I am pleased to share with you the most recent issue of the Best Practices in Church Management Newsletter of Villanova University’s Center for Church Management and Business Ethics. As with our previous issues we cover a variety of topics, including servant leadership, program management, and parishioner views of their parish leaders.
Fr. Bill Byron SJ, a university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, is a prolific author on a multiplicity of church management topics. In this issue we reprint with permission “The Church can learn from Servant Leadership”, which recently appeared in The Pastoral Review (Volume 10 Issue 2). Fr. Byron focuses primarily on the increased difficulties of being a servant leader as one progresses up the organizational hierarchy. A good part of the problem is receiving honest feedback from subordinates. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how this applies to church management.
Michael Castrilli continues his series on program management in “The Church Program Management Assistant: Break It Down!”. It this piece he introduces the concept of a Work Breakdown Structure, in effect a blueprint for completing a project. He outlines four easy to follow steps that will make any project more manageable.
Finally, our segment “And The Survey Says” once again presents data from the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project. This survey presents the impression of over 14,000 parishioners of the effectiveness of their parish leadership. As always, looking at the opinions of subgroups within a parish can be more enlightening that merely viewing the overall results of the survey.
I would like to remind you of the educational opportunities available through the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics. There is still time to apply for this year’s class in our very successful on-line master’s degree in church management at http://MSCM.Villanova.edu, awarded through the nationally-ranked and fully accredited Villanova School of Business. You might be interested to know that US News & World Reports has ranked our MS in Church Management as the 17th best online program in the country among ALL graduate business programs.
We also, in partnership with Our Sunday Visitor and AmericanChurch, offer a series of webinars on church management topics. This series presents the opportunity for an individual to earn a certificate in church management through the Villanova School of Business. The series will begin its fourth year in September, but it is not too early to apply. Individuals interested in particular topics may participate in one or more of the specific webinars without pursuing the certificate. For more details, please click here.
We hope that you find the information in this newsletter helpful. We appreciate your previous feedback and are happy to hear your feedback about the topics covered in this issue as well as topics that you would like to see covered in future issues.
Center for Church Management and Business Ethics
The following article was published in The Pastoral Review, March/April 2014, and is available on the website, www.thepastoralreview.org.
Conventional business structures isolate the leader at the top. With a Jesuit pope, can the practice of ‘provident care’ and the principles of servant leadership help the Church hierarchy? William J. Byron SJ is university professor of business and society at St Joseph’s University, Philadelphia,
The notion of servant leadership was popularized by Robert Greenleaf (1904-1990), whose book bearing that title is a classic 1. Greenleaf was a vice president of American Telephone and Telegraph, a student of organizations and a consultant to businesses large and small. He carried the image of the servant leader with him into his practice of management and consulting, and over the years came to conclude:
A fresh critical look is being taken at the issues of power and authority, and people are beginning to learn, however haltingly, to relate to one another in less coercive and more creatively supporting ways. A new moral principle is emerging, which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader. Those who choose to follow this principle will not casually accept the authority of existing institutions. Rather they will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants. To the extent that this principle prevails in the future, the only truly viable institutions will be those that are predominantly servant led 2.
In the book, Greenleaf runs individuals and institutions through the servant-leader filter. He covers businesses, foundations, churches, universities, and some other not-for profit organizations. He gives a lot of attention to trustees as servants. His view on the distinction between oversight and management of organizations will be controversial, but, correctly understood, his point about more direct involvement by trustees (or, in the case of business, ‘directors’) in managing the organization’s affairs is not all that wide of the mark. Generally speaking, boards are insufficiently alert and active in meeting their oversight responsibilities. The on-the-scene CEO and his or her chief financial officer tend to control the flow of information and both the formulation and implementation of on-the-ground policies.
Greenleaf’s book cobbles together articles and papers prepared for delivery to various audiences, and he is anonymous when it comes to identifying the organizations he is discussing. In his chapter on ‘Servant Leadership in Business’ for example, he mentions that the ‘statements’ that comprise the chapter were delivered, ‘one to a general audience and two addressed to specific businesses,’ but he does not identify the businesses.
Since 1950, I’ve been a member of the Society of Jesus and in 1961 was ordained a Catholic priest. I mention this before quoting the following paragraphs from Servant Leadership because they may appear to the Catholic eye as critical of the way authority is structured in the Church, although I don’t think Greenleaf had the Church in mind when he wrote them:
To be a lone chief atop a pyramid is abnormal and corrupting. None of us is perfect by ourselves, and all of us need the help and correcting influence of close colleagues. When someone is moved atop a pyramid, that person no longer has colleagues, only subordinates. Even the frankest and bravest of subordinates do not talk with their boss in the same way that they talk with colleagues who are equals, and normal communications patterns become warped. ... The pyramidal structure weakens informal links, dries up channels of honest reaction and feedback, and creates limiting chief-subordinate relationships that, at the top, can seriously penalize the whole organization.
