Vocation. Integration. Combination.

Patrick Didonato on work, ministry, and personal integration:

For the lay disciple, what is the difference between being just a great [insert a job title here] and working for the Church full-time?

It’s not just one or the other, but rather, audaciously fusing the two in every aspect of our lives.

That’s our mission as intentional disciples.

Why is this so important?

Because becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ and following Him means recognizing that God cares what we do with our time. Yet, this doesn’t mean that every single person who calls Jesus Lord is called to work (paid or volunteer) “full-time” in the Church. Church work is not, by default, better than secular work–or not working for pay, etc. This would fail to acknowledge that as Christians, we are not of the world–yet still in the world–and called to bring the Gospel into all spheres of society.

Failure to fuse or integrate the two ideas also reveals some real human resources issues in our design of “jobs” in ministry, i.e. treating full-time work as “better” or “more significant” than part-time work, rather than looking at actual outcomes; of thinking “more hours” is better (when this may prevent healthy integration of ministry and human formation/needs); and closing out many potential candidates for ministry work due to our own inability to recognize the evolution in more flexible work policies, and more.

To work “in the Church” or not is a false, humanly constrained set of choices. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must pursue something more–“audaciously fusing” and integrating our lives in a way that opens us the most to follow the Holy Spirit and embrace the renewed life offered to us in communion with Jesus Christ.



Lifelong Learning & Technology: Implications for Faith Formation

The Pew Research Center recently published an interesting new study on how Americans utilize technology as a part of lifelong learning. While the study looked at all subjects of interest (i.e. from hobbies, to work, to new skills), we in ministry can apply many of the findings to our own design, planning, and conduct of lifelong faith formation opportunities for adults in our parishes.

Some key lessons for ministry:

The harvest is plenty! Almost 3/4 of adults consider themselves “lifelong learners.” Thus, if the adults in our midst care about their relationship with Jesus (this foundation has to come first–all too often we push learning before conversion), the vast majority will want to learn more.

Multiple [and virtual] locations matter. “By an 81% to 52% margin” adult learners are “more likely to cite a locale such as a high school, place of worship or library as the site at which personal learning takes place than they are to cite the internet.” Now, don’t use this as a reason to immediately discount online-learning–52% used the internet. That’s a lot.


Benefits align with parish life. Check out the benefits adults report from lifelong learning (see chart to the right). From a discipleship perspective, I see human formation, community formation for volunteer ministry service, and more all happening here. And, the adult learners consider these benefits, not a burden we’re heaping on them. Consider–are adults participating in lifelong faith formation experiencing these broad benefits?

Margins exist. The study found that, “As a rule, those adults with more education, household incomes and internet-connecting technologies are more likely to be participants in today’s educational ecosystem and to use information technology to navigate the world.” And, the same often goes for faith formation in parish life (or through diocese or regional centers). While faith formation for a life of discipleship certainly has an “educational” component and should use sound pedagogy–an overemphasis on intellectual formation can be a huge turn-off, and even an insurmountable barrier, to those with lower literacy levels and negative associations with “classrooms” and “schools.” Jesus desires that all come to know Him and the eternal life offered to us (starting now) as disciples–we must ensure that adult faith formation can fit the needs of those in our communities, especially those on the educational-margins.

New methods of learning are not widely known. This part mostly applies to deacon and lay ministry formation (facilitated by dioceses or other regional/national agencies). Distance learning, MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), and Digital Badges are largely unknowns. We don’t leverage them well or in the nuanced ways to enhance formation (rather than merely substitute for F2F (face-to-face) learning). Currently models of formation are based on centralized institutional models, rather than competency models tailored for adult students and ministries with diverse needs. We have a huge opportunity to improve here and ultimately provide better formation for ministry that’s more economical and valuable for the ministries that need it the most.

Your thoughts? Anything else in the study with significant implications for adult faith formation?

Beyond Adequate: Why Self-Development in Ministry is Critical

In his classic work, Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices, Peter Drucker wrote:

You can’t be satisfied in non-profit organizations with doing adequately as a leader. (17)

Now, we shouldn’t try and argue our way out of this theologically [i.e. it’s okay because God’s got me covered…] simply because we’re engaging in leadership in the Church. Grace builds upon nature. From the “nature” side of things, we shouldn’t settle for adequate–especially when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the needs around us.

