Benedict on church leaders


St. Benedict
St. Benedict

In his book Turning Points, Mark Noll quotes from St. Benedict’s instructions on selecting an abbot. As I read it, I thought that it is very applicable to church leaders in any generation so I thought I would share it here.

“In choosing an abbot, the guiding principle should always be that the man placed in office be the one selected either by the whole community acting unanimously in the fear of God, or by some part of the community, no matter how small, which possesses sounder judgment. Goodness of life and wisdom in teaching must be the criteria for choosing the one to be made abbot, even if he is the last in community rank. . . . Once in office, the abbot must keep constantly in mind the nature of the burden he has received, and remember to whom he will have to give an account of his stewardship [Luke 16:2]. Let him recognize that his goal must be profit for the monks, not preeminence for himself. He ought, therefore, to be learned in divine law, so that he has a treasury of knowledge from which he can bring out what is new and what is old [Matthew 13:52]. He must be chaste, temperate and merciful. He should always let mercy triumph over judgment [James 2: 13] so that he too may win mercy. He must hate faults but love the brothers. When he must punish them, he should use prudence and avoid extremes; otherwise, by rubbing too hard to remove the rust, he may break the vessel. He is to distrust his own frailty and remember not to crush the bruised reed [Isaiah 42:3]. . . . Let him strive to be loved rather than feared.

Excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or oversuspicious he must not be. . . . Instead, he must show forethought and consideration in his orders, and whether the task he assigns concerns God or the world, he should be discerning and moderate. . . . Therefore . . . he must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.”

This is good advice for anyone who feels called to exercise leadership in the church.