Category Archives: MAC Logistics

Balancing Tradition with Innovation

Churches like many institutions is naturally conservative, i.e., averse to change, desiring what is to remain as it is.

The constantly changing cultural environment in which we live poses many challenges to that conservatism. We face issues in the last 10 years that were unheard of in the last 100, e.g., same-sex marriage, how we interact with and support transgender people.

So, innovation can be seen as a scary threat around which some Church leaders “marshall the troops” and keep any–and every–change out.

Innovation and tradition can be complementary companions when approached in the right way. (The following are adaptations for ministry from a business article by Dr. Waguih Ishak in an online article from McKinsey & Company.)

Regardless of your role–pastor, DRE, teacher, diocesan director, choir director–we are all in a position to foster an environment of creativity in the planning, development, and implementation of our ministries. Here are a few ideas on how to do it.

Practice ‘Innovation Parenting’

  • Give your key volunteers the problem and let them solve it in their own way and time. Give them the important guidelines like budget and timeline, then let them go. This will take work off your plate and build your delegating skills.
  • Invite input from those you are least likely to involve, e.g, teens or grandparents for help with your elementary religious education program.

Bust Hierarchy

  • Don’t let the formal roles in your environment keep you from saying “yes” when someone comes to you with a unique idea that just doesn’t obviously fit in with your plans.
  • Create a work group of some of your biggest and most honest critics, and ask them to brainstorm ideas on how to fix the very problems they have identified.

Encourage the Unreasonable

  • It’s easy to say, “We’ve always done it this way,” so make a rule and ban that kind of thinking.
  • Put “old ways” under a really detailed microscope and explore the most reasonable and most unreasonable way your could change it or do it differently. Somewhere in that conversation, you will find ideas that both surprise and please you.
  • Set concrete goals for . . . registration, recruitment . . . beyond anything you think you can achieve — then foster the truly unreasonable things that you might have to do to get there.

Don’t Die of Indigestion

  • Don’t take on too much yourself. Innovation and creativity take up a lot of energy, energy that can be easily displaced by all of the other things you think you have to do.
  • Don’t take up too many new or creative ideas. Pace is everything. Do one thing really well and give it a really good chance for success.

Cultivate External Relationships

  • Get the broader community involved. Local business or other churches may have expertise in an area in which you are working.
  • Pair up with a neighboring parish. Two is better than one (and three is better than two!) If your goal is what you have in common, e.g., growing a strong youth ministry, collaborate instead of competing.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers!

Tax Day only serves to remind us that so much of our work and life is made up of numbers. For example, I have a small notepad in my car on which I track my mileage for both business and charitable purposes. It’s just a series of numbers–dates and 5-digit numbers–that translate into something else, deductions. Another number.

In this era of “big data,” here’s the question: What are the numbers that tell the story of your success? Your failure?

  • 21 = years in Catholic schools (from primary through graduate schools)
  • 2 = marriages (one failed, one very successful!)
  • 540 = students I taught in 4 years of high school religion classes
  • 2 = qualifying exams I failed (AP German and the LSAT)
  • 7,815 = days living in my current hometown

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. But numbers only tell a first-level story. Take a look at my “21.” In that number are a bunch of stories each with meaning and purpose–a grade I loved and hated at the same time, 18 months in public school that I’d prefer to forget, 4 years at the only high school I wanted to attend and loved, 4 years at a University I never expected I’d cherish, then 2 graduate degrees–one that took 7 years of “a class here, a class there” and the other that was 20 months of intensive work. Each segment a very different story. Each story contributed in a unique way to who I have become.

For those of you have attended the Mid-Atlantic Congress, you may have completed one of our Congress evaluations and noticed that we ask our questions in a very specific way–we ask about your expectations and your level of satisfaction.

In the end, isn’t that what we really want to know? We want to know how well we fulfilled the expectations that were set. The key is setting the expectations to begin with.

If you’re largely evaluating your ministry based on numbers–how many children in religious education, how many confirmations, how many parishioners–try adding a few other criteria to your list. What are the five things you want each child in each grade to know at the end of the year and how are you going to measure that? What ministries or leadership roles do you expect your confirmandi to take on once they have completed the sacrament? Who welcomes each new parishioner and how many times does the parish make contact in that first year?

Numbers are, after all, just numbers. Until we assign them meaning. Without meaning, they are just numbers.

Pray for Peace in Syria Tomorrow

syriaprayerOn October 31, Pope Francis will be saying a prayer for peace in Syria at 3 PM in Sweden. Caritas International is asking all to encourage prayer around the world at that time (9 AM ET) or at 3 PM local time–or any time that works.

Here are links to the prayer and the campaign website.

Here are other resources to help us understand the impact of the refugee crisis in human terms from Catholic Relief Services.

 amira Holy Family in Midst of Refugee Crisis

Watch the latest from the front lines of CRS’ response to the refugee crisis in Europe, and hear about a special family CRS teams met along the way.


 refugee-children Supporting Syrian Refugee Children Through Education

Since the start of the Syrian conflict 5 years ago, more than 4.2 million refugees have fled to the Middle East. More than half of them are children. In Jordan…


 greece Greece | Embracing Refugees In a Time of Crisis

In just the first few months of 2016, more than 150,000 refugees and economic migrants had already arrived on Greek shores. Throughout the Balkans, CRS and o…

The Rules: Important Words

fenceOne of the most stressful parts of a new job for me has always been learning the “rules” of how the office works, how people interact, what is expected of me, and what I should expect of others.

One boss I had did our entire staff the great favor of inviting a consultant in, and teaching us a set of rules to work by. They weren’t magic words, but when adhered to, they eliminated some potential landmines, reduced tensions, and made it possible to work through conflicts.

This post is one of a series of posts featuring each rule.

Rule #1: Agree on what important words mean.

A word like “rules.” Is a rule only in writing or can they be “unwritten”? I once worked in an office where the unwritten rule was to never question when the supervisor arrived at work even though it was often hours after everyone else.

An important tool in discovering what the important words are is to listen carefully to how colleagues phrase questions and even what they complain about.

A friend and colleague taught me a lot about the first. I had pulled together the text for a resource, and had gotten to the point where I was no longer a good judge of how good or bad it was or what was highlighted well and what was missing. So, I asked, “Can you give me some feedback on this now?” as I extended a printed copy to her.

Her response was fabulous! “Do you want whatever I can tell you now or do you want my best response?” She taught me about how important it is to be specific, especially in my questions.

Same office, different colleague on complaints. “It isn’t perfect.” Surely something we have all heard ourselves say as some point in time. At that point in time, striving for perfection was slowly killing us, partly because we all had slightly different definitions of. Me? I’m good with anywhere between 95-98% perfect. Not so my colleagues.

After a brief discussion, we arrived at a new and common definition of “perfection.” We decided that we were striving for excellence, not perfection, and recognized what some of the boundaries are around achieving excellence.

So, what key words are essential in the culture of your office? What do you think they mean? What else could they mean?


Ties That Bind

DallasOne of the advantages of working from home is that when major news events happen, I have the freedom to be present when they are live.

The interfaith memorial service for the 5 men who died in Dallas last Thursday was one of those such occasions.

President Obama’s reflection repeated the phrase, “We know this . . . ”

As a leader, he reminded us all that we only know the experience of others when we have empathy, when we can stand in the feet of another. It is that ability that binds us to each other and ultimately allows us to hope — to hope with our God who assures us He will be with us in all of the highs and lows of our lives.