100 years on: What the world needs now is…a Mary Baker Eddy approach to leadership!

Next in our “100 years on, and still going strong” series, celebrating the continued resonance of Mary Baker Eddy’s life and ideas 100 years after her passing.

Questions of leadership are big in the world today, from Middle East leaders wanting to cling on to power, despite popular expressions of deep discontent, to Western populations who feel that some of their leaders have been caught with their fingers in the till.  The idea of leadership as a noble profession took a huge hit in the twentieth century due to extreme examples of autocrats leading their own populations into being perpetrators and victims of genocidal crimes.

But true leadership is noble.  Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela are just two examples of people whose leadership qualities inspired me during that same last century.

I was once asked whether, as the Leader of the Christian Science movement, Mary Baker Eddy is considered “a cut above” by her followers. My answer, also in terms of qualities, was “Yes, but…” – but think what “a cut above” means in her case: a touch more humility, a more consistent willingness to turn the other cheek, a love of God more than self, a devotion to serving humanity, self-sacrifice and spirituality.

This is the kind of spiritual leadership that the world seriously needs more of…!  All of which is by way of an introduction to today’s guest post – from my colleague Leroy Gatlin, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Oklahoma – called:

Some thoughts on leadership.

Many who first learn of Mary Baker Eddy (the Founder of Christian Science) are quick to ask about her style of leadership.  Why was she so effective as a religious leader, especially during a time when opportunities for women were so limited?

The answer, I’ve come to see, is in the qualities of leadership she expressed.

Today’s image of a leader is usually someone with a commanding personality and a strong will and ambition to lead.  The nature of Mrs. Eddy’s leadership, however, was far different.  From first to last, it was based on a humble desire to help others lead a spiritual life through prayer and study of the Bible. (read more)

I’ve found it interesting that it was never an ambition of hers to become a leader.  On the contrary, her preference had always been to lead a quiet life.  She wasn’t interested in money, fame, or having a lot of followers, though she ended up with thousands.

And, for me, the most striking feature of her leadership is that she never sought a devotion to her personality.  In fact, she eschewed personal dependence and adulation — resisting any attempt to make her leadership a personality cult or to place her on a pedestal (the kind of treatment we see with some public leaders today).  She constantly turned attention from her personage as a teacher and leader to the study and practice of her teachings.

Like true religious leaders before her, Mrs. Eddy understood that spiritual authority comes from humility, and that to be a genuine leader one must first be a follower of God.  In a message to her students, for example, she stated:  “Lean not too much on your Leader.  Trust God to direct your steps.  Accept my counsel and teachings only as they include the spirit and the letter of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the teachings and example of Christ Jesus.”  (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany)

Through reading accounts of her life, I’ve seen that Mary Baker Eddy led largely by example.  Her leadership was all about empowering individuals to solve problems for themselves, not having her solve problems for them.  She didn’t control or impose her will on others.  That’s a crucial difference in my mind between her style of leadership and the popular approach today, — and it’s what made her so effective as a religious leader.

To this end, she kept her teachings openly available so that through self-instruction and voluntary adherence to Biblical principles, people from all walks of life could follow the path of spiritual learning and demonstrate practical Christianity.  Thus, the spirit of this leadership continues.

For historical information about Mary Baker Eddy, please visit The Mary Baker Eddy Library of the Betterment of Humanity.

Mary Baker Eddy was so committed to diverting those who loved her ideas from devotion to her personality that even while she was alive she named two books the Pastor of her church.  Here’s a video introduction to this personable – but personality-free! – Pastor…

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Categories: Mary Baker Eddy, Spirituality and Society, Women's spiritual leadership

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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