Tools for Further Conversation from “Tools for Rebuilding”

As mentioned in my initial mini-review and Top 10 Tools, Tools for Rebuilding: 75 Really, Really Practical Ways to Make Your Parish Better is an awesome book, especially for those interested in pastoral leadership, management, and administration. Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran note early on:

“You won’t agree with everything we assert, and that’s okay. We just want to further the conversation” (xiv).

In that spirit to further that conversation by naming some tools (chapters) from Tools for Rebuilding that are ripe for more conversation. This doesn’t mean they are “bad” tools–just the ones that seem a bit incomplete. Here they are, in no particular order…

Tool #12 Be A Control Freak (But Only About Your Building)
Clear signage for locations of video venues, areas of flexible seating, and children’s programs so that parents have the freedom to choose how to worship as a family (which might mean, putting the kids elsewhere so the parents can concentrate fully) is great. I wish more parishes offered it! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to search for an “easy exit” seat so that I’d be ready to leave if my child started to cry and there were no signs or helpful ushers to make being a visitor easier.

However, the attitude that “we are committed to freeing their parents to have an excellent worship experience” takes too much responsibility away from parents as decision-makers and primary models of faith for their children.

Both Fr. White and Corcoran note that Mass can be “incomprehensible” to young kids and do not buy into the theory that “proximity to the altar” can hold a child’s attention. These assumptions deserve more conversation. Parishes that have experienced Catechesis of the Good Shepherd might have valuable contributions to make here, as I have seen children in this program fully engaged in Mass at a young (pre-2nd grade) age. Much of this depends on the architecture of the sanctuary, but parishes with many alcoves and side exits (rather than just back exits) are great for families with young children because the children can see the altar and action–yet can quickly and discreetly be escorted out when crying/loud behavior arises.

Tough subject. Kudos to White and Corcoran for mentioning it. But, don’t give up on young kids at Mass–I’d love to see what a dynamic parish like Church of the Nativity could do in terms of using the Montessori principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to design an interactive parallel-Mass environment for the youngest worshippers.

Tool #34 Baptisms are Opportunities — Take Them
On the whole, this “tool” is solid. The conversation needs to be continued, however, with regards to introducing liturgical catechesis and mystagogy into the mix. Now, I’m not saying parishes should use these words with new parents! [that’d just be jargon.] But, real liturgical catechesis and mystagogy are relational, loving, and enable the new parents to fully experience the mystery of the Sacrament. Fr. White and Corcoran seem to assume that “relaxed” and “relational” is mutually exclusive with “sharing the treasury of Church teaching” and this, I think, is a mistake (p. 141). I could imagine the use of short-duration (say 4 wk) small groups for new parents that allow for everything they describe (i.e. story sharing) woven into the baptismal symbols and sacrament in a way that is fully loving, fully relational, and fully catechetical. Mystagogy might mean engaging the family for milestones (baptismal anniversaries, etc.) that help build those relationships.

Bottom line, lets start a conversation about how to do liturgical catechesis in parishes.

Tool #39 Beware of Self-Righteous Super Consumers
This chapter needs further conversation because it jumps into name-calling rather than seeking to know and participate in the conversion of those who may be in need of it. I find it hard to believe that all of the daily mass attendees at Church of the Nativity were indeed, “self-righteous” (p. 159). I’m far from perfect (and often resort to name-calling as well), but as ministers we should avoid this. Many of the “self-righteous super consumers” may be just as lost and in need of conversion as anyone outside on the street (or Timonium Tim for that matter), and should be treated as such. We need to challenge ourselves to love those prickly people as Jesus loves them, even when it’s tough. And, to follow the guidance from Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, “never accept a label in place of a story.” 

Note: Moving daily Mass from 9 am to 5:30 pm is a great idea for most parishes. And this chapter is an excellent example of how to deal with criticism. 🙂

Tool #59 Don’t Be Upset When the Wrong People Leave
I like this chapter a lot. I’ve had the experience of the “wrong people” leaving in organizations I’ve led outside of church ministry and know how important it is not to get sucked into drama or taking it personally. However, our challenge in ministerial life is remembering that the Church isn’t just any other organization. If I’m in a ministry that is making-disciples, and someone (even a “wrong person”) leaves to go to a place where that disciple-making may not occur, then I can’t be happy about this. While it may “make the parish healthier” (p. 239) in the short term, it might actually be a missed opportunity to learn how to minister to a certain type of person/family–and so in the long-term, the parish can suffer (not to mention the person who leaves and might not find themselves in another disciple-making setting). Tom Corcoran and Chris Wesley did a nice job on a recent Rebuilt podcast (Episode 23) encouraging listeners to look for the kernel of truth to learn from when receiving criticism, the same applies to when anyone leaves–there’s still a kernel of truth.

