1 Minute Review: Fr. Robert Spitzer’s “The Spirit of Leadership”

413zbf28xcl-_sx315_bo1204203200_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.


Take a Closer Look at the Theology of Your Stewardship and Financial Practices

Can people grow in faith through the act of giving financially? Absolutely. In fact, it seems to be part of God’s plan in Scripture.

Does it happen in ordinary local church life by accident or through hopeful neglect? No. It takes an intentional, discipleship-centered focus to stewardship/fundraising.

I’ve been reading a practical and thought-provoking book by Thomas Jeavons and Rebekah Basinger, Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising As a Ministry (2000). Jeavons and Basinger assert that how the act of giving is elicited and structured significantly impacts whether or not givers grown in faith through the process (p. 111). Givers desire to communicate on a spiritual level, as “giving allows individuals to testify through concrete action to the transforming power of God’s grace in their lives” (p. 112). The local church shouldn’t act just like XYZ-Nonprofit-Org down the street (even if it’s a great secular charity)–givers need to experience giving as an act of faith.

If you’re not sure if your parish/ministry treats financial development like a ministry, check out Growing Givers’ Hearts. It’s not a new book, but it’s one of the richest practical and theological resources out there when it comes to fundraising. Or, for a taste, here’s a link to the “Growing Givers” tag at Basinger’s website.


Why Study God? Theology, Books, Personal Conversion, and Self-Understanding

I taught my first undergraduate theology course this past fall. Near the end of the semester, a student noted that while teaching, I always seemed to be mentioning books or theologians 🙂 Guilty as charged. I have found reading theology to be a formative experience in my life of faith and can’t help but share my favorite quotes, lines, and ideas. This student, who was relatively new to the formal study of theology wanted to know what books I’d recommend. What a great question! What are the books that have truly impacted my relationship with God? Books that were not merely enlightening at an informational level or great for some exam or paper–but books that spoke to my heart and faith life. Here’s my list. I emphasize that this is my list to make the point that I think part of the joy of reading and studying theology is finding others–theologians from another era or another continent–who speak your language, your dialect or sing in your vocal range (to use a different metaphor) when it comes to their own understanding and articulation of the faith. All of us undergo conversion out of our unique experiences, our individual struggles of faith. While we share the same beliefs (in the grand scheme of things), we don’t always come to those truths through the same paths. We face different struggles of doubt, disagreement, and discouragement. Reading works of theology gives each of us a chance to hear our own stories through the observations and reflections of others–and as we hear Christian truths in others’ words, we may come to better understand our own beliefs in communion with the Church and how we reached those critical assents of faith. Okay, so here’s the start of my list (from my early 20s): Romano Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy (1930) I first heard a quote from this book mentioned at my secular undergraduate college in a 400-level Natural Resources course taught by Prof. Richard Baer. Prof. Baer (who has a truly unique educational and ministerial background) then went on to summarize the main points of Guardini’s chapter “The Playfulness of the Liturgy.” For the first time, through the ideas of Guardini, I understood why I’d (for the previous 5 years) attended both Catholic Mass and weekly services at a fundamentalist Baptist church. Though doctrinally I identified more as Baptist at that time, I found an outlet and expression for that faith in Mass. Inspired to read Guardini on my own, I discovered that my liturgical spirituality did make sense 🙂 even though it would be many years before I fully assented doctrinally to the Catholic faith. In short, “The Playfulness of the Liturgy” helped my 20-year-old self discover why I worshiped at Mass. C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Great Divorce I picked up The Screwtape Letters from a big box bookstore a few years after I’d graduated college. I’m not sure why I picked it up. I remember reading parts of the Chronicles of Narnia as a kid and not liking the books. But, C.S. Lewis had certainly become a popular author for young adult Christians in the U.S. in the 2000s, so I suppose I figured I should give him a try. Once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down. It was just so true. Such an insightful portrayal of human existence. From Lewis, I found the words to talk about sin and understand it in my own life. I went on to read Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce. I can honestly say, I recall being extremely disappointed by The Great Divorce the first time through–it just didn’t make sense. But, for some reason I was compelled to read it again, and after that second read…bingo…I had an entrance point, a way into understanding the Catholic teaching of salvation (+eternal life, purification, damnation, etc.). Another example of finding a theologian who could explain truths to me in a dialect I could understand. Then in my late 20s, I started graduate school and formally studying theology for the first time [I’d never attended a Catholic/Christian school before]. Now, formally studying theology in school is a little different. You don’t get to choose all of the books you read (but don’t worry, they can still have a deep impact!). A recent discussion surrounding review of the University of Notre Dame’s undergraduate curriculum has spurred an outpouring of reflection on the role of theology in the university and in the believer’s life of faith. In this same theme, “Oblation: Liturgy and Life” recently republished an article by Prof. John Cavadini, “Why Study God?: The Role of Theology at a Catholic University”. Cavadini writes:

