PROMOTING ORGANIZATIONAL STEWARDSHIP
In religious circles, the term “stewardship” is often associated with how a person demonstrates their obedience to God by returning the tithe He requires (Lev. 27:20)1; and how a person demonstrates their gladness to God by giving their offerings in response to blessings received (Deut. 16:17). Stewardship ministries encourage personal stewardship through the use of inspiring programs and informative pamphlets. These promotions have been a catalyst for the continued growth in tithe and offerings recorded by the Seventh- day Adventist Church from faithful members, with annual amounts recorded worldwide in 2019 totaling approximately US$3.6 billion.2
An area of stewardship that does not get as much attention is that which occurs at the organizational level. Stewardship that occurs at this level relates to how leaders of local churches and church administrative units manage the financial resources provided by those fulfilling their personal stewardship. By way of definition, “organizational stewardship” is the composite of a leader’s attitudes and actions that signal to both God and church members that the position of trust extended is administered with highest regard. It would be unfortunate to ignore the importance of this area of stewardship, as it has the potential to impact positively or negatively on the personal stewardship of a church member. Several unfortunate instances of leadership failures have occurred in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In the aftermath of such failures, financial contributions from church members have declined. In some instances, recovery from the downturn took several years; and in other instances, the recovery is still in progress or may never happen. The evidence from these leadership failures suggests that there is a correlation between confidence in leadership and the level of support by church members. When confidence is high, contributions are high. When confidence is low, contributions are low. By extension, when there is no confidence, there are no contributions. Confidence is indeed the currency of leadership, without which the ability to navigate the opportunities and challenges of organizational stewardship is severely handicapped. Ellen G. White highlighted the importance of confidence, and counseled church leaders to discontinue lax business practices by saying:
"The result is that the cause of God is involved in perplexity and brought into embarrassment, and a heavy burden is cast upon those who were appointed to bear weighty responsibilities. If this loose way of doing business is permitted to continue, it will not only drain the treasury of means, but will cut off the supplies that flow from the people. It will destroy the confidence in those at the head of the work who have the management of funds and will lead many to discontinue their gifts and offerings."3
Attitudes of the Leader
The exemplary attitudes demonstrated by the behaviors of a leader engaged in effective organizational stewardship are informed by a heightened appreciation of being a steward. Inherent in the word “steward” is the reality that while there is no personal ownership of what has been entrusted, there is personal accountability for its use and outcomes. The steward acts as an agent of someone or some entity serving as the principal. Within the context of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Chief Principal would be God Himself, followed by those who, through His leading, place individuals into positions of trust.
There are two theories that describe principal-agent relationships— those being agency theory and stewardship theory. In these theories, the behaviors of an agent stand in contrast to each other (see Table 1). On one hand, the behavior of an agent in agency theory presumes there will be a conflict of goals in the principal-agent relationship requiring monitoring and incentive mechanisms to reconcile that conflict. Further, there is a personal interest approach to leadership. On theother hand, the behavior of an agent in stewardship theory presumes that there will be a perfect alignment of goals in the principal-agent relationship requiring no external motivation and a we-versus-me approach to leadership.4
Stewardship theory best describes the set of behaviors that should be exhibited by church leaders in any principalagent relationship associated with organizational stewardship. As a “steward leader,” there should be a keen sense that position and power have been received through the divine will of God and for the sole purpose of achieving Master aligned goals. In response to that privilege, a steward leader demonstrates attitudes and actions that enliven the principles of transparency and accountability. The want of the church is this type of leader—a steward leader: one who will not be bought or sold; one who in their inmost soul is true and honest; one who does not fear to call sin by its right name; one whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; and one who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.5 The reminder to every leader is that heaven is watching to see how those occupying positions of influence fulfill their stewardship. The demands upon them as stewards aremeasured by the extent of their influence.6
Actions of the Leader
There is an expectation that church leaders at every level will exercise proper stewardship for both the mission and money for the organization where they are called to serve. To this end, every leader must model behavior that is guided by a commitment to ethics, transparency, and accountability.7 By modeling this behavior, it enables building and sustaining confidence, which is the invaluable currency of leadership. The behaviors of a leader can be captured in three interconnected spheres of organizational life: those being organizational culture, organizational controls, and organizational communication.8
Each organization has its unique “organizational culture,” which is a composite of individual attitudes and backgrounds. However, leaders in each organization are the persons who set the tone at the top of that culture as it relates to integrity, ethical values, stewardship, and transparency. If leaders do not set an example in these areas, there will be no moral compass to guide organizational decisions, and the behavior modeled by leaders will invariably be manifested in the actions of those whom they lead.
When the appropriate organizational culture is in place, there is a greater appreciation for designing and implementing effective organizational controls. These controls consist of policies and procedures that collectively are referred to as internal control. The internal control of an organization should not be designed to target individuals, but should focus on the objectives of providing reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting, effectiveness and efficiency of operations, and compliance with laws and regulations.
Church leaders should demonstrate their commitment to transparency and accountability by embracing regular and open organizational communication both inside and outside the organization with relevant parties. A special emphasis should be placed on communicating with constituents without any bias to the level or nature of their contribution. In designing any communication systems, it is critical to recognize the important role of constituents in the continued viability of an organization by providing them with clear and complete communication.
This article is the first of a six-part series emphasizing the essential role of steward leaders, the need to realize effective organizational stewardship at all levels within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The connection between personal stewardship and organizational stewardship cannot be overlooked, and much more needs to be done, promoting both in concert with each other. In the forthcoming articles, organizational culture, organizational controls, and organizational communication, which are essential for building and sustaining confidence, will be further explored.
1 Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research—2019 Annual Statistical Report.
3 Ellen G. White, Colporteur Ministry, p. 96.
4 Van Puyvelde, Stijn, Ralf Caers, Cind Du Bois, and Marc Jegers (2012), “The Governance of Nonprofit Organizations,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 41 (3): pp. 431–451.
5 Ellen G. White, Education, p. 57.
6 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 495.
7 General Conference Working Policy S 04 05
8 Paul H. Douglas (2012), “Confidence Matters,” Transparency and Accountability: A Global Commitment for Seventh-day Adventist Church Leaders, pp. 17-29.