Nessan Ronan, lecturer and Bank of Zambia Chair in Accountancy at the Copperbelt University in Kitwe, gives his perspectives on where to place emphasis in priestly ministry between concern for the laity and concern for canon law, theology as well as liturgy. He concludes by advocating team ministry

Every organization from time to time needs to review its operations. The church is no exception to the need to carry out a thorough appraisal in order to assess the levels of efficiency and effectiveness. The church has been a pioneer in espousing an over-arching mission statement, which is designed to motivate its members towards common goals and objectives.

This article is an attempt to put the work of the church under the microscope. This is done within a framework which acknowledges the enormous contribution the church has made to better the lives of people. Perhaps there is no more inspiring situation than to observe the deep and sincere dedication of missionaries and other religious to their noble calling. In a world where some worship at the altar of materialism and where the pursuit of self-interest is the dominant culture in many countries, the authentic Christian Ministry gives witness to a deeper set of human values.

The Church has similarities with other organizations in terms of structure, strategy, objectives, visions, values and missions. Organizational members, while having similarities, also exhibit a wide range of individual differences. It is clear that in the recent past many commentators have forgotten this fundamental truth. The consequences have been that we have seen a “stereotyping culture” emerge as a reaction to the abuses which have been revealed. I will illustrate the diversity among church members by use of what is termed the “Ministry Grid”. I then go on to suggest strategies that might be adopted for the five dimensions.

The ministry grid is a two-dimensional model with five principal components. It is outlined in Figure One and will be described here. . The first dimension contained in the Y-axis is concern for liturgy and the X-axis is concern for laity. These two dimensions may be in conflict but in some cases they are in harmony. Concern for liturgy describes a situation where the minister in his or her activities gives precedence to the dictates of canon law, theology and liturgy over the concern for the laity. In these circumstances the minister can come across as “unfeeling” and lacking in “love” while indicating a failure to grasp the imperatives of being a “human being”. Concern for laity indicates that the minister adopts the opposite attitude to that shown by the minister who has a high concern for liturgy.

Both positions are considered to be sub-optimal. A balanced approach to ministry, it is contended, will pay attention to both dimensions. A minister can be high or low on one or both dimensions of the ministry grid. I now move to a discussion of the five components.

Abdication ministry describes a situation where a minister has a low concern for liturgy and a low concern for the laity. It is surmised that this type of ministry is in the minority. It may come about because the incumbent is totally demotivated with his or her role. A person may be suffering from either a physical or mental illness. Also, the person may have entered the ministry for the wrong motive. The effect on the laity can be extremely damaging. It can drive some of the faithful away from the church. It also communicates a negative message of God’s love for his people. It can in the language of psychology develop cognitive dissonance among the faithful.

Hermit ministry is associated with obsessive preoccupation for the theology of the ministry. All questions are solved within a theological framework. Canon Law rules the day. In colloquial language, this is the manifestation of Father No. Where excessive adherence is paid to theology and rules at the expense of humanity, the consequences are that the minister is drawn away from the laity. Eventually, the minister becomes isolated from his people and the more isolated and unconnected he feels, the more he will fall back on Canon Law. The emphasis on theology is sometimes perceived by the laity as the exercise of power. Ultimately the minister becomes a power worker.

Figure One: The Ministry Grid(Based on the Managerial Grid by Blake & Mouton)


The burnout ministry describes a person who has a high level of dedication to the laity but sacrifices himself and his own spiritual development. He can be called Father Yes as he has a great problem in regulating his own work and cannot say no to anyone. He shows a great sense of caring and to a large extent would be perceived by the laity as the “Ideal Pastor”.

But the problem with this model is that the minister will not be able to continue in this way in the long-term. He will eventually get exhausted and he may then become demotivated. Also the burnout minister is so dedicated that he can easily become disappointed when those around him appear not to be working as hard as he is. He can in fact be too ambitious for his flock. He needs to slow down and pace himself. Better still he needs to focus on being a team minister.


It is estimated that about 40% of religious fall into this category. Therefore, it is the predominant operating style. It can be described as the average conscientious person who does a good job. He pays attention to both the laity and the liturgy but not in any extreme way. A person operating in a satisficing mode can perform the same ministry in the same parish for a number of years. Probably, this is the most comfortable style of ministry for Africa.


