Good Leaders’ taking root quietly in parishes

By Michael Brown
Idaho Catholic Register

January 18, 2013

BOISE — The “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” for pastors and priests, begun 15 months ago, is already having a significant impact in parishes, said Father Jose T. Ramirez, a participant and parochial vicar at Risen Christ Parish.

“It’s given us the skills to be more efficient with our time and more effective as leaders,” he said in an interview Jan. 9. Much of that impact might not be evident to the average Catholic attending weekend Masses, at least not yet, Father Ramirez said. That’s because training focuses on, among other things, participants recognizing their own strengths and challenges, recognizing the strengths and challenges of members of the parish staffs and building effective parish leadership teams. As those developments play out among the priests and parish leadership, the general parish populations will begin to see the results in more sublime, subtle ways, Father Ramirez said. “It’s more beneficial for the staff internally.”

For example, at Risen Christ, he is working on building a Communications Ministry that draws representatives from the various offices and ministries together so all those groups are aware of what is going on in leadership and ministry. While that might not produce results that can be seen by most parishioners, it will reduce duplication, confusion and stress in the parish structure, which creates a better environment for ministry to flourish, he added. “Over time, people should be able to notice a difference.”

Good Leaders, Good Shepherds ”is a program developed by the Catholic Leadership Institute, a national independent non-profit in Philadelphia. The goal was to help clergy build personal and leadership skills. It began in November 2011 and is scheduled to conclude this June.

Father Ramirez said the process began with the CLI team helping priests identify their own personality types or dispositions and other general types, reflecting the personalities of the parishioners and staff they encounter each day. “Once you understand these concepts, you can see how they play out in the parish staff.” “There are no such things as wrong dispositions,” he added.

“Sometimes there are disposition conflicts, and we have the knowledge of how to deal with those.” It’s been helpful when he needs to sit down with parishioners as they come in to meet with him, Father Ramirez added. “We are able to use these concepts on a daily basis.” When priests identify their own dispositions, they are encouraged to recognize their limitations and then to overcome them on occasion, he said. For example, a priest who may be introverted can designate an extroverted member of the parish staff to lead some events, but then stretch his own limits when a situation requires him to lead. Knowing the different personality types also allows priests to form teams and assign leaders depending on the task involved. For example, Father Ramirez said, a person who is concept-oriented is better fitted for parish planning than for hands-on ministry such as food distribution.

The priests participating in the program represent a variety of ministry experiences, with many participants from among the recently ordained, including himself, Father Ramirez said. One benefit is to help priests learn to rely on each other for support. “It’s a very fraternal group.”

He noted, however, that while his seminary preparation included several practical pastoral courses, the materials from “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” provide insights and models not covered in seminary. “It complements what we learned in seminary and makes it more complete.”

While the program emerges from Anglo models of parish leadership, “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” has much to offer priests who, like himself, come from other cultural groups, Father Ramirez said. “Coming out of an American culture, some of these concepts are new to us.” However, part of the model allows for adjusting and applying the concepts to individual parish needs, making them feasible for communities with specific cultural constituencies.

“What’s important is keeping people motivated,” Father Ramirez said, “so some concepts won’t be applicable in some communities.” One example of how some elements cross cultures is in meeting management. Many priests report frustration with committee meetings that seem to lack direction or fail to find solutions to problems, Father Ramirez said. “This gives you the skills to state a clear purpose for each meeting and to manage meetings efficiently.”

While there are some opportunities for priests attending the quarterly training sessions at Nazareth Retreat Center to discuss their progress, Father Ramirez said having more time for feedback with the larger group would be helpful. He also suggested that some follow-up sessions in a few years to see how the skills learned have played out. Making the program more affordable also would likely make it available to more priests, he added.