Catechist Dave Nummer leads an Order of Christian Initiation of Adults class at Immaculate Conception Parish in Ira Township, Mich., Nov. 28, 2022. (CNS photo/Daniel Meloy, Detroit Catholic)

Why Are You Afraid?

Honest evaluations are important

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As a director of faith formation, I really appreciated the month of July. I was committed to a 10-month contract with the parish. That never happened. June was dedicated to cleaning out closets and planning what needed to be done by August. It was a time for calling people to catechetical ministry, starting phone conversations: “The Holy Spirit asked me to invite you …” But July was a sacred time for me. I cleaned my home. Spring cleaning for me happened in the summer. It offered a great deal of quiet time for reflection. That reflection often included revisiting the celebration of the first sacraments that happened all during the Easter season. While there was so much joy in remembering children’s open hearts and adult choices to begin a lifetime journey of discipleship, there was also great grief. In my heart of hearts, I knew that we would probably not see at least 50% of them again. Pastors have to share this pain.

And yet, as we began the preparation journey once again, we would repeat what we had done. There might be a few tweaks, but basically there was no immense change. Our parish staff was immobilized by fear. It was the fear of evaluation, the fear of facing the truth with courage and humility. It is a lot like the practice of coming to a yellow light and closing your eyes for a second as you go through it. You do not want to see that you guessed wrong and the light turned red. It is as if not seeing will change the reality.

What makes us so afraid of reality, so afraid of the truth? Here are some possibilities. We are comfortable even when we know what we do is lacking. At least we know what must be done and how to do it. Most people, including parishioners, gain security from constancy. They do not like change. Changing, therefore, requires a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the part of the staff, who are often tired and burned-out. Yet, the biggest fear, I believe, comes from the heart. You and many of the people on your parish staff have invested most of their lives in the Church’s mission. Does the need to change mean that your life’s call to ministry, the sacrifices and efforts you have made, have been meaningless?

Good leadership demands we identify those motivators despite our fear. Leaders summon the courage to give permission to honestly evaluate and reimagine processes and programs that hopefully will be more effective. Albert Einstein remarked that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results was the definition of insanity. Are we guilty as charged?

Much like the disciples before Pentecost, we have locked ourselves in the upper room. Our upper room is our religious imagination. We are being called to deeply rely on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need the courage to begin. Evaluation requires understanding the signs of the time and meeting people where they are. Our dispositions must be rooted in reverence and wonder and awe, for both our God and his people. Our hearts, formed in knowledge of his invitation to relationship, seek wisdom. We pray for the grace to see as God sees.

Here are some questions you might consider as you evaluate your approach (the first is the most important):

Who are you asking?
What is the goal that we measure every process and program by?
What are the strategies we use to help us move toward that goal?
How will we measure the effectiveness of our efforts?
How will we support one another in facing the truth?
What are other communities doing that are showing signs of effectiveness?
What are the factors that are the challenges to our goal?

As the shepherd of your flock, you hold the privilege and responsibility of inspiring your parish leaders to meet the challenges of nurturing the faith of your parish. You are not alone in this effort. There are 2,000 years of inspiration available to you in the voices and lives that have gone before us. There are documents that speak to God’s goals and strategies! A real gift you can offer members of your staff is to take the time to discuss small sections of these writings with them. Sharing what they say to you and your ministry is a doorway into the upper room.

We must put our trust in the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary, “Do not fear. Nothing is impossible with God” — even an honest evaluation.

DR. JO ANN PARADISE is a national speaker, writer and thought leader in the field of faith formation.

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