DEALING WITH ERRANT LEADERS

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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 SM 24:3-21; PS 57:2-4,6,11; MK 3:13-19 ]
The work of leadership is indeed very challenging. Those who are not in leadership may think that decision-making is an easy task. We cannot please everyone. There are as many opinions on what must be done or should not be done as there are voices. Whatever we decide or do, every leader has his staunch supporters and harsh detractors. Many cases of conflict have to do with preferences or differences in opinion or style of leadership, rather than the integrity of the leader.

Notwithstanding this preliminary remark, what should we do when we come across an errant leader, at least from our perspective, for it might not be so for others? Leadership cannot be generalized. There are leaders, and there are leaders. So we must determine what kind of leadership are we speaking about. There are basically four kinds of leadership; theocratic, religious, political and corporate leadership. We must determine what is called forth from a particular form of leadership and in our case, religious leadership.

Religious leaders have a different set of qualities. The standards listed for overseers, bishop or elders in the letters of St Paul to Timothy and Titus are primarily moral and spiritual. The character of the Church leaders is more important than his personality, skills, administrative abilities, eloquence in preaching or even academic achievements. What is underscored is that leaders must be godly and holy. He is called to be a role model of family life, temperance, fidelity, honesty and detachment from worldly pursuits. “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:7-9) Of course, this exhortation applies to all religious leaders as well. (cf 1 Tim 3:2-13)

In the gospel, Jesus chose the Twelve apostles from the crowd that followed Him from place to place. He did not choose them to be His messengers because of their faith, because we know that their faith faltered many times when challenged, especially when they abandoned Jesus at His passion. Neither were they chosen for their talents and abilities, because none of them stood out as academically or administratively brilliant. On the contrary, St Paul wrote, “For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:26-28) This is true for our religious leaders as well.

Indeed, the apostles came from a wide range of backgrounds, trades, political inclinations and experiences. In terms of leadership potential, they were not much better than those who were not chosen, or worse! But yet Jesus chose them to be His followers. “So they came to him and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils.” In spite of their moral and spiritual weaknesses, they stayed close to Jesus. Because they remained companions of Jesus, they were given the power to do what Jesus did. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” (Jn 15:7f) The Holy Spirit was given to them. “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32)

However, political and corporate leaders have a different set of criteria. They are chosen for their skills, particularly in governance so that the well-being of the people can be looked after. Political leaders are to ensure harmony and justice without discrimination and that the common good of the people are protected. They are to work with corporate leaders to grow the economy for the progress of the country and the prosperity of the nation. So without the necessary skills for governance and knowledge of growing the economy, they would fail as leaders because they become hindrances to the growth of the country and the peace of their people.

This is where religious leaders must recognize their limitations when it comes to administration. Whilst religious leaders also share in the work of governance and ultimately is responsible for the unity of the flock under his care, he cannot pretend that he is a trained CEO, as if he knows everything under the sun. Religious leaders must be humble to seek the advice of lay leaders. They should learn from the early Church where the administration was given to deacons so that the apostles could devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (cf Acts 6:1-6) Otherwise, they can end up making decisions in a dictatorial manner, causing division and conflicts in the community.

So how do we deal with those leaders when they act in a dictatorial and authoritarian manner without consideration of the feelings and the needs of the community? Political leaders are removed by people in a democratic election or, in the worst scenario, through a revolution when there is oppression. Corporate leaders are removed when they cannot move the company forward because this is what they were hired for. Religious leaders are removed from office not because of ineptness in administration but because of lack of moral integrity, dishonesty and impropriety. Where they are found to be lacking in administrative skills, they could be moved to those ministries that allow them to focus on ministering rather administrative work. In truth, it is better that religious leaders focus on the ministry and spreading of the gospel rather than on administration of the Church, leaving the latter to the laity, whilst exercising oversight instead of doing the work themselves.

But before we seek to remove leaders, we must learn from David’s respect for the office. Though King Saul did him wrong, he continued to render respect for the office. He called Saul, “My lord king! I will not raise my hand against my Lord for he is the anointed of the Lord. O my father, see, look at the border of your cloak in my hand.” When a person confuses the office with the person in charge of it, he has failed in charity and credibility. David was wise. If he had shown disrespect for the office and killed Saul, then he would have set an example for others to follow when they did not agree with him.

Secondly, we must be sincere in wanting to help the leader to grow in understanding through clarification and assurance. David showed himself to be a supporter of King Saul. He did not seek the crown but was happy to serve Saul. He demonstrated his sincerity by refraining from taking his life and spoke to him with respect and love. He did it without malice, anger or resentment, unlike many of us when we attack a religious leader. He showed goodwill instead of uttering threats and issuing ultimatums. As a consequence, Saul was moved by the words of David. “Saul wept aloud. ‘You are a more upright man than I, for you have repaid me with good while I have repaid you with evil. Today you have crowned your goodness towards me since the man comes on his enemy, does he let him go unmolested? May the Lord reward you for the goodness you have shown me today. Now I know you will indeed reign and that the sovereignty in Israel will be secure in your hands.” Indeed, when we are respectful and sincere in wanting to help the leader to do the right things for the good of all, giving him the benefit of the doubt, chances are that the leader will listen as Saul did and change accordingly.

Thirdly, we must leave justice to God who writes straight in crooked lines. We should not take things into our own hands. We should not impose our will on them. At the end of the day, Saul was not killed by David but by his enemies when he was under the attack of the Amalekites (cf 2 Sm 1:18-20), or by a Philistine (cf 2 Sm 21:12), or he could have taken his own life to spare him from the shame of being captured by his enemies. (cf 1 Sm 31:4) So let us be patient for God knows when to remove His Anointed Ones, just as He knows when to appoint them. For bad and evil leaders, God will have them removed directly or indirectly through the people or the situation. God writes straight in crooked lines. God has His ways and we must trust Him.

As leaders, we need to consult and hear the cries of our people. The primary task of a leader is to help the organization to grow but it is not possible to gather all on board without first promoting unity among the members. So leaders must seek to foster unity above all. Building a spirituality of communion is of utmost importance before any programs can be implemented, because without the support of the community, nothing will succeed. Most of all, leaders must spend time in prayerful discernment with their community so that they can make wise decisions for the good of all and not for themselves. Once we have brought our decisions to prayer, then we can implement them. This calls for further explanation and justification for our decisions so that all might understand the rationale behind such decisions. Once that is done, we must respectfully agree to disagree because no decision can please everyone.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone.

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