Bookstores all across the country have hundreds of books in the “Business” sections talking about how to be a good leader. They have lists and lists of characteristics and behaviors that a “good” leader has or needs. And they sell well because most of us who are leaders really do want to be successful in being leaders.
And, to be sure, many of these books offer helpful advice. But what about a leader in the Church, the Body of Christ? What kind of character and behavior should one possess and cultivate if you are a leader in the Church?
Because, whether we like it or not, those who lead in the Church leave examples, both good and bad, for the next generation. If I’m honest, most leaders have to come to grips with the reality that we pass on both strengths and weaknesses to varying degrees as leaders in the Church. But it is always helpful to measure our own strengths and weaknesses as leaders with the Apostolic wisdom of St. Paul.
Look at how he teaches St. Timothy about leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-13:
Timothy, my son, the saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. The women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
St. Paul wants St. Timothy to be a good and effective leader in the Church. Timothy is his spiritual son and he has placed Timothy, though a young man, in a position of leadership in a local parish. And Paul wants his spiritual son to know what a good leader in the Church looks like. So he starts with Bishop.
Now, let’s not forget in the earliest days of the Church there were few Christians and each community shared the full range of leadership in them. There was the Bishop (or Overseer) who had the primary responsibility to serve the people. There were his helpers the priests and deacons. And there were lay leaders as well. But, good leadership has to be modeled by the central leader so Paul starts there.
First Paul makes it clear that if a man desires the office of Bishop, he desires a “noble task. Indeed. This heavy responsibility is both necessary for a healthy functioning Church AND an awesome responsibility. No one (in their right mind) would seek this out unless they were willing to shoulder such a challenge. And look, St. Paul insists that this leader must be “above reproach.” The bar is already set higher than many of us could ever hope to reach. But the standard has to be high because of the “noble” character of the responsibility. And Paul starts to unpack this idea of “above reproach” by insisting this is how one must live.
The family must be in order. The chaos of a family can so distract a leader that he is made ineffective to serve the Faithful. So, the family has to be tended to and served first. The bishop must also have internal peace as well as external peace. He has to be balanced and attentive to himself and his people. He can’t be given to addictions and passions. Self-control and sober mind and body are the disciplined life of the Bishop. A good leader is serious, not frivolous. His reputation internally in the community and externally among those outside the Church must be solid.
Then Paul gives a great insight into making a good leader: “let him be tested first.” No matter who the leader is, either lay leader or ordained leader, there is no substitute for the testing time to see if this person can bear the weight of servant leadership. We don’t make leaders quick! Leadership has too many weighty consequences to not be deliberate in our formation of leaders.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty unqualified for leadership right about now. And yet, this is also the point. None of us are ever going to be perfect in this. And that’s why the Church gives us the gift of repentance, confession, and spiritual wisdom. It’s why I make regular appointments with my spiritual father to keep both humility and sobriety in my own life. We aspire and we repent. That makes a good leader!
Today, do you pray for your leaders? Are you a leader? Or maybe you desire to serve through leadership? This lofty and honorable calling is meant to uncover your broken places. Let it do its good work in you and remember to always be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O God, great in might and inscrutable in wisdom, marvelous in counsel above the sons of men: You the same Lord, fill with the gift of Your Holy Spirit this man whom it has pleased You to advance to the degree of Priest; that he may become worthy to stand in innocence before Your altar, to proclaim the Gospel of Your kingdom, to minister the word of Your truth, to offer to You spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew Your people through the font of regeneration, that when he shall go to meet You, at the second coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Your only-begotten Son, he may receive the reward of good stewardship in the order given to him, through the plenitude of Your goodness. (The Prayer of the Bishop over the head of the newly ordained priest)