We’ve been looking at what needs to be done to transform our church and parishes. This kind of change is based on a number of principles. Last week we looked at the First Principle: Acquire A Biblical Worldview. This week, we look at two more principles:
Second Principle: The Parish Staff Isn’t Enough
The second essential principle for transformation in the Church is a healthy team. Of the three principles, this one requires the hardest work. It is also the most rewarding.
An analogy may be helpful here. The human body is not only made up of hands, ears, eyes, feet, and other visible parts; it also has a spinal cord. When the spinal cord is damaged, the body cannot function in the way it’s intended. In the analogy, the parish as a whole can be compared to the visible parts of the body. The staff (both ordained and lay) can be compared to the spinal cord.
Tragically, many parish staffs are severely damaged. Oftentimes everybody in the parish and/or on staff knows this. It is common to find a parish staff suffering from a lack of trust among each other. There is little transparent and vulnerable communication. Unhealthy conflict, meetings after meetings, silos, high turnover, and low morale are evident. In such situations, the pastor ends up spending an inordinate amount of time on personnel matters rather than on mission.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Over the past several years, the staff, parish leadership and key parishioners have looked for a better way. We have consulted with organizations like Catholic Leadership Institute. We developed a Leadership Team based on recommendations of “Amazing Parish.” We’ve read books by Catholic consultant Pat Lencioni. These have included The Five Disfunctions of Teams and Death by Meetings. In addition, Pat feels so strongly about supporting his priests that he sent a complementary copy of The Motive to each pastor in the US. This book was written by Lencioni specifically for priests and pastors.
There are many resources which are currently assisting parish staffs to become healthy teams and parish staffs. These groups exhibit true vulnerability, great trust, healthy conflict, accountability, a commitment to results, high morale, and low turnover. Personnel matters are thereby reduced to a minimum, and more time is available to focus on the mission of evangelization, discipleship, and worship.
This transition creates the opportunity for a team to become a family, where a culture of prayer is firmly established, and mutual care and concern for one another is active daily. In this environment, the pastor is surrounded by brothers and sisters who joyfully and collectively share in the responsibility of leading the parish.
Third Principle: God Is the Architect … “Build according to the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:9)
This command from God is the foundation for the third principle for transformation in the Church and a parish. Moses didn’t have to get creative and rely on himself when it came to building the tabernacle as the Israelites made their way towards the Promised Land. There was already a blueprint, a “pattern.” Moses’ task was to get on his face in prayer, discern what God already designed, then build faithfully what was shown to him. What’s more, as God showed Moses the blueprint, He also made known that He had equipped various people with particular gifts to help him construct the tabernacle. The job didn’t fall solely to him.
We believe that God already has a blueprint for St. Monica. Our task, like Moses’, is first to get on our faces and earnestly seek Him in prayer. Next, we move accompanied by brothers and sisters in the Lord. These must be brothers and sisters we trust. Why? We need to be able to engage in healthy conflict to discern what God is saying to us right now about our parish and build accordingly. God was not nervous as He led the Israelites through the desert. God isn’t nervous now. Here’s a news flash: God was not surprised by Covid! Despite how daunting the situation might appear and be right now, we shouldn’t be nervous either.
The current situation in parish life will not resolve itself without radical changes. It will only continue to get worse. A priest friend of mine once said, “Serenity and nostalgia cost money. Parishes and dioceses have been willing to spend millions on serenity and nostalgia. Additionally, we should call to mind that we are in a change of the ages. Any reasonable conjecture about what the Church will be facing during the next many decades needs to note that we are in the midst of an increasingly hostile culture. Tough battles are still ahead of us – natural and supernatural. We need to be doing all we can to support our priests and to equip our people for this future.
We have been given the unique opportunity to make a clear choice: either prayerfully discern a way to fundamentally and courageously retool parish and priestly life, or continue to “tweak” and oversee the ongoing decline of the Church. We believe the choice is clear and that God, who is the Architect, desires to reveal His blueprint in these days.
What might God be asking us to build at St. Monica? Stay tuned.