Flow of Change

Death and taxes–and now change–are life’s constants.

How we identify potential changes and deal with them often spells the difference between a growing and a stagnant ministry.

There are four approaches to change. Which one describes you?

  1. Change is constantly happening and you are able to change with it.
  2. Change is taking place, but you’re able to keep doing what you are doing without changing.
  3. You aren’t changing with the times, everyone knows you should, but no one is willing to confront the fact of change,
  4. You can see the change ahead, and adapt what you are doing before the change is inevitable.

If you identify with #1, I want to be a volunteer in your program or buy stock in the company you lead! You are comfortable with change, aren’t intimidated by it, able to see it when it is anywhere around you, and able to respond. “Able” meaning ready, having the ability, even the desire to respond.

If #2 is more similar to what’s happening in your ministry, do not be afraid as the St. Louis Jesuits wrote. It looks like change is happening, but perhaps you’ve planned far enough in advance, chosen really rich programs and resources that can withstand a certain amount of change before you have to face a shift. It’s a nice place to be, but don’t get overly comfortable because you may be #3 soon.

We probably all have nightmares about being aligned with #3. It’s the old “head in the sand” approach. In most situations, you haven’t faced the choice of change or die yet. Best case, someone of their own free will confronts you. Worst case, everyone around you reinforces that everything is fine as it is. Who loses? Usually those with whom you minister. Is that really what you want to happen?

And #4 is the “healthy” approach. We’d all like to be there, but life sometimes interferes. Confirmation has to happen. Have to keep the five service programs going so that all of those service hours get completed. Etc. Etc. Etc.

How do we keep the spigot of change open and flowing? A few thoughts.

  • Look for improvements in what you are already doing. Are you marketing it enough? Is your message strong or clear enough? Are you attracting other leaders who can help you implement the improvements and other potential changes?
  • Identify the expectations people have for you and your ministry. What end do they expect you to achieve? Ensure that their children go to Mass? Make sure that they stay Catholic? Diversify the ministry? Have more outreach to more people?
  • Schedule regular opportunities to step back and scan the environment to see what changes are ahead in order to prepare for them. Invite your best allies and some of your biggest challengers. Do it quarterly, but do it, lest the change overtake you.

Whatcha Got?

One of jewels that we discovered this year is a movie on UP TV called “Christmas for a Dollar.” A father and his 6 children struggle to make ends meet after the death of the wife and mother. With the approach of Christmas, gifts are an extravagance that they cannot afford. But the father has saved pennies throughout the year so that they have one dollar in coins. He offers the dollar to all of the children, telling them that they can use part of it for their gift, one gift for one sibling.

Christmas seems to be the time of year when we most often assess what we have and what we don’t have. We do it in our personal lives–how much can I afford to spend on presents, does my child really need another toy? We do it in our professional lives–do I have enough volunteers, how am I going to get enough people to fill the bus?

Money, people–they are obvious resources. But there are others that we often don’t account for as frequently and as thoroughly.

This is where this TV movie shines. Each child creates a gift for one other child–some using material resources (wood and tools to create a box) and others using actions (good acts like shining everyone’s shoes, inviting a lonely woman to celebrate with the family). “Resources” are more than what we see.

The next time that you are wondering what you have and getting frustrated by what you don’t, think about what you have in these areas too.

  1. Knowledge: What do I or those I minister with know that we can use to move our ministry forward?
  2. Physical: What physical resources, e.g., spatial, Internet-based, do we have that are underused or not even active?
  3. Perceptual: How do people in my parish, school, or diocese perceive the ministry that I lead? How can we build on that perception to further our ministry?
  4. Political: Who has the influence to help further our goals? Parents? Pastor? Key donor?
  5. Organizational: What organizations are we connected to? How can those connections help us do what we do more easily, e.g., piggy-backing events, using them as a source for speakers?

 

Humanity Was My Business

Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

In his efforts to convert old Scrooge and guide him along the path of reclamation, Jacob Marley shares the insight he only gleaned after death–that regardless of what he and Scrooge did in their counting house, humanity was always his business.

Now that the election has ended and we see what our new government might look like, we have to be careful not to forget Marley’s sentiments. Business and the common welfare are not enemies. Think Tom’s Shoes, for example. Time and time again we have seen very successful businesses demonstrate how tending to the common welfare can be beneficial to the “business” of the business.

