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Leading by Love

Calum showed the way.

Colum Cille (25)

On a very cold winter day the holy man was afflicted with great sorrow, and wept. His attendant, Diormit, questioned him about the cause of his sadness, and received from him this answer: “Not without good cause, my son, do I grieve at this hour, when I see that Laisrán is now harassing my monks in the construction of a large building, although they are exhausted with heavy labour; and it vexes me greatly.”

 - Adomnán, Life of Columba[1]

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

 - John 13.1

Laisrán was abbot of the monastery at Durrow, in Ireland. By some means—Adomnán does not tell us, but he allows us to believe it was a matter of Colum’s spiritual intuition—word reached Colum that Laisrán was exhausting the monks at Durrow by a building project. Evidently, he had come to believe that the monastery needed another large building, and to fulfill his desire, he was wearing out the brothers. It seems he cared more for the completion of his project than the wellbeing of his flock.

Colum’s response was to weep. He never put a priority on buildings or other large projects. There were buildings on Iona, of course; and from time to time the monks there did undertake large projects. But Colum’s concern was always first and foremost for the wellbeing of his monks. He led them by love, and we have seen how they responded to that love by the great love they had for him. He was more concerned for the character of his flock than the components of his ministry.

Colum grieved to learn that the monks at Durrow were overburdened. He had founded that monastery in Ireland, and doubtless the ABCs of monastic life as they were practiced at Iona had been set in place also at Durrow. Holiness, love, and faithful witness to Jesus were the priorities of Iona’s rule. And that must have been the case at Durrow as well. But for now, all that was taking second place to a building project, and the monks were “exhausted with heavy labour”.

Remember, every dweller in a monastery was involved in manual labor every day. Doing laundry, preparing meals, working in the fields, repairing walls, tending to cattle and sheep, preparing velum for manuscripts, copying manuscripts, cleaning facilities, and more. Besides this was the spiritual work each monk was responsible for day by day: prayer, silence, works of witness and counsel, teaching and discipling, and more.

To have that already heavy schedule additionally taxed with a building project was wearing the brothers out. They were being used, not loved; and Colum’s heart went out to them.

It’s easy to fall into this mindset, thinking that projects, programs, activities, events, or buildings are the real object of our ministries. Church leaders are especially vulnerable to this because too often they evaluate the effectiveness of their ministries by outward things, things people can see. Thus, programs, events, and numbers are what church leaders value. The more of these they can spin up, the more successful they believe their ministries will be.

The problem, of course, is that in nearly every church 20% of the people do all the work while 80% do almost nothing but receive the benefits of the church’s workers. So, when church leaders envision new projects, they typically look to those who are already flush with things to do and call on them to take on more. Which faithful leaders will do because they want to serve the Lord and they want their church to grow.

But in the process, many workers are taken advantage of, pushed to do more and made to feel slightly guilty if they can’t. They see that there are scores more people who could be enlisted for new projects, but that never seems to happen. Over time, some of the faithful become worn out. And when they begin dropping out of ministries, too often church leaders simply let them drop. There will always be new folks to take their place. This is not the case in every church, of course, but it happens often enough that it has become a recognizable pattern.

In his book, Finishing Our Course with Joy, J. I. Packer wrote that, no matter how old we get, we can always learn something new, and there will always be someone we can lead. Let us take care to learn Jesus and to lead as Jesus did, loving the folks entrusted to us and loving them above all and to the very end. Our goal for the people to whom God sends us must be to help them wear Jesus more fully and consistently, not to wear them out in our projects or programs.

Lead by love and you will get believers who are more loving and considerate of one another. At Durrow, Laisrán was made aware of Colum’s distress, and this brought him to his senses. He put a hold on the building project, provided a time of feasting and rest for his monks, and soon returned the monastery to its normal pattern of life and work. Led by the love he saw in Colum, Laisrán regained the love he should have had all along for the flock entrusted to his care.

Lead by love. Always. With everyone. It’s what Jesus did.

For Reflection
1. What does it mean for you to “lead by love” in working your Personal Mission Field?

2. Today, who especially needs to know the love of Jesus through you? How will you show them that?

Psalm 23 (The Gift of Love: Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire)

Because the LORD my Shepherd is I shall not want, for I am His!
He makes me lie in pastures full; I rest in Him by waters still.

My soul He quickens and will bless; He leads in paths of righteousness.
Though I may walk in death’s dark vale, I shall not fear—He will not fail!

The LORD is ever by my side; His rod and staff with me abide.
A table rich for me He spreads; with oil my LORD anoints my head.

Goodness and mercy, full and free, shall ever after follow me,
and in the house of God, my LORD, shall I abide forevermore!

Lord, lead me by Your shepherding love, and help me to love others as I…

T. M. Moore

Bring some joy to your world
We are appointed, like Colum, to bring the joy of the Gospel to our world. Our book, Joy to Your World!, can help you understand how to fulfill this calling day by day. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Adomnán, p. 57.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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