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October 10, 2019, Chicago – Pastors, parish ministers, and other leaders in church organizations are often well trained in theology, Scripture, and pastoral ministry. But how well trained are they in selecting, hiring, and working with staff members and volunteers?

Carol Fowler, an Adrian Dominican Associate, has written a book, Human Resources: Best Practices in Church Management, to address some of the challenges that church leaders face in leading and working with personnel. Her book, published by Paulist Press and part of a series sponsored by Villanova University, is intended for “the person who finds himself or herself in a leadership position and suddenly has to manage staff,” Carol said. 

The book includes a foreword by Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, who encouraged Carol to write the book after she received the invitation from Paulist Press.

Now retired, Carol brought 26 years of experience in human resources work with the Archdiocese of Chicago in writing the book. While serving as Director of Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese, she said, she was invited by Cardinal Bernardin’s office to apply for the job of Director of Personnel Services. Carol was given the position, studied the human relations profession, and became a certified professional in human resources services, she said. Over the years, she has also conducted workshops to help church leaders in matters of human resources.

Because of her professional work with parishes, she said, her work was written “with the perspective of the parish,” but it has applications to leaders of other organizations, including parish business managers, pastoral associates or coordinators, and volunteer coordinators for nonprofit agencies.

“I think fundamentally what I try to help people understand is that all ministry is relational, and so is the ministry we do with the people who work or volunteer with us,” Carol said. “The leader needs to build a culture of relationships. When relationships and communications are good, problems can be avoided most of the time.” 

Another key focus for church leaders, Carol said, is choosing the right people to fulfill the mission of the organization effectively. The leaders “need to look at who’s on their staff and whether or not they have the right people to do the mission effectively.” In her book, she said, she tries to help her readers to make good hiring decisions and use the right processes to make those decisions. “Another issue that comes up as soon as you hire someone is how you orient them,” Carol said. “How do you make them effective at what they do?”

Another challenge, Carol said, is performance management. “You have to give feedback to people about what they’re doing well and what they need to improve on,” she said. 

But the most difficult situation for any organizational leader to face is terminating an employee, Carol said. “That’s always the most heart-wrenching, the most difficult thing you have to do,” whether because of an employee’s poor performance or misconduct or because of reorganizing and having to cut staff, Carol said. “It should never be easy,” she added. “Somebody’s life is about to be radically changed, and even if they are partly responsible, it’s a difficult change to face.”

Carol’s hope in writing the book is to help church leaders not only to lead their employees to be effective in their mission, but to ensure justice in the church workplace. “I truly believe that if people implement really good human resources policies, there’s a greater chance that there will be justice and fair play in churches. That’s what I’m really after – justice in churches.”

Also a former Adrian Dominican Sister, Carol said her connection to the congregation is core. “I learned what justice means through my connection to the Adrian Dominican Sisters. I learn to be passionate about wanting justice by my continue relationship.”



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