It’s finally time to launch your parish’s evangelization program!
After what seems like endless months of planning, modifying, communicating, and prepping, launch time is here. You’ve read all the right books and been to all the right conferences, and you worked hard at picking the best possible program. The name tags are made, the pencils sharpened, and the small groups assigned. Now, all you have to do is keep the momentum going and parish transformation will blossom like flowers in springtime.
If you are like so many other parishes, your program may launch to great success and then seemingly disappear without much lasting fruit, ending up assigned to the dustbin of history as another reinforcement for the “we tried that before, and it didn’t work” culture so prevalent in parochial life. The truth is that cultural change is challenging and takes far more than a spiffy new program to occur.
Here are 5 reasons why your parish’s latest evangelization program won’t bear much fruit:
Maybe your parish is exceptionally active, and you have so many things going on that your latest evangelization program is just one more activity in the Greek-Diner-sized menu of competing events. Or perhaps you are under-resourced as a parish, and it took everything that you had to just get this latest program off the ground. Either way, chances are that your new evangelization initiative is not linked in a strategic way with any other parts of your parish’s pastoral strategy. It’s an outlier, and once people go through it, you don’t have any process, program, or event that builds upon what your parishioners experienced in any formative developmental way.
In other words . . .what’s next for the alumni of your evangelization program? What path do you have for them to take the next step toward (or in) relationship with Christ? Here’s a fundamental question I ask every parish that M3 Ministries works with: What is the specific pathway that your parish has available to help those who are unchurched encounter Christ, come to a decision to follow Jesus, mature as disciples, and receive formation to share Christ with others? In order to really bear fruit, every parish must have a clear plan accompanying people on the journey toward missionary discipleship. One program–even the most amazing one–is not sufficient.
It’s a Cattle Call
Catholics have developed a remarkable ability to create institutions, programs, and processes to move large amounts of people through specific experiences–Catholic Schools, RCIA, Religious Education of children, sacramental preparation–you name it, and we can catapult thousands of people through every major hurdle and come out the other side. The problem is that we never take the time to discover where each of our people are in their own spiritual journey before we load the catapult. As a result, we offer every single person the same experience as if they were all in the same place spiritually, and we very rarely help them discern if they are in the right place developmentally for a particular program to bear sustained fruit in their life. And we wonder why our programs seem to have little lasting impact.
It is only recently, with the publication of Sherry Weddell’s landmark book, Forming Intentional Disciples, which introduced the concept of key pre-discipleship thresholds to the Catholic world, that we have a language and conceptual framework for seeing more specifically where people actually are. The work of other apostolates, like FOCUS and their Discipleship Roadmap, have expanded this understanding to the post-discipleship journey. The reality is that people in different thresholds and places on the journey require different things, and offering people something for which they are not developmentally able to receive can cause them to “go backwards” or stall in their journey toward missionary discipleship. In other words, how will baptismal prep at your parish be different for someone in the Threshold of Trust versus someone who is in Seeking?
We rarely do any followup or debriefing with those who come through our evangelization programs. Often, our parishioners have positive experiences and may even move through some thresholds, but we never walk with them after and help them unpack that experience. We either end the program abruptly when it is done, or quickly move on to the next program. When we offer experiences and programs that make an impact and then don’t nurture that change within people, we guarantee that the fire kindled within them will eventually die. It is imperative that we take the time and walk with people post-program. It is as important as providing the program itself in the first place. Personally, I like to ask men and women who complete a process or program: “How did this experience influence, change, or deepen your relationship with Jesus?” and “What can I do for you to help you grow further in this area?”
Sometimes we embrace mediocrity in the Church, believing that good content and great intentions mean that we can get by with ho-hum execution. The good news is that most evangelization programs today are high-quality and possess phenomenal multimedia resources baked into them. But I’m not just talking about video quality or handout design. Good execution means paying attention to every facet of the program experience–from ease of sign up, to meeting hospitality, environment lay out, small group facilitator discernment and formation, communication with participants, and just about anything else you can think of. In the 21st century, we are competing with countless other activities and experiences for the attention and time of people. This isn’t about making our programs more entertaining, but rather providing the best possible experience for our parishioners and guests. Why invest money, time, and resources into a program that you are just going to run on autopilot?
Evangelization programs should have as their goal the making of disciples. Running a program without explicit understanding and agreement of this reality on the part of leadership leads to less fruit. When evangelization programs are run to try and keep people engaged or get new people “involved,” they often do not bear lasting fruit. Furthermore, we know that only a disciple can make a disciple. Unfocused evangelization programs often lack the presence of disciple facilitators who understand the disciple-making process. Without disciples facilitating the program and intentionally accompanying participants, the program will not have as much of a long-term impact as it could. This intentional accompaniment includes a willingness to invite others “in the present moment” to drop their nets and follow Jesus if the situation warrants that kind of invitation.
The good news is that our evangelization programs do not have to fail. By taking these five factors in to account during the planning and execution of your parish’s program, you will help that program yield sustainable long-term impact.
I’ve traveled all over North America serving the Church during the last 25 years, and I’ve learned a few things.
The most important being the fact that our parishes are filled with amazing, generous, gifted men and women who are not yet disciples of Jesus Christ–not through any fault of their own, but because we as pastoral leaders have not done a great job of proposing relationship with Jesus to them (and living it out for them to see).
Yes, there really is a crisis of discipleship.
But it is aided and abetted by a related crisis–a crisis of leadership.
If evangelization and accompaniment are the core components of the engine that drives parish renewal, leadership is the essential fluid that cools and lubricates that engine, allowing every component to perform at maximum efficiency. Without authentic leadership, the engine of cultural change fails to start, overheats, or blows a gasket, thereby coming to a complete stop.
