Leadership expert urges laity to present themselves for action

By Laura Ieraci

The proliferation of programs offering formation in church leadership in the United States is a “good sign” and a huge shift from when laywoman Kerry Robinson began with Leadership Roundtable 12 years ago.

Founded by Geoff Boisi, the mission of Leadership Roundtable is to bring best practices in finance, management, communications and human resources development in the service of the church.

“In the United States, Catholics had risen to levels of influence and affluence, but the church was failing to avail itself of this knowledge and know-how,” said Robinson, recalling how the organization began.

Having observed the church’s needs in these areas, Leadership Roundtable pioneered formation opportunities that connected “high-level expertise (among laypeople) with the management of the church,” she explained. “It is a labour of love by lay Catholics who have more to offer the church than money.”

Leadership Roundtable underlines the essential role and responsibility of the laity in advancing the church’s mission, which Robinson said “should not belong to priests alone.” Rather, by virtue of baptism, the mission of the Gospel is the call of every Catholic, including the laity.

Robinson, who was born after the Second Vatican Council, said the laity’s role in the church is “only becoming more important.”

Kerry Robinson – Global Ambassador of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management

She noted that an increasing number of laypeople, both men and women, are discerning vocations to serve in the church, studying theology and then seeking employment in a church ministry, service or apostolate.

As a result, it is imperative for church leadership to develop best practices in human resources and an organizational culture that will help “care for their most precious resource — people,” she said.

Leadership Roundtable has identified best practices in this and other fields that are transferable to the church and has offered formation on their implementation to dioceses across the United States.

Recently, however, Robinson became a global ambassador of Leadership Roundtable and began meeting with bishops around the world to offer their dioceses the same formation opportunities.

Robinson said she has begun similar conversations with various dicasteries at the Vatican as well, and she lauded Pope Francis for the “managerial reform” which he has made a priority of his pontificate.

“We’re just beginning to explore how we can be a helpful, beneficial presence at large in Rome in support of his program for reform,” she said.

Several months ago, Robinson was one of five women who met with some Vatican dicasteries to speak about the role of women in the church.

She said her presentation did not include any “magisterial challenges.” Rather, she shared the results of repeated studies indicating that organizations with a higher percentage of women in leadership positions alongside men performed better and experienced fewer crises.

“This is a matter of managerial urgency,” she said, underling the importance of male-female complementarity in decision-making bodies.

While organizations, such as Leadership Roundtable, work to bring about growth and a positive shift in the church’s organizational culture, Robinson said, laypeople who feel called to work for the church must make their “desires and abilities known to as many church leaders as possible.”

“Present yourself for action,” she said.

She also urged the mentoring of Catholic young adults in every area of service in the church and including them in the various decision-making bodies at the parish and diocesan levels.

Reflecting on the pope’s frequent preaching against clericalism, Robinson warned that clericalism “is not unique to the ordained” and said the pope’s words also speak to one’s motivation for working in the church.”

“There is wanting to live out your vocation in service to the church and wanting to advance you own leadership capability for the sake of ambition,” she said. “Inner motivation is a hard thing to gauge.”

A sought-after speaker, Robinson was among the presenters at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, July 1-4, and at the National Association for Lay Ministry in Indianapolis, June 1-3.

This past spring, she was a main speaker, along with Bishop Paul Tighe, adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, at a forum held at The Lay Centre on the theme, “Caring for Our Common Home, Caring for Each Other.”

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