The Characteristics of Orthodox Leaders
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit both now and unto the age of ages amen.
I want to start out by thanking everyone for being here this morning and taking some time from your busy schedules to invest, really, to invest into the leadership of the church and the future of our church.
Today, God willing we have two sessions. The first one is entitled ‘characteristics of orthodox leaders’ and then the second one would be ‘challenges facing orthodox leaders’. And I just want to begin by giving a definition of an orthodox leader. And many of these things could be in common with other kinds of leaders but we are focusing on leadership in our beloved Coptic orthodox church.
So an orthodox leader is one who inspires others to live in a Christ-like manner and lives with integrity, him or herself. This leader is not only one who directs others to believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ but also sets an example and inspires others to live as she or he does and also, such leader helps others in need, shows her or his passion and love for the LORD and is humble in all things.
So one of the biggest tricks that could come to us as leaders is continuously showing others the way while we ourselves fall into the trap of not living the Christian life ourselves. So it has to be a combination of both: while we are living, we are guiding others and also in the same time, keeping our modesty and humility. Because sometimes as leaders it could get to us that we are at an advantage over and above others.
There is a nice saying by C.S.Lewis and it is called ‘the paradox of Christian leadership’. He said: ‘authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our Spirits live; obedience is the road to freedom; humility, the road to pleasure; unity, the road to personality and these are the things must saturate our Christian leadership or it isn’t Christian.’ Obedience, humility and unity and these are the three marks of orthodox or Christian leadership in general.
Let’s set a Biblical foundation for our discussion or for orthodox leadership. Let us start out from the old testament by referring to the story of Moses in the book of Exodus chapter 18, where his father in law came to him, to visit him- he brought his wife and his children and he noticed that he was very much occupied with judging amongst the people and it would take him from day to night. So Jethro, who was Moses’s father in law, gave him a great advice. He said, there is no way that you can handle all these problems and judging the people by yourself, you need to divide and conquer; set other leaders from the people whom you entrust in your community, in your congregation and they will be able to sit down with the people, those who take care of fifties of hundreds and of thousands so basically, divide up the responsibilities and train certain people in order to accomplish some task; and they will be of great help to you. Here is how the story unfolded- and so it was on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people and people stood before Moses from morning until evening- so when Moses’s father in law saw all that he did for the people, he said: ‘what is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’ and Moses said to his father in law: ‘because the people come to me to inquire of God.’ So defiantly, there was a spiritual hunger. People needed to know what is God’s opinion concerning certain matters and they saw in Moses, this person who had received the law from God, so they went up to him and they inquired what was God’s will concerning certain matters or questions that they had.
So Moses’ father in law said to him: ‘the thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you, will surely wear yourselves out.’ You know what is the biggest problem of any servant and I’m not just speaking of ordained leadership but wearing out yourself. Just burned out. Leadership burnout. Could be in anything. Could be in any career that we have, in general. But just burning yourself out to the point that you can’t just take it anymore. And you put so much pressure on yourself as a leader to the point that you just are burnt out and some people end up leaving the ministry all together while others reduce it tremendously; just because they haven’t been able to pace themselves or to know their limits.
So he is telling him: ‘you’re going to burn yourself out. You can’t stay from morning to evening, every single day, and you have other responsibilities in front of you that have set before you.’ So the best thing to do is what? ‘Listen now to my voice, I will give you counsel and God will be with you. Stand before God, for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God.’
So it’s a great advice coming, by the way, from a pagan priest because Jethro was a priest in Media, which was a Gentile land, but he is praising God here, in this passage. So he is telling him: ‘how about you focus on what God has ordained you to do, which is to stand in front of Him to plead for the people, to pray for their difficulties and while you are praying, you have the ministry of intercession or pleading, other people are going to be helping you in resolving this issues. And through the prayer and the practical aspect of people’s involvement and leadership, both of them will work together best for you. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.’ so leadership training, basically entrusting certain people and teaching them how to lead, how to resolve problems, how to deal with other people, how to communicate with individuals, how to minister, how to have this paternal care and love and pastoral care for others.
‘moreover you shall select from the people able-men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties and rulers of tens.’ So again, there are certain qualifications for these leaders that should be chosen. They should be people who are zealous, who are eager for God’s work, who should, or want to live in the truth and who hate evil.’ And let them judge the people at all times, then it will be that every great matter, they shall bring to you-but every small matter, they themselves shall judge.’ So entrusting, or empowering the laity amongst the congregation that for sure God has given them gifts and talents to resolve most of the problems that may take up much of his personal time and just reserve his time to resolve the bigger issues and basically to intercede and to pray for the people.
