How to lead in a Catholic parish


By Dan Ebener

For The Catholic Messenger

(Editor’s note:  This is the second in a series of articles by Dan Ebener on leadership in the Catholic Church. They are excerpts from his latest book on leadership, to be published this fall.) 

The pastor concluded, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”


The people replied, “Thanks be to God.”

Anne Marie Amacher
Father Jason Crossen, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, concludes Mass with a blessing May 24.

The end of each Mass is a new beginning. As the people of God, we are welcomed at the beginning of each Mass to “come and see” (John 1:39 and John 1:46) as disciples, members and stewards. By the end of the liturgy, we are beckoned to “go and tell” (Mark 16:15; Luke 14:23; Matt 28:19) as apostles, leaders and evangelists.

The end of each Mass is a call to leadership. We are to go forth to love, serve and change the world.  That is the essence of evangelization. It is an invitation to leadership.

Many people would love to join a parish full of life and enthusiasm for Christ. They just might not know it yet. Research shows that people long for purpose and connectivity. They want to know they are making a difference on something that matters. They want to be connected to people who are making a difference.

The Catholic Church needs leaders who can breathe new life into their parish. Such leadership can emerge from anywhere. The church needs leadership because we need change. Leaders produce change.

What kind of change? Growth in spiritual vitality, stewardship and evangelization. Joyful celebrations of the liturgy. A deeper sense of lay engagement and participation.  More vocations.  A radical sense of hospitality. A burning passion for mission. A clearer vision. A balanced approach to charitable outreach and social justice. Dialogue about what matters most.

These are challenges in search of leadership. Challenges seek leaders. Leaders seek challenges. We need more leaders to take up these challenges.

Disciples and Apostles

When the Mass ends, the call to “go forth” is a call to action. It is a call to discipleship and apostleship. It is a call to follow Jesus and to lead on his behalf.

A disciple is literally called forth to follow in the ways of Jesus (Matt 4:19).  An apostle is sent forth to lead in the ways of Jesus (Matt 28:19). Disciples are followers of Christ. Apostles are leaders for Christ.  When we encounter Christ in our lives, he calls us to both.

“In the Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis says the people of God must become missionary disciples. We must tend to the wounds of society, easing the aches and pains of a secular world that tends toward materialism. We are to reach out to the peripheries, speak with those who are un-churched, visit those who are most vulnerable and touch those who are on the margins.

As missionary disciples, our mission is to enable others to encounter Christ in their lives.  As people are transformed by their relationship with Christ, our parishes will grow.

As visionary apostles, our vision is the Kingdom of God.  It is a vision of a new church and a new world, one that we embrace whenever we say the Our Father: to build the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). This beloved Kingdom is the vision of Jesus. It is the change that comes from “thy will be done.”

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