By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — How do you measure the life of a parish? The search for an answer to that question posed in the Davenport Diocese led to a new book, “Servant Leadership Models for Your Parish” by Dan Ebener, the diocese’s stewardship director. Little more than a month after its release, the Paulist Press book is generating interest from parishes and organizations nationwide.
Bishop Martin Amos, who wrote the Foreword, noted that the book addresses the sorts of questions the Catholic Church needs to address today: How do we lead like Jesus? What should Christian leadership look like in a parish? How can parish leaders energize the laity and enhance more active behaviors of their lay people? What leadership behaviors will increase parish performance? How can the people in the pews step up to these challenges?
The book’s message inspired Bishop Amos to send copies to all active bishops in the United States. In a letter accompanying the book, Bishop Amos wrote: “I personally recommend this book and invite you to read and reflect on its message of servant leadership. As I state in the Foreword to the book, servant leadership ‘offers the wisdom of the ages to a world that desperately needs new approaches to leadership.’ Dan points out in Chapter One, ‘Servant leadership is a paradoxical concept that fits the teachings and example of Jesus.’”
Bishop Amos invited his fellow bishops to share the book with other members of their diocesan staffs as well as those responsible for clergy and lay leadership training. “As I am sure you realize leadership development has become a critical aspect of faith formation in today’s parish. We need to form Catholic leaders in the theology, philosophy and practice of servant leadership,” he said.
That endorsement — and Ebener’s respected reputation in social action ministry, stewardship training and teaching — is accelerating requests for him to speak about servant leadership. Last week, he spoke at the National Conference on Pastoral Planning and Council Development in Albany, N.Y., where demand for the book outpaced the 50 copies he had on hand.
Earlier last month, he spoke at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Webster City, Iowa, in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. “Dan’s book springboards in many ways off the U.S. bishops’ letter, ‘Stewardship — A Disciples Response,’ a document members of our parish have been studying for over a year now,” said Milissa Bailey of St. Thomas Aquinas. She and her husband, Kent, serve as the parish’s stewardship directors.
“From Dan’s talk we took away the concept that good leaders support and build up the team. They help individuals to find their gifts, how they can support and help the overall good of the parish and support those they lead by encouraging them to share their gifts.”
Ebener’s book evolved from his doctoral dissertation at St. Ambrose University in Davenport on servant leadership, which had been inspired by the Davenport Diocese’s study of parish vitality. Prompting that study five years ago was a question Bishop William Franklin, then bishop of the Davenport Diocese, posed: How do you measure the life of a parish? Three of the most vibrant parishes, based on size, became the focus of the dissertation and book.
Father Ken Kuntz, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City —the large parish identified in the book — said Dan’s research provided a much-needed exposition of how parishes can function effectively by using different approaches tailored to a parish’s size.
“I think any parish that is intentionally hospitable — and strives to celebrate liturgy well and also has real concern about people and how you organize all of that — is the primary focus for the entire parish,” Fr. Kuntz said. “I think it’s important that (Ebener’s) work be available to people who are interested in parish life and a realistic approach to it that takes into account the size of parish.”
Ebener says pastors play a crucial role in recognizing the gifts and talents of others and thanking people and placing themselves in service to the parish. But another important component of servant leadership is that it can emerge from anywhere in the parish. “It’s about people stepping up to assume leadership roles.”
The book — both its content and the process of getting it to publication — demonstrate that “servant leadership is about recognizing it takes more than one person to get things done. It takes all of us working together.”
For Ebener, that team included bishops, diocesan staff and other diocesan leaders, pastors, parish staff, and students and faculty at St. Ambrose University, where he is an assistant professor of organizational leadership. David O’Connell, his dissertation chair, provided extraordinary support for the book, Ebener said.
“The main message of the book is that as leaders it isn’t how many followers you’re leading, it’s how many leaders you’re developing.”
“Servant Leadership Models for Your Parish” by Dan Ebener is available locally at many book stores, including the campus book store at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. It is also available from Paulist Press by calling 800-218-1903 or by fax at 800-836-3161. The author invites comments on the book at Ebener@davenportdiocese.org