“Love has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” – Saint Augustine
The Catholic Church recently marked the 885th anniversary of the papal sanctioning of the Knights Templar. On January 13, 1128, Pope Honorius II declared the Templars to be an army of God whose self-imposed mission was to protect Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land during the Crusades. The Templars receive their name from the location of their headquarters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In the beginning, mainly due to their rigid rules, the Templars had only nine members. However, due to the extraordinary promotional efforts of Pope Honorius, the order quickly increased its size, scope, and influence.
In addition to boasting a noble birth, each cavalier was required to adhere to strict vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. However, although the knights themselves were not allowed to own property, no restriction was imposed on the organization as a whole. As a result, many rich Christians donated lavish gifts of land and treasure to support the aspirations of the distinguished Templars. Before long, the Order had unintentionally become so wealthy that it provoked the jealousy of King Philip IV of France who, in 1307, was so deeply in debt that he had many of the Templar Knights arrested, tortured and burned at the stake. Within five years, Pope Clement V had no alternative but to capitulate to negative religious and political pressure and disband the once prestigious group.
Over the centuries, folklore about the Knights Templar has included the discovery of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, and portions of the Holy Cross. Unable to effectively distinguish between truth and imagined secrets, many intriguing myths gradually developed concerning the order’s exceptional accomplishments. Apart from inspiring legends, important philanthropic lessons can also be gleaned from reviewing the rise and fall of the pious association.
The Knights Templar was a most honorable cluster of courageous Christian men whose relentless mission led to their demise. By hording everything they received and never giving anything away, the Templars succumbed to the temptation of believing that the size of their portfolio would assure their society’s strength, stability, and self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, it was this self-absorbed philosophy that gradually corroded the sacredness of their original vision and finally contributed to their organization’s collapse!
Successful leaders avoid the lure of the “Templar Temptation” by guiding their organizations to copiously contribute to the advancement of external as well as internal needs and interest. Such honest institutional munificence, however, is more than the mass distribution of press releases regarding casual acts of social chivalry and/or corporate strategic partnerships. The development and implementation of principled philanthropic stewardship is, foremost, an organizational ethic of noble servant-leadership that begins with the regularity of societal scanning. Once properly identified, social privations are appropriately supported through the disciplines of prudence, compassion, and judicious generosity. Only when such operational qualities are actually present can any institution earn the valued reputation of advancing the aspirations of servant leadership while simultaneously cultivating the competitive edge of its primary mission.
Servant leadership is a decision-making belief system that is widely embraced by some of the most successful organizations in the world. The term is attributed to an essay entitled “The Servant as Leader (1970),” written by Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990) that emphasized the need to develop institutional leaders that focus on serving stakeholders. Accordingly, leaders have a responsibility to use their influence to serve others. “Caring for persons,” argues Greenleaf, “is the rock upon which a good society is built.” He insists that, over time, this responsibility has shifted from individuals to institutions that are “often large, complex, powerful, impersonal, not always competent, and sometimes corrupt.”
The integrity of Greenleaf’s notion of servant leadership must not be reduced to slick marketing contrivances for improving brand value through tax-deductible contributions to local religious charities, school fairs, or annual Rotarian raffles. It should not be understood as a cunning organizational tactic to be expended only when corporate, religious, or non-profit organizations are booming or when leaders hunger for media recognition. On the contrary, donations of time, expertise, and resource should always been considered essential components of social sustainability that provides individuals a way to model the privilege of stewardship and, more importantly, develop personal psychic meaning!
Research supports the view that servant leadership is a vital component of organizational survival. According to a 2010 study by Ernst & Young and the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, the nation’s largest donor-advised trust program, 89% of successful entrepreneurs donate money, both personally and through their companies, to support charitable causes. While 70% also contribute their time and talent, the majority (61%) of respondents believe that being an entrepreneur makes them more inclined to be servant-minded. The more recent 2012 National Federation of Independent Businesses likewise concludes that 62% of such entrepreneurs indicate that “giving back” to society through “acts of service” makes their companies more successful. Nearly 70% did not wait to become “successful” to give back, noting that they started supporting charities while building their businesses.
Servant leadership is more than an effective public relations appliance or a shrewd business driver. It is a dynamic characteristic of thriving companies, healthy adults, and spiritual maturity. Accordingly, nearly 73% of the entrepreneurs surveyed say that their companies’ policies actively encourage their employees to volunteer their time and/or expertise to charitable causes. More than half (53%) offer programs that encourage employees to support charitable causes financially.
Entrepreneurs insist that servant leadership should be driven by three key factors: (a) gratitude for help received, (b) empathy for those less fortunate, and (c) the financial resources and freedom to make a difference. Similar to their entrepreneurial counterparts, the U.S. Catholic Bishops insist that the stewardship of service “is the personal responsibility of all members of the Church to work in concrete ways to make their parishes true communities of faith and vibrant sources of service to the larger community.” Church members should strive to become societal facilitators and not parochial consumers. The Pastoral Letter on Stewardship (2002) posits the admonition of the US Catholic Bishops upon an important statement of the Second Vatican Council that underscores that work is a “partnership with God — humanity’s share in a divine human collaboration in creation.”
Ideally, the principles of such a servant-centered paradigm should exemplify the “wheelhouse” of religious as well as nonprofit organizations! It should include much more than proclaiming and teaching, serving and sanctifying. Beyond the stewardship of time, money, prayers, and service to the local parish, the Catholic Bishops rightly urge all Americans to “contribute” to the needs of society.
According to a recent Barna Group research poll most Americans remain relatively upbeat about the role that local churches play in their communities. The nationwide study (2011) shows that three-quarters of U.S. adults believe the presence of a church is “very” (53%) or “somewhat” (25%) positive for their community. In contrast, only one out of every 20 Americans believes that the influence of a church is negative. Unfortunately, while Elders (ages 66-plus) and married adults have the most favorable views of the church, Mosaics (ages 18 to 27) are the least likely to believe that churches have a generally positive influence on their communities.
Despite these positive feelings, many adults are unclear as to how local churches can best serve the community. Unfortunately, a large percent of the American population does not believe that local religious organizations contribute to civic enhancement. Since many community services have been diminished by the current economy, religious leaders should strive to change this perception by more intentionally providing tangible examples of local servant leadership that offers the right mix of member-centered ministry and public-service programs. When asked how local religious organizations can help the local community, Barna Survey respondents suggested the following six (6) areas:
- Provide Assistance to the Poor, Disabled, and Homeless
- Provide Spiritual Direction
- Serve Needs of Families and Youth
- Support the Elderly
- Provide Counseling, Support/Recovery Groups
- Provide Financial, Career-Related Assistance
Many argue that the greatest threat facing Christianity today is society’s bent toward self-sufficiency – a contemporary manifestation of the “Templar Temptation.” Perhaps the way to vanquish the lure of this enticement is an honest return to the original vision of the Templar Knights whose members were called to serve and defend the weak and marginalized!
The nobility of servant leadership will always vanquish the Templar Temptation. Had the Knights of the medieval Church fused such an attitude to their sturdy paramilitary tradition, the entity’s tragic end would have certainly been avoided. Theirs was a vocation that represented the highest ideals of Christian charity and entrepreneurial philanthropy from which the authentic leader of royalty and gentry emerged. They were the quintessential servant leaders, willing to serve the sick and the poor as if the sick and poor were their very lords and masters!