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! 🙂

 

“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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Leaders Cultivate Holy Humor

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas More, commonly known for his refusal to approve Henry VIII of England’s divorce and remarriage (and establishment of the Church of England).

St Thomas More

In Redeeming Administration, Ann Garrido connects his life, witness, and noted humor to the spirituality of administration.  Garrido asserts that for an administrative leader, humor is not merely a coincidental (or random!) personality trait, but cultivated in the process of leading and managing. How so? Well, to put it bluntly, it’s because leading places us in an “increased number of absurd situations” (123). 

I’ve found this to be quite true in my life. As an Army officer, early on in my career I noticed just how much the extreme scope and scale of seemingly-absurd situations created an environment where humor was a part of daily life.

But how should we as ministerial leaders view humor, is it virtuous? A temptation? Something else?

Garrido offers two guideposts for discerning how humor functions in our spirituality of work and administration.

First Cautionary Guidepost: Avoid Humor as a Defense Mechanism

For some ministerial leaders, humor is a defense. A way of avoiding acknowledging other feelings, and/or avoiding addressing situations that should be addressed (125). While we as leaders can be tempted to laugh somethings off as a quick morale-booster, this is a way of avoiding actual leadership. Of failing to “confront the brutal facts“–a necessary step in effectively leading any organization. 

Second Cautionary Guidepost: Avoid Humor as Scapegoating

Sometimes, laughter or joking indicates an “everyone minus one” mentality. A type of scapegoating process, whereby a group [seemingly ] “bonds” over the exclusion or marginalization of one (or a few) members of the organization or team. This can be an enticing temptation, I mean, who doesn’t think “teamwork” is a good thing? But, the reality is that a team with unity flowing from humorous scapegoating can only go so far. Vision. Mission. Clarity. These are the real elements of teamwork–not joking about “the problem” or scapegoating an individual, rather than working towards real solutions and changes. 

Instead, Growing Holy Humor

So, what sense of humor should administrators seek to grow? Jesus used humor, not to attack persons, but to call attention to circumstances or situations that were not being seen or understood correctly (127). Holy humor is “laughing with” rather than “laughing at”–calling attention to, not attacking (127). 

This humor that helps us grow in holiness as leaders resists cynicism. As Garrido explains:

Cynicism is the sign of too narrow a worldview, a constriction of vision that only notes the negative absurdities of life, whereas the most mature, holy administrators that I have known are people who have the capacity to also see and draw attention to the infinite positive absurdities of life. (128) 

Not only is cynicism too narrow, but it resists hope. Even when cloaked in humor, cynicism prevents us from leading with vision in ministry as administrators.

Ultimately, St. Thomas More faced a choice of  “mitigating bad effects or going along”; of “laugh[ing] it off or taking a stand” (133). As we remember him, let our laughter be holy–drawing attention to things that need changing, yet never providing an excuse for inaction or tolerance of what should not be tolerated. 

Note: This post is part of a year long series. To learn more about the saints who illuminate this spirituality of administration, of work–check out this free small group guide from Ave Maria Press. 

Image Credit: Fr. Lawrence Pew, O.P. via Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0

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.

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wall painting of Richard, via Wikipedia

Pursuing Excellence in Ministry

Dr. Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services frequently turns to this quote from Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC: “Mediocrity is not the way we serve the Blessed Mother,” and affirms it, asserting:

I completely agree. Just because we are good-hearted doesn’t mean that we should be second class.

It can be hard to admit that, when it comes to management, administration, preaching, teaching, or leadership, some things we do are mediocre (or worse!). But, unless we give ourselves an honest assessment, moving beyond “okay,” we’ll never know the depths and heights God is calling us to as servants of Jesus Christ in his Church. This alone should be a good enough reason to pursue excellence, not mediocrity.

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!

From Parish Volunteerism to Discipleship Culture

I cringe a little at using the word “volunteer” with regards to ministering in the local church. It makes it sound so optional, an extra add-on. The reality is that almost all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ have been given gifts to be used for the building up of the Body of Christ. A “right and duty” more than an “If I have time and if I’m needed…” option.

But 🙂 practically-speaking, the word “volunteer” in a broader, secular sense simply means one who is not paid for their labor/services. Our parishes and ministries are filled with volunteers. If you know of a disciple-making Catholic parish without lots of volunteers, I’d be interested to the the model–simply because it is so rare! For most of us then, volunteer management is a key component of our administration and leadership. Management of volunteers requires just as much intentional planning and attention to human resource practices as does management of employees!

With that in mind, here are 5 key questions to examine your own volunteer culture from Rich Birch, 5 Heart-Check Questions about the Volunteer Culture at Your Church | unSeminary.

All five may be useful, depending what stage your volunteer cultivation is at–but Birch’s #1 question on culture–Are you helping them grow in their relationship with Jesus?–shines a light into an area many of us can certainly improve in!

For Catholic ministries, there’s a more fundamental, critical question than Birch’s, and it’s this: has each of your volunteers had the foundational, fundamental conversion, i.e. the “conversion [that] means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple”? (Redemptoris Missio, 46).

Most (but not all) times I’ve volunteered in Catholic ministry, no one has asked me about this conversion, this decision. I suppose it was either assumed or considered not something relevant or worth talking about. And it wasn’t skipped because of my outward fruits, since in some cases I was brand-new to the Catholic community. To put in bluntly, a background check prior to working with children was a non-negotiable (for good reason!). But, any details concerning my conversion or present relationship with Christ were optional.

If we skip over the “growth as a disciple” aspect of volunteer culture, we’re sending folks into ministry who are not able to “give” what they have not yet fully realized they’ve received! While a volunteer may be baptized, if grace of baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit are not fully unleashed, their impact in ministry will be limited. We’re doing the volunteer (as well as those served) a disservice. Just think how hard it would be to sustain oneself in volunteer ministry without a daily walk with Jesus as friend.

Start with the basics–conversion and decision for Jesus Christ. Don’t turn away interested volunteers who are not yet conscious disciples, but instead enter into a new relationship with them to grow, mentor, and disciple them so that they are ready to make a decision for Christ and become the volunteers you [and our Church!] most deeply need.

You may want to develop a parish-specific version of this “Discipleship Road Map” from the FOCUS Catholic Ministry to help name the discipleship stages of your volunteers. By doing this you’ve created a path for growth, and set the conditions so that all are welcome to come and grow, i.e. if someone volunteers as a children’s catechist, and through an interview you discover that they aren’t sure about deciding to be Jesus’s disciple, maybe place them as an assistant with a more mature disciple, who can meet with them outside of class to serve as a spiritual mentor. Through this person’s presence in a catechetical setting where the kerygma is clearly proclaimed, he/she can experience foundational conversion and make a decision to yield one’s life to Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit!