<![CDATA[Pastoral Quotient - Blog]]>Fri, 29 Sep 2017 10:33:41 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[The Mighty Steubenville! Catch the Fire!]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 07:00:00 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/the-mighty-steubenville-catch-the-fire"Today I would like to extend this invitation to everyone: Let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; let us be aware again of our baptism and our confirmation, sources of grace that are always present. Let us ask the Virgin Mary to obtain a renewed Pentecost for the church again today, a Pentecost that will spread in everyone the joy of living and witnessing to the Gospel! 

       - Pope Benedict, Regina Caeli Message, Pentecost Sunday, May 11 2008
Two priests reflect on their experience at the 2017 Steubenville Priest Retreat
The iconic Christ the King Chapel
Fr Charles:

When I arrived on campus at FUS on a hot August day in 1991, I was a clueless eighteen year old whose main ambition was to be the best guitar player on campus. But God had other plans, and the next four years would set me on a blessed trajectory I could never have imagined. 

So for me, returning to campus for the priest retreat all these years later had special significance. 

The priest/Deacon/seminarian conference was the first of the summer conferences started by Fr Mike Scanlon after his baptism in the Holy Spirit began to renew his life and ministry as President of FUS. Though numbers have dwindled in recent years, the 135 or so men who participated experienced robust worship and powerful prayer supplemented by solid presentations.

Much emphasis was on the fiftieth anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic renewal, which began at nearby Duquesne University.  It was from this powerful outbreak of the Holy Spirit that  Fr Scanlon received his anointing to lead FUS to help fulfill God's big plans that have led to such abundant fruit. 

We were blessed to have 'patient zero' tell the story of what happened those fifty years ago. Patti Mansfield, fresh from the anniversary celebration at St Peter's with Pope Francis on Pentecost Eve, spoke of her powerful experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit as a young college student and being on the ground floor of the new current of grace that began flowing into the church and world as a result.

Best of all, Patti led us in prayer as we opened ourselves to receive similar graces and carry on God's saving work in our own lives and ministry.

Fr Dave Pavonka, heir apparent to Fr Mike's evangelical legacy, did a great job as the host and frequent speaker. 


What most impressed me was the clarity and strength of the insistent proposal of baptism of the Spirit, which 'makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation.' (Fr Cantalamessa) While it's not a sacrament, it's a biblical concept and it helps unbind and fully release the graces of the other sacraments, especially baptism. 

Before the evangelizing church, there was Pentecost. In a similar way today, before we can have a new evangelization, we need a new Pentecost. Baptism of the Holy Spirit facilitates this  new Pentecost on a personal level, helping people experience the love of God in Jesus Christ in powerful new ways. 

The Spirit is a person whom we must get to know more intimately if His guidance and accompaniment are to be fully experienced. This is why the retreat speakers, following the lead of Pope Francis, so strongly encouraged us to both experience and promote Life in the Spirit seminars culminating in baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Along with the pleasant nostalgia I got from being back at the place so influential on my life and ministry, I loved the prolonged unabashed worship with my brothers. I appreciated the energy of so many Kingdom-hungry men of God coming together to seek renewal in His name. I enjoyed the many conversations with brother priests who displayed unusual authenticity and willingness to be vulnerable and real with one another. Most of all, I felt the energy that hope brings as new possibilities and dreams re-awakened within me.

Another realization I had was seeing the debt I owe to Fr Mike Scanlon. Although I rarely interacted with him personally, I can look at my life now as a forty-three year old and see just what a spiritual son I really am to this great man of God. The retreat theme was from 2 Tim 1:6-7: 'Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.' As Paul spoke these words to Timothy, I felt like Fr Mike was now saying them to me. 

​Finally, taking the road trip and sharing the retreat with my great friend Fr Anthony enhanced the experience exponentially. We had so much fun laughing, complaining, sharing dreams and struggles, and just taking in all the wonderful things God is doing in our lives!
Fr Anthony Co:

Last week was my first time attending the Steubenville clergy retreat and I was not disappointed.  Fr. Charles Klamut and I immediately hit the road after our last Masses on Sunday from the Quad Cities to Ohio. We had a great time talking about life, laughing, and praying in the car.  

One thing I asked him somewhere in Indiana was: How would you summarize your spirituality? His relationship with Jesus includes the 'white man's rap' that is his indie folk music, a desire to live out apostolic vision and strategy, and a love of meeting Jesus in Eucharistic contemplation.  He then ask me about mine. I'm an ADHD kid that is rooted in the lives (and methods) of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Luigi Giussani, and St. Philip Neri.

