Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Reflections: Models of Pastoral Leadership and the Future of the Church

One of the interesting aspects of looking back through one's old journals, papers, letters--any written work into which one has poured one's heart--is how we discover that our current preoccupations are far from current.  They're only the latest upward flow of lava out of a volcano whose molten source is almost always much deeper in our souls.

And so I'm interested to find the following two passages in an old journal I'm searching now for citations of books I read at this period of my life.  This is from 1 February 2005:

Much of the tension in churches is caused by bishops' (or pastoral leaders') adoption of a managerial as opposed to pastoral model of leadership.  The managerial model requires the leader to live behind a screen: he (and it usually is he, in churches where this dynamic is occurring) must be shielded at all costs from responsibility for decisions he engenders.

There's a fictive aspect to such leadership.  Everyone knows who's calling the shots, who's pulling the strings of all the puppets.  So this is a system built on a central, deeply embedded, cankerous lie that eats away at the core of the institution's integrity.

The bottom line of the managerial model is money: plausible deniability shielding the pastoral leader making all the decisions, so that the institution's resources are shielded.  The bottom line is not the gospel--i.e., it's not pastoral leadership.

If it were, the pastoral leader would be among the flock.  Far from screening himself, Jesus exhausted himself, by

--letting "polluted" people touch him and draw strength and healing from the encounter (e.g., the woman with an issue of blood);

--actively seeking public sinners to invite himself to their tables;

--tirelessly seeking the sick, lost, outcast, thrown away, despised members of his society.

There was no screen, no concern for plausible deniability, in Jesus's pastoral ministry.  He was so constantly accessible to the crowds clamoring merely to touch him, that the gospels (especially Luke) show him having to withdraw now and again to a quiet place, simply to recoup strength and renew his vision of the reign of God.

Where does the future of the church lie?  Does it lie in a system that constantly passes the buck down from the top levels of leadership--where every important decision is made, where all is known--and shields the central pastoral leader who claims to represent Christ uniquely and unilaterally from all responsibility for "pastoral" decisions?

Does it lie in a system that places protection of assets above mere humanity to hurting human beings?  Is the future in a system that prefers smokescreens, media campaigns, and impression management, to authentic discipleship--fidelity to the example of Jesus which is transparent and tangible?

Or does it lie in the retrieval of models of pastoral leadership that are actually pastoral--in which the shepherd walks among her flock, without screens, masks, or bodyguards (whether actual or symbolic, as in those chancery men who write the letters that let the bishop off the hook)?

And then in the same journal, there's this, written on Christmas day 2004:

The stream that is Catholicism in western culture has been deep, rich, life-giving.  It nourishes profound piety.  It brings art and striking thought about God along with it.  It carries with it aspiration that lifts mundane existence onto the plane of eternity.

But the stream is also the purveyor of toxic waste--the chief purveyor of such waste in western culture.  At it, those who hate and fear feminine power drink.  In it, those who revile and whip homosexuals are revived.  From its font spew fascism, torture of the Other, and a clerical system that allows the ordained to treat non-ordained Christians as sub-human.  The stream, we increasingly recognize, carries pedophilia right along with it, especially in this invidious class system of clericalism . . . .

And I don't think I'd say any of this very differently now, five years down the road.

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