Assessing (or “measuring”) how you’re doing when it comes to fostering initial and on-going conversion in a ministry is one of the toughest, yet most necessary, processes a leader must continually work through. It’s tough because it involves loving enough to speak the truth, being willing to change beloved techniques or programs that need to evolve, and it’s just plain hard to even develop good metrics or measures to use in assessment.
One of the hidden gems within the recently released Living as Missionary Disciples resource from the USCCB is this set of assessment worksheets designed for use by individuals or small groups (they start around pg. 14 of the .pdf download, aka “pg. 1” of the internal numbering).
Unleashing all of these at once on a team of leaders would likely not be a good strategy. But the potential here is great! These tools could be used to assess existing programs or strategies over a multi-year period, coach and develop catechists, unite staff and key leaders around a vision, or design new initiatives.
They key is to actually use them as a tool, not an end. Assessment is a means to improve what you’re already doing, not an administrative burden that bears little fruit. Assessment without reflection, processing, personal coaching/development of leaders/catechists, and connection to implementation isn’t going to bear fruit. And, it might even be a waste of time. But 🙂 by making the commitment to leverage a great resource like this from the USCCB within your leadership development pipeline and continual planning processes? Now that’s a way to stay grounded and aligned to Jesus’ central mission for us, to go and make disciples (Mt 28:19).
Have you ever wanted a CliffNotes version of doing evangelization in parish life? Look no further. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently released the leadership resource Living as Missionary Disciples, a rich, yet concise, guide to the theological foundations of evangelization that includes a practical framework for understanding the process and fundamental planning questions all of the baptized must ask if we are to participate in renewing the entire Church in North America, and turning from a maintenance to missionary way of life.
What is evangelization all about in our modern American setting?
“The New Evangelization is a call for all of us to have a deeper encounter with Christ, best expressed in a simple, confident, informed, and joyous witness to the faith, which attracts others and invites them to wonder what secret is motivating the Christian disciple” (p. 7).
The necessary first step is encounter. Our faith journeys take many forms and routes. Each of us proceeds at various “speeds” throughout our life–sometimes drifting or disinterested, sometimes feeling like we’re stalled, and other times on fire with zeal. But whatever our journey, a moment of personal encounter with Jesus as Lord and Savior must happen. And that encounter propels the rest, grounds us throughout all else that follows as a believer becomes a disciple, and a disciple becomes a missionary–one who is sent into the world.
The heart of being sent in this way is captured succinctly in our quote above–sending has been effective when others are attracted and wonder what that something is that makes the Christian believer tick. If what we think is encounter is parish life is not producing that authentically confident and joyful “witness to the faith” that does indeed “attract” and inspire curiosity, then we should wonder what’s going wrong. We should wonder God might be calling us to do, to participate in transforming our parishes from maintenance to mission.
The Good News is that Jesus is our Friend and Brother, always welcoming each of us when we choose to “come and see” (Jn 1:46). When we encounter Him we are empowered to follow (Mt 9:9), remain (Jn 15:4), and go on to make disciples of others (Mt 28:19).
What Living as Missionary Disciples succeeds in keeping at the forefront is that, “the goal of the New Evangelization…is always geared toward others” (p. 8). If there’s no outward flow, we should be concerned. The New Evangelization is not merely a spiritual reality–something interior that fails to impact the material world around us. No, our evangelized, transformed lives are meant to provoke curiosity and inspire desire for more in others.
If you’re not enthusiastically certain that your parish is setting the conditions for truly living as missionary disciples in our world, start the conversation this summer. Share Living as Missionary Disciples, and if you’re a leader in any way, shape, or form, check out these worksheets to spur discussion with key volunteers. The movement from maintenance to mission in your part of the world might begin with your parish.
Are you a parish that just can’t seem to get started on moving from maintenance to mission?
A place where money, staffing, your community (and more) have been viewed as insurmountable barriers to evangelizing?
A parish that gets (or has gotten) bogged down in long-term strategic planning or any attempt to do something “big”?
