I recently preached about the movement from disciple to leadership. As part of that, I looked at the etymology of the English word “leader”. It comes from Middle English leden, from Old English lǣdan, and is akin to Old High German, leiten. As such, that word seems to only be part of our language for about a millennium.

The older word is actually, “conductor” – going right back to the Latin ducere, “to lead”. And something has changed in the use of the word “conductor”.

Before 1800, “the conductor” of a musical group, ie the actual leader of the orchestra, played an instrument in that orchestra. The separation of leadership and actual playing only happened after that time.

This style of leadership – separate from the actual activity one is leading – is increasing. Management is increasingly removed from needing to be competent within the context of what one is leading. A chief executive officer can move from running a hospital to running a branch of a city council to overseeing any number of organisations and institutions.

This trajectory is seen in the shift in word usage from “conductor” (being the preferred word for a leader) playing an instrument to the conductor not playing in the orchestra one leads.

This management style is influencing priesthood – with office hours, management skills, CVs, job applications rather than a call…

To return to etymology, “priest” comes from the Greek πρεσβῠ́τερος. You can even see it in the letters: priest = PRESbuTeros. It means “elder”. Someone older is clearly leading not from ‘outside’ the group (as it were) – in the sense of the non-playing-conductor, or of the brought-in CEO. Someone older is leading from within the group. The priest is a playing coach. The priest is a pre-1800 conductor.

Ps. The priest is not necessarily biologically older than all in the community. Do you see how that might connect with the previous conversations here about calling a priest, “Father”?

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