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Simplify Your Schedule

Focusing on essentials and empowering others

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When I arrived at my parish, the expectation was that the pastor does everything, from unlocking the front doors on Sunday mornings to changing the toilet paper in the men’s room (I’m not sure who took care of the ladies’ room). Furthermore, my presence was absolutely expected and, in fact, demanded at absolutely everything that happened here. The thought was, if Father didn’t come to the event, then it wasn’t an authentic gathering in some way.

If the pastor is a one-man show, it ensures the parish will not grow beyond his availability, capabilities and talents. In this scenario, the pastor is like a lid inhibiting growth in discipleship among the parishioners. When we priests don’t allow and empower parishioners to serve the church, represent the church and be the church, we prevent them from taking an important step in discipleship.

I very deliberately don’t do a lot of things other pastors do, and sometimes am criticized for it. My simple reason is that the parishioners should be growing in their faith by serving one another. Ephesians 4:12 teaches that God gives pastors the responsibility to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry.” That means I don’t greet people at the front door before Mass, I don’t answer visitors’ questions in the lobby, and, unless requested, I don’t visit the sick … “the holy ones” do.

My staff can attest to the fact that I have plenty of weaknesses when it comes to running a parish. In more recent years I have worked hard to stay in the zone of my strengths and delegate weaknesses. There are many things I am responsible for but not good at. I am responsible for the finances of our parish, but I am not good with numbers. So I trust them to our business manager, Brandon, and our very wise financial council.

Whenever possible, I stick to what I can do that I alone can do, which is celebrating the sacraments, preaching at weekend Masses, leading our stewardship efforts, leading our parish staff, raising up member ministers and managing our relationship with the archdiocese. These aren’t the only things I do, but they are the most essential.

What about everything else that happens at a parish? The list of other parish functions and programs is lengthy: faith formation, music ministry, hospitality, facilities management, communications and various forms of pastoral care. But what is true about each of these is that they each can be done by someone other than the pastor.

There are a few key strategies that I’ve found which make it easier for pastors and associates to delegate nonessential responsibilities.

First, very deliberately set a culture that guides and inspires people to step into service and empowers them to serve. Parish growth becomes limited when lay staff and volunteers become stuck waiting on an answer to the question, “How does Father want it done?” One way to do this is to create and communicate specific values that uniquely reflect your parish community. For example, at our parish, we have communicated the value of simple. Parish staff and key volunteers know that when presented with choices on how to proceed in some project or interaction with guests, they should pick the simplest way forward, all other outcomes being equal.

Second, focus your attention on getting the right people in key roles. I spend a large amount of time focused on finding smart, reliable leaders and keeping them on board. This starts with the parish staff, for whom I am responsible for hiring. But it also includes key volunteers who keep programs running and are the public face of the parish on the weekend.

Third, take time for yourself. Make sure you put on the calendar the good you can do for yourself. No one else can set aside time for quiet time and prayer time for you. No one else can rest and relax for you. But here’s the important part: You need to set real boundaries around your time of rest. That might mean you build a weekly day off into your schedule and physically get away from the parish. It might mean that you leave your computer (and even your phone) in the office when you go home each night. Making boundaries around your time of rest isn’t selfish, it enables you to take better care of your parishioners.

When you get these three things right, it should be easier to simplify your schedule and, in the process, take the lid off the spiritual health and growth of your parish.

FATHER MICHAEL WHITE is pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, and co-author of “Rebuilt” ($17.95) and a book on church financing, “ChurchMoney” (both from Ave Maria Press, $16.95).

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