By Dan R. Ebener

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: Best Practices for Church Leaders, due to be published later this year by Paulist Press and the Villanova University Center for Church Management.

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This series, Pastoral Leadership: How to Lead in a Catholic Parish, reflects on 17 years of conversations about leadership. That’s how long I’ve been teaching in the Master of Organizational Leadership (MOL) program at St. Ambrose University. While I may be the messenger, most of the ideas presented in the book are not mine.

They emerged out of dialogue with students, colleagues and practitioners of leadership from all walks of life. I’m just the guy who kept notes for the past 17 years -- about 400 pages worth -- and crafted them into this book. 

The book is part of a series sponsored by Paulist Press and the Villanova University Center for Church Management. It is intended primarily for seminarians, priests, deacons and lay leaders in a Catholic parish – although the concepts could be applied to any context.

Church needs leadership

The premise of the book is that the Catholic Church needs leadership.

In most places, the Church is over-managed and under-led. (This may sound paradoxical, but leadership and management are not synonymous. In this book, you will find out how different they are). To turn this around, we need clergy to:

1. Provide more leadership and less management themselves.

2. Develop the leadership and management potential of the laity. 

We need lay people to step up to lead and to manage. Many of them have the experience to manage the day-to-day administration of a parish. But management is only half the issue. If the Church is to become more alive, we need lay people to step up and lead change as well.

Step back and step up

On the management side, we need clergy to step back and lay people to step up. Let pastors be pastors. Let deacons be deacons. Let the clergy focus on ministry, not administration. Encourage lay people to take more responsibility for the business side of parish life.

On the leadership side, we need lay people who can lead without authority and clergy who can lead from a position of authority. Leading with authority is no easy task, given the temptation to over-rely on the use of that authority. Leading without authority can happen when lay people feel passionate about change and begin to influence others to join them.

The purpose of this book is to improve the way we do leadership so that we can become the Church that Christ intended. Research shows that most people leave their bosses, not their jobs. By extension, I would propose that most parishioners leave their pastors, not their parish.

If the Church is to overcome its challenges in the next generation, it will need more leadership coming from multiple directions. I believe that we are all called to lead in the Church at some point. The only question is whether we can hear and heed that call.

The dedication to this book is written, “To Father Marv Mottet, pastor, mentor, friend. Like St. Francis, his actions spoke words, his words spoke actions. This book finds words from his actions.”

NEXT ISSUE: How to Lead a Catholic Parish