The Pastor’s Toolbox – A Spiritual Reflection

A number of years ago, the National Catholic Education Association entered onto a project to see what exactly priests, and especially pastors, do all day. The idea was that if they could determine what priests/pastors are called upon to do in their ministry, they could use this information to form courses within the seminary in order to better and more practically prepare seminarians for the practical aspects of their vocations.

The result of the study was In Fulfillment of their Mission. Incidentally, the study found that priest/pastors have 9 major areas of responsibility, each  having between 6 – 11 tasks cross-graded by 5 different competency levels (from novice to expert). Thus an experienced priest/pastor could, theoretically, be responsible for almost 365 individual tasks, a seemingly daunting resume.                                           Fr. Charles Zlock

Actually, no person could do this task and no seminary-training program can prepare anyone for this scope of responsibility. Thus it is incumbent on the priest, after ordination, to make sure that he engages in some type of “on-going formation” in order to keep his skills up to date.  Guidelines for this idea of “on-going formation” were originally proposed by Pope John Paul II in his 1992 document I Will Give You Shepherds. In the year 2000, US Bishops Conference published further, more detailed guidelines in their document, The Basic Plan for Ongoing Formation for Priests.

Mark Oppenheimer

Recently, Mark Oppenheimer of the New York Times published an article entitled, “Helping Catholics by Teaching Priests How to Be the Boss.” It reported on a retreat/workshop for pastors sponsored by the Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.  The “Leadership Roundtable” which was founded in 2005 by lay Catholics to offer leadership expertise to the Catholic Church. The group is now active in about two-thirds of the 195 American dioceses.

This particular workshop introduced pastors to an initiative called the Toolbox for Pastoral Management. The “Leadership” website  describes the toolbox as:

… designed to help fill that void with valuable information, insights, and practical tools that pastors need in order to begin handling the complexities of parish management in the twenty-first century. It candidly addresses:

  • Hiring, evaluating, coaching, and inspiring members of your parish team.
  • Budgeting and financial analysis
  • Working seamlessly with laity
  • Managing skills essential to fundraising
  • Protecting a parish’s assets
  • Best practices to operate a parish effectively

Each chapter is written by experts, both clergy and lay, with years of experience and leadership in their respective field.

I was associated with the “Roundtable” while Chaplain at the Penn Newman Center and got to meet a number of its members and see their work close up. They are a valuable gift to the Church and their work is providential. Personally I never attended this workshop but I know priests who have and have found the experience rewarding, helpful, hopeful and stimulating.

A similar programmatic initiative was developed here in Philadelphia a number of years of ago by the Catholic Leadership Institute.  Founded by Father Chuck Pfeffer and Timothy Flanagan, CLI:                                          Fr. Chuck Pfeffer                                         Timothy Flanagan

“Catholic Leadership Institute provides bishops, priests, deacons and lay persons in the Roman Catholic Church with world-class, pastoral leadership formation and consulting services that strengthen their confidence and competence in ministry, enabling them to articulate a vision for their local church, to call forth the gifts of those they lead, and to create more vibrant faith communities rooted in Jesus Christ.” 

For pastors, CLI offers their “Good Leaders – Good Shepherds”   model, which is a “world class curriculum… by which priests can minimize the frustration and energy that they spend on their administrative roles, and instead, maximize the joy and time spent on the pastoral duties for which they were uniquely ordained.” A similar curriculum, entitled “Tending the Talents,” exists for parish and diocesan leaders in their own unique role in ministry.

Matt Manion

In 2007, I was invited by our own Matt Manion (President and CEO of CLI) to participate in a focus group, which was rewriting the curriculum for “Good Leaders-Good Shepherds.”  It was one of the most rewarding and helpful endeavors I have had in 20 years of priesthood. Along with CLI, “The Roundtable” and the “Pastors Toolbox,” numerous high-quality, professional resources are being developed for the church to help them in addressing the challenges of the New Evangelization.

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