Do You Steward Your Career?

Steward: noun

a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others

I was at lunch with a friend of mine the other day when he asked me a bizarre question.

“How are you stewarding your career?”

It wasn’t asked in an accusatory tone, but rather asking if I could describe my career in terms of stewardship. That’s when I realized that I’ve never applied the thinking of stewardship to this area of my life. Sure, I’m a steward when it comes to my finances, my time, my influence, my energy. But my career?

So I went back and read Jesus’ parable of the talents and considered how it pertains to my career. It is worth quoting here at length:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 25:14-30

I wonder why I’ve never thought of this and why we don’t discuss this in the church community. Especially since Jesus’ story is told in the context of each of the person’s careers. As Christians, we believe that everything of ours belongs to God. That would by definition include our career yet rarely do we think that we are accountable to someone else for it. Don’t we have a right to do it “our way”?

Before I get into some of these specifics, I want to acknowledge people who spend their time doing less “traditional” jobs, such as a stay-at-home mom. This may be exactly the way God has called a woman to steward her career even though the terms I’m using may seem to refer to something else. Feel free to replace “job” with a more context-specific word if your situation warrants it. With that said, most of us would fall into one of four categories:

  1. Looking for a job—especially right now, there are probably a lot of people in this category. For most it means that you are actively looking for a job. The difference is that some people put in very little effort while others go above and beyond to try and make something happen. What does stewardship look like for you? I would suggest it means applying yourself (pun intended) and putting in a proportionate level of energy and effort to find the next step of your career. This doesn’t mean you’ll find something immediately, but it should certainly affect how you look for it.
  2. Have a job but coasting—This is probably more people than we’d like to admit. Maybe you’re in a job you’ve been in for a long time without changing anything. To figure out if you are in this category, consider how much of your job has changed in the last few years. Has anything changed that has forced you to adjust or grow? Is your job getting easier and less and less of yourself is required to fulfill it? What does stewardship look like for you? It may be time for a bold act of courage. You either need to find a way to change something about your daily environment (i.e. ask for more responsibility), or you need to find somewhere else where you can apply yourself and grow. In my experience, you can probably find ways to grow where you are (if you are willing to put the work in and apply yourself) but there are also times when it means you ask if God has other opportunities for you. Staying here is the equivalent of hiding the bag of gold in the ground.
  3. Have a job and applying yourself—this is the goal. To be in this spot you probably have responsibilities that slightly exceed your comfort level. You wake up with a sense of mission and go to bed feeling accomplished (and likely a bit tired). Like I stated earlier, this looks radically different for my wife and me. I spend a day with people (adults) and invest in the ministry at Central. She spends the day with people (our kids) and invests into their lives. Oh and she also manages her own real estate company when she isn’t being Mom. While there are ups and downs for both of us when it comes to this, contentment is found in knowing that we are applying ourselves beyond what is easy but at a speed that is sustainable. What does stewardship look like for you if you’re in this camp? Keep growing. Don’t let yourself settle and continue to find ways to apply yourself more this year than you did last year.
  4. Have a job and overwhelmed—while this isn’t far off from category three, it actually has similar results to category two. If you are in a job that is consuming you and burning you out then you likely aren’t growing. It is the equivalent of working out to the point of exhaustion with no time or possibility for recovery. What does stewardship look like for you? Be honest with yourself and your boss and find a way to make a change. If you don’t choose to put yourself in category three you’ll eventually be put into category one.

At the risk of over-analyzing Jesus’ story, I would submit that the reason not everyone has the same amount of “gold bags” to work with is the reason why some people have more drive than others. Can a person increase their overall drive? Possibly. But in my experience it is usually something that goes deep into who a person is beyond the specific context that they are working in. If this application works, then those people with more drive also have more expected of them in their career.

Question: I’m not going to ask you to post which of the four categories you think you are in, but instead, how would you make different decisions with your career if you thought about it through the lens of stewardship? What insights jump out at you by viewing it through this lens?

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan husband, father, executive pastor, and student of truth

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