There is a lot of buzz these days in Catholic ministry circles about Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership.  There are conferences, symposiums, national organizations and groups of passionate people engaged in intense conversation about the changing face of the church.  All of this work is important and necessary and will provide solid foundational principles for parish ministry.

So much easier to do research than act.

The only thing is… you’ll have to study up and read the plethora of documents that are being generated now and will come in the future.  It is so much easier to stall in the name of Research or Strategic Planning than it is to act.  If we wait until we have all the i’s dotted or the t’s crossed / all the potential questions answered / all the ruffled feathers smoothed before we take concrete steps of action, it will be too late.  Sometimes you just have to jump in the pool without worrying whether the water is going to be too cold.

At the risk of over-simplifying the process, here are four steps to creating a new model for parish leadership.

1.  Make a list of all the jobs that need to be done in the parish.

Start with your wildest dreams about what you’d like to see happen.  Then choose a beginning.  Which are the most critical?  What do we need to let go of?  Where do we need to spend our best time and energy?  Where do we need to build and grow?

2.  Decide which jobs can only be done by a priest or ordained clergy member.  Chart those out on a weekly calendar.

This is pretty easy to figure out.  Most priests I know work way more than 40 hours a week… but what if their schedules were more reasonable?  Would that help their attitudes and dispositions?  Would that help them be healthier individuals… which in turn means healthier priests?  You bet!  Draw a line in the sand around the 40-hour work week… and then delegate other responsibilities to trustworthy people.

3.  Look at the remaining jobs; create simple, accurate, realistic descriptions of those jobs and post them to the parish community.

Many will shout:  Way easier said than done!  Two retorts will immediately surface… We can’t just choose anyone! … and We don’t have the money to pay them all!  Agreed.

Not everyone is suited to do every kind of ministry.  The right people need to be identified for the right jobs and personal invitation is always a good place to start.  But if the community doesn’t know what is needed, how can they step up to the plate?  Too often, priests don’t share all the information and wait for the moment when they see the perfect person for a task.  Today’s world is built on connection.  People find jobs on Twitter because they tweeted to someone across the country and began a conversation that results in a job six months later.

And then there’s money… If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a priest say “They need to answer their baptismal call…”  There are people out there who are competent, qualified and willing to do the work of ministry.  Yes, they are out there!  But they haven’t emerged from the shadows of the pews because they’re not convinced that you’ll give them real authority.  The history is too deep… volunteers become frustrated in ministry because so many priests pull rank and reverse decisions on a whim.  When people feel like they have real power… not perceived power… they will give themselves over to building the reign of God.

4.  Train and empower people to be disciples.

For every ministry that a parish needs or wants, there is someone who loves to do that exact thing.  99% guaranteed.  That person may not have all the intellectual knowledge that is needed to get the job done but hey… train them!  Teach them!  Send them to school!  If this is the right person for the ministry, then he or she will already be instrinsically motivated to learn what they should know.  That’s the nature of disciples.  People do what they love.

This isn’t rocket science.

This isn’t hard.  Let me re-phrase:  It is a lot of hard work, but it’s not complicated.  Creating new models for parish leadership is messy / uncontrollable / organic / Holy Spirit-driven / unpredictable / uncontainable / ever-changing… which is why most priests and parishes won’t do it.  Each parish is unique… the models will eventually look different… but the process is the same.  All of it is immensely rewarding.

The hardest part of it all is for priests to honestly answer the question:  Am I willing to share the power?  Really?


About Elaine Menardi

Heading off on a new adventure! I solve problems and make ideas happen.

One response »

  1. Rox says:

    thoughts from Sister Mary Luke Tobin, Sister of Loretto. She was one of the 15…. yes 15 women invited to the Vatican II Council with her 1500 brother Bishops. This quote is from “Hope is an Open Door” 1981.

    Nearly twenty years after my experience at Vatican II, I am more and more convinced that there is grave need for the leadership of the church, which wisely oened the doors for the Batican council, to facilitate ways for the people truly to be the church. And I believe this is possible. I can speak with such confidence because I ahve experienced, in my own community of Loretto, the movement from hierarchical to collegial positions and perations, and I can testify that the transithion works. Leaders’ willingness to risk, based on trust in the talents and goodness of the people, is the indispensable condition for pressign forward for this change.

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