Picture from Todd Morris via Creative Commons

After 7.5 years leading our middle school ministry, I recently took over leadership of our entire student ministries. While I’m excited about the transition and the new challenges, it’s bittersweet for me as I leave a ministry that’s been my home for so long. As I was talking over the transition with our new middle school pastor (a really great guy), I caught myself calling the middle school ministry “my baby”.

I realized then and there that I’d entered dangerous territory. I had become an owner of my ministry instead of a steward.

It’s a real temptation to take ownership over our ministry. After all, we pour our hearts and souls into our ministries, often to the detriment of our relationships (and bank accounts). This can lead us to believe that our ministries rise and fall with us. We become so invested that it’s hard to tell where our ministries end and we begin.

Stewardship, on the other hand, is what God is really calling us to. Stewardship and ownership look very similar, but are really miles apart.

Ownership says “This is mine” while stewardship says, “This is God’s”. All leaders need a healthy understanding that the ministry they serve in belongs to God. It keeps us accountable to not misuse our position for our own gain.

Ownership shuts people out while stewardship invites people in. When we are possessive of our ministries we tend to hog the glory and spotlight. Stewards want other people to experience the joys of ministry, so they aren’t jealous when someone more gifted comes along.

Ownership gives us a false identity while stewardship gives us true humility. If we act like owners we begin to think that all successes are because of our greatness and all of our failures or due to our weakness. A stewardship mindset allows us to free our identity from results (both good and bad) as we faithfully do the work of the ministry.

Ownership sees “Lifetime” while Stewardship sees “Legacy”. An owner is really only concerned what happens on their watch. They act selfishly and spend all available resources to maximize results in their lifetime. Stewards, on the other hand, realize they could be gone at any moment so they work to leave the ministry healthy for the next generation. They are always on the lookout for the next generation of leaders. A mark of a good steward is that their ministry doesn’t fall apart after they leave.

As much as I want to believe that our middle school ministry NEEDS me, I understand that with God at the helm everything is going to be alright in my absence. It’s actually a much sweeter place to be. Because this is God’s ministry I feel lucky that I get to be along for the ride.

What about you? Are you more of an owner or steward of your ministry?