4 things ordinary church leaders can learn from the Pope

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The pope is hot. When he makes the cover of Rolling Stone, you know something has changed. Clearly Francis is an unusual leader. But here are four things we can all learn from the way he has taken on the role of pope in the last year.

  1. Pray daily. Francis has spent two hours every day in prayer for years. No doubt he needs it now more than ever.
  2. Claim the strength of your family story. Francis’ grandmother was instrumental in his formation. His Italian descent helps him navigate the Vatican. I’m not sure another non-European pope could have done so well.
  3. Be tough. Paul Vallella in his excellent biography Pope Francis: Untying the Knotscalls the pope: “an enabler with an authoritarian streak, a self-confident man in constant need of forgiveness, and a churchman who combines religious humility and political wiles.” The press loves Francis’ openness and charm, and there’s a lot to be said for that. Yet you can’t lead a church institution without having a backbone. Francis clearly has one. Reforming the Vatican Bank is not for sissies.
  4. Be yourself. I never expected Francis to get away with as much as he has: refusing to live in the papal apartments, washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday, the language of openness. I’m quite sure Francis is a traditionalist at heart, but his tone has changed the conversation. Finding a way to be yourself when people have high expectations of the role is not easy. But it’s much easier to keep going over time when you aren’t pretending. And as Rabbi Edwin Friedman said, “A self is more attractive than a no-self.” People are drawn to the real.

The pope’s job makes other ministries look easy. Thank God, pray for him and learn from him (even if you’re Protestant.)

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One Response to 4 things ordinary church leaders can learn from the Pope

  1. Excellent reflections on this leader of the Roman Catholic world. I am so impressed with his willingness to break with the traditions of the church that have been holding them back and to stick to his practices and beliefs – particularly his concern for the poor.

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