OK, I’ll say it! Religious or spiritual leadership can be one, big, psycho-spiritual game.
Hiding behind my Mac’s screen, for personal safety reasons, I’d better attempt to explain my somewhat provocative statement before Pauline Bible verses are hurled in my direction. So, here we go:
Leadership within a religious sect can take one of two forms.
Sometimes these two forms can merge, conjuring up an extremely potent spell of leadership magnetism, one that is difficult to remain uninfluenced by.
If we belong to an institution with a religious bent, then it is argued that for it to run ‘properly’ it needs leaders; someone to take charge and get things done. Of course most folk who attend such an institution are only too happy for someone to tell them what to do, albeit in the name of God. Expectations may be relatively low, with folk just turning up being the desired goal of the leader in question. The way into institutional leadership varies from sect to sect . It may require a theological degree and rigorous training in the social skills required. This helps reinforce the religious expert/lay person divide which keeps most institutional religion running along nicely until the lights are turned off.
Charismatic leadership is more to do with who the leader is rather than his official position within the faith group in question. The ‘leader’ is the one who appears to know God more than we do, that fellow member with a little something extra that we can’t just put our finger on. Such a leader attracts followers, either officially or unofficially, like a magnet draws iron filings to itself. If operating within a loose fellowship of adherents it will be very clear to all concerned who this person is, as folk tend to hang onto their every word. Indeed this charismatic individual may eventually be appointed as an official leader as the fellowship seeks to set up shop in the spiritual marketplace of institutionalised religion. The gifted one morphs into the official one and the stage is set for the problems of type 1 leadership. the hamster wheel game of keeping the Jesus show on the road and the pennies rolling in. The Charismatic movement that swept the socio-religious world of the 60s, 70s and 80s has generally gone through this transformation, with New Churches now being as institutionalised as the historic denominations that it once eyed with zealous pity.
So, what is going on behind the public persona of the religious leader? What hides itself behind the Archbishop’s colourful clobber, or the sweat drenched suit of the bulging-eyed fundamentalist preacher? What drives the idealism of the leader in training to jump into the religious pool and save those hell-bent on destroying themselves? Is the role of the Divine Lifeguard not a noble one, indeed a response to the call of Divine Love itself?
Interestingly, many of our religious leadership models have been taken from royal-priestly sects, mainly those within Judaism and other Midldle-Eastern takes on religious practice. The link between priesthood and royalty in the form of the High Priest-King only reinforces the belief that only one wise enough to convey the Divine Mind is qualified to rule. This twin-like model has flowed down into our religious mindsets, largely unaffected by the radical deconstruction of the Nazarene’s own teaching.
On entering a religious community as fledgling converts, we are bowled away by the certainty and authority of the communities leadership. We fall in love with their official position or their dynamic charisma which seems to press all our psycho-spiritual buttons. Finally, after years of Self doubt and experimentation we have found a belief system and indeed a father/mother figure who appears to provide security and a sense of familial belonging. Re-playing the inner, family tapes of our childhood we attempt to do it properly this time, seeking the favor of both leaders and their Divine sponsor, through numerous acts of compliance and commitment. We love being in a group with ‘strong leadership’ – one upon whom we can pin our Utopian desires for wholeness and health.
But what of the leaders, those who have responded to the ‘Divine call’ to step up to the leadership plate. What makes them tick? Well ,may I humbly suggest that they seek to heal their inner wounds, to please their ‘Father’ in heaven and receive the parental authentication and affirmation that they may have missed out on during childhood. This is not to condemn my leader friends, for we all seek to fill this psychological hole in many and varied ways, but to bring some light to commonly admired religious leadership aspirations. Such inner pain, overlaid with a draining sacrificial model of Self hatred and giving, can keep us running on the leadership treadmill for many years, like some sacred form of the Duracell bunny. Yet, eventually of course the power eventually runs out we lapse into institutional apathy or depart through illness or ‘loss of faith’. Yes, religious leadership usually takes a heavy toll – one that the Nazarene never intended for us. If our addiction to the position of scribe, scholar or Man/Woman of God doesn’t eventually destroy us it might just destroy those whom we love, our family, those who have stoically carried the heavy burden of our religious ‘calling’.
So, didn’t the Good Shepherd ask Peter to ‘Feed My Sheep’?
Well, if the Gospel accounts are to be believed it would appear so.
In my next Bog in this series I’ll attempt to explore this Divine call by considering mimetic desire and it’s role in drawing others into their own experience of Divine Love. The ‘non-leadership role’ of each and every one of us.