With the approach of Christmas–and a new administration–let us remember to always practice charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence in our business dealings.

6 Reasons It’s Important to Fail in Ministry

One of the most humbling things that happened during the week that my Mom and I spent walking sections of the Camino de Santiago de Campostela was realizing I couldn’t walk it all. When I thought I could go 16 miles, it turned out my feet were crying out at 10. After deciding to do the downhill that came after the hundreds of steps up to St. Tecla’s chapel, it became very clear that I was riding in the bus to the hotel, and not walking any further that afternoon.

Every day I failed to meet my own expectation of myself. Five days with lots of time to think about it, too.

During the last day’s walk into the city, we met a woman who had started with her husband. Her husband made it a mile or two before health reasons prevented him from going further. So, she walked alone. When we asked if she was going to go the full 20 kilometers that day, she laughed in our face! “It might take me 3 days to get that far,” she said, “but my husband is meeting me in the next town, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

In the business world, there is a lot of emphasis on failing. It’s the only way to innovate and move forward. Not so much emphasis on it in the ministry world. So, why is it important to be willing to fail in our ministry?

#1. To cultivate a sense of humility. Remember, St. Paul was struck blind before he was able to see the path for the rest of his life.

#2. To push and be pushed. We are supposed to be like the mustard seed, and grow. Remember that all of us have to push through the weeds to grab the sunlight.

#3. To test the limits of our creativity. When the door was blocked, the lame man and his companions went on the roof and lowered him down to Jesus. Pretty crafty! Like them, try things a different way, and if they fail the first time, identify the positives and build on those for the next attempt.

#4. To stumble a little, let go of your focus, and start seeing what other solutions present themselves. I often wonder what the adulterous woman saw in the dirt that Jesus had written in. Was it possibly just a message for her? Sometimes it’s better to land on the ground so that we can see things from a different perspective.

#5. To remind ourselves–and those we minister with–that we are only human. Not God. Nuff said.

#6. And that the best way to fail is not alone, but with others. The majority of the time I walked, it was from the back of the pack (which is very unusual for me!) with my Mom. We faced the aches and pains and discomforts together, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Next time you hear or read about pilgrims, remember that they usually travel in groups. They are there to pick themselves and each other up to continue the journey. That’s what we are called to do in our ministry, too.

 

4 Reasons Why Ministry People Need Reviews

It’s the end of the year, and with it comes the dreaded performance review.

If you think performance reviews are just for Fortune 500 companies and for-profit firms, think again. Appraising our ministry is part and parcel of what Jesus has called us to.

So, here are four reasons why ministry people need performance reviews.

Reason #1: We got here because we discerned a call.

Your decision to pursue a vocation in ministry was an action point along a long and continuous road of discernment. Notice, your decision was not the endpoint. Because there isn’t an endpoint. We continue that process of discernment throughout our ministry–rediscerning the call, refining the direction of the ministry, maybe even changing ministries.

The call to discernment requires us that we assess who we are, where we are, what God is calling us to, and how we could/should respond. Sound familiar? Discernment is probably the best process of performance review we know, so use it.

Reason #2: Frequency counts — a lot!

Most performance review processes go awry because they happen once a year. Who likes hearing about their strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement all at once? It isn’t like ripping a bandage off. It’s just unhelpful.

Let’s take our clues from Jesus and St. Paul. Jesus showed us through his actions that we should be present with and pray to our Father regularly. St. Paul was even more specific, “Pray always.” So, let’s talk about progress on a more frequent basis, quarterly in a formal setting, more frequently in informal ways.

Reason #3: “Who do people say that I am?”

This was a pivotal question for Jesus and his disciples, and it should be for us too. We need to know who others perceive us to be. We need to know what it is that we communicate through our ministry to others before we can begin to analyze it and identify areas for improvement.

Reason #4: Give Ceasar his coin, but give God what is God’s.

There are always things that others are going to want of us–our co-workers, our bosses, our volunteers, our parishioners. And it’s important to know what those things are, but do they align with the goals that you have for your ministry?

Start your review process with your goals. They define the boundaries around what you are expected to accomplish, but also what gifts and talents you need to bring to the ministry. If you can do that, you will be more successful in your ministry and be able to pursue better relationships with all of the people who are tugging at your time.

