Classic Rewind: Raising Up Missionary Leaders

Classic Rewind: Raising Up Missionary Leaders

From time to time I will republish classic posts from previous blogs that I have owned. This post originally appeared four years ago on my Ablaze blog. I have updated it to include the latest resources available.

Coming out of a sedentary lifestyle is difficult!

Ever since the birth of my daughter and my entrance into diaconal formation, my available free time has been squeezed into twenty-minute blocks. By the time I return home each evening, I am exhausted and seek solace in a book, a movie, or blowing things up in my favorite Massively Multiplayer Online Game. But first, there is dinner that has to be made, cleaning that needs finishing, and the rare opportunity to spend some time with the love of my life. I give little thought to going for a walk, or working out.

And it’s started to show–not just in my weight, which has increased steadily, but also in my stamina, my energy level, and my blood pressure. The other day, I realized that I couldn’t keep up with my daughter, Siena, after only 5 minutes of playing around.

So, this past week, I started to do something about it. I strapped on my old running shoes and headed to the gym.

 

Thar She Blows!

The reality is that coming out of a sedentary lifestyle is harder than it looks. Even though I’ve been careful not to start too intensely, I essentially look and sound like a beached whale trying to roll itself back to the sea! Not only that, but I’ve discovered that I still make countless diet and activity choices that favor the sedentary, overeating lifestyle over healthier alternatives.

In fact, coming out of a sedentary lifestyle takes a great deal of discipline–a change not only in actions, but in thought processes–including how you interpret data about your body. What was once considered “bad” and to be avoided, must now be embraced. The experience of running when your “wind is blown” and your legs are tired doesn’t signal the end of the journey, but the beginning of real transformation. Entering in to that experience, rather than immediately slamming on the brakes, takes courage and trust in the process.

In short, leaving the deeply sedentary lifestyle requires a worldview shift–one that would not be possible without the support of family and friends, and without an intentional plan of attack.

Perhaps you see where I’m going with this?

Facilitating a Worldview Shift

Honestly, looking at the far side of my journey into health is daunting. Even though I once worked out regularly and ran 6-8 miles every 3 days, it seems crazy and impossible.

For most people, the spiritual journey toward Christ can feel exactly like that. Instead of shedding pounds, they have to shed the burden of a negative self-image, or an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, or shame. They may have to re-evaluate their self-worth in Christ. Even more basic, some must struggle to shift their pattern of thinking–their entire personal philosophy–to embrace the reality of a universe with a Creator. And then, they must deal with the shocking reality that this Creator actually created them for love.

While God’s grace will lead them and carry them forward–we can not just assume that people will figure things out, accept reality, and open their hearts to Christ on their own. Our current situation in the Catholic Church should be proof enough.

No, we must embrace the fact that we are called to be channels of that very grace which God pours out on others. In our willingness to walk with people through this journey, we incarnate the love of God, becoming (in a certain sense) a kind of sacrament for them. This is the very model Jesus gave us–replication! He spent three years replicating Himself in 12 men, and they spent the rest of their live replicating Jesus in those they meet.

Parish Application

But how do we live this out in a parish? .

Just like the transition from sedentary, overweight, and out of shape to healthy and fit takes some intentionaliy and support, helping others move through the pre-discipleship thresolds and change worldview takes a planned approach.

Missionary Disciple-friends as Coaches

One of the most efficient ways to move into wellness from a lifestyle of sloth is to find a really good trainer or dietitian–someone who has deep and experiential knowledge. The same is true of the process of discipling others. We must begin to cultivate a cadre of missionary disciple-friends–spiritual companions who can help others travel through the thresholds.

It may be that you have enough intentional disciples within your parish already to start forming a group of disciplers (even if you have disciples in your parish, many Catholics do not feel comfortable leading others to Christ), here’s how you could form them, depending upon their level of experience:

  • Gather these folks into small groups and have them read and reflect together on the book Forming Intentional Disciples.
  • Take part of each meeting and have participants start “breaking the silence” about Jesus and their relationship with Him. This will help get them more comfortable with talking to others about Jesus.
  • Take some time to go over the kerygma, the Great Story of Salvation, with them and help them connect the kerygma with their own story. I would recommend using my book Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew to help people journey through the Great Story. Alternately, you can use a process like Alpha in a Catholic Context or Discovering Christ to help Catholics wrestle with and respond to the kerygma.
  • Spend some time helping them become comfortable asking others where they are in their lived relationship with God and truly listening to the response.
  • Teach them about the disciplines of living as a disciple in such a way that they can begin teaching them to others. I highly recommend using Deacon Ralph Poyo’s very short book Pick Up Your Cross and Follow Me. It is the most practical book on discipleship that I have ever read–and it has a helpful checklist so you can track your progress in each of the disciplines!
  • It would be exceptionally helpful for each of the disciple-coaches to discern their own spiritual gifts. One of the best ways to do that is to have them attend a Called & Gifted Workshop. All of the spiritual gifts will be useful at some point in a person’s journey. Knowing where you are supernaturally empowered will help you step out intentionally and use those gifts where they will have the largest impact.

