Vision in a Homily

So your parish has a vision, and maybe even a catchy vision statement–now what?

Vision that’s not communicated broadly falls flat. Because the point of vision is that it guides everyone. Not just the elite. Not just leaders. Everyone.

VISION
How to communicate broadly in a Catholic parish?
The Sunday Homily.

I can hear the mental excuses now. All the reasons why your parish can’t communicate vision in homilies, how the people won’t like it, how it can’t be planned, there’s not enough time, etc. But, none of the excuses override the critical importance of preaching the vision, frequently and repeatedly, to the broadest parish audience.

As Fr. James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation and The Divine Renovation Guidebook, explains:

I remember catching myself saying once, ‘But I spoke about that in a homily last year.’ It is foolish for us preachers to think that most parishioners are going to remember something we said two weeks before, never mind a year before. In truth, if the sign on the bus is to be plainly recognized, we must speak about vision over and over again. In the last three years, I have committed myself to preaching some form of visioning homily at all the weekend Masses every three weeks. I am convinced that this is necessary (Divine Renovation, 255).

Sometimes it can be tempting to think, it’s in the bulletin right? We’ve got a sign up? The staff knows? It’s on the website? But that’s not enough, “there are no shortcuts when it comes to communicating vision: it takes time and intentionality” (DR Guidebook, 60).

Let’s start with the practical: what is a visioning homily?

  • not simply information, but the inspiration and motivation “to desire that preferred future and be wiling to make the changes necessary” (DR Guidebook, 60)
  • “A homily that attempts, in some way, to address the question of why are we here, where are we going and why we do the things we do, or are trying to do the things we are trying to do” (DR Guidebook, 62)
  • “Preaching about the mission of the Church and the future of your parish in a way that all your parishioners can hear and understand” (DR Guidebook, 62)

Does it really need to be repeated so often?

Answer: Yes. Here’s why: “If a parish is becoming truly missional and is innovating, there will be ongoing change within the parish. Change must always be explained in light of the vision” (Divine Renovation, 256). Most people don’t love change. By communicating the vision frequently (as Fr. James Mallon does, roughly every 3 weeks) the parish helps each and every person know and understand how concrete changes and decisions fit into the big picture, and help guide the efforts.

Okay, I’m ready. But what goes into a visioning homily?

Drawing from Divine Renovation (pg. 256-257), here are the key elements in a visioning homily, with examples from a visioning homily (Groundbreaking 05: Vision, April 24, 2016) at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD.

  • Answer: why are we here? Remind the listeners why the parish exists, what God has called you to, what your mission is. For Church of the Nativity, it’s growing disciples while growing as disciples. This gets mentioned twice in the first four minutes (at 1:50-2:08 and 3:50-4:04).
  • Name: what’s not right at the gut level. Scratch the point of dissatisfaction that people are experiencing. Help everyone feel the need. For Church of the Nativity, it’s that it’s “hard to invite people to come people to church when there’s no place to park and no place to sit” (4:30-4:45). This is something tangible. Lots of people in the parish may have experienced this…tentatively thinking about inviting a friend to Mass, but wary of doing so because of the seemingly crowded experience.
  • Explain: why the current situation or past models won’t work. This might include some transparency or vulnerability. Or showing how the parish has “done its homework” in trying to address the point of dissatisfaction in the past. Aim to be clear and honest about how a particular [old] way of doing things isn’t working, but without blaming people, staff, specific groups, etc. Since Church of the Nativity is addressing how to accommodate growth, the leaders share what they’ve done in the past or tried (different times, off-campus sites, etc), and how these solutions don’t effectively lead toward the parish’s vision (1:00-1:22).
  • Inspire: capture imaginations, invite people to dream. Encourage everyone listening to join in the “imagine if…” for the parish. What could it be? This is a time, not for information, but to make our hearts leap, make even the most change-averse person in the pew have a momentary optimism about the future. In the example from Church of the Nativity, Brian Cook reminds the community of pieces of plywood the parish had “filled with the names of all your friends, family members, co-workers…people you’re praying for, that one day they’ll come to church and meet their Heavenly Father…this project is about making room for them, all of them” (5:30-6:00) and continues to spur the imagination as to the wider significance of the parish’s direction, that “This new building can stand as a hopeful sign that intentional growth is still possible…that God is still using the local church to change lives” (6:10-6:41).
  • Share: the plan for how we’re getting to where we’re going. This part is the most intuitive. We like to talk about what we’re doing. But remember, this is just one of five key elements. Without the other pieces, this part of a visioning homily can quickly become a litany of information, rather than the transformation that’s at the heart of vision and change leadership. Church of the Nativity puts it concisely: it’s about “creating empty seats at optimal times” and that phrase is used at least four times in the 7-minute vision-casting portion of the Sunday message (remember, repetition works!). The “how” is that as the parish responds to the call to “invest your treasure in the Church” this will result in hearts “connected to the Church” and the “growth in faith that comes somewhere outside of your comfort zone.”

