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Leaders are Thinkers

Deborah Stollery

The global pandemic has certainly thrown us for a loop.  What was is not, and perhaps will not be again at least until we can be sure gathering in large groups will not result in harm to one another.  So, what’s an ecclesial leader to do?  On April 27, 2020 the National Catholic Reporter published an article by Peter Feuerherd entitled “US bishops wrestle with whether or how to open churches.”[i]  What’s a leader to do, indeed?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging around HOW to think about all of this.  Not WHAT to think, but what thought processes and systems might be useful as leaders wrestle with today and tomorrow.  It’s clear that these are complex decisions with high stakes.  Therefore, it’s necessary for the thought processes and the people involved in them to be as deliberate and transparent as possible.  No one alive right now has dealt with something like Covid19, a global pandemic.  So, it stands to reason that if everyone is a first-timer at this, then developing ways to think about this before making decisions has the potential to do two things: assure your people that this process is deliberative, collaborative and cooperative; and, yield better decisions.

Because I write predominantly for the Catholic Church, I’ll be using that context.  However, I believe that the suggestions here are sound for ecclesial leaders of all Christian denominations, tasked with making what are literally life-changing decisions.  So let me begin here by re-stating what I said above.  No one alive today has done this before.  Everyone is a first-timer at this.  That means that it is more necessary than ever to have a team of people working together to come to decisions.  The thinking process in an uncharted area benefits from a wide variety of people participating in it.  This is NOT the sole work of Bishops (collectively or in small groups) or individually, nor is it the sole work of a pastor.  So the first HOW is to create a deliberative team.  Do not go this alone.  That is a recipe for decisions that do not take into consideration enough perspectives.  Flatten the hierarchy and invite in others, representative both of the expertise you need and the people you serve.  Then together, bow before the Lord in humility and pray for a generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The next “HOW” in terms of how to think about this is to trust the metanarrative that is the life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, perhaps in ways you’ve not previously trusted it.  Every age has its metanarratives and this age is no different.  The pandemic is highlighting various aspects of the secular narrative that is largely based in an economic model of humanity.  But Christianity has a different view, a different story that must inform the decisions being made, perhaps in ways it has not done so.  The worldview offered to us by Jesus is one of the meeting of heaven and earth, of the interconnection of those two realities.  It is a worldview that values God’s creation, values humanity as imago Dei, speaks of a common good, of solidarity and unity, of charity and justice.  It’s a worldview that measures the coming of the Kingdom in the currency of how well the last, lost and least among us are faring.  It’s a worldview that sees economies in service to people, not people in service to economies.  And it is a worldview that is in constant tension with the current cultures, around the globe.  So “how-to” step #2?  Get deep inside the Christian story, and make sure that the theological perspectives and the Church “law” that you are using reflect the Jesus-story, no matter how painful the conclusions the Catholic Christian worldview demand. 

I’ll leave you with these questions to ponder as you move forward, leading the people of God through a pandemic and yet closer to Christ:

  1. What parts of the Jesus story already influence your leadership approach? What parts might you need to explore more deeply?  What parts of the Catholic Tradition can guide your  reflection?
  2. How comfortable are you with the passing of the old way? That something new is to come and you may be totally ill-equipped for that new creation?  What parts of the “way we were” are you most attached to and why?  What will help you let them go?  And what of your flock?
  3. What is God asking of you as His presence in this pandemic? As the leader of your flock? As a leader within the parish?  How willing are you to do what God asks, even if it means giving up what you’ve been doing?
  4. Of what are you most fearful? Why?  How can prayer assist in living with the fear, surrendering to the unknown, trust in God?

The next blog will list 6 steps in how to think about this.  Subsequent blogs after that will take a look at each of those steps.

You can go to our home page, www.conspirita.com, for the White Paper entitled “Wrapping your Head around a New Normal: A Pandemic that Changes Everything” for a full look at these ideas.  There’s no fee for it.  We’re here to help you lead a flock that is now dispersed and increasingly desperate for you to show them the way.

[i] https://www.ncronline.org/news/parish/us-bishops-wrestle-whether-or-how-open-churches

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