Three significant things have changed about pastoral assignments in recent years.
“One is the complexity where a pastor may have more than one parish,” said Jim Lundholm-Eades, executive director of programs and services for the Leadership Roundtable. “The second is what’s involved in leading a parish in terms of financial and insurable risks and the skills involved in leadership. The third is that parishes were much more stable in demography and the number of parishioners.”
The Roundtable is a nonprofit organization of laity, religious and clergy working together to promote best practices and accountability in the management, finances, communications and human resource development of the Church in the United States. They take their programs to dioceses that request them and provide a road map for the bishops and clergy to accomplish their particular goals.
That’s often the need for a pastor to manage a parish without losing sight of his spiritual and pastoral vocation — or, like Lundholm-Eades said, in not becoming “a holy bureaucrat.”
Lundhold-Eades joined the Leadership Roundtable 12 years ago.
“Priests often ask for help with understanding the finances of their parish,” he said. “At one time, all they needed to know was how to get the collection counted and to manage the cash flow with the church secretary. Another area is managing people, which has become more complex.”
Add to that the role of working with parish councils and the relationship between pastor, staff and lay leaders.
“I feel positive about the priests I see throughout the country, and I feel confident in their leadership,” Lundhold-Eades said. “We offer them the skills so that running a parish is manageable and they can focus on the real reason that they got ordained.”
When Russ Isaak retired from a career in business, he wanted to do something to help the priests of the Archdiocese of St. Louis gain more knowledge about finances and other aspects of parish management.
Priests used to serve as associate pastors for years before getting their own churches. Now they often get pastoral assignments soon after ordination.
Isaak collaborated with Jerry Amsler, director of parish administrative services for the archdiocese, to develop the Pastoral Institute of Leadership in collaboration with Saint Louis University.
The Center for Church Management at Villanova University near Philadelphia reaches out to online students worldwide. Students both in the United States and abroad are seeking to learn the best ways to manage a parish’s finances, personnel and other nonspiritual needs.
Since the course started in 2004, about 130 students have taken certificate programs, and 100 enrolled in the master’s degree program, all taught online. According to Charles Zech, faculty director for the program and professor of economics, about one-fourth of the students are clergy and 15 percent are Protestants.
“They’re learning better church management at all levels, better stewardship with resources, and internal financial control like handling and protecting the Sunday collections so that there’s no temptation to embezzle,” he said. “Financial management is crucial even if a church is flush with money.”
A broad range of students and churches participate in the program. Large parishes might need the expertise of full-time professional managers. In small parishes, the pastor might ask the church secretary to handle the bookkeeping, and she needs to learn how to do it effectively.
The course’s online availability has attracted a number of priests and also a group of women religious in Africa who want to improve their management skills. Some seminarians are enrolled in the program to prepare for future pastoral assignments.
“We’re really excited about the program, and it’s growing faster than we thought it would,” Zech said of the center, which began in 2004. “I think what we’re doing is a real service, and it’s a ministry for me.”
The first session of the six-module program (a combination of online and in-class learning) was in January, and the second ran in September.
“We customize the entire program around individual needs,” said Amsler, who is planning to introduce the program to other dioceses.
For instance, the priest will analyze the finances of his own parish, not just learn generic business practices. They also study human resources, marketing, operations and managing a school if relevant. One part of the program provides mentors.
Father Craig Holway, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Louis, sought to better understanding fundraising, financing and also internal controls of who has access to cash and bank accounts.
“The information they provided was very useful in my role not only as pastor, but as administrator of what is essentially a not-for-profit agency,” Father Holway said.
Father Michael Grosch, parochial administrator of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Shrewsbury, Missouri, learned the terminology and vocabulary of financial matters and how to be more at ease when he meets with the parish financial committee.
“I’m probably going to be a pastor soon, so I need to figure out as many of these things as possible,” he said.
Father William Dotson, parochial administrator at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in St. Charles, Missouri, appreciated the Roundtable training he received after he was placed in a parish.
“It would have really gone over my head at the seminary,” he said. “I would not have been able to understand the day-to-day operations at a parish.”
Father David Hogan, associate pastor of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield, Missouri, agreed.
“I think it’s good to have parish experience first, and then you can put it all in context,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s just taking a class.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.