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The Better Pastor: Learning to really manage your parish

By Peter Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 26, 2016

Patrick Lencioni is a well-respected business author, writing primarily about team leadership and management. The magic of his popular books, written in the fable format, is that he uses storytelling to engage the heart and the mind—and unbeknownst to either, to begin the change process.

In The Better Pastor: A Fable about Embracing the Role of Leading a Parish, Lencioni explores the changes which ensue when a priest begins to realize that sound management techniques can help create a culture of excellence in his parish. Published by Lighthouse Catholic Publishing, it’s hundred pages can be read quickly, but it is a very human, intriguing and challenging tale.

When asked to review Lencioni’s new book, I enthusiastically agreed. I and other Catholic businesspeople have often wondered whether it is possible or appropriate to apply ethical business leadership principles to running the affairs of the Church, on both a global and local level. I have come to the conclusion that this is indeed both possible and appropriate.

In The Better Pastor, Lencioni approaches the subject on a local level, which is indeed the easiest and best way to begin. Change begins in the heart, and Lencioni seeks to engage the hearts of pastors in this book.

When my father, Dr. Jeff Mirus, asked me to review this work, we had the following email exchange.

Dad: “I thought the book was well-focused and might be very useful to priests who haven’t really thought about their role as managers. Pope Francis recently said we need missionaries not managers, but the point of this book (which I think is quite valid) is that if a missionary develops some rudimentary management priorities and skills, his overall mission is going to be far more effective.”
Me: “Without having read the book, I would say the parish pastor is not dissimilar from the head of any nonprofit organization. He has a set of mission-based imperatives that must be administrated using a certain set of skills. If you don’t have the ability to place key people in the right positions to achieve success (aka, ‘management’), you will not succeed in leading the flock. But that doesn’t mean that every pastor must have the same leadership style or set of natural strengths. What is does mean is that he must be sufficiently well grounded in practical knowledge and grace to be able to ‘build the team’ necessary for success.”

It is appropriate to mention that I have worked in and with nonprofit organizations (Catholic, Christian, and secular) for nearly 20 years, and at present engage with nonprofit organizations in a manner that integrates mission and strategy with data and technology. To put it mildly, this involves a lot of change management.

The most important element in driving successful change at an organization is strong, consistently engaged executive leadership. The next most important element is a strong team with all of the qualities necessary to move the change process through to completion. And it is important to recognize that though some change initiatives are larger than others, change is a continuous process.

It is not surprising that Lencioni and I are on the same page in regards to these sentiments. After all, I have read many of his books and have enthusiastically recommended them to others. His work, along with that of Jim Collins and others, has reshaped my perspective on the nature of powerful leadership and its effects.

Lencioni, in a gentle way, reminds pastors that effective team leadership or management is necessary to lead the flock—and to guide the transition from a mediocre parish to an excellent, thriving one. In doing so, in no way does he shortchange the power of prayer, the efficacy of the sacraments, or the necessity for the pastor to fulfill his priestly vocation.

In the book, Lencioni gives pastors a few simple tools to help get started. Also, through The Amazing Parish movement, additional support is available.

It is certainly possible to be a great manager AND a great missionary. Perhaps Pope Francis means that too many pastors have become consumed with temporal goods as an excuse to shy away from that daring missionary spirit, thinking more about what they have to lose than what they can gain.

This book is far from a “how to” book about how to run the operations of a parish—and hence is applicable to pastors managing parishes of all sizes, locations, and levels of financial resources. This book helps demonstrate that whatever your circumstances, running a spiritually wealthy parish is within your reach.

All it requires is the humility to change, the willingness to learn, and the courage to act.

Recommendations for Additional Reading

In this book, the “change catalyst” character recommends that pastors read books on team leadership and management as a part of their growth. Certainly, pastors could benefit from many if not all of Lencioni’s own books, which are available here: http://www.tablegroup.com/books/. Specifically, I would recommend The Five Temptations of a CEO and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, two of his most popular works.

Additionally, there are several works by other authors that I would recommend.

Peter Mirus is a business, marketing and technology consultant who serves as a guiding member of the Trinity Communications Board of Directors. He has served as director of design and/or application development for many key Catholic projects since 1993, assisting such organizations as EWTN, the Knights of Columbus, and the March for Life. A specialist in non-profit organizations, he continues to work regularly on the design mission of CatholicCulture.org.
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