Just look at the current manifestation of the sexual abuse crisis we are living through right now. Clearly, the causes of this abuse and cover up issue are complex and interrelated, but you can be darn sure that poor leadership on the part of our shepherds has helped to move us to this place today. Healthy things can grow in a healthy climate, and nothing has quite as profound effect on organizational climate (also called culture), than leadership. Just talk to anyone who has volunteered or worked in a parish for any length of time–chances are they will have run in to an unhealthy climate (or two…or three). Such toxic environments stunt growth–personal, professional, and spiritual. They spread division, woundedness, bitterness, anger, and hurt like a virus, and they act in direct opposition to the Church’s mission.
If we are going to take the New Evangelization seriously, and truly live out the Church’s mission, we need to form, raise up, hire, and nurture authentic pastoral leaders who can bear great fruit. The hard truth is that many of our parishes are not led well, and the blame isn’t simply on the pastors, priests, and deacons. Our entire leadership culture often suppresses innovation, uses intimidation and manipulation masked in pious language, promotes mediocrity, and is more concerned with external data (numbers of people who go through our programs and processes) than spiritual fruitfulness. Often, our parishes live, lead, and struggle out of silos rather than focused and generous collaboration.
The context of our current crisis only highlights the dire necessity of leadership transformation. There are no other options–we either embrace a fundamental change in how we govern and live out our common baptismal life as parishes, or we just accept the fact that our future fate will be one of decline, retrenchment, and a growing irrelevance to the secular world.
Responsibility for such a change in leadership begins, first and foremost, with each of us. To that end, we have identified 7 Qualities of Fruitful Pastoral Leaders in an attempt to help individuals and groups of parish leaders begin this journey of transformation. You’ll find the 7 Qualities listed below. In addition, we have also created a free, downloadable Leadership Resource to assist you. This resource not only contains details on the 7 Qualities, but it also sets out some critical reflection questions that you can use individually or in a group setting to form and support your personal development as a leader or the growth of leaders at all levels of your parish. You can download the FREE resource by clicking here or by clicking on the image at the bottom of this blog post.
Note: We chose to use the word fruitful rather than simply effective to highlight an important reality–leadership isn’t simply about positional excellence but about individual and communal impact. Fruitful leaders not only change culture…they change people. In addition, each of these 7 Qualities rests upon the foundation of vision. Not every leader in your parish has the ability to see, articulate, and promote a new vision, but all leaders internalize the vision of the community and live it out in such a way that others are drawn in.
7 Qualities of Fruitful Pastoral Leaders
Discipled: First and foremost, a fruitful pastoral leader must be a disciple—one who has had an encounter with Jesus and intentionally chooses to follow Him in the midst of His Church. The discipleship process can not be understood “from the outside.” Fruitful pastoral leaders understand the spiritual journey toward discipleship and know how to help others entrust their lives to Jesus.
Invested: Effective pastoral leaders invest intentionally in the mission of the community or organization. They are present and proactive in the process of helping their community live out that mission. In addition to this “mission alignment,” authentic leaders invest in the people they serve, seeking to build them up—even when it isn’t convenient.
Relational: Fruitful pastoral leaders understand that, ultimately, their role is to foster their own relationship with Jesus as well as the relationship of others with Jesus, and they create cultures that prioritize those relationships. One of the key ways they do this is by accompanying others relationally. Even if their role has a large administrative component, they never lose sight of the reality that it is all about Jesus and the people they serve. This extends to their colleagues and other staff members; effective pastoral leaders build a web of authentic relationships and choose to work collaboratively rather than in silos.
Accountable: Pastoral leaders who bear sustained fruit in their ministry prioritize accountability. They hold themselves responsible for delivering on their objectives and expect others to do so, too. Working in team, these leaders do not hesitate to hold their team members accountable, and when difficulties arise, they do not scapegoat or shift blame; they step up, take responsibility, and look for solutions. Accountable pastoral leaders do not hesitate to have difficult conversations with team members, peers, and their own leaders to bring clarity, reinforce healthy boundaries, and address issues.
Discerning: In order to bear the most fruit, effective pastoral leaders intentionally discern the direction and will of God for themselves, their community, their ministry, and in relation to the people they serve. This begins with prayer and attentiveness to the movement of God, coupled with a growing detachment to their own plans and visions. Discerning leaders prioritize prayer as a leadership team and seek the will of God together.
Surrendered: Effective pastoral leadership begins with the deep understanding that nothing can truly grow and move forward on our own power; all depends upon the power and presence of God. Fruitful leaders intentionally invite the Holy Spirit to move in their ministries, expect that He will show up, and leave room for His direction and supernatural action.
Empowering: Fruitful pastoral leaders know that they do not have all the gifts necessary to move and transform a community or organization. Therefore, they seek out, nurture, and support others with the gifts that are necessary. These leaders are not threatened by the giftedness of others—even when these gifts exist to a greater degree than their own—and they actively work to grow others into leadership roles.
Living these qualities out will not be easy–especially in the beginning. It will take much understanding, compassion, frank and honest discussion, and trust to change our leadership culture. But doing so is one of the most powerful ways that we can cooperate with the supernatural life that God has given His Body, the Church. When I first met Fr. James Mallon’s parish, St. Benedict, a few years ago, I commented to him that the secret sauce of the Divine Renovation model was that they wedded the very best in human organizational leadership principles with a reliance on the supernatural life of the Kingdom.
Are we ready to commit to such a shift in our own leadership? Are there other qualities of fruitful leaders that should be highlighted? We’d like to know. Drop a line in the comment box. And don’t forget to download our FREE Leadership Resource by clicking the image below:
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.
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:
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!