A well-crafted visioning homily weaves these elements together, independent threads yet repeated and interrelated. There’s a logical flow from reminding who we are, to identifying and understanding the “situation” (Name & Explain), to inspiring, and only then speaking the plan.

A visioning homily doesn’t need to take a lot of time. While this entire message from Church of the Nativity is “long” (20 minutes in total) by most Catholic standards, the vision casting portion is solidly within the first 7 minutes. Visioning homilies can be done in any Catholic parish on a regular basis.

The other lesson from the Church of the Nativity example is that a parish need not have a singularly incredible, awesome, best-preacher-ever to communicate vision. Brian Cook, Tom Corcoran, and Fr. Michael White (the 3 speakers in the Church of the Nativity message) are ordinary folks, just like you. They stumble on their words (as we all do). It’s not always the most beautiful language. And think about it–if you’re preaching on vision once every three weeks, not every one is going to be your personal best. The point is, they commit. They do it. One doesn’t have to be an especially-gifted dynamic preacher to communicate vision. Check out their book, Rebuilding Your Message (and related podcasts) for practical tips on how any disciple of Jesus Christ can grow as a communicator.

Do you have a great visioning homily to share? Post a link in the Comment section to help us all grow in this essential area of parish ministry.

p.s. Download the “Groundbreaking 05: Vision” example I used here. All vision casting elements are present within the first 7 minutes. I’m not sure how long beyond March 2017 the download will be available, but all key excerpts are in this post–viewing is optional 🙂

Christian Unity: Giving Tuesday and Beyond

Ever hear of #GivingTuesday?

Think how much giving as part of our call to discipleship has changed over the past decades, or centuries–new means (i.e. electronic transfers), new opportunities (due to affluence), and new needs (due to growing inequality). And yet in church-world the conventional wisdom is that nobody likes to talk about money, right?

As part of our learning approach to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, today I want to share a quick example of how inspiring and positive asking for money can be when it’s authentically part of a call to discipleship and vision for a church going forth with Jesus Christ to spread the Gospel.

Check out this Rise capital campaign video from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC and read more about how giving as an act of discipleship doesn’t need to stop churches from dreaming and asking big.

risologo5

 

 

Book Review: Divine Renovation Guidebook

My last book review covered a great “jump start” book, The Rebuilt Field Guide, one “that anyone can make it through, that any team can use to avoid becoming paralyzed by the myriad of (great!) ideas for evangelizing, and instead get to doing, learning, and adapting.” Today I’m looking at another new book for pastoral leaders: Fr. James Mallon’s Divine Renovation Guidebook: A Step-by-Step Manual for Transforming Your Parish (23rd Publications, 2016). At a quick glance, one might think, “oh, so this is the workbook version of that other book that same priest-guy wrote, right?” Wrong. The Guidebook is a book jam-packed with it’s own value, it’s the pastoral planning book for evangelizing parishes.

dr_guidebookPastoral planning has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades. Not outwardly, I mean, who can rationally oppose the idea of planning for the future? But, from the surge of materials encouraging pastoral plans that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, what fruit have many parishes seen? It’s possible to write an exceptional pastoral plan to maintain exactly what you’ve got in your parish right now. It’s also possible to write an exceptional pastoral plan and simply leave it on the shelf. A check-the-box binder that maybe the bishop required of you.

What a newer crop of resources from the Divine Renovation, Rebuilt, Parish Catalyst, and Amazing Parish teams articulate more clearly is that strategic pastoral planning isn’t a silver bullet. An exceptional pastoral plan accomplishes nothing if there’s no operational leadership, no culture or systems that support and align with the plan. And this is where the Divine Renovation Guidebook shines. It’s a workbook for developing a legit longer-term pastoral plan to rival anything you’ve done before, while ensuring that your parish becomes more and more mission focused along the way. Operational effectiveness, strategy, and leadership are embedded–it’s not an option–you can’t simply write a plan and skip taking a hard look at your concrete processes and leadership culture.

