The Orthodox Leader

Archive for the ‘Synergy’ Category

Spiritual Leadership, Part IV: The Parish

without comments

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


The sphere of our spiritual leadership then extends further, to the realm of the parish. Up front, I’ll say that I have no intention of telling others how to lead their parishes. Ultimately, the decisions made by the priest in exercising spiritual leadership over his parish must be made in close consultation with his bishop.

The parish poses a different situation when compared to exercising spiritual leadership over one’s self or over one’s household, and it comes about because the faithful of our parish are there of their own volition. The priest is appointed as the spiritual leader of the parish, but that does not mean that the faithful of the parish will place themselves fully under his leadership in every instance. In practical terms, this means that extending spiritual leadership will require healthy amounts of suasion and trust. The priest who attempts to lead by giving directions accompanied by “because I am the priest” will almost certainly fail. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

November 17th, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Spiritual Leadership, Part III: Family

with one comment

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


Then there’s the matter of spiritual leadership within the family. Of course, I’m speaking mostly to the married clergy here, as that’s what I am familiar with myself.

The married priest lives in a constant tension. The tension can really be boiled down to the competing interests of what we can call the man’s first priesthood – namely his role as husband and father – and his second priesthood handling the Mysteries of God. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

November 7th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Spiritual Leadership, Part II: The First Sphere of Influence

without comments

[Read the previous section, Part I, here.]

Where to begin?

It is axiomatic to say that the spiritual leader does not have the same influence everywhere. We know this intuitively. For the sake of this presentation, I’ll say that our influence is strongest starting with ourselves. From there, we see a still strong influence within our family, particularly among our wives and children, but the addition of wills begins to complicate things, occasionally attempting to frustrate our leadership. Stepping beyond that we reach our parishes, those communities of believers who have willingly placed themselves under our pastoral care, but by no means submitting themselves absolutely or blindly to our leadership. Finally, we reach our community, the broader areas where we live and work, where we are known perhaps as pastors and preachers, but without any kind of acknowledged leadership for all. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

October 29th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Spiritual Leadership, Part I: Preliminaries

without comments

I’ll be returning to the parish website topic shortly. However, I gave a talk entitled “Spiritual Leadership: Extending Spiritual Influence” at the 2011 ROCOR Western American Diocese pastoral conference earlier this week. I will post successive sections of the presentation in the coming days. Please note that parish clergy (priests in particular) were the intended audience. Your comments are appreciated.

I want to express my thanks to the fine clergy of the Western American Diocese, especially His Eminence, Archbishop Kyrill, for blessing me not only to speak at the clergy conference, but also for inviting me to participate in the rite of revesting the relics of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco.

Defining the topic

Having introduced myself, I should say that this talk is not about me, but only observations and reflections concerning this topic of spiritual leadership. When I first began preparing this, I struggled somewhat, because, while I am a priest, a preacher, a servant of the Mysteries of God, and an intercessor for those around me, I do not see myself as particularly spiritual. In fact,an attempt to be what I held in my own mind as the image of “the spiritual person” led to a particularly acute period of spiritual malaise, anger, cynicism, and frustration in my own life. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

October 28th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Levels of Leadership

with 4 comments

“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” -John 21:18

Some personal reflection on recent events as well as parish and mission development have led me to revisit the five levels of leadership (or see here) as posited by John Maxwell, a well-known leadership speaker and motivator. (Individuals love or hate John Maxwell, but the five levels in his scheme are well-supported in my own experience. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while?) I’d like to discuss how these levels play out in an Orthodox situation. The list below summarizes them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 25th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Development,Synergy

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

without comments

The initial public draft of the OCA’s Strategic (or “Stragetic” if you prefer) Plan is now available.

I’ve not yet given it more than a cursory skim, but this looks like good stuff, if a bit too expansive for now. (Health screening programs? As a national initiative? Hmmm.) Individuals may disagree with the details of a particular plan, but actually having one is critical to the success of a project. Absent a plan, multiple visions compete for resources and attention, leading to division, disorganization, and stagnation.

Plans within institutional Church life, though, come together only slowly, and with great effort. A plan that originates with a single person (even if he’s the priest or a charismatic leader within the parish) is almost certainly doomed to failure, for it is in the collaboration, conversation, prayer, and effort of multiple people that a common vision emerges. This is a big distinction between Church planning and, for example, business planning. The latter is absolutely hierarchical (the boss with the bucks sets direction, for good or ill, based on what he chooses to fund and initiate), while the Church has to exist cooperatively. I’m not suggesting that the Church isn’t hierarchical, but the Church’s understanding of hierarchy is not identical with the world’s understanding of it. We know how well clerical directives given without lay support work out. This is not unexpected. Christ uses no compulsion or worldly might to draw men and women to himself, so we can’t expect his bride, the Church, to use those devices, either. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

May 19th, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Planning,Synergy

Tagged with , , ,

The Entrepreneurial Mind

with 3 comments

Where to go from here?In his essay from a couple of weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, Dilbert creator Scott Adams argues that business students (“B students” in his words) would benefit far more from classes in entrepreneurship than in the sciences, mathematics, and classics. While I disagree with the first paragraph (in the implication that some students don’t benefit from entrepreneurial thinking), the rest of the article has much to say about the value of developing entrepreneurial skills. I think an entrepreneurial mindset is absolutely critical for anyone in church leadership, clergy and lay, whether in an established parish or a mission.