As students come to understand the sophistication of the Catholic theological tradition, I find that their sympathy for it increases. They see riches where before they saw only old, irrelevant texts. They come to appreciate that there were difficult challenges in the church long before our own time, controversies much more heated than some of those we observe today. They discover a beauty they had not expected, a variety where previously they had assumed there would be only uniformity. They find out that Scripture is not as “primitive” as they had thought. They learn that, while not reducible to reason, faith has its own logic. They learn to distinguish between what is reasonable and what is provable. They learn some of the basic doctrines of the Catholic faith, not as doors that close off all questioning, but as openings to lifelong reflection on the ultimately ineffable mystery of God’s love, which is the ultimate referent of all doctrine. It is the formation of an intellectual life continually engaged with this mystery that is the principle benefit of theology as a field of study.

Yes! It kind of goes without saying that as a graduate M.Div. student in the lay ministry formation program I came back to school (like my classmates) with a high degree of affinity and sympathy for the Catholic intellectual tradition. But, even for those pursuing a ministry track, there is always more to discover.While I was “converted” through a reading of the Catechism in my mid-20s and think the CCC is a wonderful gift in the Church, there are doctrines that cry out for more reflection, more analysis. As a student, when you find a theologian who speaks “in your language” and helps you to see the richness of our tradition and “ineffable mystery of God’s love,” this is when a book becomes a means of personal conversion. Thinking back to graduate school then, I’d say the the theologians who most had this impact on me were Irenaeus, Yves Congar O.P., Louis Bouyer C.O., and Aidan Kavanagh O.S.B. Parts of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies read like a powerful sermon that had me affirming, “Amen! Amen!” silently in my head. The centrality of redemption and salvation was striking. Earlier in my life, I’d experienced Catholicism without a clear message of salvation in Jesus Christ–Irenaeus’ writings assured me that the kerygma was at the heart of the early church. Yves Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit and The Meaning of Tradition and Louis Bouyer’s The Word, Church and Sacraments in Protestantism and Catholicism and The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit all gave me a language for understanding (and loving) Catholic ecclesiology. What the Church is. What Tradition is. How the Church remains Church. I’d assented to the Catholic faith in my mid-20s as an act of faith. I believed as an act of yielding to the Holy Spirit. It was hard, but brought great joy and fruit. It was something I believed to be true–but I didn’t have the words to say why. Congar and Bouyer supplied the words to bring light to, yet not contain or subdue, the widest and most awe-inspiring truth of the Holy Spirit making and sustaining the Church. Finally, Aidan Kavanagh’s The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation. Now at first this might seem like an oddly specific topic/book to be on a list of theological reading that formed my faith–especially since I’d never participated in the RCIA as a catechumen or sponsor. However, as someone who did not explicitly respond to the full offer of grace in my own infant baptism until many many years later, I’d always had a nagging wonder about baptism. What was this sacrament (and my childhood initiation through Eucharist and Confirmation) really about? Discovering Kavanagh’s writing on the sacraments of initiation was for me an experience of, as Cavadini described, “discover[ing] a beauty they had not expected, a variety where previously they had assumed there would be only uniformity.” Thanks to my students from the fall for prompting me to really sit down and think about theologians that formed my faith–books with resonance beyond the classroom. I’d of course recommend these books to anyone! (I love recommending books, haha 😉 ). But, I think part of the beauty of studying theology is the discovery of just the right voices that speak to your own unique background, questions, and struggles–so I think everyone’s list will look a bit different. The important thing is to keep your eyes and ears open to the wonderful potential for theology to (gasp!) actually provide insights into our deepest questions of faith.