In the course of journeying with others, it often becomes necessary to walk with them through an area of woundedness and fear. If you are committed as a parish to the process of making disciples, it would be good to have your pastoral team ready to provide whatever pastoral care might be necessary. It would also be exceptionally fruitful to have trained healing prayer teams that include those with charisms of intercessory prayer, healing, and encouragement.

To help in this endeavor, M3 Ministries is in the process of creating the M3 Missionary Leadership Academy, designed to provide practical proven formation for the equipping of missionary leaders and offer a focused community that will support them as they seek to change the culture of their parish and make disciples. If you want to learn more about the Academy, receive inside information and early access to resources, and priority registration when we launch, just click here and sign up for the M3 Academy Waitlist.

This whole process takes time, energy, and planning. Think of it like training for a marathon–a ton of work, but the results are worth it. Instead of helping people come out of a sedentary lifestyle, we are walking with them as they come out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God!

Tell Me No Lies Shout Out!

Tell Me No Lies Shout Out!

Since Easter is a time of joy, I thought I’d have a little fun with the launch of my book The 10 Biggest Lies of the Enemy & How to Combat Them.

So, today I want to kickoff the TELL ME NO LIES SHOUT OUT!

Here’s how it works:

If you have ordered or purchased a copy, simply take a picture of yourself with the book when it arrives and post the pic to your social media networks (FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) with a short comment about what you are hoping to get out of it, along with the following hashtag: #TellMeNoLies.

Then share your pic and comment to the Tell Me No Lies thread thread on the M3 Ministries Facebook Page. I’ll choose a random entry and that person will receive a free copy of my first book, Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew, as well as a free CD or download (your choice) of one my talks.

If you’d like, you can include the following link for the book as well: https://amzn.to/2Imevsp

Share this post and spread the word. Let’s see if we can make just a little splash in this giant social media ocean!

Happy Easter!

Reigniting After Burnout

Reigniting After Burnout

It happens to many of us, eventually.

Whether we are regular unpaid help at our parish, or if we have a full-time position on staff. At some point if we are not very careful, we will burn out. Like a gas grill whose tank is empty, our flame will flicker and sputter and, finally, disappear. I’m not talking about normal stress that comes with working among a group of people, with all the attendant politics and personal foibles that comes with it, nor the fatigue one might feel when one’s shoulders are set “to the wheel” for an extended period of time.

Rather, I’m talking about the out-of-control, downward spiral often accompanied by bitterness, frustration, and a defensive attitude that screams “I don’t care anymore” as loud as it can. Burnout can be ugly and, unfortunately, it can cause collateral damage–among our ministries and to our friends, families, co-workers, and fellow parishioners.

Burnout is often connected (as a cause, an effect, or both) with an experience of a collapsing prayer life, a struggle with a pattern of sinfulness (vice) or acedia–a state of spiritual listlessness or torpor. And just a quick aside–not every experience of dryness in prayer is a good thing. While desert experiences are normative for many disciples, part of the way that God forms and trains us to move to a deeper faith and trust in Him, sometimes our experience of dryness in prayer can be a result of an obstinancy, a pattern of sinfulness, or the experience of acedia. A well-trained and perceptive Spiritual Director can be invaluable in discerning the root of such experiences.

But what to do if you are suffering from burnout? Is rehab possible?

Fanning the Flames

The good news is that our God is a God of restoration, renewal, mercy, and wholeness. There are very concrete things that we can do to navigate through this period and dispose ourselves to His renewing grace. Here are my suggestions in no particular order (assuming that you are a lay man or lay woman):

  • Take some time to do an in-depth examination of conscience and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you patterns of sinfulness, areas in your life that are not under the Lordship of Christ, and thought habits that set up obstacles between you and God (for example, a habit of thought that is filled with self-judgment or self-hatred will cause someone to believe that while God might heal and forgive others, there is something about themselves that is unloveable, and therefore God just wouldn’t deign to forgive or heal them).