The original Divine Renovation was a deep theological look at many of the assumptions and cultural patterns that contribute to the vast majority of Catholic parishes in North America existing as maintenance outposts, rather than centers of missional outreach. That book is a great read, that I’d highly recommend for anyone (in addition to the podcasts delving into more detail on sacramental preparation, catechesis, etc.). The Guidebook is less widely relevant in that it’s for parish leaders, but more practically impactful. This will enable you to not just understand the situation of modern parishes, but concretely change and plan so that the joyful, Good News of life eternal in Jesus Christ can be heard and experienced wherever you are. I highly recommend it for every senior leader, especially pastors, in a parish setting.

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

 

Vision and Implementation: Louise de Marillac & St. Vincent de Paul,

Ever heard of the St. Vincent de Paul Society? Probably. The group has a bold vision in the U.S. to end poverty through systemic change.

Interestingly, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was not founded by St. Vincent de Paul, but instead created by a young French law student, Frédéric Ozanam. Ozanam placed his new society under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul, due to St. Vincent’s devotion to the poor of France.

But, what I didn’t know about St. Vincent de Paul or the society bearing his name (until reading Ann Garrido’s Redeeming Administration, Ave Maria Press, 2013). There was another leader, a lay woman and mother–Louise de Marillac–who played a key role in enabling Fr. Vincent de Paul’s efforts to grow to scale. After receiving a particular message in prayer at Pentecost in 1623, Louise met Fr. Vincent de Paul in the context of spiritual direction. Louise began working with Vincent’s various confraternities and identified the need for “a religious community of peasant women” who could work across class and cultural boundaries to better reach the poor.

This was a radical and innovative idea. It challenged the status quo of (usually) only wealthy women entering religious life. It also came with implications. Recognizing God’s call in the uneducated and poor meant needing to better design formation programs for the new community and establish effective and mutually understood working relationships with wealthier confraternity members.  [This congregation of women eventually became known as the Daughters of Charity.]

Growing to scale in any ministry requires that we find ways to recruit and form new leaders, new collaborators, new missionary disciples for the work of Jesus Christ. Let us, like St. Louise de Marillac, be creative in vision and steadfast in implementation when it comes to addressing our world’s most pressing needs!

 

Ceiling over "St. Louise de Marillac"

Image: David Shane, via Flickr (CC 2.0 license), ceiling over “St. Louise de Marillac” at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Why Vision? From Fr. Theodore Hesburgh

Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., passed almost a year ago to this day. My husband reflected that the breadth of his leadership is something we’re unlikely to see again in the near future, due to greater specialization and shifts in culture. Nonetheless, his longevity and stature give us reason to pause and consider his contributions to our understanding of vision. He wrote:

Or as an old Sicilian proverb (that may or may not be old, or Sicilian, but is quoted here) says, a fish rots from its head.

As a leader, you need to know the vision of your ministry/organization, and just as importantly, so do your stakeholders! This means your key collaborators, supporters, volunteers–everyone. We can’t go anywhere effectively, until we have an idea where we’re going, what’s the desired future worth sacrificing, praying, and working for?

Trumpet boy

Image: “Trumpet Boy,” by Tormod Ulsberg via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 licence

 

 

 

Collaboration Meets Complexity: Review and Lessons from “Team of Teams”

Since reading Jonathan Sullivan’s free eBook, “17 Books Every Catholic Leader Should Read,” I’ve been extra-motivated to take a second look at many of the non-church-related leadership and management books I’ve encountered over the years and ask, what does this say to us as church leaders? Because I teach leadership (for the Army, in a public university) it’s all too easy for me to quickly glimpse over opportunities for integration between my work and life as a Christian, and so I’m (to use Sullivan’s phrase) aspiring to shape my imagination by seeking to be ever-more integrative in this regard.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I picked out Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General (Retired) Stanley McChrystal (+Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell).

The Main Point

McChrystal and his team argue that in today’s rapidly evolving, complex world, organizers will be most successful when leaders give small groups the freedom to experiment, while cultivating shared consciousness, information, and awareness across the entire organization.