‘it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.’ And I love this so much- it is a team effort and team work and everyone feels empowered-able to contribute to the ministry. And just like that game we had, you know when you divide the task and everyone can bear just a little bit, the burden gets a lot lighter.
‘if you do this thing, as God so commands you, then you will be able to endure and all this people will also go to their place in peace.’
It works both ways, because so many times Abouna is required to visit all the people and to take confessions and to do administrative work and pastoral work and spiritual work and all of these things- even if Abouna tries to do all these things, there’s still gonna be lack because everyone is still not gonna feel happy, they’re not gonna feel satisfied. So the work needs to be divided amongst faithful and trusting leaders who are passionate about the ministry and who want to contribute for their own personal edification as well as for the edification and help of others.
So again I love this so much because he said that everyone is going to have peace at the end through this amazing process-they will go to their place in peace. ‘So Moses heeded the voice of his father in law and did all that he said and Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over people, rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. So they judged the people at all times- the hard cases they brought to Moses but they judged every small case themselves. Then Moses let his father in law depart.’
So again, this story is amazing because it sets for us what we are trying to accomplish here-it has an amazing Biblical foundation; it has a practical matter as well and I love so much because only yesterday, I was looking at the new edition of el-keraza magazine that just came out. And right on the cover page, His Holiness wrote an article on the work of the laity in the church- the ministry of the laity. Laity referring to those who are not ordained into full-time ministry and how effective their ministry is in edifying and building the entire church.
The second great example of leadership in the Holy Scriptures and there is so many of them but due to the time we’ll just mention quickly a couple of them, is Nehemiah. Nehemiah is really one of my heroes, when it comes to leadership training and application because he was a man of great might and great planning. And he was able, despite all the challenges that he faced among his people from inside as well as from outside. And he was determined to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after they were destroyed after the Babylonian captivity upon the return of Israel from captivity. He set for his heart when he heard from his brothers who were coming back, that the city lay in ruins; there was no one really taking care of the Holy City of God.
So he made a plan, he approached the King and he really rallied the troops around him, all the children of Israel, and appointed tasks for each and every one of them. And each tribe was given a responsibility to build a section of the wall. And when you connect together, like a beautiful puzzle. You take that section. You take that section. You take that section. All around and give priority to this ministry. This is where you’re gonna be living so take the part that is right in front of you with the wall. Build together; team-effort; team work comes beautifully at the end when you stand and see the whole walls- entire walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt.
Just mention, just to give you a small idea of his leadership style. In chapter 2 verses 17 to 20. ‘Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.
So they said, “Let us rise up and build.”
You see the enthusiasm, that he was able to embed in the people that he was working with. so much courage and enthusiasm and he led them and he became also to them, to these few people who became leaders also for their own community or their own tribes. All of them said ‘let us rise up and build’
‘Then they set their hands to this good work.’
but they faced some challenges; they faced some people who were in opposition of what they were doing.
‘19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”
20 So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage.’
Along the way, as leaders, we are going to hear mockery. What you are about to do? what is your vision? What is your mission? This is impossible. What you are about to do is to bring God into the lives of people is something that is-we are living in a post-modern world, no-one wants to hear about God anymore. You’re gonna hear so many words that put us down and make us feel that we are unable to do it.
But I love this message here coos he said: ‘20 So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build.’
God will give us victory; God will give us to prosper and success. It comes first in this passage. He didn’t say ‘we will build and then God will give us prospering.’ No he said: ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build.’
And I love this because victory has already occurred and happened through the cross of Christ and through His resurrection. We already have this victory in us, therefore we, His servants, now are going to put our hands together as a team of leaders and start building the Kingdom of Heaven; working towards the Kingdom of Heaven, because Christ has already given us victory.
Therefore whatever we do under any circumstance is going to be victorious and its going to be a success because due to the Lord’s conquering satan on the cross and rising from the dead, He has already given us this victory.
Any word, any ministry that is done in the name of Christ is a type of victory and of success and of prospering.
Then we go to the leadership style of our Lord Jesus , who was really amazing because He had this communication with His disciples, where as He would equip them, and He would warn them, He would send them out into the world and wait for them to come and give Him feedback.
