We heard from a lot of people who were excited about our organization and wanted to know more about what we were doing, so we decided, since we're all on the same team anyway, let's just tell everyone exactly how we go about transforming a parish culture. Click here for parts one, two, and three of our series!
Having cast a vision for missionary discipleship across all elements of parish life and created a really clear "how" for the path for creating missionary disciples at a parish, we turn to the third key outcome or deliverable of our Parish Partnership.
3) BUILD AND TRAIN A STRUCTURE OF LEADERSHIP FOR THE EVANGELIZATION/DISCIPLESHIP EFFORT
Recently, a friend wrote on his Facebook wall, "To my friends in ministry, if you saw your work at your parish as a year-long consulting gig, what would you do?" I laughed because my work with parishes legitimately is a consulting gig that is about a year long. I thought for a minute and then responded that I would spend as much time as possible with a small group of individuals to train them to carry on the vision after I left. So much seems obvious right? Otherwise, the fruitfulness of your work ends when you do. You have a great year, a flash in the pan, and then all of your progress fizzles out. If others can carry the torch for you though, the effort you began can compound over time.
This is the method of Jesus. During His public ministry, he has three years to accomplish the mission that the Father has given to Him, to "set the world ablaze." In doing so, He certainly spent plenty of time teaching large crowds and doing miracles, but the brunt of His efforts, His greatest "strategy," if you will, was to train twelve guys to carry the torch forward by creating the Church. You and I, dozens of generations later, needed to hear the Gospel, and if He was going to ascend into Heaven, He needed someone to carry on the mission for Him to make sure that we did.
The reality is, the work of instituting a culture change at a parish is going to be grueling and take place over a span of years. There needs to be a resilient, supportive, and balanced leadership structure in place to save any one individual from burning out and taking the whole initiative down with him/her.
For us, the leadership structure that we create is simple. It looks like:
The pastor has to drive any initiative toward evangelization and discipleship at the parish. The first reason is practical and obvious: people look to the pastor for leadership. If an effort toward discipleship is happening without the pastor as the primary driver, it will be seen as a fringe movement within the parish, not an entirely new vision for what it means to be a Catholic parish. The second reason is spiritual; the authority given to pastor's as spiritual Father of their parish is no joke. The Church's hierarchical structure was not something invented by some old guys in Rome during the Dark Ages; it was instituted by Christ. Those in positions of authority in the Church are given real spiritual authority over that which is within their purview. For these reasons, and, honestly, a thousand more, any real renewal has to begin with the pastor.
However, the key person for executing and overseeing this disciple making initiative day in and day out cannot be the pastor. Between administrative, sacramental, and pastoral demands, most pastors simply do not have the bandwidth to get down in the weeds of what is going to be served for dinner at Alpha that night, nor should they. Frankly, it would be poor management for a pastor to NOT delegate much of this vision to someone else. A pastor simply cannot be responsible for the execution of everything that actually goes into evangelizing a parish. He'll either drop the ball or burn out.
This is why we ask the parish to assign a point person, preferably someone who is already a full-time staff person at the parish, who is our key contact at the parish and who serves as the uplink between the evangelization team, responsible for the tactical achievement of the mission and the pastor, responsible for the strategic oversight.
Lastly, to similarly save the point person from burnout as well, and to help more people at the parish grab hold of their missional calling as a lay person, we craft, recruit, and form an evangelization team. Note: I did not say an evangelization "committee." Committee's discuss issues. Teams get active about solving problems. The members of the evangelization team are further and even more intimately responsible than the point person for overseeing one aspect of the Win, Build, and Send steps of the pastoral strategy and ensuring that they are being pulled off to highest quality. This team commits to meeting together monthly in addition to leading in their areas of responsibility and will be formed in a missional vision at each meeting and will participate in opportunities to pray meaningfully.
One thing we have not touched on yet in renewing a parish through an emphasis on discipleship is the value and importance of intercessory prayer. A key facet of that evangelization team is to have someone in charge of an intercessory prayer initiative. I like to say that intercessory prayer is the flame for the hot air balloon. Anywhere we get in terms of Kingdom breakthrough is a direct result of the backbone of prayer that is being applied to specific initiatives toward evangelization. One parish we are working with has set up a monthly night of intercessory prayer in the parish for renewal of their community. That is the definition of setting yourself up for fruitfulness!
The goal, here, with all of this, is long-term fruitfulness. Allowing God to work like an underwater river, slowly, over time, carving away a space for the Holy Spirit to work wonders in your parish. Forming disciples cannot be the next big buzz word in parish life. It is the perennial mission of the Church. A steady leadership team can help beat the steady drum of discipleship in your parish long after the initial enthusiasm of something big, shiny, exciting, and new has worn off.