Distinguished Chairman, Justice Yaw Appau, Your Lordship, Most. Rev. Matthew Kwasi Gyamfi, Bishop of the Sunyani Diocese, the Vicar General, Monsignori, Rev. Fathers, Rev. Sisters, Rev. Brothers, Papal Knights, Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it is a privilege to address you in memory of the great loving servant of God, the late Bishop James Owusu.

The topic for our consideration is ‘Beyond Pray, Pay and Obey: The Role of the Laity in Shaping Pastoral Leadership in the Church’. This topic, which calls for a greater participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church is very relevant today in view of the Synod of Bishops on ‘A Synodal Church’, the first phase of which will begin next week in Rome.


  • Definition of Terms
  • Beyond Pray, Pay and Obey
  • Pastoral Leadership in a Synodal Church
  • Pastoral Leadership in Ghana Today
  • Shaping Pastoral Leadership: The Role of the Laity
  • Conclusion
  1. Laity

According to the Second Vatican Council (simply known as, ‘Vatican II’),1 ‘The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God.’2

  1. Pastoral Leadership

Pastoral leadership could be variously defined. In this reflection, my definition is derived from the Latin word ‘pastor’ which means ‘shepherd’. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10). He would then entrust the ministry of shepherding the Church as His flock to St. Peter and the other apostles (cf. John 21:15-17; Matt. 16:13-20), and their successors (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Pastoral leadership, then, is the ministry of shepherding the faithful in the name of Christ. Therefore, the Pope, the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are to exercise pastoral leadership with Christ the Good Shepherd as their model. They, in turn, share their pastoral leadership with priests, to whom they give responsibility over a portion of the flock as pastors of parishes.3

  1. The Church

In this presentation, the Church is understood in its general sense of being the body of Christ. However, when considering the role of the laity in shaping pastoral leadership, the ‘Church’ refers to the Roman Catholic Church in Ghana.


The Protestant Reformation was initiated by Martin Luther in 1517. To counter the reformation and to ensure that the doctrines of the Catholic Church were intact as well as stem the tide of the defection of Catholics, her leadership assumed a strong hierarchical or clerical nature. Thus, according to Avery Cardinal Dulles, for nearly five centuries, the powers and functions in the Catholic Church were generally divided into three:

teaching, sanctifying, and governing. This division of powers leads to further distinctions between the Church teaching and the Church taught, the Church sanctifying and the Church sanctified, the Church governing and the Church governed. In each case the Church as institution is on the giving end. So, these authors say: The Church teaches, sanctifies, and commands, in each case identifying the Church with the governing body or hierarchy.4

On the one hand, in this model of the Church, the hierarchy or the clergy were those in the position of teaching, sanctifying and governing. On the other hand, the laity were those being taught, sanctified and governed. As those being sanctified, the laity had to simply pray; as those being taught, they had to only pay; and as those being governed, they had to simply obey. Hence, the expression, ‘pray, pay and obey’, was used to describe the role of the laity in the Catholic Church.5

Happily, Vatican II makes a paradigm shift. Thus, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, sees the Church first and foremost, not as hierarchical or institutional, but as a mystery.6 As a mystery, the Church is a complex reality – which is both invisible and visible (LG 8). How then can such a complex reality be comprehended and explained? To explain the complex reality of the church, Vatican II, like the New Testament and the Church Fathers, employs several images, metaphors and themes.7 The images and metaphors used by Vatican II to describe the Church include: a shepherd with sheepfold, cultivated land, olive tree, vineyard, true vine and branches, mother, building of God, family/household of God, the new Jerusalem (LG 6); the people of God (LG 9-17); the body and bride of Christ (LG 6, 7); and temple of the Spirit (LG 4, 9). And some of the ecclesiological themes are: the Church as communion (LG 4, 7, 9, 49), Church as sacrament (LG 1, 9, 48), Church as institution (LG 18-29), and the Church is missionary (LG 1, 5, 17, AG 2).

Standing out in this understanding of the Church is the theme of ‘communion’. Thus, Joseph Ratzinger (later: Pope Benedict XVI), who was a peritus of Vatican II, could later write that the ‘Church as communion’ is ‘the centrepiece of Vatican II teaching on the Church, the new and yet thoroughly primordial thing that this council wanted to give us.’8 Hence, Walter Cardinal Kasper, studying the works of some of these periti,9 could assert that:

One of the guiding ideas of the last council – perhaps the guiding idea – was therefore communio – communion. By taking this as a leitmotif, the council succeeded in uncovering one of the deepest questions of the time, refining it in the light of the gospel, and answering it in a way that took it beyond a purely human questioning and seeking. So, the council’s communio ecclesiology was willingly taken up … we are all the Church.10

It was, therefore, no wonder that soberly reflecting twenty years after Vatican II, the 1985 Synod of Bishops (Rome) would affirm that the Church as ‘communion is the central and fundamental idea’ of the documents of Vatican II.11 Since the 1985 Synod, the theology of the ‘church as communion’ has become predominant in Catholic ecclesiology. On our continent, there are attempts to contextualize this model of the church as ‘family of God’.

