Part 1: Don’t be a Denethor
Most people have either read or watched (or both) the Lord of the Rings trilogies. J.R.R. Tolkien brings out many brilliant parallels for life and spirituality in his books, but one of the most helpful ones I have encountered is in the example of Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor.
We are introduced to Denethor in the last book, The Return of the King, and immediately we learn that he is not Tolkien’s most endearing character. He has become a brooding, untrusting, despairing person…But none of those things get to the heart of the real problem.
See, remember that Denethor is not the king. Aragorn is the rightful king of Gondor, and after many years is coming to reclaim the throne. After decades of having no true master, Denethor should be overjoyed at this thought! The rightful king is returning! His lord is coming home! He, as steward, should be the first to welcome and honor his king.
But that is not the interaction we see between him and Gandalf. Far from rejoicing that authority will be put back in the hands of the person to whom it belongs, he becomes angry that he will lose control of what he has come to think is rightfully his. When Gandalf firmly declares, “Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the king, Steward!” he quickly replies, “The rule of Gondor is mine, and no other’s!”
Uh-oh. See the problem? Denethor is a little confused with his role as steward. He has placed himself on the king’s throne—quite literally—and left the steward’s chair empty. He has neglected his rightful place because he has coveted someone else’s, and over time has come to believe that it is actually his. And in so doing, he is robbing his own people of their king. No es bueno.
I tell you, this has taught me a great deal about the role of the steward in Jesus’ parables. The best example we have these days of how a kingdom operates is usually plucked out of a random Disney movie, so it makes sense that the idea of a steward’s true role would escape us. In fact, I rarely hear people preach about stewardship unless it equates to tithing. We are to be good stewards of God’s stuff, so make sure you give the 10% that “belongs to God” to the church, etc.
Here’s the thing. It all belongs to the King. Not 10%, 25%, or even most of it. ALL OF IT belongs to Him. We are not the kings or queens of our lives; we are the stewards! That applies to money, time, emotional energy, the environment, our children, and anything else that is “ours” for a time. It all belongs to Him, and He has entrusted it to us…But it never actually belongs to us. And just as a king of old, one day He will return to see what we have done with it.
So what does this have to do with leadership? Well, let’s take a step back.
My last blog was about how to determine who a person of peace might be for you, and the importance of having only those people down in the foxhole with you. As leaders, we get to choose who is on our team, and the people closest to us must, must, must be people of peace for us. Having people around who serve us, affirm us, love us, give us the benefit of the doubt, and want to spend time with us is vital if we want to keep our focus where it should be—on the battle.
So that’s us. If we continue to choose people who are gifted and people of peace, we will be set, right? The Church will continue to grow, disciples will learn to make disciples, and the Kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven. Right? Right?
Not necessarily. Because of course, all of this happening doesn’t only depend on us as leaders, but also on those that we are leading and raising up around us. This Kingdom is about multiplication, not adding people who are in love with our charisma, or teaching style, or organizational prowess. And if that multiplication is dependent on our foxhole buddies finding success equal to or greater than ours, that means we absolutely must take care of them. The next few posts will tackle how to do this well.
I know what you’re thinking—why would I need to be reminded how I should treat those leaders and servants of the Church who come around me? I thought the same thing when a friend suggested I follow up that first blog with one about this. Friends, I’ve been in ministry long enough to see that not everyone is convinced that those we lead are worthy of, well, much. Sometimes we get the idea that because ministry has been difficult for us, or because no one mentored us, or because we had to make our own way, that anyone coming after us should have to graduate from the “school of hard knocks” too. I see the logic in that way of thinking, I just don’t think it’s biblical.
As with everything else, we can fall into the same trap that Denethor did—thinking that the things God has entrusted to us actually belong to us. And as soon as we do that, we begin to treat them with a little less care. Unfortunately, this can happen with those people God has put around us just as easily as it can happen with the extra $1 we found in the couch cushions. Don’t be a Denethor.
We can quote Scripture all day long about how people need to submit to their leaders or commit or deal with difficulty in a scriptural way. And you know what? We’d be right. But there must be an undercurrent of something else……a dedication to honor that goes both ways, in order to really gain people’s loyalty and respect, and to see the Kingdom multiply beyond what we could possibly imagine.
In Luke 12:42-43, “The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of His servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when He returns.’”
We have to treat our foxhole buddies well, and the first step to this is realizing that they are precious to Jesus. They are gifted. They are funny, and hard-working, and loyal, and loving. (If they aren’t, refer back to my first post. ☺) They belong to the King, not to us, and He will one day ask for an account of how we utilized their unique talents and personalities. He will ask how much time we invested, how vulnerable we were with them, how truthfully we spoke into their lives, whether we cared more for their development as people than as managers of our vision.
Let’s honor the trust that God has in us, in giving us good people to lead. Because the King is coming soon.