Holy Patience

You know that swell of emotion that comes when you are anticipating something tremendous, something that is right . . . over . . . there? You can feel your body physically reaching out to grab that something that is almost, but not quite within your reach.

It washed over me while we watched the Chicago Cubs almost lose the World Series, then become the team they had been throughout the season and win.

More recently, I was following a series of Facebook posts, detailing how a friend was waiting for the birth of his daughter–they had the date, but it just couldn’t come fast enough, and then it was . . . HERE!

Do you remember a number of years ago when the vestments and colors for Advent were blue and rose? Our pastor noted that the blue was a midnight blue, the deepest blue of the darkest part of night, the blue that slowly gives way to the first rosy hues of sunrise, the color we use on Gaudate Sunday.

Symbolically, I think midnight blue ushers in the story of Incarnation better than our traditional penitential purple. (Yes, I am fully aware of the liturgical guidelines, so please, no critiques.)

We know that Advent is a time of waiting and preparing. This week’s readings couldn’t be more explicit about that. But this waiting has a rhythm and time to it like midnight to sunrise. We know that we must patiently live through each 60 second minute, each 60 minute hour, until the Son arrives to bring light to the world.

We can’t shorten it. We can try to ignore it, but it is still there, surrounding us. We can’t change it. We can only live patiently into it.

Speaking as a one who would willingly confess to having a lack of patience overall, the deep blue midnight of Advent brings consolation and gives me pause. It heightens my senses and makes me aware of everyone and everything around me. It begs me to find a place of silence and calm so that I am able to drink in all that happens when the night recedes and day arrives.

Patience comes when we find a settled place from which to anticipate, reach out, wait. In these last days of Advent, find a seat where you can sit with the darkest midnight and await the brightest dawn of Christmas.

It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old . . .

 

 

What’s Your pH Level?

Outside my window, we have hydrangea bushes. Being a casual gardener, I was amazed to find out that the color of the blooms changes from blue to pink depending on the pH level of the soil. Such a dramatic response to such a small change in the ecosystem in which the plant grows.

How would you describe the ecosystem where your ministry takes place? What is your ministry “soil” like–rich and well-fertilized, tilled but untended, left to the elements, weak and even toxic?

As the gardener (don’t worry–I’m not going to dive into a deep metaphor on the parable of the Sower and the Seed!), we are responsible for the condition of the soil of our ministry. We may inherit an untended field, but it is our job to decide how to turn that field into something that flourishes.

In our Advent preparing, let’s take some time to dig into our ministry environment, and assess honestly all of the elements that go into it–volunteers, schedule, programming, printed resources, online resources, even your professional leadership. These are but a few of them.

Take some time to ask yourself the hard questions, the questions you really don’t want to answer or the answers you really don’t want to hear. Maybe you need to stop relying so heavily on printed resources. Maybe your ministry needs to have a stronger online presence through the parish website, Twitter account, or Facebook page or on Snapchat or Instagram. Maybe it’s time to take a class or two to update your knowledge of the ministry or just nurture yourself as a better minister. Perhaps it’s time to bring on an associate or intern who has different ideas.

Whatever you find in your reflection, choose one action. Yes, one. To change the color of hydrangeas from blue to pink only requires adding a little lime to the soil. One element. So, what is the one change that you can make that will impact your ministry in a positive way?

And whose help do you need?

The Advent Version of Letting Go

The children in our choir are singing, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” at our concert. So, I have Disney’s Frozen on my mind.

It’s an intriguing starting point to reflect on leadership and Advent.

We have a young girl who has been trained to control her gifts, her feelings, her insights, her way of seeing things and being in the world.

Suddenly she is forced into the public eye as the unexpected queen.

And she reacts by running away and isolating herself from her people, her job, her calling.

In Elsa’s version of letting go, she takes a pretty selfish stance and says basically, “This is the way I am, so deal with it world.” It’s a good thing the movie doesn’t end there.

Most of us have probably traveled in Elsa’s shoes at some point for some period of time. Perhaps it was in a first job when the insights and energy you brought to the table weren’t valued and you walked away frustrated and unappreciated.
Perhaps it was during a transition to a position of more responsibility where you supervised or oversaw more people than you had in the past. It might have been tempting to stay in your office some days when you felt misunderstood or like you didn’t know how to motivate your staff well.

