“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).

9_tips_for_leading_up_at_your_church_b

Renewing Ourselves Before “Fixing” Those Volunteers

The more I talk to parish ministry staff and volunteer leaders, the more I hear about how finding enough, quality volunteers is a challenge. Sometimes so much of a challenge that a leader can become overwhelmed by this–and only see this barrier. It can get discouraging. Plus, the wrong volunteers to continue planning, implementing, and assessing any new initiative in church-life can doom even the most brilliantly inspired and prayerfully discerned new direction. We’ve got a tag going here on this blog for Volunteer Management, and here’s the latest…some practical tips from experienced Children’s Ministers, that apply to us all:

Let’s start with ourselves (not the prospective volunteers), here’s what we need to stop doing…

  1. Making announcements (pulpit, bulletin, social media, etc.) in a vacuum and expecting to get the right volunteers.
  2. Feeling guilty about recruiting volunteers, and thus procrastinating (leading to all sorts of other problems in training, discernment, quality, etc.).
  3. Relying on leaders (or the dedicated few) as routine “substitutes”–it’s okay to substitute sometimes, but if this is routine, it really just means you’re avoiding the heart of the matter when it comes to formation and recruiting.
  4. Not having a clear plan, vision, and mission for your volunteers (and waiting until you “have some” to figure this out).
  5. Taking setbacks personally and leaving prayer out of the equation.


What to do instead?

  • Spiritual formation first! Set ministry volunteering within the proper context of stewardship as a disciple’s response to God’s love–a “get to,” not a “have to.”
  • Pray, pray, pray–for God’s guidance to give you eyes to see needs, others, etc.
  • Build relationships. All the time. With current volunteers and potential/future ones. Relationships, not announcements work.
  • Do more listening. As Tom McKee explains (in the interview this post is based on):

I often find that if I listen, that “no” actually means one of several things: “Not now — I’ve got too much on my plate;” “Not this position — I have other gifts I’d like to use;” “Not with this present leadership;” or “Not in your lifetime.” Listen carefully to the excuses.

  • Think of recruiting volunteers like dating–take the time to get to know the person, don’t force them to make a huge yes/no/forever commitment to serve once as part of discerning ministry, progressively build into greater responsibility, get to know the person’s strengths and don’t be afraid to use these strengths, know when it’s okay to prayerfully discern a “no” or “let me introduce you to another ministry…”

 

 

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?

 

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

 

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.

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!

 

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

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

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

The key question: so what?

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

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

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

My take aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing Contributions at the Decision-Making Table

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

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

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

Examples of Differing Perceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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