Ideas for Genuine Inquiry in RCIA via Garry Poole’s “Seeker Small Groups”

In Seeker Small Groups: Engaging Spiritual Seekers in Life Changing Discussions (2003) Garry Poole proposes small groups led by ordinary Christians as the best way to engage and evangelize seekers.

Okay, so what does he mean by seekers? For him seekers=non-Christian, a spiritual seeker, a seeking friend–it’s interchangeable for someone who has not personally received Jesus Christ as forgiver and leader, no matter how far along they are in their spiritual journey (p. 32). The Christian’s goal then, “is to understand a seeker’s perspective and figure out the best ways to challenge that seeker about what it means to know God. And, then prayerfully attempt to give him or her opportunities to receive Jesus Christ as the only means of finding forgiveness and true relationship with God” (p. 33).

A Seeker Small Group (SSG) is 2-12 seekers and 1-2 Christian leaders who meet to discuss the seeker’s spiritual concerns, questions, and issues. What a huge point! The leader doesn’t really set the agenda or decide that the seekers should hear about, say, styles of prayer, the Catechcism, what RCIA is like, etc. [and yes, I know that these things happen during RCIA’s inquiry phase in many parishes]. Poole notes that Christians often spend time answering questions that seeker’s aren’t asking. We just want to share the Good News before even engaging with the seeker’s actual objections, confusion, etc. SSGs are  place to understand the seekers’ past religious experiences, Biblical understanding, spiritual questions, barriers/objections, and places of spiritual blindness (=where the seeker holds a theology that misrepresents Christianity).

Seeker Small Groups get started through relational evangelism. People in the church inviting friends, relatives, co-workers, acquaintances, and the like. Of course, many people hear about Seeker Small Groups on Sunday–but there’s always a bridge of trust. “If we build it, they will come” simply doesn’t work for seekers. We need to build the relationship and interest first–whether trough church events or conversation at a softball game. Churches can establish affinity-based seeker groups (e.g. men, women, neighborhood, etc.), launch them before or after a popular Sunday service, or jump-start many of them through a large weekend event or outreach moment.

My thoughts on how this might translate for Catholic parishes:

1. I think we’d have a much more difficult time convincing/empowering typical parishioners to feel comfortable/competent in leading one of these groups. In principle, any Catholic Christian should be able to facilitate one of these seeker groups and have the basic ability to discuss core, kerygmatic beliefs. Unfortunately, the perception I observe is that most parishioners feel that there’s a tremendous amount of catechetical knowledge that’s essential for them to have before they “lead” any group. But, this misses the point–the seeker is wrestling with core issues, like does God exist? and any Catholic Christian should be able to share with authentic conviction how he/she came to this belief.

2. We’d have a different theology of who is a seeker. We wouldn’t call a “seeker” synonymous with “non-Christian,” since for us, seeker would also likely include many of the baptized who have drifted away or not responded to their baptismal vocation. We’d likely have many seekers who consider themselves “cultural Catholics.” This is all okay–just something to be aware of when reading Poole’s book.

3. Seeker Small Groups could function as a pre-inquiry or inquiry phase for RCIA. The fact that these groups are relatively small and meet for a defined, but short (6 wks or so) length of time means that–bam!–problem of not knowing how to start year-round RCIA is solved. 🙂

4. Poole writes that Seeker Small Groups show that seekers really matter (p. 34). Seekers matter to God, so they should matter to our parishes. When I think about typical parish offerings–eh, there’s not always a place set aside for seekers. We need to to that, instead of expecting seekers to conform to our ideas of how they should come to know/meet Jesus in the midst of the local parish.

