Christopher Voigt: Parish leadership

Parish Leadership can take many forms and employ varying models, yet all good leadership hinges on teamwork. We need to lead out of a team. No one person has all the gifts: we all have blind spots and none of us sees all the perspectives.

The Church anticipates the fact that in certain places and at certain times, a Parish may not have priests who can actively lead the Pastoral Care of the Parish, and makes provision under Canon Law for the laity to share in the Pastoral Care of the Parish. In our own Diocese, we have a number of Parishes operating under differing models of how this co-responsibility works at a practical level. These models range from a Lay Parish Leader to varying compositions of Parish Leadership Teams, depending on the individual needs of the Parish community.

Whether a Parish is led by a priest, a deacon or by laity makes very little difference to whether the Parish has good leadership in place. The key element is co-responsibility. Pope Francis speaks very strongly about his desire to see a synodal Church, a church that is collaborative and for which clergy and laity are co-responsible for the needs of the community and the Mission of Christ. This is a radical shift in thinking for many Catholics (laity and clergy alike), yet an incredibly important step, if we are going to take seriously the responsibility that we have by virtue of our baptism to actively participate in the mission of the Church. Pope Francis says that:

“A leader is a good leader if he or she is able to generate other leaders among the young. If he only wants to be the sole leader, he is a tyrant… If they do not sow leadership in others, they are of no use, they are dictators.”

As the Parish Leader at Toronto, I have the privilege and responsibility to lead the faith community on a practical level, under the guidance of Fr Geoff who has been appointed priest supervisor and exercises this ministry as a ‘ministry of oversight’. Some aspects of my role are to ensure the efficient running of the Pastoral Ministries; that the community’s worship and prayer is vibrant, inclusive and engaging; that parishioners are engaged in their faith and being formed for mission; that the community remains focused on the Mission of Christ and to provide day to day pastoral care for parishioners; and this is far from an exhaustive list of the elements that make up the role of leadership in a Parish. As such, it is absolutely imperative that I have a strong team around me who are not simply advisors, but rather are 110% committed to the vision and mission of our Parish community: a vision that has at its heart the desire to see all people Encounter Jesus in a life-changing way.

One person cannot do everything in a Parish Community, regardless of whether they are lay, religious or clergy. They simply must raise up others to share in various levels of leadership if the Parish is going to be a vibrant, life-giving community of faithful disciples who take seriously the call to mission. Pope Francis says that:

“We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations.”

Yet, this is not because God has somehow forgotten to gift people with vision, passion and creativity, but rather because more often than not, we fail to recognise the giftedness within the community and raise up leaders who are empowered to take responsibility.

Team leadership requires a balance of gifts and strengths, high accountability, trust and vulnerability if it is to be an effective model in a Parish. The team must be cohesive, committed  and ready to engage in healthy conflict in order to discern the best path forward for the community if the team is to be effective; and the leader must be strategic, ready to cast vision and willing to listen to the wisdom of each member of the team in order for this to truly be a collaborative group that will empower the community to live the mission of Christ fruitfully. At times the leader will also need to graciously step aside to allow the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of others without getting in the way.

Parish leadership is about serving the community, raising up others and empowering them to take ownership of their baptismal call to mission. When we get this right, we have got leadership right in a Parish. We will see the Church become animated, alive and filled with the Holy Spirit. We will see people brought to the feet of Jesus. We will see them transformed by God’s Spirit. They will become passionate about the mission of Christ and the Church will grow.

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