Are You Recognizable in Your Parish? Should You Be?

Are you recognizable to the average attendee at your parish? Should you be?

Good question.

I’ll backpedal a bit first…one of the things that surprised me when I began formation as a lay ecclesial minister was that the question of if, say a Director of Evangelization, Adult Faith Formation Coordinator, Director of Religious Education, etc. should be a parishioner at the same parish where he/she is employed. Coming from significant time in evangelical Protestant settings, I found this culturally perplexing–I’d never known anyone on ministry staff in any of my Baptist churches that maintained “membership” elsewhere.

There’s as much individual variety in this question as any, i.e. circumstances where a person works far from where they live due to family or financial needs, situations where language/cultural differences in parishes drive a specific choice, times when one’s “home” parish simply doesn’t offer any employment opportunities in a person’s field, etc.

But, let’s enter a generic (aka like none of our lives!) situation, an imaginary vacuum of sorts. Chris Wesley asks the essential question: “If someone needed a youth minister [in your parish/church] would they know exactly who to walk up to?” I encourage you to frame it more broadly and ask this: is your position on staff as a lay ecclesial minister one that a person who is less-engaged (i.e. not attending Mass weekly, checking parish website, etc.) would need to talk to?

Maybe it’s because you’re leading the RCIA team or Alpha–ministries where the less-engaged might find a starting point. Maybe it’s because you’re key for helping people discern their gifts and connect to ministries to serve in. Maybe it’s because you’re coordinating children’s ministries and rarely get a chance to talk to the adults who drop-off kids at your programs.

If this seems like you, Wesley sends an encouragement to simply be present around weekend Masses. Not in a way that compromises your own participation in worship and liturgy–but as something intentional flowing from your staff role. (See Must-Implement Concept #9 on the importance of including this in job descriptions).  Doing this, Wesley writes, “not only maximizes your impact, but creates a loving and relational culture. That type of environment is why people will come back to your church.”

Be present and be approachable.

How you do this will depend on your role, your personality, your parish, and more. But the point is to do it. Take the step to offer more connection, more person-to-person contact, and see what fruit it brings in terms of relationships with those you serve–and fruit in your own spiritual life. Many in ministry recognize a humility in being behind the scenes–and this is a good thing. However, you’ll never know how God may be wanting to use you to offer a smile, a well-spoken word, a consolation, a hug, much needed empathy, or simply a reminder that they are not alone, to those who aren’t at your “regular” ministry events. Our parish campuses/grounds are the perfect place to first embody the love of Jesus that we week to bring to the entire world.

The New York Times on the New Art of Flickr
Image: Thomas Hawk via Flickr
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Millennials in Ministry: Lencioni Thinking

Too often, people in church-world speak of “reaching” Millennials as if we’re some “foreign entity” (h/t Tim O’Malley) or a group solely in need of being reached/served/ministered to, in contrast to being baptized-believers whom God is already at work in and through–right now.

Patrick Lencioni, co-founder of Amazing Parish, offers these thoughts on Millennials:

As it turns out, there is a better way to think about hiring good people than focusing on a person’s generational stereotype. It comes down to looking for three simple, timeless and observable virtues that are reliable predictors of whether someone of any age will be a good team player. Thankfully, while generations change, the nature of teamwork does not.

I agree! A healthy organization is a healthy organization not because of the particular generational identities of its members, but because of their common commitment, the way the relate, and the way they make decisions together.

Millennials are largely missing from the teams of leaders in many church ministrieswhat holds us back? Maybe, a better appreciation of what makes a healthy organization and what cultivates effective teamwork is a missing piece. We don’t know how to “talk” about being an effective ministry organization because we lack the vocabulary, and so we default to stereotypes, thinking it’s because of a person’s age, marital status, regional identity, race, gender, etc. that “we can’t work well together” or “we always communicate poorly.”

As I’ve said before, I highly recommend Lencioni’s The Advantage for anyone in ministerial leadership. And 🙂 as a Millennial, I’m looking forward to reading Lencioni’s latest book, The Ideal Team Player, to see how it connects with each of our own baptismal vocations in ministry and some of the classic scholarship on “courageous followership.”

Have you read “The Advantage” or plan on reading “The Ideal Team Player” through a ministry lens? Share your thoughts in the Comments.

Millennial Scrabble
Jeff Djevdet (Flickr), CC by 2.0

Christian Unity: 10 Leaders You May Not Have Heard Of

This year during the Octave/Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we’re taking a learning approach and exploring practical take ways from a diverse range of church leaders.

Today, I’m sharing these 31 Lessons From 10 Church Leaders You Should Be Listening To  from the awesome website UnSeminary.unseminary_lucidheader

Now, depending on your ministry circles, these leaders might not be household names. And that’s a good thing. Getting outside of one’s usual circle of ideas can spur us to break down assumption, reassess some of our paradigms, better understand mental models, and just plain feel refreshed by knowing we’re not alone.

Check out the list. And if something intrigues you,  go further. Read a new article or book, listen to a bit of a podcast, consider where your ministry might need a pragmatic change of wineskin. Pray and learn during this holy time of focus on Christian Unity.

“Leading Up” in Ministry

Ministry settings aren’t usually know for having simplistic, clear-cut lines of “command” when it comes to bosses and supervisors. And that’s a good thing. The inherent messiness of a “team of teams” often creates the space for our unique gifts of the Holy Spirit and natural/developed talents to shine through.

But how do we lead when we have no single “boss”? When we answer to critical volunteers, councils, boards, diocesan staff, and commissions (just to name a few!)

Check out these 9 Tips for “Leading Up” at Your Church and remember, when you lead in ministry it’s not just about those who answer to you, or look to you for guidance–it’s about leading up, leading to your left and right, leading in whatever direction God sends you for the building up of the body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:12).

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Lay Disciples

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Can you name any or all of these lay disciples?

Give it a try in the comment box 🙂

The Call, The Loss, and a Disciple’s Vocational Integration

Fr. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, on the essential relationship of connection between loss and response to a call, to any true vocation:

Grief and loss are inseparable from the call.

If we accept the call but not the loss
we will live in a contradiction.

When people make a decision, for example to live in l’Arche,
but do not fully accept the consequences of their decision,
it is a cause of great distress.

They constantly feel sorry for themselves,
sorry that they do not have a  higher salary,
or more time for themselves,
shorter working hours, etc.

There is the call
and there is the loss.
But who wants loss?

When I left the navy more than fifty years ago,
I sold everything I had,
which wasn’t much, and gave it to the poor.

Today I do not have much to sell
and I doubt if anyone would want what I have!
But the call and loss continue.

Excerpts from Vanier’s Befriending the Stranger (2001), p. 20

Living this Paschal Mystery (h/t Joyce Donahue) is part of any healthy discernment of a call to a particular form of work, life, or oftentimes–both. As Vanier alludes to, if we as disciples seeking to follow Jesus in the Holy Spirit fail to integrate loss and call early on, the effects will linger. “Distress” will simmer beneath the surface, negatively impacting our relationships with God and others.

The degree to which this “distress” appears outwardly negative will vary by individual and situation. I know that I have been guilty of making decisions about following the call without fully accepting the consequences–and yes, this led to interior self-pity, to regret–even as my life was filled with genuine joy. It can be an odd mix sometimes.

But, a healthy, wholesome integrated life of discipleship avoids this temptation, as this temptation ultimately harms our relationship with God. We can be joyful for a time, but it is difficult to authentically sustain this joy from the Source if we have not fully accepted the consequences of our calls as disciples.

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.