Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Musing on Leadership

Nearly every scrap of mail I get from synod or district involves "leadership." Polls are cited, business and marketing books are commended for our reading, and the church bureaucracy is constantly talking about "leadership" - to the point where it's beginning to sound more like a rah-rah company sales talk instead of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I do see why leadership is such a hot topic. There is a real leadership component to the pastoral office - especially in parish ministry. The word "episkope" literally means "overseer" (e.g. 1 Tim 3:1). The pastor is where the buck stops when it comes to the running of the congregation. A pastor must be able to manage time, resources, staff, money, volunteers, salesmen, phone calls, internet use, shut-ins, etc. He has to oversee various boards and committees. The term "pastor" presupposes leadership, as it is simply the Latin word for "shepherd." The shepherd is the boss of the sheep, not the other way around. Sheep do not vote on which oasis to drink from, nor do they govern themselves when it comes to where to find pasture. God provides pastors to lead them.

Of course, the Christian pastor is not to be a dictator (Luke 22:25-26). His leadership is both firm and gentle. There are times when he must be rigid and stern, though most of the time, flexible and kindly is the better way to lead. Though he doesn't need the mandate of a vote, consensus from those whom he leads is always preferable to jamming things down their throats. Leadership is an art, not a science. Sometimes a good leader will back off if too much force would be harmful. Conversely, he may have to push a matter even when it would be more comfortable just to shrink from the issue.

But a lot of guys don't know how to lead. Leadership can't really be taught at seminary, like Greek linguistic morphology, the History of the Early Church, and the Doctrine of Justification. Rather, it is something you learn by observation and by doing. It comes with experience.

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was a first-century bishop who was martyred around 107 AD. He was a disciple of John the Apostle - who in turn heard our Lord's instructions about leadership with his own ears. John was present at the Last Supper when our Lord washed the feet of the apostles and told them not to "lord over" their parishioners. St. John's disciple Ignatius has much to say to pastors. He is an advocate of pastoral leadership. He has mush to say about the episcopal office and its necessity to the Church. I believe a reading of his seven letters to the churches as he faced his own martyrdom to be a worthy "leadership study" for pastors. Far better than the latest mega-pop business book with trendy metaphorical titles about parachutes or cheese.

Anyway, I believe the current difficulty a lot of the brothers are having with leadership is that our culture now denigrates two things that are crucial to the very concept of episkope: 1) the male headed household, and 2) hierarchy.

A lot of guys don't know anything about being a leader because our generation has been brainwashed into believing we men aren't leaders in our own families. Feminism has been normalized and pushed to the point where men are afraid to be men. It is no accident that Scripture and Church tradition require an all-male pastorate. Men are supposed to be natural leaders - simply by growing up in male-headed homes and living in a male-headed society. The "Reverend Father" is a parochial version of the "pater familias." Just as it is unnatural for a woman to rule over her husband, it is equally contrary to God's created order for a woman to have episkope over the church.

However, a good number of Christian men essentially allow their wives - if not outright encourage them - to "wear the pants." Any husband who won't "wear the pants" in the family is not likely to "wear the cassock" in the congregation. I believe this is one reason why there is a plethora of books out there about leadership. We have been severed from our manly tradition of leadership, so we rely on Google, Wikipedia, sociologists, and bestselling business books to help us figure out how to "do" it.

The other social matter that seems to me to contribute to our malaise is feminism's evil twin egalitarianism. Especially as Americans, we resent any kind of hierarchical authority - top-down ordering and organization. However, hierarchy is the biblically-ordained order of creation. The family is not a democracy. Fathers are to rule the wives (Eph 5:22-24) and children. Children are to obey their parents (Eph 6:1, Ex 20:12). There is a totem pole, a pecking order. Even in nature, pack animals tend to have an "alpha male."

However, modern family life is not nearly as hierarchical as it once was. In the popular culture, it is fashionable for children to sass their parents, and for wives to rebel against the husband's authority. Fathers are treated with disdain and contempt. Fathers are never to exert their authority over their households. In fact, fathers are often treated as patsies and buffoons. This has become acceptable even in Christian homes. So why should we expect men to know how to be ecclesiastical leaders?

God's order of creation is hierarchical. That's just a fact of natural law. Every creature in creation has a place. Even the human body has a hierarchy (and it is a biblical metaphor of the church). All parts are important, but not all parts are leaders
(e.g. 1 Cor 12:27-31). The arms take orders from the brain, not vice versa. Mankind rules over cattle, not vice versa (Gen 1:28). Generals give the commands and the privates obey them - not vice versa. It is a component of order that there be a chain of command. The alternative is chaos. We're seeing the results of such anti-hierarchicalism in the chaos of modern society.

Even heaven is typified by a hierarchy of angels (e.g. the archangel of 1 Thess 4:16, Jude 9). Moreover, within the Trinity itself, the Son obeys the Father's will, and the Holy Spirit carries out the will of the Father and the Son. The chain of command does not imply inequality. To the contrary, as the Athanasian Creed confesses, the persons of the Godhead are equal. Similarly, according to the Scriptures, though men and women are equal before God (Gen 1:27, Gal 3:28), nevertheless, the husband is bid to govern his family and lay down his life for his bride. Mankind, having dominion over the beasts of the field, has the responsibility to be faithful stewards of the earth's resources. Fathers are not to be cruel of domineering over their children (Eph 6:4).

Our Lord bids us not to govern ourselves like the Gentiles, based on fear and domination ("lording over"). Rather, our leaders are to be servant-leaders (Luke 22:25-26, 1 Tim 4:6). Our leaders are to wash the feet of those whom they lead. Our leaders are to imitate the leadership of Christ - who became servant of all to save all (Phil 2:5-7). But servant leadership is not chaos. It is not democracy. It doesn't overturn the order of creation. Rather it confirms the order of creation and is rooted in love. The leader loves and is willing to give his life for God and for his beloved out of service. The one who follows the leader is obedient, out of love of both God and the leader. Servent leadership is still leadership. Being a shepherd still means being a herder of the sheep. Being a bishop ("overseer") means being "over" those under his charge in order to "see" (supervise) them. That's a terribly unpopular sentiment in America and in the Missouri Synod, but it is simply the teaching of God's Word and is demonstrated in natural law and the order of creation.

Ignatius of Antioch never had to read books about how to be a leader. In his day, men simply knew how to be men. Fathers simply knew how to be fathers. Bishops simply knew how to be bishops. Men knew these things from living these things. Today, men have to read books and do research to try to figure out what our fathers simply lived out.


Rev. Daniel Robert Skillman said...

Men aren't men anymore, and that's the way our culture wants it. The assault on the family, on the order of creation, on the male-only-pastorate, on the distinction between the sexes marches on, and is apparently winning. Come Lord Jesus, and save us from this mess.


Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod said...

The way you interchange and confuse the use of two pastoral offices of bishop and priest make much of what you have to say unintelligible.

You interchange "overseer" and "shepherd" as if they were the same word and denoted the same office.

For a man like you who esteems the catholic tradition so highly, you seem to be playing a bit fast and loose with these ecclesial (and scriptural) words and offices.

Father Hollywood said...

I have a weakness for feeding both kittens and trolls. Unfortunately, both have bad results. My house is too small to accommodate any more cats, and my time is too limited to entertain more trolls.

But thanks for playing!

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod said...

Thanks for your thoughts on that issue. I appreciate that effort you put into it.