Category Archives: Stewardship

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?

The Price of “Think” Time–Part 2

At what cost do you spend your thinking time doing — literally, just doing something, anything?

A couple of years ago, I realized that I was spending every waking hour at my desk answering emails, creating flyers, responding to someone else’s issues or concerns, and not getting any of the deep thinking that I needed to be doing.

What is “deep thinking”? For me, it is stepping back and looking at a project or program at a distance. Putting some distance between all of the pieces that I am involved with and the mission or goals of the project to examine whether or not they are going in the same direction.

It’s asking the mission question — is what I/we are doing fulfilling our mission or just filling time?

It’s wondering about how this program or project fits in with the larger strategic vision of my organization (or your parish or school or diocese). If it is, how? How are we falling short?

Is the amount of time I spend on this project commensurate with the potential good that comes out of it? If not, why and what should change?

Mondays and Fridays are my big picture think days, especially in the morning, now.

What chunk of time can you regularly carve out to do the deep thinking that your ministry really needs to thrive and sustain itself?

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?



The True Cost of Cheapness

I remember the first time I was handed a budget of more than 4 figures. It was 7 figures, and all I could think of was, “Really?!?! You really think I can manage this?”

In the years since then, effectively managing budgets of varying sizes, I’ve learned one very important lesson that is essential for ministry leaders to know. “Cheap” and “frugal” are two different things.

“Frugal” is about getting the best return on investment — the key word being “investment.” Let me give you 2 examples from my work on the Mid-Atlantic Congress (MAC).

  1. The wonderful volunteer who took complete responsibility for all of the name badges including the printing, sorting, and distribution grew increasingly frustrated with me and my cheap system the first year of the MAC. It came to a head onsite when I ended up spending the entire 3 days basically behind a computer, creating name badges and wasting scads of name badge template sheets because I only needed one badge at a time (not 6.) After the post-mortem, it was very clear that we needed a different approach and the equipment that accompanied it. So, I bought it. Second best purchase I ever made.
  2. Then there are the amazing Baltimore volunteers who spend an entire day at the O’Dwyer Retreat House sorting materials and stuffing the registration bags. First few years, we used boxes to collect the completed bags — which caused endless headaches because we didn’t have enough and they were really hard to transport. Best $1,000+ I ever spent was for 4 huge, wheeled tubs that magically hold every one of those registration bags. Not only were those volunteers happy, but the onsite registration folks were thrilled!

“Cheap” is a completely other thing.

Cheap is our usual default when budgets are small, and we try to get the most out of them. And that can work for a while — in the short-term. Like hiring a recent college graduate as the parish liturgy coordinator or youth minister. While it’s a budget-friendly move, it’s can be a very staff-unfriendly move for the person who has been hired.

Recently, I did some consulting with someone in this situation. He didn’t have many complaints because he didn’t know better, but I did. The pastor turned a full-time position into part-time, still expected the same or better results, and wasn’t paying any benefits. As a good mentor should, I pointed that out, and in the long-term, he ended up leaving the job because of the “cheapness” of the parish.

Cheap is also the line we cross sometimes in an effort to maintain quality programs. How many times have you duplicated a chapter or a published article or a handout (like “Catholic Update”) without permission or paying to do so? That’s when we cross the line of our own beliefs in social justice — the rights of workers to earn a living. That’s what “cheap” sometimes means, compromising our beliefs.

In the long-term, what does being cheap get us? Lots of staff turnover. Less experienced staff. Less impactful ministry because of the less experience. More limited relationships and higher levels of stress because of the less exp . . .  You can see where this is going.

In ministry, it rarely pays to be cheap. That’s one of the takeaways from the parable of the vinekeeper who hires workers throughout the day, then pays them the same amount. He knows what he is doing as he hires the workers, and he knows what he is getting. His “return on investment” was as he intended.

In what areas do you need to move from being cheap to being frugal, and make the longer term investment to see the return you really want?