Benedict’s Rule: The Holiness of Leadership

Nothing affects the life of a community more than the person who is charged with leading it.  Perhaps that is why Chapter 64 of Benedict’s Rule is somewhat longer and more-detailed than some of the ones we’ve looked at previously.

As I read the Chapter, I was struck with the eligibility of anyone in the community for election.  Leadership is not a “prize” given to those who’ve been around the longest, and much less to those who might salivate to be in charge of something.  As Chapter 64 clearly points out, “Goodness of life and wisdom in teaching must be the criteria for choosing the one to be made abbot, even if he is the last in community rank” (64:2)

Selections based on politics or conspiracies must be opposed and not allowed to wreak havoc on the community.  And once the right person has been identified and elected, he must then live daily with the sense that everything he says and does is “unto the Lord,” to whom he must ultimately give account.

It is also noteworthy that the leader is to lead with love, interacting with people on the basis of tenderness and pastoral care, “not crushing a bruised reed.”  This is not a license to be wimpy, but it is a call to be redemptive when discipline has to be administered.  It is a mandate to ascribe value to people and to enriching relationships.  It is, in short, a call to be pastoral.

I could go on, because Chapter 64 is filled with “pearls of great price.”  Hopefully, you have access to The Rule and can trace even more insights than I can provide in a single blog.

The spirit of this Chapter is akin to James’ admonition that not many should become teachers (James 3:1), because with greater authority comes greater responsibility and higher accountability.  This realization should create instant humility and abandonment to God.  When it fails to do so—when it creates a thirst for “power and control,” the group being led is headed for trouble.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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