Changes at St. Monica Church - A Spiritual Reflection

One of the blessings of Saint Monica is the incredible love and identity that people have with the parish. That is also one of the most significant challenges.

One of the books on my nightstand is How To Kill A Unicorn by Mark Payne. Mark is co-founder and president of the highly successful and cutting edge consulting firm, Fahrenheit 212.

The model that Mark has seen in many companies is that they look at their customers, ask what their needs and wants are, and then try and devise products and services that meet those needs/wants. There are several problems with that approach. One, “externally” many other companies are doing the same thing so that everyone looks the same and there is nothing special about your company. Two, no one asks the important “internal” questions such as “What about capacity? Do we have the manpower, money and machinery to actually do this?


” “If we have to develop new products or new ways to deliver the solution, how much cash will that burn up?” “Can we deliver the solution within a reasonable timeframe?” “In terms of responsibility, who ‘owns’ this idea and will drive the process?” If such realities are brought up within the hopeful, creative and energizing atmosphere of discussing new ideas, some people say, “Oh, you’re just being negative.”

So what does this have to do with Saint Monica? Everything. As I mentioned, many parishioners are “interested” in Saint Monica. The question is how many are actually and personally “invested?” “Interested” parishioners come with suggestions, ideas, critiques and programs all of the time. Invested people are personally engaged.

As Mark Payne says, “The rigor of front-end examination is a non-negotiable. Experience has taught that emphasizing speed to put a program or initiative (into a parish) is not helped by shortcutting the organizational work at the front end. Smart choices ensure that ideas are ‘purpose-built’ on existing (parish) capabilities and assets. This means that, looking in-depth at parish vision, financial, personnel and operational realities up front isn’t being ‘negative.’” Its proper stewardship.

In addition it also is a “critical filter between infinite possibilities - the many things that Saint Monica can do – and the few very important things that the parish should do. Filling rooms with interesting Post-it notes of ideas is not hard. Knowing which ones matter – is. This ensures that energy and talent are focused on the right things – an impossible task if (parish resources) are veering all over the map with no clear sense of true north. In absence of a clear focus, ideas are just whims and random shots in the dark, driven by what’s interesting rather than what’s valuable. A (parish) ends up down dead ends while the clock keeps ticking and valuable cash keeps burning. A solid (parish) vision and (parish) strategy avoids this.”

For almost 12 months, I have asked a team of “prayer warriors” to lay a spiritual foundation for the parish. They have daily and intentionally prayed to determine God’s will for Saint Monica. I have met monthly with a dedicated and invested group of parishioners to help discern the specifics of that call for the parish. “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” (I Corinthians 14:33). In looking at what has come out of a year’s worth of discernment, we arrived at a peaceful sense that the Lord wishes us to focus on a few items, do them well, and then commit “our work to the Lord, who will establish our plans.” (Proverbs 16:3) Encountering Jesus Christ Through His Word (The Bible) has surfaced as one of His desires for us. Over the next few weeks I shall lay out the two other significant areas of focus.

In light of Mark Payne’s words above, people need to understand that this will mean saying “no” to a number of good, helpful and noble ideas, programs and initiatives. Trying to do everything and spreading ourselves all over the map is not wise - and it’s not biblical. Trying to do a thousand things in the hope that some are successful is pure messiah-complex. “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the workers labor. In vein is your earlier rising and you going later to rest, to eat bread by hard toil while God gives to His beloved while they sleep.” (Psalm 127)

There will be a number of ramifications of this approach. First, we will insist that all programs, plans and initiatives be considered in light of the three parish priorities we will establish. Some very fine ideas might come forth that simply do not fit. You will hear me say, “There’s nothing wrong with the idea. The issue is the vineyard. Saint Monica is not the field where this harvest is to be found. Find the vineyard to which the Lord is leading you.”

Second, to properly steward our resources, I will continue to ask (1) who is the person (or persons) in charge and (2) are the programs, plans and initiatives properly vetted up front in consultation with me, my staff and the people in charge. This isn’t being negative or obstructive. This is about making “smart choices that ensure that ideas are built on existing (parish) capabilities and assets. This means looking in-depth at (parish) vision, financial, personnel and operational realities up front.” (Mark Payne)

Third, there will be particular activities that I will ask members of the Parish Staff to no longer engage. In working with a few parishioners from the consulting industry, they have identified a noticeable amount of “mission creep” that has occurred in our jobs. We have entertained and implemented a number of good suggestions that have been well received by the parish. The complexity of these various activities is relatively minor but the summation of all of these activities has become time consuming and the total amount of activities on my desk and that of the parish staff has grown significantly over the past 3 - 4 years. Many tasks are also of a nature that could easily be performed by dedicated parishioners. Thus, these parishioner/consultants have recommended that the parish staff and I need to begin paring back on the number of activities and focus our energy and time on items that are more centered on parish priorities.

Some people will not be happy. I know that going in, and I accept that. I am not going to please everybody and I am not going to try. Some people will leave. We will miss them and they will always be welcomed back. But I am excited about the possibilities of a vision that the Lord has seemed to have placed before us. I think that you’ll find it exciting too.



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