Recommended Reading for Catholic Leaders? Maybe

Because I served in Afghanistan and Iraq during some of the time periods that McChrystal draws examples from, I found the backdrop-of-foreign-policy aspects of the book quite engaging. However, while the organizational leadership and management ideas in this book are innovative, challenging, and certainly useful for many in ministry, I think the high proportion of detailed examples from military operations, history, and business could be a bit overwhelming and/or distracting for those looking for more of a pure focus on organizational effectiveness (i.e. Patrick Lencioni‘s books) or anecdotes with a broader appeal (i.e. Heifetz and Linsky’s Leadership on the Line, which made Sullivan’s 17 Books list). I wouldn’t give this book a general recommendation as a leadership read, unless you’re also a person who also enjoys historical and foreign policy reading as well. However, this book would also be a good fit if you’ve read a few more generic leadership/management books and are looking for something a bit different to give some concrete techniques and tactics to the broad idea of collaboration.

Mixed recommendation for reading aside, what were some of the leadership and management lessons uniquely presented in Team of Teams and especially relevant to pastoral ministry?

Take-Away #1 — A Team of Teams Fosters Collaboration

First, let’s get to the basic definition of a “team of teams.” A team of teams is a way of thinking of organizational structure. Typical organizations (i.e. parishes, ministries, etc.) often think of their organizational structure as something like this:

CommandOrgChart
Illustrations by Relajaelcoco, via FastCompany

We might call this a “command” or “hierarchical” organizational structure (not to be confused with the theological meaning of hierarchy as sacred order). In an organization that operates this way, the primary relationships, pathways of concern, shared visions, and communications are between subordinates and supervisors. This might be a relationship of employment or a volunteer-relationship, depending on your parish/ministry setting. The problem with an organization that operates this way is that it can create silos and prevent the necessary inter-connectivity and “shared consciousness” between different parts of the organization–i.e. between the evangelization committee and the Knights of Columbus in a parish.

TeamOrg

TeamofTeams

It’s not about everyone knowing everyone else, but knowing someone on every other team–no silos, no implied rivalry or competition for the pastor’s attention, no judgement on the worth of another volunteer leader’s focus in ministry, etc.

It’s also not anarchy. As McChrystal writes:

“The Task Force still had ranks and each member was still assigned a particular team and sub-sub-command, but we all understood that we were not part of a network; when we visualized our own force on the whiteboards, it took the form of webs and nodes, not tiers and silos” (251).

Take-Away #2 — Stop Blaming and Changing all the Wrong Things

Leadership requires change. Why? Because to lead is to have a vision–a vision of a future different than the present. To move towards this vision, an organization must change. But oftentimes organizations (ministries and churches included!) start by changing all the wrong things. Tactics, technology, programs, processes, curricula…you name it. But, ultimately these changes won’t have the desired impact unless there’s a cultural change within the organization when it comes to the “approach to management” (32).

Reflecting on the Joint Task Force he led, McChrystal explains:

“The Task Force had built systems that were very good at doing things right, but too inflexible to do the right thing” (81).

Hmm. This fits a lot parishes/ministries–tried and true systems and processes that do what they were designed to do very effectively, but too inflexible to change to meet our new and current circumstances. As Fr. James Mallon observed in Divine Renovation, almost everything about the sacramental system/religious education program in his parish was an effective system, but effective for a different era, for different conditions.

You can have a good system that does the wrong thing. Or, a good system that’s doing the right thing right now, but can’t possibly adapt fast enough to retain value.

There’s a challenge in making these kind of big internal changes when it comes to how we manage or organizational culture. McChrystal writes:

“There’s a temptation for all of us to blame failures on factors outside our control: ‘the enemy was ten feet tall,’ ‘we weren’t treated fairly,’ or ‘it was an impossible task to begin with.’ There is also comfort in ‘doubling down’ on proven processes, regardless of their efficacy. Few of us are criticized if we faithfully do what has worked many times before. But feeling comfortable or dodging criticism should not be our measure of success” (8).

We see this a lot in church leadership. Implicitly or explicitly blaming secular culture, parents who won’t bring children to faith formation, diocesan policies, Biblical literacy of parish adults, etc. While there is a healthy place for acknowledging that we can’t change the setting we minister in when it comes to cultural forces or the environment, this shouldn’t be an excuse that distracts us from adapting as leaders and managers in ministry.

