Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Risk Taking and Servant Leadership

In the Philippians hymn (2:5-11), Christ empties Himself by taking the forms of a slave. He thus becomes a person without social advantage, with little or no rights or privileges of His own, for the determined purpose of placing Himself completely at the service of others (MacLeod 2001, 321). The hymn makes use of several strong terms to encourage the Christian community not to succumb to the temptations of aspiring to the social values and stratification so prevalent in Roman Philippi. Most striking is the use of the terms slave and cross; which represents respectively, “the most dishonorable public status and the most dishonorable public humiliation imaginable in the world of Roman antiquity[1]” (Hellerman 2003, 424).

It is important that the exemplum used in the hymn here does not speak of mere service, but the radical quest to take the form of a slave. Framing Jesus as a slave was “to assign to Him a position of greatest opprobrium[2] in the social world” of the Philippians, living the in the “most status-conscious city in the Roman East” (Hellerman 2003, 427). These words must have challenged the “dominant view of reality” for the citizens of Philippi who “valued their imperial connections, their privileges, and their advantages as subjects” (Peterson 2004, 179-180) of the Emperor. In a community so highly socially stratified as Philippi (Wortham 1996, 281) this “temporary role reversal” (Wortham 1996, 283) as slave becomes an exemplary symbol of the mutuality and common humanity of all the members of the early Christian community. The incarnational motif of the first value of kenosis finds it social scope and dimension in a resolute identification with the lowest members in the social ladder within the community. The values of servant posturing are communicated in the “denial of self-interest”, in the “divestment of status and privilege” (Saunders 1998, 18).

A recent development in Pastoral Counseling (see Gau 2000, 403-409), building on the kenotic theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar[3] , aims to make use of this leadership value of servant posturing to effect a therapeutic process where both therapist and client experience healing and enhancement that “diminishes ego and heightens self-awareness” (Gau 2000, 408). Gau (2000, 407) describes the process as follows:

“The challenge for the pastoral psychotherapist is manifesting the Christ gestalt[4] to the client. The therapist does this by self-emptying and becoming a servant to the client, speaking the client’s language, and the focusing on the client’s needs. Despite the client’s defensiveness, the therapist trusts the client’s ability to merge, individuate, and learn emptiness and receptivity. As the client comes to trust and internalize the therapist, the therapist is able to act form within the client. Out of compassion, the therapist becomes poor so that the client might become rich and absorbs the client’s sin so that the client might know the goodness of God.”

Despite the rather heavy counseling language used in this section, the multiple applications of this approach in leadership are quite evident. When leaders, having practiced kenosis, are able to enter the world of their followers and take the posture of their servants, relationships of mutual trust and healing are formed that in time removes the social and power distance between them in mutual liberation and transformation. This radical approach of mutuality and service in leadership is one of risk-taking as Gregerson (2003) so eloquently demonstrates in his premise of a theology of kenosis and risk taking.

[1] My Emphasis.
[2] Disgrace; infamy; reproach mingled with contempt.
[3] 1905-1988 CE
[4] A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.

Further Reading:
Gau, J. V. 2000. The Gestalt of Emptiness/Receptivity” Christian Spirituality and Psychotherapy. Journal of Pastoral Care 54.4, 403-409.
Gregerson, N. H. 2003. Risk and Religion: Toward a Theology of Risk Taking. Zygon, vol. 38, no.2: 355-376.
Hellerman, J. H. 2003. The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, Part 1. Bibliotheca Sacra 160.640:421-433.
MacLeod, D. J. 2001. Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8. Bibliotheca Sacra 158: 308-330.
Saunders, S. P. 1998. Philippians and Galatians. London: Westminster John Knox Press.
Wortham, R. A. 1996. Christology a Community Identity in the Philippians Hymn: The Philippians Hymn as Social Drama (Philippians 2:5-11). Perspectives in Religious Studies 23:3: 269- 287.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Leadership and Grace in the Early Church

A good friend reminded me today of the traditional feastday for St. Cornelius (served as pope from 251-253 AD), my namesake, that falls on September 16. Cornelius was elected as pope during a very difficult time of persecution under the Roman Emperor Decius and reluctantly accepted this position only in response to his sincere desire to serve. His contribution to early Christian theology was his firm conviction that Christians that denied Christ during times of persecution could and should be re-admitted back into the community of faith after a time of repentence. Not everyone agreed with his understanding of grace and the forgiveness of God in Christ and a man called Novatian came to Rome to set himself up as antipope. Cornelius experienced many trails and suffering in his efforts to build God's Church on the principles of mutuality and forgiveness in Christ and was finally exiled by the Romans and died at the port of Rome in 253.

