Deacons urged to lead with confidence, humility

April 25, 2016

HOUSTON — In his keynote address at the recent National Association of Diaconate Directors’ annual conference in Houston, Chris Lowney pressed the nation’s deacon leadership to lead with confidence, while taking heed of Pope Francis’ style of leadership. 

Lowney, a leadership consultant and author of four books, one of them about the leadership style of Pope Francis, pointed to the often contradictory role that deacons, the lay leaders of the Catholic Church, must assume. On the one hand, he said deacons are servants of the Church and its people; on the other, they are charged with setting a direction or goal and influencing others towards them. Lowney said it is the paradox of the religious language, where “vocation” and “disciple” indicate following, and “apostle” and “mission” have the opposite connotation.

“There is always following and leading going on at the same time — if it’s one or the other, we are not doing our job,” Lowney said. “We should be following and leading.”

Citing examples from Pope Francis’s life from the time he started out as Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to his work in the Papal office, Lowney said the Pope sought to win the respect and confidence of his peers through hard work and discipline. Lowney learned how as a young priest, Pope Francis took on laundry duty for his community, and later when called to open a new parish in a poor neighborhood, he inspired young seminarians to walk the neighborhood to find out how they could be of service. In washing the feet of juvenile delinquents shortly after becoming pope, Pope Francis, Lowney said, was sending a message that he is at the service of others, as should be the Catholic leadership. 

“In a way, Pope Francis was articulating an opposite way — they’re not serving me, I’m serving them,” Lowney said. “For him, it reflected his deeper sense of what it means to be human and a leader.”

Lowney urged the deacons to incorporate their faith, not just in their role with the Church but in everything they do — at work, with family and friends and in their other activities.

“We have the chance to show our brother and sister Catholics our whole life through our different activities,” Lowney said.

Lowney said good leadership, as demonstrated by the pope, is about building other people up so they can do good work and take over, understanding the needs of parishioners and letting go of ego and fear. He said it’s also about discipline, which means attending to tasks without becoming overwhelmed, seeing things from a different perspective and taking time out of the day to reflect and pray. 

“If I devoted 100 percent attention every time there was situation of need my job would grind to a halt in 72 hours,” Lowney said. “What is your mechanism for reminding yourself about what life is about?” 

Lowney was one of more than a dozen speakers at the conference, designed for the diaconate leadership. The conference provided workshops on a wide range of topics about what it means to be a deacon and the responsibilities and challenges that come with the position.

“It’s been interesting to see the leadership of different parishes — it gives me ideas about programming to take home,” said Deacon John Bodway, of Kalamazoo, Ohio.

Organizer Gerald DuPont, director of Diaconate Formation with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said the conference was a great success thanks to the broad representation from 140 of the 195 dioceses across the nation and the great speakers. As the diaconate grows — there are some 440 deacons in the Archdiocese alone — DuPont said it has become increasingly important to inform and support deacons in their role as servant-leader of the Church. 

“We are trying to say, ‘to be a good leader you really have to serve the people and help the people,’” DuPont said.