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Silence and Accountable Leadership

Posted on June 5th, 2009

I am in the midst of two books that reflect the challenge of integration of “Emotionally Healthy Contemplative Leadership” — Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, by Abbot Christopher Jamison and Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission, by John Edmund Kaiser. They draw on very different parts of our spirituality as leaders and can seem opposed to one another. I believe, however, that we must find the kind of leadership found among many of the early church fathers (Origen , Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Ambrose -to name a few). Many of them were bishops, leaders, monks and theologians with a profound love for God. Finding Sanctuary is filled with practical insights. Perhaps the most significant for me is his section on silence.  Reflecting on his own life, he notes how “before I could offer sanctuary, I had to find it.” He notes that exterior silence “is there to let inner silence grow so that the inner life might flourish…. The power of silence lived in solitude is so real that it can in fact fill all of life for some people. And my belief is not only that it can fill all of life for some people but that it must fill some of life for all people.”  The Carthusians, he notes, have the most profound life of silence of any religious order. “Each monk lives as a hermit in complete silence, broken only by the words of prayer and a community walk once a week…At its heart is the daily life of the monk in his hermitage and silence is the air he breathes. From being an external discipline, it is gradually interiorized.” He closes with the Benedict’s teaching from the Rule that states, “The task of the disciple is to be silent and listen.” I have a long way to go, but amidst the growth and activity of New Life, I find my soul leap as I re-read these words. And they have led me to re-read and pray through the Rule of St. Benedict as part of my Offices each day. Winning on Purpose, in contrast, is a book about accountable leadership and definition of roles — between a Board, lead pastor, staff and members of a church. A few insights which struck me were that the Board governs by setting the guiding principles for the church and holding the senior pastor accountable for the mission. The lead/senior pastor then leads and is accountable to the board for the performance of the organization (hiring and managing staff, etc). He/she must be held accountable for whether the church is faithfull fulfilling her mission. Like Leith Anderson says, “Leadership is figuring out what needs to be done and then doing it.” The staff then manage and execute  the vision, translating it into action. They answer to the pastor. The congregation then is to do the work of the ministry. Most striking to me was his line, “the individual who is accountable for the overall effectiveness of the congregation is its leader, the pastor” (p.82). I think he is right there, but I don’t like it. The book drives me to be still before the Lord, to listen and to not avoid the difficult challenges of leadership. ( I must admit it is easy to idealize the monastic life!) Silence, monastacism and effective leadership of a complex organization – be it church, business, ministry. Can they possibly mix? I believe they must if we are to lead well for Christ in the 21st century. What other options do we have? What do you think?

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