Our Readers' Opinions
March 18, 2016
On pastoral leadership

by G E M Saunders

In one of his recent farewell messages to the Catholic community, Bishop Jason Gordon appeared to be lamenting what was interpreted as a growing idolatry towards political leaders and parties in preference to our churches and pastoral leaders. If he is correct, then the Lord Bishop would have left us to ponder on what must be a troubling situation from a Christian standpoint and one that requires some reflection on the probable causes.{{more}}

While the Bishop stopped short of an analysis, his comments, while aimed squarely at the populace, may also be interpreted as a commentary on the state of pastoral leadership in SVG. If Bishop Jason is correct, then it is imperative that we determine how exactly we got on this wrong track, where political and secular leaders are seemingly eclipsing our pastoral leaders in both presence and influence.

Pastoral leadership is widely regarded as the most permanent and highest form of leadership in any Christian society. Additionally, many admit that no calling or profession demands more wisdom and grace than that of a pastor, whose responsibilities are to work with and represent ALL his flock, including persons of different backgrounds, temperaments and yes, political persuasions and under a variety of circumstances.

Pastoral leaders should therefore, by necessity, be sensitive to the needs of their people and utilize their gift of spiritual influence over all their flock. Their flock, in turn, must recognize this God-given position which the pastoral leader has accepted and encourage their pastors to function and manage above the fray, if they are to be effective. Additionally, the nature and status of pastoral leadership ought not to collapse from one that was designed to be supreme and overarching to one where the church and its leaders could be accused of devaluing that status, by openly engaging secular leaders in public forums and sometimes from the pulpit.

While pastoral leaders must, by necessity, pronounce on WHAT is right and wrong they cannot easily pronounce on WHO is right or wrong. This is an understandable expectation, given the limited investigative capacity of the church. The pastor’s responsibility instead is to ensure that established legal and other systems are employed to uncover truth and facts and that justice for all eventually prevails. The pastoral leader should also guard against being manipulated into political partisanship and should instead seek to influence secular and organizational leaders to the extent that Christian values and principles would be infused into the institutions which they lead and ultimately impact behaviours and decisions at all levels.

An interesting approach was recently taken by Pope Francis in answering a question about whether or not Hispanic Americans should vote for Donald Trump. The Pope was understandably measured when he was reported to have said this: “About whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian, if he said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.” The Pope, like Nicodemus in John 7:50-51, felt that judgment should be reserved until the accused was heard. The same approach is required of our pastoral leaders, as they fulfill their mediatory roles.

So, how do we get back on to the right track, assuming that we were once there? Maybe as a Christian nation in the aftermath of a bruising electoral season, we can begin with a reaffirmation of the overwhelming power of the Church and of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Fortunately, all of our political and secular leaders have strong Christian backgrounds and that is a good place to start. It also means that beneath all the political bravado and fierce countenances there has to be a contrite spirit awaiting the right opportunity for reconciliation. Our pastoral leaders must, therefore, have the ability intercede at all levels and on all sides to evoke this latent spirit.

Additionally, we must understand and accept that the role of our pastors is to sometimes help us through worship and prayer, to gain access to God and not access to secular positions of power. This means that we must have pure and genuine motives when approaching our pastoral leaders to intercede on our behalf, since they are the ones divinely chosen to represent us. There must also be a commitment by all to more truth and less incendiary rhetoric.

Finally, in this advancing technological and media age, the church and its pastoral leaders should seek to expand their spheres of influence by going beyond weekend worship, when far too many engaging and inspiring messages are left at their church doors and in the minds of so few. If some of these thoughts are at least considered, then there just may be a good chance of restoring any real or perceived change in the leadership hierarchy of the society.