Christian Unity: The Unbusy Pastor

Christian unity means that we can look outside the “visible bounds” of Church to develop ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ. We can expect to find the life of grace worth sharing from outside our full, visible earthly communion (Decree on Ecumenism, para. 3).

For anyone in any level of leadership, I think this classic, written in 1981 (lest anyone think the temptation to busy-ness is something new or merely internet-driven) is one of the most important pieces for any ministry leader to consider when it comes to spirituality, work, discipleship, ministry, and ultimately glorifying God with one’s life.

On this Sabbath Day of the Lord, a practical, pastoral favorite from Eugene Patterson:

The one piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket is the one addressed “to the busy pastor.” Not that the phrase doesn’t describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me.

I’m not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way in which it is used to flatter and express sympathy. “The poor pastor,” we say. “So devoted to his flock; the work is endless and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly.” But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife, or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront. Hilary of Tours diagnosed pastoral busyness as “irreligiosa solicitudo pro Deo,” a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him. Read more…



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.

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! 🙂


Tradition and “That”

Can you imagine a culture and circumstances that might compel a person to exclaim: “If that happens, it’s the end of our faith”

What might the “that” be?

If you’re scratching your head, coming up with a blank–then good.

Here’s the thing though, someone did utter that quote earlier this year, and the “that” of discussion was the closing of Catholic schools in a particular city. The comment points to something we’re all prone to–and that’s viewing some organizational structure, custom, or way of doing things as somehow essential to living a life in the Holy Spirit, as disciples of Jesus Christ in his Church.

The Church reminds us that we’re not to think of everything we see before our eyes in parish life, in recent centuries, in North America as “the faith” or “the Tradition.” As the Catechism explains:

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium. (para. 83)

Tradition is a “living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit” (CCC para. 73). It’s not specifically something we merely “stick to” or a scapegoating target that “prevents us” from a certain choice. Though those phrases may apply in some situations, they are ultimately a shallow and incomplete understanding of the living dynamism of authentic Tradition. 

Yet, we’re human beings. Made in God’s image, but still finite in our capacities to see, envision, imagine, and think outside of ourselves at times. And this is why any of us might, at some point, say or think: Oh no! If that happens…

This human response can monopolize our thinking. Make us scared. Hinder our abilities to apply reason and judgement to the situations we face in our parishes and dioceses. And most detrimentally, distract us from the eternal beauty of God’s Revelation.

As many parishes enter a “new year” of faith formation, evangelization, and discipleship initiatives, we can each as a leader or follower, ask ourselves: where am I called to discern Tradition from traditions more clearly? Is there an “if that happens…” that I need to prayerfully understand more fully? 

a version of this post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.Com


Do You Have a Volunteer Pipeline?

One of the biggest hurdles that many parishes face when trying to dramatically improve the experience of attending or growing as a disciple is a feeling of complete and utter scarcity when it comes to “volunteers.” Now, I’m not a huge fan of the word “volunteers” as applied to our Christian service–but I’ll use it for the sake of clarity here.

Church of the Nativity (Timonium, MD) has been through various initiatives for volunteer recruitment and formation–most notably “First Serve,” a try-it-on-for-size volunteer opportunity and combines discernment and on-the-job training for potential and new volunteers.

In a recent Podcast, Nativity leaders reflected on realizing they needed to adapt their system to meet changing circumstances. While First Serve is effective in providing a steady trickle of new volunteer ministers, it doesn’t have the capacity to develop a large number of new volunteer ministers all at one time–something Nativity is anticipating needing. Many parishes might be in a similar situation when significantly changing or expanding programs. This is a classic example of the saying (quoted on the podcast), “Systems work. Until they don’t.”

What Nativity is considering for a “bigger pipeline” is a big push to first simply learn more about serving, then a meeting (really more precisely “an event”) that includes prayer, praise, and worship followed by more information on the specific opportunities.

While this sounds vaguely similar to the classic “ministry fair” Sundays at many parishes–I think it’s a bit different. “Ministry Fair” makes it seem like this is an optional extra, and something one is shopping for (like a consumer). In some sense each table with a different ministry is competing with each other for the same “pool of recruits.” At the most foundational level, the challenge is to ensure the pipeline is rooted in initial conversion in Jesus Christ and desire to continue as a disciple, while at the same time acknowledging that there are some who will be converted through the process of volunteer ministry (and having the reflective moments built in to foster these opportunities).

Whatever your strategy for cultivating ministry volunteers as a part of discipleship (because how many disciples are not called to serve?) Nativity always provides a firm reminder that desperation and nobody-but-I-can-do-this are attitudes that do not belong anywhere if we’re serious about sharing the Good News of relationship with Jesus Christ and the empowered discipleship that can ensue. Bulletin calls and no development/support might get you out of a short-term volunteer crisis, but it’s no way to form disciples. Similarly, insisting that you don’t need lots of empowered volunteers not only leads to current staff/volunteer burnout–but it also thwarts the possibilities of the Holy Spirit alive in other growing disciples.

As you head into the summer (a great time for volunteer development) consider, what is your volunteer pipeline? What’s the fruit? Does it cultivate disciples?