In those and the many other situations you can probably recall, we’re a lot like Elsa. It’s easy to put the focus on others, and even the blame.
But that’s where the Anna’s of the world come in. They remind us of our responsibility to be engaged in shaping the world, especially our Church community of faith.
Advent is a great time for examining the ways in which we freezes ourselves in place or freeze others out from our ministry. Advent is a good time to reflect on how we can command (not control) the gifts that we have to better serve the Kingdom of God that we acclaim and celebrate this season.
How are you letting go so you can let God be present this Advent?

Are You Ready for What Comes Next?

ornamentReadiness is the “value of the season” now that we have passed into Advent. In the lead-up to the season, it’s hard to miss what the “what” is — the Kingdom of God — but as often happens at this time of year, I find I’m, um, stuck.

In The Christmas Ornament, a Hallmark Channel movie (we are big fans even though they start Christmas movies right after Halloween), the main character struggles with her grief over the death of her husband during the last year. She meets someone who helps her to start seeing what might come next in her life. But she gets stuck. At the end of the movie, she realizes that the answer to what comes next is a great, big question mark, and she is ready to start the journey to discover what “next” is.

I find the dramatic arc of a 2 hour movie–beginning, middle, and end–very comforting. Even more hilarious because my husband accents each one with the exclamation, “I’m going to go out on a limb . . .” quickly followed by the obvious “that ___________ are going to fall in love” or whatever the obvious final scene might be.

Not so much Advent.

Just because Christmas comes doesn’t mean that the readying has been complete or that we have arrived at what comes next.

And, well, duh, that is the point, right?

While Advent and Christmas draw lines in the proverbial sand, the movement of each is endless and timeless. We are never fully ready nor is the Kingdom ever fully here. But we as humans would tire too easily and quickly if the journey extended to the end we know nothing about. Think of the Israelites who spent 40 years in the desert on a journey to a home that many never saw. They tired, grew weary, looked for short-cuts, and were steered back on the path by their prophets and leaders.

Our journey is unknowably long and tiring, too. But we need weigh stations along the way to celebrate the distance we have come before we face the distance that still lies ahead. Maybe we need to hear our contemporary prophets point out where the path is that cuts through the many “-isms” we face lies. Maybe we need to admit that all we’re ever going to experience is the journey, but others will arrive at the endpoint.

Maybe that is the point after all.

 

To Be Still or Not to Be Still

Find us ready, Lord,
Not standing still.
Finding us working and loving and doing your will.

When it comes to the pace and speed of Advent, we are a very contradictory people!

In the world around us, there is this whirlwind of activity starting with Black Friday sales and extending through highway traffic and airport lines. There is the “to do” list–put up the lights, get the tree, buy presents, mail cards, bake the fruitcake, clean the house, yada, yada, yada . . . And in four short weeks (or less, depending on the calendar year), Christmas arrives and is over in 24 hours, complete with undecorated trees at the curb and parking lots full of the rush and tumble of post-Christmas discount buying.

To some extent, our prayers and songs reinforce that. The call to charity–to not stand still in the face of need. In general, to be doing–something, anything that engages in encounter with the face of Christ in this world.

How often does all of this become a really tricky arithmetic problem for you? Add up the usual, traditional stuff that must be done plus that which our faith compels us, and the sum total is — not enough time, too much stress, and very little “presence.”

Is the answer letting go of our traditions, simplifying our lives? Possibly. Heavens knows that maybe 4 Masses on Christmas Eve (oh, yes, we have 4!) is bit much, so could we do with only 3? Maybe. Does that really address the problem? Probably not.

Because what is the problem? We have too much to do in too little time? That’s one way of putting it. But how about another.

We tend to think of time as linear–60 seconds equals 1 minute, 60 minutes equal 1 hour, etc. And only one thing can occupy any given second, minute or hour of the day. But that’s not true.

St. Paul reminds us to “pray always.” So, why not, underneath the busy-ness of the season, pray always?

Since teaching my children’s choir the refrain to the above Tom Booth song, I find myself coming back to it again and again and again while I am doing other things. One of the things that I like about it is that the lyrics acknowledge how occupied our time is, but they also remind me that each activity should in some way contribute to building the Kingdom of mercy and love.

What refrains, familiar phrases, mantras can you suggest to those you know who are seeking some stillness and grounding during Advent?