Everyone? Yes, everyone. That is the inspiring call to action in this book that combines Chris Lowney’s business experience and love of the church. Focused on the particular circumstances of the Roman Catholic church, the proposals offered in the book could beprofitably applied to other forms of the church catholic and even to theological schools.
To understand Lowney’s claim, we need to adjust our understanding of leadership — and this is the central point of the book. For Lowney, leadership means being responsible and acting on it. We need not wait for others, he says, not even those in authority, to become the church that the Spirit empowers us to be. “Each of us,” he argues, “is called to answer the baptismal calling more dynamically.” In Pope Benedict’s words, the baptized are not merely collaborators with the clergy but are truly “co-responsible for the Church’s being and action.” The book develops the practical implications of this theology.
Lowney is not naive; he recognizes that structures of empowerment lag behind theology. Nevertheless, his numerous stories of creative action demonstrate that there are fewer obstacles to our responsible agency — our leading — than we might think. His point is not to challenge structures of authority, much less doctrine. We are not “stealing slices from the boss’s leadership pie,” he says, “but rather, baking a new and bigger pie.”
Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church, by Chris Lowney (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, 200 pp., $25).
Yet this is not a book on leadership theory. It is a practical response to what Lowney sees as the worst crisis to face Catholicism in 500 years. With thousands of schools and parishes closing and fewer priests and sisters, the institutional pillars of Catholic culture are weakening. The number of Catholics in the Unites States and Canada is declining, especially discounting for immigration, and there is less participation from those who remain. Particularly disturbing is that for every one adult who joins the church, six leave. Lowney penetrates the too-seldom-recognized heart of the crisis when he writes, “The greatest threat to Catholicism’s future may not be the dwindling supply of priests but the dwindling number of Catholics who deem the church relevant to their lives.” This is compounded by the complacency he sees in the church’s response. “We cannot solve a problem we do not even recognize.”
We may naturally assume this diagnosis of complacency refers to those in positions of authority, especially bishops, but the argument of the book is that this is about all of us. We are in this together. We are all responsible agents, even if in very different ways. Remarkably free of blaming, whining, or despondency, the book keeps its focus on constructive action, confident that the Spirit has not abandoned the church.
Using an asset-based approach, Lowney focuses not on the deficits but on the resources available — the “hundreds of millions of talented Catholics whose gifts have not been fully utilized.” Mobilizing that talent pool and unleashing its creativity,he believes, will revitalize the church.
As a focus for this work, Lowney proposes the “EASTeR project” for church renewal: be more Entrepreneurial, be Accountable, Serve the poor and marginalized, Transform the hearts and souls of members, and Reach out to the world. This is the same mission articulated and embodied by Jesus and the leadership modeled by the earliest disciples. Like the book as a whole, it is not a program or template but an evocative statement of method and priorities to be adapted to particular situations. The goal is not to have a perfect strategy, but to act and then to assess, adapt, and repeat. When we are all engaged in such responsible action, he says, we can revitalize the church catholic.
“A leader is a dealer in hope.” Lowney reminds us that this was Napoleon’s leadership principle. By that measure, he leads with this book.