The Ecclesial Leader

Am I focused on myself, on getting the job done, or on others?

Do I really know my volunteers or staff personally? Do I know their gifts and strengths?

Do they know that I genuinely care about them?

Do they feel comfortable asking questions and clarifying responsibilities?

Am I usually desperate to find volunteers, or do people ask to work with me?


A leader is one who inspires. Those who follow a leader want to be part of something successful. A leader helps them discern their strengths and gifts and develop these for the greater good. A leader provides vision and allows others to find their own unique paths. A successful leader listens to the needs of others and responds with creativity and hope. Leadership involves relationship building, active listening, follow-through, clear communication, and the creation of a shared vision. A leader has self-knowledge and a desire for self-improvement, which, in turn, influence the behaviors and attitudes of others.


An ecclesial leader knows that it is not about him or her. A diocesan or parish catechetical leader has a conviction to serve, because she or he has been called by God and the Church to serve. In 1975, Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi), “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”[1]


The catechetical leader has an overwhelming passion for proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to his or her local community. This passion inspires others to become missionary disciples. “It therefore cannot be reduced to the conveying of a message but is first of all sharing the life that comes from God and communicating the joy of having met the Lord. ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’”[2] Think about the way you lead. Would those with whom you work describe you as a joyful person because of your relationship with Jesus?

Leader or Manager?

Are you a leader or a manager? Is there a difference between the two? Within the church setting, leaders are often also managers, but managers are not always leaders. We may think of managers as people who are responsible for resources, such as the parish finances, the grounds and buildings, and the tasks associated with recordkeeping and personnel. A manager may oversee a sacramental preparation program and the paperwork, communication, and volunteer management this entails. Even if your ministry setting requires that you function as a manager, you can develop and practice leadership within your scope of influence.


Jesus modeled how we should work with others. He developed a personal relationship with his closest disciples. He ate with them and spent time with them. A pastoral minister should focus on the individual and the project or task to be completed. If volunteers or staff members feel appreciated, valued for their unique contributions, and part of a team, they will put forth their best efforts and want to contribute again in the future. Yes, this takes more time and work on your part, but overall, it is the best way to form disciples. In fact, the kerygma is at the heart of all we do (see “Making Disciples”). Pope Francis wrote, “To speak of a ‘culture of encounter’ means that we, as a people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone. This becomes an aspiration and a style of life.”[3]


As a parish leader, you mentor others. This means you have a sincere desire to assist them in becoming authentic missionary disciples through your own discipleship. A church minister helps parishioners develop their own potential, and they, in turn, can work with others in the same way. Disciples create disciples! The goal is to assist each parishioner to discern what he or she has to offer the faith community and to cherish individuals for who they are and the important parts they play in the mission of the parish. There is a sense of ownership of the parish and the parish mission. This leads to taking on responsibility as a disciple and caring for one another.[4]

The Ecclesial Leader in a Time of Change

Give people time to get used to new ways. They have to let go of the past and embrace the present reality. Give them a space for grieving, and allow for gradual acceptance. Clear guidelines and a consistent message from the pastor and staff are necessary. These times call for a “we’re all in this together” mentality. “We can do this! We are here with you.” These are messages that need to be communicated directly to the parishioners in many ways, many times.


Be honest about your limitations. Try new things. People will appreciate you and the staff more when they know you are trying. A positive attitude regarding change, constant relationship building, and a care and concern for each other are perhaps some of the most urgent needs at this time.


Collaboration with neighboring parishes can be helpful. Exchange information regularly and support each other. You may need to be the one to reach out to your colleagues first. You may gain new insights and even begin to partner with them to creatively meet the needs of your faith communities. At a time when resources are scarce, we do not need to be in competition.


It seems that trust has eroded in many sectors. It is important that catechetical leaders reestablish or strengthen trust with those with whom they work. Leaders need to model holiness and good health, which includes proper work-life balance. The staff and volunteers who work with us should experience us as persons of integrity.


Unlike businesses, which must define core values and purposes, the Church’s mission is clear and unchanging throughout time. The catechetical leader relentlessly finds ways to be prophetic for his or her particular community. This requires an openness to change and adaptability, which evolve according the unique culture of the diocese or parish and the ever-changing times. A catechetical leader is faithful to the Gospel in word and deed while creatively finding new methods to proclaim the Good News with relevance for today. The world changed profoundly in 2020. Strong catechetical leaders are needed now, perhaps more than ever before, to walk with people and to embrace necessary and effective change.

For Reflection

Self as Leader

  • Why am I in catechetical ministry and leadership? What motivates me? Why do I remain?
  • In what ways do I try to do my best and inspire the best in others? Do I feel the need to get things checked off my to-do list and go on to the next task?
  • Is my ministry in maintenance mode? Am I so busy that I do not have the time or mental and emotional energy to learn new ways of doing things? Am I on a quest for becoming my best self?
  • When I think of my ministry, I feel . . . (excited, fearful, dread, challenged, inspired, joyful, affirmed).

Relationship to Others

  • Do I take a genuine personal interest in the volunteers or staff with whom I work? Do I look at them when they are speaking to me? Do I know and care about their families and well-being?
  • Would those with whom I work consider me a holy person? Do I model a life of prayer?
  • Do I have healthy boundaries and a suitable work-life balance? Is rest, exercise, and family time a luxury or a regular part of my good physical and emotional health?
  • Do I trust others to do their best? Can I be trusted to follow through with my responsibilities?
  • Do I seek opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from neighboring parishes or faith groups? Do others ask to collaborate with me?

Goals and Feedback

  • Have I set personal and professional goals and established benchmarks to help with motivation and assessment?
  • Bonus: To really improve as a leader, consider getting anonymous 360-degree feedback from everyone around you. Ask parishioners, catechists, the pastor, your immediate supervisor, support staff, peers, and colleagues with whom you collaborate to respond to questions on several topics regarding your leadership. To follow up, create a specific action plan for development as a leader.


For Further Reading

Fostering Leadership Skills in Ministry: A Parish Handbook, by Jean Marie Hiesberger

Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, Jim Collins

For More Information on 360-Degree Feedback

Free webinar:


[1] EN 14.

[2] DC 68.

[3] Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter On Fraternity and Social Friendship (Fratelli Tutti) (Vatican City, 2020), 216.

[4] See DC 89.


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