My last book review covered a great “jump start” book, The Rebuilt Field Guide, one “that anyone can make it through, that any team can use to avoid becoming paralyzed by the myriad of (great!) ideas for evangelizing, and instead get to doing, learning, and adapting.” Today I’m looking at another new book for pastoral leaders: Fr. James Mallon’s Divine Renovation Guidebook: A Step-by-Step Manual for Transforming Your Parish (23rd Publications, 2016). At a quick glance, one might think, “oh, so this is the workbook version of that other book that same priest-guy wrote, right?” Wrong. The Guidebook is a book jam-packed with it’s own value, it’s the pastoral planning book for evangelizing parishes.
Pastoral planning has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades. Not outwardly, I mean, who can rationally oppose the idea of planning for the future? But, from the surge of materials encouraging pastoral plans that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, what fruit have many parishes seen? It’s possible to write an exceptional pastoral plan to maintain exactly what you’ve got in your parish right now. It’s also possible to write an exceptional pastoral plan and simply leave it on the shelf. A check-the-box binder that maybe the bishop required of you.
What a newer crop of resources from the Divine Renovation, Rebuilt, Parish Catalyst, and Amazing Parish teams articulate more clearly is that strategic pastoral planning isn’t a silver bullet. An exceptional pastoral plan accomplishes nothing if there’s no operational leadership, no culture or systems that support and align with the plan. And this is where the Divine Renovation Guidebook shines. It’s a workbook for developing a legit longer-term pastoral plan to rival anything you’ve done before, while ensuring that your parish becomes more and more mission focused along the way. Operational effectiveness, strategy, and leadership are embedded–it’s not an option–you can’t simply write a plan and skip taking a hard look at your concrete processes and leadership culture.
The original Divine Renovation was a deep theological look at many of the assumptions and cultural patterns that contribute to the vast majority of Catholic parishes in North America existing as maintenance outposts, rather than centers of missional outreach. That book is a great read, that I’d highly recommend for anyone (in addition to the podcasts delving into more detail on sacramental preparation, catechesis, etc.). The Guidebook is less widely relevant in that it’s for parish leaders, but more practically impactful. This will enable you to not just understand the situation of modern parishes, but concretely change and plan so that the joyful, Good News of life eternal in Jesus Christ can be heard and experienced wherever you are. I highly recommend it for every senior leader, especially pastors, in a parish setting.