The Rebuilt Field Guide: Ten Steps for Getting Started (Ave Maria Press, 2016) fills a niche by providing one of the most concise and all-in-one starter tools available to help parishes become evangelizing environments. At less than 100 pages and less than $10, this is a book 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 in one’s own parish setting.
Coauthors Tom Corcoran and Fr. Michael White pull together ten hands-on chapters, each a stand-alone exercise designed for a small (5-8 person) group of parish leaders. There’s a devotion and prayer prompt, excerpts from Rebuilt series books, discussion questions, space for your personalized parish reflections, and a final “rallying cry” to implement and preserve in single steps to move from maintenance to mission in the typical experience of parish life. Some exercises might take a week to complete, others months–the overarching point is to get moving. Start the engine. Begin driving, rather than merely watching the New Evangelization in whatever circumstances your parish may find itself.
How is this book different than the original “Rebuilt” or “Tools for Rebuilding”? At it’s core–this is much simpler. Very little back story on Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD (the authors’ parish), not a focus explaining the roots of our theology of evangelization, and no advanced steps that presume a level of staff capability and past progress. If you doubted that Rebuilt was relevant to your parish because Church of the Nativity just seemed so “different,” then this is the book for you, because it’s all about your parish, your community, your unique setting to live out Jesus’ instructions to go and make disciples (cf. Matt 28:19). This would be a boring book to read by yourself–because it’s all about the future of your parish.
The coauthors are spot-on as they explain:
It matters not at all what kind of parish you have: big or small, urban or rural, affluent or struggling. To undertake these exercises, you don’t need any particular resources, additional staff, or budget, and you won’t have to hire a consultant. You really only need one thing: a team. (viii)
And this matters. While there are more and more parishes implementing concrete changes to be evangelizing places for all who enter, sadly, the reality is that most Catholics are not in these parishes. The typical American Catholic experience is of maintenance, not mission. And in these churches there’s not a groundswell of action. Instead, there is often slow decay, sadness, hopelessness, or a sense of inevitability–that “religion” just isn’t a thing anymore, that the best that can be imagined is a well-managed decline.
The Rebuilt Field Guide offers the concrete basics to get moving. And moving counts, as Fr. White and Corcoran note, when “you apply or adapt what you think might work in your setting” the process itself teaches you “more about what actually does work for you.” Waiting to have a perfect grasp of Catholic theology of evangelization, dynamics of a healthy and learning organization, ministerial leadership, and more before starting will likely only keep you waiting. This book provides a path for learning by and while doing.
If you’re searching for a deeper theological understanding of the New Evangelization or comprehensive guide to parish renewal, leadership, and planning–this isn’t it. It’s something wholly different and uniquely suited to help parishes get moving. To take the first steps on a journey the world needs each and every parish to take.
Disclosure: Ave Maria Press provided me a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed are my own.
I was excited to take a look at Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J.’s book The Spirit of Leadership: Optimizing Creativity and Change in Organizations (2000) since I study/teach leadership, management, and ethics [in both secular and faith-based settings] and rarely see books that specifically explore change leadership written from a Catholic theological perspective.
Spitzer’s work is truly unique. It’s deep. I mean deep into the psychological and philosophical background that guides well-formed and ethical leaders. He doesn’t talk theology (on the surface) often. It’s not as much a “take it into the trenches with you” guide like many other modern leadership books. This book provides a solid foundation for anyone seeking to better understand the person of the “leader” in today’s organizations. It’s a complex book (not an “easy” read), but done in a way that brings psychology, philosophy, and moral theology into a secular world without requiring a background Masters Degree in Theology–and this is greatly needed!
So who’s this book right for? I think it is understood best as a form of pre-evangelization. Something for the unevangelized, spiritually seeking/open, or curious secular leader to use that (beyond helping him/her grow as a leader!) might prompt this person to new curiosity about the ethical life and spirituality. Spitzer provides such a comprehensive philosophical and ethical background, that this could easily spur someone to begin thinking about God and human existence. Spitzer compellingly shows that our deepest human longings shape how we interact with others and the world–and this is magnified for those leading organizations.
