Religious leaders cannot control what everyone in their circle chooses to do. That kind of control has never been possible and the challenge is even greater today.
The hallmark of contemporary life is the flight from accountability. Rugged individualism has become petulant self-indulgence, hiding behind the guise of “my rights.” The priesthood of all believers has degenerated into “every person a god,” “each person’s private convictions a religion.”
But we can shape the ecclesiastical culture in which we work. We can model a certain kind of behavior, we can choose to reward and sanction certain kinds of behavior, and we need to do both.
In the final analysis, institutional cultures are infinitely more powerful than formal, bureaucratic arrangements and they are often shaped in decisive ways by leaders.
When those in the church and the church’s institutions treat one another with disrespect, when they indulge in name calling and character assassination, when they show little or no regard for the office of those with whom they work, or they redefine the organization’s mission, it’s time for leaders to ask themselves hard questions:
Do I communicate respect for our mission?
Do I use my authority to redefine that mission in highly personal terms?
Do I demonstrate a lack of regard for that mission or for the institution itself?
Do I call people names or gossip about them?
Do I triangulate?
Do I play favorites?
Am I self-serving, capricious, or abusive?
Am I lazy or retired in place?
Do I serve my institution or do I serve my own professional goals?
Out of a fear of conflict or a loss of popularity, do I fail to insist on accountability?
Do I communicate in ways that are governed by societal norms, giving myself to the partisanship and bullying that are part and parcel of societal norms, but at odds with my tradition?
Do I give lip service to principles that do not govern the decisions that I make?
None of these are questions that we want to ask ourselves. They can be painful to ask and even more painful to answer in an honest fashion. But in failing to ask them we miss an important opportunity to change the institutions that we serve by changing the one thing that we do control: our own behavior.
Image by David Castillo Dominici with permission from freedigitalphotos.net