 

  • Once the Examination of Conscience is complete, run, don’t walk, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance. Give all of that junk to the Lord and trust that He will forgive and restore you.

 

  • Although times of burnout are often times when we want to pray the least, make a concrete schedule of prayer that includes several opportunities for prayer throughout the day. If it’s available somewhere near you, give particular emphasis to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (daily, if possible). If you are spiritually prepared, receiving communion during these masses will go a long way toward restoration. A note here for parish staff members–resist the gravitational pull of someone enlisting you to help at these masses. Make this a time for you to fully participate as a member of the assembly in the pews. Go to another parish for mass, if necessary.

 

  • To facilitate the other bullet points and to help with recovery, take a step back from your area of ministry for a time (if you are a staff member, I would encourage you to take some vacation–a minimum of three days, maybe stretched out over a weekend to give you 5 full days off). During this time, make it clear to your pastor or ministry coordinator that this is time that you are taking for you. Resist being contacted about that ministry or area; assign a delegate who can handle things while you take some time off.

 

  • Then get a life! Okay, so that might be a little facetiously stated, but seriously cultivate, explore, or return to a hobby or other area of your life that has nothing to do with direct ministry at all. Train for a marathon, remodel the house, dive into a series of books you’ve been meaning to read. Whatever it is, make sure it is something that you enjoy.

 

  • When you are ready to return to work/your area of volunteering, meet with the coordinator or your boss and set clear boundaries. If you are paid for 35 hours a week of ministry–inform your pastor or boss that you are restricting your time working at the parish to those 35 hours. If your boss feels that they need you for more hours than that in order to “get things done,” it is incumbent on them to provide compensation and a reworked job description and job offer. It is then incumbent on you to prayerfully discern whether you should work those additional hours. The little secret at the heart of a lot of parish work is that staff members and volunteers routinely work far more hours than they are compensated for or were assigned to work. Whether the pastor/boss/coordinator never intends for that to be the case, it often occurs. This is, at its heart, an issue of justice which parishes need to address.

 

  • To facilitate setting clear boundaries, work with your boss/volunteer coordinator to set clear priorities. If everything is a priority then in reality nothing is important. The fact of the matter is that, unless you have a network of gifted and well-formed individuals who have taken personal responsibility for coordinating an area of your work, you personally can only start and maintain a relatively small number of “plates spinning on a pole.” Setting clear priorities helps you know where to expend your limited focus and amount of time.

 

  • Cultivate a network of gifted and well-formed individuals who have taken personal responsibility for coordinating an area of your work. Burnout often results from the physical, mental, and spiritual drain that comes from working on things in your ministry/area of work for which you are not gifted. Discern your spiritual gifts (charisms) and then deputize or, if you are very lucky, hire individuals who have charisms in areas where you are not gifted (or talented). Form them well and then give them space to work/coordinate that area of responsibility (but DO still hold them accountable).

 

  • Maintain the disciplined schedule of prayer that you put together as an emergency rehab. Keep developing your prayer life and find a solid spiritual director.

 

  • Strive to build good and honest lines of communication with your boss and coworkers. Passive aggressiveness and conflict avoidance have been elevated to art forms within many parishes. Refuse to give in to it. Act counter culturally by respectfully addressing issues and conflicts that arise. Don’t let them fester. Be open to speaking the truth in love to your coworkers and boss–and truly listen when someone respects you enough to do the same.

Hopefully, you’ve found a few things in this post helpful. These suggestions come from hard-won personal experience. What other suggestions might you have for helping someone reignite after burnout?

Book Release: The Lies of the Enemy

Book Release: The Lies of the Enemy

He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. (John 8:44)

The devil is a liar.

Go ahead and read that sentence again. This time, notice the emphasis. The devil doesn’t just tell lies. He is not just a spreader of false news or someone who avoids telling the truth to spare himself (and others) pain and embarrassment. He doesn’t just lie as a part of a larger, overarching strategy of evil.

The devil lies because in his rebellion against God, his very nature has become corrupted. He has utterly and totally and fully rejected the One Who IS Truth. Truth is absent in him. In a certain sense, therefore, we can say that his very identity, his very nature is now a lie, and this nature is opposed to the nature of God. The Enemy despises God and the things of God—and particularly his children. He has set his thoughts, actions, and the power of his kingdom of lies against us, desiring most of all that, twisted and confused by the false testimony of darkness, we would abuse the gift of our free will and reject or close ourselves off to the Father’s invitation to restoration, renewal, freedom, and new life.