St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, offered concrete practical methods of meditation and discernment, was a true man (a fighter and adventurer), and a decisive visionary. 

Monsignor Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation, focused his attention on looking for and inviting the encounter with Jesus.  Like Socrates, he questioned everything but always in the context of friendship and in view of the infinite needs and desires of the human heart. He always looked for the question that comes before the question we are pondering. 

St. Philip, the Apostle of Joy, loved the Scriptures and desert Fathers, was rooted in play and holy laughter, was hyper Sacramental, and wanted nothing more for his disciples than to enjoy their own second Pentecost. 

This soupy mess of a spirituality isn't something I chose but is an expression of the weird bits and pieces that make up Fr. Anthony Co.  In daily life it looks like me going to Confession once or more a week (Philip Neri) and then trying on a chicken suit (Go ADHD!) to do a promotional video to get people to go themselves.  At a Steubenville retreat it looks like me bebopping around as I worship Jesus. One might think the circus left me behind when they passed through Peoria.  

The point of all this is that we only know we belong to God when we learn to worship him with complete abandon.  I know deep within my heart that Jesus gets me, I have a place, and I'm not alone. But I only came to know this after having deep and profound encounters with Him. 

In the Charismatic circles (25% of all Christians) this encounter is called being 'baptized in the Holy Spirit.' Pope Francis defines this baptism as a 'personal encounter with Jesus that changes our lives.'  It starts with inviting the Holy Spirit to stir up our Sacramental graces.  

Baptism of the Holy Spirit isn't a "charismatic thing.'  It's a Catholic thing, a Holy Scripture thing. It's at the heart of the New Evangelization and echoed by our last popes.  And, frankly, there is no 'New Evangelization' without a new Pentecost.  All new missions require a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to equip us for it. This is why the Blessed Virgin Mary needed the first Pentecost to carry out her mission to be the mother of all.  

So have you been baptized in the Spirit? Can you worship with great freedom like David did dancing before the Ark?  Are you  easily able to tell others that you love Jesus? And are you able to tell others that you love them?  

So that's what I saw at my first Catholic Charismatic retreat.  135 men willing to worship with complete abandon. They were men who could be vulnerable to each other about their struggles and dreams.  All of them, while uniquely different and with varying degrees of complexity in their lives, were able to call out aloud:  'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit I want more of you!' 

It's time for us to be baptized in the Spirit. Not just once or twice but over and over again.  Find a Life in the Spirit Seminar or something like it. In your time of prayer keep praying: 'Come Holy Spirit, come Holy Spirit, come Holy Spirit...' Or if you like: 'Hey, I know you're in there somewhere! Come on out, friend!'  Then get ready for some fun.

<![CDATA[Holiness and Maturity]]>Mon, 08 May 2017 15:55:04 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/holiness-and-maturityDoes our understanding of "holiness" include missional maturity?
​Or has it been reduced by a culture of individualism?

Maturity. It’s defined as 1) the state of being mature; ripeness: the fruit will reach maturity in a few days; 2) full development; perfected condition: maturity of judgment; to bring a plan to maturity.

What does Christian maturity look like?  And is it the same as holiness? And why does it sometimes seem that, while holiness is often talked about and consciously sought in church, maturity is not?

The reason I ask is because it’s becoming increasingly clear that to fulfill the dream of a “missionary option capable of transforming everything” (Evangelii Gaudium #27) requires a level of Christian maturity that is rarely found - or even valued - amongst Catholics.

I remember once hearing in my college days at Franciscan University that the sign of a mature Christian church is that it produces missionaries. While I can say I know many people in church whom I would consider very holy, I know very few who are mature missionary disciples. And I’m trying to figure out: why is that? Because if we can figure it out, maybe we can change.

Holiness is a given, and just about every Catholic I know acknowledges the mandate to pursue it. For most, holiness includes prayer, detachment from sin and growth in virtue, robust sacramental life, intellectual formation, and general love of neighbor.

Which is great. But…if holiness literally means being “like God,” what about missionary discipleship? God is missional by nature: the Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Spirit; the disciples are sent by the sending God to continue the saving mission on earth. If holiness means the perfection of charity and  being more and more like God, won’t this naturally include mission?

