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The Best Steward Leader Role Model by Dr. Marybeth Leavell

A Steward Role Model Set an Example to Follow

The amazing thing about leadership is that everybody seems to have a different definition or uses different role models to set the standard. According to one source, there are over 850 recognized definitions for leadership! Of all these options, the leadership theory that resonates the most with me is Steward Leadership. One of the best examples of a Steward Leader is Joseph, recorded in Genesis 39.

What Exactly IS a Steward?

We don’t have this role in society today, but it might be considered like serving as a trustee for an estate. Back in Old Testament times, enslaved people were placed in a hierarchy with increasing responsibility given by the owner. A steward was an enslaved person at the top of the hierarchy. The owner or master entrusted the steward with managing all his other slaves, property, and resources. In Joseph’s case, he initially became the steward of Potiphar’s (the Captain of the Guard’s) house. In Gen. 39:9, we see that nothing was withheld from Joseph except for Potiphar’s wife. Did Joseph own anything that he managed? No. Who was the owner? Potiphar.

Fast forward, after Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him, he was thrown into prison. Joseph eventually rose to become the steward of the prison. After some years had passed, Pharaoh had dreams that troubled him (Gen. 40). Through an extraordinary set of events that only God could orchestrate, Joseph was called from prison to interpret them. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams regarding future famine, Pharaoh made Joseph the steward over all of Egypt – Genesis 41:37-45. At this point, Joseph was 30 years old and had been a slave for 13 years.

Through these passages, we see that Joseph was given increasing responsibility and authority by the “owner” – first, Potiphar, then the prison keeper, and finally, Pharaoh. In the example of Joseph, we also see God actively involved, working behind the scenes every step of the way, accomplishing His purpose to save the Hebrew nation from famine and extinction. Joseph was yielded and obedient to God. In essence, Joseph was a steward for God, the ultimate owner of all.

Who’s the Owner?

Today, in our culture, the role of the steward slave doesn’t exist in the same way that it did in Joseph’s time. However, people are still owners. You may have a piece of paper describing the land’s boundaries, the money paid to purchase it, and your name. Maybe you don’t own land, but a car, furniture, clothing, toys… etc. You are considered the owner of something. But are you the actual owner? Do you take it with you when you die? No. It passes to someone else. Everything will eventually “belong” to someone else while you are alive or die.

Ps. 24:1-2 says that the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. Your land, money, car, and stuff – the things of earth- belong to God. He is the Owner of all. We are just fooling ourselves if we think that we own anything. God merely lets us use His stuff while we are on earth. We are His stewards, and He wants us to use His stuff for His purposes.

Am I a Steward Leader?

People can accomplish all their leadership goals but fail in God’s kingdom. On the other hand, people can be considered failures by the world’s standards but be heroes in God’s eyes. All that is needed is to remember that God is the owner and to ask Him, “How do You want to use this property, this building, this group of people that I lead?? Because He is the owner, He knows what He wants to do with everything He owns. He has the plan that is best for everyone and His Kingdom.

Being a steward leader is simple in concept – God owns everything. He knows how He wants to use it to accomplish His purposes for His glory. He invites me to be His steward to do what He wants. I follow and obey. It is simple but not easy. The problem is that most of us are control freaks. Or am I the only one?? I think I know best. I want to do it my way. I want to be my little God. I want to be in control. To be a steward leader requires that He must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30). That is hard. It means that I must give up being the owner. I must give up control. I must wait on Him. I must obey. I must surrender any ownership that I think I have.

Steward Leaders and Organizations

In the leadership realm, you will find books with titles such as Jesus as CEO, Lead like Jesus, and so on. But is God the owner? Who owns your Christian organization? Within our cultural mindset – Christian organizations have a 501c3, a governing board, and a “CEO” (Director or Pastor). According to the world, to be successful, the organization needs to use business and marketing principles, have a charismatic, well-spoken leader with strong businesspeople on the governing board, and have financial resources. Where is God in all of this? Is He still the owner of the organization I lead? The same principles Joseph used in running the organization of Egypt still hold when running an organization in the US. Use Joseph’s model to challenge yourself to be a steward leader, personally and in your organization!


Dr. Mary Leavell is a Columbia International University adjunct faculty member/methodologist. She is an experienced educational consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry.

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