With that in mind, it seems to me that there’s a one-sidedness in our Orthodox pastoral preparation, similar to what Adams suggests is happening with “B students.” It’s an imbalance that favors the spiritual and intellectual development of pastors at the expense of learning the value of financial sophistication, prudent risk-taking, leadership cultivation, conflict management, and the basket of talents commonly known as “people skills.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

April 27th, 2011 at 9:56 am

Conciliarity is Obedience

without comments

“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” -Philippians 2:8

A post from a few days ago included some excerpts from then-Bishop Jonah’s address at the last All-American Council. It is no overstatement to say that this address was the primary cause of the council delegates’ sending his name to the Holy Synod. In repudiating the corruption, the secrecy, the autocracy, and the paralysis that had come before, it proposed returning to an ancient image for leadership, in both style and substance, within the Orthodox Church in America.

Within that address, the line that garnered the greatest applause was the monumental declaration, “Authority is responsibility. Authority is accountability, it is not power.” However, another equivalency can be derived from +Jonah’s address: “Conciliarity is obedience.”

Consider then-Bishop Jonah’s words:

But the leadership that is within the Church, the leadership of bishops and the dioceses of the Metropolitan among the Synod–because what it the Metropolitan? He is the chairman of the Synod. The leadership of a parish priest in his parish: If you sit there and you lord it over your parishioners that ‘I am the priest and I can do whatever I want and I can spend the money however I want without accountability and without…’ you are not going to go very far. In fact you are likely to get thrown out because you will get into all sorts of problems.

“[Our leadership] has to be a voluntary cooperation. And obedience, within that context, is not some kind of, some guy, who can lord it over you and make you do what he wants you to and you are going to get in trouble one way or another. Obedience is cooperation out of love and respect.”

Using these statements as a basis, one can then say that proper Christian leadership is ascetic, inasmuch as it is a denial of self and the setting aside of personal desires in exchange for the edification (in Christ!), harmony, and cooperation (synergy) of the whole. This does not lead to democracy, for it does not represent a transfer of authority from one individual to many. Instead, it is an authority that finds its force in persuasion and meekness rather than in personal fiat or coercion, an authority working to achieve unity and harmony rather than discord and resentment. (For the record, meekness is not the quality of weakness, but rather the strength of bearing insult and injury without resentment and violence.)

It is in this spirit that our diocesan bishops, even the primate, promise to live in obedience to the Holy Synod. It is in this spirit that the OCA Statute describes the relationship between the parish priest and flock: “No activities in the parish can be initiated without his knowledge, approval, and blessing; neither should he do anything pertaining to the parish without the knowledge of his parishioners and parish organs elected by them, so that always and everywhere there may be unity, mutual trust, cooperation, and love.” (OCA Statute X.4) And if this applies to the priests, how much more should it apply to the bishops of the Church.

Of course, many of us already know of St. Ignatius’s exhortations that the faithful be obedient to the bishop and presbyters (priests), as demonstrated by his epistle to the Trallians (in but one instance among many):

…Let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. –Ep. Trallians III

Not only is there the simple comparison of the bishop with Christ and the presbyters as the apostles, but there is also the depiction of the presbyters as the “Sanhedrin” of God(*), which is to say they form a consultative body established by the Holy Spirit, arrayed around the master. While the reading of St. Ignatius is complicated slightly by the difficulty of understanding the precise historical relationship between the offices of bishop and presbyter(**), the imagery is absolutely clear.

Further, in the same chapter, Ignatius emphasizes that the bishop’s authority is not wielded as a club (italics added):

For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence.

Indeed, the life in imitation of Christ’s meekness is not the property of a single bishop, but is instead shared abroad among all those who hold the office. This life is led in a spirit of service that is willing not only to give spiritual admonishment but also to receive it from the lives and words of others (italics added):

I do not issue orders to you, as if I were some great person. For though I am bound for His name, I am not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For now I begin to be a disciple, and I speak to you as my fellow-servants. For it was needful for me to have been admonished by you in faith, exhortation, patience, and long-suffering. But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that ye would run together in accordance with the will of God. –Ep. Ephesians III

Conciliarity is obedience, according to both Metropolitan Jonah and St. Ignatius. For a bishop, this kind of conciliarity is maintained particularly by communion, reciprocity, and mutual consideration – “voluntary cooperation” in the Metropolitan’s words – with his brother bishops, and secondarily in the shared prayerful deliberation with his flock. If the parish priest is exhorted not to say, “I am the priest and I can do whatever I want and I can spend the money however I want without accountability and without…,” what exhortation is to be given to our hierarchs?

As for the applicability of this understanding in our current situation in the Orthodox Church in America, more on that soon.

(*)The Sanhedrin functioned as the supreme court of Jewish life.

(**) St. Ignatius maintains a greater distinction between the offices of bishop and presbyter than the New Testament and patristic writers before him, but the presence of at least one bishop in each city leads to a natural conclusion that an individual bishop’s authority had a narrower geographical scope in the post-apostolic period than now.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

March 28th, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Switch to our mobile site