A different vocabulary marks a different way
I wrote previously that the Bible goes out of its way to distinguish the sort of leaders God has in mind for His people from conventional pagan terms and notions. Scripture typically avoids employing terminology ordinarily associated with secular political and military leaders with regard to leaders of God’s people.
From Oswald Sanders’ classic, Spiritual Leadership I first learned that common Hebrew leadership designations like nagid (man at the top) and ro’osh (head) and Greek terms like arche (literally the one “above”) and hodegos (guide, leader of the way) are rarely used to describe leaders among God’s people. Instead, the most common terms of scriptural- and self-designation employed concerning godly leaders are these: servant (Hebrew: ebed; Greek: doulos, huperetes, oikonomos) and shepherd (Hebrew: ra’ah; Greek: poimein, poimaino). Further analysis of the usage of these terms suggests that a biblical conception of leadership revolves around three primary metaphors. In this post, we will examine the first of those metaphors: steward. Succeeding posts will afford the opportunity to consider two other primary biblical metaphors: servant, and shepherd.
Leadership as stewardship
Biblical usage of terms commonly translated servant seems to fall into two complementary but distinctive classifications. The first usage category typically is rendered as the servant of the LORD. Scripture employs the designation, “the servant of the LORD” as the most common way of referring to God’s covenant leaders from Abraham to Isaiah. It serves as a sort of epitaph for Moses (Deut. 34:5), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), David (1 Kings 8:25; 1 Chron. 17:24), and Elijah (2 Kings 10:10). Even our Lord, Jesus Christ, is characterized as a servant of this order by the Prophets and Gospel narrators. The Apostle Paul embraced this metaphor as well, preferring to call himself “the bondslave of Christ” employing the even more menial terms of huperetos–galley slave–and diakonos–table server.
Used in this way, the word servant might better be understood as agent, manager, emissary, or steward (the term I have chosen to use). The sacred obligation of a steward is to exercise oversight of another’s beloved or belongings, do the other’s bidding, act on the other’s behalf, and accrue to the other’s benefit. To be a leader is, first then, to be a servant of the LORD.
Leadership with reference to God
Stewards’ significance is found not in terms of the domain over which they are sovereign but the Sovereign under whom they serve. Moreover, a steward is not so much a person in authority as a person under authority. Although it entails delegated authority–authority which is meant to be recognized and ratified by God’s people (see, for example, Exodus 5:29-31)–the primary implication of stewardship is accountability. Stewards must account for how fittingly they represent their master’s regime and how faithfully they conduct their master’s business. Stewards do not pursue their personal agenda, assert personal authority, seek personal acclaim, and accumulate personal assets. Their honor derives from their master’s status and their success is defined by their master’s satisfaction.
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
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