"If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: 'Give them something to eat.'
(Evangelii Gaudium #49)
Christ had a burning heart for the lost, and his last words on earth were a missionary mandate to “go and make disciples.” If holiness is growing ever more intimately united with Jesus, won’t this naturally include sharing his heart for the lost and an eagerness to, in fact, go and make disciples?

'Holiness' has been affected by cultural reductions of individualism, and has become separated from mission. Perhaps it’s another symptom of the “ecclesial introversion” (Evangelii Gaudium #27) that makes us too inward-focused, but I don’t know if I have ever once heard a Catholic sacramentally confess that they have neglected the Great Commission, or have no heart for the lost. It just isn’t part of the general Catholic conscience. Perhaps this is why so many Catholics I know scratch their heads, neglect, or just plain ignore the constant insistence of Pope Francis that to be a serious Catholic means becoming a missionary disciple. 

I could go through a whole list of Scriptures and official church teachings to demonstrate there is no true holiness without maturity, and that maturity means missionary discipleship. Heck, I could just quote the entire first chapter of “The Joy of the Gospel.”

But what I would rather do is suggest, or perhaps even insist, that we revisit our categories to make sure that when we talk about holiness, we do not fool ourselves into thinking it can truly exist without maturity, and that means mission…which leads us into the discussion of growing in missional competencies. But that is a whole other subject...
Related: Five-Part Series on Competencies of a Missionary Disciple
1) Telling Your Story
2) Telling the Jesus Story
3) Encouraging
4) Accompanying
<![CDATA[Grace-ful Storytelling]]>Fri, 14 Apr 2017 14:50:08 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/grace-ful-storytellingPicture
 Ask a vegan, crossfitter, or atheist - or any other opt-in    
 community member - why they love their tribe, and chances
 are you will hear enthusiastic stories and articulate responses.

 Ask a Catholic why they are Catholic and… well, let’s just
 say you are likely to hear something less enthusiastic and
 articulate. Especially younger Catholics.

 Why are there so often compelling narratives and
​ experiences behind the former, and not the latter?

And it's not just the big picture question of 'Why are you a Catholic?' If you ask, 'So, where has God been showing up in your life lately,' you are likely to meet with greater puzzlement and confusion. It's just not the way we think. At least the first question can draw on cultural factors and ideological formulations. The second question implies an active and intervening God, and that is unfortunately not the God many Catholics know.

Understanding and articulating one’s own story is a basic mark of emotional intelligence and a mature, healthy, self-aware adulthood. Today, when so many narratives impose themselves and compete for our identity, the old saying has never been more relevant: if we don’t tell our story, someone else will tell it for us. 

This includes one’s faith story. 'Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you.' (1 Pet 3:15) The Scriptures command us to 'make known His deeds among the peoples” and “tell of all his wondrous works.' (1 Chron 16:9)  Telling the wonders God has done for us, telling our  grace stories, is is a key competency of a missionary disciple. Unfortunately, while the need has never been greater, there has been precious little guidance offered to believers on how to do this well. 

Thankfully, that is changing, thanks to resources like “Witness: Learning to Tell the Stories of Grace That Illumine our Lives.”

Leonard DeLorenzo is a theology professor and director of Notre Dame Vision, a program which helps youth and young adults tell their faith stories and find their vocations. He is trying to provide a key piece of the evangelistic puzzle long missing in Catholic circles - the art of telling the stories of grace that define one’s identity as a disciple and child of God.

The Context

DeLorenzo does a good job of first describing the contemporary context which has made it so rare to see Catholics effectively tell stories of grace. He draws on the work of his Notre Dame colleague Christian Smith, which finally identifies the default religious identity of Catholic emerging adults as “moralistic therapeutic Deism.”  Meaning, God is not personally involved in the workings of the world; if roused, he may show up once in awhile to help solve a problem or give moral values, but otherwise he is silent and does not intervene.

This is not the biblical God, and this unfortunate default posture has become “the only Christianity they know.” In a way, it’s worse than unbelief, because it mimics true faith but ultimately neuters it. As a result of MTD, “the majority of former Catholic young adults are not migrating to atheism but rather something more like apathy or disenchantment.”

