Humble Leadership

I have had several conversations over these past couple of weeks centered on the idea of leadership/power, especially as it relates to the church. Interesting conversations indeed, that have opened many paths in my mind that all lead to the place of how to bring God’s Love to more people. It is fascinating to me that we still struggle with how to lead in the church. That is to say, I cannot imagine for a minute why we have children of the last half of the last century adhering to and espousing models of leadership that come from pre-war (WWII) thinking. I am also encouraged that there is a strong enough membership among the people of God to see this problem and name it for what it is!

As a still (I hope) young man I cannot see the merit in models of leadership that are top-down, exclusive and in many cases totalitarian. I certainly cannot see a place for that in the church. We may all have the tendency to look back at this and ruminate about “the good old’ days,” yet we realize when we do that that not everything was GREAT in the good old days. The church, in many ways, continues to recover from its intoxication with power over the weak and the vulnerable. Because of old styles of management and leadership we live in a church which continues to atone for the sins of the past. It seemed ok to disregard the needs and concerns of the vulnerable then, and now we are appalled by it – or at least we should be. This is all bizarre when we consider who it is that we as a people are called to be.

Yesterday we had the Server’s festival here in the parish. It is the opportunity that the deanery takes each year to acknowledge the work of altar servers. They reflected on being God’s hands and feet. They reflected on service and, in fact, they reflected on leadership. The Gospel used for that service was the recounting of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Now in that story one thing is clear – Jesus declares a NEW way of being. The leader is the SERVANT! Church leaders who in the latter part of the first decade of this 3rd millennium cannot grasp that simple and concise message offered over 2000 years ago in the upper room, are dooming our communities of God to failure. In many cases I think the people of God who are being treated as subjects need to take the golden calf of authoritarianism by the horns and wrestle it to the ground with the combined weapons of love and humility. 

The Reverend Canon Geoff Dibbs – or as I Call him, "The timeless Marvel," offered an excellent homily to our St. Mark’s congregation yesterday. Geoff was reflecting on the future of St. Mark’s. He spoke of our upcoming “Raising the Roof Campaign” and the need for us to “Draw that Circle wide!”  But more than all of this he reminded us that we are leaders and that we need to take on the responsibility for making the gospel of Jesus the main thing before us and making it the main thing that we can offer to others. “God Delights in Using Imperfect People,” Geoff said, going on to add, “When God builds a church, He always uses weak and imperfect people -People we probably wouldn’t have chosen for the job.” Now does this sound like an environment where there is room for those old models?  Geoff reminded us of –1 Cor. 1:27 & 28 which reads, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the thing that are not – to nullify the things that are.” Geoff’s sermon was stellar and it was again a reminder God has great things in store for us in this parish – our approach to our ministry must be grounded in humility.  I hasten to ass here that Geoff has over 53 years of priestly leadership in the church.  It is interesting to me that a man of such experience and “maturity” is still cutting edge and still walking in humble service allow the Spirit to work through him.  Yet we face priest who are the infancy of their ministry who simply are leading as though the year is 1951. It confirms my theory that “Age is not a matter of chronology but a matter of attitude.” Thank you again Geoff for your challenge to all osf us yesterday.

I read an article earlier today written by N. Graham Standish, author of the book Humble Leadership: Being Radically Open to God’s Guidance and Grace, copyright © 2007 by the Alban Institute. The article is from the Alban Insistute. In this article which is adapted, from his book he offers the following;

“So what is the nature of humble leadership? It is leadership that is radically open to God—in which we lead from faith rather than fear, from a willingness to let God’s will flow through us rather than willfully insisting that our own will be done, from hope rather than cynicism, from love rather than selfishness, and from God’s power rather than our own power. When we lead with an openness to God, we allow God’s power and grace to flow through us. We make prayer and discernment a foundation of our leadership, always seeking first what God wants and then leading others in that direction by inviting them to the same kind of humble prayer and discernment.”

The words of the Lord’s Prayer continue to ring true – “Your will be done!”  OR as it is offered in the New Zealand prayer Book – “Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!”  I pray for the church’s sake that all leaders of the church take heed. There is a big need for new models of leadership that are inclusive and open-ended.  While this may not feel safe for some, it is the way of the gospel, the way of Jesus and it is the way to life and future of the church. As Standish points out, “this is not an easy path, because it feels ambiguous and uncertain. There are no guarantees when we choose to lead with openness…When we are open to God, we run the risk of traveling through deserts and valleys of shadows.” We all need to take this call seriously, whether we are lay, deacon, priest, or bishop (But I think there is a particular need for the ordained leadership to heed this call. Leadership in the church is badly in need of being brought forward to a place of openness.


Here is some video fun from yesterday!


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