Cornelius fought to keep the church free from leadership informed by selfish ambition and greed for power and is remembered together with his friend Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, for their extra-ordinary love for God's people and a commitment to the leadership values of humility and mutuality. The writings of Cornelius remain a testament to this faithful servant and his desire for authentic Christian leadership. Here is a link to the letters of Cornelius:

Monday, September 25, 2006

First Steps in Kenotic Leadership

My thinking this week continues to center around the possibilities of a kenotic approach to leadership. D.L. Whiteman (2003, 409) proposes seven leadership practices and values statements informed by a Missiological and Anthropological reading of the values imbedded in the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of Christ as found in the Philippians hymn (2:5-11):
1. We start with people where they are, embedded in their culture, and this frequently requires downward mobility on our part.
2. We take their culture seriously, for this is the context in which life has meaning for them.
3. We approach them as learners, as children, anxious to see the world from their perspective.
4. We are forced to be humble, for in their world of culture we have not yet learned the acquired knowledge to interpret experience and to generate social behavior.
5. We must lay aside our own cultural ethnocentrism[1], our positions of prestige and power.
6. To be incarnational means we will be very vulnerable; our defenses will have to go.
7. We make every effort to identify with people where they are, by living among them, loving them, and learning from them.

[1] Ethnocentricity is the human tendency to see the world primarily through the perspective of one's own ethnic social history and culture.

Whiteman, D. L. 2003. Anthropology and Mission: The Incarnational Connection. Missiology 31.4, 397-415.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Leadership Hostility in Community

Leaders sometimes locate their leadership orientation and behaviour in hostile competition with others - the thinking goes something like this; that we construct our own credibility and leadership position by discrediting the person and behaviors of others. I am increasingly convinced that authentic Christian leadership only makes sense in true community where we transform (to make use of Nouwen's matrix of communal transformation) our "natural" hostility towards others into Gospel hospitality.

Maybe the first step is to change our perception and understanding of community and thus leadership. Henri Nouwen says it best:

Some of us tend to do away with things that are slightly damaged. Instead of repairing them we say: ‘Well, I don't have time to fix it, I might as well throw it in the garbage can and buy a new one.’ Often we also treat people this way. We say: ‘Well, he has a problem with drinking; well, she is quite depressed; well, they have mismanaged their business...we'd better not take the risk of working with them.’ When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds. We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.

May we move away from ego-affirming, competitive approaches in leadership to the Christian call to consider others "better than ourselves" (Philippians 2:1-4). For me, this also means accepting those who find themselves in this kind of competitive orientation towards us in true Christian hospitality and to act towards them ensuring our hearts and actions are devout of "selfish ambition or conceit."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Professor Madge Karecki on the Leadership Example of St. Clare of Assisi

Our dear friend, Sister Madge Karecki (SSJ-TOSF), is featured this month in Leadership Talks. Madge provides clear and inspiring insights on Christian Leadership as lived by St. Claire of Assisi.

Professor Madge Karecki, OSC, a Franciscan Sister (Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.) was born in Chicago, Illinois. She has degrees in both spirituality and missiology from St. Bonaventure University in New York and The University of South Africa. She was a missionary in South Africa for 21 years. Before returning to the USA in her response to the continued call to Christian mission, she was an Associate Professor of Missiology and Christian Spirituality at the University of South Africa. In 2004 she won the university's prize for teaching excellence. She also taught liturgy and missiology at St. John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria South Africa. She has written several articles and essays on St. Clare and other Franciscan topics. She has published articles in The Cord, Missionalia, and The South African Journal of Higher Education and Development.

You can find the link to this talk at:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Spiritual Direction and Leadership

It has been a while since I last posted. This has been a truly busy, but yet fruitful time. I am teaching a course on spiritual direction in the Schools of Divinity and Psychology and Counseling here at Regent this semester. This wonderful oppertunity to spend some time with emerging and bright ministers, counselors and psychologists has helped me to focus my thinking on the relationship between spirituality, spiritual formation and leadership. What is the role of a spiritual director? I have been taken by two really good descriptions of the role of a spiritual director.

Barry and Connelly describe it as follows:
“We define Christian spiritual direction as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”

Barry Augustine think of the role of a spiritual director in the following way:
“The Director is not to teach his own way, nor indeed any determinate way of prayer, but to instruct his disciples how they may themselves find out the way proper to them…”

These two erudite descriptions open the way for us to consider the prophetic way of humility, mutuality and service in authentic Christian leadership.