Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gifted Individualism is NOT Leadership

How time flies! It doesn't seem all that long ago that Peter Jensen became Archbishop of Sydney (my home town). Well, I've just read the current issue of the Australian Church Record which indicates that in Sydney they are already thinking about who the NEXT Archbishop will be. The Editorial has some very useful remarks on leadership in general, and what leaders in the post-baby-boomer church need to be like:

One of the great privileges of being part of the Lord's people is rubbing shoulders with so many gifted people. Paul's image of 'the body' (1 Corinthians 12) displays such a beautiful picture of the organic unity that exists amongst God's people. Here we find the Spirit of God has baptized all of us into the body-life of the congregation, and God has richly gifted his people. This is so that the body-life can function well, with security and stability, thus promoting the movement towards 'growing up into the head (Christ)', our ultimate maturity (Ephesians 4).

At least two factors in the last half-century have placed 'giftedness' firmly on the agenda, especially when it comes to discussions of 'leadership'. The first is within 'Christian culture', namely, the influence of neo-pentecostalism. This has made it almost axiomatic for Christians to wonder about the gifts the Spirit may have distributed to them. The second (and related) factor comes from general culture, namely, the so-called 'sixties revolution', a phenomenon which simmered across the decade, came to a head in 1968, and then continued to bring massive cultural transformation across the seventies and beyond.

With a cry for freedom from all authority, individualism - arguably already lying under some constraint in western society - was catapulted to the forefront. And along with this - with some kind of strange amnesia for the tyrannical examples from just a decade or two previously - came the rise of 'charismatic leadership'. Whether dispensed by revolutionary figures, rock stars, or the gurus of the increasing number of new religious movements, 'leadership' was no longer connected to social position, or to any perceived 'authority' structure or social convention, but it was connected to a counter-cultural individual who managed to sway others by his/her personal charisma.

With sad predictability, Christian culture soon followed suit. Whether expressed publicly in the charismatic movement or in 'famous-preacher' cults; or behind the closed doors of scholarship, where Jesus began to be restyled as a charismatic leader, the ripple effects of this view of leadership continue to the present time.

But gifted individualism is not leadership. The ability to rule others by the persuasive force of personality is not leadership. The ability of a 'charismatic' personality to sway the crowds is not a sign of good leadership. The attractive power of decisive action and even impressive ability are not signs of beneficial leadership. Ability in rhetorical pulpiteering, whether inside or outside the Church, says nothing about whether the teaching is true leadership.

And what has any of this got to do with Christian leadership? Jesus came amongst us to serve. God gifts his people for their works of service, exercised in a spirit of love and desire for edification. Shepherding involves serving up the word of God to feed the flock. True and proper use of God's charismata will be corporately expressed for the common good of the body, building itself towards maturity. Spotting those gifted for Christian leadership is therefore a tricky task, for it involves spotting qualities of self-effacing service; other-person-centred motivations and actions; integrated relational connectedness already displayed; quiet godliness already in operation amongst God's people; faithfulness in teaching by which the people of God are already being nurtured towards maturity; and the like.

Unfortunately, those influenced by the sixties' destabilization (and at the moment, that must be most) may completely overlook such quiet achievers in the quest for 'charismatic leaders'. They may even express a disappointment at the absence of leadership in the next generation - but according to what criteria is this judgment being made?

Western society is on the brink of its next turning-point. The sixties generation are being forced to let go (not of their own will, but through thoroughly 'natural processes'). Presumably there will be sixties' disciples who continue to push forward the quest for the 'charismatic leader'. But, perhaps too the moment is ripe for a different form of 'leadership' to emerge from the next generation. Hopefully within Christian circles, this leadership might reflect more of the Master.


Alice C. Linsley said...

This is a terrific piece, Father. True. So true.

I'm going to post a link to this at my Ethics Forum blog.

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