Authentic Pastoral Leadership

Today’s Gospel is a portion of the episode recorded by John where the resurrected Jesus meets his disciples at the shore of Galilee. I’ve written and spoken before about he colloquy between Jesus and Peter, where Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter answers, Jesus instructs: feed my lambs, tend my sheep.

Richard Gaillardetz says this about Jesus invitation to Peter to pastoral care:

The story exhibits the Christian shape of authentic pastoral leadership. We sometimes hear from our pastoral leaders the perfunctory language of humility (“and, me, your unworthy servant”). Yet in Peter, as portrayed in this reading, there is nothing false or artificial. Jesus called him to pastoral care out of the painful crucible of failure and forgiveness. Real pastoral leadership will never draw from petty privileges of prestige, power, and control. It is only because, at the very core of our being, we know ourselves to be forgiven that we can lead others to the audacious love of Christ.

It is easy to nod our heads when we read these words, critically concluding that not all those who lead our Church appear to manifest the type of humility of which Gaillardetz is speaking.

But his words are not only for those we give the label pastoral leaders. For all of us, our ability to be effective disciples, effective evangelizers, requires that we remember that we are called in our brokenness, in our weakness. Called, as Peter, out of the “crucible of failure and forgiveness.”

Service Over Private Agenda

A friend of mine recently sent me the text of Sr. Joan Chittister’s address at Stanford University’s 2012 Baccalaureate Program. The address was titled A Call To Leadership.

Her talk included a story about a Buddhist monk who was determined to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Japanese. I’ve actually read an adaptation of this story before, in Peter Rollins’ The Orthodox Heretic, which tells the story of a gifted woman who dedicates “her life to the task of translating the Word of God throughout her country.” The story teaches a wonderful lesson, whoever you put in the role of protagonist.

Here is the story as Joan Chittiester told it:

He spent years begging for the money it would take to have them printed. But just as he was about to begin the first printing, a great flood came and left thousands homeless. So Tetsugen took the money he’d raised to publish the scriptures and built houses for the homeless.

Then he began again to beg the money he needed to publish the scriptures. This time, years later, just as he finished collecting the funds he needed for the task, a great famine came. This time, Tetsugen took the money for the translation work and fed the starving thousands instead.

Then, when the hungry had been fed, he began another decade’s work of collecting the money for the third time.

When the scriptures were finally printed in Japanese, they were enshrined for all to see. But they tell you to this day in Japan that when parents take their children to view the books, they tell them that the first two editions of those scriptures – the new houses and healthy people – were even more beautiful than the printed edition of the third.

Chittister framed the lesson of the story as a lesson of leadership, but it is a lesson for all of us: “no personal passion, no private agenda, no religious ritual must ever be allowed to come between you and the people you serve.”

Who is a Leader? (Hint: You Are)

I had the privilege yesterday of introducing Chris Lowney, author of Heroic Leadership: Best Practices From a 450-Year Old Company That Changed the World, for a presentation he gave at the University of St. Thomas yesterday, which was sponsored by Loyola Spirituality Center. Lowney spent seven years as a Jesuit before joining JP Morgan, a company in which he held senior positions internationally before leaving the firm in 2001.

Based on his experiences, Lowny realized that the large international company that is the Jesuits has faced many of the same challenges facing large companies today and that he same kind of strategies employed by the Jesuits in thier holistic approach to business, and specifically their ideas about effective leadership, could be a model for other kinds of businesses.

While there is much I could share from his talk, one of the important points he made came very early in his presentation. He opened by asking the audience to take a minute or two to think of the names of people they consider to be leaders, and then to share those names with those sitting at their table. After that, he observed (correctly) that most people named policital leaders (the President), religious leaders (the Pope) or business leaders (the head of this company or that). The more important point he suggested is that no one named themself and, he suspected, even if someone did think of themself as a leader, they would be unlikely to say that to another person.

That we don’t think of ourselves as leaders stems from a misplaced modesty that is connected to what he termed a broken and shallow model of leadership. We make the mistake of thinking leadership as being in charge. And if our vision of a leader is someone in charge of (a large and successful) organization, we think it immodest to think of ourselves as a leader. And that notion of leadership, he suggested, is a problem.

The definition of leadership, Lowny observed, is pointing out a way, direction or goal and leading others toward it. That is very close to the definition I gave in my introduction, which described leadership as the process of social influence in which one person enlists the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.

If we understand leadership in that way, he suggested, then we ought to understand that we all do that which leaders do all the time. We are all leaders, BUT we tend to lead subconsciously. And if we with to be more effective leaders, we need to be more explicit and purposeful about it.

We are all leaders, which means we all have an enormous opportunity and reesponsibility. The question is how will we make the most of it.

Christian Leadership

I just finished reading Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical. I’ve said a number of times what a fan I am of Shane Claiborne, who can be described as someone who believes Jesus meant what He said and who tries to live his life accordingly. In this book he teams up with civil rights leader John Perkins for a series of conversations that explore what it means to be a good leader and a good follower.

Written in a conversational mode that preserves the individual voices of the two authors, the book offers neither “a new theory or prescription” nor a “comprehensive study.” Rather, in Shane’s words, it “submits our experiences, our lessons learned and our unresolved questions, in a a day and time that needs leaders and followers of integrity and action.”

There is much in the book I will go back to, but as I read it, I jotted down some of the qualities of leadership that come out of the authors’ discussion that seem to me key for those who would lead in the name of Christ.

First, integrity. To be a good leader, one’s life must give credibility to their words. It is easy to see through people who talk the talk without walking the walk.

Second, imagination. It is easy to tear down, to protest and criticize what exists. But what is necessary for effective leadership is to be able to imagine a world different from the one in which we live – to imagine the world to which we wish to help lead others. Good leaders don’t simply identify what is wrong; they point toward what is right.

Third, developing people rather than creating institutions. This is a tricky one because institutions can help. But it is also a temptation to start worrying more about the institution than about the people being served; the institution can too easily become the end rather than the means. As Perkins writes, we need to make sure we hang onto the “original vision,” and “we have to keep our focus on the people of God – reconciling them to God and each other.”

Fourth, a good leader works himself out of a job. He or she works with others, working as part of a community rather than as a lone ranger. I know myself that it is often far easier to just do something myself rather than invite others to participate. But a good leader empowers others and helps them develop their talents. That is the key to long term success. Success, suggests Shane, “has nothing to do with money or notoriety and everything to do with whether or not people will carry on the vision when we are dust.”

There are more but these offer some good suggestions both for those who would be leaders and for those who seek to discover those who are worthy of being followed.