On 18-19 October, 2017, Father James Mallon and members of the team from Saint Benedict Parish, Halifax, Canada came to London to explore key themes such as leadership, parish culture, forming missionary disciples, effective communication and developing parish teams. The conference looked at bringing a renewed life to parishes. Attendees felt inspired, equipped and empowered after the conference to bring transformation to their own parish.
Father James Mallon is the author of the book: Divine Renovation: from a maintenance to a missional parish. The book is about parish renewal and how to bring a parish to life. Mallon proposes us to rethink the model of parish life, from a membership-based communities to assemblies of disciples of Jesus who proclaim and share the good news with all people.
Father James started the conference talking about vision and mission. Vision begins in the heart of a leader. We need to choose a vision and be unafraid if that vision attracts or repels people. Bill Hybels said that a good vision is a picture of the future that creates passion within us. This vision can be a dream or picture and should be communicated to others. We need to be for winning people over and have a plan for renewal and then execute it.
There is a passion problem in the Church, from which there are casualties. Jesus ministry was with compassion and felt in the guts. If we are not feeling it, we are never going to be leading it. There is no such thing as a dispassionate leader. There needs to be fire in the bones. Today there is a sickness in the Church of self referential behaviour and also an absence of action from men once passionate. The lack of passion is lack of vision. Hope undergirds passion.
Many people have experienced lost hope. This has come with defeatism, disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses” and those uninterested and apathetic. Rejection has lead to an orphan spirit in the Church. There has been no answer to decline in the Church. Hurt has led to gossip and detraction. Churches that have accommodated with the world are in big decline. Others experience fatigue and exhaustion. Disillusionment can remove illusions and cynicism can lead to hardness of heart and contempt. We need to be disturbed and shaken from our complacency.
We can restore hope to our parishes. It is actually possible for a parish to be renewed. Picasso said that good artist copy and great artists steal. He has seen hope in own reality. Jesus tells us he heals the broken hearted, gives us ret, is the light of the world, come and see and that our hearts burnt within us.
Divine Renovation is about a set of values, truly lived. It is about understanding the why behind it. Healthy things grow and bear fruit. God desires renewal which we can do. God is waiting for us to change, and it is not just down to God. We need to be overwhelmed by God and underwhelmed by the Divine Renovation tea. We need to grow disciples. We need vision individually, collectively and for our parish for community and discipleship. There are also dangers. We need invitational parishes. Vision is the horse and the passion is the cart.
Parish Leadership Teams
Answering the call to leadership requires a courageous act of leadership on the part of the parish priest. He cannot do this alone. A structure is needed to surround the Priest. This is one of the tasks of a Priest. There is no such thing as a well rounded person but there is a well rounded team. Sometimes in his ministry, Fr Mallon unintentionally hurt people. He was oblivious to that. He needed a team willing to speak the truth and not be of the ‘yes father’ variety. A senior leadership team was needed to make tactical decisions. They need to meet once a week for 2-4 hours in a team of 4-6 people.
Patrick Lancioni writes wonderful books on teams such as: the 5 dysfunctions of a team, death by meeting, the advantage, the better pastor and ideal team player.
The 4 non-negotiable of a leadership team are unanimity of vision, balance of strengths, healthy conflict and trust and vulnerability. Myers Briggs and birkmann method can help find balance of strengths. You can’t fake passion. With healthy conflict and trust you help pastor make best decisions, give people permission and bring self awareness with enquiry and advocacy. You can’t gather people around you for political decisions otherwise people disengage.
As a leader, you get the people you deserve. Many Priests were trained for Jerusalem, not Babylon. Many Priests spent too long on all other responsibility, and too little time leading as their time is disproportionately spent on administration.
In Jesus’ mission, he had Peter, James and John, 12 disciples, an entourage, 72 others, the Disciples and crowds. This is a reference for divine renovation.
Alpha involves a meal, a talk and a small group discussion. Alpha is about kerygma and encounter. The Church exists to evangelise. An alpha culture in the Church can be transformational. The youth film series of Alpha is excellent.
