Leaders with Parental Virtues
Albanians historically have suffered from rigid, abusive, totalitarian leadership. In contrast, evangelical leadership can be relevant in Albanian society if it has parental qualities. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, who lived very close to Albania, “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). The model of a mother and father who are compassionate, supportive, and protective of their children serves as an alternative to a dictatorial and abusive leadership style. It may be offensive in an individualistic Western culture, but it works well in Albania. Leaders with the stature of caring mothers and fathers do not depend on titles to be approved, followed, and heeded. Albanian leaders with compassionate parental virtues will serve as models to their followers.
The Value of Diversity and Individuality
Albania also needs leadership that nurtures diversity and individuality. Communists and Albania’s various religious traditions taught uniformity. Because of the collective mindset and uniformity of the Communist past, people can be hostile towards differences of any kind. Rather than dictate uniformity through power and coercion, new evangelical leaders should challenge the mentality of intolerance, allowing for creativity and freedom of expression. Leadership is needed to nurture a tolerant culture and to foster genuine, independent thinking. Albanian leaders should help people discover their gifts, which will bring riches, joy, and fulfillment.
Albanian tradition and history illustrate how wrong it is if only one person is all powerful. Pluralism in leadership is more faithful to Scripture and to the faith community. Albanian church leaders must recognize that every member is a priest before God. As Paul Beasley-Murray notes, “Leadership within any given church is always called to be a corporate affair” (A Call to Excellence: An Essential Guide to Christian Leadership [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995], 44).
Flexibility and Creativity
Albanian leaders, in addition, should have freedom to shape and structure the church as they see best. Albanian Baptists struggle with too much structure, while Pentecostals-Charismatics struggle with uncertainty as to the best approach to leadership. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee points out that Scripture does not provide clear norms on leadership and church structure. I believe that the New Testament, by not prescribing a particular structure, gives the church freedom and responsibility to organize itself. Albanian evangelical churches should exercise freedom and creativity in organizing themselves, guided by Paul’s vision that every member possesses gifts. Albanian leaders need to build flexible structures based on servanthood in order to best minister to their churches. I have the conviction that a servant structure can be a check on the tendency toward hierarchy and control. The structure is a vehicle that takes us as a community to journey together as the people of “the Way.” It is wrong to create structures that keep people in one place, unchanging and static. Hierarchical power systems become self-serving and repress the mass of believers.
Albanian leadership should also be the servant to the whole people of God. Servant leadership goes against power and hierarchy. It is there to assist and enable people. One of the struggles of Albanian society today is corrupt secular leadership. Servant leadership for the Albanian church is the alternative to abuse of power. An emphasis upon servant leadership is the cure to manipulation. The Albanian Christian community has to see that the candidate for leadership is mature enough not to take advantage of others’ weaknesses, is humble, has the integrity to endure the hardship and agonies of service, and, though not perfect, will follow the model of Jesus as a servant leader.
Vision is not the common language of Albanians, whether their background is Muslim, Catholic, or Orthodox. They are used to talking in practical terms of immediate needs to be met today or tomorrow. Concerned primarily with physical survival, Albanians do not think in terms of dreams and vision. A visionary leader is like a skillful football player. “The traditional definition of ‘most valuable player’ is one who helps every other teammate perform better” (C. Jeff Woods, Better Than Success; Eight Principles of Faithful Leadership [Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2001], 1). Because of their history and past experience, Albanians will not easily trust a leader’s vision if they do not also see commitment and serious concern for implementing it.
Albanian leadership, in addition, should encourage discipleship. A good leader promotes neither a passive, consumer church, nor a church of militants and fanatics. The answer to some who accuse Albanian Evangelicals of fanaticism is simply life-transforming discipleship. Albanian evangelical leadership should make disciples and enable growing Christians to live worthy of Christ’s witness, being genuine, self-aware followers of “the Way.”
Knowing Albanian history and culture, I argue for a proactive type of Albanian leadership. I believe leaders should be tactful and kind but also straightforward. Our Mediterranean mentality has not been and still is not individualistic but rather community focused. Albanians are tightly bound to their families and communities. Ottoman and Communist rule forced Albanians into the shadows, to be passive, and as a result we suffer from low self-esteem. People are more imitators that initiators. Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, and Communist traditions all taught that leaders or priests knew best and should not be questioned. In contrast, Albanian evangelical leaders have to seek ways to participate in people’s lives in order to enable them to be active followers of Christ. It is my personal experience that an invitation to serve is not enough for Albanian people. For an Albanian, proactive, personal involvement in the lives of believers is a sign of interest. For example, when people visit an Albanian home, it is customary to offer guests something to eat or drink. If guests decline the offer, they are to be asked at least three times until they accept food or drink. This is why aggressive leadership should be implemented in Albania.
The Witness of a Simple Lifestyle
In a context like Albania, leaders should also live modestly. It is not wise for leaders to live at a higher standard than others because this could cause divisions. Western missionaries, who are used to a much higher standard of living, struggle at this point. If leaders live in luxury or even better than the rest, they will not be trusted. Desperately poor people may come to the church for help. In such cases I argue that Albanian leaders should not provide economic help in order to manipulate others to convert. Rather, leaders should imitate God, who cares for all, and in this way they can open great opportunities for sharing the message of the Bible.
Next, I argue for a modest leadership that does not depend on financial help from outside Albania. I am not against a true partnership in God’s work, but Albanian leaders who depend totally on outside material and financial support are not relevant for Albanian society. They should depend on the living God, who cares for the poor, including Albanians.
Language That Builds Bridges
Albanian leaders should also speak the language of the people. Sometimes using religious language means identifying with one group and excluding others. If Christian leaders cultivate a pious language of their own, they create their first division and detachment from the rest of Albanian society, possibly fostering opposition and misunderstanding. Speaking the same language as the people does not mean conceding to the secular. Instead, it means communicating and applying language people understand. Building such bridges aids the sharing of Christian insights and the Christian message. In the process Albanian culture, language, and traditions can be redeemed.
The Value of Unity and Peace
Finally, Albanian leaders need to work for unity and peace. Albanian history is replete with religious divisions which have badly split the nation. In addition, missionaries fall prey to their own denominational fragmentation. Albanian Evangelicals should be aware that some of the present frustrations and struggles have their roots in the denominationalism of the founding missionaries. That is the case with structure and ordination among Baptists. Albanian Pentecostals-Charismatics suffer from poor relations with other churches, fear of institutional structure, and some resistance to higher education.
A narrow-minded, dogmatic leadership, which divides and alienates, is not what Albania needs. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Albanian evangelical movement successfully identified with the Albanian national cause and, at the same time, remained faithful to Christ. The current Albanian evangelical leadership should do the same by challenging fragmentation and division. Albanians have experienced more than enough separation and isolation. A sensitive, compassionate leadership needs to work for unity and peace by joining together love of country and faithfulness to Christ.
Edited excerpt published with permission from Alfred Golloshi, “Leadership in the Albanian Evangelical Community: A Theological Assessment of Paradigms, Practices, and Vision,” M.Th. thesis, University of Wales, 2003.
Alfred Golloshi is a Baptist pastor in Albania.
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© 2005 East-West Church and Ministry Report