UCAN Spirituality Catholic Church News

Servant Leaders

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John Paul II

People in Asia need to see the clergy not just as charity workers and institutional administrators, but as men whose minds and hearts are set on the deep things of the Spirit (cf. Rom.8:5). The reverence which the Asian peoples have for those in authority needs to be matched by a clear moral uprightness on the part of those with ministerial responsibilities in the Church. By their life of prayer, zealous service and exemplary conduct, the clergy witness powerfully to the Gospel in the communities which they shepherd in the name of Christ.


Joseph Mattam

How do we look at ourselves as leaders of the Christian community? We have to keep our eyes on Jesus and see what kind of a person he was and what his mission was. Thanks to his Abba experience he was a man rooted in God, who was totally free of the outlook of the world: free from greed, lust, hatred, fear, attachment, and he loved all and opted for the poor. He saw his mission as one of service: service of the Father in the service of his fellow humans; he reveals the Father through parables and through his life and table fellowship….

Leadership in the Church is for service as friends and equals (Jn 13:1-17) as Jesus’ life was, and all the gospels show in no unclear terms that Jesus’ life was one of service and that whoever wishes to follow him will have to be a servant of all. This service does not depend on the gender of the person, but on being a disciple of Jesus and is willing to serve the community. The focus is on building up the community. The Church has to become more like the Servant Master….

Obviously the term ‘service’ is used in the Church, and even the bishop of Rome calls himself a servant of the servants, but that is service of un-equals, of the high and the low, of the haves and the have-nots. Jesus meant service as friends, as equals, though with distinct and different functions….

Hence as leaders of the community we will have to be representatives, the living presence of this Master who emptied himself taking the form of a slave and washed the feet of his disciples and left for us a pattern to follow (cf. Phil 2:6ff; Jn 13). We have to pattern our life on Jesus’ and in every way be like him. We are to be lives offered in love and service; ready to lay down our life for God’s people; answerable to God and the people. The only power we have is the power to love endlessly, love all and be for all, manifesting the possibility of true love in the world.

Why is it important that we recognize that we have gone astray from what Jesus wanted? At present we find our dignity and worth as persons in the function (position) we have in society, the respect people give us because of our position; this has not helped the servant leaders to become true to their vocation, the living presence of Jesus.

Jesus had emptied himself, became a slave, and never had any authority that came from society; so the Pharisees and other authorities often questioned him about his authority in doing what he did or said. Jesus’ authority was not from the institution but from his being rooted in the Abba. As long as we claim special powers which make us be above the community, we are not likely to be interested in becoming what we are to be as servant leaders. This is the more important reason for going back to the roots.

The servant leaders will have to discover their true identity as servants of the community ― not masters and lords. They will have to move away from a culture of command and control by threats and punishments to a culture of service and friendship as equals, answerable to the community…

My prayer is that we revert to Jesus’ understanding of leadership in the Church and abandon the empire system we have inherited; and that the leaders give a lead in becoming true followers of Jesus. They would not be known any more by titles and their special dress, but by their self-giving love and dedication to the cause of Jesus and the well being of humans.