Review of Jared Dees’ “To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach”

heal_proclaim_teach-3dOkay, so I’m not going to lie. When I first picked up Jared Dees’ new book, To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach: The Essential Guide to Ministry in Today’s Catholic Church (Ave Maria Pres, 2016), I was initially underwhelmed. Even a little bored. I mean, Dees was just saying stuff that’s obvious over and over, that people in ministry know, right?

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.

 

 

 

Review: “Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist”

Katie Prejean‘s new book Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist (Ave Maria Press, 2016) is a quick and easy delight to read that communicates the Church’s wisdom on the essence and spirituality of evangelization in a humorous and personal way.

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.

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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.

Six Discipling Resolutions for Fall Ministries

It’s that time of year when many ministry staff and volunteers are preparing to launch or re-start initiatives, groups, programs, and more, as students and adults transition back from summer vacation season. Sometimes we can get caught up in the complexity or scale of our plans and forget our key foundations.

I’ve been reading Chris Wesley‘s Rebuilding Youth Ministry, and while the book is a great strategic guide for youth ministry, it has a straightforward clear message for all of us–from RCIA to adult small groups to kids faith formation and beyond. Drawing from Rebuilding Youth Ministry, here are six resolutions to help keep a more personal, discipling focus in your fall ministries.

1. Remember, the vast majority of people are “relationally driven,” not event-driven. Make sure forming friendships and relationships are an ordinary, intentional part of your ministry.

2. Never assume a particular point in one’s spiritual journey or baseline religious knowledge from any participants. Yes, the bulletin announcement may have read, “grow deeper in the faith through a Bible Study of John’s Gospel,” but the reality is that some who attend may be functional agnostics, others might have erroneous notions of “Church teaching.” And this is a good thing :-) as long as you stay away from assumptions and get to know participants.

Read more here

Review of Chris Wesley’s “Rebuilding Youth Ministry”

Rebuilding Youth Ministry: Ten Practical Strategies for Catholic Parishes (Ave Maria Press, 2015) is the third in the “Rebuilt parish” series–following Rebuilt and Tools for Rebuilding. I recommend this book for anyone in a specialty/functional area parish ministry–i.e. youth ministry, adult faith formation, young adult ministry, children’s religious education, RCIA, etc.

Now, this might strike you as a curious recommendation–I mean the title says youth ministry and it’s about youth ministry–but the value of this book as a resource for ministry leaders goes well beyond youth ministry.

The Big Picture

Rebuilt and Tools for Rebuilding focus on renewal from the perspective of a parish leader–a pastor, pastoral council, or pastoral associate. Rebuilding Youth Ministry is different. It’s a shorter, more focused primer on how to plan and specialty/functional ministry in the parish–through the lens of youth ministry. It’s an easy read filled with clear explanations of leadership and management basics, ideal for someone who has theological training, but wants to be more effective in ministry, without the detail that HBR or SSIR articles on leadership and management provide. Wesley writes for youth ministers, but what he says is so practically applicable, any leader of a parish formation/catechetical ministry could benefit from reading this. Read it and substitute your functional area (i.e. adult faith formation, RCIA, etc.) for youth ministry 🙂 it’s a fun and useful thought experiment.

Nuts and Bolts

The starting premise (provided by Rebuilt parish authors Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran in the forward) is simple:

Students…are an important part of the Church right now. God very much desires a growing relationship with them and has granted them gifts and talents to serve him and his family. (vii)

Basically, if you’re only concerned with youth ministry for the sake of the future, you’ve got an inadequate view of how the Holy Spirit can use all believers, today, for the sake of the Gospel.

So how to respond? Have a sense of irresistible, joyous urgency that “every even remotely interested teen living within your parish boundaries needs to be connected to a small group that is focused on evangelization and discipleship (growing a relationship with Jesus and learning how to serve him)” (25).

Whoa! (You might be thinking). That’s impossible. Youth ministry in my parish has been a struggle of kids not showing up, burn out, parents forcing kids into Confirmation, etc. If Church of the Nativity is having success, I want whatever program they’re using…

And this is where Wesley urges us to change our thinking. Stop with programs, retreats, and events as silver bullets–“teens are not event-driven; they are relationally driven. The last thing they need is another program” (9). [Note: kids and adults are probably the same way 😉 hence why I recommend this book to those with no connection to youth ministry.] Wesley accurately observes, “you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees with the concept that relationships are essential to a person’s faith journey” (29). But putting this into practice is a challenge in many parishes because we try and think big too quickly–skipping the critical step of building a “structure of authentic relationships” (29).

To build strongly means to grow a solid foundation of vision, mission, a volunteer team, parish buy-in and resourcing, prayer, personal ministerial identity, and more–and this is what the ten strategies of Rebuilding Youth Ministry help walk us through. Each chapter dissects one strategy and includes concrete “First Steps” that ministry leaders can immediately begin to discuss and take action on, developing (step-by-step) the sustainable ministry Wesley describes.

In Summary

Overall, Wesley focuses on ministerial strategies rather than specific tactics/techniques, programs, curricula, events, or formats–and this is a good thing. It’s a discussion of how to think, envision, and build/develop–rather than a simple prescription of what to do. All too often parishes focus on what to do and doing more, rather than on the deeply rooted, essential vision and relationships behind ministry growth. Rebuilding Youth Ministry challenges the assumption that “more is better” in when it comes to ministry (or parish) health. It’s an outstanding guide for anyone ready to honestly assess and renew youth ministry in a parish setting. And, (if you can think outside the box a little) it’s also widely applicable for all parish ministers–something I’ll be diving into over the next few weeks with some of my favorite takeaways from the book.

Your thoughts? Have you read this book or applied parts of it? What were your experiences? Share here or on Twitter using the hashtag #RebuildingYM to continue the conversation.

Disclosure: Ave Maria Press provided me a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. Opinions expressed are my own, completely honest enthusiasm. 😀

Youth Sports: Turning a Barrier into a Means

In many parts of the U.S. Christian churches feel they are in competition with youth sports (i.e. weeknight practices, Sunday games/tournaments, summer camp schedules, etc.) when it comes to reaching kids and teens with the Gospel. However, there are options for using sports as a means of cultivating relationship with Jesus Christ. The most prominent national example of this is Upward Sports. Think CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports, but with a deliberate and progressive approach to help kids grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Upward’s mission statement is: “Promoting the Discovery of Jesus Through Sports.”

But what if you wanted to do something local and distinctly Catholic? That’s a possibility too! In their second year of operation, Quest Sports Camps in Michigan offer an opportunity to preach the Gospel to kids and teens through summer sports camps.

Any other local, regional, or national examples of Catholic sports ministries? Share the news!

No More “Sacramental Conveyer Belt”

Insights on Confirmation in parish life. “Discipleship or Bust” says Fr. Peter Dugandzic, aka how to get away from a “sacramental conveyor belt”…

If I am correct, the only way to stop the conveyor belt is to return to the early Church model — one filled with personal witness and encounter. In the initial proclamation of the Gospel, there were no “programs” to be instituted or “standards” to be met. The first criteria was, and still is, Faith in Jesus Christ. The second criteria was, and still is, encounter with Jesus Christ. Both of these criteria were met, and should still be met, through a community of believers on Fire with the Holy Spirit. It is this type of community that a new convert must encounter, and it is this same community that was, and still is, the avenue of encounter with Christ. Such an encounter cannot be measured with objective standards because it is a highly subjective experience. Without a real encounter and subjective conversion, the newly initiated eventually will fall off the conveyor belt at the end, and will most likely never be seen again.

Read more…