Courageous Leadership

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now. Leadership is a topic that is close to my heart, as I’ve written about here and here. The last few months, my Tube-reading has been this wonderful book: Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. Even if I wasn’t a slow reader (which I am) I would read this slowly as it is outstanding. In my view, it should be required reading for every leader in the Church: seminarians, lay leaders, teachers, priests and bishops! It is that good.

As a young lay person working in the Catholic Church, my impression is that awareness of ‘leadership mentoring’ or ‘identifying emerging young leaders’ is not on the radar of most leaders in the Church. Bill Hybels talks about the many different ways we may come to leadership – someone may take us under their wing and disciple us; we might shadow someone in their role and be coached to develop our skills; or, we might be thrown in at the deep end. In my case, my parish priest took an enormous gamble in putting me in a position that I was not really qualified for. I remember at the time someone telling him that I should not be put in this role. It freaked me out, I knew they were right. But he replied that he would be the judge of that. Looking back, I am tremendously grateful at this huge risk that he took with me. It is not the right introduction to leadership for everyone, but for me, God knew I needed to be put in a ‘sink or swim’ situation and be forced to work things out pretty quickly.

What never fails to frustrate me is that young leaders within the Catholic Church in this country need to go outside the Church’s walls for leadership formation. Hybels’ book is an example. I don’t know of a Catholic equivalent. Last year, a big group of us went to the HTB Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall. I can honestly say they were two of the most inspiring and well-spent days of my year. The faith and passion were immense. HTB is providing the Catholic Church a beautiful service in building up and impassioning her young leaders. But why is she not building up and impassioning her own?

I am going to hazard an answer to this question. I know it is a complex question with varied responses, but I think it is worth pointing out the elephant in the room. My eyes were opened to it through the honest, direct faith of Hybels’ book: we have a crisis of leadership in our Church. Hybels repeats the same simple truths again and again: vision and passion are inextricably bound in the life of a leader. If a leader does not have vision that is crystal-clear and passion that is white-hot, and if he is not able to communicate these to others, he is not fully alive, he is not fully living out his vocation (Hybels says it much better – read the book!)

Vision. Passion. I asked a priest recently what his vision was for the adult formation in his parish. He fumbled around for an answer but couldn’t really tell me. Something is wrong with that. So many of us have gone off the boil. And when everyone goes off the boil, it becomes normal. We start checking that our parish is pretty much in line with what the next-door parish is doing… and that’s as far as our vision extends. How terribly sad! We need to turn up the heat, wake up, listen to younger Catholics with vision and passion, itching and ready to take the baton, who right now can only dream of being led by the quality of leadership Hybels talks about in his book.

There is a lot in Courageous Leadership, and some particular themes I’d like to explore in future posts: vision and leadership; creating your dream team; discovering your own leadership style. I really encourage you to get a copy.

About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

13 responses to “Courageous Leadership

  • Paul Rodden

    After reading your posts over the past few months, I’d suggest you’re exactly the right person for the post.

    I cannot get our parish to move away from the chalk-and-talk ‘Instruction’ model of catechesis (owing to the usual clericalist, ‘father knows best’ trope as to why change is impossible), and I reckon the person who judged you as unsuitable was judging you by that standard. The children should sit in silence and listen to the primary school teacher imparting either their own views or neo-scholastic obscurities they learnt by rote, and by golly are these children going to do the same: what was good enough for me is good enough for them!

    I think the simple answer to how she’s (the Church in England) not impassioning her own is that those who are trying to do things don’t have a relationship with Christ, and I think the inherent clericalism is a result of that, too.
    What I find more galling is that clericalism seems predominantly a product of the laity, and so even our parish dissenters (we all have them) are actually fighting windmills because ‘the Church’ they’re fighting is a spectre conjured up in their own imagination. The priests is an excuse and justification for so much. He’s just a useful object, a means to an end or justification/rationalisation – not a person – and I think that’s partly why so many of our priests are damaged.
    I’m naughty. I tell them they’re not trapped, so I don’t know why they’re so angry as if they’re not free to leave. After all, the Protestant movement was made-to-measure for them!

    I would suggest reading Sherry Weddell’s, Forming Intentional Disciples:

    Ms Weddell stresses the absolute centrality of a relationship with Jesus for effective catechesis, and the operative word is ‘intentional’ (purpose and direction). From your approach in this blog, I think you’ll be thinking, ‘yes’, Yes’, ‘YES!’ as you read it.
    (I believe Fr Dwight Longenecker’s got writing a review of it in his to-do list…)

    As to Catholics writing on leadership, Alexandre Harvard is:
    His website is here:

    I believe Dr Tim Gray does seminars, too…

    Keep up the good work. We need people like you, and who are brave and competent enough to run a blog, too!

