Series on leadership in a Catholic parish begins

St. Ambrose University professor’s guide is for both clergy and laity

By Dan R. Ebener

Special to The Witness

Editor’s Note:  This is the first 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,” published by Paulist Press and the Villanova University Center for Church Management.

This book is part of a series sponsored by Paulist Press and the Villanova University Center for Church Management.  It is intended as a textbook for Catholic seminarians and a guide for parish leaders.

The premise is that the Catholic Church needs leadership – because we need change. We need more joyful evangelization, more generous stewardship, more fulfilled vocations, more genuine faith formation, more conscious participation in the liturgy, more courageous social action, more loving outreach and so on.

In most places, the church is over-managed and under-led.  To turn this around, we need clergy who are free to lead more and manage less.  We need lay people to step up to manage more of the day-to-day operations so the clergy can be clergy.

When the clergy step back, the lay people are more likely to step up.  Pastors can be pastors.  Deacons can be deacons.  The clergy can focus on ministry and not so much on administration.  They can be more pastoral and less managerial.  It’s time for lay people to take more responsibility for the business side of parish life.

We also need lay people to lead.  They can lead with or without authority.  Leading with authority is a challenge because of the temptation to over-rely on the use of your authority.  Leading without authority is a challenge because it relies on those in authority to provide the support and feedback that makes leadership happen.

The purpose of this series of articles is to improve the way we do leadership so that we can become the church that Christ intended. If the church is to address its challenges, it will need more leadership coming from multiple directions.  We are all called to lead in the church at some point. The question is whether we can hear and heed that call.

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.