A self-protective image of omniscience often evolves from these warped and filtered communications. This in time defeats any leader by causing a distortion of judgment, for judgment is often best sharpened through interaction with others who are free to challenge and criticize (p.76; emphasis in the original).
Abnormal and corrupting? Greenleaf is not saying that this has to be the way; he is simply suggesting that there is a high probability that the lone chief at the top will be out of touch and thus less effective as a leader. Given my Catholic background, I naturally thought of the Pope when I first read those words and winced at the scenario Greenleaf lays out. It prompted me to reflect on the organizational structure of the Church. I accept that structure, of course, but recognize that it is staffed by human beings and they are subject to the weaknesses, foibles, and failings that Greenleaf observed in his study of organizations.
Pope Benedict XVI occasionally found himself to be in a public relations jam, as happened early in his pontificate with both the Muslim and the Jewish communities, and again in Holy Week and Easter 2010 amid press speculation about what he knew and when he knew it concerning allegations of past clergy sex abuse of children when he was an archbishop in Germany. He later, as a cardinal, headed the Vatican congregation charged with reviewing thousands of cases of clergy sex abuse. His handling of some of these cases came under later scrutiny in the secular press. A July 8, 2010 editorial in the New York Times, titled ‘The Pope’s Duty’ stated that before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger ‘handled the pedophilia scandal with no great distinction’ and called upon him then as Pope ‘to shepherd not just guidelines but credible mandates that all priest-abusers and bishops who abetted their crimes face disclosure and punishment.’
I have long felt that misunderstanding and possible offense in response to papal pronouncements might be prevented by closer collaboration on the part of the Pope with a good editor, or pre-pronouncement consultation with advisers who are invited and encouraged to say what they think. There is nothing in the hierarchical structure of the Church to prevent this, but it will not happen unless the Pope wants it to happen. It is interesting to note that Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, incorporated into the constitutions of his order a requirement that the Superior General have an official admonitor – ‘some person who ... [a]fter he has had recourse to God in prayer ... [will] admonish the general about anything in him which he thinks will be more conducive to greater service and glory to God. The general in turn ought to be content with what is provided’ (Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, Part IX, Chapter 4, No. 770).
This excerpt from the Constitutions comes from the hand of Ignatius and refers to what he called the ‘provident care’ that the Society should exercise in regard to the Superior General. The caring function is called admonition; the person who exercises this care is called the admonitor. He is selected for his role by the same General Congregation of delegates that elected the General. Note that the admonitor has no authority, but enjoys the confidence of the general. He has access to the General at any time. And note further that the General ‘ought to be content’ to have an admonitor.
The lesson here for the rest of us is that every leader should have someone who is willing and able to tell him or her in confidence and with absolute freedom the unvarnished truth. An organization suffers in situations where, as we sometimes say, ‘even your best friend won’t tell you.’
Now that Pope Benedict has retired and we have for the first time in history a Jesuit pope, one can only speculate as to the extent that elements of Jesuit spirituality and practice will surface in the way Pope Francis conducts himself in the chair of Peter. His decision to establish a panel of eight cardinals from outside the Vatican to function as an advisory board, echoes the Jesuit practice of having four ‘general assistants’ to advise the Superior General, although these special Jesuit advisers are based in Rome in the General headquarters. More to the point is the obvious influence of the poverty-insults-humility strategy (outlined by St Ignatius Loyola in the Meditation on Two Standards in his book of Spiritual Exercises where he outlines a pattern of life to be adopted by Jesuits in following Christ) on the decision of the new Pope to take the name Francis – the poverello – and to emphasize service of the poor in his earliest public statements. All the elements of servant leadership are surely there.
Returning now to the broader question of ordinary Church governance, it is worth noting that those called to serve the people of God as bishops have to remember that they walk on feet of clay and rely on the power of prayer and sacraments to protect them from the dangers of earthly ambition and corrosive pride. Regrettably, some bishops (and even pastors) view themselves as ‘little popes,’ and failing to understand the shepherding nature of their pastoral role, they attempt to rule rather than lead the ‘flock’ that has been entrusted to their care. That simply doesn’t work and it is regrettable that the bishop is often the last to notice. This, as Greenleaf warned, is a potential problem in any hierarchical organization.
