Laurie Hoefling of the Diocese of Davenport asked on May 7, 2010:

“What kind of leadership would be most appropriate for parish council leadership?”

Mark F. Fischer replied:

The question about leadership is tricky because it is not always clear who leads in the parish pastoral council. To be sure, we correctly say that the pastor consults the council. He asks it to share in the pastoral apostolate by investigating some aspect of parish life, reflecting on it, and recommending the council’s conclusions. In that way the council fulfills the mandate of Vatican II’s Decree on Bishops (at no. 27).

But in the work of investigating, reflecting, and recommending conclusions, councillors may well take the lead. That illustrates the complexity of pastoral leadership. The Church envisions the pastor as the good shepherd of John’s gospel. Pope John Paul II, in his 1992 work entitled “I Will Give You Shepherds,” described pastoral leadership as a munus regendi or “gift of leadership.” He said:

This munus regendi represents a very delicate and complex duty which, in addition to the attention which must be given to a variety of persons and their vocations, also involves the ability to cordinate al the gifts and charisms which the Spirit inspires in the community, to discern them and to put them to good use for the upbuilding of the Church in constant union with the Bishops. (no. 26)

This description of the pastor’s role, with its emphasis on calling for the gifts and charisms of parishioners, indirectly echoes the concept of “servant leadership” first proposed in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf. A new book by Dan R. Ebener, Servant Leadership Models for your Parish, testifies to its continued relevance.

To sum up, the best kind of leadership for the pastoral council is leadership that enables the council to do what the Church intends councils to do — namely, to study a matter, consider it thoroughly, and recommend the council’s conclusions to the pastor. Whoever serves that purpose is a servant leader who stands in the tradition of the good shepherd.