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Five Essential Elements of a Successful Parish Leadership Development Program


“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)


How tempting it is to think: “I can do this faster and better if I don’t delegate it and just do it myself.” Pushed too far or repeated too often it’s a sure path to burnout. This is just one of many reasons why developing leadership within the parish demonstrates the wisdom and honors the necessary self-care of the priest. Yet it is also about building a better foundation within the parish for spiritual growth, for enriching human resources, for assisting others to find and develop their Christian vocation to service and for general overall management of parish life. Yes, it a lot of work to find, cultivate and develop dependable and effective leaders but the benefits far outweigh the effort required. Here are five essential elements necessary for an effective leadership development program.


1) The parish has a vision so large that it cannot be accomplished with just the clergy, current paid staff and volunteer leaders.

A big dream actually heightens the need, energy and focus on developing enough leaders to accomplish the vision.


2) Someone on the senior team wakes up each day thinking about leadership development.

It’s best if the passion for leadership development resides in the senior priest, who is charged with shaping overall parish culture. However, it is wise if possible to share this passion with the parish council chairperson, the second priest, a close advisor, or a committee of the parish council. This person (or people) gives energy and passion towards the development of leaders.


3) The parish has embraced the idea that multiplying and developing leaders is an important aspect of Orthodox church life.

Jesus constantly developed leaders, and those following him were ready to carry on this aspect of ministry after his death. St. Paul, similarly, was never without an apprentice (the scripture often reads “Paul and…”)


4) Each senior leader and his/her team have agreed on a workable definition of the attributes they want their leaders to possess and to exercise.

Leadership has many different definitions. A list of leadership competencies can be endless. Leadership development includes defining for staff and volunteers what effective leaders look like, regardless of where they lead. This often finds its expression in parish council member’s list of responsibilities or job descriptions of ministry leaders. This means identifying not just tasks but perhaps more importantly, leadership attributes.


5) Staff and volunteers are evaluated not just on their personal and individual contributions but also on their ability to identify, develop and produce additional leaders.

Effective leaders realize that the development of additional new leaders strengthens the church and amplifies the impact of ministries both inside the parish and in the larger community. Developing leaders is one of the most critical aspects of both increasing the membership of the parish and serving the needs of individuals or families within the parish.

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