The Battlefield

The apostle Paul spent time spreading awareness of, and equipping his people for, this battle between Satan and the Children of God. In his letter to the Church at Ephesus, Paul wrote: “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:12) Paul understood that in our quest for holiness and justice in this life, we would face opposition not only from the natural order (e.g., from the temptations, obstacles, and wounds that come from living in a world that is imperfect and itself wounded by the Fall) but also from the supernatural realm. Principalities and powers in this passage refer to members of the hierarchy of fallen angels. Paul understands, therefore, that even though Jesus Christ has won the victory over Satan and his kingdom, the supernatural forces of that kingdom still array themselves against every believer and community hoping to frustrate, stave off, and block the manifestation of that victory in our lives.

If, indeed, we are in a battle, then it is in our best interest to understand the battlefield. On a tactical level, knowing the shape and geography of the landscape can provide a solid advantage. If we return to the Word of God, we will discover that Scripture is crystal clear about where this battle will be fought—in the heart.

Now, in our 21st century usage, the “heart” often signifies affections or emotions. The battle that we fight, however, is not primarily about feelings or emotionally charged opinions. It goes much deeper. Scripturally, the heart refers to the center of the human person, the foundation of physical, emotional, intellectual, and moral activity. We may only see the surface appearance of a thing, 1 Samuel 16 says, “but the Lord looks into the heart.” (7) In this worldview, the heart is the place of deep thought, understanding, and moral choice. That is why we are called to love the Lord with “all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37).

The Enemy has chosen the heart as the battlefield for just these reasons. If he can blind and deceive and trick the human heart, if he can bind it with all sorts of shame, self hatred, accusation, and condemnation, if he can warp our understanding of who God is and who we are—then we are more likely to bring forth the rotting fruits of the kingdom of darkness. In other words, we are more likely to sin and reject the mercy of God in our lives.

We Are Not Defenseless

In this spiritual warfare, we are not defenseless. The Lord has provided us with everything we need to persevere and prevail against the devil. In The 10 Biggest Lies of the Enemy and How to Combat Them, these weapons are explained in detail. Each of the 10 Biggest Lies the Enemy tries to bind us with is exposed, and the reader will receive tools and strategies that release the grace and mercy of God for our freedom. Each of the chapters on the lies utilize the following format, highlighting the weapons given to us by the Lord for our freedom:

Speaking the Lie
Each chapter will be titled with the general version of a particular lie. However, these lies manifest in the lives of different people in a number of different ways. This section of the chapter will list out particular examples of the lie. Although these examples are not exhaustive, reading these particular manifestations of the lie prayerfully can help reveal whether or not your life has been bound or effected in some way by that lie.

Encountering the Truth
Ultimately, each chapter will focus on the Truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ. By exploring Scripture & Tradition, we encounter the fundamental Truth which each lie seeks to confuse, deny, block, or subvert. This is more than a catechetical teaching or a knowledge dump. What the bible and the teaching of the apostles reveals is none other than the Person of Jesus Christ. Combined with the rest of the chapter sections, we hope to facilitate an encounter with Jesus that leads to freedom.

Unsheathing The Sword of the Spirit
This section contains a short reading of God’s Word designed to penetrate and cut away anything related to the lie. There is considerable power available in the Word of God for those who wish to do more than memorize verses. You might find it helpful to pray for a few minutes before reading these scriptures and ask the Lord specifically for the grace to receive exactly the message he is trying to communicate to you at this time in your life. Then, read the specific passage slowly and prayerfully several times. Take note of any words or phrases that jump out at you. When you are finished reading the passage, ask the Lord to shed more light on the word(s) or passage that jumped out at you. Ask God to reveal to you what, specifically, that word or phrase might have to do with experiencing freedom in your life right now.

Prayer of Renunciation
This isn’t a magic formula or self-help “mantra.” This section of the chapter will have a sample prayer of renunciation that you can make, intentionally breaking the power of that particular lie or wound in the name of Jesus Christ. You are encouraged to make your own, spontaneous prayer of renunciation, but should feel free to use this whenever you need. You also may find this prayer helpful to recite whenever you are particularly conscious of the lie’s power manifesting in your life.

Invoking the Saints
Here you will find the name and (very) brief history of a particular saint whose journey reveals a victory over the power of that specific lie. As the Lord begins to reveal the nature of the wound or lie you are wrestling with, you can ask this saint for his or her prayers and companionship.

The 10 Biggest Lies of the Enemy and How to Combat Them is available now from Catholic bookstores and online retailers. You can order from Amazon by clicking here.

The time for freedom is now!