SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 6:1-7; PS 32:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 PETER 2:4-9; JN 14:1-12 ]
We are called to be the priestly and prophetic people of God. St Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” Indeed, by virtue of our baptism, we have been chosen by God to lead others to Him as well. This is the way to give thanks to God for His great mercy and kindness. The psalmist says, “Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just; for praise is fitting for loyal hearts. Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp, with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs.” Whilst all are called to be members of the royal priesthood of Christ, some of us are called into Christian leadership, whether as laity or as clergy. At any rate, all of us are Christian leaders in different degrees and positions.
But what does it take to be a Christian leader? The Scripture readings give us the guidelines as to how a Christian leader should be chosen. From the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the apostles told the community to “Select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom.”
The first criterion is therefore a good reputation. It is necessary that Christian leaders enjoy the confidence and trust of the community. Without a good reputation, whatever good work the leader does would be contradicted. The credibility of a leader is everything. Otherwise, he can no longer lead. This explains why leaders must ensure that they do not do anything scandalous to tarnish their reputation. St Paul himself wrote, “We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” (2 Cor 6:3-7) In the gospel, Jesus warns us of the dangers of causing scandal when He said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones, those who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Mt 18:6) Leaders therefore must always be exemplary in their conduct, in their way of life, their speech and their actions. Indeed, many Catholics have left the Church because of the arrogance and misconduct of priests, religious and lay leaders. They were scandalized and give up faith in the Church.
Secondly, he must “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be very much in touch with the Lord. Only a person who has the mind of Christ, the heart of the Good Shepherd, the love and compassion of Christ can truly lead His people. Jesus told the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not, I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus comes to live in us forever in the Holy Spirit. The place that Jesus is taking us is to His heart. When His Spirit dwells in our hearts, that is where heaven is, where we find joy, peace and love. Being receptive to the Holy Spirit is to be docile to the movements of the Spirit in one’s life and among one’s people. In giving oneself to the power of the Holy Spirit, one is filled with the gifts of the Spirit as well, both of theological and functional gifts, for one’s personal sanctification and growth in grace and also for the work of building up the body of Christ to full maturity. For this reason, a leader must always be in touch with the Holy Spirit, seeking His power and blessings.
Thirdly, a leader nees wisdom from God to lead his people. Wisdom is not just knowledge, understanding and skills. The wisdom of the Holy Spirit is to be able to see beyond what is earthly and worldly to the ultimate good and truth of life. It is the grace to judge everything in this world in the light of the highest things of life, that is, union with God, union with our brothers and sisters, and peace of mind. It is the ability to know the right course of action and carry them out according to the spirit of the commandments. So a leader who has wisdom must make all decisions in view of the ultimate good of all. Jesus taught, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:29-31) A man who is sensual and worldly or self-centered cannot judge things and situations in the right perspective.
Fourthly, a Christian leader must always have Christ as His cornerstone. Christ must be the center of our lives. Cornerstone means the foundation. “Jesus said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father too.” In other words, he must be deeply connected with the Lord. St Peter urges us, “The Lord is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house.” Christ must be the reference point in all that he thinks or does. He should always be asking, “Is that what and how Jesus would act in a particular situation?” If he has the mind of Jesus and His Holy Spirit, he will be guided by the Lord to do the right thing and the wise thing even when the world thinks differently. That is why some Christian leaders are more concerned about doing and functioning than really making time to pray and be connected with the Lord. Even Jesus Himself took leave from His disciples to go to the hills or the desert to be alone in prayer. A Christian leader who hardly meditates on the scripture, making time for intimacy with the Lord, and basking in His love and presence, is in great danger of losing focus and relying on his human wisdom and human strength rather than on the wisdom and power of God.
Finally, a Christian leader must have great faith in the Lord. Otherwise, he will rely only on himself and when things happen or when he experiences success, it will get into his head, and he will start thinking highly of himself. Pride is the downfall of many Christian leaders. When they become successful, they begin to attribute their success unconsciously to their talents and ingenuity although they might publicly claim that it is the work of God. Jesus made it clear that He could do great things only because of His Father. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work. You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.”
Faith in Jesus is the basis for effectiveness in ministry. Jesus assures us, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.” In this way, we have no fear even when things do not happen the way we plan. We must trust that if God wants it, He will make it happen. Just like the apostles, we tend to worry too much. But if it is a question of fulfilling our own plans and not the plan of God, then we should worry. Otherwise, we must surrender everything into His hands and His wisdom for this is what the Lord said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.”
If we can find such people in our community, who are God-fearing, humble and faith-filled, they will indeed make great leaders like the deacons in the primitive Christian community. We read that these were presented “to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” As a consequence, “The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.” Indeed, more than just skills, talents and knowledge, we need leaders with wisdom and faith. Together with a deep love for God and His people, they will help the community to grow in grace and in number. The psalmist says, “For the word of the Lord is faithful and all his works to be trusted. The Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with his love. The Lord looks on those who revere him, on those who hope in his love, to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine.”