The leadership of a parish includes the pastor, staff, pastoral council and coordinating groups, often called commissions, that oversee the essential aspects of the parish and give them direction and focus. How the leadership fits together is the structure of the parish community, a key ingredient that reflects core values and helps the leadership operate smoothly and communicate with one another.

Some of aspects of a good parish structure include:

  • The pastoral council as center to the structure
  • Staff members as resource to the commissions
  • A training manual for all leaders
  • A common leadership night once a month

Too often pastoral councils are put off to the side and have no connection with the life and organization of the parish. The more successful parishes place the council at the center of the structure. This is the body, with the pastor as an integral and active member, that sets direction for the parish as a whole. It is made up of representatives from the commissions, as well as one staff person who is the connection between the staff and council. When a crisis or confusing issue arises, it is the pastoral council that helps the pastor deal with the crisis or who clears up the confusion.

The essential elements of any parish include worship, community, formation, outreach and administration. Many parishes have oversight groups or commissions that act as mini-councils for each of these five areas. These commissions work best if there is a staff resource person who is a member of each commission, not as the chair, but to offer help and suggestions. Two people act as co-chairs of the commission and two other people are the representatives from the commission on the pastoral council.

To make sure all those in leadership positions have a grasp of how the system works and what is required of them, it helps to have a training manual for all those on the council and commissions, as well as all the staff members. This booklet includes the description of the council and commissions, requirements for membership, how meetings are run and how decisions are made. An example of this manual is available from the PEP office for a cost of $9.95, plus handling. Contact pep@pitnet.net and ask for a copy of the Covenant Booklet.

What keeps the pastor, staff, council and commissions working together is to have a common Leadership Night once a month. The evening starts with all groups sharing prayer together and then breaking out into commission groups for their one-hour meeting. The entire leadership reconvenes and shares two-minute reports on each group’s deliberations. Socializing follows. After a short while, the pastoral council withdraws to have its own 45 minute meeting. For more information, see Parish As Covenant (Sweetser, Sheed & Ward, 2001), pp. 76-79.  See also Keeping the Covenant (Thomas Sweetser, SJ, Crossroads, 2007), pp. 60-85.


A sample of PEP Newsletters related to Leadership:

Pastor Of A Modern Parish – Some Do’s and Don’ts

A Task For The Pastoral Council

Pitfalls For Staff

Mantras For The Leadership