Management or Leadership: Which Did Jesus Emphasize More?

What self-respecting young person would aspire to be a manager in our culture when office comedy movies and TV shows have portrayed managers with such contempt and ridicule?

Many of today’s leadership gurus have been promoting the notion that managers don’t care about the people, vision, or mission of their organizations. They are said to only care about non-human resources and protecting their systems and processes above all else, making sure they run as smoothly as possible.

Such leadership pundits would have us believe that, if you want to make a real difference in the world in the lives of people, you should aspire to be a leader rather than a manager. “Be a leader not a manager” has become a mainstream maxim among those seeking to make an impact in the private, public, and social sectors.

What are the consequences of our society’s negative view of “managers” and “management” upon our families, businesses, government, churches, etc.? Irresponsibility. Waste. Entitlement. Discontentment. Poverty. Unfulfillment. And much more.

I’m not saying that we don’t need to talk about both leadership and management. It’s “both/and” not “either/or.” I’m just saying that the idea of management has been all but replaced by the idea of leadership, and this has serious negative consequences for society.

We love “Christian leadership”… not “Christian management”

In Western culture today, the term “Christian leadership” is literally hundreds of times more popular than “Christian management.”

  • There are 203 times more books on Amazon that include the phrase “Christian leadership” than those that include “Christian management.”
  • Google generates a whopping 400,000 search results for the phrase “Christian Leadership Conference” while there are only 561 search results for “Christian Management Conference.”

As a book publisher and marketer, I’ll confess that it’s tempting to add the word “leadership” into book titles just to make them more marketable.

Why is the idea of “Christian leadership” hundreds of times more popular than “Christian management”?

Why are so many eager to be great leaders while far fewer are eager to be great managers?

As marketplace Christians, what is the Biblical way to approach management?

Managers: The Main Characters in Nearly All of Jesus’ Parables

Quick… What’s a parable Jesus told that was explicitly about “leadership” and “leaders”? (We can define a “leader” as one who has someone following him or her.) If you’re like most of us, you’re finding this question to be somewhat difficult to answer. Certainly, we can make some indirect connections between Jesus’ parables and leadership, but the connections are not overt.

Now, what’s a parable Jesus told that was explicitly about “management” and “managers”? (We can define a “manager” as one charged to be a wise and responsible steward with what he or she has been given.) I see virtual hands going up all over the place! Where should we begin?! Let’s just list 28 that have specifically a business, financial, and/or resource management context:

  • The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14–30)
  • The Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:12–27)
  • The Wise and the Foolish Builders (Matt. 7:24–27; Luke 6:46–49)
  • The Growing Seed (Mark 4:26–29)
  • The Two Debtors (Luke 7:41–43)
  • The Rich Fool (Luke 12:16–21)
  • The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16)
  • The Two Sons (Matt. 21:28–32)
  • The Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1–13)
  • The Faithful Servant (Matt. 24:42–51; Mark 13:34–37; Luke 12:35–48)
  • The Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1–13)
  • The Hidden Treasure (Matt. 13:44)
  • New Wine into Old Wineskins (Matt. 9:17–17; Mark 2:21–22; Luke 5:37–39)
  • Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:3–9; Mark 4:3–9; Luke 8:5–8)
  • The Tares (Matt. 13:24–30)
  • Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31–32; Mark 4:30–32; Luke 13:18–19)
  • The Leaven (Matt. 13:33–33; Luke 13:20–21)
  • Parable of the Pearl (Matt. 13:45–46)
  • Drawing in the Net (Matt. 13:47–50)
  • Counting the Cost (Luke 14:28–33)
  • The Lost Sheep (Matt. 18:10–14; Luke 15:4–6)
  • The Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23–35)
  • The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8–9)
  • Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32)
  • The Master and Servant (Luke 17:7–10)
  • The Parable of the Tenants (Matt. 21:33–41; Mark 12:1–9; Luke 20:9–16)
  • The Budding Fig Tree (Matt. 24:32–35; Mark 13:28–31; Luke 21:29–33)
  • The Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31–46)

For business managers, there is a goldmine of management wisdom in these parables.

