The third threat to our corporate witness is self-centredness. This is closely related individualism, but whereas individualism is about maximizing one’s personal rights, self-centredness is about attitude, specifically that “It’s all about me!” No one would ever admit to holding this attitude of course, but when people think:

  • “I am irreplaceable and this place would fall apart without me,” or
  • “The credit for that should have come to me,” or
  • “I need to be in control of this,”

they are making it perfectly clear that, yes, it is all about them.

The main problem with self-centredness, from an organizational perspective, is that self-centred employees feel ownership of some aspect of the ministry. The employee who refuses to share knowledge, refuses to cross-train someone in their job, or who improperly acts like they have a veto, becomes a stumbling block to organizational faithfulness to Christ. How can an organization be faithful to Christ when an employee claims a trump card of ownership over some part of the organization?

Negative Consequences

Fist in a grip
Used with permission. “Grasping”

When an employee thinks it’s all about them, they have a pretty tight grip on their part of the ministry that can cause problems:

  • They suffer anxiety as they live in fear of losing control, which means losing their security. They fight desperately to hold on to what they have and become very controlling and manipulative, both harmful to team dynamics and a poor witness to Christ.
  • They become prideful as they think of the ministry and its accomplishments as theirs. They puff themselves up and take credit all to themselves that should properly go to the team and to God, and, yes, some even to them too.
  • They bear too much of a burden for the ministry and can easily burn themselves out. When they think everything depends on them, they have no one else to turn to because, after all, its their job to have all the answers!
  • They engage in political behaviour, office politics, that encourages gossip and innuendo. They plant seeds of doubt about other staff, in order to protect themselves. They jockey for position, creating a competitive spirit on the team. They suck the joy out of the workplace. I remember one office I worked in that was intimidated by the behaviour of one particularly strong and opinionated individual, and the first day after the person left was the first day I ever heard laughter in that office! Sometimes you don’t realize what a chilling effect one person can have until they are gone!
  • Perhaps worst of all, they stifle everyone else and shut down creativity, because they forcefully champion their own ideas.  Not much group discernment happens on a team of self-centred people! 

The Truth

The truth that overcomes self-centredness is that we belong to Christ, and so do our ministries. They are not ours! That means we are stewards working for an owner.

Jesus Christ is the greatest owner possible and, with his unlimited resources, he takes responsibility for his possessions.

Being a steward, you do not bear final responsibility for the ministry you lead. It is not all up to you! This liberating thought frees you to offer Christ

  • your very best work,
  • your highest commitment,
  • every ounce of your strength,

and then allows you to stop struggling and rest, knowing that even with all that you have to offer, Jesus still has even more to offer back to you to help the ministry out. You have the most stupendous partner in ministry you could ever hope for!

You don’t have to be a superhuman leader when you have a divine partner! Let God do his part.

Back in the 90s I was a deacon at my church. About ten years before, a pastoral moral failure devastated the leadership. I was just a young man in the congregation when that happened, but now that I was on the board with some of the deacons from that time, I saw the deep suspicion of all things pastoral that they still had. Each year, the board elections left the board divided 5-4 one way or the other between those who were suspicious of pastors and those who weren’t. The church was stymied into an impasse at the board level. It was an awful time for me as I anguished over this state of affairs.

One night at a prayer service I felt particularly burdened by the problem,

and then suddenly…

“And then suddenly…” I love that phrase when it relates to God showing up in our lives!!!!

…I spoke out words that I believe Jesus gave me to speak to myself on his behalf:

“This is NOT your church, this is MY church. I will look after MY church.”

What a release that was. Of course! This is Christ’s church, not mine. He is responsible for it and, as his possession, he will take care of it. I shouldn’t usurp Christ’s responsibilities! Let him look after his possession. Trust him to look after his possession. I just had to do my part as a deacon.

That is the beauty of this truth that we belong to Christ. If you and I care for the treasures we display on our mantels, how much more Jesus cares for your ministry, which after all is not your ministry but his!

Benefits of Being a Steward

Open hand
Used with permission. “Releasing”

Being a steward and not an owner has several benefits:

  • As a steward, I can go to the Owner with a problem and get some help. There are resources beyond me that can be brought to bear on the ministry.
  • I can focus on mission accomplishment instead of satisfying my own needs.
  • I can let go of my grip on the ministry because someone else is already holding on to it.
  • I can relax a bit and enjoy my work a whole lot more!

When a whole team thinks like stewards, you have the making of a great work environment because everyone has the primary role of serving.

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 Building a Sense of Stewardship

As a leader, you should do everything you can to promote the idea that all employees are stewards.

  •  Try to eliminate ‘my’ from your vocabulary with respect to the ministry you lead. I have a terrible time with this, but it is not my ministry, my board, or my staff. When I say it, I don’t mean it from an ownership perspective, just that I’m referring to the particular ministry, board, and staff that I’m associated with. However, now that I’m thinking about it I’ll do my best to refer to CCCC, the CCCC board, and the CCCC staff.
  • Even if you founded the ministry you work for, recognize that you are not its owner. And if, like me, you were hired to lead an existing ministry, it was not given to you. In both cases we only have custody of ‘our’ ministries for a period of time to steward on behalf of their real Owner, and then we give them over to someone else who will do the same. So think about creating a succession plan to replace yourself. This shouldn’t be threatening to you. After all, if you are not the senior leader, you can’t be promoted if you don’t have a plan to replace yourself. If you are the senior leader, you don’t normally choose your successor (the board will do that) but you should always have at least have one credible candidate for interim leader. Thinking about replacing yourself helps you lessen your sense of ownership of the ministry. My post, Emergency Succession Planning, may help you think this through.
  • Demonstrate that you, as the senior leader, are under higher authority.
    • Ask the board to give you a formal annual performance review. (It is surprising how many senior leaders do not get a performance review.)
    • Ask them to challenge you and ask probing questions. Put yourself under their scrutiny.
  • If your board is stacked with your hand-picked favourite people, stop doing that. You really need an independent board, so let the board recruit directors. They should consult with the senior leader to ensure they are not recruiting people who would be damaging to the ministry (on the premise that the senior leader knows church members, donors, people in the community, better than the directors do).
  • Finally, get serious about group discernment. How do you know what the Owner wants you to do unless you consult with him. When team members take part in discerning God’s will together, there will be a very strong sense of stewardship.

Please feel free to contribute any ideas you have for building within a ministry team the sense of belonging to Christ.

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An exploration of Christian ministry leadership led by CCCC's CEO John Pellowe