Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, I share a few thoughts on the Lord’s guide on Christian leadership. I draw from Matthew 18:1-5.
One of the things we deal with as adults is the desire to be recognized. It is the ambition to be first.
In itself, it is a good thing. The student who works hard and is studious wants to be the top of their class. The entrepreneur who is diligent and bold wants to have a competitive advantage. For the pastor in the church, the need to be the best at pastoring is real and desirable.
When seeking promotion, for instance, or when bidding for a contract, one is literally competing. One is persuading the hirer that one’s position is better than other competitors. One may not be thinking about this reality, but it’s happening anyway.
Churches grow. Institutions thrive because they know how to compete. So, competing isn’t a bad thing, in church or in society.
The Lord knows where adults lead, they have to deal with their individual egos. They have to grapple with their idiosyncrasies, one of which is the line between excessive ambition, and prudence and humility. They have to balance their desire to be first with the Christ model of humility and simplicity of heart.
The disciples of Jesus are like us. They dealt with the same human weaknesses and temptations. As the Gospels of Mark and Luke indicate, it was their debate among themselves concerning who was the greatest that led Jesus to teach them his model of Church leadership, using the child as a symbol (Mk 9:33–37 and Lk 9:46–48).
The Gospel of Matthew 18:1-5 skips this background and focuses on the Lord’s message, a message which biblical scholars Newman and Stine (1992) in their A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, called “a handbook for Christian discipleship” (p. 557). Many biblical scholars see the teachings in Matthew 18 as the discourse on the Church. The Navarre Bible commentary (2005) notes this is so because “they are a series of instructions on the way in which his Church is to be administered” (pp. 125-126).
So, what is the style of leading that is consistent with the way of the Lord? The symbol of the child speaks to that style. Observing the child, one notices that though they compete, they have a pure understanding of winning. It isn’t an excessive arrogant ego. It isn’t necessarily about status—the concept of status is hardly conceptualized by the child. It is simply about winning for the sake of winning. It is a winning in which they do not think or will ill of others. The child wins for the pure joy of winning for the team.
For sure, we can’t become like children in the literal sense. It isn’t possible to unwind the clock. But the Lord asks us to embrace the grace of humility and simplicity of heart.
Key here is humility and simplicity of heart. It is the unassuming positionality in which what drives the leader is, as the founder of servant leadership model, Robert Greenleaf says, the desire to serve first; and by serving, lead.
I tell you, if our organizations would operate by this principle, many who collaborate with us would be inspired. Bottomline would be better for everyone.
I pray for the spirit of childlike leadership in our churches. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 19 Ordinary Time: Dt 31:1-8; Mt 18:1-5, 10, 12-14]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.