John Maxwell is commonly quoted as saying that ‘leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less’. This begs the question, what kind of influence are we exerting? As Christians, we look to Jesus and seek to follow his example. He is the one who said, ‘I have not come to be served, but to serve’ (Matthew 20:28) and demonstrated what servant leadership looks like when he grabbed a towel, knelt, and washed the muck off the disciple’s feet. He then said, ‘I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you.’ If we are to exert godly influence as leaders, then we must prioritise becoming Christ-centred servant leaders which should shape our entire approach to life and ministry.
There is a scene in the popular British period drama, Downton Abbey (don’t judge me for having watched it), which provides a great analogy for what it means to be a Christ-centred servant leader. Lord Grantham, a member of the British aristocracy who inherited a large estate handed down to him through the generations, is talking to his eldest child, Lady Mary. According to custom, the inheritance – including land, title, and wealth – would only pass to the eldest male heir in the family (unfortunately our task here is not to discuss the unfairness of British patriarchy in the aristocracy). In explaining the situation to his grown-up daughter, Lord Grantham describes for her the role and function which has shaped his life and provided the lens through which he makes his decisions:
If I’d made my own fortune and bought Downton for myself it should be yours without question, but I did not. My fortune is the work of others who laboured to build a great dynasty. Do I have the right to destroy their work or impoverish that dynasty? I am a custodian, my dear, not an owner. I must strive to be worthy of the task I’ve been set.
I believe that a critical foundation of servant leadership is that those in leadership see themselves primarily as custodians/stewards. We can get ourselves into all kinds of trouble when we forget this principle. If we own something then we feel it is ours to do with what we choose… be that our bodies, time, gifting, or indeed our organisation and those we lead. However, stewards have a completely different approach. Stewards look after things that are entrusted to them. Be that people, a vision, an organisation, assets, finances, or a specific task or function, steward leaders recognise that they have a mandate to take care of these things, to look after them. Jesus beautifully describes the role and function of stewards in the parable of the talents (see Matthew 25:14-30). The servants in the story are held to account for what had been entrusted to them and were required to return the investment to the owner in better shape than when they had received it.
I believe that this principle of leadership is absolutely critical for those entrusted with the gift of evangelism. First and foremost, evangelists are stewards, not owners, of the gospel. As with Lord Grantham, if you are an evangelist, you have received an inheritance you have not earned. It is the inheritance that Jesus Christ secured on the cross and has been passed through the generations for 2,000 years. It is the inheritance of the gospel – a treasure beyond valuation.
Each subsequent generation of evangelists should recognise that they are custodians, not owners, of the gospel. They should strive to be worthy of the task that they have been set to enable them to pass on the treasure of the gospel to subsequent generations – having been faithful stewards of what was entrusted to their care.
The Apostle Paul understood his own calling in this light. This is what he said to the church in Corinth:
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.(2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
Paul demonstrates that the leadership mandate he had been given was that of a servant who had been entrusted with the gospel… and that one day he would have to give an account. The key criteria by which he would be tested would be that of faithfulness!
That is ultimately the responsibility of evangelists. We are to be faithful with what has been entrusted to us. One commentary I read said that the definition of stewardship is that they take ‘scrupulous care’ of something. Evangelists need to take scrupulous care of the gospel. The gospel belongs to God. It is not ours to change, manipulate or peddle for profit. Rather, we have to faithfully communicate the message of good news to others ‘as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms’ (1 Peter 4:7-10). We need to take scrupulous care of our conduct, our character and our calling. The call to be an evangelist is a gift and responsibility that has been entrusted to us for that generation in which God has placed us. If we fail in this task, the gospel is compromised, and its effectiveness is diminished.
We can adapt Lord Grantham’s words as a pledge to remind us that, as leaders and evangelists, we are in a lifelong process of faithfully fulfilling what God has called us to do:
‘If I’d earned my own salvation and secured redemption for myself, I should be able to do with it what I choose, but I did not. My salvation, through the gospel, is the work of Jesus Christ who laboured and built a great dynasty. Do I have the right to destroy his work or impoverish that dynasty? I am a custodian, not an owner. I must strive to be worthy of the task I’ve been set.’
Tim Tucker, CEO Message South Africa