Category Archives: Christian leadership

We’ve Been Here Before . . .

(Apologies to those who do not like to mix politics with religion and faith. This is one situation where I felt it necessary to speak directly to what is happening around us, offer a perspective that we as Catholics uniquely have, and encourage each of us to consider how to act on that.)

Last week, we were thunderstruck by sexual molestation allegations against a politician made by a woman now in her 40’s about when she was an underage teen. While the conversation has circled around how to handle this candidate and that election, this isn’t a new situation.

We’ve been here before — “we” meaning Catholic leaders and the Catholic Church. It’s been over 20 years since the first major, public accusations (that I can remember) were made of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. (Cardinal Bernardin in Chicago was falsely accused and is my reference point as I lived in Chicago in the mid-90’s.)

Haven’t we learned a few things that our political leaders might find useful? If nothing else, avoid making the same mistakes we made?

What have we learned? Among the many things, these four come to mind.

  • We must protect victims from being further victimized, and comfort and care for them as the Gospel calls us to.
  • We must care desperately for the small and powerless as Pope Francis reminds us.
  • Integrity, honesty, and trust are virtues we must strive for.
  • When trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain (thank you, Jane Austen).

What did we as Church experience as a result of the sexual abuse crisis? We learned that institutions like the Church lose when they are not perceived as being compassionate and supportive to those who have been victims of any inappropriate behavior.

Now what (as a graduate school professor would say)?

We have an opportunity to bear witness to these lessons among our local leaders. Write them. Email them. Call them. Let them know that this is what we as Christians expect from our leaders.

Our political leaders represent us. Now is a good time to let them hear your voice — a voice of compassion, comfort, and care for those who are victims. Remind them of what they stand to lose. As a parish leader, you may have watched as Mass attendance got smaller, collections went down, and those you cared about struggled to remain. Let’s remind our community leaders that they don’t have to end up on the losing end, and how to get there.

If I have missed a lesson, please share it in the comments.

Leaning into Your Ministry’s Future

Remember everyone’s favorite interview question — “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? I envied friends who had a clear picture of their future, and cringed at the general fog in my personal proverbial “crystal ball.”

If I had to pick any point in time, I could never have predicted that I would be where I am professionally. Perhaps I am an outlier, but I don’t think so. Professions including ministry have changed quickly–and keeping up is not for the faint of heart. And if keeping up is challenging, then leaning into the future requires a level of energy and effort that we may not think we have.

As the Church’s liturgical year winds down and the Scriptural focus is on preparing for the second coming and making ourselves ready, it’s an appropriate time to ask ourselves, “Where do we see our ministry in the next 3, 5, 10 years?”

What might your ministry look like? Here are some possibilities that are already emerging.

  • It might be more entrepreneurial in nature. Rather than resources, services, and programs coming from existing and more traditional sources, individuals or small groups may “pick off” a slice of catechesis or youth ministry or liturgy, and create a business that focuses solely on that–a business that they sell to you, you rent or lease from them, or they give away.
  • Social media, especially images, will play a prominent feature in building a sense of community and shared experiences. How do you integrate the ubiquitous phone and all of the technology that goes with it? Can you create a mobile strategy to support your gathered experiences? What about virtual reality?
  • Ministry may become more about “gigs” (e.g., independent workers, working non-9-to-5 hours, on a specific or limited project.) How do you cultivate long-term relationships with short-term staff or volunteers? What kinds of “gigs” might you need expertise for in your ministry?
  • Whatever you’ve “always done” won’t work anymore. Those we minister to and with are more diverse than ever, so the methods for our ministry can’t stay the same. What methodologies are out there that you’ve never tried? What do you need to learn to be more comfortable in bringing those methods to your ministry?
  • Gen Zers are interested in supporting a cause, something they are passionate about. How do you create and structure your ministry around causes that are worthy of their enthusiasm and advocacy?
  • Building strong, authentic relationships will be key. How are you helping support the volunteers and leaders in your ministry so that they are comfortable being in engaged relationships with the children, youth, and adults in your ministry?

