Servant Leadership in the Parish

Cheryl Bachelder, author of “Dare to Serve” gives us instructions on how to adopt a Servant Leadership model in our workplace. Now, you’d think that would be a natural model for a parish but since the Church is a hierarchical institution, the idea of servant leadership may seem foreign.

To make Servant Leadership work, you need to adopt it in an intentional way. There are 3 reasons to adopt a Servant Leadership Model.

1. Servant Leadership aligns the organization with a bold vision. The vision is the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And that is as bold as it gets! The Creator of all the Universe has chosen to need to partner with us in order for this to happen. Speaking of BOLD! The mission is to proclaim the Gospel near and far. Or said another way, the mission is to let all the world know that God-is-with-us, now and forever. A parish’s mission statement indicates just how it will participate in that bold vision and specific mission. Then what falls underneath all of that are the what’s and the methods, resources, planning, prioritization, formation of people to do it, etc. Look to your mission statement for guidance and if it is too vague, rewrite it. What does this parish stand for? Then your leadership needs to own that vision and work out of it. Do we have the resources to do everything? Or should we narrow our services to that for which we have charisms?
2. A Servant Leader listens to the people for the benefit of everyone involved. Listening tells people their leaders want and need their input and that each individual is important to accomplishing the mission. Listening also means leaders will hear criticism as well as accolades. Pastoral care requires that ecclesial leaders listen to the people of God, especially when they entrust them with their most private concerns. Hearing is natural. Listening is intentional. Pastoral care requires both.
3. Staff and parishioners need to believe in a higher purpose, the bold vision. They need to feel in their bones that this is important. They must know the answer to the questions “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” “Where are we going?” and “How will we know we are on the right path?”

Being a servant leader requires humility. While humility has a lot of components, the first one is this: The leader does not know better than anyone, or more than anyone and he/she needs to state that clearly and frequently, and then be curious, listen well and embrace what others have to offer. Followers respect this kind of openness.

Equipping the Saints is our contribution designed to help you embrace Servant Leadership.

Stay tuned for further blog posts on how to become the leaders your parish needs.


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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.