This is a sad, sad story.  Once upon a time, when I was a pastor in a United Methodist Church (which is part of a regional district) far, far away, I was summonsed to make myself present at a district event. (This means that other pastors in that geographical location would make up the audience.)  It was mandatory.  Being a good foot solider, I cleared my day to make room for this well plugged happening.  Due to the gravity of the event, it would have been considered rude to read a book during the proceedings.  Therefore, I set about the business of people watching.  This is what I saw.

Seated up front and middle isle was the head pastor of the largest church in our district.  He had reached the upper echelon of our gathering by maintaining a reputation of administrative talents.  He dutifully sat with his eyes fixed on the speaker, arms crossed and head slightly cocked to the side.  Sitting in the pew behind and diagonal to this head pastor was another young pastor, fresh from seminary.  I noticed that the young pastor mimicked every body movement of the older, head pastor.  He shook his head when the older guy did, crossed his arms and turned his head the same way.  When it came time for questions and feedback, the young pastor asked follow up questions or comments only on the coat tails of this head pastor’s questions or comments.  Poser?  Possibly.

If leadership is defined by being schooled in the latest leadership models, attending workshops on the gritty “how-to” or owning an extensive electronic library of leadership books, this guy is not a poser.  He is working hard to get somewhere.  And he is following the path of those who have gone before and making alliances with those elders. However the question does loom:  why?

Only 36% of employees believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity. – FrankinCovey

When posing “why?” to the picture I just painted, an uneasy feeling comes over you, doesn’t it?  Author Chris Lowney claims that we are all victims of the “leadership industry” in which workshops and books are seen as the pillars of good leadership (Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads).  If so then why do we distrust our leadership?

2.  The example Pope Francis sets teaches us that leadership is not a technical skill.  It is a soul skill that embodies trust.

Leadership begins with self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-love.  For Christians these spiritual modes are amplified by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  When a leader trusts in themselves (their emotions, decisions, actions, intentions) as well as having a great deal of trust in God, they are prepared to be present among the people, radiating their spiritual experiences.  Also, the leader who is well invested in the emotional journey of their spirit is able to give him/herself to the people by being truly present.  This means we preach, teach, lead, service and listen with depth and authentic concern.  The essential elements of making decisions on behalf of other people are self- trust, God-trust and followers that trust and share with their leader.   Some call this pastoral leadership.

Pope Francis has demonstrated that he has this kind of trust in God. He didn’t seek his office! “Obviously he’s not a self-promoter,” Mr. Lowney said of the first South American and first Jesuit priest to become pope. “He didn’t fish around to have his name known in clerical circles. He went back to Buenos Aires and worked with poor people.” (Chris Lowney in an interview for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette)  Pope Francis trusted his inner emotions and desires.  He returned home to be who he was/is – God’s co-worker.

What does Pope Francis teach the United Methodist Church?

Reanalyze how we mentor leaders.

I propose the mentoring process not focus solely on the mentee’s ability to uphold “the system”.  Rather the goal of the relationship is to be one of safety and trust.  Spiritual conversations about emotions, relationships and theology are to be capitalized and central.  Mentors are required to report on “progress”.  I suggest they be selective so that the mentee can feel that confidentiality is honored.  Furthermore, I suggest that the reporting process be verbal with mentor and mentee in a room with third person.  The third person fills out the paperwork.  This gives the mentor accountability and an opportunity to build trust.  The mentee can decide from the outcome whether or not to continue in the process with his/her mentor.

If we want leaders like Pope Francis, we must create a safe place for them to fail.  If they feel safe, they will learn about themselves, as well as the situation.  If they do not feel safe, we are just teaching them how to “cover their tracks”.

Add a self-care component to all District and Conference continuing education events.

Conference and district events are laden with leadership model teachings.  I suggest we dial that back…dramatically.  Let our gatherings reflect a #1 priority – soul care for the leader.  This application is made to clergy and lay.  Conversations about emotions, intentions, and self-care create an environment that welcomes leaders to set aside their worries and focus on themselves.  The interactions that will be produced will unify those in leadership as sharing a common spiritual journey.  If done well, I predict that Pope Francis-like leaders will emerge.  And those that are burnt out or do not have the skill set for pastoral/lay leadership will step aside on their own accord without hurt feelings. Instead, they feel cared for and valued by their colleagues. 

If we want Pope Francis-like leaders, we must create a culture that honors the basis of his leadership style – soul care.  Continuing Education is not about the head, it’s about the heart.

Give power to only those who practice these spiritual understandings.                           

Seek out those who do not run for office. Mentor them in the way of self-care.  Build a relationship of trust.  Empower them to affect others, radiating God’s love (not fill a job description).