By Michael J. Medley     11/9/2016

Today’s parish is not only a spiritual sanctuary and respite for the soul, but it is also a large and complex business entity with a large and detailed budget, many staff members and programs to manage, a large facility to maintain, tax filings to be made, fiduciary responsibilities to donors, and many other needs and requirement. Today’s pastors are not only expected to be conscientious caretakers of the spiritual lives of their parishioners, they also need to have the administrative skills to run an efficient parish. The Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program has become an important tool in achieving these ends.

The Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program came about in the 1990s through the Catholic Leadership Institute and is a formation curriculum for pastors and parochial vicars that combines the science of effective leadership with the teachings of Jesus and the Catholic Church. While our priests are eminently well trained in nourishing our spiritual lives, training in things like human resources, finance, and strategic planning are not generally at the core of a seminarian’s education.

Some of us may still remember a time when our parishes were led by pastors who were assisted by a handful of younger priests. Rev. Steven Sallot, vicar general and moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Orange, explains how that provided a system of mentoring and on-the-job training for the men who would one day become pastors in their own right.

“In days gone by,” Fr. Sallot says, “there was just kind of an understanding if you were being mentored into a position of being a pastor; a lot of times you wouldn’t become a pastor for 25 years. By being around other pastors, you learned these critical skills for managing the business of the parish. Nowadays, we have less young priests serving as parochial vicars in the parish learning for their elder pastors. Young priests are often made pastors of a parish after just a few years, so they can’t have that mentoring experience in becoming an effective pastor or learning the practical skills of being an administrator.”

Managing a parish these days is a much more complex affair than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Priests who were ordained in the 1970s or 1980s were taught that when they became pastors, they would become managers; managers who would keep things going as had been done for generations. That status quo assumed the same expectations of parishioners and management needs of the parish. Over the past 25 years the complexity of operating a large not-for-profit, let alone religious institution has increased exponentially. To Fr. Sallot, this means that pastors must change from being managers into being leaders.

“A leader says, ‘we’re in challenging times, we’re in difficult waters. How do I manage my own life, how do I manage my staff in a healthy way, and how do I lead a parish?’” Fr. Sallot says. “Out of these issues came Good Leaders, Good Shepherds. They got together with good business people, with good business practices, in HR, in finances, in strategic planning, people who are leading good and healthy companies and said help us to put together a process to train our guys to be good leaders and at the same time be good shepherds. We want more than just business, we want to be a Christian business; what does it mean to keep it all going forward in a Christ-like manner?”

Designed expressly for priests, the six learning modules that make up the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds course have the goal of minimizing the energy that is spent and the frustration that is felt by pastors concentrating on their administrative roles. It also is designed to allow them to increase the time they spend and the joy that they feel carrying out the pastoral and spiritual duties to which they were first called. The modules allow time for prayer and liturgy, and endeavor to be relevant to the priestly vocation.

“It’s all done in the context of not just a business model, but how to be leaders in Christ’s Church,” Fr. Sallot says. “How do I do that in the context of prayer, reflection, and the charism of the Holy Spirit? There’s a shift in thinking and reflecting as a pastor. It’s not just what I want to do, it’s the need of the community. Part of Good Leaders, Good Shepherds is teaching that to be a good shepherd you have to say ‘What are the needs of my community?’”

The first seven priests from the Diocese of Orange to take the course graduated from Good Leaders, Good Shepherds last August and the program has an advocate in Bishop Kevin Vann. Since assuming the leadership of the Diocese of Orange he has, according to Fr. Sallot, been very open to programs and processes that enable priests to be better leaders. This program is one of several in our diocesan programs for priests.

And there are benefits that parishioners may enjoy if their pastors or parochial vicars take the course. “It teaches the priest to listen better, with a different set of filters. He’s learning to focus ever more on service to his community as a shepherd,” says Fr. Sallot. “A lot of times it’s very tempting for parochial vicars to wait until they are told to do something, to be passive. Good Leaders, Good Shepherds encourages a guy to be creative and take the initiative. For both pastors and parochial vicars, they will have a better understanding of what it means to be part of a community and in service to the people of God.”