The gospel of St Luke chapter 9 and then in chapter 10. we see in chapter 9, the Lord sending out the 12 and then in chapter 10, the Lord sending out the 70 or in other translations, the 72. and He gave them warning; He didn’t lie to them; He didn’t paint a very rosy picture for them. He told them that when you travel, you should rely on Him, on God’s guidance to them, on His grace. He equipped them with performing miracles, which was necessary for this time. He said: take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bags nor bread nor money and do not have two tunics. Whatever house you enter, stay there and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony.’
And in chapter 10, which is also amazing, He tells them more things. He tells them : the harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few. And this will always be the fact. When you see hundreds or thousands of people, those who are really willing to step up, to take leadership roles, to care for other’s needs and souls and spirits are always a few. Many are called, but few respond to the call. So He tells them this fact that the labourers are a few but the harvest is plenty. So we should continue to pray to the Lord of harvest to send labourers into the harvest. And He tells them: ‘behold I send you out as lambs among wolves.’ Its not a very comforting picture; but He tells them: ‘be of good cheer because I have overcome the world.’
And even though its full of wolves, but He is the good shepherd who takes care of the sheep. Because we’re not on our own. We are in the ministry; we are not abandoned or left alone. Yes there are wolves, and we are sheep- but He is the Good Shepherd and this is a very comforting thought to us.
An I love so much the feedback that He received from them. In verse 17, chapter 10: ‘17 Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”. they had this pride that we were speaking about a minute ago. And He corrected their vision a little bit. He said: ‘ I didn’t send you out to, you know to be very proud of your accomplishment. You should have a modest spirit and your focus should always be on the Kingdom. I saw satan fall like lightning from heaven .. this is a given; tis is a given, we’re going to go through trials and tribulations but the Lord will make satan fall from Heaven like lighting. Behold I give you authority to tread upon serpents and on scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice over this, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice , why? Why is our joy complete? Because your names re written in Heaven.
So isn’t that an amazing reward for those who step up as leaders in the church of God? Your reward is in heaven. Your names are written in heaven.
And the last example I want to mention is from the writings of St Paul and 1 Corinthians chapter 12 as well as Romans chapter 12- you can remember those two chapters because they speak about the diversity in gifts that have been bestowed to the believers. But there is one word in Romans 12 that I like to focus on that should give us some courage as leaders. In the way that he divided al the gifts.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us,
So the concept of puzzle, where each one holds one piece out of it. So many gifts, given to us according to the grace of God.
‘let us use them:’ what are these gifts? ‘if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.’ Therefore, one of the gifts that is given to the children of God is the ability to lead or as leaders. He who leads, with diligence is a gift, given to us from God and we should be faithful in it.
What kind of leadership are we looking for? It should be a Kingdom-centred leadership. Christian leaders have the responsibility of leading the members of Christ’s body towards and into the Kingdom, nowhere else. So we’re not speaking here about corporate leaders, even though, ofcourse, these are very well and recognised positions. But when we are in the church, we are leading the people into the kingdom, not to ourselves, not to activities, not to be involved in the church. We are leading others to the Kingdom of heaven. Leadership holds special sacramental significance because it includes the opportunity and responsibility to serve and to be the channel for communion and love and grace.
So in orthodox leadership, this kind of ministry, is sacramental, meaning that the presence of the Holy Spirit in it because there is walking in a certain direction, where I am taking also others with me in the same wagon in order to have communion , full communion, with thew Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
I was speaking with a member from the congregation a few days ago, concerning our focus as a church. What I sour focus as a church. And I said: people come to church because they are spiritually hungry, they wanna see a community that is living the gospel. They don’t wanna be distracted from anything else. Its like going to a doctors office and after the doctor checks you up, he’s not gonna say to you: ‘do you like to get a prize with that?’ right? Or if you go to an architecture office and you know they end up serving you something completely different.
If a church says from outside that it is a church, that ,means that it Is a spiritual institution. It is a building that contains passionate individuals who are seeking the Kingdom and are helping others also to find the kingdom. And some people could be distracted from this, unfortunately. And we can start to get involved in many other things such as gossip, or speaking about others or judging one another and pin-pointing each other. And people come into the church and they’re completely thrown away or thrown off their main focus, which is Christ. Or not finding the comforting Spirit and welcoming hands that we, as leaders, should offer to one another. We have a responsibility and I am very grateful to God that leadership does not only mean now Sunday school teachers. No its much bigger than that. Anyone who is involved in any kind of ministry, leadership to others, is considered a minister and a servant of God and has this sacramental identity of bringing himself, his family, as well as others around him or her into full communion with God.
