Leadership in Parish Communities
AS our local Church in the Philippines celebrates the “Year of the Parish as a Communion of Communities,” it is helpful to reflect on the role of leaders at various levels of parish life. Who are “model” leaders? How do they serve? What principles guide their service in the community?
Jesus, Our Servant Leader. Scripture gives us a clear picture of Jesus as our “servant leader.” He ministers to the needs of others and empowers the powerless; he walks with the troubled and serves the needy; he encourages the downhearted and preaches Good News; he responds to people’s needs without counting the cost; he is a witness to the mercy and compassionate love of God.
When we explore the manner in which Jesus leads, we begin to have a deeper understanding of what leadership means for us contemporary Christians. As we strive to pattern our lives on the Gospel principles and ideals of Jesus, we begin to uncover numerous opportunities where we too can truly be “servant leaders.”
The Constitution on the Church of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium) notes that the laity “participate in the salvific mission of the Church. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself…. [In their parish service] the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth” (LG 33).
Following the Leader—Always. Fostering Church renewal in our parishes demands always being centered on Jesus who invites us to serve the Kingdom, just as He beckoned Matthew, the tax collector, with two simple words: “Follow me” (Mt 9:9). Peter is invited to follow Jesus’ command and put out into deep waters and lower his nets for a catch (Lk 5:4-10).
We see in the Gospels that the disciples called by Jesus later emerge as leaders. They are schooled by Jesus, following him, listening to his teaching, observing his care for the poor and needy, seeing him in frequent prayer, witnessing his mercy and compassion for those who carry heavy burdens.
When we, modern-day disciples, become the followers of Jesus, we grow to become leaders—just as it happened two thousand years ago. Jesus is inviting us to leadership roles—in our families, in our parishes, in the wider society. We may not think of ourselves as leaders, but Jesus sees deeper, recognizing our potential to continue his mission. He tells us as he told Peter: “Do not be afraid; from now on it is people that you will catch” (Lk 5:10).
Lay Leaders: Their Importance. Parish communities are in constant need of lay leaders. This need does not arise because of a crisis in the priesthood or the lack of religious vocations. The importance and necessity of lay leadership emerges as the Church engages in various dynamic ways to carry out Christ’s mission within today’s challenging social realities.
Since Vatican Council II (1962-1965), numerous parish communities have been animated by hundreds of lay leaders. They serve under the direction of their pastors and fulfill an important leadership role in the Church. In fact, as my experience in Mindanao has verified, many vocations to the priesthood and religious life arise precisely from those families that are engaged in diverse forms of lay participation in their parishes.
Many parishes foster a variety of opportunities for lay involvement to help meet the needs of their brothers and sisters, particularly those marginalized persons on the “peripheries” of society. We can open our eyes and see that there are opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, intellectual capabilities, and social status. A vibrant parish is, in fact, a rich mosaic of services performed by very diverse persons!