3rd September, 2017
I’ve recently been reading a book called Creative Mischief. The book came to my attention because a small extract from it has been doing the rounds on the internet and it was enough to make me want to read more from the book it came from. The story that grabbed my attention goes like this:
When I worked for BMP (an advertising agency),
There was a head of department who commuted in from Brighton every day.
He started reading “The Exorcist” on the train.
He said he thought it was the most evil book he’d ever read.
In fact, he said it was so evil he couldn’t finish it.
So, at the weekend, he went to the end of Brighton pier and threw it as far as he could.
So I went to the bookshop.
I bought another copy.
Then I ran it under the tap.
And left it in his desk drawer.
For him to find.
It is a story that appeals to my sense of humour. It was certainly enough for me to decide upon purchasing a copy of the book. This week I came across another story in this book in which the writer, David Trott, talks about a time when he had difficulties with another colleague at work. It was a very competitive work environment, which created an all too familiar problem. Trott discovered from his manager that one of his colleagues was badmouthing him to other people in the company. The manager talked to him about it because he knew he needed to put an end to the problem but didn’t have a good solution.
Trott, who was not terribly interested in the internal politicking going on in the company, suggested that the manager respond to this situation by giving the offending colleague a pay rise. The manager was very surprised about this. What the manager failed to grasp was that Trott was already happy with what he was payed and really just wanted to get on with the job he was doing. Whether another person was payed more or less than him was actually of no consequence to him. But he rightly guessed that the heart of the issue was that the person bad mouthing him was desperate to get ahead, and was behaving this way because it was the only way he knew how to further his career. Trott just wanted to the problem to go away.
He was right, as soon as the colleague got a bump in pay he felt he had won some kind of victory and ceased to attack his Trott behind his back.
The wisdom Trott offers about this episode is that his surprising suggestion of giving more money to a person who was attacking him, was a deliberate decision to stick to his game, rather than to get caught up in some one else’s. This colleague had an agenda that was different to his own, so rather than getting caught up in a personal battle in which he might lose, he found a way to make the problem disappear so he could get back to what he wanted to be doing.
Many people who find themselves in positions of leadership often find that they come under pressure to conform to other people’s expectations. We all have ideas about what would make someone a good politician, a good teacher, a good manager, judge, bishop, police officer, you name it. It’s a strange thing that we often chose leaders, not because they will lead us in the best way, but because they are more likely to lead the way we want them to. The challenge for those in leadership positions is to get on with leading, rather than seeking to buy into everyone else’s agenda.
Today’s gospel reading is about leadership in a number of ways. Firstly we have the contrast between the way Jesus spoke to Peter last week as the rock on which the church will be built, and how Jesus tells Peter off this week. Last week Jesus affirmed Peter an important leader in their new movement, but this week he tells Peter that he is a stumbling block. What is going on?
In the first part of the reading Jesus is doing two things, he is speaking about his role in the community and how he is on a collision course with powerful members of the Jewish community. He is also telling his community that leadership of their group is a shared exercise and cannot be solely focussed on him.
Neither point conforms to Peter’s expectations of Jesus. Peter does not want a confrontation with the Jewish elite, if there was to be conflict of any kind Peter may well have wanted it to be with the Romans, not his own people. And Peter is also shying away from the shared responsibility Jesus has just placed upon him. It’s as if he is saying, thanks for treating me as an equal, but I’d rather continue to be a follower.
This helps us to understand the strong reproachful words of Jesus. Peter, I have just asked you to stand with me and you respond with criticism and shirking the responsibility just give to you.
If Jesus understood himself as a prophet in the tradition of Moses, it is fair to suggest that he understood the role of a leader to be one of developing a community strong enough to lead itself. The law of Moses was designed with two clear things in mind, that a community must seek to love God and that they must love each other. The community Moses sought to establish was one of radical egalitarianism, a community in which all people knew that they were equal before God. Moses was so convinced that this was what a community needed to be, that ultimately he abdicated his role as a leader in that community in the hope that the community would find ways to guide itself that were more than the vision of a single person. Similarly Jesus was growing a new kind of community that was not all about the leadership of a single exceptional person, but rather was an expression of a communities aspirations as a whole.
I believe that one of the strengths of Anglicanism, which is shared by many other Christian denominations, is that while we have a number of expressions of leadership, the primary way in which we gather is as small communities. That is what a parish is. While parishes are no longer constrained by geography in the way they once were, I am well aware of the many people who travel quite some distance to be here each Sunday, they are still in some sense a local expression of Christianity within a broader community.
While different people will carry out roles of leadership within this community, from being Sunday School and Youth leaders, wardens, vestry members, fair organisers, liturgical leaders, parish administrators and in our history a very small and select group of clergy, St Andrew’s is first and foremost an open community made up of people who have chosen to be here. Leaders come and go, but the community endures. Well, hopefully the community endures. The only way that is certain is if each member of this community plays their part. And there are many roles to play, from attending services, offering leadership, donating to the parish to help fund our mission and ministry, participating in the rosters, and even making time for other people over a cup of fairtrade coffee. And of course, it is your job to seek out those members of the community who don’t know that St Andrew’s is missing from their lives. Because there are other St Andrew’s people who are yet to join us.