In the orthodox church, vision has its source in the Kingdom and is defined by the Body of Christ, with the help of its leaders. Any group of people trying to accomplish any task will succeed to the extent that they have a shared vision. And that’s why as leaders, its very important to continue going back to our vision. Why did we start this ministry? Was it just to start another congregation? So many churches, that exists already. But we need to keep a vision on Christ into our multicultural nature, into a non-judgemental attitude toward others, toward helping others growing into the faith and love of God. As a missionary community and as a community that is faithful to the orthodox, Coptic Orthodox teaching, theology and faith.
Vision needs to be incarnated from the eternal and divine at the local and human level without losing a single attribute of either.
Meaning that it is both vertical and horizontal. Our vision is love of God and love of neighbour. While we are growing as individuals into the love of God, we each have a spiritual relationship and a personal relationship with Christ. We are also inviting others around us to be fellow members in this community.
Individualism is the complete opposite of divine personhood, which is characterised by love, unity and communion. St Basil said: ‘empty your mind of any thoughts that you are deserving of great things or that any person is beneath you.’ So St Basil is really encouraging the leaders to be level-minded. Not to feel that they are greater than anyone else, but at the same time, we do want to feel also that we are lower than everyone else. We are servants, we are helpers- but also we are part of the community and we are glad to be a part of this community.
St Gregory of Sinai said: ‘Become what you already are, Find Him Who is already yours, Listen to Him Who never ceases speaking to you, and Own Him Who already owns you." So a greater call to become more intimate as the leader, with Christ.
In our calling for leadership, we have to understand that we are stewards. Stewards meaning representing Christ- we are representatives of Christ. And He has given us these three gifts.
Number one: acceptance- that everything is a gift from God. Our presence in this position is a gift from Him.
He has given us freedom; we are living under the Gospel of freedom or of liberty and the ability to choose, not to choose sin, but to choose right from wrong.
And also life in the spirit, which is characterised by behaviour that uses and nurtures time, talents and treasures entrusted to us by God.
In reference to this preceding passage, we look at the gospel of St Mark, chapter 10, 42 to 45. In order to give us a direction for spiritual leadership.
‘But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.’
So He’s clearing up that leadership is not about authority. Because this is happening in the world outside- what about us, as orthodox leaders? What should be our characteristics?
‘Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’
So really, the Lord Jesus has set the standard here. And He didn’t ask us to do something that He , Himself did not do. He was the beginning of the line when it comes to serving others- so it was easy to ask us to follow in His footsteps.
Here are a few pointers that could kind of give us direction or set for us the path in orthodox leadership.
-It is a God given responsibility
-it is a part of our stewardship responsibility
-and it is a gift given to each person
-Servant-hood as revealed by Christ
-restoring and affirming a Trinitarian personhood. Meaning a union with the Holy Trinity.
So it’s a responsibility, stewardship, servant hood, union with the Holy Trinity .
It is concerned with God and His Kingdom and His people. It is very important to focus on these things, so its not just a matter of being task-oriented or, you know, focusing on certain things- there is a deeper meaning into it, which is, again, as we mentioned in the beginning, leading but taking people by the hand and leading them toward the Kingdom
-enabling persons to become all they were created to be in the image and likeness of God
-and the responsibility of all
-and the charge of some
The reasonability of all but the charge of some. Each one is called to be a leader in their own context but at the same time, you need to be charged to take certain responsilbites and be faithful in them in order to accomplish them to the best ability they could.
I have the references there, I’m not gonna keep mentioning them but in the power point, you can look at where these quotations are coming from.
Leadership again, according to the academy of leadership, is defined as the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation. Motivation is one of those things that many of us lacks, especially if our ministry is really not flourishing or its not really growing. But its not about the number, its about being faithful in the little that we have. And we as leaders need to provide those things for those who are working with us.
Purpose, direction and motivation. While operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organisation. Again, this is very secular definition, but we can learn from it because some of these things are common.
Here are some characteristics that could be present in an effective leader. Okay. And I don’t have most of these. But again, some of us are gonna connect to some of them, while others, you can just forget about; I guess you can pick and choose. But these are important things to be present in an orthodox leader, to be able to help others to walk towards the Kingdom.
