Servant Leadership: Be All You Can Be!

Encounter 2012 of the Eastern Catholic Churches
Midwest-Cleveland, OH – September 20 – 23, 2012
East-Hillsborough, NJ – October 11-14, 2012
West-Los Angeles, CA – November 1-4, 2012


Who Are We as Church Leaders

The New Testament attests to the sacramental leadership of bishops, priests, and deacons. There is no clearly defined “organizational chart” for the Church, but we do see three structural offices which have come down to us in the mystery of the priesthood:

  1. “Elder” (presbyter) was the most general designation, functioning first of all as the ruling council of the local congregation. Later some presbyters would be sent out to oversee rural congregations.
  2. “Bishop” was an overseer, one of the presbyters who was given general responsibilities for the church in a particular city. At first this was probably only one main congregation with perhaps one or two satellites.
  3. “Deacon” means servant or minister and deacons dealt with temporalities and service.

But with these three offices it was necessary to have a congregation. All three offices came from the Laos or laos tou theou – the people of God. From laos we get the word laity. Without them the ministerial offices had no function.

The body of the faithful – the laity, being baptized in Christ and chrismated or anointed in the Spirit become part and parcel of the priesthood – the royal priesthood of Christ. We put on Christ and are sent to be another Christ, called to evangelize and live the Gospel.

Hand in hand the ministerial priesthood, deacon, priest and bishop , and the royal priesthood – the laity – work to build the Body of Christ, the Church.

St Paul presents in imagery a special approach to leadership. In 1 Corinthians 3:10 “Thanks to the favor God showed me. I laid a foundation as a wise master-builder might do, and now someone else is building upon it. Everyone, however, must be careful how he builds.” He presents the builder analogy. The Greek word he uses is architecton from which we get the word architect. Tecton means carpenter. Archi means head – the “headbuilder” is the designer or architect. From this analogy we can see three types of builders/leaders: architect, contractor and carpenter or craftsman.

The builder theme for Paul is basic. He uses the Greek word Oikodomeo – easily understood as a house and fellowship group – a “home.” When Paul talks about building, we hear it as “building fellowship.” Fellowship means community which is much more than superficial interaction.

The architect draws up the plan, focusing on a foundation and a sturdy design. In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul sees the community as “fellow citizens, with the saints and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together as a community to become a dwelling place in which God lives by his Spirit.” In Ephesians 4:12, he says “to prepare saints for works of service, for building up of the Body of Christ.”

Paul acted as a contractor: he sorted out and prioritized contributions (1 Corinthians 8:1, 14:22-26) He recognized the diversity of gifts; (1 Corinthians 12:4-12) “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord, there different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. “The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body; and so it is with Christ. … Now the body is not one member, it is many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” would it then no longer belong to the body? If the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” would it then no longer belong to the body? If the body were all eye, what would happen to our hearing? If it were all ear, what would happen to our smelling? As it is, God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be. If all the members were alike, where would the body be? There are indeed many different members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” any more than the head can say to the feet, “I do not need you. Even those members of the body which seem less important are in fact indispensable… If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy. You, then are the body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it. Furthermore, God has set up in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, healers, assistants, administrators, and those who speak in tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles or have the gift of healing? Do all speak in tongues, all have the gift of interpretation of tongues? Set your hearts on the greater gifts. He exhorted members to contribute their part as well as possible (Rom 12) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and not all the members have the same function, so too we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another. We have gift that differ according to the favor bestowed on each of us. One’s gift may be prophecy; its use should be in proportion to his faith. It may be the gift of ministry; it should be used for service. One who is a teacher should use his gift for teaching; one with the power of exhortation should exhort. He who gives alms should do so generously; he who rules should exercise his authority with care; he who performs works of mercy should do so cheerfully.”

And Paul was a carpenter or hands-on builder. He evangelized, exhorted a house group in Philippi (1 Corinthians 12); he healed at Lystra (Acts 14:8-10); preached in Corinth (Acts 18:5); baptized in Ephesus (Acts 19:5); Taught daily in Tyrannus (Acts 19:9); celebrated the Lord’s supper in Troas (Acts 20:7-11).

He passed on the hands-on building to others when he went to prison.

This building analogy helps us understand the different leadership roles needed to build up today’s Church.

Christian Leadership: Service

From our tradition then, Christian leadership is connected with being created in the image of God. Because mankind is in the image of the Creator, he is the leader of creation (Genesis 1:26,28): “Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” (Psalm 8:6-7) “You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet:” The same exists in the marriage ceremony – husband and wife are crowned to do God’s work, particularly in their kingdom, the family.

Christ, the perfect image of the Father, portrays leadership as servanthood (Mark 10:42-45) “Jesus called them together and said to them: “You know how among the Gentiles those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve-to give his life in ransom for the many.” At the supper before his passion: “After he had washed their feet, he put his cloak back on and reclined at table once more. He said to them: “Do you understand what I just did for you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and fittingly enough, for that is what I am. But if I washed your feet- I who am Teacher and Lord-then you must wash each other’s feet. What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do. I solemnly assure you, no slave is greater than his master; no messenger outranks the one who sent him. Once you know all these things, blest will you be if you put them into practice.” (John 13:12-17) Christ led by serving His Father’s purposes: we imitate Him if we are more assertive of His will than our own. He washed his apostles’ feet and told them that they too had to do likewise, true servanthood.

