I wish The Better Pastor, A Fable about Embracing the Role of Leading a Parish by Patrick Lencioni had been written when I was a young pastor. Lencioni, a layman who specializes in leadership and team building, has written fifteen books on business team management; the best known is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a business fable which dramatizes team dynamics and solutions to help teams perform better. In this Catholic fable, Lencioni manages to zero in on the core problems facing Church leaders, challenging them to embrace simple concepts which will transform the way they serve the people God.
The Better Pastor
The book flap of The Better Pastor quotes words from his fable, “As he approached the door to the Sacristy, Fr. Daniel Connor had no idea that his parish and his priesthood – was about to be changed forever”. Then he explains:
This book is a fictional, yet realistic story; lovingly written for all those priests in the world who are not only spiritual shepherds, but also leaders of the organizations we call parishes. Being the pastor of a Catholic parish is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. Whether they are responsible for a small rural parish, medium-sized urban one, or large suburban-mega parish, all pastors have one thing in common: they can’t do it alone.
Though it’s been a long time since I served as a pastor, I found this book an extremely helpful, and an easy read. Unfortunately, many wonderful priests find that becoming a pastor can be overwhelming and lonely. It can diminish the joy of their vocation, which is a needless tragedy. That’s the opinion of the author, and I agree with him. He has written best-selling books on leadership for businessman and applied the same skills to parish life.
The Church explains the central role of a priest is service:
the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood…. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders (CCC 1547).
However, Lancioni shows parish priests how to serve and lead. Here’s an introduction in his own words:
- A pastor is not just a priest but the leader of an organization that requires management and leadership skills. 2. Part of leading an organization is holding people accountable for excellence, which often involves difficulty, uncomfortable and loving conversations. 3. A pastor needs a real management team to do this. 4. A pastor needs support from “outsiders” and other priests.
Although practical tips can help a priest lead his people, it is the Mass, which is the source and summit of our faith, is the most visible sign of the health of a parish. Excellence IN THE CELEBRATION OF MASS encourages parishioners and visitors to become more involved in going deeper in their faith and parish life.
It is in the Eucharistic cult or in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful (synaxis) that they exercise in a supreme degree their sacred office; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father.” From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength (CCC 1566).
Becoming a Better Pastor
For all struggling young pastors and lay leaders, I must remind you that learning how to lead will take time, involve pain if an honest job report has to be issued. Don’t back off and accept mediocrity.
Explore some amazing websites. Read great books on this topic. Pray and enlist others to ask God’s help in achieving the goal of being the pastor God wants you to be.
May the Lord be your strength and your joy.