This is a question that most parishes, dioceses, and ministries don’t have a ready answer for. If one were to call around and ask parishes this question, you’d probably get answers like, “EMHC at Mass or to the homebound, usher, lector, etc.” But after that, awkward silence.
And here’s why it matters–when we talk “resources” in parishes or ministries, we often think of our facilities, equipment, books, curricula, technology, etc.–but the greatest resource of any ministry is people. This isn’t because we work on our own strengths, but because of the Holy Spirit. As baptized believers, God pours our the Holy Spirit in our lives so that we have gifts for building up the Church. For spreading the evangel to every strata of society, to the farthest, most marginalized people, places, and situations on earth.
While there’s nothing wrong with catechesis or serving in a liturgical capacity [there are the gifts of some and are essential and important]–those are not the end-all/be-all roles for using gifts in service of Christ and His Church.
Think about the diversity of gifts described in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4, for starters).
Envision all of the ways those gifts could be used in combination with natural/human skills and developed competencies to enrich the Church. Think about the professional experience many people in our pews (yes, even young adults) have.
But, as our starting-Tweet quoting Javier Bustamante pointed out, sometimes our stereotypes get in the way. Especially when it comes to age, social-class, race, or ethnicity. A few months ago, in a conversation with Jonathan Sullivan, I observed:
one of the struggles I’ve seen is trying to break the stereotypes of what a diocesan leader, parish pastoral associate or DRE looks like. In many places, it’s presumed that this person is someone older than 40, who has been around the area/parish a long time, etc. A highly qualified younger adult should probably stick to “Young Adult Ministry” or “Youth Minister” positions. Assessing based on church websites (not a scientific study by any means!), you’re much more likely to see under-40 leaders in ministry in other Christian traditions, rather than in the typical Catholic parish.
In the business world, there seems to be a much greater openness to (and even expectation) that someone can come out of business school in their late 20s or early 30s and be ready for serious leadership–in parishes, not as much (though there are many exceptions!). I’ve observed similar expectations and opportunities in the nonprofit sector, government/military, and many nondenominational Christian ministries/churches.
This applies to volunteers as well.
What to do? Changing culture takes time, but there are practical ways to intentionally build human capital in your parish:
1. Have a new members orientation/class/gathering. This can be a great opportunity for finding out what the natural gifts of new members of your community are [and laying the groundwork for a future conversation of spiritual gifts.]
2. Think about how your parish on-boards or does orientation for volunteers? Are volunteers empowered to take on unique, significant, and strategic roles? Or, are these solely reserved for staff. Are staff skilled in delegation and supervision, so that volunteers can be leveraged? In some situations, staff feel that if they use volunteers too much, they will be viewed as “lazy.” But this is not the case–managing volunteers is worth the effort in terms of the benefits for both the parish and individual as he/she is able to encounter God through the use of his/her gifts. As Tony Kriz writes, “Secular cooperatives manage to run with an expectation of full participation by the full community, so why not a church? Instead of having a select few who are paid to have faith, could everyone be invited into community participation.” Pastoral leadership sets the tone here.
3. Transparency. If your staff is worried about a trend or problem on the horizon, or enthusiastic about a new opportunity–do your parishioners know? Is the parish aware of what you’re thinking in terms of finances, growth, real estate, planned giving, etc? If the parish doesn’t know what the real world challenges and opportunities are, it’s less likely that individuals with the unique training and skills to effectively assist will know to step up.
4. Have a plan to build your bench. Here’s where staff management is key–in a faith community larger than a hundred families or so (aka most Catholic parishes) it would be hard for any staff member to be familiar with every person’s potential skills and/or spiritual gifts. Consider doing an annual (or bi-annual) survey with an expansive list so that parishioners can check-off what natural/developed talents they might have to share. When it comes to spiritual gifts, programs like “Called and Gifted” or home-grown programs like this one at my parish can help all of us identify how God might be calling us to serve. If you sense that cultural barriers may be preventing you from identifying and integrating all of the human capital in your parish, check out some of the USCCB’s resources to help build trust, cultural competency, and more effectively communicate.
5. Remember, multiplication trumps addition. If you’re able to incorporate others for the building up of the Church, then they too will follow your example and invite others. A multiplication of gifts. A multiplication that brings more diversity than any one person’s ability to “add” over time [since most of us tend to know, know the gifts of, and turn to those who are like us in age, ethnicity, etc.]. Leading others to identify and invite sharing of gifts in others is a valuable service. Without Barnabas, we wouldn’t have the Apostle Paul. And Paul was quite the outsider to the church at Jerusalem! Recruitment and encouragement mattered in the early Church and still do today.