What are the attributes of a good leader? There are myriads of books out there on leadership, from leadership in the corporate world to leadership in the church and a good bit in between. Specifically speaking about leadership in the Christian community, there is a lot out there. Often when leadership is discussed in Christian circles the idea of “servant leadership” comes up; Jesus showed us how to truly lead by becoming a servant to those he led, leading from below rather then above.
This sort of servant leadership is the cornerstone of what leadership means from a Christian perspective. When we turn to St. Benedict, a disciple of Jesus who lived half a millennium after Jesus, we find more teaching on leadership. Benedict’s writing comes from a different context then Jesus’ as well as a different context from our own. He is giving instruction on leadership within a community of celibate monks. That said, his words resonate with truths for leaders in churches today.
When, therefore, anyone taketh the name of Abbot he should govern his disciples by a twofold teaching; namely, he should show them all that is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words; explain the commandments of God to intelligent disciples by words, but show the divine precepts to the dull and simple by his works. St. Benedict (2011-04-30). The Rule of St. Benedict (Kindle Locations 184-186). PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.
One thing I take from this is the lesson to not just tell people what do do and how to live, show them. Demonstrating how to live by your own works and actions ends up being much more long-lasting. People will forget most of what you say, but they’ll remember your actions. I recall when I was a student in college and going through a bit of a rough spot. My campus pastor took time to listen and pray for me. I am sure he told us often that we ought to be willing to pray for others when they need it. But his actually doing it is what I remember.
Let not a free-born be preferred to a freedman, unless there be some other reasonable cause. But if from a just reason the Abbot deemeth it proper to make such a distinction, he may do so in regard to the rank of anyone whomsoever; otherwise let everyone keep his own place; for whether bond or free, we are all one in Christ, and we all bear an equal burden of servitude under one Lord, “for there is no respect of persons with God.” We are distinguished with Him in this respect alone, if we are found to excel others in good works and in humility. Therefore, let him have equal charity for all, and impose a uniform discipline for all according to merit.St. Benedict (2011-04-30). The Rule of St. Benedict (Kindle Locations 191-195). PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.
This reminds us to not show favoritism. I know I tend to gravitate towards people I like. This often means I want to be around people like me, who have similar interests. This is a trait to beware of, because a leader needs to make an effort to reach out to all people in the community. An effort must be made to transcend barriers. Don’t show favoritism to the biggest financial givers or the people you find it easiest to talk to. Again, this is hard for me, but I know I must at times turn away from students I already enjoy talking to in order to engage others who I may not know well, who are shy or have such different interests that I am not sure how to talk to them at times. It is about being adaptable, as Benedict goes on to say:
The Abbot ought always to remember what he is and what he is called, and to know that to whom much hath been entrusted, from him much will be required; and let him understand what a difficult and arduous task he assumeth in governing souls and accommodating himself to a variety of characters. Let him so adjust and adapt himself to everyone – to one gentleness of speech, to another by reproofs, and to still another by entreaties, to each one according to his bent and understanding – that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold. St. Benedict (2011-04-30). The Rule of St. Benedict (Kindle Locations 204-208). PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.
This is tough stuff, talk of high callings, adjusting to everyone and so on. It is not easy, though the payoff (“rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold”) is worth it.
I skipped chapter one and was not going to mention it, but all I have written so far on chapter two brings my mind to one great quote from chapter one. Benedict is talking about different kind of monks and slams one sort:
Living in two’s and three’s, or even singly, without a shepherd, enclosed, not in the Lord’s sheepfold, but in their own, the gratification of their desires is law unto them; because what they choose to do they call holy, but what they dislike they hold to be unlawful.St. Benedict (2011-04-30). The Rule of St. Benedict (Kindle Locations 165-167). PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.
The easy way is to find a community, religion or God who simply tell us what we want to hear. This sort of life is to choose what we want to do and then, in retrospect, call it holy. Whatever is disliked is called unlawful or evil. Makes me think – when we read the Bible do we do so looking for affirmation of what we already believe (Of course Jesus is a capitalist! No, he’s a socialist!) or do we allow the Spirit and the Word to confront our beliefs? Are we open to being shaped by the truth outside of us or do we assume we already have the truth and are just searching for affirmation?