Steward Leadership: Who are the owners?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2Recently, we have been talking about Steward Leaders and their relationship to owners and finances. These posts have led some to ask, "Who are the owners? On whose behalf does steward leadership manage resources and produce results?"


Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! In a traditional small business or closely-held corporate environment, this is usually quite clear: the leader works on behalf of the equity shareholders, the owners of the company. In a healthy enterprise, the Steward Leader manages on behalf of the owners as a whole, speaking together.


In a corporation with a board, the board itself is a steward of the larger collection of shareholders. This makes even C-level management an under-steward of this core stewardship entity.


Outside of the business and corporate sectors, getting at the enterprise's owners can get a bit more tricky. We see the following four classes of enterprise, with their owners:


  1. FourOrgTypeswithComplexOwenershipGovernmental entities: In democracies, the franchised general public are the collective owners of the municipality, park district, state, county or other entity. The elected officials are the stewards on behalf of the general public as owners. The trick is, of course, that the people are also usually the primary beneficiaries of the stewards' work, and, at many levels, its customers. Teasing out the differences is often fraught and complex.
  2. Community and cause non-profits: Once again, in democracies, the general public are the collective owners of the non-profit - although in this case, voting rights aren't directly relevant, since the nonprofits aren't elected, nor typically granted police powers. The cause is intended to benefit the general public through its efforts. The active participants steward the nonprofits resources on behalf of the public for the common good.
  3. Membership organizations: the owners are typically the members, with the other structures designed to support the
  4. Churches, religious and ministry organizations: These often define ownership either in their members (or a subset thereof), or in their God. Often, they define it both ways. This leads to some particular complexities for these organizations. (These complexities are outside the scope of this blog, but we'd be glad to help if this is your situation.)


Knowing on whose behalf the steward leaders operate helps with strategic process - particularly measuring and reporting the right things to the right people. When steward leaders know who they really work for, making sure those owners' needs and goals are met can become more straightforward.


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Topics: business ownership, church, church decision making, Ownership, leadership and communication, steward leadership

Organizational Accountability in Churches and Divine Revelation

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Accountability in Churches between the senior staff person(s) and the governing body, or bodies, often becomes more complicated than in other situations. We often see a variety of issues that crop up that appear more commonly in churches than elsewhere. Primary among them is the Appeal to Divine Revelation.

matthew-thomas-2Churches, more than most other organizations, can make use of the “God trump card” in decision-making. This appeal to divine revelation has a tendency to silence other voices as “weak in faith” or “too earthly minded” or “unable to see the divine realities which I am privileged to know.” It tends to create declarative leadership that tends to discount differing perspectives and the mindsets and concerns that drive those differing perspectives.

The Appeal to Divine Revelation sets up the idea or project that is being proposed or defended as something that is a class apart – one that dares others to challenge not only the person but the person’s god. One way to level the playing field in this scenario is to set specific boundaries that assure the organization’s leaders or board that the person basing their actions in revelation still must obtain organizational permission to take action beyond certain limits. These limits essentially say, “If you believe God is telling you to do/say/teach/believe that, then he had better be telling us, too, or else we reserve the right to deny that you are hearing clearly, for issues of a certain organizational significance.”

If the board of directors of the church, at whatever level of the hierarchy that they operate, have no capacity to weigh and test the Appeal to Divine Revelation, then accountability has broken down, since the directors have no recourse to respond to the God trump card. They will be held as perpetually less spiritual than the others, operate with less authority, and either end up ignoring the person who appeals to divine revelation or follow them into whatever has been revealed, whether wise, helpful, consistent, valuable, or not.

The person making the Appeal to Divine Revelation can be anyone who speaks in the decision-making process, whether board member, staff member, constituent, or stakeholder. The tone is almost always one of “you must not question,” or of guilt or shame. The Appeal can be issued by a staff person looking to take on a new project, or by a board member looking to alter a procedure. It can be issued by a parish or congregation member looking to make a point, or by the con artist who demands $20.00 for gas money, stating that a person really isn’t a believer if they don’t cough it up.

In most cases, the best solution is to develop the kinds of process that allows for people to speak from a reflective place: if an appeal is made to Divine Revelation, there is a space where that is tested and examined among people of equal status before allowing the appeal to change the course of the organization beyond certain limits. In many cases, it comes down to respecting those who share the authority to govern and make decisions, and find the common ground upon which to walk forward together.


Tao of action-reflection, primer on process

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Topics: church decision making, Matthew Thomas, Organizational Governance