The scripture readings today enlighten us in the way leaders should lead. In the gospel, Jesus, our great leader and teacher, gives us a few tips on how to be an effective leader.
Firstly, to be a leader one must be a visionary and a dreamer. A leader who simply maintains the status quo is not a good leader. A leader without a vision will eventually stifle and kill the organization under his charge. Either his followers will die a natural death or join another group that can give life. Both Ezra and Jesus were certainly visionaries in their days.
Ezra was certainly a great visionary. He wanted to rebuild the community by prohibiting mixed marriages with the pagans. He knew that once the faith of the people was weakened by such inter-faith marriages, the people would lose their single-mindedness in serving God. In many ways, there is truth in the concerns of Ezra. Mixed marriages pose tremendous challenges for couples seeking to share life with each other because of different values and faith. This causes division and often misunderstandings. At its best, it results in compromises and both parties could lose their faith after some time as they seek to accommodate each other. Hence, Ezra’s insistence on fidelity to the Law in his time helped the people to stay united, especially when they were persecuted later on during the time of the Maccabees. But such an attempt to shield the purity of the faith of the people also bred an elite society, leading to tensions and isolation from peoples of other faiths and cultures where pagans were seen as outcasts. So whilst Ezra’s vision was understandable in the context of illegitimate inculturation, it had its limitations.
Hence, it is not enough to be a visionary. The vision must be broad and inclusive. The vision of Jesus has this character. He came to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, not for the healthy, as He said in the gospel yesterday, but for the sick. He came to share the unconditional love and mercy of the Father for all, including sinners and tax collectors. He did not restrict the Good News from the Gentiles. He purposefully reached out to the Samaritans. Such was the breath, length and depth of Jesus’ vision and dream for His people. The Kingdom belongs to all and is not territorial, but it is the reign of God in our hearts.
Jesus’ vision is not only inclusive but holistic as well. He instructed the disciples to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” Jesus did not preach a “pie in the sky” brand of gospel. He came not only to preach the salvation of the soul but also to heal the body. Preaching without healing is too abstract and no one can feel God’s love by just hearing the words. Preaching must be accompanied by healing and by works of mercy as God comes to touch our hearts through the body. On the other hand, healing without preaching will reduce the gospel to another social ideology or humanitarian program. God comes to save both soul and body. That is why He became man in Jesus Christ. But salvation is not merely of the body, it includes the healing and enlightening of the mind and the heart. His vision of salvation and restoration therefore is of an integrated person.
Secondly, a leader must choose carefully from among his disciples those he wants to appoint as apostles. In the gospel, we read that Jesus did not keep the dream for Himself but He “called the Twelve together.” This act of calling is important. In choosing the Twelve, Jesus intentionally chose a motley crowd. He did not choose all with the same mindset or skills or character. The apostles were all so different from each other. Some are more educated, like St Matthew. All were from different trades and backgrounds. Some were revolutionaries. A proactive leader is who knows who to choose to share his dreams and then get the disparate group to work together and complement each other in skills, knowledge and strength. Having the charism to tap each individual’s strengths whilst overlooking their weaknesses and rallying them to work together is a necessary attribute of a great leader.
Thirdly, once chosen, the leader must delegate and empower those under his charge. In the gospel, Jesus not only chose them but “gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases.” The failure of leaders to delegate is the cause of inefficiency. When a leader chooses to do all things by himself, he micromanages. As a consequence, his vision and mission becomes very narrow. This is often the result of insecurity. Such leadership is often authoritarian.
But delegating is only the first step. Delegation comes with empowerment. It is not possible to delegate without at the same time bestowing power on those whom we delegate. This is the other mistake of leadership. Some leaders do delegate but they would override the decisions of their subordinates who have been assigned to do the task. This causes the subordinates to lose respect and credibility among their peers. They lose authority and effectiveness. Thus, it is important that those whom we delegate must be given the necessary power and authority to carry out their tasks. When choosing us to be His instruments or messengers, Jesus never fails to equip us for the tasks just as He empowered the disciples.
Fourthly, the leader must instruct and give specific guidelines to his disciples. Pope Francis reminds us very often that we are neither disciples nor missionaries but always at the same time, missionary disciples. We are disciples for the mission. We cannot be apostles of Christ unless we are His disciples. This missionary discipleship is an ongoing process because Christ is the only teacher and master. It is notable that Jesus took pains to instruct His apostles for the mission. He gave them specific instructions as to what needed to be done. He did not leave them to decide for themselves. Leaders must give the directions whilst allowing those under their charge to find their own creative ways to bring about the vision.
So what did Jesus instruct them? The first principle in mission is to trust in divine providence. This is the work of God, not ours. We are His servants. He wants us to rely on His own strength, not ours. This explains why He instructed His disciples not to take anything on their journey except what is absolutely necessary. Only when we are totally dependent on God rather than our own resources do we know that God is great and He is the living God. Otherwise, we think the success is the work of our hands rather than the power of God’s grace.
Secondly, we must not take things into our own hands. This is what Jesus instructed the disciples. “As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.” Indeed, success in the ministry is the work of God. There is no need to be angry or resentful when our love and kindness or the Good News is rejected. So long as we have done our part, we can move on in peace to another place that welcomes us. The loss is theirs, not ours. As the psalmist says, “It is he who scattered us among the nations. Among them must we show forth our greatness and exalt him in the presence of all living; for he is our Lord and our God, our Father and our God for ever.”
Thirdly, we must travel light and fast because the mission is urgent. This is the other reason why the Lord told the disciples not to take too many things. If they were bogged down my material things, they would not be able to travel fast. In mission, we need to understand the urgency of the Good News. We cannot delay any longer. But in whatever we do, we must not be burdened or held back by non-essentials. Many Churches spend too much time squabbling over structures, rules and discipline whilst forgetting that many are leaving the Church. Many feel that the Church treats them harshly and often juridically without compassion and sensitivity. The inflexibility of the application of the rules put many Catholics off. Sometimes, too much attention is paid to the frills and the real mission of the Church is not carried out.
Fourthly, they must travel far by having someone to accompany them. Jesus, we are told, would send out the disciples two by two. Without teamwork and fraternal support, we can travel fast but not far because of our limitations. So having someone to accompany us in our mission will help us to do beyond what one person can do. Team ministry works more effectively. We must never work alone but always with others. The mission of the Church must be accomplished in communion since it has the mission of bringing communion.
Finally, a good leader would review with his subordinates regularly as Jesus did with His disciples. After the return of the 70 disciples, Jesus called them to share with each other the success, the joy and the setbacks in their ministry. It is important that with delegation there must also be a review and feedback. Delegation without supervision, evaluation and accountability would end up with each person building his or her own kingdom or cause the whole team to malfunction. Hence, Jesus would call the disciples together to share their experiences and then have them pray together, thanking God for their success in the ministry and for His continued assistance and blessings. (Cf. Lk 11:17-24)
Above all, before one can lead, the necessary prerequisite is that the leader must first experience the mercy of God through a conscious acknowledgement of one’s own sins and that of the community he belongs to. This was the case of Ezra who not only confessed the sins of the community but his share of the sins as well. By confessing our sins humbly, we become more aware of our own inadequacy and as a consequence a greater appreciation of God’s love and mercy. Like the psalmist, our experience must also be that of His mercy and forgiveness. “God punishes, he also has mercy. He leads men to the depths of the grave. He restores men from the great destruction. No man can escape his hand.” A leader is inspired to reach out to his broken people only when he himself has been in that situation and rescued from it. So it is always the mercy of God that spurs us on to reach out to others whom we can identify with in their pains and bondages.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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