In Matthew 25 we read the parable of the talents. A man takes a long journey and chooses to entrust his possessions to his servants while he’s gone. To one he gives five talents, to another, two talents, and to another, one talent. From this parable we learn three important lessons about the stewardship of leadership.
1. Stewardship is a Trust not a Possession
A trust is anything God has placed in your care. A possession, on the other hand, is something that belongs to you. In our world today, much of what we have—money, jobs, time, ability, skills, possessions, and yes, leadership—is viewed as a possession. But God views these things as a trust with great responsibility.
In this parable, the master brings his servants together and gives each of them talents. A talent was a measurement of weight. The value of a talent was determined by whatever was being weighed. In other words, a talent of gold was worth more than a talent of silver. The master chose to leave talents of money with each servant, what most commentators believe was worth several thousand dollars.
But notice something crucial about this exchange. The master didn’t give his servants the money for them to take as a personal possession. Instead, he entrusted the money to them. Why? Because the servants were stewards. And Stewardship is a trust not a possession.
So why did the master give the servants (or the stewards) different amounts of money?” Because each servant had varying levels of capacity. Matthew 25:15 says, “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” The master distributed opportunity not in an effort to be fair, but rather in a manner consistent with his servants’ abilities.
The servant with the capacity for larger responsibility was entrusted with larger opportunity. And the servant with the capacity for smaller responsibility was entrusted with smaller opportunity. The sum of money entrusted to the servants was directly proportionate to the capacity of the servant’s ability.
I believe the same is true in leadership. God will entrust you with leadership opportunity that is directly proportionate to your leadership ability. But that will only happen if you view leadership as a trust not a possession. And that brings us to our second point.
2. Stewardship is Management not Ownership
When the master entrusted his money to the servants, it’s important to remember the role each person played in the parable: The master was the owner. The servants were thestewards. What do stewards do? Stewards manage the wealth of their owner, with their owner’s best interests in mind.
Notice that’s what the first two servants did. Matthew 25:16-18 says, “Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
What was the difference between the first two servants and the third servant? The first two managed their owner’s wealth with his interests in mind. But the third servant took an ownership mentality. Owners manage resources with their own interests in mind.
What’s the application for us today?
God is our master, which means He is the rightful owner of all that we have, including our leadership. We are simply stewards who have been called to manage what God owns with His interests, not our interests, in mind.
So how do you manage the leadership God has entrusted to you? Do you take an ownership mentality, leveraging your leadership for personal gain? Or do you manage leadership with the interests of God at the forefront of your mind?
3. Stewardship is Faithfulness not Recklessness
After a long time, the master returned to settle accounts with his servants. The first two servants managed the talents well, ultimately doubling what was entrusted to them. To each of these servants, the master said, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (verse 21, 23). But things didn’t fare so well for the third servant. He said:
“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.” (Verse 24-25)
The third servant’s stewardship was driven by two things: excuses and fear. This deadly duo is the driving force behind reckless stewardship. As leaders, we must avoid excuses. When fear knocks at our door, we must ignore its knock and take responsibility for the trust of leadership that God has placed in our hands. Why? Because a judgment day is coming.
After hearing the third servant’s excuses, the master called him a wicked, lazy slave. In the end, the talent was taken from him and he was cast into “outer darkness.”
In his book, The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn contrasts the difference between faithful stewardship and reckless stewardship by sharing the story of two young men in Cairo Egypt.
In Cairo is the Egyptian National Museum with the King Tut exhibit. This boy King was 17 years old when he died. Because Egyptians believed they could take their possessions with them into the afterlife, King Tut was buried with all of his treasure. His burial site was literally filled with tons of gold—from gold tombs to gold artifacts. But he didn’t take his gold with him. Over 3,000 years later it was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter.
Contrast King Tut with William Borden. Borden was born the heir to great wealth in 1887, and graduated from Yale University. But his life was devoted to bringing the Gospel to Muslims. At the age of 25, only four months after beginning his ministry in Egypt, Borden contracted spinal meningitis and died. He is buried in a graveyard, overgrown with grass, hidden off the back alley of a street in Cairo. But in his short years, Borden gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions. His tombstone reads these words: “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”
What was the difference in these two young men? Borden chose to steward his leadership and resources faithfully in service to God. King Tut chose to steward his leadership and resources recklessly in service to himself.
When the master returned to settle accounts, he used “faithfulness” as a his measuring stick. The master didn’t look at the one-talent sized servant and judge him because his ability was less than the other servants. He judged him because he was an unfaithful steward with his ability. God is the same way with us today.
God does not judge us based on the SIZE of our ability and leadership. God judges us based on the STEWARDSHIP of our ability and leadership.
1 Corinthians 4:1-2 says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” God’s job is to determine what he can entrust to you. Your job is to be faithful with what He’s given you.
Why is that important? Because, like the servants in the parable of the talents, one day we will stand before our Master to give an account. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
Let me make one final observation. When the master affirmed the first two servants for their faithfulness, he said, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”
Perhaps you want God to entrust you with a larger income, but God is waiting for you to faithfully tithe on your current income. Maybe you want God to put you in charge of greater opportunity at work, but God is waiting for you to faithfully steward your current job. Or maybe you desire a greater leadership role, but God is waiting for you to take the gifts and abilities you have and to faithfully use them right where you are. Here’s the point we need to heed:
If we’ll stop focusing on the big things, and start being faithful with the small things, God will take notice of the small things and then entrust us with the big things.
Leadership is a stewardship. It is not something given to us for our own interests. It is not a privilege we get to spend on a monument to ourselves. Here’s the lesson we must learn:
Stewardship is a trust managed faithfully, not a possession owned recklessly.
Stewardship is a trust, not a possession. Stewardship is management, not ownership. Stewardship is faithfulness, not recklessness. And the same applies to the stewardship of leadership. Leadership is a trust that we must manage faithfully. It’s not a possession that belongs to us. We don’t own it. And we cannot steward it recklessly. God measures faithfulness. We will give an account.
Question: How are you stewarding the leadership God has entrusted to you? Are you stewarding it with your interests, or God’s interests, in mind?