Pastor Teams and Cooking Wasps

We commonly use the “silo” analogy, which refers to leaders and the departments they oversee working in isolation from other leaders and departments within an organization.  This is a common, harmful problem. At best it results in weak communication and poor collaboration.  At worst it leads to infighting and politics, turning colleagues into competitors.

Everyone recognizes that silos are bad. Yet in the Catholic world, we sometimes overlook the fact that parishes often function as silos in relation to neighboring parishes. And while acknowledging various attempts to address this, I’d like to suggest that Patrick Lencioni’s model of organizational health can provide a perfectly suited solution.

Before sharing some plans, first a story.  A friend of mine keeps bees. One day, he noticed a small swarm the size of a baseball resting on a ledge in his garden. Intrigued, he watched the bees for a while until they disbanded a minute or two later.  He then moved closer to inspect the spot and was amazed to find a dead wasp lying at the base of where the bees were assembled.

Let me provide a little context. A wasp is a mortal enemy to a bee.  Bigger, stronger, more aggressive, able to sting multiple times, wasps can devastate a hive in pursuit of food. 

In my friend’s garden, presumably the bees saw the approaching aggressor and confronted it.  They did so by surrounding it and killing it through heat.  That’s right. Bees, when gathered, can generate a collective increase in body temperature that is sufficient to cook a wasp to death.

I share this story because it sheds light on the potential of pastors and parishes working in small, cohesive units: functioning in an un-siloed manner.  Pastors face significant internal and external challenges—formidable “wasps,” so to speak. Among the many we can list: isolation from brother priests, the current ratio of clergy to laity in the West, and the challenge of reaching a highly secular and individualistic culture. It can’t be done alone.

Here I’d like to share with you a promising new initiative and ask for your prayers.  The Church’s law speaks of the deanery structure, wherein priests in a geographical region gather periodically to communicate and collaborate.  This is a wonderful structure in theory.  Often in practice, however, deaneries function much like golf teams.  On a golf team individual golfers play their game then come together to add up their scores.  It’s not really a team as the players don’t play collaboratively. Contrast this with basketball where five players work as a dynamic unit, (hopefully) selflessly and creatively working towards a common victory.  It is this latter analogy that holds much promise.

At Evangelium, we’re in discussion with a few bishops and pastors about how pastors could work together in small, regional teams of 3-6 parishes.  The idea is that the pastors would come to view their parishes as units within a larger system, while of course retaining their proper autonomy. Furthermore, pastors would begin to think of each other as teammates and thus embrace shared responsibility for the larger body of parishes.

If those pastors could become a cohesive and clear team, which takes time, effort, and sacrifice, the potential would be great. They would discover greater camaraderie, support, collaboration, and accountability.  The team could set common goals, eliminate pastoral and administrative duplication, and leverage the strengths of individual members for the wider good. Not everyone on a team has to be good at everything!  For example, a pastor gifted with apostolic creativity could help others generate ideas for reaching the unchurched.  Programs for youth might be run collaboratively between parishes: events with 30 youth are much more attractive than those with 3!  And at the heart of this would be the joy and peace of knowing that no member is “going it alone”.  Like the bees, the team could tackle things together with greater potency, efficiency, and joy.

So please join us in praying for this. With the backing of a Bishop, I’m scheduled to begin work with the first such team of pastors this spring, helping them to become cohesive, develop shared clarity, and labor together in the Lord’s vineyard.  “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)