This is not to criticize the Catholic hierarchy; just to acknowledge that those of us who love and live in a hierarchical church should welcome the self-imposed discipline of servant leadership as protection against the temptation to forget an important principle articulated by Jesus, our leader, who described himself as coming among us ‘not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20.28). We firmly believe that Jesus is with the Church ‘until the end of the age’ (Matthew 28.20), but we also have to heed St Paul’s warning not to stifle or ‘quench the Spirit’ (1 Thessalonians 5.19).
Extensive research on leadership styles in business has produced this sobering conclusion: ‘[T]he higher up the ladder a leader climbs, the less accurate his self-assessment is likely to be. The problem is an acute lack of feedback.’
Straight across the hierarchical board, not just in religion, but also in business, government, the military, the corporation, and virtually every other form of organizational life, there is a clear and constant danger of the leader being out of touch. That means being cut off from needed information and honest criticism. And in complex organizations, it is rare that one person has thorough knowledge of all the complicated parts of the whole. Every leader needs expert advice and, it goes without saying, he or she has to be humble enough to accept it.
The unexpected emergence of Pope Francis as a world leader is a welcome indication that the notion of servant leadership is going to become more noticeable in the way leadership is understood and exercised throughout the world not only in the Church, but in business and government as well.
1 Greenleaf, R.K., Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness, (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1977),
2 Greenleaf, R.K., p 23-24.
3 Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., and McKee, A., Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, paperback, 2004), 92].
In our first article – The Church Program Management Assistant Series: Setting Goals, Reaping Benefits – we discussed the importance of beginning any church project by thinking about where you want to end up. In that first step, we used the business terminology of “establishing performance goals.” Being clear in the initial stage will pay big rewards. It shows your congregation and other church leaders “what the dream is” and allows everyone to track progress. Setting goals is also a great way to get people involved, once the real work begins!
Having laid out a concrete vision of the end goal, it’s now time to create a “blueprint” of next steps. In the project management language, that blueprint is known as the “work breakdown structure” (WBS). The WBS will help you to manage all the pieces required to complete your project successfully. Deconstructing a grand vision down into smaller, manageable tasks is the goal here. This article will help you do just that.
Think about the WBS just like you’d think of the blueprint for building a new home. It should outline all the individual jobs that will, eventually, unite for a completed project. You’ll use the WBS to “divide and conquer”: It should break big jobs into smaller tasks, and it should include a specific schedule for getting those smaller tasks done. Each descending level should represent an increasingly detailed definition of the project work. Your WBS should focus on “deliverable” project elements; that is, tasks with unambiguous completion points.
So, how do you begin to create an effective WBS? As we would when building a home, we’ll start from the ground up.
Ask Yourself: What are all of the smaller, manageable tasks that will ultimately unite for a successful, completed project?
If you imagine your end goal as a completed puzzle, this step is all about breaking the puzzle apart into is component pieces. A completed puzzle may first be broken in half, then into big chunks, then into smaller chunks, and ultimately, into its individual pieces. It’s critical to understand the “individual puzzle pieces” required to accomplish your overall goal.
So, this is the fun part! This is when you brainstorm all of the “bite-sized” activities, tasks, and events that you will need to complete on the path to getting your “puzzle” assembled. As you’re brainstorming, force yourself to break each task into smaller and smaller sub-tasks. Never should any individual task in the WBS feel so large as to be unmanageable. If we’re ultimately trying to build a house, “install kitchen” is much too large a task for our purposes here. It should be broken down into simpler, smaller tasks: lay flooring, install wiring, frame walls, and so forth. The best practice on this step is to break out project tasks into smaller, modular chunks.
Ask Yourself: What are the distinct events or accomplishments that will let you know you have completed a key component of your project?
In this step, we’re looking to create the “check boxes” waiting to be marked off as you make progress toward achieving your ultimate goal. The milestones you outline should mark a significant change or stage in development of your project.
We all like crossing off items on our “to do” list, and the project milestones, outlined in this step, help you know when you can do it. Let’s return to the house-building example: the walls have been framed – check! The plumbing has been installed – check! These milestones provide a scorecard for your progress, and they also bring the added psychological benefit of “checking off the box” on another item from your list of project accomplishments.
Ask Yourself: What are your estimated start and end dates? In what order do the smaller tasks need to be completed, so that they flow together efficiently?
In this step of creating your WBS, you’ll want to review your tasks – the individual “puzzle pieces” – and determine the best sequence or flow, so that the right pieces are ready at the right times. You’ll need to ask yourself for best estimates on start date and completion date. For now, don’t get too caught up with perfection – a good estimate will suffice.
