by Morris Ruddick on April 25, 2016


© Morris E. Ruddick

Stewardship is the effective management of the responsibilities and resources with which we have been JWrkshp1797entrusted. Stewardship requires the wisdom to master the responsibility. It involves diligence and excellence in bringing result. The result is to bring increase, to creatively nurture the resource to advance the process.

We’ve been addressing the topic of Jewish business secrets. Effective stewardship is an expectation and commitment required of each member of the community, and the businesses in the community, each according to their own talents and abilities, to do their part. It is also a commitment by the community to nurture its destiny and future by preparing each generation to assume their roles in this pathway.

When stewardship is operating in community according the books of Moses, it results in disproportionate achievement. Jews have a track record as disproportionate achievers. It is written that diligence is an invaluable possession for the one who knows how to apply it. Diligence produces excellence. Diligence involves hard work. The operational word for “work” in the Hebrew language is avodah. The meaning of this word “avodah” bears on the Jewish mind-set toward work. Avodah shares the root word with three Hebrew words: purpose, passion and future. Work provides the purpose and passion setting the stage for the future. It is vital to good stewardship.

Mentorship is also an important part of stewardship and very Jewish in its practice. Moses mentored Joshua to do what he did. Joshua served Moses alone in this capacity. He didn’t have several mentors. His mentor was Moses. Joshua may not have been the only one Moses mentored, but Moses was Joshua’s only mentor. In the process, Joshua learned how Moses related to God, how he thought and the skills he employed to lead the Israelites.

In this process, Joshua accomplished many exploits, which included leading the defeat in the battle with the Amorites, as well as being one of the spies who reconnoitered the promised land. However, it was not until Moses died, that the baton was fully passed to Joshua. Only then did Joshua enter the fullness of his destiny. The process involved all the factors of faithful stewardship.

Roughly two-thirds of the parables of Jesus have a business context. Jesus had a lot to say about stewardship. He placed great importance on faithful stewardship. He told the story of an unfaithful steward who was slack about his responsibilities. However, when he learned that he was about to lose his position, realizing his future was in jeopardy, he immediately began shrewdly recovering from his laxness. The point was that the steward knew what to do and cleverly began putting things in order. He was commended by his master for his creative way of turning things around. A good steward prepares for every eventuality. A good steward knows how to act wisely and decisively when under pressure.

There was another steward that Jesus spoke about who also was also lax in the way he managed his responsibilities because his boss was absent for a time. When his boss returned unexpectedly and discerned the situation, this steward failed to do anything. He was held accountable. The management of one’s responsibilities calls for faithfulness in the commitment.

In still another illustration of the importance of stewardship, Jesus told about three stewards whose work was evaluated by their boss. One steward brought about a lot of increase. He was not only commended by his boss, but given a promotion and entrusted with more responsibility. The story speaks of the favorable response and joy of his boss due to this steward exceeding expectations. However one of the other stewards was timid and afraid to take any risks, so he hid his boss’ assets. He returned everything in-full upon his boss’ return. But the boss wasn’t pleased. Because the steward had failed to bring about any increase, he deemed the steward to be worthless.

The expectation of stewardship is to make a difference, to challenge the status quo and bring change and increase. The expectation is based on each person’s abilities.

The Dynamics of Stewardship
Good stewardship, whether in business or in building the community entails three key factors: giving or generosity, managing, and bringing increase. Each of these dimensions draws from and builds on the other. Each is vital to not only good business practices, but maintaining a fertile environment for opportunity both for current and future generations. It is the God-focused business model of Abraham which draws from community, while spawning community-builders who produce the difference seen by those in the surrounding societies.

Generosity. The spirit of generosity or tz’dakah operating within the community recognizes the responsibility and commitment of the members toward one another. It is a social system that fosters opportunity and cares for the needs of its own. It is written: “Do good to all men, but especially the household of faith.” When tz’dakah prevails in the community, it ensures the maintenance of the community as a safe place that takes care of its own.

Managing. Managing change is a necessary part of any business. It incorporates the diligence of providing a service or product with greater excellence than that offered by competition. Stewardship is the mastery of this process of managing one’s assets creatively so that it brings increase.

Increase. It is written: “I am the Lord who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.” God’s expectation is for us to align our ways with His so that, for our benefit and destiny, we also will perform with His nature. In this process we are, like Abraham, blessed to be a blessing. It is the means by which both families and communities are fed and strengthened for the future.

