Leadership in the Church

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Leadership in the church

by David Neuhaus SJ


On June 29, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. It is an occasion to think about leadership in the Church. When we read the newspapers, we are confronted with our leaders in the world: too often, news about corruption, manipulation and dirty deals. As a result, we are in danger of forgetting what it means to be a Church leader. Sadly, we are continually exposed to how some leaders in the Church conform to worldly leadership models rather than reflecting on what it means to be a Church leader. I propose ten points inspired by this feast.

1. We have only one leader in the Church, Jesus Christ. He has called us in baptism. We hear him in the Scriptures. We experience him in the sacraments. His spirit animates us. We make him present in the world through the Church.

2. Jesus’ leadership model was a radical inversion of the meaning of worldly leadership. He said, “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:44-45). The leader is a servant rather than lord and master. 

3. Peter and Paul are first and foremost disciples. They were called to sit at Jesus’ feet and

listen to his word, learning how to be in his image and likeness. 

4. Peter and Paul are apostles. Jesus has sent them into the world to make Jesus, not themselves, present wherever they go. Paul wrote, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor 4:5). 

5. Both were aware of their fragility. Being in a leadership role does not make one a

hero, exempt from weakness. Paul explains, “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor 4:7).

6. In their stories, both needed to convert. Peter knew Jesus and betrayed him. Paul did not

know Jesus and persecuted him. 

7. They challenged one another while working together. Paul rebuked Peter in Antioch, “I

opposed him to his face because he stood self-condemned.” (Gal 2:11). Leaders can make

mistakes and need correction.

8. Peter and Paul shared the spirit of Jesus that animated them both. This same spirit animates the whole Church. The Church walks on the way (synodality), leaders and people together; all share the same spirit, discerned anew always.

9. They formed one body; the head was no more important than any other member of the body.

“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose (…) As it is, there are

many members, yet one body.” (1 Cor 12:18-20).

10. Finally, they both died as martyrs. In their death, they are witnesses to Christ and their

blood is shed for the life of the Church. 

Reflecting on these points, we can pray, through the intercession of Peter and Paul, that God

grant us leaders in their mould. In the Church, leading is serving, especially the poorest and the most excluded.

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