4 minutes reading time (865 words)

Leaders - the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

For the last 7 years, part of my job - occupying the equivalent of one day a week - has been working as an Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands. I know, that's quite a mouthful - but what it means is quite simple: I'm one of several clergy-people around the Diocese who give a bit of their time to accompany those who are exploring a possible call to ordination. Usually, I will meet with any given "candidate" (I know, the jargon is a bit daunting) every 6 weeks or so, over a period of 12 to 18 months, right up to the point where they go off to a Selection Conference, and a decision is made (not by me!) as to whether or not they can start training for ordained ministry. And usually, at any one time I'll be meeting regularly with about half a dozen different people. (A few years back, one of them was our own Ann Lewis - so somebody got something right!)

So that's a lot of meetings, with pieces of written work for them to do, and meetings with others who can assess their potential. And it's been quite a privilege to accompany all these people, get to know them, and hear their stories of faith and life - and then, in most cases, to rejoice with them when their calling is recognised and affirmed. But what I'm leading up to (pun intended) is that one of the key criteria for determining whether or not a person has the potential for ordained ministry is their ability to function well as a leader.

You don't need me to tell you (but I will anyway) that there is a general crisis of faith in our leaders. Essentially, we don't really trust them; we are weary of lies and evasions and u-turns, and we suspect that many leaders, in politics, business, education, and other spheres of life, have managed to get themselves promoted beyond their ability - and certainly beyond their moral stature. 

So what can the Church offer as a template for good leadership? First of all, I'd suggest, we need the humility to recognise our failings and limitations, and the courage and honesty to apologise - and mean it - when we get things wrong. One of the most unattractive things about people in leadership is the pathetically unconvincing way they often try to cover up their mistakes, and in doing so forfeit the public's trust. Sadly, enquiries into historic and current cases of sexual abuse within the Church suggest that we too have sought to minimise damage to the Church's reputation, rather than attending to the welfare of the abused. So leaders need to be people of honesty and humility.

And second, there needs to be in them a genuine desire to serve rather than to be served. This, after all, is what Jesus came to do: in John's Gospel, he washes his disciples' feet (to Peter's outrage) and tells them to do the same for others. I'm sure that, at both local and national levels, there are many people in government who entered public life with a sincere desire to serve the needs of those they represent. But often, sadly, that spirit of service withers over the years, and what is left is an ugly shell of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. After all, putting others first, and doing so consistently, is incredibly difficult; in the Church, we are reminded, week by week, that none of us is free from selfish and presumptuous faults. So the question for potential leaders, in the Church as elsewhere, is: how deeply rooted in you is the call to loving service?

And finally, inevitably, leaders need to be asked - or ask themselves: are you able to work with others, and to help them fulfil their potential? Or are you intending to operate as a lone figurehead? Historically, the ranks of the clergy have, to a degree, been filled by oddballs, misfits and loners, who have relished the sole responsibility of the parish priest, often to the detriment of their congregations. But now, candidates have to come up with solid evidence of their ability to work well in a team, whether as leader or team member; and now, church members are less inclined to defer unquestioningly to the authority of their priest. "Father knows best" has become "If we're going to work with Father, he needs to learn to listen" (please add your own female equivalent - "Mother?")... And while the loneliness of priesthood is still a real issue, especially in remote rural parishes, in most contexts now there is a sense of relief in realising that you don't have to lead on your own.

Well - who are we in the Church to lecture others on how they should lead? But, even though we fail to live up to them, we do have principles of good leadership which we can try to model: humility and honesty, a deep-rooted desire to serve, and a willingness to work with others for the common good. And we can pray, and go on praying, for all leaders everywhere to have these qualities and put them into practice...

 

Everyone is a theologian...
The great I AM
 

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Sunday, 13 October 2019

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