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Reviewed by:
  • Collaborative Parish Leadership: Contexts, Models, Theology ed. by William A. Clark, Daniel Gast
  • Charles E. Zech
Collaborative Parish Leadership: Contexts, Models, Theology. Edited by William A. Clark and Daniel Gast. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017. 246pp. $90.00.

In 2005 the USCCB published Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry which emphasized that the ordained and lay staff are co-workers, that is, collaborators. However, even the most casual observer would recognize that this goal is seldom achieved in most parishes. The reasons are many, but up until now they have not been systematically studied.

Now comes Collaborative Parish Leadership: Contexts, Models, Theology. This edited volume is a report on Project INSPIRE (“Identify, Nurture, and Sustain Pastoral Imagination through Resources for Excellence”), a partnership between the Archdiocese of Chicago and Loyola University, Chicago that was funded by the Lilly Endowment initiative Sustaining Pastoral Excellence. [End Page 101]

The goal of the project was to assist pastors and parish staff to grow into a collaborative parish leadership team. The key component of the program was the use of organizational consultants assigned to work on-site with parish-based pastoral staffs. Eventually the project included 46 parishes.

Among the questions that the project addressed were:

  • • What did INSPIRE stakeholders learn about organizational consultation with pastors and their staffs?

  • • What expressions of collaborative pastoral leadership mark the transition from pastoral staff to pastoral leadership team? How can consultative relationships assist that development?

  • • How is organizational consulting in Catholic parishes nuanced from other NGO consulting?

The book also includes chapters contributed by members of the Catholic Faculty at Ruhr University of Bochum, who are engaged in the CrossingOver Project, which has participated in intercultural exchanges with the Archdiocese of Chicago and Loyola University over the years.

Co-editors William A. Clark and Daniel Gast summarized the book’s findings in their chapter “Collaboration in a Pastoral Key.” They first identified some common impediments to collaborative leadership that most of us have probably observed in our own parishes. These included:

  • • a “culture of task” – a relentless, nearly addictive drive on the part of parish staff to be at work. Staff meetings were viewed as preventing people from doing their work

  • • inattention to mission, vision, and values

  • • loss of perspective sustained by a lack of reflection

  • • perfunctory prayer, or no prayer shared with colleagues

  • • workplace silos

  • • inadequate continuing education, reading, and spiritual direction

  • • alternatively fractious or compliant relationships among staff

  • • concealment of conflict

  • • resistance to change

These impediments negatively impacted both the organization and the people involved. However, they tended to be mitigated as the staff grew collaboratively. In addition, staff members learned to name each other’s gifts and call one another to pastoral leadership, in the process developing discipleship among parishioners to form a vibrant parish community.

The book concludes by identifying a sequence of steps typical in the transition to a collaborative parish staff. However the editors caution [End Page 102] that the movement from one stage to another might not proceed smoothly. These included:

  • • Admitting that communication and organization among the staff could be improved.

  • • Discussing these issues in a “safe place,” typically an informal setting where respect and confidentiality are maintained.

  • • Engaging a facilitator who would help move the group forward until they were ready to take ownership.

  • • Working at developing a spiritual community.

  • • Working at developing more advanced communication skills, such as discourse, debate, and dialogue.

  • • Focusing on communicating about mission, not merely tasks and programming.

  • • Proclaiming the mission to parishioners and working with them to develop an attractive vision of what the parish could be.

This is a valuable book that provides many important observations and helpful suggestions. While each chapter is interesting in itself, the real value of the book lies in the wonderful job that the editors have done in summarizing the findings. In fact, one could get all the important insights that the book offers by reading just the first two chapters and the concluding chapter.

Charles E. Zech
Villanova University


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pp. 101-103
Launched on MUSE
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