In the communion model, wherein the Church is seen as first and foremost made up of all the baptized in fellowship with the triune God, the laity have a greater role in her life and mission. Hence, according to Vatican II, the laity, by virtue of their baptism, ‘are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world’ (LG 31).

Furthermore, the Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity affirms:

The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it. Sacred Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful such activity was at the very beginning of the Church (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom. 16:1-16; Phil. 4:3). Our own times require of the laity no less zeal: in fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified.12

Thus, their roles are beyond merely praying, paying and obeying. This will be explored further in the section under ‘Shaping Pastoral Leadership’.


We wish to delimit the scope of our presentation on pastoral leadership with the three dimensions of a Synodal Church. The XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which was convoked by His Holiness, Pope Francis, has the theme, “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.” According to the Vademecum of the Synod, the theme’s three dimensions, namely, communionparticipation, and mission “are profoundly interrelated. They are the vital pillars of a Synodal Church. There is no hierarchy between them. Rather, each one enriches and orients the other two.”13

3.1 Communion

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you’ (2 Cor. 13:13/14). The English word ‘fellowship’ in this verse comes from the Greek original term, Koinonia. This Greek term was translated into Latin as communio which is better translated into English as ‘communion’. The Church has its origin in God’s grace and it is patterned after the communion of the three divine Persons: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality states: ‘By His gracious will, God gathers us together as diverse peoples of one faith, through the covenant that [H]e offers to His people. The communion we share finds its deepest roots in the love and unity of the Trinity. It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father and unites us with each other in the Holy Spirit’ (Vd. no. 1.4). Sacramentally, we are incorporated into this communion through Baptism and sustained in it through the Holy Eucharist.

3.2 Participation

An important implication for our communion with the triune God and with one another as His people is the call to actively participate or to be involved in the life and mission of the Church (cf. Acts 2:42-47). Participation is, therefore, ‘based on the fact that all the faithful are qualified and are called to serve one another through the gifts they have each received from the Holy Spirit. In a synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will […].14 Genuine efforts must be made to ensure the inclusion of those at the margins or who feel excluded’ (Vd. no. 1.4).

3.3 Mission

After His resurrection, our Lord Jesus made it clear to His disciples that their mission (cf. Matt. 28:18-20) originated from His mission (cf. John 20:21) and that of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8; John 20:22-23). Hence, Vatican II stresses that the ‘the Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father.’15 All of us, by virtue of our baptism, have been sent by Christ to bring His Good News to others.

Therefore, in a Synodal Church, pastoral leaders are supposed to, firstly, foster among all the baptized their communion with the triune God and among themselves. Secondly, they should encourage and enable the laity to participate more fully in the life of the church. Thirdly, they should enlighten the laity to be keenly interested in the Church’s mission and empower them to become true and effective missionaries.


A practical way of ascertaining how pastoral leaders are fostering or promoting communion, participation and mission is to determine respectively the sense of belonging, participation in decision-making and sense of co-responsibility in their communities. In 2013-2014, we carried out a study on these three parameters. The study covered thirty-six (36) parishes across nine (9) dioceses in Ghana. Below are some of the findings which still reflect the situation in our church today:

4.1 Inadequate sense of belonging

In the study, two main aspects of the sense of belonging among the laity were identified or distinguished: the spiritual and social aspects. It was realized that while on the spiritual aspect (namely, by faith) almost every respondent felt that he/she belongs to the Church as family of God, on the social (interpersonal and mutual support) level, less than half of the respondents said they experience the sense of belonging as in a natural family.16

4.2 Limited space for lay participation

Vatican II encourages the formation of certain councils and committees on the parish, diocesan and national levels to promote greater and active lay participation in the life and mission of the Church.17Furthermore, the 1983 Code of Canon Law has institutionalized some of these councils and committees. Our 2013-2014 study, therefore, sought from the clergy, religious and lay respondents, the extent of establishment of various councils and committees in the parishes. Thirteen (13) councils and committees were considered.18

While it may be encouraging to note that eight (8) out of the thirteen (13) have more than 50% establishment status, it is not good news to observe that fifty years since Vatican II called for greater participation of the lay faithful in the life and mission of the church, there are still priests running their parishes without some key councils and committees: parish pastoral council (10.2%), finance committee (10.4%), laity council (12.5%), youth council (14.5%), projects/building committee (25.0%), liturgical committee (31.2%), justice and peace committee (45.8%) and catechetical committee (47.9%). Secondly, just about a third of the parishes have in place a system that involves lay participation in the promotion of priestly and religious vocations. Thirdly, our findings confirm the long-standing gloomy picture of the involvement of very few lay faithful in the Church’s mission of primary evangelization: about 80% of the parishes do not have evangelization or biblical apostolate team.19