So how to grow beyond “adequate”?

Let’s face it, professional development budgets for paid ministers are pretty small (or non-existent). And, most of us (including myself) are ministry volunteers, not church-staff.

But getting beyond adequate isn’t something someone else does for us. It starts with our own vision. As Drucker explained:

From the chief executive…[to] volunteers, the person with the most responsibility for an individual’s development is the person himself–not the boss. Everyone must be encouraged to ask themselves: What should I focus on so that, if it’s done really well, it will make a difference both to the organization and to me? (190-191)

Then, hold yourself accountable.

To be accountable, you must take the job seriously enough to recognize: I’ve got to grow up to the job…You ask: What do I have to learn and what do I have to do to make a difference? (193)

Self-development then involves skills, capacity, and experience–but also growing the self-respect and self-confidence to actually make the difference only you can make.

As a Christian, this advice for “managing oneself” is quite compatible with how we understand gifted-ness and spiritual gifts within the Body of Christ. All of the baptized are endowed with spiritual gifts. Plus, each of us has a “nature” that grace builds upon. God knows each of us by name. What should you focus on, so that if it’s done really well, it will make a difference to the Body of Christ and you? What is it that the Holy Spirit is asking you to do? Discover this, and you’ll never settle for “adequate” again when it comes to self-development.

Top 5 Techniques for Increasing Giving in Catholic Parishes

As we’ve looked at from various angles, spiritual giving is an essential characteristic of disciples of Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus Christ have been contributing to the church and mission from the earliest days–and it’s the act of sacrificial giving, rather than the size of the gift, that’s always mattered the most.

Once you’re on the path to focusing on conversion and discipleship first, how do you set the conditions for a fruitful stewardship culture?

The Center for Church Management and Business Ethics at Villanova University provides valuable research into empirical trends shaping stewardship in Catholic parishes. In a 2014 conference presentation, Center Director Charles Zech brought together various studies to present the “five best parish activities” for positively impacting giving.

#1 — Open Parish Forum to Discuss Finances and Budget (29% increase)

Having an open forum to discuss finances and annual budgets results in a 29% increase in giving. Why? I think it’s due to a sense of ownership and transparency. Parish finances aren’t the sole responsibility of the pastor, business manager, or finance council–every baptized believer has the duty and responsibility to care about how the community’s resources are being used for the mission of the Church in this world. Ownership begets ownership. When missionary disciples in a parish are treated as relevant to financial/budgetary discussions, then these same disciples look to the parish as relevant to their own work of spiritual giving. The ability to manage communications content and media to create and share such forums is an important competency for ministerial leaders (while not specific to budget–check out how Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI not only hosts a “town hall” parish meeting, but makes the presentations and Q&A public via video).

#2 — Preach Tithing (27% increase)

Tithing is a framework for spiritual giving that involves discernment and commitment to give a set percentage of one’s income. I so rarely hear about it in Catholic preaching (see here and #7 here for some exceptions). Preaching tithing is not about fundraising. And, it’s certainly not about guilt trips. It’s about breaking open God’s Word so that the assembly is transformed by hearing how God’s plan has always been for His followers to consider material goods/resources a gift from which a portion must be first given back to God. Giving is a part of one’s worship, thanksgiving, praise, and spirituality as a whole–nothing less! Preaching is a critical means through which ministers lead a body of believers to a common vision and demonstrate what’s important for the whole church. From the Sunday Eucharistic homily to weekday night preaching after a potluck dinner, the message matters. If spiritual giving matters, it should make it into preaching messages.

#3 + #5 — Stewardship Committee [for 7 years or more] and Separate Stewardship Committee  (27% and 22% increases, respectively)

Now we’re getting into organizational techniques. Zech’s research synthesis shows that having a Stewardship Committee that’s separate from the parish council (or Parish Pastoral Council, Parish Advisory Council, etc.) and also separate from the Finance Council matters. Zech notes that the separation from the Finance Council is important because it shows that Stewardship isn’t some churchy-euphanism for fundraising, and in fact goes beyond financial resources. I’d guess that the greater impact of Stewardship Committees apart from a Parish Council is a result of difficulty translating vision and execution between two council/committees. And, the increased opportunities for synergy with other leadership circles in the parish (i.e. faith formation leaders, etc.) However, even slightly more important than how the Stewardship Committee is organized, is it’s presence and longevity. So 🙂 stick with it! No technique is a silver-bullet, and sustainable long-term improvements are more important than taking a quick/easy financial gain that sacrifices the bigger picture.

