In watching a couple of crises unfold around the Church I have been wondering about the nature of Christian leadership. I wrote a piece not long ago on “prayerfully holding the center” in times of change and crisis. The image I chose was one of the host being carefully held in a priest’s hands during mass. I had chosen the image because I said that leadership that emanates from the Altar is different from leadership asserted at a board table.
Now though I am thinking that there was more to the image – to its use in talking of the exercise of Christian leadership. What is Christian leadership except the giving up of self to become something more? In order to truly lead a Christian organization one must, necessarily, sublimate the ego-self to the point where your own best gifts are seen in the revealing light of Christ’s own Presence in the community and in the Sacramental life.
There is a Eucharistic Heart to Christian leadership.
It fundamentally and decisively hinges on holding the community and people you serve with the same delicate attentiveness that one holds a consecrated host. The Body of Christ we serve demands the same reverence, adoration, and thoughtful care that the Sacrament does – for what it makes of us is as precious as what it is.
The Sacrament, and Christian leadership, do not exist for their own ends but for the ends of those who receive them – they do not exist to feed privately holy or powerful individuals but to reveal and focus the Christ-likeness of those journeying in the heart of God. A Christian leader is one who reveals more of the fundamental best, the essence of the community and the individuals in it. The crucial thing is to hold onto the essential truth that our fundamental best is Christ.
When we consecrate bread we are taking a common thing and naming it holy because that is what Christ commands of us. We are in mortal danger when we take it without perceiving that deepest alteration of its essence. It is substantially transformed and by grace we approach it, take it, and let it make of us something new. We are in equally mortal danger should we not see the Body in the community that trusts us to lead.
We come to it with trembling hands because we have been given an awesome gift.
The exercise of Christian leadership must be undertaken with the same awareness of the precious gift that it is – and with the same care for that which is being handed to us. Our role is to hold, adore, nurture, and receive the gifts of the Body. In the same way that we implore the Holy Spirit to make of bread a new thing, the Christian priest begs the Holy Spirit to be in and with the communities we lead and to make of them a new and holy thing – to reveal their essence which has been baptized into new life.
This leadership is only about power in that it is the welcome of the power of the Spirit.
It is only about force when in that we reject the force that raised the cross.
It is only about ego in that it is about laying aside our own.
It is only about abuse in that it frees the community from the fear of it.
It is only about recrimination in that it asks us to interrogate our own motives.
The Eucharistic Heart of leadership rests its hope on the shape of the Eucharistic act. We gather with our community. We hear and know the word of God. We respond to that story of God’s faithfulness with our own pledge to live in holiness. We confess where we have gone amiss – and when we have wronged the Body. We are forgiven and restored. We know peace and come before the throne together. We gather our shared gifts, small and large, and lay them out for transformation. We ask the Holy Spirit to come. We see, know, and understand brokenness – then we see it made whole in perfect love. We share in that which we know ourselves to be as the Body. We are blessed and we go forth blessed, fed, forgiven, and made bold in Christ’s own humility.
In all of this it is easy to be distracted by the stuff – in liturgy it is easy to fall prey to the need to be charismatic, charming, or humorous. It is easy to think, “This is going wrong and it is up to me to fix it.” It is easy to say, “I’m doing a great job!” It is even easier to say, “I’m failing.” It is tempting to be anxious, resentful, or fearful. It is tempting to be prideful, vain, or self-satisfied. Yet, it is not about us.
When we hear the words of Christ, when we look into the eyes of the gathered community, when we let the generations call us to humility in a Communion shared from before the foundations of the world, when we know ourselves as forgiven and restored – when we do all of this with a generous heart we will have rested in the Eucharistic Heart for we will have let the Body change us.
The Eucharistic Heart of leadership is not really about “leadership” at all – at least not in the classic sense of force of will or charisma. It is about creating the space for holy and utter transformation to occur – this can never happen in communities that are fearful of our authority. It can only happen in communities that trust that we too are letting the Spirit make of us a new thing – that we are letting the Body feed us for some new work of holiness.
So we hold it gently. We hold it fearfully. We hold it with tenderness. We hold it knowing that in it the fullness of Christ is prepared to dwell – if only we can have the courage to see it for the revered and precious thing it is for it is nothing less than the Body.