And given that managers are the main characters in nearly all of Jesus’ parables, this is clearly the way in which Jesus wants us to view ourselves.

Here are a few, general Christ-centered management lessons from Jesus’ parables that can help to restore a Biblical view of management.

1: Christ-centered management breaks the “I’m the master” mentality.

In the parables of Jesus that include a “master” as one of the characters, God is depicted as the “master” while people are depicted as the managers, servants, stewards, etc. As managers… that’s how Jesus would have us consider ourselves.

As we immerse ourselves so deeply into leadership teaching and training, it can be easy to allow our leadership mindset to creep into our relationship with God. When it comes to our relationship with God, we are not leaders. We are His followers and stewards of whatever and whoever he entrusts into our care. Let’s not get it backward.

Let’s let God do the leading. We’ll do the managing of what He, our leader, entrusts to us.

2: Christ-centered management keeps us focused on being faithful and effective rather than on being important and significant.

The unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35 thought he was superior to the person who owed money to him. He failed to realize that he himself was subordinate to the master and that the master would not approve of his treatment of his fellow worker.

In responding to His disciples concerning their desires to achieve greater status in society, Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43). In other words, “If it’s leadership status you’re after, assume an attitude of humility and subordination.”

People who view themselves as managers—subordinate to God and viewing themselves as less important than others (see Phil. 2:3)—will find it much easier to serve than those who think of themselves as being above other people on some sort of hierarchy.

3: Christ-centered management increases our influence and authority.

In the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Minas, the responsible managers were given more responsibility while the irresponsible one had his taken away.

The influence and greatness that comes from God results from being a better manager of the time, calling, gifts, mind, relationships, body, resources, and opportunities God entrusts to each of us. It’s a byproduct rather than the objective.

If we will focus on being better managers—better stewards of what God has entrusted to us—people will follow us, and our authority will increase. God-given influence and effective leadership are byproducts of Christ-centered management.

4: Christ-centered management means we’re accountable for everything entrusted to us.

When we become overly focused on leading and influencing others, we can become deceived into thinking that the behind-the-scenes issues of life and business don’t matter. This is part of what causes business professionals to feel as though their service to God would be “more significant” if they left the marketplace to enter pulpit ministry. Managing money, employees, and day-to-day business operations seems irrelevant to eternity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Jesus has demonstrated through His immense amount of management teaching, everything matters to God, and we’ll be held accountable for how we manage even the “smallest” things that God entrusts to us.

Consider the legacy and impact of Moses. The precondition for his level of impact was responsible management over everything God had entrusted to him:

“I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household” (Num. 12:6-7).

As God’s people, everything God has entrusted to us in business and beyond is part of God’s “household.” Let’s be effective Christ-centered managers of every spiritual gift, every cent, every moment, and every relationship God entrusts to us.

Discussion: Do you think our culture is elevating the idea of leadership while deprecating the idea of management? What management lessons can we learn from the parables of Jesus?

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  • Diego Baltazar

    Great article Darren, the mentality of being a steward/manager instead of the boss positions us for growth. The picture made me laugh.

    • Darren Shearer

      Thanks, Diego! I’m so glad we got to discuss this at our entrepreneurs’ meeting last night!

  • Dr. Bob Shearer

    How could I have missed this? Mixed feelings. Revelation, humiliation and inspiration. “Thanks, Darren!”
    (I think :o)

    • Darren Shearer

      Well, the Word of God is living and active… keeps us on our theological toes 🙂

  • Michelle Coard

    Great article. Conformation for me regarding management. Yes, I think the world is elevating leadership and treats management as less than. Most corporations now have “Leadership Teams” for which managers are the last to know. The management meetings give very little information until something goes wrong and management has to take the blame. All of the parables from Jesus are great regarding management and where we should put our focus. As you stated God is the leader and we are referred to as good stewards (managers) by Jesus. Great examples! Thanks Darren.

    • Darren Shearer

      Thanks, Michelle! Yes, we need to fully embrace our roles as God’s managers so He can lead us and lead through us.

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