Team ministry is the ideal style in that it exhibits a high concern for the laity and a high concern for the liturgy. But this style requires a radical shift in emphasis from “ministering to” to “ministering with” their flock. It is an empowering strategy where the minister has the confidence to delegate the non-core areas of the ministry to other people. The minister operates as the leader of a team. He acknowledges that while he is a skilled theologian he also has deficiencies in other skill areas. This is the ministry style, which is advocated in this paper. It will be explored in more detail in the following section.


Team ministry begins with a Job Analysis exercise, whereby the job of the priest is analysed in the following manner.


The core activities of the priestly ministry can be defined as the tasks for which the priest was ordained. Core activities can be further divided into non-delegatable and delegatable. All other activities fall within the area of non-core activities. Table one contains an attempt by the author to make this classification. It is based on an “outsider’s view” of the priestly ministry. Therefore it can contain some misclassifications based on perceptual errors.

Administering the sacraments is seen as the core area of the priestly ministry. The first three activities cannot be delegated but activities four to eight could be delegated to Deacons. The use of Deacons has the potential to increase the effectiveness of priests. Activities nine to fifteen can also be delegated but in these cases, the laity can be involved. We must remind ourselves that delegation does not mean transferring responsibility from the priest to others. The priest retains ultimate responsibility for the activities.

Table One: Job Analysis of the Priestly Ministry

Non-Delegatable Delegatable
1. Celebrating the Mass


2. Hearing confessions *
3. Administering last rites *
4. Sacrament of Baptism *
5. Sacrament of marriage *
6. Funeral service *
7. Visiting the sick *
8. Marriage & youth counseling *
9. Attending parish council meetings *
10. Monetary collections *
11. Paying bills *
12 Fund-raising activities *
13. Maintenance *
14. Church building *
15. Developing projects *

Delegation involves transferring responsibilities to others while retaining ultimate responsibility. The priest transforms his role from a “solo performer” to the leader of a team. Team ministry has the capacity to liberate both the priest from his onerous role and release and utilize the talents of others who have the desire to render service. It also may ensure that the Church becomes identified with all its stakeholders.

In this way, when a crisis hits the Church as undoubtedly it will, it will be perceived as a problem to be solved by all the members and not only the clergy. I quote with approval the words of Ron Hidaka S.J., in his provincial address in Lusaka in 1999 where he describes the changes he sees as necessary as the Church is to prosper and draws attention to the possible obstacles which may hinder this process.

Unfortunately some Jesuits still have the “Big Bwana” mentality where they dictate and control. They want to keep all power in their own hands. So the first consequence is that there is a need for a change of heart in the Jesuits so that they look on their work with laity as partners, not as controllers.

Father Hidaka offers the concept of the “collaborative ministry” or what in this paper is termed “Team Ministry” as the way forward for the Church.


The Catholic Church is in crisis. It needs a way forward. One avenue of opportunity is to embrace the concept of team ministry. It promises benefits all round. Firstly, it will break down the iron barriers which exist between the clergy and the laity. Secondly, it will bring the “clergy in from the cold”. I do not know how it happened but the psychological distance between the clergy and the laity is not good.

Socially we the laity have isolated and marooned our clergy in what amounts to a desert island. Team ministry has the potential to rescue them and bring them home to where they belong. With team ministry there can be no “we” and “they” only “us”. But all is not gloom. I see a great beginning emerging. After all if you cast your minds back to say fifty years ago the organizational climate in the Catholic Church was very different to what it is today. Fifty years ago you would not have an accountant writing about matters affecting the church and more importantly I am sure you would not have clergy willing to listen.


In this article I discussed the serious issue of change for the Christian ministry and in particular the Catholic Church. I offered an alternative model of operation based on team ministry or what may be termed collaborative ministry. In a further article I intend to explore how the present system can be transformed into a team ministry and how the present members of the church can be liberated from their dysfunctional ways.

Professor Nessan J. Ronan
Bank of Zambia Chair in Accountancy
The Copperbelt University

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