PT 435: Organisational Leadership in Ministry Contexts

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Module Level

7/8/9: Dip/H.Dip/MTh

Time Allowance

Year Long, 30Hours, 1hr-2hrs PW.



Module Aims

This module is an exercise in Practical Theology, which always involves a dialogue between theology and at least one other discipline. In this case, the principal dialogue is between theology of ministry and organisational theory, specifically the Living System approach. The module explores the interface between communion ecclesiology and an open-system perspective on organisations in the context of quantum thinking. It enables students to explore the implications for ecclesiology and ecclesial practice of taking a systemic view of a given (ministerial) context. Learning within the module takes place along three ‘axes’, which can be described as follows: cognitive (through knowledge, understanding); affective (through feeling, which affects motivation and attitude); behavioural i.e. action-oriented (supported by skills, methods, strategies).

Indicative Syllabus:

  • The System: purpose, activities, boundaries (time, task, and territory), co-creating the system.
  • Quality of boundaries: rigid, flexible, porous.
  • The organisation as a system.
  • Fourteen characteristics of ‘quantum thinking’.
  • Concepts of Context, Communication, Change, etc. within Systems Theory
  • Models of Organisation: Management and Leadership
  • An Exploration of Role
  • Authority and Power in Groups and Systems
  • The organisation of work: case studies in the benefits of a systemic approach
  • Communion Ecclesiology
  • Ministry and Leadership
  • Systems-Centred Group: students learn about group dynamics and apply systems centred concepts and principles in the group that they co-create.

Learning Outcomes

  • On successful completion of this module, the student should be able to:
  • • Demonstrate a systemic awareness in different ministry contexts.
  • • Recognise the ‘hierarchy of systems’ within organisations, which observes the system in context – existing as a system within a more encompassing system, while also containing subsystems.
  • • Appreciate the open-system perspective, which advocates ‘greater attention to the whole’ and the interconnectedness of elements within the system, and the equal importance of looking outside the system of interest (to examine its context) and looking inside the system as its component units.
  • • Understand key concepts such as power, responsibility, boundaries, roles, role-relatedness, authority, leadership, management, etc.
  • • Articulate the implications of a Living System perspective for a theology of Church as local, global, and cosmic, which highlights the inseparability of community and mission.
  • • Articulate the implications for pastoral practice, which give visible expression to a communion ecclesiology.
  • • Work with the dynamics of living systems, and within his/her sphere of influence, to contribute to positive change within the organisational ministry context, actively engaging in mutual relationships and real dialogue to transform the system in a sustainable way.
  • • Engage in significant human relationships and to understand organizational and systems dynamics in an increasingly complex world.


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  • Hawkins, Thomas R. The Learning Congregation: A New Vision of Leadership. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.
  • Kasper, Walter. Theology and Church. London: SCM Press, 1989.
  • Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organisation. London: Random House, 2006.
  • Smith-Acuna, Shelly. Systems Theory in Action: Applications to Individual, Couples, and Family Therapy. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2011.
  • Vella, Jane. Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults, rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
  • Wheatley, Margaret J. Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World. San Francisco: Burrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2006.
  • Second Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. 1964
  • John Paul II. Novo Millennio Ineunte: Apostolic Letter at the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. 2001.
  • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry. 2005.
  • Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Living Communion: Vision and Practice for Parish Pastoral Councils in Ireland Today. Dublin: Veritas, 2011.
  • Codd, Anne. ‘The Pastoral Context as a Living System: Implications for Theology and Practice.’ In Pastoral Ministry for Today : 'Who Do You Say That I Am? Conference Papers 2008' edited by Thomas Grenham, 64-89. Dublin: Veritas, 2009.
  • Downey, Paula. ‘Systems and Power, exploring the economy of change.’ In Global Aspirations and the Reality of Change: How can we Do Things Differently? (Ceifin Conference Papers) edited by Harry Bohan and Gerard Kennedy. Dublin: Veritas, 2004.
  • Gaillardetz, Richard R. ‘The Ecclesiological Foundations of Ministry within an Ordered Communion.’ In Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries, edited by Susan Woods. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2003.
  • Reed, Bruce. ‘An Exploration of Role.’ Grubb Institute Lectures, Nov 2001.
  • Roberts, Vega Zagier. ‘The organization of work, contributions from open systems theory’, in The Unconscious at Work: Individual and Organizational Stress in the Human Services edited by Anton Obholzer and Vega Zagier Roberts, 28-38. London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Quine, Colin. ‘Reflections on Authority and Power in Groups & Systems.’ Grubb Institute Lectures.