Any Society needs a head

Some boy school-friends decided to start a new club. Several of them came to the father of one, and asked for the use of an empty shed in the garden. He asked what the club was for.

‘Oh, just to have as much fun as we can. It’ll be called the P.Y.L. — Please Yourself League.’

‘Any committee, or rules?’

‘No, we can’t be bothered with those things.’

‘Which of you is the secretary, then?’

‘Nobody wants to be secretary. Besides, we don’t need one, nor a president. That’s the whole point of the club. We don’t want any fuss about organisation, just the club, that’s all.’

‘Well, you can have the shed, but it doesn’t strike me as a very practical proposition.’

So the society was started, and a board ‘P.Y.L., H.Q.’ was placed over the door.

Next week the lender of the shed asked his son how the club was getting on.

‘Oh, it’s pretty awful. Everybody wants to have his own friends in, and keep other people’s friends out. Nothing but arguments.’

‘You want a committee, I should think.’

Next week: ‘Well, have you got the committee yet?’

‘Yes, I’m one — we volunteered for it. But they won’t listen, they all talk at once. Besides, it isn’t fair, some of them had a meeting last night when the rest of us didn’t know about it.’

‘Didn’t the chairman call the meeting, then?’

‘There isn’t a chairman.’

‘Well, why don’t you elect a good chairman? Every society needs a head of some sort.’

‘Yes, it does look like it.’

So the P.Y.L. provided itself with a chairman and a secretary, and things began to go properly. When little matters cropped up to be settled the chairman decided them, and if it was something big he called a meeting of the committee. One of the first things they did was to change the name of the club to the P.T.L., the ‘Pull together League.’

If a club for a few boys cannot get on without a ‘visible head,’ how much more Our Lord’s Church, which He wants every person to join?

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)

Leadership vs. Authority

Living in Illinois the past month has given me reason to reflect on the nature of leadership. I’m sure everyone who isn’t living under a rock has heard about the recent… troubles of our governor. Even now the wheels are turning to force him from office and convict him of criminal wrong-doing. People are saying that he is no longer fit to lead, that no one will now follow his leadership, the state is looking for new leadership.

We also hear about leadership within the Church. Sometimes its criticism of the bishops’ leadership or that a new pastor has been brought in the lead the local parish. This is understandable; after all, modern organizational practice seems built on a foundation of charismatic leaders who can inspire others to greater productivity and cooperation. Just look at the many books outlining systems and tips for leadership which have become staples for CEOs and VPs around the country; I’ve even got a small section of shelf space devoted to such titles as Leadership on the Line and Heroic Leadership in my office.

But speaking of leadership in the Church is, I think a misnomer — or, at least, a deviation from the way God has ordered our communal life as the People of God. God does not call people to leadership as such; nowhere, as near as I can tell, does Scripture describe leadership as a role in the Church or a gift of the Holy Spirit. (Even the gift of kubernesis in 1Cor 12:28, sometimes translated as “leadership,” is more akin to administration — it is the root of our word “govern”.)

God does not give us leaders; rather, he grants authority to those he chooses for specific roles in the community. This may seem like a small distinction, but it is, I think, a crucial one. We follow leaders of our own accord, subject the whims and fancies of fallen man. I may like this politician one week and another the next, depending on my mood (to say nothing of the popular consensus). But we are called to obey those with authority, not because we want to but because it is the natural way of things. We are all called to different roles. A foot is a foot and the head is a head; they each have a proper role to play in the body (cf 1 Cor 12:12-20). It would be improper — not to mention disastrous! — if we tried to use our head as a foot and vice versa.

To take a simple example, parents have authority over their children (who are, in turn, commanded to respect their parents). It doesn’t matter how likable a father is or how much charisma a mother has; families are comprised of a natural hierarchy. Parents guide and teach their children to live a good, virtuous life. Their authority is not arbitrary; it has a purpose and an end towards which it is ordered. A child cannot govern a household (a fact that may not be apparent on most television shows these days), and it is a tragedy we all recognize when a child is called upon to act as the adult in a home.

Not don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying the child is less important or less deserving than the parent. Merely that it is not their role to head the household. There may even be exceptions (as in those regrettable circumstances when parents cannot, or will not, run the household in a right and just manner). But those exceptions, by definition, are not normative and should not be seen as equal — either qualitatively or quantitatively — to the norm. We should strive of the ideal, even when we must content ourselves with the actual.

So it is in the Church. We all have our roles; we are not all given the same role or authority. To forget this distorts the natural order and leaves us, in times of crisis, with no stable foundation on which to reside.