Once again, this dynamic of stewardship operates both for the benefit of individuals, but also the community and future generations. Let me illustrate with the story of a Christian businessman who lived during the days of WWII. His name was Robert LeTourneau  Mr. LeTourneau owned a successful manufacturing company. One night he had an unusual dream. In his dream he saw a blueprint, a scaled drawing of a new form of machinery. He wondered about the meaning of the dream, but then a few days later, he had the same dream with the exact same blueprint with specifications for a type of machinery that didn’t currently exist.

The third time he had this dream, he realized it was God who was showing him something, the specifications for a more advanced type of earth-moving equipment than was currently on the market. He realized his manufacturing company had the capability to start building this type of equipment.

He developed the prototype. Then he began manufacturing this equipment. This new earth-moving equipment was an instant success in building new roads. When the US government learned about this new technology, they came, looked it over and began making purchases in order to build runways for airfields where the US was at war in the Pacific. By some estimates, this equipment was able to build a runway ten times faster than previous equipment they had been using.

Mr. LeTourneau’s company began experiencing dramatic growth. Being a committed believer whose spiritual gift was giving, he decided he wanted to test what would happen if he increased his giving from his current contributions of roughly 10 to 15 percent of his profits to 25 percent of his profits. His company expanded even more.

After a period of time, he increased his contributions to 45 percent of his company’s profits. Still, there was plenty of operating capital for growth and his profits soared with the increase in the sales volume. He eventually increased the ratio of his contributions to 95 percent of his company’s profits. The company flourished and Mr. LeTourneau lived very well on the 5 percent.

Mr. LeTourneau became well known for his statement: “You cannot out-give God.” Of course this man had the gift of giving with the necessary faith to progressively build his generosity to that level. He likewise took tangible steps to this most unusual example of generosity. Nevertheless, he is a great model of how these three factors of stewardship blend together: giving, managing and increase.

Robert LeTourneau’s generosity not only served the interests of his nation and the cause of freedom. He made possible the building and endowment of a Christian college. He supported many timely initiatives and helped a lot of people.

Faith and Stewardship
It is written that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Good stewardship requires the faith to hear and obey God. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, of things not seen. Abraham pleased God because he considered that which was not as though it were. Abraham believed and acted on what God had told him.

God speaks and things are created. Abraham joined in the creative process of birthing what God told Abraham when there was no evidence in the natural of God’s word to him. In doing so, Abraham was bridging the seen world with the unseen world. It was a different way of responding to the reality around him.

The opposite of faith is fear. The dimension of fear that has the most subtle influence on business success is a poverty spirit. There is a Western saying: “Penny wise is dollar foolish.” In other words, those with a poverty spirit are so obsessed with the pennies that they lose dollars, because they’ve lost their grasp of the big picture.

A poverty spirit is a fear of risk. Yet, faith and risk must be taken to bring increase. Stewardship requires confidence and is efficient. A poverty spirit tends to waste time rather than maximizing time and is very inefficient. We’ve mentioned the parable in which the steward who brought about no increase was considered worthless. He was the one with the poverty spirit.

Faith is working smart and applying diligence to the work being done. You have to spend money to make money. My friend Stan Bullis has developed a model for his companies, which is a reflection of the mix of the creative, of tz’dakah, and of bringing increase. Twenty percent of his companies’ profits go back into company growth, another twenty percent is for charitable purposes and the remaining sixty percent is for employee bonuses according to each employee’s responsibility and role in bringing about the profits.

Stewardship and Planning
A Jewish proverb states that the naive believes anything, but the prudent man is cautious and considers well his steps. That caution is not being reluctant to act, but rather taking the time to adequately do your homework. In Jewish culture, this is a way of thinking and looking at things. Due diligence is required when taking a look at any type of opportunity.

Before you can get the right answers to something you need to be able to ask the right questions. This involves doing your homework, looking into a matter and doing investigative research.

An essential part of stewardship is planning. Planning in business is preparing your business for the future, for alternatives that may take place, in order to wisely be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity that may emerge.

The first step in business planning is the research required to look at every facet of the steps ahead, including trends and the expectations for the future. Planning is a process just as good stewardship is a process. Planning maps out the steps needed to accomplish a set of wisely, clearly-defined goals.

Iridium is the company that launched satellite phone technology. However, over the twelve years from its start, instead of adapting to market conditions and the demands of the market, Iridium held to their original business plan. Business is the art of managing change. The market acceptance of new technology will change over time. It involves a dynamic known as the product life cycle curve.