Change is coming, so set the crystal ball aside, and start visioning today.

Going Long?

A bunch of years ago, my husband was hired to develop and grow a parish youth ministry program. He had successfully done so over a period of many years at our parish, so this offer was a challenge to which he confidently responded, “Yes.”

Eighteen months later, he was out of a job. The parish council was disappointed because the number of youth that they saw who were engaged in youth ministry had not increased enough to continue to warrant a full-time position. They downgraded the position to part-time, and he left.

McKinsey, a highly-respected, global management consulting firm, recently tackled this subject, asking the question, “Are executives too focused on the short-term?” Like for-profit companies, we need to ask a similar question, “Are parishes/dioceses/parish councils/schools too focused on the short-term?” And the related question, “What happens when we don’t take the long view?”

How true are these statistics in your situation?

  • 87% of leaders experience pressure to demonstrate numerical success in 2 years or less (e.g., increased participation numbers, more balanced budget, more volunteers)
  • 65% say short term pressure has increased over the past 5 years

In the business world, statistics show that focus on the long-term results in better performance along most metrics. How would you respond to these questions to shift that focus?

  • What do you think you could accomplish if the pressure for short-term results were lifted, you had the luxury of setting goals for 5 and even 10 years down the road, and you could dedicate your time and resources to getting there?
  • What successes do you think you could chart if you could depend on specific budget increases for the next five years (so you could do more with more rather than more with less — which is highly overrated!)?
  • How might you be able to move the parish’s/diocese’s/school’s mission forward if you could focus on the long-term rather than the short-term?
  • How would that change your relationships with parents, parishioners, volunteers, community leaders, your boss?
  • How do you advocate for this with your team and boss?

Digging in the Trenches

Since early spring, I’ve been staring at what were at one time the well-defined edges of my garden beds in frustration and dismay. Heavy spring rains washed gravel, dirt, and mulch into and through any pathway that gravity dictated. Until last weekend, those edges were only hints . . . no, shadows of lines separating grass from garden.

The early autumn temperatures got me outside last weekend with one of my favorite tools, a trench edger, to attack the bed directly outside my office window.

When this garden bed is in its full-bloom glory, it’s a wonderful, peaceful backdrop for a busy work day. But at this time of the year, the hydrangeas sag with the weight of drying flowered heads, and the hostas are ready for their annual shearing.

So, on Saturday while digging my border, I couldn’t help thinking about boundaries, and the trenches, fences, and gates that we create to keep things out, keep ourselves in, and keep the two from meeting.

In my leadership style, I think I mirror my gardening efforts. I like well-defined boundaries so that those on my team understand and feel empowered in their roles, but not constrained by a rigidity that prevents them from being creative and productive. Like the pseudo-trench around my garden bed prior to last Saturday, you would have been able to tell that there is a “line,” but perhaps not the crisp one that some might prefer.

My way of defining borders (garden or otherwise) may not be for you. You may prefer well-chiseled edges. And I must admit — there is a cost to my approach (as there is with most.) Sometimes chaos does reign.

Take my children’s choir, for example. While some might prefer that there is attentive quiet at all times except when they are singing, I’m fine with a low rumble. But we have a verbal cue that let’s them know that it’s time to be quiet and sing. It works for them. It works for me.

Autumn is a good time to reassess the boundaries that you have drawn in your work, ministry, and life. What is working for you? What isn’t? How can you strengthen the boundaries that are effective? How can you reduce the chaos in the ones that aren’t?

 

The Parable of the Talents

There is one Gospel that I dread every time it comes around in the liturgical cycle — Matthew’s parable of the 10 talents.

When it comes to this Gospel, my faith is still like that of a 6 or 10 year old. Why? Because I have always understood this Gospel quite literally. As a result, I feel the weight of judgment on my shoulders, unsure whether or not I am using my God-given talents as God expects of me. I wonder if I am the third servant who does nothing at all.

But here’s the rub.

