Just a Thought - Present-day Leadership.
The responsibility of leaders is something that in all times and place, has been accepted and expected. There is no doubt that there are businesses that are run rightly; there are academics and journalists that do great work; there are church leaders who are saintly. But having said that, we are living in an age of leadership that leaves a lot wanting.
There are too many politicians who seem to be driven by partisanship and personal advantage. There are business leaders who are rapacious and indifferent to the welfare of employees and customers, and to the value of their products. There are artists, intellectuals, scholars and journalists more concerned with career and ideology than the good, beautiful and the true. There are religious leaders who make their way by courting careerism and who use positions of power to maintain a system that is no longer life-giving.
Let me dwell on the latter, and ask what do I expect from an effective religious leader? And before I attempt any answer, let me emphatically state that what I expect from them, I also expect from effective followers. I expect it from myself.
I expect a religious leader to have a big heart. The authentic Christian virtue is love of neighbour - not self adoration. For many years I have been an ordained minister. I have worked with some great leaders who were generous and supportive. I have also experienced oppressive authoritarian leadership that has trampled on colleagues and has been destructive.
I expect religious leaders to be committed to their own self-improvement. Ongoing education is essential for all of us. The grace of episcopal leadership is hardly sufficient!
I would want leaders to realise that they have to listen to others, and be willing to adapt. Authoritarian narrow-mindedness is never acceptable. The context and situations in which we live do change. Constructive leadership demands an open, frank, honest and wide-ranging conversation about what it means to be a human being to-day.
A commitment to truth requires that all religious leaders acknowledge that no one individual, no single group, no single Christian church possesses all Christian truth neatly packaged into particular rituals and approved doctrines.
I want leaders to base their leadership style on the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth; not on Machiavelli's self-centered, crafty and cynical manipulation of people and events. No good is ever accomplished by behaviour that is meant to trick people and then badger them into compliance.
I want leaders who will not position themselves in favor of a particular political power. We need prophetic leaders who can challenge leaders in all parties to recognize that people have human rights. Collaboration is needed in constructing a social morality that supports the common good and enables us all to live more harmoniously an what is becoming a more complex and culturally-mixed society.
Good leaders must have the trust and confidence of those whom they lead. This trust has to be earned.
Good leaders are not enough. They are products of their times, and their people form the times.
Jeremiah and Jesus were great leaders who seemed to get nowhere when their people rejected them. That is why Joseph de Maistre said that every nation gets the government it deserves.
So what should we do?
Firstly as I have already said, we will have better leaders if we are active good followers. So support those who do well. But also let them know our worries and objections when we have good reason to believe that they are doing otherwise. And do so in a respectful, firm and clear manner. Secondly, recognize that new growth does no always start at the top. We are all leaders - each of us shows some others the way by what we say and do. We should join forces with those who are like-minded and well disposed, and do the best we can where we are. St Paul gave the community of Philippi some advice that hasn't lost any of its meaning for us to-day....."Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, lovely gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise then think about these things."