Newsletter February 2015
Leadership seems to be one of the topics in the news at the moment. As the May election looms closer there is an inevitable focus on the party leaders and their leadership qualities (or lack of them!). Even the Church of England has got in on the act by publishing the Green Report on senior leadership in the Church which has come in for some lively criticism. Here in Milton Keynes we are about to begin our own Leadership Development Programme for clergy (though I promise it won’t cost the £2m the Church of England is putting into its programme!!)
Many of us, lay and clergy alike, exercise leadership in all sorts of ways both within the church and beyond, so it ought to be of vital concern to us. The question, of course, is what shapes that leadership? Whole sections of bookshops are devoted to the latest offerings from the various management gurus, but I find myself drawn to a little known prayer written in the 12th century by Aelred of Rievaulx, an abbot of a monastery in North Yorkshire. I love the way the prayer starts: “O Jesus, O good shepherd, another shepherd calls on you, a wretched, unfit bungler of a shepherd; one who, for all his failings, is yet some kind of shepherd of your sheep. He calls, this bad shepherd, on you, the good, anxious on his own behalf and anxious for your sheep.” The self-mocking “bungling shepherd” is deeply aware of his own shortcomings, of his own need of support: there is transparent honesty and humility throughout the prayer, which, by the way, are the two qualities that the latest management guru book on my shelves identifies as the most essential in any leader.
At the heart of the prayer, we find this astonishing commitment to those in Aelred’s charge: “You know my heart, Lord, know it is my wish that whatever you have given your servant should be wholly and utterly employed and expended for them. And I myself, over and above, will gladly be expended for them. So be it, my Lord, indeed. My understanding and speaking, my leisure, my activity, my doing and thinking, my good and ill fortune, life and death, health and sickness – let absolutely all that I am, experience, feel and understand be employed and expended for them, for whom you yourself did not scorn to expend your very life.” This servant leadership is impressive: Aelred is unquestionably the kind of leader we would all happily follow. It is unsurprising that his monastery was bursting at the seams in his time as abbot, though you might feel that he could use a day off!
Prayer, honesty, humility, committed service – surely these are the central qualities in Christian leadership of any kind: would that all of us could reflect a small part of Aelred’s stature in this. Do pray for your clergy as they embark on the new programme and for yourselves in whatever you are called to lead.
P.S. Don’t forget the Assembly on March 4th. I look forward to seeing you at 7.30 at Christchurch Stantonbury….and sign up for the coMPass courses!!