Engaging with servant leadership

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a ­series of ten articles by Dan Ebener on leadership in the Catholic Church. They are excerpts from his latest book, “Pastoral Leadership: How to Lead in a Catholic Parish.”

Lay engagement means that the parishioners are intrinsically motivated to ­fully participate in the life of the parish. To get engagement, leaders need to change hearts and minds. Like any other matter of the heart, engagement cannot be dictated.
Stewardship and evangelization are signs of lay engagement. Stewardship is giving from the heart. Evangelization is sharing our faith from the heart. Leading a ministry of stewardship or evangelization means touching people’s hearts so they are willing to give and to share, to try something new, or to try something in a new way.
You cannot force people to become stewards or evangelists. You cannot “guilt” them into it. Leading change in stewardship and evangelization calls for influence from the heart. It takes leadership that stirs the heart. Such is the way of servant leadership.

Servant Leadership
Servant leadership starts with the motivation “first to serve and then to lead” (Robert Greenleaf). In the process of serving, a person sees something that needs to change. They begin to influence others to join them in creating the change, and … they are leading. If their hearts are motivated by service, they are servant leading.
Servant leadership is leading like Jesus. Servant leaders are motivated “to serve, not to be served” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:25). Servant leadership is following the example of Jesus when He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-17). Servant leaders place themselves at the service of the people, not the other way around.
Research shows that servant leadership can enhance engagement. It instills trust and confidence in the people being servant led. It inspires the people to participate, to take initiative, to help each other and to develop themselves as disciples of Jesus. It invites people to become servant leaders themselves. Servant leadership engages lay people to live like disciples (followers of Jesus) and lead like apostles (leaders for Jesus).

Dr. Dan R. Ebener teaches courses in leadership, strategic planning, dialogical skills, conflict resolution, team-building and people skills at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.