Sound intriguing? Poole’s book is easy to digest and is basically a handbook on how to lead these small groups. I’ll be covering some of the basics in future posts, but if you’re an RCIA leader or involved in adult faith formation–I definitely recommend this book. For me it presented a whole realm of new ideas on how much seekers can actually be engaged through the local church.


Pastoral Administration Book Review: “A Pastor’s Toolbox”

A Pastor’s Toolbox: Management Skills for Parish Leadership, Ed. Paul A. Holmes (Liturgical Press, 2014)

This is one of many books that aim to equip Catholic parish ministers with the leadership, managerial, and administrative skills to be successful in parish (or any) ministry.

In the Introduction, Holmes writes, “with all the requisite education in philosophy and theology that seminaries must provide future pastors, in addition to all the needed formation in spiritual and pastoral care, our seminaries can do little to prepare priests to deal with the difficult temporal issues pastors face” (p. 1). 

That’s probably the reality. Though, I’m kind of skeptical to think that seminaries can’t do a better job of this. Or, maybe dioceses have to take matters into their own hands, with in-depth pre-pastoral continuing education for new priests serving as associate pastors who don’t happen to have a pre-seminary background that prepared them for leadership of a sizable organization (like a parish). Same goes for lay ministry formation programs.

Anyhow, the problem exists. The greatest strength (and weakness) of A Pastor’s Toolbox is that it is specifically focused on priests serving as pastors. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 are specifically tailored for priestly ministry as a pastor. Chapter 2 highlights three overarching responsibilities of the pastor: 1) to be the keeper of the vision, 2) selecting a staff, and 3) assessing the needs of the parish. Great list! Helps keep the pastor focused on the big picture and setting conditions (through staff selection and needs assessments) rather than being too operations focused, and not delegating enough (p. 23). In the many parishes I’ve been a part of, there does seem to be a tendency among pastors to not delegate enough. I think this flows from their authentic love for the flock and servant leadership, which translates to not wanting to burden others. While the motivation is virtuous, it’s shortsighted and ultimately limits the mission of the parish.

Chapter 3 “A Six-Month Game Plan” for new pastors is especially useful as a practical guide. Focusing on priests in pastoral leadership is important because many of the other books I’ve reviewed stretch more broadly into leadership and management, and just maybe, there are some priests out there who think “this stuff is for my business manager,” and tune out. The opening chapters of this book should get every seminarian, future pastor, or pastor’s attention. This is a good thing. It makes A Pastor’s Toolbox an outstanding resource for any Pastoral Administration course that includes seminarians.

On the flip side, if you’re preparing for non-priestly leadership or management in a parish, you can probably just skip the first three chapters. It’s a nice-to-know perspective, but not something you can act on.

Some of the other best practices from the first three chapters that are most needed in parishes (and involve more than just the pastor’s initiative) include:

  • having annual study/reflection/planning days that include the whole staff stepping away (I know Church of the Nativity, aka the Rebuilt parish does this; and Patrick Lencioni explains the concept well as a quarterly meeting, and I tend to think most parishes need 2x per year or quarterly meetings for this).
  • mailing every registered parishioner a financial statement for the parish each year (so that even those who don’t attend Mass and might typically receive it in the bulletin have a chance to read it–promotes transparency)
  • keeping relationships transparent by channeling friends/parishioners who want to talk to you (the pastor) about something (i.e. why not to do a new building project) to the correct formal forum, such as setting them up for coffee with the parish council member leading investigation into a building project (p. 33-34)

The other chapters in the book focus on particular areas and would be valuable for almost any pastoral leadership/administration course (i.e. for lay persons, deacons, etc.). Chapter 5 “Developing a Comprehensive Human Resources Program,” Chapter 7 “Best Practices in Parish Internal Financial Controls,” and Chapter 12 “Parish Planning” are outstanding. These should definitely make it onto your formal (or informal 🙂 ) reading list.

