The pastor’s challenge in creating collaborative teams

Posted Jan 30, 2014 | Pastoral Excellence Network


By Mark Bersano

Mark BersanoINSPIRE: Identify, Nurture, and Sustain Pastoral Imagination through Resources for Excellence

The mission of INSPIRE, a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) partnership between Loyola University Chicago and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, is to form lay and ordained members of Catholic parish staffs into cohesive Pastoral Leadership Teams (PLTs). According to INSPIRE Visiting Research Professor Dr. Brett Hoover, successful teams were insightful, collaborative, used individuals’ talents interdependently, and relied upon the initiative of all team members to promote a common parish mission.

Regular staff meetings, the cultivation of mutual respect and understanding among staff members, collaborative practices such as team retreats and group participation in strengths assessments, and networking with other parish staffs are critical practices that INSPIRE brought to the table and nurtured.

Through the course of the project, it became clear that effective PLTs are simultaneously delicate and robust, intricately organized and spontaneously emerging. Though INSPIRE’s particular charism was to encourage lay and ordained pastoral ministers to work together as collaborative teams, it was immediately clear that an authentic team environment is only possible under the sensitive and nimble leadership of a pastor who is powerful but able and willing to share that power. As noted by Sr. Katarina Schuth, OSF, in recent research on INSPIRE, “The vision of the pastor and his willingness to cultivate teamwork go hand in hand. Essential to implementing good ideas, insights, and plans, is having a clear vision built with broad input, but led by a convincing and committed pastor. The capacity to work together in a serious and trusting environment is enhanced when the vision belongs to all.” To create a team, a pastor must be a strong leader with a clear sense of pastoral direction, yet he must relinquish enough control to allow space for team cohesiveness to emerge. The team then shapes and carries forward the collectively-imagined mission. The process is delicate and ever-emergent.

The unique role of the INSPIRE Parish Consultant—an individual with an understanding of organizational development theory, parish culture, and applied spirituality—was critical in facilitating the creation of truly collaborative teams. According to Katarina Schuth, “Pastoral Leadership Teams were taught and then encouraged to ‘reflect communally on the purpose and spirituality of their work in ministry.’ This approach made it possible for teams to imagine the unimaginable. One result was that ministry was seen not exclusively as a series of tasks; rather, spiritual connections were made with the work being done.” In the INSPIRE model, ordained and lay staff members participated in this work side-by-side. Both groups benefitted from the learning and were more effectively able to support each other.

Our experience is that the building of collaborative teams works best with strong, visionary pastors who make an effort to understand the unique context of the parish, parishioners, and parish groups and who continuously attempt to remain in open relationship with all of them. Pastor peer mentoring can play a critical role in fostering collaborative ministry and promises to be a tool that sparks pastoral imagination.

Mark Bersano is the former director of INSPIRE, an SPE partnership initiative of Loyola University Chicago and the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which comes to a close in 2014. He currently holds the position of Coordinator of Parish Leadership and Management Programs in the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago.

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