There is the tendency to have structures in place while they do not function. So, the research further sought to ascertain the functioning status of the established parish councils and committees. In this research, it was understood that an established council/committee was not functioning either if its last meeting was held more than a year ago or there existed a body or person who has taken over its functions. It was observed that there were instances of non-functioning in all the thirteen councils/committees, ranging from the least of 2.7% (pastoral council) to the maximum of 47.1% (education committee).20

The said research sought further to know the extent to which lay members of the council/committee were involved in the decision-making process, and how satisfied they were with the level of clerical approval of their proposals. In this respect, our findings showed that while as much as 91.3% of the priests felt that they adequately involved the laity in the decision-making process in the parishes, only 54.7% of the lay respondents felt they were sufficiently engaged in the process.21

4.3 Inadequate motivation for co-responsibility

By the sense of co-responsibility, we mean the feeling among or attitude of all the faithful (bishops, priests, religious and laity) that they are jointly (though in varied ways) responsible for the promotion and fostering of the life and mission of the church. This calls for more collaboration and cooperation among all the faithful to achieve the mission entrusted to the Church they all equally belong to.22

As in the case of the sense of belonging, here too our research focused on the sense of co-responsibility of the laity, because they are those who have been left out of ‘ecclesial responsibility’ for centuries. Secondly, the research distinguished between two kinds of sense of co-responsibility. We looked at how convinced respondents were about being co-responsible, and how satisfied they were with the extent to which they have been empowered (i.e., trained and officially mandated) to be co-responsible. Let us first consider respondents’ conviction about their co-responsibility. The sense of belonging to a group and the opportunity to participate in its activities determine, to a large extent, how a member feels about his/her co-responsibility for the mission of the group. It was, therefore, interesting to find out that despite the low social sense of belonging (49.3%) and the just above average (54.6%) level of participation in decision-making, as much as 72.7% of the lay faithful were convinced about their co-responsibility for the life and mission of the church. This situation seems to be accounted for by the fact that the spiritual sense of belonging is almost optimal (99.7%).23

With regard to the second aspect of co-responsibility, less than half (42.0%) of the lay respondents indicated that they felt empowered by the leadership of the church to be jointly responsible for the life and mission of the Church. And a still lesser percentage (11.7%) of the laity felt empowered for the specific mission of primary evangelization.24


There are various types of leadership in general: autocratic, democratic, collaborative, etc. The type of pastoral leadership which characterized the pre-Vatican II era where the laity had to only ‘pray, pay and obey’ was the autocratic one. However, as mentioned earlier, Vatican II occasions a paradigm shift. Is it the democratic type that Vatican II calls for? No! Why? Because the Church is not merely a human institution, but also (and first and foremost) a divine institution. Whereas, for instance, leaders are elected by the citizens in a democratic dispensation, pastoral leaders are called by God. Again, church doctrines are not based on what the majority think, but on divine revelation.

So, then, what type of leadership does Vatican II’s paradigm shift call for? It calls for a collaborative kind of pastoral leadership. This is the new shape of pastoral leadership which is in the spirit of Vatican II and a Synodal Church. Collaborative pastoral leadership is an inclusive style which promotes unity through team work, fosters participation by employing the inputs and ideas of the laity, and enhances their co-responsibility in the mission of the Church. We have already spoken at length about Vatican II’s understanding of the Church as communion, which is the basis of promoting unity among all the baptized, particularly, the laity. Here, therefore, we wish to focus on lay participation through their inputs and their co-responsibility for the Church’s mission.

Regarding the participation of the laity through their inputs and ideas, Vatican II says:

The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments. They should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. … Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ. …

Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. Attentively in Christ, let them consider with fatherly love the projects, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. However, let the shepherds respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city (LG 37).

When pastoral leaders create the adequate space and the right atmosphere to foster the participation of the laity, their sense of co-responsibility will be enhanced and the missionary impact of the Church will be great:

A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world (LG 37).

Therefore, when collaborative pastoral leadership is operative in the Church in Ghana, the sense of belonging among the lay faithful will progress from inadequacy to adequacy; the limited space of lay participation will give way to adequate space; and the degree of motivation for missionary co-responsibility will increase.


Distinguished Chairman, My Lord Bishop, My Brother Priests, Dear Religious, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we have been considering the topic, ‘Beyond Pray, Pay and Obey: The Role of the Laity in Shaping Pastoral Leadership in the Church’. Firstly, we were reminded that Vatican II exhorts the laity to do more than ‘pray, pay and obey’ pastoral leaders.