The author pushes back, insisting that formative adults have a responsibility to assist young Catholics here in a way that goes beyond mere doctrine. While we demand much of teens in the realm of scientific knowledge, when it comes to faith we baby them.  DeLorenzo quotes Smith on the alarming inability of young Catholics to speak articulately about their faith, then says:

“We seek precision with science; we move from theory to experiment, verification, and reporting; and we pass on ideals that uphold the value of this level of accountability. All too often with religious knowledge, we seek not to judge, no to demand too much, and not to question our own or others’ experiences, and we allow for vague statements and imprecise accounts to go virtually unchecked…We ask too little of those we educate and form - and, quite frankly, of ourselves - when it comes to religious knowledge. Abstractions, vagaries, platitudes, and generalities pass as satisfactory this realm, but we would never allow these to pass where scientific knowledge is concerned.”
'He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.' (Jn 9:15)
Antidote: Storytelling

Here is where the specificity of story comes in. “Grace deals with the revolution of the ordinary, and storytelling concerns the whole person moving from the abstract to the concrete.” During the crucial teen years of identity exploration, “the embrace of the mystery of grace through the practice of storytelling promises a challenging, rewarding, and very real way to renew and strengthen the efforts of the new evangelization.”

I love how DeLorenzo’s book emerges from fifteen years of practical, hands-on experience. He came to realize that if the college kids witnessing to high school kids at VISION conferences were to be effective, they had to be able to tell stories of grace effectively and compellingly. This led to an increasingly refined process of training. The rest of the book, then, details the seven principles for crafting and sharing stories of grace “in order to highlight the concreteness of the beauty they perceive.”
The Principles

1) Tell it as a story
2) Begin with what happened
3) Express it in style
4) Modify it for your audience
5) Ensure there is sufficient closure
6) Embrace natural emotions
7) Pray and practice

​After briefly describing the principles, the book offers examples of such stories, then ends with tips on how to incorporate these principles into parish life, service, and teaching.

I would love to chat with the author to hear more, and perhaps to see his story-tellers in action. He is addressing what may be the missing link in our evangelizing and catechizing efforts towards the young. 

Final Thoughts

It's been said that 'the devil is in the details.' Not true. God is in the details; the devil is in the abstractions. By learning to pay attention to the graced details of our lives, and tell them with style and joy, we come to recognize and proclaim the active God who shows up nowhere but in the concrete particularity of the details. 

DeLorenzo is really onto something in identifying the practice of storytelling as a major lacuna in Catholic formation today. His proposal involves a major thought shift away from ideology and towards experience. It's a subversive challenge to the common mentality, and therefore will be no easy task.

This book makes a solid case for learning to tell stories of grace, and lays out coherent principles for doing so. As a working pastor, my concern is finding: a) people interested in learning to tell their stories; b) a team of trainers to do it well. I wonder if DeLorenzo and a few colleagues might do workshops with ministers and religious educators?

It would also take some doing to convince the more conservative-minded as to why doctrine alone is not enough, and also to allay fears of doctrinal imprecision while the hard grammar of storytelling is practiced and perfected. 

I am grateful to the author for this valuable contribution whose keen insights will hopefully aid in serious future efforts in the new evangelization.
<![CDATA[Hungry For Fasting]]>Sat, 08 Apr 2017 13:11:03 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/hungry-for-fastingGuest post from Fr. Anthony Co 
(Pastor, Sacred Heart, Rock Island; and St Mary's, Rock Island)
Hungry For Some Fasting?!?
Fasting is one of the powerful tools Jesus gives us to have the abundant life. It’s a helpful means to experience the presence of Jesus.  It’s a way to see him release more blessings.  It’s a way to better know what we can and cannot do in this world. Since there are a lot of misunderstandings about fasting, I was hoping to offer a few helpful points to consider if you’re thinking about fasting. 
Fasting is prayer.  What we are saying to Jesus is, “I am small and significant; you are big and generous. I need you, Lord Jesus.” Like all friendships, prayer is sometimes easy and sometimes hard. Prayer is always suppose to renew us in some way. If not, we are doing something wrong.  Expect to be frequently reminded about what you’re doing and then turn your heart with affection to bless the Lord.   

Fasting is always relational.  We don’t fast because it sounds good on holy paper.  We do it because it’s a response to an invitation of Jesus.  Often the invitation is a growing joy and gratitude that wells up in our hearts.  That means, then: No invitation, no fasting.  And if the fasting becomes a miserable experience, stop. Thank him for the good parts you experienced. 

Jesus wants the heart, not your Weight Watchers points.  The amount of fasting is relative to each person. So pray and ask Jesus to give you a sense of how long and how much to fast.  I started out with one meal. It was a grace-filled experience. Then I fasted 3 days. Another grace-filled experience.  Like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Church reminds us that we shouldn’t fast if it causes any health issues.  
Three Goals
We can focus on three different goals when we fast: Prayer requests, penance, and self-mortification.
Specific Prayer Requests: I recommend writing 20-30 specific intentions down for Jesus to answer during a fast.  Ask your friends and family members for what they concretely need.  Tell them to get back to you if they see anything answered, even partially, during the fasting or afterward.  