Who are you apprenticing? Priests are to govern, sanctify and preach. Leadership is about influencing, inspiring and equipping individual teams to form disciples to live out mission of Jesus Christ. Clarity is huge because it answers the question why. Give yourself permission to dream when thinking about vision. God expects us to bear fruit. It is easy to get busy doing Church stuff. What does success look life? One survey said 50% of Churches did not increase their congregation by a single new person. Rick Warren says a great Church is about making disciples with the Great Commission. So many people have not experienced God. They might practice a form of religion, but it does not have life transforming power.
We should measure things that matter and we can’t improve without measuring. Behind every number is a name. We should ask how many disciples we have made and intentionally make and form disciples.
We need to lead by leading (not doing). Leading involves raising up others as we are not scalable. We need to find the kind of people where one unit of energy, people can get you 5 units of return. We need people who have the capacity to influence others. We need to find ways we can impact and influence others. We need to care about people and let go of the things I like to do and invest in people to raise them up to do ministry directly. We should empower others. Leadership done well allows all other gifts to flourish.
Peter Drucker says that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is about what we reward and what we tolerate. Little things can undermine the big things. The fools choice is that either you speak the truth or maintain the relationship. We should lead with vision, bearing fruit, by leading (not doing), within a team with a healthy culture.
The Unread Chapter
Leaders keep learning. The Divine renovation book is a theological pastoral proposition but the guidebook is more of an aid. There are three phases of renewal. When you leave, when you can’t see the departed shore or land yet, and when you see new land again. Maintenance is about not maintaining the building but maintaining the flock. The momentum of cultural transformation can help establish evangelisation and discipleship as normal. At one point they had 90 different faith formation programmes happening in the parish. This led to bad health and people burnt out and they were blind to the consequences. They tuned their systems for mission and were living it.
The three ables of ministry are sustainable, scalable and transferable. Parish renewal is a marathon not a sprint. Most pastors overestimate what can be done in 3 years and underestimate what can be done in 10 years. Ministry is about intentionally raising up others.
At times we need process not programs. Chaos can bee good and sometimes less is more. We can be killed by good ideas. Programs are unimportant when there is a culture of discipleship.
When Kate Robinson started at the parish, there was no communication strategy and she was not sure about the vision. Have a vision for your parish. Write it down. Share it widely, intentionally and frequently and with preaching and bulletin boards. We should look at all our communications through the lens of the non-Churched. You should explain the why behind the changes you bring. You should have stories to tell about ministry.
Changes were needed and resistance is where the rubber hits the road. You should bring people along with the vision and share the vision with as many people as possible. People who leave aren’t ready for this. Bulletins were handed on the way out, not the way in. Liturgy of the word were proposed for funerals and a lay team were called to deal with funerals. We did not let angry or upset people take the parish off course. Some ministries were not continued. With communications, sharing stories of living the mission of Jesus Christ were important. Communications were ordered around helping people encounter Jesus Christ and his Church. If something was not fulfilling its purpose why bother? A visionary homily was preached once a month.
New Pentecost, New Parish
We should dream for that hope. The mystery of God in us, the life of race and person of Holy Spirit. A central premise of the Christian faith is God with us, God in us. So often we live the Christian life as God with us, not God in us. The life of the spirit is a bit of a mystery. Some never heard there is a holy spirit. We often don’t pray to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we try and do things under our own power and own strength. Luke 24:49 says, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
We need to experience God’s love and long for it. In Acts 10 with Cornelius the Centurion they experience the spirit of God.
We need to be moved emotionally, often we cut off the affective side of spirituality. We are afraid of emotionalism and instead show emtional-less-ism. We have suspicion of experience. But people in society crave it. Many work from a classical mindset, but postmodern people don’t ask if it is true, they don’t care, they only want to know if it works and will it add something to my life. The world craves experience. We are fearful of experience and prefer influence by idealism. We should be let go of self consciousness, and with prayer from the heart meet God in childlike abandonment.