Leadership is a demanding ministry. It might also be said to be an ‘art’ and a subtle one at that. It is far easier in a time when a group or organisation is growing and progressing – such times are exciting, the groups have high energy and leaders, and members can see the results of their efforts – often before there very eyes.
In times of trial, disappointment, struggle, or persecution leadership is equally vital, but it takes on a different character. Leadership in difficult times, especially when hostility is directed at leaders themselves, is deeply challenging. At such times validation must come not from external success or adulation an approval, but from deep within. In times of persecution especially leaders must draw on a well of deep resources – hope, trust, and faith to persevere and to lead. In items of persecution a trial ‘good’ can seem to be repaid with evil (as the prophet Jeremiah notes).
Jesus was all too aware of such dynamics.
“Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” He asks those who follow and seek to hold office and authority.
Power, position, privilege, and prestige are often associated with leadership – and they can be seductively alluring. To seek only these aspects is to be led astray and instead of leading one is being led – and the mission suffers.
Further if one only sees leadership in the light of its associated aspects then one misses the mark completely.
In the vision of Jesus, leadership goes beyond mere titles and even position in a group structure. For Jesus leadership might have trappings, but they were not his concern, rather he speaks to the essential dynamic of leading – service. “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave”.
Further, while Jesus sees that leading entails witness and is observed to entail ‘seats’ of office – he is more concerned to stress that a leader must also be able a prepared to endure betrayal, restriction of liberty and even death. He speaks openly of his ‘chalice’ as symbolic of these realities.
We have the finest of leaders to follow – let us do so. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.