Friday, April 19, 2013

Religious Leadership

Originally posted as "Seeker and Servant"on the old Servant Leadership Blog on January 14, 2008.

I started reading Seeker and Servant – Reflections on Religious Leadership, which is a collection of essays from Robert Greenleaf. I have hesitated to read this collection before, I think because of my concern about the reference to religion in the title. I worried that this might be a book that was only applicable to priests, pastors, or other religious folk.

After reading the first couple of essays, Greenleaf’s insights on religion have given me a new faith in a topic I was beginning to give up hope on. In the first essay “Religious Leaders as Seekers and Servant”, Greenleaf writes “my hope is that no persons will exclude themselves from consideration of the issues raised in this paper because of their religious beliefs. My perspective in writing this paper is that of a student of organization – how things get done – not that of a scholar or theologian.” As usual, Greenleaf backs up his hopes, with words that build hope in the reader.

A key part of his essay is to define a number of religious terms, in a manner that gives them a focus and meaning that they often do not have. For Greenleaf, “spirit is the animating force that disposes persons to be servants of others”, religious is related to the “root meaning of re ligio, to rebind”, in the sense that in our stressful world, “people and institutions are fragile. All but the crude and insensitive live under the constant threat of coming unbound, alienated.

The alienated are “those who have little caring for their fellow humans, who are not motivated to serve people as individuals or institutions, and who though able, do not carry any constructive society-supportive role, or who miss realizing their potential by much too wide a margin. Any influence or action that rebinds – that recovers and sustains such alienated persons as caring, serving, constructive people, and guides them as they build and maintain serving institutions, or that protects normal people from the hazards of alienation and gives purpose and meaning to their lives – is religious.”

From these come the meaning of religious leadership, “actions taken to heal, or build immunity from, two serious contemporary maladies: (1) widespread alienation in all sectors of the population, and (2) the inability or unwillingness of far too many of our institutions to serve.

The essays go on to point out Greenleaf’s vision of how we can rebind our society. This collection of writings is Greenleaf at his finest.

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