Secondly, pastoral leaders should create the conditions to enable the role of the laity flourish. This is a key goal of a Synodal Church, which is itself a fruit of Vatican II. Hence, we looked at pastoral leadership in the light of the Synodal Church’s three pillars of communion, participation and mission.

Thirdly, we examined pastoral leadership in Ghana today in the light of these three pillars. The picture we saw is not very encouraging: the sense of belonging among the faithful is inadequate, a limited space for participation is accorded the laity, and their sense of co-responsibility for the Church’s mission is not adequate.

Fourthly, the new type or shape of pastoral leadership that will foster adequate sense of belonging, great participation and strong co-responsibility among the laity is collaborative in nature. That is, on the one hand, pastoral leaders should give the laity the space envisaged by Vatican II and encouraged by the synodal process to play their role. On the other hand, the laity, with willingness, courage, prudence, expertise, charisms, and reverence for pastoral leaders, should take up their roles which are inherent in their calling as sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry of Jesus Christ.

Finally, in the collaborative spirit of the great servant of God, the Most Rev. James Owusu, may the clergy, religious and laity of Sunyani Diocese work harmoniously together such that the qualitative growth of the Diocese will be greatly enhanced while its quantitative growth will be a hundredfold by the time it celebrates its centenary!

Long live the Catholic Church in Sunyani Diocese!

Long live the Catholic Church in Ghana!

Thank you.

1 The Second Vatican Council took place from 1962 to 1965.

2 Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, 21 November, 1964, no. 31. Henceforth, the title of this document is abbreviated as ‘LG’.

3 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), nos 886, 1560, 2179.

4AveryDulles, Models of the Church, 2nd ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1987), p. 37.

5 Mark Faulkner, ‘Pray, Pay and Obey: Taking up the Collection in the Twenty-First Century’, The Tablet: 6 November, 2018. Some writers interchange ‘pray’ and ‘pay’, as for instance, in: Katherine Coolidge, ‘Beyond Pay, Pray and Obey: The Laity and Mission of the Church’; uploaded on the internet on 17 February, 2013 (accessed on 26 September, 2023).

6 LG 8; cf. Dulles, The Dimensions of the Church: A Post-conciliar Reflection (New York: Newman, 1967), pp. 5-6.

7 In our original thesis, an attempt was made to explain the terms: images, metaphors and symbols.

8 Joseph Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Endeavours in Ecclesiology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2008), p. 17.

9 Kasper refers to the commentaries of Philip and Grillmeier (referred to earlier on): see endnote no. 3 of chapter 8 (‘The Church as Communion’) of Kasper’s Theology and Church (New York: Crossroad, 1989).

10 Kasper, Theology and Church, pp. 149-50; the highlighting of words in italics was done by the author; cf. Kasper, La Chiesa di Gesù Cristo, p.23; cf. M. Sullivan, The Road to Vatican II: Key Changes in Theology (New York: Paulist, 2007), pp. 17-8; C. Ruddy, The Local Church: Tillard and the Future of Catholic Ecclesiology (New York: Herder & Herder, 2006), pp. 38-46.

11 Second Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Relatio Finalis:The Church, in the Word of God, Celebrates the Mysteries of Christ for the Salvation of the World’, Rome 1985, II.C.1, in J. Neuner & J. Dupuis (eds), The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church (New York: Alba House, 2001), no. 891 .

12 Vatican II, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam actuositatem, 18 November, 1965, no. 1; henceforth, the title of this document is abbreviated as ‘AA’; cf. John Paul II, Post Synodal Exhortation, On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, Christifideles Laici, 30 December, 1988, nos 8-20; henceforth, this document is abbreviated as ‘CFL’.

13 Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality, 2021, no. 1.4; henceforth this document is abbreviated as Vd.

14 International Theological Commission, Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church, 2 March 2018, no. 67-68.

15 Vatican II, Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, Ad gentes, 7 December 1965, no. 2.

16 Louis, Restructuring, p. 109.

17 cf. Christus Dominus, nos 36-38.

18 Louis, Restructuring, p. 100.

19 Louis, Restructuring, p. 101.

20 Louis, Restructuring, p. 102.

21 Louis, Restructuring, pp. 102-3.

22 cf. Lwaminda, ‘The Church as Family’, pp. 265-7; cf. Orobator, ‘A Church in Dialogue’, p. 40; cf. L. Swidler, Making the Church Our Own: How We Can Reform the Catholic Church from the Ground Up (Plymouth: Sheed and Ward, 2007), p. viii.

23 Louis, Restructuring, pp. 114.

24 Louis, Restructuring, pp. 114-5.

Bishop John Kobina Louis

Most Rev. John Kobina Louis is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana. More about him here.

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Catholic Homilies and Sermons for the Liturgical Year by Most Rev. John Kobina Louis, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana.

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