Timothy had a special place within the Christian community to which he belonged. He was their leader.
Much is written about leadership today. In most major bookstores, one can find row upon row of books about leadership and management. Seminars and workshops are held from coast to coast in the hope of helping administrators become leaders. As we read this excerpt of the letter to Timothy, we learn a few things about Christian leadership.
First, leadership is not for the leader, but for the community. Timothy’s leadership is a gift to others, not a status that he seeks for himself. His leadership is not meant to build himself up, but to build up others. It is a service.
If Christian leadership is a gift for others, it is also a gift from God. This is clear from the ritual laying on of hands: leadership is received as a mission, as a consecration, as an affirmation. And though it is other leaders who lay their hands on Timothy’s head, it is the Spirit of God that is active through this physical gesture, confirming and strengthening Timothy for his ministry in the community.
Yet, leadership is not acquired once and for all. It must continually be developed, renewed, revitalized. “Rekindle the gift that is within you,” the author urges Timothy. And so all Christian leaders must strive to return to the source of their leadership, never taking for granted their call, nor their capacity to answer that call.
Christian leadership models itself on the leadership of Christ himself, accepting to suffer with Christ for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The Christian leader is motivated by love, and true love always entails suffering, for the lover must die to himself or herself in order to bring life to others. Though leadership in the Church gives much joy and happiness, it cannot avoid the refinery of sacrifice and dying to oneself.
The Spirit active in the leader banishes fear and stirs up dynamism, love, self-discipline. A Christian leader can only exercise true leadership in the Spirit. Turning to the Spirit in prayer, opening oneself to the Spirit in liturgy, listening to the Spirit in discernment, acting in the power of the Spirit: this is what it means to be a Christian leader.
Christians are called to exercise leadership in the world. Their leadership will truly be fruitful if they remember Timothy and the recommendations he received.
Some are called to exercise leadership in the Church itself. This is an awe-inspiring call, a challenge that not many can take up without trepidation and humility. Yet do not be afraid if this is your call. For the Spirit active in you will help you answer this call and provide the Church with a great and beautiful service: the service of leadership.
|On pilgrimage with the bishops of Panama a couple of years ago|