Vision in a Homily

So your parish has a vision, and maybe even a catchy vision statement–now what?

Vision that’s not communicated broadly falls flat. Because the point of vision is that it guides everyone. Not just the elite. Not just leaders. Everyone.

VISION
How to communicate broadly in a Catholic parish?
The Sunday Homily.

I can hear the mental excuses now. All the reasons why your parish can’t communicate vision in homilies, how the people won’t like it, how it can’t be planned, there’s not enough time, etc. But, none of the excuses override the critical importance of preaching the vision, frequently and repeatedly, to the broadest parish audience.

As Fr. James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation and The Divine Renovation Guidebook, explains:

I remember catching myself saying once, ‘But I spoke about that in a homily last year.’ It is foolish for us preachers to think that most parishioners are going to remember something we said two weeks before, never mind a year before. In truth, if the sign on the bus is to be plainly recognized, we must speak about vision over and over again. In the last three years, I have committed myself to preaching some form of visioning homily at all the weekend Masses every three weeks. I am convinced that this is necessary (Divine Renovation, 255).

Sometimes it can be tempting to think, it’s in the bulletin right? We’ve got a sign up? The staff knows? It’s on the website? But that’s not enough, “there are no shortcuts when it comes to communicating vision: it takes time and intentionality” (DR Guidebook, 60).

Let’s start with the practical: what is a visioning homily?

  • not simply information, but the inspiration and motivation “to desire that preferred future and be wiling to make the changes necessary” (DR Guidebook, 60)
  • “A homily that attempts, in some way, to address the question of why are we here, where are we going and why we do the things we do, or are trying to do the things we are trying to do” (DR Guidebook, 62)
  • “Preaching about the mission of the Church and the future of your parish in a way that all your parishioners can hear and understand” (DR Guidebook, 62)

Does it really need to be repeated so often?

Answer: Yes. Here’s why: “If a parish is becoming truly missional and is innovating, there will be ongoing change within the parish. Change must always be explained in light of the vision” (Divine Renovation, 256). Most people don’t love change. By communicating the vision frequently (as Fr. James Mallon does, roughly every 3 weeks) the parish helps each and every person know and understand how concrete changes and decisions fit into the big picture, and help guide the efforts.

Okay, I’m ready. But what goes into a visioning homily?

Drawing from Divine Renovation (pg. 256-257), here are the key elements in a visioning homily, with examples from a visioning homily (Groundbreaking 05: Vision, April 24, 2016) at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD.

  • Answer: why are we here? Remind the listeners why the parish exists, what God has called you to, what your mission is. For Church of the Nativity, it’s growing disciples while growing as disciples. This gets mentioned twice in the first four minutes (at 1:50-2:08 and 3:50-4:04).
  • Name: what’s not right at the gut level. Scratch the point of dissatisfaction that people are experiencing. Help everyone feel the need. For Church of the Nativity, it’s that it’s “hard to invite people to come people to church when there’s no place to park and no place to sit” (4:30-4:45). This is something tangible. Lots of people in the parish may have experienced this…tentatively thinking about inviting a friend to Mass, but wary of doing so because of the seemingly crowded experience.
  • Explain: why the current situation or past models won’t work. This might include some transparency or vulnerability. Or showing how the parish has “done its homework” in trying to address the point of dissatisfaction in the past. Aim to be clear and honest about how a particular [old] way of doing things isn’t working, but without blaming people, staff, specific groups, etc. Since Church of the Nativity is addressing how to accommodate growth, the leaders share what they’ve done in the past or tried (different times, off-campus sites, etc), and how these solutions don’t effectively lead toward the parish’s vision (1:00-1:22).
  • Inspire: capture imaginations, invite people to dream. Encourage everyone listening to join in the “imagine if…” for the parish. What could it be? This is a time, not for information, but to make our hearts leap, make even the most change-averse person in the pew have a momentary optimism about the future. In the example from Church of the Nativity, Brian Cook reminds the community of pieces of plywood the parish had “filled with the names of all your friends, family members, co-workers…people you’re praying for, that one day they’ll come to church and meet their Heavenly Father…this project is about making room for them, all of them” (5:30-6:00) and continues to spur the imagination as to the wider significance of the parish’s direction, that “This new building can stand as a hopeful sign that intentional growth is still possible…that God is still using the local church to change lives” (6:10-6:41).
  • Share: the plan for how we’re getting to where we’re going. This part is the most intuitive. We like to talk about what we’re doing. But remember, this is just one of five key elements. Without the other pieces, this part of a visioning homily can quickly become a litany of information, rather than the transformation that’s at the heart of vision and change leadership. Church of the Nativity puts it concisely: it’s about “creating empty seats at optimal times” and that phrase is used at least four times in the 7-minute vision-casting portion of the Sunday message (remember, repetition works!). The “how” is that as the parish responds to the call to “invest your treasure in the Church” this will result in hearts “connected to the Church” and the “growth in faith that comes somewhere outside of your comfort zone.”

