Brian Hamilton was a gently spoken Ulster farmer; he was one of the people who appointed to me to my first parish. ‘We’re a people more easily led than we are driven’, he told me the first time I called at his Co Down farmhouse.
I should have pasted Brian’s words on my forehead; every time I looked in the mirror I would have recalled them and not made so many mistakes.
To lead rather than to drive is a deeply biblical picture; the shepherd in Psalm 23 would have been one who walked ahead of his sheep. The Good Shepherd described by Jesus is one who would have led his sheep through danger.
For the past months in the parish, I have been agitating about getting rooms in our parish centre redecorated. Nothing happened. There was talk of getting things done, but nothing materialised.
Finally, I went to the DIY store, bought paint and rollers and announced that I would be painting the rooms and there would be equipment available for anyone who wished to join me. Two evenings later the work is almost complete, people were more easily led than driven.
The response I would encounter amongst some Christians is that it is not for the Rector to be leading the painting of rooms, but I wonder if that’s a biblical view. Saint Paul earned his living as a tentmaker, partly to maintain his independence, but partly also because manual work had a noble place in Jewish society.
The Benedictine Order has always stressed the importance of everyone, even the abbot, sharing in the manual work of the community, prayer was work but also work was prayer. Had we been a Benedictine community perhaps the delay would never have arisen in the first place.
Leadership takes many forms, but truly Christian leadership must have a strong spirit of service. It would seem, for me at least, that leading will mean that I sit at my keyboard at the end of the day still covered in emulsion from the evening’s efforts.