This is a question/conversation that comes up fairly regularly with seminarians and priests. I strongly believe that in most American parishes it is NOT enough to just serve well and that one of the things we are called to do as “fathers” is lead.
- Yes, we need to strengthen our own life in Christ through asceticism and the rigors of Orthopraxis (e.g. prayer rule, fasting, study of Scripture, repentance, the cultivation of virtue, etc.).
- Yes, we need to serve the weekly and festal services well (to include preaching).
- Yes, we need to see to the sacramental and pastoral needs of our people.
- Yes, we need to provide regular education (e.g. Bible Study).
- Yes, we make ourselves available for other things, as needed (within limits!).
These are things that are listed in parish and diocesan Constitutions, and they are there for a reason. Far too many of us skimp on these and all of us probably need to step up our game in at least one of these areas. Lord knows I do. These activities are necessary for us to be effective parish priests, but they are not sufficient (although I’m sure there are exceptions).
Let me present my case through the presentation of an irony: there are priests who are satisfied with their service to the extent they have fulfilled the above requirements … but then complain that their parish treats them as an employee. Of course, in a sense we are employees of the parish (they pay us for certain services) and it is certainly true that we should be evaluated by both our bishops and our people based on how well we do the above.
But we are not called and ordained to be employees, we are called to be fathers. Fathers do not just serve their families; THEY LEAD THEM. Much family dysfunction results from fathers neglecting this calling (or aren’t there to do it at all).
Based on my limited observations, we do not do a good job in or after seminary teaching our priests how to lead. And yes, leadership can be taught. It’s easier to teach it to someone who has the knack for it, but it is a skill that can be learned. I went through many courses and much OJT for the Army on how to lead; I’m pretty thick-skulled, but some of it eventually sunk in.
And no, leadership is not just pulling rank or using a loud voice (much less throwing a fit when people don’t comply). This is a big temptation for priests (and for soldiers whose only examples of leadership comes from Basic Training), especially those who have little job experience outside the Church.
One of the most important things that leaders provide is vision. Lord willing, I’ll share some thoughts on that tomorrow.
– Fr. Anthony