The Need for Catholic Leadership Development
Leadership development is increasingly implemented today in business, government, and academic institutions, but sadly, it is rarer in the Church. While generic “turn-key” leadership programs are available, Catholic parishes, dioceses, and organizations can use another approach that is grounded in the Word of God.
This seven-part series will highlight “Scripture-Based Leadership,” developed from research and study conducted during the author’s participation in the McGrath Institute’s Certificate in Catholic Theology courses. By using a Scripture-based, research-affirmed approach, those who serve the Church can grow and be inspired on their faith and leadership journeys.
Sacred Scripture is a rich source of teachings about how to be a leader in the Church. By developing an understanding of and appreciation for the biblical message of mission and leadership, leaders are better positioned to help parishes confront the challenges they face, especially in today’s secular, self-driven society.
A Framework for Living the Gospel
Using a common, Scripture-based framework provides both a launching point for leadership exploration and a strong anchor to the Word of God. Scripture-Based Leadership is both spiritual and practical. Leadership development is Christian development. It strengthens faith, helps leaders model Christian values, and engages others. Leadership development is life-giving, and like faith, it is a never-ending process. It also helps leaders to engage one another, accompanying and supporting each other as fellow leaders and disciples of Jesus. Having a common language and framework can build the leadership capacity of any faith-based organization. Having a common understanding can create space for further dialogue and discernment.
What is Leadership?
John’s Gospel states, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1), affirming the centrality of language and words in communication and revelation. Words must first be well-defined and given the context necessary for understanding. So, what does leadership mean? Specifically, what does it mean for leaders in the Catholic Church today? What follows is the author’s adaptation of a poignant definition of leadership from Dr. Gary Yukl, author of Leadership in Organizations:
Leadership is the process of an individual to motivate, influence, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the team’s mission.
This definition is useful because it can help unpack different passages in Scripture, encouraging fruitful reflection on leadership. How did Moses motivate the Jewish people to keep moving forward in the desert (Exodus 15)? What influence did Samuel use in reproving King Saul (1 Samuel 13)? How did Jesus enable the Apostles to be effective missionaries (Luke 6:12)? Such reflection can help men and women in the Church discern how they are called to be leaders, and what leadership may look like in daily life.
- Leadership is a process. It never ends, but continually provides opportunities to learn, grow, and live as Jesus teaches.
- Leadership is both individual and collective. Leaders are not meant to serve themselves, but others. One does not need a formal title or position to be a leader; rather, through the Holy Spirit, one helps others and empowers them to act (see Mark 5:13 and Mark 18).
- Leadership entails positive direction and movement. Leaders must be concerned both about the vision set forth and the people who work toward it. Communication, relationship, and influence empower and motivate everyone to move in the right direction (see Luke 10).
- Leaders invite and value everyone’s contribution. Just like the poor widow who gave all she had (see Mark 12:42–43), everyone has gifts and talents, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Leaders must help harness these gifts and talents in others for the betterment of the Church and its mission (see Acts 10:45).
While many in the Church lack formal leadership training, that should not stop anyone from trying. Awareness (first of one’s self and then of one’s leadership skills) is often the most important step in one’s leadership development.
In this series, you will be invited to reflect upon various facets of Scripture-Based Leadership, beginning with this suggested assessment exercise. In completing the assessment, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus, and the wisdom of the Father, so that you can bring others closer to Christ through your leadership.
Like what you read? Submit your email below to have our newest blogs delivered directly to your inbox each week.