I would not recommend this as a “how to” leadership development book for those in ministry formation or already working in ministry. Why not? Because those folks are likely past the pre-evangelization stage and need something more practical. They probably don’t need to be convinced of the ethical and spiritual foundations of leadership, and instead they need to know how to lead and manage. [As a caveat, I would offer that reading this book might be a useful for those in ministry as a way to see how to use virtues, spirituality, and moral theology to connect with secular leaders and managers.]
For a taste of the unique style of this book, check out Spitzer’s website, which includes
tidbits like this that show how he connects an understanding of the human person with a foundational spirituality of leadership.
But I kept reading. And as I worked my way through the book, I realized that these characteristics are precisely what makes this book so valuable. Absolutely needed in American parish life. I cannot think of another book that summarizes the essential theology of evangelization in such an approachable, easy-to-reference way.
But this book is more than theology–it moves to a basic framework of practice that places all functions of typical parish life (that so many like to silo and separate) within the unity and fullness of evangelization. Dees explains:
Church leaders have talked and written and read about evangelization so much in recent years that we have placed it in a category of actions all to itself—as if evangelization were one mode of acting and speaking that ministers undertake completely separate from the work of other ministries. It would be a very big mistake to think that only those with offices and titles that include the word evangelization are responsible for it. It can be easy to separate, and our minds, the good work of managing soup kitchens are planning weddings or educating children in Catholic schools from the work of evangelization. But all ministries must be characterized by an evangelizing spirit, and all efforts at evangelization must be rooted in the ministerial priorities of Jesus (13-14).
In a thorough (almost 300 pages), yet remarkably readable way, Dees goes on to present the evangelization basics that lie behind parish transformation books like Rebuilt and Divine Renovation and provides the broader context for Sherry Weddell’s best-selling book on conversion, Forming Intentional Disciples.
The need for a book like this is real. As an adult educator, I get to know Catholic ministry volunteer leaders and parish staff from a wide range of backgrounds. Lots of different dioceses. Off the beaten path parishes. While it’s easy to look online and hear about Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI or the Amazing Parish work, and think that this is the big picture, it’s not. My husband and I are reminded every time we travel that “typical” Catholic parish life involves ministry staff and leaders who are in maintenance mode of a status quo that isn’t suited for our current evangelistic setting. There are huge gaps when it comes to having any sense of how authentically Catholic evangelization is and how it should organize and define all of parish life (rather than be sidelined as a burdensome “add on” or “new” ministry).
When engaging these well-meaning staff and volunteer leaders in conversation, there’s often a bit of hopelessness. A sense that there’s nothing “we” can do about the slow death of their parishes. Dees confronts this head on, explaining:
one possible response [to our setting] is to blame an uncontrollable consumer culture and simply admit defeat… but another possible response is to look at ourselves as Christian leaders and the work we have been doing to see if there’s something we can do differently to meet the spiritual—indeed, religious—needs of Americans today (viii).
He later adds:
We in Catholic leadership, in ministries complex and simple, are left with a choice. We can continue acting only as teachers resenting those who don’t “get it”, all the while wishing there were more people at mass on Sunday. Or, we can do things differently (9).
There you have it. A call to transformative, transforming, change leadership. A call for every baptized person–especially those comfortably self-identifying as catechists or religious educators–to own the mantle and privilege of evangelization.
The concrete practices he offers are simple. And really, what should we expect? Evangelization isn’t about a silver bullet or magic-perfect-program, it’s about the most fundamental motions of the faith. It’s about first being evangelized and surrendering to Jesus Christ as Lord, and then sharing this personal Good News as if divinely empowered to do so (Pentecost spoiler alert: we are!)
Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone who (like pastoral theologian, Zeni Fox, on the back cover) experiences discomfort with “evangelization.” Anyone who expresses concern about, or wants to know how Rebuilt, Divine Renovation, and Forming Intentional Disciples are solidly rooted in the Church’s teaching on evangelization. Anyone seeking a foundational “textbook” or “desk side reference” for catechesis or RCIA ministry [in fact, I’m pretty sure this will be on a required book list for some classes I teach in the future…]
If you’d like a peek, a free chapter is available for download here.
Disclaimer: Ave Maria Press provided me a free copy of this book. The opinions presented in this review (and all other posts referencing To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach) are my own.
What it’s not:This book is not about ministry leadership, planning, strategy, vision, or even best practices. So what is it then? This book is about you. The evangelist.
In addressing the spirituality of evangelization and the person of the evangelist in an approachable way, Prejean fills a huge void.
Here’s the reality–while there are many today who have swum in the waters of evangelizations nearly our entire lives and/or gobble up the massive number of Church documents describing evangelization (there are simply too many great ones to name since the Second Vatican Council!), there are a lot of Catholics in the pews, in volunteer roles, and even in pastoral ministry who aren’t quite sure about this “evangelization” stuff. It sounds “new” to them (even though it’s not). Evangelization comes across like a meaningless buzzword. They readily admit, when asked in a safe and supportive setting, that they don’t understand it, don’t know what it means, and don’t really own it or “feel” like it’s for them.
In Room 24, Prejean takes her first-person experiences during her first year (or so) of teaching high school theology and focuses each on revealing different aspects of our Catholic theology of evangelization. She keeps it short. Though she’s theologically well-versed, she leaves out all the complicated magisterial document citations. If you’ve been wanting to learn about evangelization, but get turned off by the length and writing style of Church documents, this book could be for you. It’s like sitting down in a coffee shop and listening to a friend tell funny stories. And then walking away realizing you learned something. Learned a lot. And, probably want to go pray about it.
The book is entirely written using examples from teaching high school theology in a Catholic school. That being said–I think the lessons on the spirituality of evangelization are broadly applicable, and I’ll be teasing out some of those in future blog posts.
Recommendations? In conclusion, this book is short enough (at 138 pages) that it wouldn’t be a waste of anyone’s time to read it. If you know evangelization, this book is a good window into the spiritual lives of teens and an enjoyable reminder of why we do what we do–that you’re not alone out there! If you’re less comfortable with “evangelization” and have been hearing it more and more but just don’t want to feel “out of the know” while learning theology–this is a fantastic book to pick up. Read it to be encouraged and go deeper into touching what it means to be an evangelist of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Disclosure: Ave Maria Press provided me a free copy of this book for the purpose of review; opinions expressed are my own.
Since reading Jonathan Sullivan’s free eBook, “17 Books Every Catholic Leader Should Read,” I’ve been extra-motivated to take a second look at many of the non-church-related leadership and management books I’ve encountered over the years and ask, what does this say to us as church leaders? Because I teach leadership (for the Army, in a public university) it’s all too easy for me to quickly glimpse over opportunities for integration between my work and life as a Christian, and so I’m (to use Sullivan’s phrase) aspiring to shape my imagination by seeking to be ever-more integrative in this regard.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, I picked out Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General (Retired) Stanley McChrystal (+Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell).
The Main Point
McChrystal and his team argue that in today’s rapidly evolving, complex world, organizers will be most successful when leaders give small groups the freedom to experiment, while cultivating shared consciousness, information, and awareness across the entire organization.
Recommended Reading for Catholic Leaders? Maybe
Because I served in Afghanistan and Iraq during some of the time periods that McChrystal draws examples from, I found the backdrop-of-foreign-policy aspects of the book quite engaging. However, while the organizational leadership and management ideas in this book are innovative, challenging, and certainly useful for many in ministry, I think the high proportion of detailed examples from military operations, history, and business could be a bit overwhelming and/or distracting for those looking for more of a pure focus on organizational effectiveness (i.e. Patrick Lencioni‘s books) or anecdotes with a broader appeal (i.e. Heifetz and Linsky’s Leadership on the Line, which made Sullivan’s 17 Books list). I wouldn’t give this book a general recommendation as a leadership read, unless you’re also a person who also enjoys historical and foreign policy reading as well. However, this book would also be a good fit if you’ve read a few more generic leadership/management books and are looking for something a bit different to give some concrete techniques and tactics to the broad idea of collaboration.