A well-crafted visioning homily weaves these elements together, independent threads yet repeated and interrelated. There’s a logical flow from reminding who we are, to identifying and understanding the “situation” (Name & Explain), to inspiring, and only then speaking the plan.

A visioning homily doesn’t need to take a lot of time. While this entire message from Church of the Nativity is “long” (20 minutes in total) by most Catholic standards, the vision casting portion is solidly within the first 7 minutes. Visioning homilies can be done in any Catholic parish on a regular basis.

The other lesson from the Church of the Nativity example is that a parish need not have a singularly incredible, awesome, best-preacher-ever to communicate vision. Brian Cook, Tom Corcoran, and Fr. Michael White (the 3 speakers in the Church of the Nativity message) are ordinary folks, just like you. They stumble on their words (as we all do). It’s not always the most beautiful language. And think about it–if you’re preaching on vision once every three weeks, not every one is going to be your personal best. The point is, they commit. They do it. One doesn’t have to be an especially-gifted dynamic preacher to communicate vision. Check out their book, Rebuilding Your Message (and related podcasts) for practical tips on how any disciple of Jesus Christ can grow as a communicator.

Do you have a great visioning homily to share? Post a link in the Comment section to help us all grow in this essential area of parish ministry.

p.s. Download the “Groundbreaking 05: Vision” example I used here. All vision casting elements are present within the first 7 minutes. I’m not sure how long beyond March 2017 the download will be available, but all key excerpts are in this post–viewing is optional 🙂

Christian Unity 2017: Working the Vineyard

Vineyard 002Welcome to the Octave Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at Practical.Catholic.Evangelization.

I don’t think this can ever be a happy, celebratory week–as this time of prayer and reflection exists due to our human sinfulness, our giving in to the temptation to divide what God has drawn together in His family, the Church. But, I do think it can be a time of deep appreciation for the reality that, despite our sins of separation, there’s a tremendous amount of practical wisdom, knowledge, and practical spirituality for the the ministry of evangelization we’re all called to. Lessons to be learned from looking outside the “visible boundaries” of churches (as the world sees it).

Just look at Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources’ 2017 list of major trends for churches:

  1. Renewed emphasis on evangelism.
  2. Renewed emphasis on practical ministries.
  3. Increased frequency of allegations of child sex abuse in churches.
  4. Increased financial fraud in churches.
  5. The multi-site movement becoming a neighborhood church movement.
  6. An acceleration of church closures.
  7. Church acquisitions becoming normative.
  8. Worship center downsizing becomes normative.
  9. Longer pastoral tenure.
  10. The remarkable shift toward continual learning.

Rainer comes from a Southern Baptist, evangelical perspective, and predominately writes for established churches. Yet look at his list–practically, we’re all wrestling with similar pastoral issues. We’re co-workers in the same vineyard of the Lord, especially when our “vineyards” exist in similar cultural, geographic spaces.

Think through Rainer’s list through a Catholic lens, for example:

Renewed emphasis on evangelism and practical ministries, like hospitality and discipleship? Big yes for Catholic parishes and dioceses.

Better operations to prevent child sex abuse and financial fraud? Absolutely. Look at the great work to offer standards of excellence from the Nat’l Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.

Leaders thinking through the right-sized organizations and footprint for the Body of Christ in local communities, including neighborhood ministries, multi-site parishes, consolidations, and more? Yes. Big time in Catholic dioceses–and it doesn’t always have to be negative either. We can learn from our separated brothers and sisters and new structures for new times can be a good thing.

And finally, longer pastoral tenure and a shift toward continual learning? Yes again! The Rebuilt Parish Association, Divine Renovation Network, Amazing ParishParish Catalyst, and the Evangelical Catholic all represent huge growth showing that learning must be continuous for practical-minded, evangelizing leaders. Fr. James Mallon, founder of the Divine Renovation Network, clearly advocates for longer pastoral tenures within dioceses and deliberate stability and mentoring relationships designed to foster healthy and dynamic organizational cultures.

So this year, during these next eight Octave days, I’m going to share some of my favorites from “outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church” that offer me grace-filled practical wisdom for understanding how we participate in God’s mission of extending the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all of the world. So, stay tuned! 🙂

 

Book Review: Divine Renovation Guidebook

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.

dr_guidebookPastoral 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.

An Alpha Must: Pre-Evangelization

When something becomes popular, there’s a tendency to focus on the “brand” or the “name” rather than the essentials that make it what it is.

