Parish Magazine Article - August 2020
It is said we are shaped by our culture. If that is true, then one of the strongest leadership motifs is that of the hero leader. In film we have James Bond, Indiana Jones and Princess Leia; in television we have Doctor Who, Buffy and Danger Mouse: we are surrounded by heroes. (I'm a big action film and sci-fi fan)
However so often they are flawed individuals, some like Bond or The Doctor are anti- heroes just staying the right side of the line but edging on many occasions into the ambiguous middle ground, the grey moral no-man’s land of society’s values. Some like Batgirl or the Green Arrow seem to have turned to the darkness to right the wrongs of society and they are shaped by a deep inner drive and personal angst.
Many of the old heroes like Captain America and Wonder Woman knew which side of the line they stood, firmly in the light righting wrongs with justice, compassion and fairness. We could always tell the good guy or girl because they wore the white hat (The Lone Ranger) while the bad guys always wore black (Darth Vader).
The problem for the Church is that these heroes and anti-heroes always win the day, good always triumphs and the hero wins the applause and adulation. This is extremely seductive for those who seek or feel called to leadership positions, being the saviour raises us to the standard of hero, it places us at the centre of the action. It creates status, position and power but it also creates problems. There is only one saviour in the Christian story and it isn’t us.
In Jesus temptation in the wilderness Satan offers him the chance to be a super hero, to be adored and feted but instead Jesus chose a different path. He chose the path of servant and constantly refused to be the hero. Not only did he choose a different path he chastised James and John when they sought power and position and Peter was rebuked for refusing to have his feet washed. Those in religious power consistently found Jesus challenged them for abusing their positions. Jesus' challenge is for the leader to be a servant not a hero, to seek the path of service, generosity, hospitality, compassion and self-giving.
Even in the business world it is now widely recognized that the hero leader or heroic CEO is more hindrance than help.
As Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, says:
Virtually everything our modern culture believes about the type of leadership required to transform our institutions is wrong. It is also dangerous. There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organisations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.
If you feel a call to leadership in the Church then perhaps you need to stop and ask yourself what is your motivation, do you want to serve or be served? A good friend of mine used to ask prospective ordinands how they’d feel if he asked them to sweep up the leaves on his drive or to help him wash the dishes at their first meeting, he understood that leadership began and ended with servant- heartedness.
So heroic leaders need not apply! What is wanted here and now in our church as we emerge from COVID are servant hearted leaders who are ambitious for the Kingdom and not for themselves. They are those who point to Jesus as the one who transforms lives and society, they recognise they are only signposts to a Kingdom that is both here and yet to come.
If you feel you are called to leadership that points to Jesus, then the Church needs you!
The Ven Derek Chedzey is Archdeacon of Hereford and Ludlow