Serving and Leading Clergy With(out) Authority
Introduction of the Issue to be Addressed
One of the biggest challenges a lay senior executive has in ministering with tenured clergy in a Catholic diocese (and perhaps to some extent in many denominational traditions) is the tension between being called to serve the clergy while simultaneously leading the clergy without having any formal authority over them. Navigating these tensions in a manner which respects both administrators and the clergy is key to effective and collegial ministry.
I explored various types of materials and put them in conversation with one another: documents of the Catholic Church and from other academic sources on priesthood, Catholic documents on lay ecclesial ministry, writings from Catholic and Protestant theologians, and academic materials from professional business literature on leadership and psychology. Materials from these diverse sources were tied together to develop a protocol on how those who are in non-ordained leadership roles that lack formal authority can best work with those and through those where there is not a relationship where one reports to another person, in terms of a hierarchical organization chart.
It is crucial for successful diocesan or judicatory executives to be able to bridge the tensions between serving and leading in a way that respects the clergy while also addressing the need for accountability in the church and in the administration of parishes. I explored how the protocols related to servant leadership are best used in this circumstance. Those who are successful in bridging this tension have found a way to honor the clergy’s challenges, establish win-win outcomes, and establish credibility and integrity with the clergy.
While there will be times when viewpoints of the clergy and the administrators differ, the research validates my theory that when trust, empathy, and commitment to service have been effectively built, it replaces the need for formal authority, reducing the tension inherent in this unique church position. The work of Ronald Heifetz and others on approaching leadership by diagnosing situations based on the values at play while avoiding solutions based simply on hierarchical relationships on where people align in an organization chart provide important guidance for those who are called to lead without formal authority.
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