#4 — Communicate on Stewardship Through a Parish Newsletter (23%)

The take-away here is less about a “newsletter” (per se) and more about the idea of regular communications, rooted in the ownership and discipleship culture so important to the entire endeavor. Newsletters might be the most effective form of communication in many parishes today, but this will vary tremendously by location and parish culture. Most of the larger and more diverse parishes in the United States would likely need to use multiple communications media to be highly effective in communicating on stewardship. Bottom line, whatever the most effective form(s) of communication is in your parish, use it for providing regular updates on stewardship. Many of the techniques for effective church annual reports would also apply to regular updates on stewardship.

Again, it’s important to remember that fostering the conversion in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit that evangelizes the world is what the Church on earth is all about. Stewarding our individual and communal resources, including financial ones, is an essential part of how we live in the Spirit as disciples.

Research gives us tactics that we can use to operate in a way that is optimal for giving. Think of it as removing barriers–solid management techniques like the ones listed above aren’t (usually!) the cause of life-changing encounter with Jesus or a means for spiritual conversion, but by having the operational basics down, we make sure that it’s not our choices (i.e. a lack of transparency, no preaching on giving, etc.) that prevent someone from growing as a Christian through the opportunity to be a faithful steward of the resources God entrusts to us!

Ministry Hires: Building Applicant Pools Internally and Externally

Your parish or ministry is looking for a new leader. A new staff member. Where to go?

Many organizations submit a job description to a diocesan human resource page–maybe post it on a larger search engine like catholicjobs.com–and leave it at that. An “if we build it, they will come” approach.

Now this is a good start, but people are important. Arguably, the most important leadership and administrative decision when it comes to shaping the organizational effectiveness of your parish or ministry. Building up and strengthening an applicant pool for any open position is critical to ensuring your team can make a positive discernment and decision, and leverage the talents and spiritual gifts present in the Body of Christ.

Ideas for Expanding the Pool

  • Consider the Diversity of Your Area. If your current staff does not reflect the cultural or demographic diversity of the geographic area where you minister, set a goal to recruit at least one candidate (preferably more) who do reflect the demographics (race, ethnicity, language, age, etc.).
  • Pursue Success. Keep your eyes open for those who’ve been successful in similar roles in other churches/ministries, especially if they’ve grown or transformed their area of ministerial focus. Reach out and explain that your parish might not be to their vision yet, but you’re interested in their potential to serve as a change leader with a vision. If they’ve been building a strong ministry for many years in one location, they likely have able assistants ready to step up. By recruiting proven leaders to the areas of most need, you’re creating opportunity for others to grow.
  • Have a Dream. Share your dream, your vision for the particular ministry area you’re recruiting for with your entire staff, parish council, and/or other trusted volunteer leaders. Ask them to pitch the dream to individuals they know who might be motivated to take it on and then encourage them to apply for the position.
  • Plant Seeds Within Your Community. As Fr. Michael White writes, “be constantly on the lookout for new talent so that when the inevitable happens and someone leaves you’ve already got a pool of likely candidates.”
  • Contact Educational Institutions. Many centers of formation for Catholic lay ministers are hosted within larger educational institutions. While these institutions may have well-resourced career centers, these career centers rarely focus on forging connections with dioceses, etc. to help new ministry graduates. Build contacts and relationships with programs producing lay ministers so that through professors and directors of formation you can get connected to qualified candidates who might be a great fit for your ministry.

Many debate the merits of hiring from within vs. hiring externally. I think that’s a conversation that doesn’t require a set answer. More important than internal vs. external, is small applicant pool vs. large. Build your applicant pool, so that you aren’t discerning out of scarcity, but instead discerning based on the wide array of gifts God has given the Church and the Body of Christ for ministry.

Benchmarking: Priests Lead the Way (Statistically) in Administrative Work

Catholic priests spend twice as much time per week “administering congregation’s work and attending meetings” (via What do clergy do all week? | Pulpit and Pew).

