Academic,Leadership Development,Spiritual

Spiritual Leadership and the Philippian Hymn – Part 1, The use of power16 Mar

I am going to share here, in three parts, a paper I researched and presented to a Conference of Bishops in Durban in November last year. It is a paper that explores a model of leadership suitable for clergy. I refer to it also as Ecclesial Leadership.

In my search for a model of leadership for the Ecclesia (Church leaders) I have discovered that many theologians believe the Philippian Hymn to be a central source of guidance for church leadership. Here Paul is giving guidance to the elders in the church at Philippia on how they should relate with their congregation.

The Philippian Hymn – Philippians 2:5-11
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The first of three elements which are central to the notion of an Ecclesial Leadership Model is the use of power.
Strawbridge rightly argues that a theological understanding of power is critical to a theology of leadership. An Ecclesial leader has no power. He or she must acknowledge that their power comes from God and can only be accessed through spiritual discipline – a consistent submission to God through things such as reflection, prayer, studying the word and all things we have come to acknowledge as part of a spiritual life. God works through a spiritual leader, the leader cannot act alone. A disciplined spiritual practice is the foundation that is needed in order for God to work through us. God needs a fertile soil, an open mind, a free flowing channel. Pope Gregory argues that this includes prayer, proclamation, admonition, scriptural knowledge and holiness of life based on the leader’s relationship with God (Strawbridge, p.72). So what I am saying is that for an ecclesial leader to use power appropriately, that is, for the good of others, they should be suffused in spiritual discipline so that the power of God can flow freely through them. This spiritual discipline must be firmly entrenched in all spiritual leaders during their training….it must become second nature.

You seldom see humility in business leadership, in fact the whole focus is on power structures and hierarchies. The latter are not appropriate in the church, it is not appropriate for a theology of Ecclesial Leadership. Sadly though, this abuse of power appears to exist and it emerges as a recurring problem in church society, here and across the world. It is clearly evident in the various research exercises undertaken on this topic. It would appear that the abuse of power in clerical leadership, is regrettably not uncommon. If we are to develop church leaders who are different from business leaders, who reflect the idea of power inherent in the Philippian Hymn (used not to our own advantage) then we must help these leaders to embrace this humility, they must also embrace unity with their people, servanthood and ethical leadership

Edwin Friedman’s words find great resonance with my own thoughts when he said that “well-differentiated” leadership is an art, not a science. By this I understand that he means that it is not something we teach in the same way we teach some-one how to bake a cake – by a system of actions. It is something that evolves over time – it is crafted and perfected; mediated through experience and the application of analysis, judgement and readjustment of thoughts and actions. Let me say something about Friedman’s notion of being well-ifferentiated. It is the art of being ‘different’, perhaps one can say ‘set aside’ while remaining in relationship with others in ways that are healthy and life-giving for the community as a whole. So ecclesial leaders should be different – and I believe this difference is reflected in their calling, in their humility and in the maturity of their spirituality. Although they are set aside by God through their calling – they are still in a relationship of love with all that surrounds them, and they still put the needs of others above their own. This brings to mind the idea of perichoresis -the Eastern Orthodox church’s concept for the essence that binds the Trinity into one. A relationship of unity and Godly love. Precisely the type of relationship clerical leaders should aspire to.

Full referencing details are available on request.

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Dr. Elaine Saunders – Industrial Psychologist

Phd in Leadership Development
Author of Assessing Human Competence
Specialising in online competency-based assessment tools, leadership development and performance counselling
Based in Sandton, Johannesburg

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