By Katherine Long
Early on in his 30 years of social action ministry, Dan Ebener realized something important: “You can’t just lead the change that you want to see,” he said. “You’ve got to develop leaders who are going to span out and lead that change from multiple directions.”
A former director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, today Ebener develops leaders full-time as a professor in the Masters of Organizational Leadership program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and as a consultant working with more than 100 organizations and businesses across the country. He is the author of three books, Servant Leadership Models for Your Parish, Blessings for Leaders, and, most recently, Strategic Planning: An Interactive Process for Leaders. He also serves part-time as the director of stewardship and parish planning for the Diocese of Davenport.
Ebener will visit the Diocese of Syracuse next week to offer a series of sessions on servant leadership, strategic planning and guiding parishes into the future. Those involved with the ongoing pastoral planning process in his or her home parish are invited to attend. (See the full schedule below.)
Msgr. James Lang, diocesan vicar for parishes and director of the Office of Pastoral Planning, said he has seen Ebener’s methods at work firsthand and “the impact that it has on parishes, in terms of giving them a usable structure to facilitate their dialogue and planning.”
“Our pastoral care areas and their facilitators are all engaged in developing plans for their specific area,” Msgr. Lang continued. “In support of that process, we’re bringing Dan in to help them have a common way of thinking about the process they’re engaged in.”
Ebener says his approach to strategic planning begins with the notion of the servant leader. Any leader is leading some kind of change, he noted, but a servant leader is mission-focused and serves the needs and interests of those involved.
“I would suggest that this is not only the way Jesus led, it’s the way he developed leadership among the apostles and the way that he suggested that we should all lead,” Ebener told the Sun.
The sessions will focus on “planning as an essential aspect of leadership,” especially as it relates to key individuals in the parish and their roles in planning for the parish’s future, Ebener explained.
Participants will learn about Ebener’s practical, eight-step strategic planning process by going through several of the steps together. “I want them to learn the interactive nature of strategic planning and how it can be fun and energizing and structured, and bring people together around ideas that create a shared vision of where the parish ought to be going,” he said.
Ebener’s hope is that participants will leave the sessions prepared to engage their home parishes in a strategic planning process — and to then implement that plan. Ebener and Strategic Planning co-author Fred Smith subscribe to the belief that “anything worth planning is worth implementing. If you’re going to plan it, then do it,” he said.
Additionally, Ebener hopes the planning process will create renewed energy and increase lay participation in local parishes, as he has seen happen in other faith communities and organizations.
“One of the big challenges that we face as Church is how to get people more engaged in the life of the parish. This planning in and of itself is going to do some of that,” he said. “As people step forward and express their concerns, express maybe some of their frustrations and get involved in talking to each other about what challenges we face and how we are going to work on these challenges, they get excited about being a part of this process of change.”
Ebener will present sessions throughout the diocese March 8 through 11. Clergy, parish and regional staffs, trustees, pastoral council members, pastoral care area planning group members and other interested leaders are invited to attend. Registration is not required.
March 8: Holy Cross Church, DeWitt, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
March 9: St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament Church, Vestal, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; St. James Church, Johnson City, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
March 10: Sacred Heart & St. Mary, Our Lady of Czestochowa, New York Mills, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Utica, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
March 11: Holy Cross Church, DeWitt, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.