This survey is old (from the turn of the century, aka 2001), but I’m not sure conditions have changed so dramatically that this wouldn’t still be true today.

The key question: so what?

Administration is one of many spiritual gifts (charisms). Ordination–like baptism–causes ontological change, but doesn’t include the Holy Spirit pouring out or increasing the spiritual gift of ordination in every person ordained a deacon, priest, or bishop (but probably some, thankfully!).

If priests are spending a much higher proportion of time on administration versus their other individual spiritual needs, needs of parish, and/or their unique charisms, then this is problematic. etc. We should want to correct this because of “charism-mismatch” more than a localized “priest shortage.”

This is a benchmark. A comparison to other like, but not identical, organizations (Protestant congregations). Catholic congregations are much larger, on average, than non-Catholic ones. So–there is probably more administrative work. Interestingly, Catholic priests report statistically similar percentages of time spent on “denominational and community affairs.” So no, don’t blame the diocese right away for the difference ;-).

My take aways:

1. Rely on Church teaching (especially Canon Law), rather than custom (aka the way we’ve always seen it done around here…) to determine what tasks, roles, and responsibilities are most (in many cases, only!) suited for the ordained minister.

2. In other areas, discern spiritual gifts, natural talents, and developed competencies among ministers, staff, and volunteers to match the gifts with the parish’s needs.

3. It seems unlikely (but, I admit, not impossible) that a dramatically higher proportion of Catholic priests have the spiritual gift of administration compared to those called to ministry in non-Catholic contexts, thus making it good that we’re “using” this gift so much more often. Instead, anecdotally what many in the pews report is that it’s harder to get spiritual care or be known within a Catholic parish. You could be a member for ten years. Drift away. And never receive a call or even note from the pastor or other ministerial staff. While this is due to size, it’s probably also a zero-sum side effect of all that extra pastor-time spent on administration.

4. Part of administration in this survey included meeting attendance. Carefully consider, who needs to be at a meeting? Does there need to be a meeting? And, why is the pastor here? In many cases, it’s out of habit, a sense of obligation, or a culture where the task, plan, or decision to be made is only valid if a priest is present. Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran address the need to take this on in Tools for Rebuilding. This could be another good way for priests to gain back more time for their unique charisms and gifts of ordination.

5. Many Catholic parishes find themselves in a financial spiral (not enough disciples, thus not enough spiritual givers, thus not enough money to hire disciple-makers) that prevents hiring more staff. Think about volunteers! Can you use volunteers more creatively in line with their gifts and talents to take on administrative work? Most parishes readily ask for volunteer ministers when it comes to communion to the homebound, lectoring, music ministry, catechesis, greeting, and more–but what about around the office?

Bottom line: Catholic parishes will usually (on average) require more administrative work than non-Catholic ones due to larger size. But let’s not let it get out of hand to the spiritual detriment of the local flock. And, most importantly, let’s try to cooperate with our gifts of the Holy Spirit more often, rather than assign administrative responsibilities in a mechanistic fashion.

Missing Contributions at the Decision-Making Table

Last month University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio hosted a symposium “Hispanic Leadership and Philanthropy for a 21st Century Church.” All topics were powerful, but one conversation caught my attention as a snapshot of mismatch when it comes to the human capital of young adults and Catholic ministries. Check out these Tweets:

Just a quick qualitative sense of the situation–but an especially interesting one since it addresses not one, but two populations (younger and Hispanic) where there is a perception (and statistical reality) of not being represented in above-entry-level parish ministry positions, volunteer leadership roles on boards and parish councils, and diocesan director/coordinator ministries [except, of course, if it’s dealing with young adults or Hispanic ministry.] We’ve talked some human resource management techniques that could help here and here.

Why is This So Important? Beyond the theological reasons (i.e. Ephesians 4:5 “one Lord, one baptism, one faith” regardless of age or ethnicity and not wanting to pass over spiritual and natural gifts to be used for the edification of the Body of Christ) a CARA study on parish ministers (both volunteer and paid) reveals a number of areas where the perceptions of Millennial generation and non-Anglo/Hispanic ministers overlap, and are significantly different than the perceptions of “typical” parish ministers.

Examples of Differing Perceptions

Only 38 percent of Millennial leaders and 41 percent of Hispanic leaders provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s hospitality and sense of welcome. This is in contrast to a striking 84 percent of leaders as a whole who believe their parish’s hospitality is excellent.

