Ep. 1: Catholic Parish Renewal and Evangelization in a Time of Pandemic

Episode Summary:

Deacon Keith, Executive Director of M3 Ministries, and Kristin Bird, Executive Director of Burning Hearts Disciples, talk about the challenges and opportunities for parish renewal and evangelization presented by the Coronavirus Pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on social gatherings. How can we continue the Mission of the Church and the renewal of our parishes in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

Key Topics:                

Kristin’s Experience in Ministry and Parish Renewal (Timestamp 7:27)

Deacon Keith’s Experience in Ministry and Parish Renewal (21:05)

Biggest Obstacle to Parish Renewal (26:00)

Parish Renewal in a Time of Pandemic (32:10)

3 Things that Kristin’s Parish Did to Bear Fruit in the Pandemic (52:50)

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Spiritual Gifts Discernment Process (https://siena.org/called-gifted)

Ablaze: 5 Essential Paradigm Shifts for Parish Renewal https://amzn.to/3jYw6L9 (Affiliate Link)

Missionary Leadership Academy https://missionaryleadershipacademy.com

Next Steps

Join the M3 Community http://m3catholic.com/m3-community-signup/

Contact Deacon Keith (mailto:keith@keithstrohm.com)

Contact Kristin (mailto:kristin.bird@burningheartsdisciples.org)

Strangers No More

Strangers No More

A Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C

The Gospel for this Sunday seems to be primarily about gratefulness, about the one leper who returned and fell at Jesus’ feet in gratitude!

But what if there is more to this story? What does it mean that an outcast among outcasts (a Samaritan traveling with a group of Jewish lepers) is healed?

Check out the latest Homily from Deacon Keith!

Exorcizing the Program Demon

Exorcizing the Program Demon

Some demons are harder to expel than others!

Jesus understood this and taught his disciples when they struggled to exorcize a mute spirit from a young boy. “This kind,” Jesus said, “cannot be driven out by anything except prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)

Some demons are troublesome, and when they sink their venomed fangs into us, they do not want to leave. Such a demon is often present in diocesan and parish life, wielding its dark influence to deaden and block our desire and ability to experience new life, transformation, and renewal.

I call it the demon of programs.

Though the denizens of Satan’s fallen realm prefer to work in the shadows, masking and hiding their presence whenever they can, still the discerning eye can spot their furtive and elusive presence. There are signs that one’s parish or diocese has fallen under the power of this programmatic demon to a greater or lesser degree:

  • A tendency to see the right program as the primary solution to problems or the primary driver of engagement
  • A repeated habit of executing programs with little personal preparation or followup with participants that ends up minimizing (or missing completely) the personal interior journey of the individual and the absolute importance of personal response to grace.
  • An absence of forethought in how the various programs offered by the parish could build upon one another to help lead a person on a spiritual journey toward Christ, into discipleship, and then into a lifestyle of missionary discipleship.
  • An organizational bias in favor of hiring and promoting administrative and operational gifts and skillsets, coupled with an excessive tendency to value and reward programmatic execution over spiritual fruitfulness.

Get with the Program

Now is the time when many of you who are reading this begin to push back and think things like “But we need good administration” or “we’ll never get anything done if we are not organized.”

And I completely agree with you.

Of course, spiritual growth and programmatic excellence are not mutually exclusive, but let’s face it, the Catholic Church is huge, and to meet the demands of the breadth of our members, we have become adept at creating programs and processes that move large amounts of people from one place to another (e.g., in our Catholic School systems, sacramental preparation programs, and catechetical offerings especially). This is especially true of the Church in North America, which largely grew from the influx of immigrants coming to the continent. To handle the flow of our people, we built structures (physical and organizational), processes, and programs that focused on producing fully initiated Catholics who could integrate with the surrounding secular culture.

We’ve inherited that programmatic mentality today, and often our first instinct when faced with things like declining attendance, fewer resources, and lack of participation is to “tune up” our programs and find ways to increase their efficiency.

And this is where the program demon enters.

In a parish or diocesan culture dominated by the programmatic demon, the efforts of pastoral leaders, staff, and key volunteers revolves largely around the efforts and activities central to running events, processes, and programs with little (or a substantially reduced) focus on where participants might be in the spiritual journey toward discipleship before the event in question and where they might be after!

The truth is that programs, events, homilies, and the like don’t make disciples. They can be particular moments of grace and catalysts for conversion, and they might even, through the grace of God, help someone surrender their heart Christ and become believers in Jesus and His church. But by and large, growth into the lifestyle of Jesus and His kingdom, learning and living the life of discipleship requires a particular kind of connection to those who are already disciples.

In other words, programs don’t make disciples, people make disciples. Or as I like to say, disciples aren’t mass produced; they are artisanal products. They’re handcrafted. This was fundamentally the model of spiritual multiplication that Jesus used!

Calling Max Von Sydow

So how can we exorcize the program demon and be set free from the Paradigm of Programs that often dominates contemporary parish and diocesan life in the West? The answer is as clear as it is radical! We must raise up a generation of men and women with missionary mindsets and practical skills who can accompany others fruitfully on the spiritual journey. This will be necessary not only to help set our parishes free, but this same approach will be necessary if we are to live fruitfully the Church’s mission to the world!