Image: “Pipelines,” licenced under Creative Commons 2.0 by Claus Gerull


Burden of Administration as Love

Yesterday (well-behind this year’s observance of the Octave Day of Easter, aka Second Sunday of Easter, aka Divine Mercy Sunday, aka Thomas Sunday) marked the feast of a rather obscure saint, Bishop Richard of Chichester.

I’d never heard of him before reading Ann Garrido’s Redeeming Administration. There she makes the rather interesting observation:

Richard is one of the few saints on the Church’s calendar to be honored solely for the holiness he practiced in ministry of administration. He was not martyred. He was not known to work miracles during his lifetime. He did not write any famous books or leave any remarkable sermon texts. He did not found a new religious congregation. He was simply the bishop of a small diocese in the south of England during a chaotic time int he history of that diocese. (64)

Reflecting on his life and ministry, Garrido makes the critical connection between management, leadership, administration and agape love.

That’s right. Love.

She writes:

Christian love is not a feeling; it is a consistent choice. And this love has value all its own…not because it makes us feel better or results in anything good, but because the act of loving is itself good. (57)

Despite starting our his service as bishop by being locked out of his residence and having the diocese’s funds stolen by Henry III, St. Richard brought the diocese to a new level of organization, service, justice, sacramental practice, and spirituality during a trying time (62).

Agape, Jesus-shaped, Holy Spirit inspired love is the only lasting motivation and power that enables us to lead with this integrity, courage, and selfless service.

Leadership, management, and administration in ministry requires, indeed demands this deep love. The love that “might not leave us feeling peaceful or happy” (57). Ministerial leaders must often make the difficult choices to love those who will likely not be around or able to say thanks or show the most gratitude. Ministry leaders must sometimes address problems or issues that even bring anger or sadness to those around them. Yet through it all, leaders must love in a selfless way, since promoting growth and/or the common good often requires pruning, or the integrity to speak with bluntness or urgency. (Just think of how the prophet Nathan was called to this…)

Ministerial leadership and administration, “offers the opportunity to grow in the capacity for agape…[it] encourages the practices of giving oneself freely and abundantly without always knowing what good one has done or who has been touched. It urges one to love without expecting emotional gratification in return” (58).

Happy feast day, St. Richard! Pray for each and every one of us stepping out, in Jesus’ love, to lead.

wall painting of Richard, via Wikipedia

Fear and Risks in Evangelization

Today (Acts 14:5-18) we find Paul and Barnabas on mission in Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe. And they’ve been on quite a streak. They were in the Lycaonian region because of an attempt to stone them after their most recent preaching of the Gospel in Iconium. And they’d gone to Iconium because those angered by their preaching of Jesus Christ in Antioch of Pisidia stirred up a riotous persecution against them (Acts 13).

Now, Paul and Barnabas probably expected persecution–but what would happen in Lystra was well beyond what they might have imagined! After Paul heals a man, the crowds in Lystra begin to worship Paul and Barnabas, thinking the men are Hermes and Zeus in physical form! A local priest even tried to offer animal sacrifice to these “Greek gods” in human form. Talk about an unintended consequence of ministry!

It’s okay to get a good laugh out of the Bible, and for me, this part of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry always brings a smile to my face. I can imagine the frustration and shock they must have felt.

But here’s the important thing–Paul and Barnabas keep on spreading the Gospel. This is only their first mission trip. Even though they encountered an unintended consequence, they don’t stop taking actions and speaking words to proclaim Jesus as Lord. They don’t let fear or caution about a bad outcome (because what happened in Lystra could happen again in another Greek city!) stop them from taking risks for a good outcome–the ultimate, most important good outcome–helping others come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Resisting the temptation to make decisions out of fear is easier said than done. Sometimes it seems that if we simply avoid taking risks, nothing really bad will happen.

For example, I once participated in a meeting about parish hospitality. Some insisted that adding greeters to the doors at our weekend Masses was a bad idea because some people might not want to talk or would be offended, and stop coming to Mass. Since there were presently no complaints to add greeters, why do it?

We were making our decision out of fear about what unintended consequences or complaints might happen, rather than keeping our eyes on the potential for good, the most important good outcome–helping others come to know Jesus as Lord.

The choice between fearing the unexpected and pursuing the good comes up all the time in parish life. A longtime pastor and Director of Religious Education might have prayerfully discerned that offering First Communion or Confirmation across a range of ages/grades, rather than as a “requirement” of religious education at a certain age would help promote a discipleship, rather than cultural model of these sacraments. But they might never act on their insight due to fear about what the parish reaction would be, or “what if parents decide not to even send their kids anymore?”

A parish might choose not to advertise a weeknight mission speaker to the wider community, for fear about attracting the “wrong type” of people. Think about your own experiences in ministry–have you ever (or been close to) making a decision out of the fear of unexpected consequences rather than the ultimate good of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It happens all the time.

As Christians we’re not called to simply “maintain what we’ve got” with regards to the Good News that Jesus saves. We’re called to keep expanding the circle so that no one is outside the fold.

This requires taking risks to step out, just as Paul and Barnabas did–even when faced with negative results. It challenges us to face our fears of what could happen and prudently go forth because there’s a greater good we must aim for and pursue as evangelists.

This post also appeared at