Last week, I was blessed to attend the Diocese of Lansing’s Called By Name Assembly. A theme uniting speakers and our table discussions was the importance of pre-evangelization, that initial proclamation of God’s saving plan doesn’t happen in some sterile vacuum. It happens between individuals, usually people who are acquainted with each other, and always people who trust each other enough to be a little bit vulnerable, be a little more open than our unfriendly culture encourages–and, just a little bit more loving.

belong

Of all the popular “on-ramps” into the Christian life or “processes that foster conditions for conversion” (as we might call these in a generic sense), I think Alpha embodies the heartiest dose of pre-evangelization principles. Pre-evangelization is a core part of Alpha. Cut out the pre-evangelization (because you don’t think you need it, don’t have the time, etc.) and turn it into a catechetical program, and you’re all good, right? Wrong.

If you’re a little bit uneasy, wondering if your Alpha (or plans for running an Alpha) are turning into straight up initial proclamation of the Gospel in a vacuum or catechesis, then I highly encourage you to listen to an absolutely fantastic 3-part podcast from St. Benedict’s Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia called “How to Kill Alpha in 10 Easy Steps” (it’s episodes 10, 11, and 12 here). The heart of the 10 steps all comes back to ignoring the importance of pre-evangelization, of belonging, of experiencing authentic human life and values as part of the “normal” life of the Body of Christ, as the vast ocean in which any and all proclamation of the Gospel must occur.

Divine Renovation 2016 Tweet Round-Up

Like Parish Catalyst, Amazing Parish, and Matter Conference, the Divine Renovation 2016 gathering brought together a dynamic group, ready to roll up their sleeves, pray, plan, and fellowship in the Holy Spirit–all for the sake of Jesus and His Church.

Here’s my Twitter-verse round-up: 

On Leadership: 

“There is absolutely NO decision that I as a Priest work through on my own for the vision of the Church”-@FJMallon#DR16#Leadership@SaintBP
— corey robinson (@CoachRobinson1) June 14, 2016

Commitment to growth is incompatible with the “good enough” attitude. #DR16
— Father Souza (@fathersouza) June 14, 2016

“An overled and undermanaged environment is unsustainable..there’s lots of activity but not going anywhere.” #DR16 pic.twitter.com/X2NUsSDsjh
— Dan O’Rourke (@DanORourke) June 14, 2016

“Good administration will not do everything, but bad administration can really harm mission.” @bishopdowd #preach #DR16
— Josh Canning (@CatholicJosh) June 14, 2016

On Strategy and Operations:

“It’s not just about random programs that aren’t connected…the purpose isn’t to be busy.” @FJMallon #DR16 #Parish #Leadership
— Colleen Vermeulen (@EvangelToolbox) June 14, 2016

“I had to repent from ‘more is merrier’ to ‘less is more'” –@FJMallon#DR16#NewEvangelization#Leadership
— Colleen Vermeulen (@EvangelToolbox) June 14, 2016

 Are you married to the method or to the mission? #DR16
— Father Souza (@fathersouza) June 14, 2016

On Stewardship of Treasure, Time, and Talent:

Per @FJMallon, (parish) money problems aren’t actually money problems. Money problems are vision problems. #DR16
— Clayton Imoo (@claytonimoo) June 13, 2016

“Our expectation is that 100% of people will end up in ministry.” @ron_huntley #DR16
— Josh Canning (@CatholicJosh) June 13, 2016

The priest can’t be a personal chaplain for every person in the parish (unless the church is under 200 ppl). #DR16
— Father Souza (@fathersouza) June 14, 2016

On Evangelization:

If there’s nothing else, it [the Eucharist] is neither a source nor summit for that individual. #DR16 #Evangelization https://t.co/eDIWdwEhiN
— Colleen Vermeulen (@EvangelToolbox) June 14, 2016

#Evangelization isn’t just something you do only when the pews are empty… It has to be a way of life! #DR16pic.twitter.com/evB3zmIrDI
— Father Souza (@fathersouza) June 14, 2016

Our primary interaction with the unchurched isn’t Sunday, it’s #Alpha. –@FJMallon#DR16#Catholic#Evangelization
— Colleen Vermeulen (@EvangelToolbox) June 14, 2016

Parish Truth:

Interested?

You can:

  • Read more Tweets tagged with #DR16 (you don’t need a Twitter account, just click here)
  • Watch the Plenary Sessions here
  • Read the original Divine Renovation book 
  • Start tuning into Divine Renovation podcasts
  • Learn more about Patrick Lencioni’s framework for “real leadership teams,” an underlying premise of the leadership behind many Divine Renovation initiatives

How long should Mass be?