There are innovators and then early adopters, the consumers who are inclined to try new things. But then market acceptance tends to slow as technology faces the hurdles of increasingly greater challenges in market acceptance. Iridium operated on the basis that they had the best thing going, which they indeed did and that the market would come to them. But it didn’t. They did not adapt to the needs of the market and they ran out of money before the market ever caught up with them.

Wise planning results in a different way of thinking. We’re going to be discussing this type of creative thinking in another of this series. It is the type of thinking that is constantly revaluating the assumptions of each business proposition and the conditions evolving in the marketplace.

Wise planning constantly readjusts the goals and strategies to seize the opportunity needed for the momentum to achieve the optimum long-term impact. It is interesting that companies that begin with bottom-up foundations that start small versus those whose beginnings are developed through fast-track top-down accelerator strategies have a higher ratio of long-term success.

Stewardship and Mentoring
We’ve established that stewardship is the effective management of the responsibilities for which we’ve been entrusted. Those responsibilities include both resources and people. Businesses utilize both. So does community. Community also not only is the means to enhance the gifts and destinies of the businesses and people within the community, but portends a future purpose of the community itself.

As such, mentoring is a vital part of community stewardship. It is the preparation made by one generation for the future role to be served by the next generation. It is the means by which the older, successful generation imparts their gifts and the wisdom of their journey of life to select, potential leaders they choose to mentor.

Within Jewish business culture, serving an apprenticeship is a form of being mentored. An apprentice is one who is learning the tools of the trade. That means not only the tools of the business, but the tradecraft of running the business. That is stewardship from a business perspective.

Mentoring entails a meaningful, proactive dialogue between the generations on the strategies and subtleties of the management of vital responsibilities, for business and for the community. It is an essential dimension in the proactive planning for the future. It is the means to enhance the wisdom of the emerging generation to lead. It is the process of revealing the ways of God and how to walk them out with an undivided heart. It is imparting the blessings of God from one generation to the next.

Moses wrote about these things. He said: Tell these things to your children and your grandchildren. He made a point that doing so should be a lifestyle: Tell them these things when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. It is an ongoing attitude of both the apprentice and the one imparting the skills and wisdom. It incorporates the blending of the perspectives of the spiritual, the economic and community with the secrets of what operationally binds them together. It triggers an unveiling of the dynamics of the destiny of the Jews as a prophetic people of God.

When I was a boy, my father was a very busy man. He was general manager of the manufacturing company that was the major employer in my hometown. He was also the mayor of my hometown. He loved the people he worked with and they loved him. Yet he made the opportunity to take me with him. We were always talking. I attended meetings and sat quietly and listened as my dad conducted his business.

As I grew up, I also heard stories about his grandfather, who had immigrated to America from Ireland by himself at the age of 16. My dad told me how of all his grandchildren my dad was the one my great-grandfather chose to take with him to the rural church meetings he held. He was a circuit preacher in a time and area when the communities didn’t have churches.

My dad got involved in Little League baseball so he could help coach me in this skill and we could share in this sport. My dad was my greatest mentor. My dad always sought for me to have opportunity that he had not had.

Yet, there were many others my dad mentored. He mentored a young man who had immigrated to the US and had a talent. This man could repair anything. Eventually he became maintenance manager of the manufacturing company my dad ran.

As a father, and as a business and community leader, my dad was a mentor as he had learned from his grandfather. There were certain people in whom he invested his life and ways. As a mentor he was an example in the way he lived his life. During the days when Jesus had His earthly ministry he taught many people. However, he chose twelve to be his disciples. These are the ones he mentored. Then there came a time when he told them, I no longer call you disciples, but friends.

A mentor is an investor in people. A mentor is someone who spends time with you, who is willing to show you the ropes, who sees your potential and prepares you for the next level of opportunity enfolding before you. Then there comes a time when the process shifts. Within the Jewish community an important first step in this shift is a rite of passage called the bar mitzvah. For women it is the bat mitzvah. It is a rite of passage into adulthood recognized by the community.

Effective stewardship is the responsible administration of the secrets with which we’ve been entrusted spiritually, economically and leadership-wise. Stewardship prepares us for the future to creatively prosper our community, our businesses and our culture from one generation to another. Stewardship releases a powerful dynamic, an authority which we’ll discuss in a future session called dominion.

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