Collaboration and consensus in a church on the move

A “church on the move,” author Joe Paprocki says, would be a church moving “from benevolent dictatorship to collaboration and consensus” and “from intolerance to common ground.”

“Today’s Catholics simply will not be as docile as they were decades ago when they were taught to ‘pay, pray and obey,’” Paprocki writes. “They demand, and have a right, to be included in the decision-making process of the parish.”

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In this sense, I think the church is just catching up with something parents and teachers discovered about a generation or so ago. Whether parishioners, children or students, people won’t accept authoritarian leadership styles, and they will comply with the rules set by such leaders only if those rules are reinforced with threats or deeds of physical (or spiritual) violence.

Some years back, I used to share with parish leaders a list of “Five Commandments for Parents of Teenagers,” and I would suggest that these guidelines apply just as well to anyone working with adult Catholics.

Among other things, this list suggested that parents need to invite, affirm and listen to their teens. It reminded parents that those not in positions of authority (like children, teens and lay people) are capable of appreciating some aspects of a truth or a situation which the people in charge have forgotten, never knew or choose to ignore.

Theologically, this fact is supported by our conviction that the Spirit can and does work through every person — and especially, as Pope Francis is fond of reminding us, through those on the margins of power, influence and authority.

When our children were young, Mary and I thought family meetings would be a good way to model a more collaborative form of parenting. Unfortunately, we made the fatal mistake of not explaining in advance that in the end some decisions were still up to mom and dad. It worked well for a while, but eventually the kids got frustrated and lost interest in family meetings.

Whether in the parish, the classroom or the home, collaboration recognizes that people have different roles and responsibilities. It doesn’t mean everyone has an equal vote on final decisions, but it does mean that everyone has an equal voice in the discussions which determine the final decisions.

And be sure that children, students or parish members will lose interest in collaboration if they are only consulted on unimportant things, or if their concerns have no impact on decisions about the important things.

I wonder if one of the reasons people generally feel so dissatisfied about society, politics and the church is that parents are doing a good job of preparing them for a collaborative form of leadership which is not experienced outside the family.

What do you think?

 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (a little) to 5 (alot) rate how much you have adapted your parent­ing or teaching style to a collaborative model. How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Why do you think it is important (or not) to develop a more collaborative leadership style in families, classrooms and the church? Why do you think people resist collaborative leadership? How have you experienced collaborative leadership or the need for collaborative leadership as an adult? What are some practical steps you have or could take to be a more collaborative leader yourself?
  • I think collaborative leadership is important because….

 Learn More

Find suggestions for family meetings and the “Five Commandments for Parents of Teenagers” on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FaithLeadersCorner/.

 Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at Facebook.com/FaithLeadersCorner/.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.