Leaders Think Systematically

We’re already heading into decision-time.  When to open the doors?  How?  To whom?  Why or why not?  How do we make these decisions and be confident that we did so in ways we can defend and communicate?  How do we wrap our heads around what will likely be a constant need to make new decisions as we learn more about the virus and gain experience in this different world? 

This blog is for ecclesial leaders, who, like leaders in all other organizations, are facing the same questions.  However, ecclesial leaders are required to use some different thought processes in order to arrive at their decisions.  This blog will list what I suggest is a solid process for ecclesial leaders.  In subsequent blogs, I’ll spend a little more time with these six elements.  Why?  Because ecclesial leaders not only need to manage the parameters of communal health, they need to do so in ways that are consonant with Christ’s teaching, the Church’s mission and the parish’s resources.  And, ecclesial leaders have the added responsibility of doing this in such a way that they lead their people closer to Christ and participate in the coming of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  So you see, it’s so much more than just when to open the doors and all the logistics associated with that.

Here is a system of thinking you can use to begin to wrap your head around all of the decisions you will be making in the months and perhaps years ahead:

  1. Name the signs of the times. The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World says that the hopes and dreams, the joys and sorrow of the people of God are the concern of the Church.[i]  That’s another way of saying that pastoral leaders must know the signs of the times, and in this pandemic time, they are changed.
  2. Identify the kind of leadership those signs of the times need. The way you have been leading, presiding, teaching, accompanying, gathering, listening and making decisions has changed because of physical distancing, quarantine and fear.  Today’s times may call for varying types of leadership.  Identify them.
  3. Assess your current leadership team (and your own leadership as a pastor), call forth new leaders, embrace concepts and skills necessary to lead in these times. To be blunt, what you have been doing is not what you can continue doing and most of you know that.  A small team of people cannot possibly care for a church as widely disbursed as we currently are with as many needs as we have. The needs are too great, the distances too far, the length of time unknown.  That changes how leaders lead.
  4. Reach people right now in their short term needs: pastor now even while you think about later. Many of you have already jumped on live-streaming Masses, scripture reflections,  Zoom meetings and the like.  What else do your people need right now in order to know that their parish cares about them, their Bishop cares about them and therefore the Lord is with them?
  5. Begin contingency thinking. Contingency thinking is “If this______, then this _____, with these consequences_______.“  Leaders begin this in order to look at possibilities ahead of time, process their own emotions and reactions, begin to ponder resources and to consider implications.  It is not a waste of time.  It is the work of leaders, even as others may make decisions that impact this thinking.  This process prepares you to respond rather than react to decisions outside of your control and it allows you to exercise prudent control of your thoughts and emotions while you ponder.
  6. Embrace the humility of learning right along with those you are asked to lead and those with whom you are leading. Seek their insights, experience, knowledge and spirituality.  No one has ever done this before, so the learning community is vast and ripe with the Spirit’s gifts.  Listen to hear the voice of the Lord in wisdom, in surprise, in consolation and challenge.  But listen widely.

So there you have it: a way to wrap your head around what is happening.  If you’d like to read more about this, the entire White Paper upon which these blogs are based can be found here.  And if you’d like a thought partner outside of your organization, feel free to contact us.  The first hour is complimentary.


[i] The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World  #1


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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.