This is precisely what M3 Ministries offers to parishes and dioceses. And in the course of the last several years, we have seen first-hand how the presence of these ‘parish-literate missionary band of evangelizers’ challenges the current culture and brings their missionary perspective not only into their worship of God and daily life, but also into the meetings and plans of the parish community.

If we want to be free of the program demon, we must equip men and women who:

Possess a deep understanding of The Great Story of Salvation (the Kerygma)—including how the Gospel Message applies to them, and how their story and The Great Story intersect.

• Demonstrate a desire to share the Kerygma (the core Gospel Message) with others and walk alongside of them into relationship with Christ.

Understand the spiritual journey toward discipleship (the pre-discipleship thresholds) and have experience listening as disciples for where someone might be in those thresholds.

Possess integrated knowledge of the evangelization process and can think about parish life through the “lens” of that process.

Can concretely invite someone to surrender their lives to Jesus.

Demonstrate comfort with the power, presence, and person of the Holy Spirit, and intentionally “partner” with the Spirit to release the power of the Kingdom of God in both natural and supernatural ways.

Of course, parishioners don’t need to be formed in all these areas to be effective witnesses to Jesus. New disciples and longer-term followers of Christ whose lives have been re-energized and renewed by the Lord can profoundly touch the lives of others in Jesus’ name—without the benefit of such missionary formation. However, a parish or diocese rooted within a Paradigm of People consciously chooses to raise up these kinds of missionary leaders, not as a pre-requisite or requirement to serve in a missionary capacity, but so that the missionary activity of the whole parish will bear greater fruit. In other words, leaders in a people-focused paradigm don’t hold back their people from missionary activity until they complete all of the “necessary” formation, but rather seek to build up the missionary skills and identity of every parishioner so they can become even more effective and fruitful in sharing Jesus with others.

If you’d like more help moving from a Paradigm of Programs to one that focuses on People, check out the latest book from M3 Ministries’ Executive Director, Deacon Keith Strohm. It’s called Ablaze: 5 Essential Paradigm Shifts for Parish Renewal. You can purchase it from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below the image.

And just like the mute spirit in the Gospel of Mark, if you want to exorcize your community from the program demon . . . don’t forget prayer and fasting!

Don’t Mistake Motion for Mission

Don’t Mistake Motion for Mission

“We have a really vital parish, just look at how many ministries there are!”

I have heard this declaration countless times over the last twenty years as a parish mission leader, speaker, consultant, evangelization trainer, and diocesan employee. On the one hand, I’m delighted to see the passion that people have for their community. On the other hand, I cringe inwardly and try to keep my eyes from rolling toward the back of my head when I hear this sentence fly out of people’s mouths.

It’s not that I think they are lying.

The people I meet in my travels are, for the most part, genuine, loving, caring men and women, and they honestly believe what they are saying.

The problem is that often times, they are wrong.

What do I mean?

The Engagement Trap

Many of our parishes are trapped in a Paradigm of Engagement. Leaders working from an engagement paradigm see their primary responsibility as getting people involved in the life of the community—which usually means

making sure people are present at parish events, supporting activities, and volunteering. Obviously, these things are desirable, but in a paradigm of engagement, they become the entire focus of leadership’s time and energy. In this worldview, the highest goods are involvement, volunteering, and activity. These become ends in themselves and often are not integrally connected to developing a relationship with Jesus or to mission.

Seen from this perspective, action and activity become confused with vitality. Leaders, key volunteers, and involved parishioners often evaluate the life of the community based on its level of activity. But if we look through kingdom lenses we discover something profound–motion is not synonymous with mission.

The human body— with its complex chemical, biological, and mechanical processes—offers some parallels in this regard. Your heart, for example, pumps blood through a network of interconnected arteries, veins, and capillaries. This cardiovascular highway has a very particular purpose, it brings oxygen to the organs and muscles of the body and removes waste, such as carbon dioxide. The arteries carry blood away from your heart, and veins carry blood toward your heart. If the arteries and veins simply decided to do whatever—for example if there was no rhyme or reason to the direction that blood flowed—your organs might die from oxygen starvation.

In short, biological activity without a particular organizing purpose can still lead to death. The same is true of a parish. Parishes with lots of activities, ministries, and socializing opportunities are not necessarily vital, alive, or transformed.

They may simply be busy.

The mission of the Church, however, is to make disciples. Therefore, if we want to gauge the vitality and life of our parishes, the real question we should be asking is not “How many ministries or activities do we have available?” but rather, “How many disciples have we produced?” Jesus called the Church into being to bear the fruit of discipleship.

It doesn’t matter how active a parish is if it is not producing that fruit. Therefore, the question of fruit bearing is the single most important question we can ask ourselves as parishes!

Consider the case of the barren fig tree in chapter 13 of the Gospel of Luke. This tree is alive, and yet it has not produced fruit for the vineyard owner. On some level, this tree is active. Sap and nutrients move between its roots and its branches, and yet it does not bear fruit. In a similar way, I have encountered parishes that are exceptionally active, and yet spiritually dead.

