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

Apprenticeship in Work and Faith

Is “parish” all too synonymous with a building [set of buildings] or a group of people who have voluntarily registered? Yes.

But how do we change that mis-perception? Actions speak louder than words. To see the parish as the full geographic entity that it is–a collection of baptized, non-baptized, de-Churched, and more–we need to do the parish well beyond the walls of the church in a way that’s intentional.

Jonathan Sullivan (building on James Pauley) kicked off some practical, catechetical reflections on what apprenticeship has to do with forming disciples and creating a more authentic manifestation of “parish life” in our communities. Christian apprenticeship is this:

something that happens outside the immediate orbit of the parish…It could center on a stable, long-term group or activity. It could involve strangers coming together for a short time…What distinguishes apprenticeship from other pious activity is a desire to come together as followers of Jesus Christ with the aim to grow in holiness through specific, intentional acts of faith

By way of example, taking teens to serve at a soup kitchen could be an act of Christian apprenticeship if it is more than just a “service trip” — that is, if it integrates various facets of Christian living, including prayer, fellowship, and theological reflection.

One I’ve been thinking about is something picking up on the Center for Faith and Work initiative of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. When we think about what occupies a significant portion of time of any person–especially single people–one’s job often comes to mind. And this work, regardless of its essentially secular character, in most cases, is still part of our Christian lives. It spiritually forms us (for better or worse). It enables us to integrate our works of creation, service, etc. with how God models this.

But, it’s awfully hard to do this alone.

While the work itself is likely not an intentional act of faith, the decision to meet, pray, and talk with others seeking to integrate faith and work would be an act of faith. And, as Zach Yenter suggests, this may be especially important for Millennial generation adults.

The Bible and Church teachings offer a wealth of passages worth pondering in mentoring pairs or groups of those who work in similar fields/industries. Not to mention questions of discernment or particular intercessory prayers that may be relevant to specific sectors of employment. And, the common bond of a particular field of labor can help build community and affinity for actually being intentional off-parish-grounds about meeting, praying, and sharing life.

Check out Jonathan Sullivan’s recent blog posts on this topic, how could you imagine “apprenticeship” re-shaping catechesis in your parish? 

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.


When Jesus Speaks, Millennials Stay

Among Millennial generation Protestants, those who “say they believe Jesus speaks to them personally in a way that is real and relevant” remain active in church beyond high school significantly more than those who do not–68% versus 25% (Barna, 2013).

This might sound like the most unexciting, obvious statement ever.

But come back to it.

How often do Catholic leaders discuss what to “do” about younger generations leaving the church? How to do Young Adult Ministry more effectively. How to use social media to communicate with Millennials. The list goes on and on…

This study reminds us that effective ministry planning practices, use of social media, volunteer management, etc. are merely tools. Tools to empower our efforts to allow others to hear Jesus speak to them personally.

Ask this question of your ministry efforts, “how are we helping others hear Jesus speak to them, personally?” In some cases, we’re spending lots of energy doing lots of other good things, but while missing this critical piece. While leading adult faith formation groups, I’ve met more than a few who’ve been quite certain that God does not speak to us today. One explained confidently that this was something from the Bible, and instead, today we have the Church’s teaching authority. Yikes. How many who are less engaged in parish life hold this view (or worse!) when it comes to believing and experiencing Jesus speaking to them personally? There’s never any competition or division between Jesus speaking to each of us as individuals, through the Holy Spirit, in prayer, and faith in the Holy Spirit working through the teaching office of the Church.

Barna’s study also noted among the Protestant young adults surveyed, “the version of ‘Jesus in a vacuum’ that is often packaged for young people doesn’t last long compared to faith in Christ that is not compartmentalized but wholly integrated into all areas of life.” A focus on helping individuals hear Jesus and enter into relationship with Him shouldn’t lead to compartmentalization. And, most Catholic parishes aren’t in danger of encouraging this. There are often many more points of engagement–for service, community, and integrated living–compared to efforts to mentor individuals and help individuals open up to hearing Jesus in prayer. Or even spending quality time in prayer (liturgically, extemporaneously, contemplatively, etc.)

Unfortunately, in many Catholic settings, we jump to the trappings of integration, while young adults (and others!) trod through life without hearing Jesus speak to them personally. There’s a sadness in knowing that there are some in our parishes and pews who are not experiencing the comfort, joy, and fullness of life made present to us prayerful listening. So remember, whatever you’re doing as a disciple to build the Kingdom of God, ask yourself: “how are we helping others hear Jesus speak to them, personally?”

History and Liturgical Pre-Evangelization

In his 2010 post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI emphasized the relationship between human history and Christianity:

“The historical fact is a constitutive dimension of the Christian faith.

The history of salvation is not mythology, but a true history, and it should thus be studied with the methods of serious historical research” (§32).

