Dan Ebener Contributed photo

How does a church foster the sense of community that early Christian leaders had?

It can happen at all levels of membership, said Dan Ebener, the author of a new book titled “Servant Models for Your Parish.” 

The book by the professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport was published in the spring and its effect has spread nationwide through Catholic ministries as well as other Christian faiths.

“The best test of leadership is not how many followers you lead, but how many leaders you develop,” Ebener said, adding that the approach mirrors that of Jesus Christ and early Christians, such as Peter and Paul. The lessons they offer are examples of servant leadership.

Ebener’s effort has a strong supporter in Bishop Martin Amos of the Davenport Diocese, who wrote an introduction to the book. Amos was part of the effort to distribute it across the nation, sending 185 copies to all bishops in the United States and writing to every seminary in the nation, suggesting it as a textbook.

“Servant leadership follows the example of Jesus Christ,” Amos said, encouraging the study and practice of the servant-leader model. “I think the time is ripe, not just in our diocese but in the church itself.”

Clear, readable

Ebener is a professor of organizational leadership in the St. Ambrose business master’s degree program. The book challenged him to put the technical aspects of two church studies into a readable and practical fashion.

One study is an examination of parish life in 2005-06 conducted by the Diocese of Davenport that involved 84 parishes and hundreds of parish leaders. 

The second, a case study, involved the practices of three parishes of different sizes in the diocese: A small one in Bloomfield, Iowa; a medium-size example in Solon, Iowa, and the largest parish in the diocese, one located in Iowa City. He explained that servant-leaders are fostered in Bloomfield by a family approach, while there is a community approach in Solon. Iowa City shows a team approach to identifying servant leaders. 

Wide distribution

The book took five years for Ebener to produce, but he finds the distribution process to be just as arduous. He focuses on the stewardship aspect of the book and has brought it to Catholic conferences. He’s a finalist to be a keynote speaker at a large event in Los Angeles and will attend conferences in Orlando, Fla., and Kansas City in 2011.

Ebener sold out a supply of 1,200 copies of the book at a recent Catholic Stewardship Conference in San Diego, and an “e-mail blast” about the book and the new Servant Leadership Institute was sent to 14,000 parishes in the United States. Finally, Ebener hired a Webster City, Iowa, couple to help him launch a website on the topic: www.servantleadershipmodels.com.

Servant leadership program

Not long ago, the bishop suggested Ebener develop an institute to “nurture the philosophy and the practice of servant leadership in order to develop parish servant leaders within the diocese,” according to the course description. 

This program asks participants to read the book by chapters and sections at a time and to pair that study with suggested Scripture passages. “It’s more like a class,” Ebener said.

There are 35 participants and four coaches doing the 16-week program with Ebener. They read the book and meet in small groups for discussion. Those sessions happen every two weeks in Iowa City, Clinton, Burlington and the Quad-Cities.

Ecumenical aspects

The book has been purchased for training in other faiths, Ebener said, including the staff at Churches United of the Quad-Cities as well as First Presbyterian Church in Davenport.

He believes the book has general applications to Christian faiths, even though the word “parish” is in the title. “Authors have very little to say about the title and cover of their books,” he said. The publisher is Paulist Press, a large Catholic publishing house based in New Jersey.

Strong churches are the building blocks of community neighborhoods and add to the quality of life, he says. 

“A fully engaged church means strong neighborhood ties,” he added. “It’s an ultimate positive impact on society.”