The thesis of this paper is that the Benedictine monastic tradition provides an effective foundation for leadership in the parish church. The Rule of Benedict provides a sturdy template for the organization and functioning of a community committed to prayer and work in service of the Gospel. Its principles have been employed, in varying degrees, to structure the ongoing life of many intentional religious communities. More specifically, this study looks at how the Rule of St. Benedict presents the authority of the abbot and how leadership inspired by this model can shape and strengthen Christian discipleship. Because the vitality of any intentional community depends upon the quality of leadership that oversees and shapes its common life, this paper explores the Benedictine tradition for its wise principles of leadership and of community structure that can serve us well during the current period of cultural transition. Benedict prescribed the fundamental nature of the abbacy as he did because he understood its function as the anchor of the community’s life.
In order to make leadership parallels and applications, chapter one sketches the kind of regime Benedict intended for the abbacy. Monastic life began when Christian ascetics went out to the deserts of Egypt and Palestine to find God in the practice of silence, prayer, and purification of the heart. Because they needed a teacher and guide, communities began to form around charismatic leaders. Thus, the living out and passing on of an intentional religious life has been, and continues to be, the goal of all divine households patterned on the Rule. It is the abbot’s interpretation and adaption of the Rule that allows for shaping the character of the community’s ongoing life.
Chapter two describes how Thomas Merton guided younger vocations to an understanding how the Rule had been adapted over time by monastic communities. As Novice Master at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Merton taught that communities must make discriminating use of Cassian and the Desert Fathers just as Benedict did when producing his Rule. In doing so, Merton sought to recapture a spiritual balance in the essential traditions of Cistercian life.
Chapter three describes ways the Church might reorganize its leadership models as we shift from a modern to a postmodern culture. This transfer is creating stress because the understanding of leadership among the quickly ascending Millennial generation differs significantly from that of the Baby Boomer generation. I believe that there is an urgent need for an evolution in leadership models. Churches must come to terms with how the perception of leadership in this new cultural landscape has changed. In this new postmodern environment, the relational aspects of leadership must come first. Nurturing emerging leaders is similar to lifting up indigenous leaders from within a new mission field.
The leadership models employed in this expanding, boundary-free world of the internet and social networking will greatly influence how any community marshals the resources available to it for its mission. Whether abbot or rector, existing leaders will need to engage others in the cultivation of new forms, while reforming traditional methods, so that the vitality of their Gospel communities can continue or be renewed.
This thesis claims that the Church has many deep, and sometimes untapped, resources. The Rule of St. Benedict offers a perennial wellspring of wisdom, guidance, and inspiration for the leaders of divine households to meet the challenges of these uncertain times.