Once upon a time, an airplane hits a patch of severe turbulence. The passengers hold on tight as it rocks and reels through the sky. A lady turns to a minister sitting behind her and says, “You’re a man of God. Can’t you do something about this?” The minister replies, “Sorry, I can’t. I’m in sales, not management.”
How do we recognize a good leader? What makes for good church leadership?
I think good ministerial leadership begins with inspiration. Does the leader inspire people? Look at Jesus. Jesus sends the Twelve out on mission. He commissions them to the do the same ministry: preach, teach, raise the dead, heal the sick and cast out evil. He inspires them to join him in the inauguration of the kingdom of God. And when they return they report all they had done and taught. To re-energize them, he informs them that they need to get away to “re-charge their spiritual batteries,” to make a Sabbath. But as they sneak away in a boat to a deserted place, the people hear about their get away place. Before you know it, a huge crowd is waiting for them on the shore.
Notice the Lord’s reaction to this major interruption in his life with his closest friends: compassion. In the words of Benedictine Sister Verna Holyhead, “If God is not in the interruptions, then where do we find God?” Another sign of a good leader is finding God in the interruptions of daily life.
However, when I am in the middle of an important project, when there are deadlines to be met, when I feel very important and bigger than you, I hate the interruptions. Why? Because. I am better than you. I am more important than you. I possess more status than you. I am the superior. And when I act like this I am not the compassionate leader. I am the critical leader. Criticism, brothers and sisters, is the opposite of compassion. When I am more critical than I am compassionate, I am not a good church leader, I am become a “misleader.”
To illustrate, after St. Damien of Molokai’i contracted leprosy, he asked Mother Marianne Cope to take over his ministry in Hawaii. Now, we would think that working with any deadly contagious disease would make us think twice about the ministry of compassion. Instead, when the Franciscan sisters arrive Alice Camille tells us that they exclaim: “How much good there is to do here.”
Another illustration…last week we celebrated the feast of St. Bonaventure. Franciscan friar and scholarly theologian, Bonaventure was the major superior of the Order of Friars Minor. One day he visits a monastery and a friar desires to speak with him. But the friar is so shy that he misses his chances to speak privately with the great theologian and soon to be Cardinal-Bishop. Finally, as Bonaventure makes his way down the road, the friar interrupts his travel and asks for an audience with his superior. Bonaventure stops and spends a great deal of time listening and responding to his fellow friar much to the chagrin of his traveling companions.
What is the sign of a good shepherd? A good Christian leader finds God in the interruptions of daily life. And when the leader allows God to interrupt his/her day, the leader reacts with compassion, that “gut wrenching womb love” Sister Verna calls it.
There is no more gut wrenching womb love than the Eucharist. Here the true shepherd, Jesus, interrupts our Sunday to feed us with holy food. How much good there is to do here!
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.