That 10-year-old in me tends to see my talents, especially my leadership talents, as finite or limited. It’s like my golf game. I truly believe that regardless of whatever effort or change in equipment or practice, I am only ever going to be able to hit a golf ball 75 yards and no more. So why bother, right?

One of the most poignant memories I have from my teaching days was sitting in a meeting with a freshman, her mother, the principal, and two other teachers, talking about the student’s lack of educational progress. The two teachers spoke directly to the mom, and talked about her in the third person. As I listened, I watched this shy, thirteen-year-old shrink into herself as these teachers went through a litany of bad grades, failed projects, and discouraging analysis about her.

So, when it was my turn, I looked right at her, and shared the challenges that she faced in my class, but also how clear it was to me that she was capable of doing the work, and that I was willing to work with her to help achieve the passing grades that I knew she could manage.

The whole experience was sort of a revelation.

Everyone in her life had convinced her that what she could do and be was very limited — and they expected no more than that from her. They didn’t even expect her to try.

From the conversation, it was clear that the focus was on her performance. Underneath was an assumption that her abilities in the classroom were limited or finite.

However, when our eye is on learning, we tend to see the abilities of ourselves and others as malleable, grow-able, not finite.

As a leader, what limits do you put on your talents? Which boundaries might be more flexible than you believe them to be?

Then with those you minister with and serve, ask the same questions. How do your answers change the ways in which you nurture talent and leadership in others?

The “Price” of Think Time–Part 1

Has this ever happened to you?

Someone–a colleague, a parent, a teacher–calls or emails you, asking for advice. You gladly respond, spending a some time thinking through the complexity of the question, and offering a well thought out and reasoned reply that took some time, but time well spent.

Then that same person asks you for further information, and you realize that if you say “yes,” it will take you a substantial mount of time to pull together a response that you are satisfied with.

How do you put a price or value on your time in service to others?

The situation arises frequently among non-ministry professionals. And it isn’t uncommon for someone to offer advice freely and for free to the 1st question, but to the second question, ask for some compensation to reflect the value of the time the professional will spend on her response.

I’m not advocating that we charge people who come to us in a ministry setting for doing the same. This whole interaction seems very much within the range of what is expected of us as ministry leaders and professionals.

But . . .

Yes, “but.” There is a trap that ministry leaders can fall into. It is the never-ending, black-hole spiral of “yes”. And that trap comes with a price not in dollars, but often in time not spent with family, on ourselves, with our colleagues or other students/peers/program participants.

What are the limits that you set in these circumstances? How do you offer your time, but put some of it on your own terms, e.g., you can help in 2 days, but not tomorrow morning?

 

 

Dear Miss Manners . . .

Every so often, I take a peak at the “Dear Miss Manners” column in the newspaper or the etiquette letters in a ladies magazine (Real Simple is my current favorite.) I’m glad I don’t read them regularly because I would be overwhelmed by this sense that the world has totally forgotten how to give and show respect for each other.

While we can turn to someone like Miss Manners for personal and relationship etiquette, where do most people turn for professional advice?

At appears that codes of ethics are making a comeback with more and more professional associations investing time and energy in creating or revising their codes to reflect the realities of the current market and climate.

While codes of ethics are formal and largely have punitive actions attached to violations of them, there is also a basic, human “code” of interaction that I believe most people want to live and work by.

We often borrow these more informal “codes” from other places–“do unto others . . .”–and truly believe that they are so ingrained in our psyche that we don’t need to talk about them or highlight them because, “Well, everyone knows that!”

The events of the last few months especially the violence in Charlottesville and Las Vegas are a stark reminder that some lessons need to be repeated over and over and over and over . . .

A few years ago, I was in a Lenten reflection group and we were discussing Eucharist. One of the group members made a comments about how unfortunate it was that people in our parish weren’t taught more about the Eucharist.

