Leadership from the pulpit … and from the pews

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of 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.”

Some people figure that only those with titles and positions can be leaders. Pope Francis believes that everyone can be a leader – pastor and deacon, women and men, young and old, parish council and finance council.  For the past century, each pope has elevated the role of the laity in the mission of the church.

With the Great Commission (Matt 28:19), Jesus calls all disciples to become apostles. He calls us to live as disciples and to lead like apostles. He commissions every one of us to lead at some point in our lives.

Parishes grow when people rotate in and out of leadership. When the same people are doing the same thing in the same way for a long time, it is a sign of decline. Vibrant parishes recruit new people into ministry roles and encourage them to take the initiative.  These parishes score higher on measures of engagement.

Anyone can lead change in the church – if they choose to lead. Leadership is not a position. It is a choice. You can lead with or without positional authority.

In the same way that Jesus was tempted in the desert to use his formal authority (Matt 4:1-11), everyone in the church who has authority – from pastor to parish council president – will be tempted to use (or abuse) their authority.

The key to leading with authority is to resist the temptation to rely solely on that positional authority.  Paradoxically, if you want to lead when you have authority, you need to learn to influence as if you do not have authority. When you are relying on your authority, you might be managing, controlling, administering or commanding, but you are not leading – unless you are actively engaged in a voluntary, interactive process that intends real change.

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.