 In Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, Fr. James Mallon offers these insights and reflections for figuring out what’s right for your parish community when it comes to Sunday Mass:

Worrying about Mass as a production is the wrong concern. He writes, “to the accusation that everything is a production, I am tempted to say, ‘Thank you, I’m so glad you noticed.'” While Mass isn’t a “production” in the literal sense of the term, it should be treated with the utmost planning and concern for quality and transformation of those present.

Remember the 80/20 rule. In most parishes, “the only time we see 80% of our people is on the weekend,” yet what proportion of time goes into preparing for this crucial weekly moment?

“The Church is, of course, not a mere business, it is mystery, but grace still builds on nature and there is an essential truth here. The priority of any parish, and any priest, ought to be about preparing for and celebrating the Sunday Eucharist to make it the best possible experience for the maximum number of people.”

Mass might need to be longer than you think. Or like. Or are comfortable with. Fr. Mallon observes, “The days of the 50-minute get-it-over-and-done-with Mass must end…if the weekend celebrations are to be a priority, then we must have sufficient time on Sunday mornings to gather, celebrate and connect afterwards…We need to honestly look at our Mass schedules, and ask what we truly value. Do we value meaningful and transformative celebrations of the Eucharist, or is our primary value convenient and static Mass times?”

In the end, it is not really a question of how long the Mass ought to be or could be, but whether this value leads us to health. I believe it does not. It contributes to a “get it over and done with” mentality that turns our Eucharistic celebrations into something to be endured rather than something that endures.

What values does your Mass schedule, length, and culture project? Fr. Mallon asserts:

Minimalism and convenience cannot be the primary values of a healthy church. Minimalism and convenience have no place in the life of the disciple who is called to save his or her life by losing it. Someone once said that Jesus doesn’t ask for much – he asks for everything. If our liturgies are to be meaningful and transformative “productions,” they need to be able to breathe and not be constrained by a rigid one-hour rule. Likewise, there needs to be enough time between Masses so that those who are hungry for God are able to linger with one another after Mass to encourage and support one another.

In summary, I think a key is moving from the question how long should Mass be? or how long should a homily be? to addressing the intended outcomes. What is Mass to do? What is the outcome of the homily? Then, work backwards to determine how much time this takes in your setting and context. At the same time, begin to consider how to assess if these desired outcomes, effects, and fruits are happening among those present to worship. Challenging, but worth it to unleash the full power and fruits of the Eucharist amid our worshiping assemblies! 😀

Want to read more? Check out these longer excerpts from Fr. Andrew Carrozza, read Divine Renovation yourself, or listen to Fr. James Mallon’s podcasts on topics related to this great ministry book!

Everything is Not Okay in Your Ministry. And That’s a Good Thing.

Seth Godin writes:

Is everything okay?

Unless you work in a nuclear power plant, the answer is certainly no (and if you work there, I hope the answer is yes.)

No, everything is not okay. Not in a growing organization. Not if your company is making change happen, or dealing with customers. How could it be?

This certainly applies to Christian ministry. Sin and suffering exist–therefore, everything will never be “okay” in our ministries. There will always be people to reach with the Gospel, individuals in need of the fullness of life with Jesus in the Holy Spirit, individuals on the margins desiring authentic human relationship and community.

As Fr. James Mallon explains in Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Mission Parish,

Vision begins with a sense of discontent, of dissatisfaction with the way things are…the key to being passionate about our picture of the future is to find that dissatisfaction and scratch and scratch and scratch until it drives you crazy…too often, those in leadership positions ignore the itch or seek to medicate it. They seek to live peaceably within their reality. (p. 248).

Godin asserts that making everything okay is what many managers focus on. The quest for “okay” is what too many in ministry desire. A sense of “peace,” but not necessarily the holy peace of yielding to the Lord Jesus Christ. Peace of “okay-ness.” Stability. Getting a well-oiled program in place and running it, over and over and over without change. A parish that doesn’t have challenges to adapt to, that’s the goal–an “okay” parish without the need for agile leadership. A sudden or evolving shift in conditions, a change in the community–these are problems, rather than opportunities.

Godin explains:

We spend so much time smoothing things out, we lose the opportunity for change, or for texture or creativity. Instead of working so hard to make everything okay, perhaps it is more helpful to work hard at living with a world that rarely is.

As Paul VI so clearly explained, the Church exists to evangelize. Evangelization implies that everything isn’t okay. Let us aim not to make things “okay” in our ministries, but instead to cultivate the holy discontent to envision a better future in Christ Jesus and live joyfully knowing that the Holy Spirit enables us to bear fruit in the midst of ever present (and evolving!) opportunities and challenges.