Our Blueprint is God-given

The New Testament term for the Church, also used directly in our Divine Liturgy, is the “community in or of the Holy Spirit.” This evokes a pattern of relationships with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and with our fellow believers.

In Acts 2:42-47, Communal Life – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s need. They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes they broke bread. With exultant and sincere hearts they took their meals in common, praising God and winning the approval of all the people. Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Here we find our blueprint to be Church. We are meant to be a people growing together in worship, learning, fellowship, and service. This is all held together by the “mortar” of the sacramental leadership. When we do this and balance out these four tasks we are evangelizing and we welcome others into the Body of Christ. This is God’s blueprint or “mission statement” for the Church – We need no other. The people of God, clergy and lay, all share in making this blueprint work.

We must constantly be aware of God’s vision for the Church and His vision must become our vision too.

In a book New Designs for Church Leadership by David S Luecke, we see that we need to build a full-bodied fellowship. We are building what the New Testament and the Divine Liturgy calls “the community in the Holy Spirit,” living according to the pattern of the Apostolic Church in Acts. This involves all the interactions that a gathering of Christians have with God and each other – it is the basic identity of Church.

The primary dimension is the vertical: our relationship to the Father through Jesus Christ, who has given us the Holy Spirit. This relationship is then shared and therefore made real by the way we conduct our horizontal relationships: those with our fellow believers.

Applying this to God’s design or blueprint: a fellowship can be full-bodied in three ways:

  1. In vertical relationships, participating in the fullness of God’s presence (full cycle of liturgical services, spiritual direction, prayer ministry).
  2. In horizontal relationships, involving most members in lively interaction.
  3. In horizontal functions, being active in the full range of community functions: worship, nurture, service and witnessing.

The “building challenge” for each of the kind of fellowships identified earlier is:

  1. Sacramental: to increase liturgical and spiritual life in the community.
  2. Serving: to realize a greater commitment to outreach: works of mercy, works of justice, witnessing.
  3. Occasional: to develop relationships in a nominal community.
  4. Full-bodied: to reach for the heights of Christ’s full stature.

This is the organizational tool for building community. The purpose of the leadership structure in the community is to shape and protect the Church as a community committed to God’s blueprint.

Our leadership must be Kingdom centered. The Kingdom of God is here and now. We need to be in accord with God’s vision for the Church, not what we think or want is best, or what society tells us or even what pop psychology or the latest management techniques suggest, but by the vision of the Kingdom of God.

When we learned the Lord’s Prayer at the age of five, we learned to say “Thy Kingdom come.” The kingdom is where God rules, where His way is the norm, where His will comes first: absolutely in heaven. This will only be fully manifested at the second coming, but it is here and now by our cooperation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This manifests the assembly or ecclesia – the people of God gathered to do God’s will.

In our own personal life or business life as well as the Kingdom of God, we must ask “What does God want?” The Lord says “seek first, the Kingdom, then the rest will be given you.”

For putting the Kingdom first we don’t make plans or decisions without seeking God’s direction. And we don’t implement without insistent prayer for the community.

Our Mission as Church Leaders – the Building Process.

In 1 Peter 2:4-5 the Church is described as a spiritual house erected out of living stones (the members of the community). “As you come to Him, the living stones… you also, like living stones, are being built as a fellowship into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Peter uses the same word as Paul does, translated here “to build a spiritual community or house.” A house means a household.

The reference to stones means not something inanimate, but the raw material for the building. Peter uses the term “living stone”, probably better translated as ‘lively stone” to describe anyone who has come to life in Christ, anyone who is saved. I think “lively “is better than “living” because it seems to have action in it. “Living” can be a lazy lump – living but not lively. The life from Christ makes people into living raw material that can be built into a spiritual house.

The first step of church leadership for mission is the evangelism work of spreading the Word of salvation so people come alive in Christ and are thus able to be in the spiritual house of the church.

But the mission is not finished when people become living stones through a church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament. That’s the start and other “stones” are necessary. Passive stones are waiting to be put in place. Lively stones have initiative. Inactive (maybe dead) stones are distant from fellowship interaction that their life in the body (and perhaps even in Christ) is to all appearances dead. Cornerstones help establish where the rest of the material will be placed, help turn a corner or set a new direction for church life.

The Building Process

So the building process is by moving inward and upward. As a leader you must help people move inward toward believing participation in the community (from outsider or inactive stone to participant) is important, and to move upward (from passive stones toward participation in more lively interaction).

The first conviction is to make church leadership a compelling mission: it is better in the Church than being outside. This is the work of evangelical outreach. It implies that churches should grow outward in numbers.

The second conviction to make community building a compelling mission is that more interaction within the community is better than less. Hebrews 10: 24-25 “We must consider how to rouse each other to love and good deeds. We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another; and this all the more because you see that the Day draws near.”

