Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Model of Leadership Offered by Jesus: "More Like the Gardener Than the Owner of the Garden"


I've spent a good part of today shifting and sorting through papers and documents dating back to the mid-1990s. In the process I discovered a piece I wrote for the Dignity Twin Cities newsletter in 1997. It was written in response to then-Archbishop Harry Flynn's remark that "the pastor is the head honcho." It's interesting to read the response I penned in light of recent revelations that detail Flynn's – along with his predecessor's and successor's – scandalous lack of leadership in response to the decades-long clergy sex abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Perhaps if an alternative model of leadership other than that of "head honcho" had been promoted, say, a model that was open to a range of perspectives and which allowed for accountability and transparency, then the archdiocese might not be in the mess it's in today. Drawing on the insights of Donna Schaper, my article from 1997 offers an alternative model, one which although reflective of the gospel message of Jesus, is still yet to be fully embraced by the church's clerical leadership.


Archbishop's "Head Honcho" Model of Leadership
at Odds with Gospel Message

By Michael J. Bayly

Dignity Twin Cities Newsletter
March-April 1997

At one point during the question and answer session of the February 22 Archdiocesan Assembly Day, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn commented on the role of the pastor. "The pastor is the head honcho," he said, "I would be less than honest with you if I let you go home today thinking anything else."

The archbishop's comments were in response to concerns related to the archdiocese's commitment to the servant model of leadership. "Canon law explicitly states that pastors have the final say in all parish matters and disputes, and Catholics must respect such authority," the archbishop said. "It would be wrong to think that, in a parish, the pastor doesn't have the last word. He does."

The archbishop's comments and in particular his choice of vocabulary, say much about one model of leadership operative in the church. Yet there are other models, a fact which makes this issue worthy of theological analysis and reflection. Undeniably there is a need for leadership at the parish level. Yet must this leadership be personified by individuals whose model of leadership revolves upon having "the last word"? There is an element of fear and mistrust inherent in advocating and insisting on such a model; an element that is totally alien to the trusting and compassionate model of leadership embodied by Jesus.

In one of her Lenten reflections, author Donna Schaper writes on the leadership of Jesus She notes that Mary Magdalene's confusing of Jesus with the gardener on Easter Sunday morning indicates "the radical nature of the risen Christ: he is more like a friend, more like the gardener, more like a woman." Continues Schaper:

[Jesus] is not big but little, not strong but weak, not above us but one of us. We will be raised from the dead when we understand that Jesus is accurately confused with the gardener. He is more like the gardener than he is like the owner of the garden.

Schaper goes on to apply this example of "gospel democracy," and the "friendship model" of leadership it facilitates, to ministry. She notes, for example, that:

We minister in a world that is ideologically hostile to the gospel, that word from God in which Jesus says to all the disciples, not just the ordained ones: "I have called you friends." Here Jesus is illuminating us to a radically new relationship between people and God . . . It is like a garden we all work in together, not a garden where one is employed and the other the employer.

This "democratic understanding" of the resurrection, Schaper contends, is ironic as it places "even more responsibility on the individual and the autonomous while basing itself fully in the grace of the common." Given Archbishop Fylnn's recent statements, one could contend that the hierarchical church has a tendency to view with suspicion and fear both this autonomy and grace, and to demand in their place the installation of "head honcho"-type figures.

We as church, however, do not require "head honchos" – individuals more concerned with the question Who's in charge here? than questions such as What are the responsibilities of a leader in this particular situation, this particular parish? or What and where are the checks and balances for the model of leadership active in this parish? Such questions are the hallmark of authentic leadership – a mode of being that acknowledges and celebrates the diversity of the Christian church and understands that true leadership cannot be monopolized.

Perhaps for those present at the Archdiocesan Assembly Day event the archbishop's citing of "official" church teaching was an adequate response. Yet for many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Catholics well acquainted with the fallibility of so-called "official" teachings, the archbishop's response raises a plethora of questions and concerns. We and others know that a "because our tradition says" response reflects a model of church (and thus revelation) that has a strong tendency to ignore (even condemn) specific experiences of the sacred in human life. In so doing, tradition is placed before truth – a situation untenable for followers of Jesus.

Accordingly, the church should abhor the term "head honcho" and the sexist and militaristic elitism it implies. Likewise, the ecclessiastical model that such a term readily springs from needs to be transformed into one that more truly reflects the reality that it is the spirit of the Risen Christ which is the one true pastor of the church; the reality that this spirit speaks through the life experiences of all people regardless of their position within (or outside) the male-designed and dominated structure we call church hierarchy – a structure that by its homogenous founding and maintenance cannot adequately represent or speak definitively for the richly diverse reality of the church as understood as the people of God, the Body of Christ.

Ultimately we must all take to heart the gospel call to be a priestly people. Our pastors, male and female, should exemplify this call in a distinct though non-elitist way. The exact nature of their vocation is certainly not what the official church advocates as articulated by Archbishop Flynn. Instead we would all do well to listen to the spirit active in the lives of the poor and disenfranchised – GLBT people included – so as to ascertain a clearer understanding of the role of the pastor. What is needed throughout the church is a compassionate willingness to truly hear – not just to merely listen and then fall back on church doctrines. What is needed is a trusting and vulnerable openness to the voice of the spirit present in the life experiences of others – a willingness, in other words, to take to heart Mary Pellauer's observation that "If there's anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people's stories, listening to them and cherishing them."

In short, we are all called to be continually making leaps of faith – not because our position or rank demands it, but because our call to be followers of Jesus demands it. Self-authenticated action is the hallmark of true leadership, regardless of whether or not such action is framed within positional and/or functional roles. And in taking such action, it is the example of the humble shepherd and the Easter-morning gardener that we are called to emulate.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Genuine Authority
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Gospel Leadership
Remembering Oscar Romero
Bishop Gumbleton: A Priesthood Set Apart and Above Others is Not the Way of Jesus
Francis: The Servant Pope
Nicole Sotelo: "Jesus Was Not Focused on Priesthood"
Bishop Gumbleton: It Isn’t the Church You’re Being Asked to Say Yes To . . . It’s Jesus
A Uniquely Liberated Man
Answer to a Troubled Liberal Catholic
Tony Flannery in Minneapolis
Pan’s Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
My Response to Archbishop Flynn
For the Record

Related Off-site Link:
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 14, 2014).

Image: Artist unknown.

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