Some of the best tidbits from Chapter 7 (Finance) include:

  • only 9% of parishes hold open budget meetings! (p. 79) — don’t do this, be transparent. I can certainly attest to this, of the many parishes I’ve been a part of only one was highly transparent about the annual budgeting process. In all the others, finance council meetings weren’t even announced. 😦
  • giving via EFT (electronic funds transfers) tends to increase giving by 30% (p. 82) — that’s pretty significant! I can also see how it reduces the labor needed for counting offertory collections and reduces the opportunities for fraud. So many wins. Parishes can brainstorm ways to help people switch and to continue to ritualize the spiritual act of financial offerings (since many people are just used to putting an envelope in the collection plate/basket and feel “wrong” not doing this).

All of the other chapters are simply okay. Not the most comprehensive or best chapters I’ve read on these subjects, but certainly not bad. Chapter 9 “Pastoring and Administering a Mission-Driven Church” could use a greater focus on discipleship processes, Chapter 8 “Fundraising as christian Stewardship” could use some conversation with research on Catholic giving and giving as a spiritual practice. However, on the whole, this is a solid book with some outstanding portions, it stands out as the only book I’ve seen that’s specifically tailored for the priest/pastor role. Thanks Liturgical Press for a great resource!

On a personal note, I had a little chuckle reading the forward to this book. U.S. Army Lieutenant General (Retired) James Dubik is “where the story begins” in the creation of the Toolbox for Pastoral Management program and this book. I instantly recognized that name. Lieutenant General Dubik was the commander of MNSTC-I (pronounced “minsticky”) aka, the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq during the 2007 “surge,” the same time I was serving in Iraq. While I never worked directly with him, I heard him speak during vitual briefings. And, I remember being my commander’s notetaker during a trip to Baghdad to visit the MNSTC-I headquarters and engineer section. So, a small world 😉 and a laugh that out of the 168,000 or so  U.S. troops in Iraq during the “surge” there were at least 2 of us turning an eye toward Catholic parishes. 🙂

Here’s some more of Lieutenant General (Ret.) Dubik’s work through the Leadership Education programs at Duke Divinity School:

Your Job is to Develop People
Onward, Christian Soldier!
Managing the Asset of Time




Pastoral Planning Without Losing Sight of Discipleship — A Recommendation for “Simple Church”

Over at A Shepherd’s Post, Fr. David Barnes highlights what I think is a real temptation in pastoral planning, the error of adopting what he calls a “corporate” approach. By this, I think he means, a focus on structural organization and programs that neglects the fundamental, personal aspects of evangelization and discipleship. A “corporate” approach might also include an intense focus on metrics that are not in line with the process of discipleship (e.g. tracking activity levels of parishioners vs. actual signs of growth).

However, strategic planning is extremely important. We can’t shy away from it, just because there are ways of erring. Here’s why: certain conditions help cultivate the settings where personal discipling and sharing the Gospel can take place on a regular, ordinary basis. Having a good process and conditions that set the stage for evangelization and discipleship can be thought of as an invisible program, there’s no specific name, but there is a strategic and plan for making every condition right to foster spiritual growth in the parish.

One of the best books for grounding pastoral planning in this way is Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Eric Geiger and Thom Rainer. They explore this basic observation:

The healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples. They had clarity about the process. They moved Christians intentionally through the process. They were focused on the elements of the process. And they aligned their entire congregation to this process (ix).

Now, simple does not preclude pastoral planning. Strategy and leadership come in because, “simple church design” does not imply easy. “Simple is basic, uncomplicated, and fundamental. Easy is effortless.” A simple process is not easy to implement or maintain. Leadership is challenging, but the strategy doesn’t need to be complex.

Rainer and Geiger come up with this basic definition of a “simple church”:

A simple church is designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically (movement) and is implemented in each area of the church (alignment). The church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus). 

This is allows pastoral planning to all about discipleship. It focuses on spiritual growth, rather than a plethora of programs. When applied correctly, it makes it easy for the personal encounters Fr. Barnes highlights to happen, and sets the conditions for them to happen more and more frequently. For example, the Evangelical Catholic ministry incorporates the principles of clarity, alignment, movement, and focus into its strategic planning (here’s a recorded webinar on the topic from EC).

