Benedict’s Rule: Communal Wisdom

We hear a lot about “visionary leadership” today.  And, God knows, we need it!  But do we know what it is that we “need”?

In some circles visionary leaders claim that they are the only ones through whom the vision can come.  But I believe this is a gross violation of what Scripture and tradition actually teach—and just another way for the ego to exalt itself. It can easily lead to arrogance and the leader adopting the notion that he or she is a kind of “hotline to heaven.”

In Chapter Three of the Rule, Benedict talks about the wisdom which comes through communal discernment. It is the abbot’s responsibility to bring important matters before the entire community and to receive their input.  This is because “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger” (3:3).

In less-important matters, the abbot needs only to confer with senior members of the community.

This sounds like the opposite of what some leaders do.  They share “the small stuff,” but leave the “really important stuff” to the elders, or (as I said) just themselves.  Benedict turns everything on its head.  But in actuality, he is turning it right-side up.  It is a false leadership that operates with exclusivity.  Benedict restores God’s plan for discernment by emphasizing communal wisdom. The principle is this:  the greater the issue the larger the solicitation of input.

This does not relieve the abbot (the leader) from having to make the final decision, and it is the nature of every decision that some will agree and some will disagree.  Leadereship is still difficult!  No style of leadership can change that fact. But at least in the model given through the Rule it is a leadership that listens, cares, and acts for the good of the entire community, not merely on the basis of what the leader wants.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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