Mixed recommendation for reading aside, what were some of the leadership and management lessons uniquely presented in Team of Teams and especially relevant to pastoral ministry?
Take-Away #1 — A Team of Teams Fosters Collaboration
First, let’s get to the basic definition of a “team of teams.” A team of teams is a way of thinking of organizational structure. Typical organizations (i.e. parishes, ministries, etc.) often think of their organizational structure as something like this:
We might call this a “command” or “hierarchical” organizational structure (not to be confused with the theological meaning of hierarchy as sacred order). In an organization that operates this way, the primary relationships, pathways of concern, shared visions, and communications are between subordinates and supervisors. This might be a relationship of employment or a volunteer-relationship, depending on your parish/ministry setting. The problem with an organization that operates this way is that it can create silos and prevent the necessary inter-connectivity and “shared consciousness” between different parts of the organization–i.e. between the evangelization committee and the Knights of Columbus in a parish.
It’s not about everyone knowing everyone else, but knowing someone on every other team–no silos, no implied rivalry or competition for the pastor’s attention, no judgement on the worth of another volunteer leader’s focus in ministry, etc.
It’s also not anarchy. As McChrystal writes:
“The Task Force still had ranks and each member was still assigned a particular team and sub-sub-command, but we all understood that we were not part of a network; when we visualized our own force on the whiteboards, it took the form of webs and nodes, not tiers and silos” (251).
Take-Away #2 — Stop Blaming and Changing all the Wrong Things
Leadership requires change. Why? Because to lead is to have a vision–a vision of a future different than the present. To move towards this vision, an organization must change. But oftentimes organizations (ministries and churches included!) start by changing all the wrong things. Tactics, technology, programs, processes, curricula…you name it. But, ultimately these changes won’t have the desired impact unless there’s a cultural change within the organization when it comes to the “approach to management” (32).
Reflecting on the Joint Task Force he led, McChrystal explains:
“The Task Force had built systems that were very good at doing things right, but too inflexible to do the right thing” (81).
Hmm. This fits a lot parishes/ministries–tried and true systems and processes that do what they were designed to do very effectively, but too inflexible to change to meet our new and current circumstances. As Fr. James Mallon observed in Divine Renovation, almost everything about the sacramental system/religious education program in his parish was an effective system, but effective for a different era, for different conditions.
You can have a good system that does the wrong thing. Or, a good system that’s doing the right thing right now, but can’t possibly adapt fast enough to retain value.
There’s a challenge in making these kind of big internal changes when it comes to howwe manage or organizational culture. McChrystal writes:
“There’s a temptation for all of us to blame failures on factors outside our control: ‘the enemy was ten feet tall,’ ‘we weren’t treated fairly,’ or ‘it was an impossible task to begin with.’ There is also comfort in ‘doubling down’ on proven processes, regardless of their efficacy. Few of us are criticized if we faithfully do what has worked many times before. But feeling comfortable or dodging criticism should not be our measure of success” (8).
We see this a lot in church leadership. Implicitly or explicitly blaming secular culture, parents who won’t bring children to faith formation, diocesan policies, Biblical literacy of parish adults, etc. While there is a healthy place for acknowledging that we can’t change the setting we minister in when it comes to cultural forces or the environment, this shouldn’t be an excuse that distracts us from adapting as leaders and managers in ministry.
Take-Away #3 — Collaboration is a Day-to-Day Reality
Team of Teams offers a mini case study on US Airways Flight 1549 (Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landing unpowered plane in Hudson River…) After the event, analysts concluded that while the “crew’s technical training had been completely irrelevant to the solution they achieved…it was their interactive adaptability…that proved crucial.” “US Airways 1549 was saved not by one mind, but by the ability of the captain, the first officer, and the flight crew to come together and pull toward a common goal” “quickly” “almost intuitively in a close-knit fashion” since “because of time constraints, they could not discuss every part of the decision process” (111).
