The Orthodox Leader

Spiritual Leadership, Part V: The Community

[Read the previous section, part IV, here.]


There’s that last circle of influence: community, the realm of people for whom we desire salvation. It is the place where we really should desire our spiritual leadership to obtain the greatest reach. It is frequently overlooked among our Orthodox people. It is quite intertwined with mission and evangelism, for proclaiming the Gospel to the heterodox and the unbeliever and bringing souls under the protective wing of Christ’s Church is the ultimate extension of spiritual leadership.

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, less the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:17-18) St. Paul is not arguing against Holy Baptism here, but to say that his primary work was the proclamation of the Gospel in the world.

The basis for our seeking to build our spiritual leadership in our community is found in Christ’s calling of the first apostles:

So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that he stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then he got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When he had stopped speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered and said to him, ‘Master we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net.’

And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed him. Luke 5:1-10

Fishers of men. Spiritual leadership in our community is nothing less than the casting of Christ’s net. The thing about fish is that simply having the net is not sufficient to catch them. The fisherman must take the net to the fish. Still, some of the fish do not wish to be in the net, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, and draws them in anyway.

Extending our spiritual leadership requires us to take our ministry beyond our immediate parish, which is to say, to take our ministry beyond those who come to us for the Mysteries already. As with the parable of the banquet, we must go into the highways and byways (Mt 22:1-14) to invite them to the banquet. The parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-15) speaks of the different kinds of soil, but it is God alone who knows what kind of soil each man is, or what kind of soil each man may become. It is not part of the priest’s vocation to declare a man to be the poor soil.

Our spiritual leadership in the community must become one of engagementof meeting, talking, knowingas well as one of intercession—praying for those whom we have engaged.

St. Paul went to the Areopagus to proclaim the Gospel. We have to find our modern version of the Areopagus, never misinterpreting prohibitions on “prayer with heretics” (e.g. Laodicea 33) such that they prevent us from proclaiming the truth.

So what is the Areopagus in our time? What is the Areopagus for those trapped in Protestant communions that are riding a rapid decline into immorality and irrelevance? What is the Areopagus for the neo-evangelical who no longer worships in a way that is identifiably Christian? We have a growing fad called the “emerging church,” which is little more than empty platitudes about a Christ who can be anything we want him to be. What is the Areopagus for them? What is the Areopagus for the unchurched and, more likely, the dechurched?

I don’t think there is a universal answer to this question, inasmuch as the answer here in San Francisco is likely different from the answer in Boise, Denver, Seattle, Sacramento, State College, or Dallas. What is certain is that the Areopagus is not found in our own naves. If we are going to extend our spiritual leadership in the community, we will need to step out. We will need to meet others, and develop those relationships. Relationships build slowly. Some of the best ones start out built around common interests.

At the individual level, meeting the parents of friends of our children, learning more about coworkers if we work in a secular environment, finding other adults who like to bicycle or perform community service are great ways to break the ice, and, over time, to establish those first frail spiritual connections. People are often reluctant to get too close to the “preacher man,” but they’ll get close to the friendly fellow who is willing to labor and socialize with them.

Shared social ministry is also a great way to extend spiritual leadership, for several reasons. First of all, the size of the Orthodox community in the United States makes it difficult for us to carry out some kinds of care for those around us. We can do more by working with others. These “others” are often heterodox Christians. They’re heterodox not because they reject the Orthodox as a deliberate act, but because they’ve never encountered an Orthodox person or viewpoint.  These contacts become profitable ways to tell others what the Church believes, to invite them to pray with us, and to manifest the fullness of Christ’s Church to them.

We should not fail to mention, too, that those involved in such community ministry are often people of influence. Bringing these individuals closer to the Church in the sphere of our leadership can have profound effects on our parish and on the broader community as a whole.

I also emphasize the role of our wives. Women go where men cannot go. They have conversations men cannot have. In the early Church, huge numbers of men became Christians through the efforts of their wives. If you have an extroverted wife, she can be one of the greatest ministerial assets you have, because she will introduce you to individuals you would not necessarily have met otherwise. Every one of those introductions is an opportunity to demonstrate spiritual leadership.

Next time: Part VI, Next Steps.

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

December 28th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

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