Take-Away #3 — Collaboration is a Day-to-Day Reality

Team of Teams offers a mini case study on US Airways Flight 1549 (Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landing unpowered plane in Hudson River…) After the event, analysts concluded that while the “crew’s technical training had been completely irrelevant to the solution they achieved…it was their interactive adaptability…that proved crucial.” “US Airways 1549 was saved not by one mind, but by the ability of the captain, the first officer, and the flight crew to come together and pull toward a common goal” “quickly” “almost intuitively in a close-knit fashion” since “because of time constraints, they could not discuss every part of the decision process” (111).

As Br. Loughlan Sofield and Sr. Carroll Juliano note in Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry, it’s common in Catholic ministry for “collaboration” to be pushed during pastoral planning or major decision-making, but then all but forgotten in the day-to-day reality of ministry.

To work together quickly and intuitively in a close-knit fashion–this is the real fruit of collaboration. But it can’t be pulled out for an emergency if it doesn’t exist in the day-to-day. McChyrstal describes how daily office operations changed to build this shared consciousness, for example:

  • using “cc” line of e-mails liberally “whenever it seemed that even the second- or third-order consequence of the operation discussed might impact them” (163)
  • taking lots of calls on speakerphone–even when it made others uncomfortable or surprised them (163)

Are we able to almost instinctively work closely together in day-to-day ministry? Do I understand what’s going on with other teams/departments? There are signs of collaboration.

Take-Away #3 — Leader as Gardener

McChrystal describes his uncomfortable transition from a self-image of “heroic leader” to “humble gardener” (225).

He writes:

As a leader, “I needed to shift my focus fro moving pieces on the board to shaping the ecosystem. Paradoxically, at exactly the time when I had the capability to make more decisions, my intuition told me I had to make fewer. At first it felt awkward to delegate decisions to subordinates that were technically possible for me to make “(226).

To be a leader doesn’t mean you must make every decision and seek to wield more and more authority–powerful leadership also comes from enabling others. A multiplier effect. [Again, I was amazed at how relevant these concepts were to collaboration in ministry!]

McChrystal explains:

“If the garden is well organized and adequately maintained, and the vegetables are promptly harvested when ripe, the product is pretty impressive. The gardener creates an environment in which the plants can flourish. The work done up front, and vigilant maintenance, allow the plants to grow individually, all at the same time…I began to view effective leadership in the new environment as more akin to gardening than chess…nurturing the organization..to enable the subordinate components to function with ‘smart autonomy’…as in a garden, the outcome was less dependent on the initial planting than on consistent maintenance. Watering, weeding, and protecting plants from rabbits and disease are essential for success. The gardener cannot actually ‘grow’ tomatoes, squash, or beans–she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so…Creating and maintaining the teamwork conditions we needed–tending the garden–became my primary responsibility…I found that only the senior leader could drive the operating rhythm, transparency, and cross-functional cooperation we needed. I could shape the culture and demand the ongoing conversation that shared consciousness required” (225-226).

This is where the rubber meets the road in many church organizations–only the senior leader can set the tone to make a collaborative organizational culture a reality. [Which brings us back to #2…stop blaming and change the right things…]

Take-Away #4 — Trust and Common Purpose. Trust First.

This diagram comes at the end of Team of Teams. For it to make sense, order matters.

Source: GoogleBooks preview (p. 245)
Source: GoogleBooks preview (p. 245)

It starts in the center–with trust and common purpose. This reminds me of Patrick Lencioni’s emphasis on trust as the foundation of organizational health. If leaders and teams can’t trust each other in ministry, then that’s the first step, period. Out of a healthy organization comes (looking to the right side of the diagram) empowered execution–when individuals know that their leaders trust them, provide the resources, guidance, and freedom to do good (and occasionally fail!)–and shared consciousness–knowing what’s important beyond one’s own team. An organization that operates with these two characteristics has demonstrated adaptability. And, adaptability is what enables an organization to act with the speed and multi-dimensional approaches necessary for today’s complex challenges.

As I reflect on this, I see a connection to how many parishes/ministries have approached the New Evangelization–treating it as a program or static “problem” that can be analyzed and planned well in advance and executed by a small group of individuals. But, the call for a New Evangelization is certainly evidence of complexity in today’s cultural and religious environment. In many cases, a “team of teams” approach is greatly needed in order to break down silos, improve the speed of change, and re-build the trust that all missionary disciples must have to truly be free to labor most fully and fruitfully in the vineyard.