First of all, the ability to motivate; to show courage; give recognition; to be consistent; gentle and not demeaning; confident; lead by example; knowledgeable; concerned for others; patient; cautious; obedient to God; humble and not egocentric; set goals and follow up with them; seek quality of faith; are organised; communicate effectively; good teachers; have clarity; make it look easy; have core values and standards; are trustworthy; live servant hood; inspire and encourage; open your view; have a vision; are accessible; take ownership and responsibility; are good stewards; are honest and have integrity; understand people and like them; the ability to connect with other people.
What about some of the characteristics that are leats effective in leaders? That could deter or hinder your ministry. If we are inconsistent; untruthful; not compassionate; selfish; lack humility disorganised; measure success in either money or in number of attendees; are non communicative; having our own agenda; micromanage- meaning looking at the smaller picture, not at the bigger picture; never supportive; anti-every knew idea; are authoritarian; arbitrary; distrustful of others; waffle on issues; lack discernment and are demeaning,
In conclusion I want to say that leadership is a partnership with God and with one-another. In many of the games that we had in the beginning of this session, we saw the need to connect with others. There is no way that one person is able to handle all the load by him or herself and even in your own roles as leaders, you cannot do , because you, you have to go and recruit some people who are gifted, who are talented, who are truthful, passionate about the gospel. God doesn’t, I heard this before, God doesn’t call the sanctified, but sanctifies those who are called. So when we are coming to a leadership position, it is not assumed that you have to be full knowledgeable in all the church teachings and history and theology and you have to have a background in leadership. We are not born leaders. Most of us have gifts and talents; all of us have different talents and we learn how to lead through a process, through learning techniques, through spiritual days, through communication, through trial and error. Right? And many of us get discouraged when things don’t go right or we feel that there is no response. But I learned actually or I heard a very nice story which gave me a lot of encouragement because sometimes I was not feeling very much courage when things don’t go right all the time. so if you like baseball, if you’re into sports and you like baseball, you know there is a batting average, when you know, the pitcher throws the ball and then, you know, the player stands to bat, to hit the ball- right; so if he strikes out 3 times, he goes out. So they keep an average, okay, when you bat, every time you go up to bat, how many times you strike out and how many times you actually hit the ball ,right. So the best ever record in baseball history for a person who goes up to bat and he actually hit the bat-do you know what’s the best ? like he is a hall-of-fame-er? Someone who bat the highest average. What was his average?
[response from audience]
Little bit less. So out of a percentage. So every thousand times he goes to bat, what would he- his career average- the best person ever to play the game- his career average is-
[response from audience]
No. so Tye Cop. Tye cop. That’s the name of the person who holds the biggest batting average – or the highest batting average- in baseball history.
Okay, his career- 366.366. so just about a third. A third- this is the highest. Meaning that for every three tries , he hit one. And this was a kind of encouragement for myself because it is okay to hit and to miss. The person who hit one out of three is the best person who had the highest average ever. So I mean, for every three tries- I mean if we don’t try at all, we’ll never even hit the one. But just the fact that we are continuously trying to hit, even if we hit and miss, this is still an encouragement for us.
[response from audience]
No it wouldn’t be good in surgery. I don’t recommend it for surgery or if you are dealing with like delivering babies or something like that. No. but in ministry, God may accept; even He said: ‘it brought forth fruit, thirty, sixty and one hundred’. So even thirty is acceptable, sometimes. So God is willing to accept, as long as we are trying and motivation is really one of those big things that we have to focus on- is that how to keep going. Cos as leaders, as we’ll discuss in the second session, so many challenges are going to put us down. But it is a leadership and it is amazing also to think that we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves. Each one of us is doing something small but when you put it all together, it becomes a great ministry that reflects the image of God and we can all be proud of it. And it will be a good acclamation in the world that there is still a faithful community who are willing to lead for Christ; who are willing to give and to step up for our faith.
Leadership is an on gonging process of revelation, growth, joy, hard-work and effort. Nothing is going to come to us very easily, but we have to be intentional in it and we have to maintain our unity and our peace and our growth together. And yes, some challenges are gonna come by but with the grace of God, defiantly , everything could be conquered. And finally the great reward of Christ that He promised that saying that servants are honoured by God. By saying that: ‘if anyone serves Me, let Him follow Me and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour.’ Servants and leaders are defiantly honoured by God, are called to a greater ministry of witnessing to the Almighty God of heaven, the Creator, to be faithful to our calling and to lead others with humility and with unity and Glory be to God forever and ever. Amen