As Br. Loughlan Sofield and Sr. Carroll Juliano note in Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry, it’s common in Catholic ministry for “collaboration” to be pushed during pastoral planning or major decision-making, but then all but forgotten in the day-to-day reality of ministry.
To work together quickly and intuitively in a close-knit fashion–this is the real fruit of collaboration. But it can’t be pulled out for an emergency if it doesn’t exist in the day-to-day. McChyrstal describes how daily office operations changed to build this shared consciousness, for example:
using “cc” line of e-mails liberally “whenever it seemed that even the second- or third-order consequence of the operation discussed might impact them” (163)
taking lots of calls on speakerphone–even when it made others uncomfortable or surprised them (163)
Are we able to almost instinctively work closely together in day-to-day ministry? Do I understand what’s going on with other teams/departments? There are signs of collaboration.
Take-Away #3 — Leader as Gardener
McChrystal describes his uncomfortable transition from a self-image of “heroic leader” to “humble gardener” (225).
As a leader, “I needed to shift my focus fro moving pieces on the board to shaping the ecosystem. Paradoxically, at exactly the time when I had the capability to make more decisions, my intuition told me I had to make fewer. At first it felt awkward to delegate decisions to subordinates that were technically possible for me to make “(226).
To be a leader doesn’t mean you must make every decision and seek to wield more and more authority–powerful leadership also comes from enabling others. A multiplier effect. [Again, I was amazed at how relevant these concepts were to collaboration in ministry!]
“If the garden is well organized and adequately maintained, and the vegetables are promptly harvested when ripe, the product is pretty impressive. The gardener creates an environment in which the plants can flourish. The work done up front, and vigilant maintenance, allow the plants to grow individually, all at the same time…I began to view effective leadership in the new environment as more akin to gardening than chess…nurturing the organization..to enable the subordinate components to function with ‘smart autonomy’…as in a garden, the outcome was less dependent on the initial planting than on consistent maintenance. Watering, weeding, and protecting plants from rabbits and disease are essential for success. The gardener cannot actually ‘grow’ tomatoes, squash, or beans–she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so…Creating and maintaining the teamwork conditions we needed–tending the garden–became my primary responsibility…I found that only the senior leader could drive the operating rhythm, transparency, and cross-functional cooperation we needed. I could shape the culture and demand the ongoing conversation that shared consciousness required” (225-226).
This is where the rubber meets the road in many church organizations–only the senior leader can set the tone to make a collaborative organizational culture a reality. [Which brings us back to #2…stop blaming and change the right things…]
Take-Away #4 — Trust and Common Purpose. Trust First.
This diagram comes at the end of Team of Teams. For it to make sense, order matters.
It starts in the center–with trust and common purpose. This reminds me of Patrick Lencioni’s emphasis on trust as the foundation of organizational health. If leaders and teams can’t trust each other in ministry, then that’s the first step, period. Out of a healthy organization comes (looking to the right side of the diagram) empowered execution–when individuals know that their leaders trust them, provide the resources, guidance, and freedom to do good (and occasionally fail!)–and shared consciousness–knowing what’s important beyond one’s own team. An organization that operates with these two characteristics has demonstrated adaptability. And, adaptability is what enables an organization to act with the speed and multi-dimensional approaches necessary for today’s complex challenges.
As I reflect on this, I see a connection to how many parishes/ministries have approached the New Evangelization–treating it as a program or static “problem” that can be analyzed and planned well in advance and executed by a small group of individuals. But, the call for a New Evangelization is certainly evidence of complexity in today’s cultural and religious environment. In many cases, a “team of teams” approach is greatly needed in order to break down silos, improve the speed of change, and re-build the trust that all missionary disciples must have to truly be free to labor most fully and fruitfully in the vineyard.