Bottom line, don’t get upset when the wrong people leave–but don’t anticipate it, be happy about it, or even be complacently content about it. Those attitudes can eat away at our calling to be part of God’s processes of making disciples and loving those most in need of conversion. There’s room for more conversation about the right spirituality of the evangelizer here.

Tool #29 Know What Season You’re In
Another solid chapter, however, the conversation I’d want to have is, since “the liturgical seasons resonate with us insider churchpeople” but not “with the average parishioner, much less the unchurched person,” then how does the weekend experience move people (average parishioners and the unchurched) into that space where the liturgy forms them? (p. 116). I think it has something to do with liturgical catechesis and mystagogy seamlessly woven into parish life. What might this look like at Church of the Nativity or other evangelizing Catholic churches? This is a conversation I’d like to see more of. I’m looking forward to reading Liturgy and the New Evangelization by Tim O’Malley to see if there are any practical tips in there.

Tool #26 Nobody is Growing in Christ Just Because of Your Pious Procession of One
Everything in this tool is very applicable. What I’d like to call out, however, is the retreat from liturgy. Fr. White and Corcoran write:

“We like to stay as far away from liturgical issues as possible; it’s safer that way. Plus, we don’t know what we’re talking about when it comes to liturgy anyway” (p. 107).

This just makes me sad. 😦 Liturgy is not some obtuse, optional aspect of theology. Liturgy forms what we believe. It’s for all of us. Don’t cop-out or opt-out on liturgy, Church of the Nativity, join in and further the conversation!

Tool #22 Churchpeople Don’t Belong in the Pews
Excellent chapter on some techniques for making it easier for people to serve in ministry. The question I’d like to see more conversation on is, how do disciples in the parish balance it? Do they attend multiple Masses (one to serve, one to worship at), have some good practices for weaving the spirituality of serving into Mass, etc. I think there might be a lot of fruit in this conversation, since parishes everywhere have people who want to serve, but also know that to some degree serving can be a personal distraction from growing as a disciple in worship. 

Tool #21 Vestments Are Like Golf Clubs
This tool would be a bit more complete with some discussion of beautiful vs. expensive. They aren’t always the same. Just as overly showy (expensive-looking) vestments can be a distraction, as White and Corcoran point out, visually displeasing, outdated, or clearly poor-quality vestments can also be a distraction to newcomers. There’s probably some room for conversation about inexpensive ways to acquire beautiful vestments that are not gaudy/showy (i.e. seeking talented seamstresses within the parish, using religious orders for labor, etc.)

Also, there are other examples ripe for conversation regarding wasting money in ministry [in general, not that this goes on at Church of the Nativity], for example:

  • expensive religious education curricula
  • music hymnals that have 300+ songs when you really only sing a core 100 of them
  • prepackaged adult retreats/small group materials
  • bulletin publishers, layout and artwork
  • annual subscription missals in pews (vs. re-useable 3-year bound books or plain Bibles)

Tool #53 Get the Right People on the Bus

Good chapter on basic human resource management. However, it’s not necessarily good for an organization to always follow the advice to:

“Be willing to wait and invest in the people already working for you (for free). The solution to whatever you’re trying to solve or staff is probably not ‘out there’; they’re most likely in your parish. Your next best hire is your current best volunteer, and your next best volunteer is in your pews” (p. 218).

This can be very true. But, there’s also a great benefit in bringing in ideas and experience from different settings in order to help your own organization maintain its agility and ability to adapt to changing conditions. It would be great to see a conversation about how to hire from outside, integrate into existing staff/vision, as well.

Okay, so those are, in my opinion, the tools that I think are most in need of further conversation to be more complete. Feel free to join in the conversation through the comments…what tools did you love? which ones need improving?

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