If you’re struggling with how to be strategic and plan, without becoming too “corporate” (as Fr. Barnes describes), I highly recommend you give Simple Church a read and examine how it might apply to your Catholic ministry setting. Simple Church is a short read and it won’t give you answers (especially for a Catholic parish), but it’s thought-provoking, and a valuable check to keep any parish council or ministerial staff centered on the real purpose of planing.

Finding Resources for Effective Small Groups

Loving the idea of small groups in principle and having compelling content to delve into is often relatively easy for ministry leaders. The nuts and bolts of training facilitators, doing sign ups, creating seeker-friendly environments for select small groups, and more…these things can be a real challenge. Especially if having lots of small groups is new or represents a significant cultural shift for your setting.

Here are some resources to jump start your planning:

1. Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups (Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas, 2008). 

This book comes from two pastors who boast of a 100% congregation participation rate in small groups. Now, I have no way to independently verify that statistic–but this book is filled with concrete and practical guidelines from the size of groups, doing sign-ups, how to train and recruit facilitators, how to incorporate small groups into the life of the congregation, etc. It’s easily adaptable for Catholic parishes. The greatest strength of this book is that it’s about scaleable growth. It focuses on how to grow an entire web of small groups at the level of a parish or congregation. [It’s not a guide for how to lead one small group]. If you’re hoping for one book that gives you a toolkit for growing effective and sustainable small groups–this is probably it!

2. The Evangelical Catholic’s Small Group Website

This resource stands out as a mix between the programmatic-focus of Activate (Resource #1) and the facilitator-focus of FOCUSEquip (Resource #3). Unlike Activate, it’s filled with tidbits of Catholic theology to ground your small group initiative. It addresses big picture planning challenges like how exactly to launch new groups, how to recruit and fill groups, and how to evaluate and assess groups–all extremely important details (that often get overlooked for a debate over “what book” to use–as if that’s the defining factor of small group success). If you’re in planning mode, I highly recommend checking out their recorded webinars and articles on small groups. If you’re getting ready to facilitate, they provide recorded videos for session preparation and affordable materials that can be adapted from a campus setting to a parish setting (e.g. breaking down a 1.5 hr discussion into 3 shorter sessions).

3. FOCUSEquip.Org Small Group Website

To access some of the FOCUSEquip web-resources you first need to create a free username/log-in. Once you do that, you’ve got access to easy to read .pdfs that delve into asking good questions within small groups, how to facilitate a session, how to pray and grow as a facilitator, etc. These resources will help you (or your facilitators) “learn the art of leading a Bible study” — they won’t, however, help plan a parish-wide initiative. The best thing about these are that they are free, hit the important points quickly, and easy to share with potential facilitators. 

4. CruPressGreen.Com’s Leading a Small Group Website

CruPressGreen is the free, online collection of resources associated with the US ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). FOCUS draws many of its resources from Cru, and this Cru website features a wider array of articles than available through FOCUS–though you will find some repeated material. This is another great facilitator resource as it hits on topics like handling problem questions, making sure small groups have a purpose, building community, what to do at the first meeting, ice-breakers, etc. The greatest strength of this resource is that like FOCUSEquip, it’s free facilitator development–it’s a little more in-depth than FOCUSEquip, so maybe send facilitators to FOCUSEquip for starting points and then to CruPressGreen as they develop? (just a thought 🙂 )

5. Seeker Small Groups:Engaging Spiritual Seekers in Life-Changing Discussions (Garry Poole, 2003)

All of the resources I’ve discussed so far presume (for the most part) that small group members are already part of the Christian community and have made at least a nominal move towards Jesus Christ. This book is something totally different. Garry Poole makes the compelling case for completely inquiry-driven small groups for seekers as an evangelization tool. I was wow-ed by this book. It’s all about “us” (aka the church people) saying less, and instead creating spaces for authentic listening, while trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide and make truth known. I think this book captures the true spirit of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adult’s inquiry phase. Read this book if you’re looking for a way to shift to year round inquiry, make inquiry actually about seeker’s questions (and not about presenting the Catholic faith in classes!), and involve the entire parish in evangelization through small groups. It’s easily adaptable to a Catholic setting and will challenge you and your parish to step out in a completely different way.

Okay, what else would you add to the list?