Having a “mental model” or common framework is helpful in establishing expectations, skills, and competencies around leadership. Scripture brings the lessons of leadership to life through the image of the cedar tree. The cedar of Lebanon is an effective way to contemplate the vocation, mission, and development of leaders in the Catholic Church.
The cedar of Lebanon is a sprawling, ancient evergreen tree with a beautiful fragrance and a lifespan of hundreds of years. Its strong wood was used in constructing the Temple of Solomon (see 1 Kings 6). It is also a widely recognized symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The cedar of Lebanon is one of Scripture’s most iconic images, appearing 74 times in the Old Testament. Its attributes reflect an effective leader’s fundamental aspects: “The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they shall flourish in the courts of our God” (Psalm 92:13–14). This model provides a way of thinking about leadership issues holistically, as well as an opportunity to evaluate where one’s organization is and where it needs to be in order to be most effective.
A tree needs sunlight, water, and a healthy root system to thrive. For a leader in the Church, prayer and faith form that foundation. Faith keeps one grounded and firmly rooted in reality, but also attuned to the reality of God at work in daily life. The image of strong roots calls the importance of personal heritage to mind. Knowing where one and others come from creates empathy and unity with fellow team members, and with those one leads.
Trees cannot grow without a strong trunk. The innermost part of a trunk is called the “heartwood.” To grow upward, it must be strong and sturdy. Similarly, the heart is the leader’s ‘trunk’; God touches leaders’ hearts and asks them to work with him for others. In turn, a leader’s gratitude and sense of stewardship ensure that God remains foremost in their ministry, keeping them open to his plan, helping them know that the gifts they are given, the situations and people they encounter, are not theirs to use however they want, but are all from God—for God’s purpose.
The branches in this model comprise three keys to leadership: listening and understanding people, loving them, and walking with them on their own faith journey. Leaders cannot do anything without doing these three things first; otherwise, everything will resemble either a dictatorship or a bland transaction. Leading is about building and developing people, not just completing tasks.
Trees produce fruit, whether seeds, leaves, or cones, that help the species continue. So, too, do leaders. Leaders should strive for three outcomes: learning continuously, growing in faith, and seeking God’s wisdom in discerning daily decisions. Learning continuously implies a mindset of wanting to know more and do better. Applying that knowledge promotes spiritual growth, and seeking God’s wisdom enables one to discern and follow his will.
Tree crowns are the total above-ground area of a tree. Crowns are measured by their width, depth, surface area, volume, and density, and indicate a tree’s overall health and stage of growth. The crown in the cedar of Lebanon model of leadership is service to others—a sacrificial gift of self to the community. Personal and spiritual maturity are good pursuits, but not the ultimate goals. The goal of Scripture-based leadership must be to give these gifts to others, serving them, and helping them grow.
Applying the Model
The cedar of Lebanon model can help Church leaders in different settings develop and measure their efforts. It offers a common language for anyone interested in becoming an effective leader and person of faith or providing encouragement to others along the way. This exercise offers Scripture verses for reflection and prompts for considering how to embody the image of the cedar of Lebanon in life and leadership. Leaders are followers of Christ before all other things; they must be strong in their own faith before they can lead others to God. Identify areas for growth and development. Engage this exercise in your organization, discover everyone’s strengths, and discern how to apply them.
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