Leading with a servant spirit
The media, if not the world has been queuing up to applaud the latest successor to the so-called "see of Peter". And with good reason it would seem. Pope Francis is already creating waves because of his simple lifestyle and his concern for the poor.
I couldn't help contrasting his approach with the titles he has inherited. The list is staggering. Bishop Of Rome And Vicar Of Jesus Christ; Successor Of St. Peter, Prince Of The Apostles; Supreme Pontiff Of The Universal Church; Patriarch Of The West; Servant Of The Servants Of God; Primate Of Italy; Archbishop And Metropolitan Of The Roman Province; Sovereign Of Vatican City State.
All of this stands in stark contrast to title the first Peter used of himself. He simply viewed himself as a 'fellow elder' who had been a witness of Christ's sufferings.
The history of the early papacy is shrouded in mystery and theological controversy and this is not the place to debate the Catholic interpretation of Jesus' promise to build his church despite all men would do to prevent it. This is the time for charity, even if we disagree with traditional Catholic teaching. It is also a time for prayer. The tsunami of media interest in the election of Francis, as well as the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby shows that people are still interested in the church, and that we can still make news as well as waves for good or for ill.
And if we are wondering how we should pray for the new pope, given the influence he will inevitably have, we could do well to re-read Peter's first letter, and especially those parts that focus on the ways in which Christian leaders can prove inspirational. And Peter is quite clear: true leaders will exhibit a servant spirit.
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It has been suggested you can recognise a servant heart when people "go around doing good without making a fuss" knowing that they do not need to advertise themselves. In the same way they display a profound respect for others and do all they can to encourage those who are feeling despondent. They are vulnerable but they don't need to be praised by others because they feel secure in their knowledge of God's love and grace.
Pope Francis has been given the chance to live the life of a model believer at a time when the church needs inspiration and the world needs to be shown the winsomeness and relevance of a Christ-like life. If he does achieve this in any measure he will discover the secret of greatness. He will also show the world the nature of true leadership for this does not demand obedience but inspires through dedicated, sacrificial service.
We should be praying then that in the days to come the world will be confronted with an alternative model of leadership by a fallible man who is committed to following one who came not to be served but to serve. And there seems to be good reason our prayers might be answered. Francis seems to have got off to a good start.