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Changing Roles of Congregational Leaders: Management Skills

David Gibson at the Religion News Service describes the changing roles of Catholic priests in the parish. He outlines the role priests must take in a parish’s finances, human resources, facilities, and security. He writes,

Once upon a time, the parish staff usually consisted of a janitor and a parish secretary, maybe a volunteer, while a phalanx of nuns and brothers would teach the students, clean the rectory and fix the meals. No more.

Today, there are pastoral and finance councils, and lay people fill most paid positions, which mean a payroll to juggle and benefits to parse. In addition, parishes have to comply with a range of church and civil statutes on everything from child safety to environmental waste to landmark status for historic buildings.

Moreover, all of this is happening at a time of declining attendance and decreasing contributions that are forcing pastors to do more with less.

In response, Catholic seminarians are taking a crash course in management to prevent burnout from the weight of administrative tasks.

In 2006-7, Richard DeShon and Abigail Quinn at Michigan State University performed focus groups of United Methodist pastors for a job analysis generalizability study for United Methodist pastors. They cluster the responses from the focus groups into thirteen “Effective Performance Task Clusters,” or thirteen areas where effective pastors need to excel. They include: administration, care-giving, rituals and sacraments, facility construction, communication, relationship building, evangelism, fellowship, management, other-development, preaching and public worship, self-development, and United Methodist Connectional service. They write,

Finally, the results of our focus group interview strongly support the findings of Kuhne and Donaldson (1995) in that the pastor’s work activities are highly varied, taxing, fast-paced, unrelenting and often fragmented. This requires that the pastor be able to rapidly switch between highly diverse roles such as mentor, preacher, counselor, spiritual leader, and prophet. The participants in the focus group interviews also demonstrated and discussed the importance of multitasking or polychronic behavior (e.g., listening to sermon examples from other pastors during the morning fitness run). (p. 16)

From these examples of the Religion News Service and the Job Analysis Generalizability Study, it’s clear that the role of pastor is more varied than just preaching on Sunday. How one person is expected to excel at everything from preparing sermons, teaching bible studies, providing pastoral care to someone who just lost a family member, and budgets? What is the role of seminaries to provide management skills to seminarians? What is the role of the congregation’s laity to help offset some of the tasks assigned to the clergy?

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org