Bishop’s ‘Servant Leadership’

by Michael Ford last modified 20 Mar, 2012 01:55 PM

The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, says today that servant leadership is useful but there is a fine line between being a saint and being a doormat in the working out of what it actually means.

Bishop’s ‘Servant Leadership’

The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam

In an article published on his diocesan website www.salisbury.anglican.org, Bishop Holtam reflects on comments he made to Church of England School headteachers from Wiltshire and Dorset during a gathering at St Paul’s Church, Salisbury last week.

Bishop Holtam reflects on Church School leadership by exploring issues arising from the practice of servant leadership. He argues that leaders of Church Schools should examine the Christian call to be disciples - followers – noting, however that, ‘The term Servant Leadership is useful but it can be a fine line between being a saint and a doormat.’

He suggests that Jesus’ phrase ‘Turn the other cheek,’ is usually seen as remaining passive rather than resisting evil, noting that this is ‘an odd conclusion given that Jesus resisted evil on every occasion with every fibre of his body.’

The Bishop suggests that Jesus encouraged his followers to counteract evil through non-violent resistance.

The Bishop then uses a specific example of servant leadership - Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet - to recommend a loving attitude towards others.

‘One way of thinking about who and what we love is that it gives us a centre of gravity outside ourselves – husband, wife, family, children, friends. We live for others as well as for self... Servant Leadership is about where you identify your centre of gravity’.

He concludes by placing teamwork and shared vision at the heart of servant leadership. ‘High performing teams communicate well, almost instinctively. You learn to do it by doing it. Your teams are staff, pupils, families, communities, and Church.’

ENDS

For further information, contact:
The Revd Jonathan Ball, Chaplain to the Bishop of Salisbury
Telephone: 01722 334031/07500 872081
bishops.chaplain@salisbury.anglican.org

The full notes follow, with references:

Thank you
Schools are an important part of the Diocese of Salisbury: I have visited nearly 30 schools in the first 5 months and have been very impressed – from ‘Open the Book’ in Monkton Farleigh to an amazing assembly at St Nicholas Child Okeford. We set high standards for ourselves and for our children and are concerned with intellectual development, character and care.

The Church has a long and deep commitment to Education
Jesus was a teacher; God is the God of truth. The Church has a long history in education, particularly in this country. But education is not just passing on a body of knowledge but exploration, and the forming of character. You don’t need me to speak about educational theory – you are the experts.

The current context
Schools are having to negotiate significant political reforms, whilst in religious terms, we live in a world that has become progressively secular and pluralistic. Yet we have come to see that for most people to be human is to be religious. Most people are religious - there is more to life than meets the eye.

Howard Georgi is Professor of Physics at Harvard University. A prayer he wrote captures the humility and adventure of science and religion:

O God of the heavens and the earth, of the astronomical and the subatomic, of science and history, of life and love. We give you thanks for the miraculous variety of your creation. We pray for the energy and time and patience and talent to learn more about the world you have made, and for the humility always to recognise how little we know. Amen.

High standards and creativity, transforming individuals and our communities
The Head of St Martin-in-the-Fields High School had the capacity to make me as Vicar and Vice Chair of Governors to sit up straight - by her very demeanour, she set high standards.

All the evidence shows that the quality of leadership makes a very big difference to schools. There’s a bit of an issue here for Christian schools because we are called to be disciples, followers. So the term Servant leadership is useful but it can be a fine line between being a saint and a doormat.

In the teaching of Jesus, “Turn the other cheek” has come to imply a passive, doormatlike quality:

Matthew 5:38-42 [NRSV]
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

The American New Testament scholar Walter Wink says that the traditional interpretation of “do not resist an evildoer” has been non-resistance to evil – which is an odd conclusion given that Jesus resisted evil on every occasion with every fibre of his body. (See Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, Doubleday 1998).

 The Greek word translated “resist” is antistenai, meaning to stand (stenai) against (anti). In the Greek Old Testament it is a technical term for warfare. Armies marched on each other and “Take a stand”. Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. The correct translation would be “Do not repay evil for evil”, which is consistent with other sayings in the New Testament or best of all: “Do not react violently against the one who is evil”.

Jesus is about transforming the powers, so “turn the other cheek”, “if a man asks for your coat give him your shirt”, “walk the extra mile” are all examples of creative non-violent resistance by which the less powerful transform our relationships.

Use of the left hand meant exclusion from the meeting and penance for 10 days, since the left hand was used for toilet cleansing. So the master loses his control by having to use full force when the slave refuses to accept the backhander.

By turning the cheek the servant makes it impossible for the master to use the backhand again. It would be like telling a joke twice: if it doesn’t work first time it simply doesn’t work.

Foot washing is not the most popular management model
In St John’s account of the Last Supper (chapter 13) Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Peter initially refuses, prompting Jesus to say that a servant is not greater than his master. He then commands his disciples to wash each other’s feet, and leaves them a new commandment, to love one another as he has loved them.

One way of thinking about who and what we love is that it gives us a centre of gravity outside ourselves – husband, wife, family, children, friends; we live for others as well as for self. This illustrates Jesus’s summary of the Old Testament Law: Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

Servant Leadership is about where you identify your centre of gravity – as a Head, staff and school. Church has a very great deal to offer in this because we are disciples who seek to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves. It is the way of Jesus Christ and a very distinctive account of what it is to be human.

Teams
The disciples were a rag bag of people, with no job description, no person spec, no interviews.

But empowered by forgiveness and being called again and again, and by the Holy Spirit’s gifts of love, joy, peace, discipline, self-control and above all communication (as on the day of Pentecost as described in Acts) they were able to change the world.

High performing teams communicate well, almost instinctively. You learn to do it by doing it. Your teams are staff, pupils, families, communities, and Church.

Vision, Prayer and purpose
Jesus said ask for what you want: intercessory prayer is partly about clarifying what you want - for baptism, health, happiness, to make a contribution, for life to be worthwhile, to love and be loved. What do you want for your school and your children?

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