Some years ago, David Hayward reflected on the terms “leader”, “leadership”, and “leadership team”. He commented that “leadership” can give the impression of directing others, telling them how to behave, someone in front of all the others, and that there is a goal to be strived for and conquered. It conjures up images of ambition, competition, manipulation, coercion, exploitation and success. It breeds discontentment for the present reality. It is based on a business model of people-management and is so strongly goal-oriented that it damages the beauty of what is. Love, in this milieu, is in danger of being used as a commodity to achieve the wishes of the visionary leaders.
He was suggesting instead a return to the word “elder”, a term he acknowledges as old-fashioned, but which may be more congruent with the nature of community. “Elder” is not so much about movement outward towards a goal, but is more about growth and maturity. It is about responsibility, service and care. It is about acknowledging the hard-earned wisdom of someone who has a natural influence among the people that isn’t fabricated or artificial, but tangible and practiced. There is less danger of using people to achieve ends. Rather, people are respected as the end in themselves. Love, rather than a means to an end, becomes the end itself.
It may be a good descriptor of Jesus’ ministry.
These reflections came to mind as I pondered the passing of two ‘elders’ in character in our Pilgrim congregation – Brian Jones on the 2nd June and Marjorie Brune this week on the 18th June. Both lived long fruitful lives, and served faithfully for so many years – both in their chosen vocations, and also in and through the church. I have been blessed and inspired by both of them.
In May, former PM Bob Hawke died and there was a public memorial to honour his life. He will be remembered as a remarkable Australian ‘elder statesman’ who served his country with vision, courage and compassion.
I was reminded of ‘The Dash’ poem, about how we ‘spend our dash’ – the small line in a death notice or on a tombstone. The year of birth and death is less important than what’s between those dates – the dash – which represents the years of that person’s life and how they have chosen to live, about their growth and maturity, and about being prepared to take on responsibility, service and care.
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we ‘spend our dash’.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
(the full poem can be read here)
© 1996 Linda Ellis