Saint Paul is such a great example of leadership.
- First, he gave himself 100% in service to God and the Church, showing us what commitment looked like, what it costs, and how it can transform people and communities. I love that. Enthusiasm is contagious, and St. Paul was enthusiastic for all the right things. His zeal for the Gospel is still changing lives, leading people towards repentance and holiness in Christ. Our parishes would be bursting at the seams if our priests and bishops (myself included!) emulated his passion.
- Second, he was humble. In some people, humility is paralyzing, leading to a fear of stepping up and getting things done. Saint Paul’s humility was real – he recognized the sinfulness of his life before conversion and the sin he still created (“first among sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15). But his humility was so great that he not only recognized and repented of his transgressions, it allowed him to live in Christ (and Christ in him) without reservation. He showed us that kenosis does not leave the Christian devoid of motivationnor does it lead to the kind of blissful apathy that some spiritualists seek. Having sacrificed his pride and put his trust in God, he was able to seek the good without concern for failure or consequence.
- Lastly (for today), he knew how to talk to people.
There are so many examples of this last point. One of my favorites is when he shamed the people of Corinth by praising them through comparing their wisdom to his foolishness and their greatness to his weakness (1 Corinthians 4:9-10). This works because everyone knew what a moral giant he was and because he had made himself immune to the temptation of pride (because he recognized that the good he did was done by Christ within!). You can imagine how his exaggerated (and almost sarcastic) attaboys would bring them to repentance when a simple correction would not have.
Another example comes in the way he gave compliments and praise to those who had really earned it. At the beginning of his letter to the Philippians, he is sharing his joy at how well they were doing in their service to Christ and support of his own ministry. But even though he was excited by their faith, hard work, and enduring commitment to the Gospel, he was careful not to lure them into vanity; so rather than saying something like; “You are doing such good work, I see how serious you are, I know that you will keep this up through thick and thin” (a nice pep talk that might get the desired effect of getting them to focus on staying in for the long-term), he compliments them in a way that moves all the real glory to God, saying;
“[I am] confident of this very thing, that He which began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Note how this still gets the desired motivational effect accomplished (i.e. praising them for work they are yet to do helps create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy), but because he made it clear who it was that really did these things, he protected them from vainglory. Nor was he being disingenuous; in fact, he was teaching them that they were completely capable of emulating his own life in Christ (how else could he then say that they were partaking of “his [i.e. Paul’s] grace”?!).
The phrasing of his encouraging word also protects them from pride and drives them to even greater efforts by telling them that as good as what they had been doing was, there was still room for improvement – and that God would help them make that improvement happen.
Those of us who are called to leadership within the Church would do well to emulate St. Paul’s commitment, his humility, and his rhetorical skill.
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