‘But it is not so among you’ (Mark 10.43): Leadership in a Catholic setting

In today’s liberal, secular culture, fewer are coming forward for leadership roles which require a faith commitment. A new leadership programme aims to form Catholic leaders for roles which are often judged by secular outcomes, writes Raymond Friel.

The scriptural foundation

In the Gospels, Jesus called disciples. This was unusual. As Gerhard Lohfink points out, ‘there is not a single story in the rabbinic tradition in which a rabbi called a student to follow him … a rabbinic student seeks his or her own teacher’.1 Rabbinic students were to serve their teachers. This was known as ‘serving the wise’ and included the duties of a servant at the time such as waiting on table, sweeping out the courtyard and washing the rabbi’s feet, as well as the primary purpose which was the study of Torah. What Jesus did was unheard of at the time. On the shores of Lake Galilee, he approached fishermen and invited them to follow him. Lohfink comments that the rabbinic student’s entry into a house of study ‘was not “following this or that rabbi,” but “studying (or learning) Torah”’ with a particular rabbi. In the case of Peter, James and John, ‘they left everything and followed him’ (Lk 5.11). When the emphasis is placed on him, the radical nature of what happened is underscored.

If the disciples followed Jesus, does that make him a leader? For some, leadership is a problematic Christian category. In Hebrews 6.20, Christ is described as our ‘forerunner’, the one we are to follow through self-emptying into the presence of the Father. Does this make him our leader? Well, not in the understanding of leadership which was prevalent at the time. Jesus was all too familiar with that view of leadership. The Roman centurion who came to Jesus to plead for the life of his servant, said: ‘For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come” and he comes’ (Mt. 8.9) This is the command-and-control model of leadership, which is still a feature of military discipline and was, until recent times, the dominant model of leadership in the corporate world: clear objectives and lines of accountability, leaders and followers, subjugation of the individual to the collective, unquestioned authority demanding obedience.

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