Breaking Free of the Trap

So how can parishes break free of the engagement trap? One way is for parish leadership to take an honest look at the action, activities, ministries, and areas of service to the world that make up their parish’s life. This can be a challenge because we all become attached to certain things in our parish–especially if they have been around for a decade or more. Looking at the elements of parish life through the lens of mission, however, means looking for fruit–real, tangible transformation, healing, and new life that are the hallmarks of life in Christ.

Here are some questions that can guide you to that fruit:

  • How does this particular activity or ministry foster, nurture, or support an encounter with Jesus Christ?
  • What are the concrete ways that this ministry contributes to the making, maturing, or missioning of disciples of Jesus Christ?
  • Where does this ministry or activity fit within our parish’s discipleship pathway (i.e., a linked series of processes, events, and formation designed to help people move into discipleship, mature as disciples, and be equipped as missionary disciples)?
  • Has this ministry or activity regularly produced intentional disciples of Jesus Christ over several years?

If you’ve applied these questions to some areas of your parish’s life, and you can’t come up with easy answers, don’t be frustrated. Chances are, you have a remarkable opportunity to reshape and redirect the focus of your parish so that it bears the fullness of fruit that the Lord desires from it.

If you’d like more help with that process, check out the latest book from M3 Ministries’ Executive Director, Deacon Keith Strohm. It’s called Ablaze: 5 Essential Paradigm Shifts for Parish Renewal. You can purchase it from Amazon.com by clicking on the image below.

While you are waiting for it to arrive, perhaps you could wrestle with this question: How does your parish’s registration process foster an encounter with Jesus Christ?

Because after all . . . it should.

Parish Mission: Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel

Parish Mission: Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel

The unity of prayer and purpose… its intensity …could be felt throughout our prayer space.”
–Marilyn (parish mission participant)

This past Advent, I had the opportunity to lead a mission for Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel parish in New Jersey. In the course of this ministry, I travel a great deal across the world and see Catholic life in a lot of contexts. Notre Dame of Mt. Carmel parish was truly unique. Their staff and parish leadership, including their pastor, are firmly committed to transforming their culture and becoming a community of missionary disciples–and they are beginning to change how they live as parish to make room for this new vision.

They reached out to us at M3 Ministries because they wanted a mission that would help their parishioners experience a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. To that end, I spent two evenings breaking open the basic gospel message with them.

The Spirit has
been generous beyond my wildest imagination. I was so grateful for the reminder of all the Spirit has done, and all He will
continue to do for me, assuming I go to Him in prayer. –Eric

On the first night, we focused on the Father’s delight in us–the reality that we were created by a perfect Father who called us into existence so that we could experience His love and live in an eternal communion with Him and with all those united in Him. To hear about the goodness of our Father and explore that goodness in Scripture and Tradition is a powerful thing. So often, we carry wounded images of God based upon our earthly experience and relationship. Hearing this part of the gospel message offers us an opportunity and a challenge to allow ourselves to be loved by the One who created us for love.

The second evening, we spent time reflecting on the reality of sin and separation from God, but also the great gift of the Father in Jesus Christ, whose life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension broke the power of sin over creation and over our own lives. The Father, being good and fiercely in love with His children, could not let us remain separated from Him. So, He sent His Son Jesus to call each of us back by name.

We also explored the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out upon God’s people in baptism. I also had the opportunity to share my own testimony of how the power and presence of the Lord saved and transformed my life. Finally, I invited everyone present to identify and surrender to the Lord those obstacles that kept us from receiving the Father’s love in Jesus Christ.

The power of the Kingdom of God, the love and ministry of the Holy Spirit were truly present. There were many kinds of healing that occurred in the parish Church that evening–a number of people experienced not only inner healing, but physical healing as well. Most importantly, we all experienced a truly profound encounter with God–an encounter that changed many lives.

These moments of God’s Kingdom breaking through and touching us in supernatural ways are not rare. I see the hand and the presence of God often as I travel and share the gospel message. Lives changed, forgiveness granted (in situations so grim it would be unlikely that anyone would offer forgiveness), wounds healed, bodies made whole, peace given, mercy received, hearts transformed–these are the hallmarks of God’s Kingdom and the fruit of Jesus’ ministry and mission on earth . . . the same mission that He gave to His Body, the Church!

In future newsletters, I will continue to draw attention to the remarkable ways that God is moving among His people and the powerful experiences that ordinary Catholics are having.

At the end of the parish mission, Fr. Paddy O’Donovan summarized the experience of the mission and placed it in the context of the parish’s intentional focus on renewal: ”

“Folks, you know that we are on a path of renewal in our parish… In a nutshell, our renewal is rooted in what we have experienced yesterday and today: the power of God’s Holy Spirit. The renewal of our parish is simply about placing our lives in the hands of God, in the hands of Jesus Christ. Renewal is about having this God-given relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s what the Church is in need of, that’s what we’ve experienced — what I’ve experienced — these past two days in a special way…”

Thank you to every M3 Community Member whose prayers support the mission and ministry of this organization and make it possible for parish missions like this to happen! God is truly good!