What does it mean to be a "good" pastor?

Walking with Leaders - October 15th, 2020

“The priesthood is not really so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others.”

St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests

What are the skills, talents, or attributes of a “good” pastor? What does it even mean to be a “good” or “effective” pastor? Catholic Leadership Institute is grateful to engage with dioceses across the country to seek the answer.

Over the next four years, Catholic Leadership Institute is partnering with 12-15 dioceses to conduct pilots of a new service named Called for More to revolutionize the way we prepare, support, and develop priests for transitions to new assignments. In support of diocesan leadership and the care entrusted to leaders for their priests and parishes, we have envisioned a multi-dimensional approach, which consists of a process to support the diocese to improve its care of priests and parishes, an experience for priests that will benefit their ongoing formation regardless of age or assignment, and a resource to parishes that helps them understand their unique role and vision as a faith community.

Over the prior two years, Catholic Leadership Institute researched how dioceses plan for priest assignments and transitions to understand everything that is considered during the process. In 2019 four dioceses accepted the invitation to be the first cohort of dioceses to refine the offering.

Priests were given the opportunity to reflect on experiences, preferences, and passions in their ministry, and asked to invite peers to provide input, plus take a third-party assessment to provide an objective view of their inherent characteristics.

Catholic Leadership institute partnered with Infor Talent Science to provide the objective assessment. Infor Talent Science is a people analytics business that uses data science across a wide span of behaviors to provide insight into a person’s behavioral preferences. Infor has worked with leading companies across industries to create profiles that help them identify most likely candidates for key roles. Now they are applying the science to serve the Catholic Church.

Clearly, there is no one definition of what makes a pastor effective. The many combinations of parish and parishioner circumstances require nuanced and relational responses from the pastor. However, there are common responsibilities pastors share across all parishes which can be defined and benchmarked, along with the range of behaviors of pastors in their ministry. The data gathered through Called for More, combined with the extensive data from over 225,000 respondents to the Disciple Maker Index, and the input and observations from partner diocesan leaders provide a comprehensive view of pastors across the full spectrum or parish environments.

While feedback can be challenging, pastors do not often have the opportunity to receive objective information. “It was a nice thing to be given to me,” says Fr. Scott Winchell, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Macon, GA, “it provides me the information to reflect on my plans and goals.”

Fr. Jerry Herda, Vicar for Priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, says the offering has helped them expand their pool of coach-mentors for priests: “The Archdiocese has historically assigned mentors to newly ordained priests. With Called for More, more experienced priests have access to someone who can support them in their growth plans.”

Over time, Catholic Leadership Institute plans to provide profiles of characteristics that map to pastors of different parish sizes and environments, so diocesan leaders have better information to help align pastors and parishes, and the information to help priests in their development for future assignments. We are grateful to be working with dioceses to transform how we prepare, support, and develop priests to thrive in their ministry!

by Terry Poplava

Oct 15, 2020

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