Benedict’s Rule: Second-Tier Leaders

Chapter 65 of the Rule deals with the prior, what we would today call the “second in command” in a community.  Interestingly, there is more space spent to the problems of having such a leader than to the person’s actual role and function.

We have to ponder that noticeable reality.  But it soon becomes evident that anyone who attempts to “lead from the second chair” (today’s term for this position) is caught between a rock and a hard place.  And when that’s the case, problems can abound.

The prior may begin his ministry with jealousy that he was not chosen as abbot.  This is especially true, the Rule says, when the Bishop appoints both the abbot and prior.  A “why not me?” root of bitterness can spring up when you come in second.  To eliminate this possibility, the Rule states that the prior should never be the one who came in second in a two-man race, but rather should be chosen by the abbot in a one-after-the-other fashion.

The prior may also begin his ministry with pride.  The air gets thinner the higher you go, and this is true in terms of leadership as well.  The Rule implies that the monastery should operate through multiple deans rather than one prior, but when it is necessary to have a prior, it is equally necessary to be sure a person is appointed who will not let power and control go to his head.

Chapter 65 continues the same spirit and principle that runs through the entire Rule; namely, that humility and submission must characterize anyone who is considered for leadership.  For the plain truth is that once a person is chosen to lead, he or she will bear the fruit of the underlying attitude.  Manipulators will manipulate.  Controlers will control.

But in life together, leaders must be servants who serve.  If they do not, Chapter 64 says they must be warned, disciplined, and perhaps even removed.


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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1 Response to Benedict’s Rule: Second-Tier Leaders

  1. Tony Fotsch says:

    Hey there Pastor Steve,
    Finally getting to this posting, b/c as a current Associate Pastor, this one piqued my interest. It caused me to ponder the conversations at seminary in regard to the idea of “titles” in ministry. My integration of that was, I believe, a healthy dismissal of hold on titles, power, etc. Whether or not that was the intention of the seminary professors or not is another issue altogether;-)
    Nevertheless, this posting has connected with more recent ponderings of mine in light of “position” in a church. When my Senior Pastor and I were appointed here, we quickly did away with the “Executive Pastor” title, and substituted “Associate” for it. Of course, congregational thought still was the understanding that I am “second in command.” Yet, interestingly, as I consider Ordination soon, with the potential of becoming “first in command”, I’ve been considering the potential of effectiveness when an Associate/Executive is assigned with a more clear understanding of their role (above simply the title). I’m drawing some of my experience in Military Highschool. As we know, an Executive Officer(XO) is the 2nd in command to the Commanding Officer. In that title, they have a great deal of power & authority – in a military context, you can tell ANYONE of lower rank to do anything you want. However, in proper consideration, the XO’s role is to “execute” the commands of the commander. The glory of that understanding is that it frees up the Commander to focus on the overall leadership, while the XO focuses on the details of the mission. I’ve experienced how this has well-served my Senior Pastor here to let him focus on the more general leadership (and sermons, spiritual leadership, etc) while I take care of the more nitty-gritty, so to speak.
    In terms of this posting, and Benedict’s Rule (which, I have to be honest, I haven’t actually had time to read completely…) it has been interesting to think of these details of the assignment of an XO. I do think there are certain gifts & graces that may be necessary for an XO that should also be considered in their appointment. I am proud of the fact that part of my education & experience has given me abilities to “make the things happen” as they are passed down from the Senior Pastor and other lay leadership. Of course, in the UM system, an Associate/Exec Pastor is typically someone, like me, in the Provisional status gaining knowledge to eventually be a Senior Pastor. But, I think there could also be this additional element of training us in what our role needs to be while we are actually serving as an Associate.
    Well – I may have to put some of this in my paperwork somewhere;-) But, thanks again for a thoughtful posting!!
    God’s blessings as you near retirement;-)

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