize that God has an objective for everything, and He has already shared many of those objectives in Scripture.
  • A stewardship perspective unlocks integrity as we recognize that we will have to account to God for our management, or mismanagement, of everything and everyone given to us.

It has often been said that a part of wisdom is knowing ourselves. How do we view ourselves, as leaders? As you seek wisdom to lead, spend time soaking in Paul’s proclamation about our identity as Christian leaders: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1, ESV).


[1] Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 18.

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