By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
Chris Lowney, the Jesuit seminarian turned JP Morgan managing director turned chair of a huge Catholic hospital system turned leadership author has hit another homerun.
His new book, Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church, is a must read for anyone interested in the health and well-being of the Catholic Church and its members.
Previously, Lowney authored three fine books that discussed various aspects of leadership:
In each case Lowney aptly demonstrates his impressive research and prodigious storytelling gifts.
In Everyone Leads he turns his considerable education and experience to the task of helping Catholic Church leaders and members revitalize their various structures, especially parishes, so that they attract people rather than push them away or let them drift away.
A huge crisis
Lowney explains that he is motivated by what may well be the worst crisis to face Catholicism in the past 500 years. “Church attendance has plummeted to historic lows, and tens of millions of adults have deserted Catholicism entirely,” he writes. “And the future looks even grimmer,” he adds, noting that lack of interest and enthusiasm for the church on the part of young people.
In response to the troubling trends, he doesn’t propose a series of Band-Aids. “The first thing that must change is our culture, the ways we think, operate, and make decisions,” he says. One might ask: After that, what else is left?
He is encouraged by the wisdom of Pope Francis, noting that the pople has “invited all Catholics to be ‘bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods’ of outreach.” Lowney’s book is his response to the pope’s invitation.
He doesn’t propose radical responses. Instead, he argues, “we just need to drink more deeply from our own first-century well,” because “our earliest leaders embodied all the traits that today’s great leaders manifest.”
At the heart of Lowney’s proposals for revitalizing the church is what he calls the EASTeR Strategy. It calls for the church to be:
- more Entrepreneurial, meaning “more creative and innovative in everything we do.”
- more Accountable, seeing ourselves as “good stewards who make best use of the talents and resources God has entrusted to the church.”
- Serve the world’s poor and marginalized.
- Transform the hearts and souls of members.
- Reach out to engage and welcome the wider world.
Lowney says he can’t guarantee results because “when organizations face complex, multifaceted challenges, no strategy is perfect.” But he believes that a “more joyful spirit of experimentation” will help carry contemporary Catholicism over rough roads ahead.
His vision, outlined at the end of his first chapter, is clear: “Our church’s fortunes will improve when a pervasive culture of leadership takes root from top to bottom, but that leadership culture can fortunately be catalyzed from bottom to top, one individual, family, and Catholic institution at a time.”
In the interests of candor and transparency, I have to confess that a lot of my regard for this book is based on the fact that I found so much of our Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus in Lowney’s work. For example, his title, Everyone Leads, is the point we make at the very beginning of our 1-day leadership training experience: “Everyone is a leader some of the time.”
Our treatment of the role of the laity tracks closely with Lowney’s sense of what is needed from the laity today. “Strong leadership from bishops will ultimately mean little if the rest of us aren’t leading well,” he writes.
And we both go back to draw on the wisdom and insight of the church’s first leaders to guide us in responding to the crisis of today. In particular, we both extol the virtue of humility in effective leadership. At several points the similarities are just uncanny.
Of course, Lowney’s EASTeR Strategy is entirely original with him – and deserving of serious study, consideration and discussion by every Catholic member and leader who is concerned about the church’s current malaise and dismal prospects for the future.
As it happens, there are Catholic places here in the U.S. where you find incredible enthusiasm, growth
and service consistent with the dynamic spirit we find depicted in the Acts of the Apostles. Among other places, you will find them described in Rebuilt and Divine Renovation. Their stories provide both hope and guidance for Catholics who care about the vitality of their church.
But to these foundational texts be sure to add Everyone Leads. At one point, Lowney writes: “It’s time to wake up and fascinate, that is, to fascinate the world once again with the power of love.”
His book is nothing less than a fascinating guide for how we can do just that.