The concept of community includes all the sharing that members do in worship, personal growth, service or witnessing. Lively community life is the preferred direction. This can be compared to shallow or even inactive community life. The building challenge is to move inactive stones in, passive stones to become lively, and some lively stones to become cornerstones.

Church leadership must go beyond responding to the felt needs of parishioners (the law of supply and demand). It must seek to:

  1. Elevate members’ consciousness of God’s purposes, presence and power – the Kingdom of God.
  2. Help members grow beyond their self-interest to gain a greater commitment to God and the Church.

The process of building commitment may be called “incorporation” – being formed into one body.

  1. Incorporation into the Body of Christ is first of all, God’s work.
  2. Incorporation next depends on the willingness of members to be in visible contact with other believers.
  3. This contact must transcend the individual’s personal needs.
  4. This contact must also transcend short-term goals.

The first avenue for consistency is a commitment to mutually support one another in our faith: Hebrews 10:24-25 “We must consider how to rouse each other to love and good deeds. We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another; and this all the more because you see that the Day draws near.” Ephesians 5:19-20 “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and inspired songs. Sing praise to the Lord with all your hearts. Give thanks to God the Father always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs.”

A renewed commitment by the leadership to personal spiritual growth and mutual support is a prerequisite for expanding the community.

An extended leadership for the parish can develop out of those in the parish who are committed to their own spiritual growth.

Responsible Stewardship of the Parish’s Gifts and of our Personal Gifts

As I come close to closing this presentation I touch briefly on how all this can be done – I call this Stewardship – probably another topic for a weekend encounter like this one.

From the beginning, God made man and woman stewards or managers of creation, giving them “dominion over the work of his hands:” not so that we can exploit it but that we can return it to God in thanksgiving. We are responsible, not only for the material treasures we have, but for the intangibles, such as our time, and relationship with God and our life in the Church as well. Stewardship in the parish involves discerning what gifts God has blessed it with, and building on those gifts for the growth of the community. Planning involves recognizing what God has given and expanding on those gifts for the sake of the Kingdom.

Leadership being connected with being created in the image of God, We now have this God-given capacity to lead – we are stewards or managers of creation. Our purpose as human beings is to manage creation for God, to be stewards of creation. Stewardship is at the heart of being human.

Being a responsible steward means: a) that we are aware that everything is the Lord’s, not ours to do with as we will; and b) that we are to care for it responsibly and intelligently in His name, not to exploit or waste it.

Stewardship exists on the personal level: how I manage my own resources: children, food, money, material goods in a consumerist society which is dedicated to consumption and opposed to stewardship.

Spiritual stewardship involves being responsible for the spiritual gifts we have received, including the life of the parish community, the Body of Christ.

Stewardship is the bottom-line principle of Christian living.

Now let me apply that to the community. Every church, like every believer, has specific gifts from God, to enable it to witness to God’s presence in an effective way. Not all communities are the same; the strengths of one may not be the strengths of another. One will stress one aspect of the blueprint while in a second parish another of these aspects will dominate.

The first thing we must do in long-range planning for the parish is to discern and recognize the central strengths in its life (for example: good liturgy, social concern, a supportive fellowship). They are there because God has enabled the community to develop them and so affirming them is to recognize that the Holy Spirit has been at work in the parish. They indicate what God is calling us to do as a community.

Once the community has claimed its strengths, it should decide on new ways to expand these strengths: to build on its strengths, not its weaknesses. Thus, if your parish has good liturgy, you may encourage people to develop a program to share that liturgy via video media to the homebound or to arrange for Cable TV broadcasts of that liturgy.

The next is to plan and see what foundational steps you and your parish have and to develop a five to seven year plan. Here the basic question is “What is God calling us to do for his Kingdom?”

Strategic planning is necessary for a parish. It is the application of God’s will for us. It is an indication of the community’s commitment to the careful stewardship of what God has given it.

Planning requires vision: God’s vision for us to build His Church.

We aren’t finished yet! Promise of Leadership Training Programs.

I have available for all of you a Leadership Training Program from my Eparchy. It is set up for a weekend of five sessions – each session is up to two hours in length with a facilitator’s guide and participant work sheets for each session. It also includes posters for the themes of each session.

The facilitator’s guide is quite dynamic in approach with structured presentations and whole group and small group discussions with some Bible study.

I recommend that it is be used in groups of several parishes together rather than just one parish, although this is possible.

Anyone interested, please give me your name and contact information and I can make the program available to you free of charge – by email also, much preferred. If you want a printed form there will be a slight charge for reproduction and mailing.

A second resource is a small book by Anthony Coniaris: “The Eye Cannot Say to the Hand “I have No Need of You.” From Light and Life Publishing Co, Minneapolis, MN 20005

Part One: “What Does it Mean to be members of the Body of Christ.”

Part Two: Laity and Hierarchy: Their respective roles as members of the Body of Christ.

Part Three: Syndiaconia, The Shared Role of the Hierarchy and Laity in the Church.

Fr. Coniaris in his simple short reflections touches strongly on the role of each person in the Body of Christ.

Can we do all this? Can you do all this? Yes you can because you, each and every one of you, are a special gift of God. God made you, God gives you the gifts and God will guide you to develop His Kingdom – Be all that you can be.