As the “uh-huh’s” and “that’s so true’s” piled on, I had to butt in. “That’s interesting,” I said. “If I understand correctly, we teach Eucharist to the pre-K children, in second grade, in fifth grade, in seventh or eighth grade, and in high school–twice–and then we have opportunities for adults like this to explore more.” (Note: I have taught most of these grades and been the teacher for this content, so I was able to speak out from experience, not just knowledge.)

If we have to teach and teach again one of the most central beliefs of our Church this many times, why do we think we can stop teaching and learning and practicing basic rules of professional conduct?

Clearly, “Love one another as I have loved you” or “Love your enemies” were not on display in these locales. Clearly, we have forgotten some of the most foundational rules we have learned.

So, eliminate the first 5 that come to mind. Those are the obvious ones. What is number 6 or 7 or 10 or 15? What rules or codes or manners do you think we need to teach, learn, and practice to improve our ministry?

Send your answer in a comment. Let’s see what kind of list we can come up with.

 

 

Labeling Your Staff

A small confession. When I was a kid, I was teased by classmates who called me “tuberculosis” (my initials are TB.) Needless to say, I hated it.

Labels like that served no purpose, and only created tension because they communicated so little about who I really was.

So, as an adult, I found it ironic that I was drawn to various personality tests, e.g., Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, StrengthFinders. I wanted to know what my type or number or label was, and even more important, I wanted to know what yours was so I could better understand how to work with you.

Personality tests are common in the work place, especially in ministry circles. In one work setting, they proved particularly helpful as a colleague and I were continually clashing over work styles. It reached a high point, and we had a rich and informative conversation about it that led to the following process. I would ask for her advice, and she would ask me if I wanted her best answer or just an answer now.

As you can see, personality tests provide insights that we hope will help us work more effectively together. Like my experience as a child, though, labeling people, especially staff, can do more of a disservice to the relationship among people than it can help.

If you are a fan of personality tests, use them judiciously. Take what your staff or team learns about themselves and figure out what energizes and alienates them. Putting those two important pieces of information into action will have greater results than any potential label ever could.

Join Pope Francis and Support “Share the Journey”

Share the Journey #sharejourneyToday’s the big day!

Let Pope Francis and our brothers and sisters around the world know you heard the call to reach out and love your neighbors by being part of the Share the Journey campaign.

Here’s a reminder of what you can do to help build a social media wave starting tomorrow.

Simply post a photo of yourself and/or your staff reaching out to migrants and refugees (see photo example on the right) with the hashtag #ShareJourney.

Or if you prefer, post this graphic instead of a photo. Posting a photo or the graphic shows your support for migrants and refugees by recognizing the challenges they face on their journeys. And be sure to ask your family, friends, colleagues, and other networks to post and take this campaign viral.

Here are some sample posts you can adapt:

Sample Tweets

  • [Insert I’m/We’re] reaching out to migrants and refugees fleeing war, persecution and poverty. https://sharejourney.org #ShareJourney
  • [Insert I’m/We’re] loving [my/our] neighbor by reaching out to migrants & refugees. Join [me/us]. https://sharejourney.org  #ShareJourney
  • Migrants & refugees shouldn’t have to leave their homes to survive. Let’s reach out w/ love & support. https://sharejourney.org  #ShareJourney
  • Reaching out is the first step in loving neighbors fleeing war, persecution and poverty. https://sharejourney.org #ShareJourney

Sample Facebook Post

Today [Insert I’m/we’re] reaching out to show support for migrants and refugees fleeing war, gang violence, death threats, religious persecution, extreme poverty and more. Reach out and love your neighbor, too. Learn more, do more at https://sharejourney.org #ShareJourney

Sample Instagram Post

Today [Insert I’m/we’re] reaching out to show support for migrants and refugees fleeing war, gang violence, death threats, religious persecution, extreme poverty and more. Reach out and love your neighbor, too. Learn more, do more at https://sharejourney.org #ShareJourney #LoveYourNeighbor #migrant #migrants #migrantrights #migrantworkers #migrantcrisis #refugee #refugees #refugeestories #peace

