Stealing Stewardship


To all the people who feel like they are married to duds… To all the people who have children that deeply resent you… To all those who have spouses that control everything… To the children who resent their parents… To bosses who won’t let go… To employees who feel like they have no value…

“I had to step in and help.  It was the right thing to do.”

Was it?

There is a devastating result when you steal someone’s stewardship.

She walked into my office, a highly respected and successful nurse who attended our church.  Let’s call her “Jill.”  Jill sat down across from my desk, visibly frustrated, leaned forward and said, “Pastor Mike, I need your help…”  Her voice trailed off though her face became tense.  It was clear she was more than stuck, she was mad.  She took a deep breath, calmed herself and leaned back in the chair.  “I don’t know what to do with him anymore.  I just feel like he is dead weight.  He doesn’t help with the kids, he doesn’t help with the chores, and every night all he does is grab a beer and watch sports.  I am done!  I can’t do this anymore!”  I knew her husband.  He considered me a friend.  It wasn’t a deep relationship, but our ritual Sunday morning sports talks in the church foyer were common.  He was laid back, easy going, and highly social.  She was the opposite.  Even her job required her to be highly active and decisive.  On a daily basis she made decisions for people who couldn’t make decisions for themselves.  This bled into many different parts of her life.  In her volunteer roles at the church she was a decision making machine.  People both loved her and were annoyed with her at the same time.  In a weird way, she had married a patient, not a husband.  At first she liked it.  It fit her.  She could make all the decisions.  Where they lived, the cars they drove, what they would eat for dinner. Her laid back husband would push back once in a while but was quickly trounced with a laundry list of why her decision was right.  Every little attempt he made to decide something or take action was dismissed and over time his desire to participate slowly eroded.  The problem was a monster was growing in the dark hidden by good intentions.

Here is how their relationship played out.

She was brilliant, highly educated and a natural leader.  She was correct about most things.

He wasn’t a natural leader.  He was slow to take action and make decisions.  Every time she solidified her superiority he grew smaller and smaller until he functionally quit.  When she expressed her desire for help, what she really wanted was a non-decision making “yes ma’am” employee with no opinion of his own.  Absolutely he contributed to this problem, but the blame is not his alone.

She was stealing his stewardship, and every time he grew smaller and smaller.

I get it.  Sometimes you must steal stewardship!  When a toddler reaches for a hot boiling pot on the stove, a parent must steal his stewardship by stopping him.  In her role as a nurse when a patient clearly needs immediate help, to save their life she would steal their stewardship by making decisions they couldn’t make.  However, every time you take someone’s stewardship there is residue.  You take away their feeling of control.

So, to all the brilliant take charge leaders out there, choose carefully when you do this.  Your “right” action may be developing crippled people.  One of two things will happen – either it will make them feel small and they will slowly appear to turn off or quit engaging, or they will grow bitter and rebel, working to prove that they can do life in a different way.

They will eventually either shut down or hate you and push away…or both.

By stealing stewardship, you are creating a dragon or a sloth.  You must allow people to make decisions, even imperfect ones. Why?  Because the ability to participate in one’s life trajectory builds ownership and ownership includes the heart.  This is ultimately what we need to develop, a right heart.  A healthy heart is fertile ground for courage, steadfastness, high effort, and purpose.  You rob a person of these things if you always steal their stewardship.

So be very careful when you make the decision to steal someone’s stewardship.  Mark my words, even our country’s leaders are stealing stewardship at a rapid rate, from firearms to the size of a soft drink.  I get it, the goal is to make us safer, but one of two things is going to happen at an increasing rate.  People will either stop trying and their dependence on the government will increase to an unhealthy level, or they will rebel even harder and become very bitter as their stewardship of life’s decisions are stolen.  Take note that even God put a tree in the garden, giving a choice, and over and over again in scripture he empowers people to make their own decisions and then live with the consequences because life isn’t primarily about efficiency or safety.  It’s about growing a right heart.

So before you steal someone’s ability to steward a decision in life make sure it’s absolutely necessary and ask the question, “Is my ‘better’ decision more important than growing their sense of ownership in life?”  The truth is, it’s probably not.

To all leaders.  Someone who has ownership on your staff is better than a “yes” man.  This requires them to have real stewardship of projects and decisions.

To all the parents.  Your children must develop responsibility and ownership.  This comes with stewardship.  You must allow space for them to make decisions and experience the consequences.

To all the couples out there.  If you want a participant in your relationship you must make space for it.  Let your spouse have real stewardship.  Give them decision making power of some things and let it play out.

Absolutely all of the aforementioned situations will produce results that aren’t ideal from your perspective, but something else is growing – their ability to take life on and own it.

Here is the teaching on this.

*Details have been adjusted to protect the couple whose marriage didn’t survive.

**This was developed after reading the works of Dr. Viktor Frankl and Dr. Peter Gray, two psychiatrists.

***The image is of Tina Fey from her book BossyPants.  It had nothing to do with the content of the post. 🙂

Help a brother out? I take on pop psychology in this new collection of writings.  We (Leslie and I) would love your support!

Abandon the American Peace machine

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