This past week, TIME magazine published an annual issue on “The 100 Most Influential People.” Several categories of influence were cited from around the world: pioneers, artists, leaders, titans, and icons. Because of my current role in leadership development for our Annual Conference, I was most interested in the “leadership” category. Who are the world leaders of today, and why?
The lists include presidents, prime ministers, advisors, senators, and such. Only one reference to “religious” leadership on the list: Pope Francis.
The interesting thing about Pope Francis: his leadership is communicated through witness. He likes the words of a prior pope who once said, “Modern [people] listen more willingly to witness that to teachers.”
I am not sure there is any one definition of Christian leadership. However, my sense is that the Pope is correct. How we live as Kingdom persons in the world is more definitive than specific theories or instruction. I only have a few clues and hints that help me along the way.
A few years ago, I cited some useful words from Dr. Dan Aleshire, retiring this summer as executive director of the Association of Theological Schools. He said, “The future needs leaders who are willing to lead when the way is not clear, when the culture is not supportive, when the work is hard, and when the results are ambiguous.” He then adds this important dimension: “[The church now] needs leaders whose internal compass is oriented to the love, grace, and justice than constitute the true North of the Christian Faith.”
More recently, a second hint came to me via Cynthia Bourgeault, a teacher at the Center for Action and Contemplation with Fr. Richard Rohr. She was offering commentary on the Beatitude, “Blessed are the Meek.” (April 17, 2017) She suggests an accurate translation might be, “Blessed are the gentle.” Or even better, “Blessed are the gentled.” Hardly the most valued criterion for leadership today! But perhaps a worthy and solid hint at what God’s leadership team looks like.
Over the past nine years, I have worked with about 70 newer clergy in our United Methodist “provisional” process in Western Pennsylvania. I am convinced we surely need savvy and aware leaders for the years ahead. The way into the next few years is clearly different than it was when I entered ministry—or even just a few years ago
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