Witnessing the Need for Creativity in Pastoral Ministry
Date published: May 4, 2017
The International Festival of Creativity in Church Management, sponsored by Villanova University and the Lateran University in Rome, took place
in the heart of the Eternal City this March. A creative community of exchange and
discussion, the festival brought together researchers, entrepreneurs, theologians
and church management professionals with the purpose of mutual inspiration and collaborative
co-creation of a new vision of parish life and of practices to build up future paths.
The University of Dallas Ann & Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry was present at the
festival in a special way through Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, Marti Jewell, D.Min.
“There was a worldwide, global flavor, the all roads lead to Rome kind of thing,”
Jewell said when commenting on the festival’s character.
15 researchers were invited from 4 different continents, hailing not only from the
United States and Italy, but also from countries such as Germany, Spain, Ireland,
“The idea was, how can theology and research help make the Church a better place in
20 years?” Jewell said. “That question was asked of every speaker, every panelist,
Jewell, who had dedicated over 6 years to “The Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership
Project,” had the opportunity to share her research with this international community
in the form of a presentation entitled “What do you mean, co-responsibility?” which
sparked questions among attendees and drew from her research about excellence in parish
“In my research, we met with pastors, parish staff and parish council members from
all over the country to have a conversation about parish leadership,” Jewell said.
Jewell and her colleagues discovered that different styles of leadership and different
ways of collaborating are emerging.
“For years I had been puzzled, because some people said, ‘Yes, we collaborate!’ And
some people said, ‘No, we don’t collaborate.’ But what the research showed was that
we weren’t using the word the same way,” Jewell said.
With this divergence in mind, Jewell began writing on the topic a few years ago, and
a book series was published by Loyola Press. At the same time, she noted, Pope Emeritus
Benedict gave a speech to the priests of the Diocese of Rome in which he called for
the clergy to view the laity as “co-responsible” for the mission.
“What does it mean to be ‘co-responsible?’” asked Jewell. “Is that another one of
these words, where it means something different to everybody? Or does it mean the
same thing to us? And how do we do it?”
These were the questions that Jewell was dedicated to investigating, and she found
that attendees from different countries responded differently to research. Met with
enthusiasm from many of the Americans at her presentation, Jewell observed that those
from other countries were hearing some of these differences for the first time.
“As I reflected on their questions, it has to do with how we’re using the word leadership
and leader,” Jewell said. “What we need to do as a Church, is to understand what leadership
does, and what we’re called to do as missionary disciples. We’re called to take leadership
in taking the Good News out into the world.”
Expressing her belief that creativity plays a huge role in ministry, Jewell cited
Craig Dykstra’s concept of “pastoral imagination,” explaining that just as an artist
or musician has an artistic imagination, so too does a pastoral minister have a “sixth
sense” of their field that helps them excel.
“In this project, we found that pastoral imagination does benefit from creativity,”
Jewel said. “Not every community is the same. If we have a ‘one size fits all’ approach,
it’s not going to work. We have to build community, we have to provide for sacramental
life, we have to catechize and form disciples. But how we do that, oh, that’s where
the creativity comes in.”
With a great deal of research from this project, coupled with her experience of the
festival, Jewell has plenty of thoughts churning about leadership, creativity, and
“I will be writing a chapter for a book coming up out of the festival,” Jewell said.
“What I hope I’m inviting people to do is open their paradigm of what leadership is
and who does it, and what can happen if we all are truly co-responsible for the Church.”
With another such festival taking place at Villanova University in 2018, the concept
of creativity in pastoral ministry is flourishing on an international scale. Jewell
expressed hope that this flourishing will include not only a study of the past and
present but also a marked emphasis on the future of the Church for the sake of our
children and grandchildren.
“The Church of the future has to be in touch with the people of today, and especially
young Catholics,” Jewell said. “We need to be able to really really listen to God’s
people, and understand that the Spirit is speaking to us there.”