86 percent of parish leaders say their parish does a “good” or “excellent” job at encouraging parishioners to share their time, ta lent, and treasure, yet among Hispanic/Latino(a) and Millennial Generation leaders the approval drops to 72 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

89 percent of leaders believe their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at recruiting and retaining ministers and/or staff. Yet, only 23 percent of Millennial ministers agree the parish is having “very much” success in this area.

83 percent of ministers surveyed report their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at listening to parishioner concerns and/or input. In contrast Millennial parish ministers hold the least positive view of the success of their parish to listen to parishioners and 31 percent of Hispanic/Latino(a) ministers assess their parish as “a little” or “not at all” successful at this.

Finally, when it comes to the vision provided by parish leaders, Non-Anglo and Millennial ministers are a lot less likely to rate it as “excellent” and much more likely to assess it as “fair” or “poor,” compared to others in ministry. visionbygenWhat to Make of This?

One might be quick to conclude that Millennials, Non-Anglo, and Hispanic/Latino(a) ministers are just plain negative–and dismiss the findings. But other categories (i.e. satisfaction with parish, liturgy, sense that older and younger members of staff work well together, social service, etc.) in the study reveal a different picture where these sub-groups are more or equally positive than other parish leader sub-groups.

While I tend to think the calls to ministry across generations are fairly similar (similar in diversity that is!) the perceptions of Millennial and non-Anglo parish leaders differ significantly in areas that are very important for the New Evangelization and parish revitalization (i.e. welcoming, communication, inviting into ministry, listening etc.). This should give us serious pause when we encounter decision-making and pastoral planning processes where these underrepresented ministers are not present. And not just present in say, a parish Q&A session–but at the decision-making table as serious contributors.

Another angle to consider is the axiom perception is reality. I could sit in a parish and objectively name all the great things we’re doing to be hospitable and welcoming. There might be nothing factually incorrect with what I report. However, if a significant portion of the population in our mission field (i.e. a geographic parish area, not just those in the pews) doesn’t experience or perceive this hospitality–then the parish isn’t as successful in this area as I understand it to be. Period. More and more of our mission fields include younger (Generation X and Millennial) and non-Anglo/Hispanic adults, in larger and larger proportions (the highest estimates I’ve seen state that young adult Catholics are 40 percent of the Catholic population in the U.S. and Hispanic Catholics 60 percent–with overlap). This is an important reason to thicken applicant pools for open positions, actively recruit, and write job descriptions in ways that maximize, not minimize, the types of people who might apply.

It’s also worthwhile thinking about ways to better leverage volunteer human capital in ministry as well. The goal is not to have every person employed in a ministry. No. What’s ideal is when spiritual and natural gifts of the baptized are optimally aligned with the needs of our communities for work that edifies the body and spreads the Good News to every corner of each of our communities. This means going beyond, would you like to be a catechist or a lector?

An encouraging example of this is the relatively new Board of Young Professionals (Catholic Charities, Diocese of Joliet, IL). Auxillary or adjunct boards and councils are a great way to build up young leaders and create a bridge between interest/charism/gift and the ability to make a difference. Initiatives like these help young adults get closer to decision-making and leadership in ministry (versus the perception in some places that board of director or parish council membership is for “older generations”).

ESTEEM is another initiative that aims to form college-aged Catholics for participation in parishes–not as youth ministers or catechists–but in ways well suited to:

their intellectual acumen, their innate leadership qualities, their passion for excellence and desire to serve the Church. The project aims to identify those young adults, cultivate their desire for service to the Church, provide a curriculum that encourages their leadership, especially in the temporal affairs of the Church, and offer opportunities for such service, gradually developing a network of talented, actively engaged young adult leaders serving the Church.

It’s not a pipe dream. Be encouraged. We (and I mean all of us–employers, applicants, older, younger, second career changers, fresh-out-of-college, lay, ordained, Hispanic, Anglo, academic institutions, dioceses, and more) can make progress for the sake of the Gospel. But, it takes action and deliberate cultural/organizational change, rather than hoping for the best and continuing business as usual. As Fr. Michael White recently Tweeted:

 Yep. Ditto for all Catholic ministries. Let’s keep on striving 🙂