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Simplemente envíe una foto de usted y/o de su personal dirigiéndose a migrantes y refugiados (vea el ejemplo de la foto a continuación) con el hashtag #ShareJourney. O si prefiere, publique este gráfico en lugar de una foto. El publicar una foto o el gráfico muestra su apoyo a los migrantes y refugiados reconociendo los desafíos que enfrentan en sus viajes. Además, asegúrese de pedir a su familia, amigos, colegas y otras redes que publiquen y hagan esta campaña viral. Estos son algunos ejemplos de mensajes:

Ejemplos de tweets

  • [Insertar: Yo estoy/Nosotros estamos/Nombre de organización está] tendiendo la mano a los migrantes y refugiados que huyen del infortunio. https://sharejourney.org/en-espanol #ShareJourney
  • [Insertar: Yo estoy/Nosotros estamos/Nombre de la organización está] amando a mi/nuestro/su prójimo al acercarme/acercarnos/acercarse a los migrantes y refugiados. Únete a [mí/nosotros]. https://sharejourney.org/en-espanol #ShareJourney
  • Los migrantes y refugiados no deberían tener que abandonar sus hogares para sobrevivir. Vamos a tender la mano con amor y apoyo. https://sharejourney.org/en-espanol #ShareJourney
  • Tender la mano es el primer paso para amar a los prójimos que huyen de la guerra, la persecución y la pobreza. https://sharejourney.org/en-espanol #ShareJourney

Ejemplo de publicación en Facebook

Hoy [Insertar: Yo estoy/Nosotros estamos/Nombre de la organización está] tendiendo la mano para mostrar mi/nuestro/su apoyo por los migrantes y refugiados que huyen de la guerra, la violencia de las pandillas, las amenazas de muerte, la persecución religiosa, la pobreza extrema y más. Tiende la mano y ama a tu prójimo también. Aprende más, haz más en https://sharejourney.org/en-espanol #ShareJourney

Ejemplo de publicación en Instagram

Hoy [Insertar: Yo estoy/Nosotros estamos/Nombre de la organización está]] tendiendo la mano para mostrar mi/nuestro/su apoyo por los migrantes y refugiados que huyen de la guerra, la violencia de las pandillas, las amenazas de muerte, la persecución religiosa, la pobreza extrema y más. Tiende la mano y ama a tu prójimo también. Aprende más, haz más en https://sharejourney.org/en-espanol #ShareJourney #migrant #migrants #migrantrights #migrantworkers #migrantcrisis #refugee #refugees #refugeestories #peace

Mind the Gap

Photo by Soroush Karimi

In my varied international travels, I’ve ridden on numerous city rail systems from Chicago’s infamous “El” to London’s Tube and including the underground systems in Prague and Beijing (love the red and green lights that indicate which stop you have passed and which stop is next!)

One of the announcements that I hear frequently is, “Mind the gap.” What? Lest I fall between the concrete platform and the train car? Really? That small space . . . Then inevitably I hear a story about someone not paying attention and doing just what you least expect, falling into the gap.

How does that happen?

It happens because we assume that the gap is harmless and not worthy of our attention. And that’s where the danger is for us a leaders.

No one leader can do everything. There are gaps. Think of the leaders you know. I’ve worked for directors who have great people skills and use them to build strong alliances and partnerships, but their “gap” is in their lack of administrative or managerial skills. And vice versa.

The successful leaders acknowledge this, and gather other people into their circle who fill the gaps. Ultimately, as a group, this team makes each of them a better leader.

Unsuccessful leaders ignore the gaps at their peril.

Think. What are 3 areas where you are not gifted or strong, perhaps, areas that could threaten the very success of your ministry?

Take a look at the people that you have surrounded yourself with — other staff and volunteers. What gifts, assets, and strengths do they bring to the table? How do they fill in the gaps that you bring? Or do they reinforce what you already possess?

Good leaders are not afraid of their gaps, and they actively look for colleagues who fill them. They aren’t afraid or threatened by those who have strengths that differ from theirs. Rather, they welcome the challenge that others bring to their leadership.