By developing a general timeline around your tasks, you’ll make sure that those puzzle pieces get assembled in a logical, efficient order. When building a house, you can’t frame the walls without first pouring the foundation. If you determine that the walls will be framed by April 15, you will want to schedule the electrician for some time after this date. You’d be wasting time and money, if you scheduled the electrical installation too soon. Similarly, for your WBS, think of which “puzzle pieces” need to be assembled first – and which ones will only “fit” if they are installed later.
Of course, you should prepare for some slippage in the schedule. But outlining a general order of task-completion deadlines will also allow you to assess the impact of delays. To the workman framing your walls, being a couple of days late may not seem like a big deal; but if you know the domino-effect that delay will have on the rest of your tasks, you’ll be better prepared to manage it.
Ask Yourself: What are the financial and/or human resources required to complete each of these smaller tasks? Who will be responsible/accountable for given tasks?
With your big project now broken into smaller tasks, with deliverables and milestones established, and with a general timeline in hand – you’re now ready to assign resources for each of the smaller “puzzle pieces.” This is a time to think realistically about how much each task should cost and how many workers it will require.
In assigning human resources, you’ll also be assigning accountability. Without accountability, it’s easy for everyone to point to another for missing a target or a deadline. For each of your “puzzle piece” tasks, you can appoint a leader to answer questions and report progress. In most cases, this leader will be the person held responsible if the task falls behind schedule. But he or she will also get the credit, if it’s completed successfully and on time!
The steps described above may sound like a lot of extra work when you’re eager to get started on an exciting project. But as we emphasized in the previous article in this series, clarity at the beginning of a major challenge is essential; it will pay huge dividends down the road. The WBS need not be burdensome – in fact, a WBS is best when it’s simple and clear. When you’re able to “divide and conquer” your project, you’ll see that the work breakdown structure is really working for you!
Questions? Comments? Feel free to email Michael Castrilli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project was a collaborative effort by five Catholic national ministry organizations interested in pursuing pastoral excellence through research and dialogue. It was funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. Research supporting the project was provided by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The study included a number of components, including surveys of a single parish informant, parishioners, and parish leaders (staff, parish advisory council members, and other parish leaders, including both paid and volunteer; ministerial and non-ministerial).
Our previous edition of the newsletter described some findings from the report, “Perspectives from Parish Leaders: U.S. Parish Life and Ministry”, authored by CARA researcher Mark M. Gray. This edition describes some findings from the survey of parishioners as reported in “Views from the Pews: Parishioner Evaluations of Parish Life in the United States”, co-authored by CARA researchers Mark M. Gray, Mary L. Gautier, and Melissa A. Cidade. In particular we focus on parishioner evaluations of parish leadership and staffing (pp. 20-27). The full report can be found at
The data are based on an in-pew survey of 14,437 parishioners conducted in 2011-2012.
Table 1 shows parishioner evaluations based on a four option scale – poor, fair, good, or excellent.
|Table 1: Evaluate the Following Ministries, Persons, or Programs
Percent Responding "Excellent"
|Leadership provided by the pastor or the PLC||61%|
|Ministry of the pastor or PLC||61|
|Ministry of the professional ministry staff
|Director of Religious Education||53|
|Vision provided by the pastor or PLC||51|
|The Parish Pastoral Council
Based on the data in Table 1 pastors were rated the highest and parish pastoral councils were rated the lowest among parish leaders. The professional ministry staff, which would include the DRE and youth minister, were also highly rated.
Table 2 shows parishioners’ level of agreement on a four option scale: strongly disagree, disagree, agree, and agree strongly.
|Table 2: Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
Percentage Responding "Strongly Agree"
|I would feel comfortable talking with the pastor or PLC
|I feel weel informed about parish finances
|I am comfortable with the idea of sharing staff with neighboring parishes
|There is sufficient qualified parish staff to meet the parish's needs
|Parish pastoral council members are accessible to me
|I feel I have a role in the decision making of the parish
In contrast to Table 1, which revealed a generally favorable rating of parish leaders, Table 2 demonstrates some dissatisfaction with the outcomes of leadership. While the pastor received relatively high marks from parishioners for being easy to talk with, parishioners in this sample were not overly enthusiastic about the level of parish financial transparency. Parish staffing was also not highly rated, with many parishioners indicating that they felt that their parish was understaffed and they were not all that enthusiastic about sharing staff with other parishes.
The parish pastoral council received low marks for its accessibility. Fewer than one in five parishioners felt that they have a role in parish decision making.
Apparently parishioners like their leaders but not the consequences of their policies.