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To change church culture, we need service-oriented leaders

  • 24 February 2022
The church is experiencing widespread calls for reform and has responded with platforms for listening and reflection through the Australian Plenary and the 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome. Many calls for reform have stressed the need to address changes in the church’s culture. However, the history of organisational and cultural change underscores leadership as being the most important element in successful change. Lessons learned from the leadership of successful cultural reforms stress the importance of focussing on the nurturing of the organisation’s culture through the alignment of values and mission. Inconsistency between culture, mission and values leads to institutional dysfunction and reduced credibility.

Alignment between an organisation’s mission, values and culture cannot be left to chance. Leaders in well-functioning organisations know this. They ensure that structures for governance and administration are consonant with the overall mission; they foster cultures that reflect the organisation’s values. The character and actions of the leaders themselves have a major influence in shaping an organisation’s culture. If the call for a synodal church is to be successful, church leaders will need to be able to discern, promote and live the values of synodality.

For Francis, ‘synodality’ is non-negotiable: ‘what God wants’ of the church at this time. It goes far beyond the collegiality between all bishops with the bishop of Rome through the Synod of Bishops established by Pope Paul VI in 1965. Through the lens of theology, the church is a community of faith, the sacrament of Christ and the People of God. At the same time, it lives out its identity and mission through people and through its organisational structures. Little needs to be repeated about the contemporary loss of credibility of the church, both in Australia and around the world. The Australian church is not alone in being called to account by Government, rather than by its own leaders, for systemic mismanagement of child sexual abuse. There are elements of culture in the contemporary institutional church that undermine the church’s stated mission and values as a holy nation whose heritage is the dignity and freedom of the children of God and in whose hearts the Spirit dwells.

The 2023 Synod process is a call for all members of the church to take up what Vatican II began by way of both renewal (aggiornamento) and a rediscovery of its early essence (ressourcement) to reform its culture and search for an authentic identity and form suitable