Balancing Being a Servant & Steward

by Steve Scruggs, Psy.D.

Many global workers have a strong desire to serve. They serve their Lord, their host nation partners, and their supporters through the work that they do. The Bible is full of references to serving and is perhaps most epitomized by the words of Jesus in Mark 10:42-45 (NIV):

The desire to serve is laudable and is frequently reinforced by organizations and leaders. Unfortunately, it is often not tempered by another principle from the Bible, i.e., to be a steward. Stewardship can be defined as “Utilizing and managing all resources God provides for the glory of God and the betterment of His creation.” (Wikipedia). In Mt 25:20-21 (NIV), Jesus commends the faithful steward:

A steward also works hard, but thoughtfully, carefully managing the resources that God has entrusted to them. However, why is it essential for there to be a balance between being a servant and being a steward?

When a person only focuses on being a servant, she or he may work until they drop. They get worn out, burnt out, and discouraged. They think that self-care is selfish because they don’t think of themselves as a limited and precious resource. Instead, they run themselves into the ground and forget the importance of caring for themselves in a way that will allow them to stay in the field for the long haul.

What are some of the barriers to self-care or stewardship of oneself?

1. Many people think that if they don’t push themselves, they will be lax or self-indulgent. Often these people have a strong “inner critic” or question whether they are “enough.” If that applies to you, please use the link to read my article on self-compassion.

2. She or he may believe that self-care is unnecessary considering the urgent need to share the good news. This leads to frustration and exhaustion and can result in returning to one’s passport country because they “couldn’t cut it.”

3. The people around them, teammates and family members, can see the signs of burnout and feel helpless to know what to do to help.

4. Sometimes global workers don’t see their family as part of their stewardship and the family suffers because the worker is so busy caring for everyone else.

Is self-care a part of stewardship?

Are you a precious resource that God wants to nurture so that you can thrive while working in a difficult place? My colleague Corinne Gnepf, LCMHC, describes self-care as resulting in “being able to serve longer and stronger.”

The goal is to balance being a servant and steward. Finding this balance can be difficult for those who have focused solely on being a servant as any prioritization of their own needs seems indulgent or unnecessary. So, what is the right answer? Below are some questions to help you to develop your self-care plan.

The first question to ask yourself is, am I thriving? It’s OK to just survive for a season (which we all face from time to time). However, if just surviving becomes a lifestyle, burnout won’t be far behind. The cost is high not only for the individual, but also for those around them who must deal with the person’s poor frustration tolerance, irritability, and lack of perspective when they get stretched to the breaking point.   

The second question to ask yourself is, is it OK for me to sometimes prioritize my own needs? Consider the example of Jesus. Although he had a busy preaching and healing ministry, he often sent the crowds away even though they wanted more. He did this to allow Himself time to pray and connect with the Father. Sometimes he spent time only with the disciples, the twelve apostles, or even just the three apostles. If Jesus needed time alone to pray and time just with trusted friends, I am sure that we do also.

The third question to ask yourself is, what do I need to do for self-care? It will be different for every person. If you are an introvert, you may need more time alone. For extroverts, being with other people energizes them and gives them a chance to process their concerns interpersonally. Some of us are ambiverts, enjoying both time alone and time with others (I am in that category). Further, some people will find spending time relaxing in a coffee shop restorative while others will find it in a hike through nature. There is no one right answer for everyone as we are all unique. Explore and discover what you find restorative.

The final question to ask yourself is, how can I prioritize self-care? Great plans that never happen will not help. Set yourself up for success rather than failure by practicing self-care when you are unlikely to be distracted or side-tracked. Part of my self-care plan is praying, reading Scripture, and exercising. I have found if I do it first thing in the morning, I will rarely miss it. If I try to do it later in the day, it often doesn’t happen. However, each person will be different, and you must find what works for you and your life situation.

In summary, you are more likely to be an effective servant over the long haul by balancing being both a servant and a steward. Be willing to rethink the messages that you have been giving yourself (or others have given to you) and find your balance.

1 Comment

  • Steve Knudtsen

    Excellent overview of the need for self-care / servant leadership balance. Thanks

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