Now in this context, he’s talking about the historicity of Scripture. That the rooted-ness, the fact that every Biblical text has a real human author in an actual historical situation isn’t of passing interest to disciples of Jesus, but somehow a constitutive dimension.

Since our knowledge of ancient Israel’s qahal as a foundation for Christian worship is so deeply rooted in the Old Testament, I think the idea of historical fact as a dimension of the faith applies liturgically as well. And more clear, vibrant experiential knowledge of this can serve as pre-evangelization.

How can this be pre-evangelization?

I think the unquestioned dominance of the “New Evangelical Liturgy” in non-Catholic churches has peaked. It’s still (and will continue to be) widespread, but among non-denominational, post-denominational, and emergent churches I notice greater interest in Christian liturgy. For example, a series on the origins of Christian ritual [liturgy] and encouragement to pray the Divine Office at Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan. Or, the Ancient-Future church network. Or this observation:

“one of the consistent themes of millennial evangelical social criticism tends to be a more skeptical attitude toward American materialism, or at least certain types of American materialism. Alongside that trend, the emergence of churches like Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan as well as the somewhat surprising resilience of many orthodox Anglican congregations suggest that the future of American Christianity likely is a more high church, liturgically informed type of Christianity–but such a Christianity is not essentially incompatible with Protestantism.” (Jake Meador, MereOrthodoxy)
Individuals in our culture do still have a human need to connect to history, to a way of worshiping and belonging to community that is not of our own modern creation. Think of the societal fervor surrounding Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, or the fact that individuals still flock to Ash Wednesday services (even though this is not an obligation in any Christian tradition I know of)–why? A basic human need for embodied belonging. A need so common that even though many write-off “liturgy” as “stiff” or “boring,” the desire remains within.
We pre-evangelize when we cultivate conditions to connect this basic human need to God. There’s a human need for rituals that connect us in bodily form to human history. The historicity of liturgy is not something to avoid or hide in embarrassment, but to embrace. History is powerful, and when we live in such a way that our witness speaks to this connection, we offer others the opportunity to recognize their desire for the transcendent.
In this light, Benedict’s assertion that “historical fact is a constitutive dimension of the Christian faith” is then not a crutch or constraint, but yet another means of pre-evangelization through our own joyful witness.

Fastest Way to Grow in Faith? Evangelize.

I just listened to the kick-off sermon in a new series called “Next Steps” from Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. (You can listen to “Next Steps 01” here). Within this homily, Fr. Michael White asserted, “the fastest way to grow in your faith, is to share your faith” [my paraphrase].

I’ve personally experienced this. At one point as a teenager, I didn’t yet have full confidence that Jesus had accepted me as a disciple–that Jesus was truly my Lord and Savior (and not just in the abstract). Praise be to God 🙂 that during this time, somehow the Holy Spirit let me to sacrifice some of my valued-teenager-time 😉 to do person-to-personal evangelization with a missionary-minded group of Christians. I shared the Good News of God’s grace in train stations and door-to-door…probably on a monthly basis. Thinking back to that time, that experience probably contributed more to my growth in faith than almost any sermon I heard or any spiritual book I read. 

Why was this the case? It wasn’t because I became “good” at apologetics (I didn’t!) or was spiritually gifted in praying for the needs of those I met (I wasn’t!). I think it was because it forced me to rely on God. I knew I was inadequate. Very inadequate. Any time I walked away knowing that my conversation wasn’t a disaster was an experience of knowing that Jesus was working in me, was using me as his disciple.

The [Too] Long Road to Sharing

For whatever reasons, much of Catholic/parish culture in our country seems to somehow communicate the message that it takes a long time before someone is ready to share the Gospel. Look at the proportion of organized adult faith formation opportunities in comparison to the proportion of organized opportunities to share the faith. From a programmatic analysis, it seems that the unspoken consensus is that we need a lot of organized faith formation, but not organized opportunities for sharing the faith or discipling others. And I’m not knocking faith formation 🙂 here–I’m all about that too! But, the difference in most ministries and parishes is striking enough to wonder about.

In contrast, I’ve noticed how two campus organizations in particular, FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and The Evangelical Catholic, do embody the idea of “growing in faith by sharing the faith.” Both FOCUS and Evangelical Catholic expect (based on their experiences) that new disciples of Christ can become disciple-makers–leaders of small groups and person-to-person evangelizers relatively rapidly (by parish standards). These ministries and other campus ministries (like the Aggie Catholics) with a focus on sharing the faith, are indeed places where many have noted seemingly exceptional growth in the faith. Especially when compared to the speed with which many parishes move from maintenance to mission.

Test It

I encourage you and your faith community to test this idea. Make it a regular part of your spiritual practices. See if Fr. White is correct–that sharing the faith leads to growth in faith.

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 🙂