    • transformedinchrist

      Paul, thank you for your comment! Very thoughtful and insightful…as always. I think we are thinking along the same lines. I agree with you about clericalism… which seems to be a particular problem in the English Church – we do things because our parish priest likes it that way, not because it’s Catholic, or what the universal Church does. I have heard of Sherry Weddell’s book and I will definitely get a copy now! Thank you for your encouragement.

  • Vincent

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I look forward to your future thoughts on the subject.

    On the question of whether the Catholic Church in the UK attempts to form young leaders, I was reminded of the ‘International Young Leaders Network’ which was being promoted a few years ago at my University chaplaincy. See . Maybe it was not specifically focused on leadership within the Church, and I don’t know if it was any good, and it seems to have fizzled out, but it is something.

  • Tonia

    It sounds like a great book, however I’d be wary of a ‘one size fits all’ definition of good leadership.

    • Paul Rodden

      Hi Tonia.

      I agree, and I think that’s where a healthy Pastoral Council is vital.

      The priest is a leader in a specific sense, but not in all senses, and those other senses can be delegated to the laity who have a passion to build the kingdom, even if it’s through the cleaning rota. It’s not about ‘ministries’ but the Church as the body of Christ functioning as a body.

      Today, thecatholicthing has posted an article which, coincidentally, sits snugly between my comment yesterday, and yours:

      It shows what happens when people distort the essential nature of the priesthood, and try to make it fit their own, ‘one size fits all’, agenda.

      One group sees the ‘leadership’ of priesthood as a barrier to their ego, the other, as an excuse to do nothing. But sadly, both have missed the point of ‘sacramental leadership’.

  • Paul Rodden

    Don’t know whether you read HPR, but there’s an excellent article up there, posted ‘today’, on the relationship of clergy and laity and their respective vocations:
    The “Munus Regendi” of the Priest and the Vocation of the Laity

  • Marc Cardaronella

    I think you’re so right on the money with this one! We seriously lack vision, passion, and leadership in the Catholic Church. I’ve been thinking this for years but I’ve kind of been afraid to say it. The majority of clergy do not know where they’re going. They are just going about business as usual and are not intentionally fostering conversion, relationship with God, or evangelization. There are some amazing Protestant leaders like Hybels that are doing incredible things with church management and leadership. Another one is Andy Stanley. He’s spearheaded a movement called Catalyst that’s fostering intentional leadership taking some of the best principles in business leadership and translated them into “church world” as he calls it. It’s fascinating and so exciting to see. We really need this kind of movement in the Catholic Church.

  • transformedinchrist

    Thanks for your comment, Marc. I agree with you. My old parish priest was over in the States recently with NET ministries and said the leadership he saw in the Church in the States was inspiring compared to some we have in the UK. So we are playing catch up with you guys!

    • Marc Cardaronella

      Well, I guess that’s a little encouraging. Still, I think it’s probably not much better here on a whole.

      • Paul Rodden

        Hi Marc.

        I was in the States last month (Indianapolis) and I experienced a little of what Hannah’s experienced. The church community seemed to be a rich and textured community which managed to span class divisions. I think you’re doing great stuff, too! You just can’t see it from where we’re at! 🙂

        The Church life there was clearly switched on. The young (under 40) seemed very devout. There were a considerable number at weekday Mass, they bowed during the Creed and before receiving our Lord (on the tongue), and didn’t chatter before Mass began. It was the 40+ age group who seemed to think they were at a ball-game.

        In many areas, we have few or no young people because the catechists are dreadful (either clueless, or think the sort Michael Voris would target), but we don’t have EWTN or other resources over here either, and most ‘Repositories’ at the back of church buildings just have ‘trinkets’, the cheapest of rosaries (but marked-up), and yellowing, dog-eared, Catholic Truth Society booklets.

        I know what Hannah means by getting the ‘Hybels vision’, as nearly all Catholic priests and laity I know are lacklustre, lukewarm, and like zombies, stumbling towards Armageddon.

        I totally agree with Hannah. We are playing catch-up, but I think we need to discover a British model which is also Catholic, and is for everyone, not just the culturally elite which Evangelicalism tends to breed, owing to it’s fundamentally cerebral nature (see Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), St Helen’s Bishopsgate, or All Soul’s, Langham Place, as examples of what every Evangelical Anglican wants their church to be like: bursting full of lawyers, paediatricians, accountants, and academics).

