New planning director offers 6 observations about lay leadership

This story is part of an occasional series on the diocese’s current pastoral planning process. For past stories, visit

Brenda Kresky

Brenda Kresky, newly appointed diocesan director of planning, has traveled to 16 parishes around the diocese since her appointment Feb. 19, listening and asking questions as the diocese continues to move forward with the pastoral planning process.

Some key observations Kresky has made involve taking a deeper look at lay leadership in the diocese.

“At every single meeting I have been to, somebody has said, ‘The laity needs to step up,’” Kresky said. “And I find myself wondering, step up and do what? Do they need to step up and be welcoming? Do they need to step up and take leadership? Do they need to step up and be more Catholic, providing more of a Catholic presence in their communities? When we talk about lay leadership, there are a lot of different answers to what that means.

“What does a vibrant parish mean? What makes a healthy parish? What do you really want your parish to look like? Those are the things I want people to be thinking about and talking about,” Kresky said. “Every parish in our diocese has some wonderful things about it, and every parish in our diocese has opportunities to grow.”

To help think about the current landscape of lay leadership in the diocese and to envision possibilities for the future, Kresky offers six areas of focus followed by a personal reflection question.



1. Lay ministry means everyone has a job to do.

“We, by our baptism, have a right and responsibility to be disciples of Christ,” Kresky said. “That means both ‘doing’ and ‘being.’ It’s not just going to church on Sundays. It’s being a disciple in the world. We hear that all the time, but how does that play out in our lives? Every baptized person should be asking themselves what God is calling them to do.”

Reflection questions: What does lay leadership in my parish look like?
What is God calling me to do to be a disciple in the world?


2. Evangelization is a key role of lay leaders.

Lay leaders have a way of inviting others in and instructing others in the faith. Kresky said another concern that she hears often is the decline of youth and young adults actively participating in parishes and attending Mass.

“I am hearing the sadness, and disappointment and the struggle of people’s children and grandchildren not coming to Mass,” she said. “Evangelization comes up at every meeting. Although that is not true of everyone, generally speaking, the commitment to religious organizations from the younger generation isn’t the same as it was from the elder generations.”

Reflection questions: Who from my parish can I invite to use their gifts?
Who can I invite from outside my
community to come to Mass?


3. Lay leaders work with their pastor; they do not take his place.

Kresky said lay leaders bring something very unique to the church: “They bring life and witness in a different way than a priest does. There’s room in the church for lay leaders. One person can’t do it all. If we are really honest and believe that God gives us all the gifts we need, and not one person has all of the gifts, if we really believe that, then we have to work together. That’s the Trinity. We are all in relationship, and we are all about bringing our gifts and sharing them all for the common good of everybody. That’s not just the priest’s job, that’s everybody’s job.”

Reflection questions: What gifts does my pastor have? What gifts do I have?
How am I using my gifts to collaborate with my priest and my community?


4. Everyone has a role in the spiritual and theological formation, training and ongoing development of lay leaders, at all levels.

Each person has an essential role by virtue of their baptism to use their gifts to build up the Body of Christ. Because of the diversity and complexity of parish life, there will be varying degrees of need in formation and education.

“We are never done learning,” Kresky said. “Each and every person at every age has a responsibility to grow in their faith. There are a variety of ways to approach this: Bible studies, taking a class, small faith-sharing groups, reading a spiritual book, having a conversation with someone about God, etc. The church needs and expects the leaders in our parishes to have proper understandings of church teachings or at least to know where to find the answers. This formation helps all of us grow in our own faith.”

Reflection questions: What kind of formation do I need? What do others in my parish need?
How can my parish provide ongoing formation to our volunteers and paid staff?


5. Lay leaders working in ministry while supporting themselves and/or their families must be paid a just wage.

“Having made a career out of ministry, I appreciate being able to help support my family,” Kresky said. “How do we pay those in ministry a just wage? People are used to giving money to buildings. It’s harder, I think, to give money to a salary. This is where the common good piece comes into play. If I am not directly affected by a ministry or a person, do I need to give to it? That’s a question we need to be addressing.”

Reflection questions: Am I a good steward of my gifts of time, talent and treasure?
Do I have something to offer my parish for the common good?


6. Prayer and discernment are at the heart of both lay and ordained ministry. What is God calling us to do?

“I think our communities are ready to see more lay leaders. When we look at the statistics and the shortage of priests, lay leaders are a part of the answer,” Kresky said. “The other piece [is] there’s not just a shortage of priests but there is a shortage of lay leaders, too. Part of that is the vocational call to leadership, and that takes a lot of different shapes. We all need to be paying attention, letting the Holy Spirit guide people being called and empowering people to answer that call.”

Reflection questions: What is God calling me to do right now?
Who is
God calling me to be?


Next steps

Kresky will continue to travel around the diocese to attend parish meetings. Above is a tentative time line for the pastoral planning process.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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