Enabling Parish Leadership

Learning Lives

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Parish leaders give pastoral care.  They also deserve to receive it.  One of the best ways to enable parish leadership is to model to leaders the pastoral care they also are called to give.

You do not always choose the people who help lead.  Some may be staff hired by someone else.  Others may be chosen by people in the parish to represent their interests.  Still others may be volunteers who have risen to positions of responsibility because of their spiritual gifts.  As in any community, some leaders will appeal to you more than others.  You will be more disposed toward giving pastoral care to people you like.  You may neglect some people who need it and dwell too long others who do not.  Every leader deserves to receive the same pastoral care he or she offers to give.

All you need are the simple skills of human relationships, boosted by Christian values.

·                          Learn the names of parish leaders, as well as the names of their immediate families.

·                          From time to time, ask about certain individuals, especially those who might cause concern to the leader.

·                          Learn about their work – what gives them joy, what causes dissatisfaction.

·                          Share your faith with others who lead.  You already work together.  Find opportunities to worship together as well.

Everyone who helps has a life outside their church leadership.  They relate to other people, places and interests.  Any of those relationships can affect how a leader contributes to the mission of the church.  If a leader’s work is strong, his or her life is probably going well in other areas.  If a leader performs below potential, it may be that something else is going wrong – something completely unrelated to church work.  Learning the lives of leaders reveals more about who they are, what they care for, what affects their work, and what they are capable of doing.

When you know what else interests people, you learn where church work fits in.  Learning lives reveals more about how leaders see their role at the parish.  For some, it is a place to meet their best friends; for others, it is a place to exercise leadership they could not give elsewhere.  Learning lives is learning motivations, abilities, interests and loves.

In many lines of work, a good leader can work alone while still accomplishing a lot of good for other people.  But church work is all about relationships.  Good church leaders relate with one another and learn about lives.

People come to the parish to fulfill their needs for compassion, solace, education and relationship.  Leaders in parishes often step forward with the same basic needs.  Even though they exercise their ministry at a different level, and even though they may be offering the same pastoral care to others, they deserve it for themselves

Paul Turner, a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, is pastor of St. Munchin Church in Cameron and of St. Aloysius Church in Maysville, Missouri.


This article first appeared in ParishWorks: Idea Source for Parish Leaders and Decision Makers 7/6 (July/August 2004):3.

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