  • Paul Rodden

    I’m now going to be a bit controversial 🙂

    I have been working for the Rector of an Evangelical Church since 2007 and, we agree, there is a very unsavoury side to all this Hybels stuff, and we see it at first hand working very closely in a professional capacity with our Council of ‘churches’.

    My ‘boss’, like me, thinks Hybels and all the others (‘megachurch’ pastors), have lost the plot because it’s no longer really about Jesus Christ, but just looks like it.

    A vicar in our town who has this megachurch vision is trying to convert me and lending me books by his megachurch ‘guru’ (Bill Johnson) which are, quite frankly, Gnostic.

    But my boss is one of those old-fashioned Evangelicals who thinks that Christ’s power is expressed best in our weakness. For it’s not about man’s wisdom and skills, but God’s. No powerpoints, multimedia, and Costa coffee klatches, but the Gospel.

    He’s losing members of his congregation – like we are – to that vicar who runs his church on the Hybels’-like leadership model. It is fiercely proselytising and is very attractive, offering meals at services, etc. (I’ve been, and they’re rather ‘Corinthian’ affairs!). He’s got leadership team, money’s pouring in, and it’s terribly ‘cool’ and upper middle-class.

    So, I agree that we have a crisis of leadership in that sense, but I think that’s exactly because our leaders have been selling out to the (American) Protestant (Modernist) view of Ecclesiology and mission for decades.

    I think the quiet, shy and reserved, Pope Benedict’s astounding leadership capacity (because we have only one ‘leader’, Christ’s vicar) comes from his intimate love of Jesus and nothing about ‘leadership skills’ or ‘vision’ or ‘charisma’ whatsoever. In other words, it’s absolutely about ‘vision’ and ‘charisma’, of course, but not the sort Hybels and his cronies have in ‘mind’.

    What’s more courageous than a leader standing up and calling the whole Catholic Church back to its vocation and so must mend its ways and stop its immorality and abuses of the liturgy – especially when the Church is shrinking as rapidly as it is in terms of ‘bums on seats’?

    I think this blog shows that same love of Christ and Christ’s power shown in weakness, and that’s why I think it’s going in the right direction and value it.

    As Catholics I think we have to remember that our Ecclesiology is not individualistic and congregationalistic, like Hybels’. We ARE THE Body of Christ, THE Church, and we’re all in that Family of God. We ARE the fulfilment of Israel. We are not saved, like Protestants, ‘as individuals’. We ARE the Catholic Church. She is the conduit of all grace and links us intimately with our Creator.

    Therefore, I think the problem, isn’t one of ‘leadership’ and ‘vision’: just look at our totally amazing humble Holy Father!

    It’s one of obedience. The Papacy puts Hybels on his head.

    If any word is going to stick in Hybels’ throat, it’ll be obedience ‘just to a man’ or an ‘institution’ – and sadly – this is exactly how most of our Bishops see it (i.e., they are relativists). For Protestants, obedience is ‘to Christ alone’ and we have remember their leadership mentality is based on an obligation to their subjective judgement of who Jesus is ‘to me’, and so their Ecclesiology breeds schism, just as our Bishops breed confusion and an undermining of the Christ-ordained Petrine leadership through their disobedience and promotion of their own ideas.

    We need good management, not leadership. We already have good leadership in our Holy Father, but it’s just being subverted by Bishops and priests who want to be lords in their own little fiefdoms, or are just plain lazy and priesthood was a way of ‘dropping-out’ of any responsibility in life.

    A priest’s vision and ‘leadership’ at the local level should correspond to that of the Holy Father if we are actually the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church or else the Spirit is giving conflicting messages, and I see the latter as problematic, yet that’s what Protestants believe – they’re led by the Spirit, their pastor’s not – so split!

    The problem we have is unconverted Bishops and priests. They need the catechesis. They need to pray. They need to model the humility of the Cross. We need to pray for them soooo much!

  • Paul Rodden

    Said enough already… But to sum up the above, it seems to me that the Catholic leadership model is (should be) ‘ad orientem’, whilst the Protestant leadership model is ‘versus populum’.

  • Pope Francis Gold Dust I – “Warming Hearts” | Transformed in Christ

    […] capable of warming hearts…” It reminds me a little of a book I’ve written about here: Bill Hybels’ Courageous Leadership. In chapter 2, Hybels speaks of leaders having such a […]

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