Christian leadership – being of service

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


THERE are two kinds of stories in the Bible which illustrate what kind of leadership Christ expects to be exercised in his Church and in the Christian community he envisions. There is the story of the temptation of Jesus in the dessert and there is the parable of the shepherd and his flock.

Jesus was tempted by the devil to believe that he had received his power straight from God and that God would protect him. But Jesus, in answer to the temptation of the devil, made it clear that his life journey has not been traced out for him by the Creator but he wants to go his own way living in union with God whom he calls his Father.

Jesus acts out of a personal belief and a deep-felt love; he feels that he is driven by his faith and love and thus has to follow the road he sees in front of him. That road is to be of service. That is his vocation; that is leadership. This outlook on vocation is totally different from the dominant view on vocation and leadership. Jesus’ close friends and followers have a difficulty with this kind of leadership. They are debating with each other who will get what position in the community Jesus envisions. Also mothers and family members get involved. They didn’t understand yet that God calls to love, not to power and status.

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The parable of the shepherd is full of symbols and images. First of all, Jesus makes it clear that he is the good shepherd who will lay down his life for his sheep. He will lead his sheep also to greener pastures. He says also that he owns the sheep; he is not like the hired man who doesn’t own the sheep and therefore will abandon the sheep and run away from them as soon as there is a danger for him. The shepherd is the servant of his sheep. He is their leader only in as far as he is needed to lead his sheep to greener pastures. He leaves his sheep free but if they are hanging around too long in one place, he leads them to richer grazing grounds. He guides them with care and love.

This kind of leadership of a loving and serving shepherd was totally new in Jesus’ time. Also this kind of leadership in the community was new. It is therefore no surprise that soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection, in that young community there was already a debate how the Christians had to be united as one flock and how that flock had to be guided.

In the first community of Christians there was already an organization, a system of rights and responsibilities. Leaders of local communities came automatically forward or they were appointed by the local Church. In the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul and others in the New Testament it is clear that the young Church became more of an organization where there was a structure of authority. There was nothing wrong with that because important tasks as mutual help and solidarity had to be implemented. The purity of good faith and joint ideals had to be preserved.

Religious leaders and especially Christian political leaders should know that their first calling is: to serve the people. Power and authority should not be used to deceive or to take advantage of the people but to serve them in all their needs. They should serve until it hurts, as Pope Francis has said.

[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 06, 2014.

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