Penance: Penance is simply an act of affection to God for forgiving our sins. Its saying, “Jesus, thank you so much for your goodness. I love you. I want to show you how grateful and sorry I am.”   It’s not, “I want to feel miserable because I’m a miserable person.”  It’s an expression of gratitude for his mercy and a small share in his justice.   

Self-Mortification: It’s a big word. It just means we are attempting to get more mentally and morally tough.  Often limitations exist only in our heads. When I led college students on a three day fast on just liquids (Chocolate milk their drink of choice!), they were all amazed they didn’t fall down dead. They all felt close to Jesus during the 3 days. We met every night to talk about our joyful experiences.  If you can be tough in one area of life, you can be tough in another. 

Holy Week

This Holy Week I am doing a longer fast from Tuesday evening until Saturday morning. Holy Thursday is a special celebration for priests, our anniversary, so I will be breaking the fast for that evening.  I want to invite you to join me so we can do something a little more together.  I will be just drinking water, coffee, and maybe some broth during the fast but your fast doesn’t have to look this way.  It’s closeness with Jesus that we are after. You can follow the guidelines of Good Friday for the days or any other variation that is inspired in you. 
Whether you join me for the fast or not, send me your prayer request. Nothing general and vague like: “Father, pray for blessings in my family.” Instead, something more like: “Father, I want to see my sisters become better friends.”  If you send me your intentions, I will send you mine. 
Have a grace-filled Holy Week. Smile. God is good!

Fr Anthony is a righteous preacher - check out his homilies!
<![CDATA[Great Catholic Parishes]]>Mon, 06 Mar 2017 17:29:19 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/great-catholic-parishesPicture
There’s a lot of talk about “vibrant” parishes these days. But what does that even mean? What does winning look like? How can you tell when a parish is thriving? And how to replicate these proven best practices, once discerned? It seems like people have lots of ideas, but standards vary, and metrics are elusive for something as complex, multifaceted, and sometimes just plain weird as the Catholic Parish.

Thankfully, God is raising up people like William Simon to give answers to these questions through the long work of gathering and analyzing the data and offering thoughtful conclusions.

Driven by Data…not Ideology

Mr Simon heads up “Parish Catalyst,” a consulting and research entity whose mission is building vibrant Catholic parishes through research and peer collaboration. The tagline under their logo reads “A Platform for Pastoral Excellence.” Nice.

Simon’s new book is “Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive.” A blurb from the website  sums it up: “By soliciting advice in all regions of the country and by conducting visitations, William E. Simon Jr. and his researchers chose 244 of the greatest parishes among us. His researchers then conducted rigorous interviews, asking his respondents, ‘What makes a Catholic parish ‘great’?’ An unprecedentedly high percentage spoke of four distinguishing marks.’

The book is well-written and an easy read. I especially like the extensive quotes from pastors, which have an unscripted and down-to-earth feel. They sound  timely, honest and real. I also like how he has two sections for each of the four practices: one for the victories, and one for the challenges. This provides balance and realism and can keep pastors who are behind (ahem) from becoming too discouraged.
                        Here are summaries of his four best practices:

Shared Leadership

“I don’t run the parish; I lead the parish,” says one representative pastor. Winning pastors identify gifted people and let them take responsibility. They identify strengths and place people in positions to excel. Whether it be as “collaborators, delegators, or consulters,” winning pastors have a knack for fitting the right people with the right roles. They also put a high priority on self-care.

The challenges with shared leadership involve: finding qualified people for staff; finding the money to pay them; identifying strong leaders; and finding the methods to best train and equip them as disciple makers. Maintaining staff harmony and getting rid of difficult staff are also mentioned as challenges. One pastor summarized it well: “This is not my parish. It’s their parish. My job is to do what I can while I’m here.”
Fostering Discipleship and Spiritual Maturity

Ninety percent of the pastors interviewed identified the spiritual growth of their parishioners as the number one strength of the parish. But “to pursue spiritual growth toward maturity for the parish, parish leaders must declare it a goal.” Here is where intentional and strategic planning is necessary. And financial resources. A surprising finding was that “involvement in parish activities does not necessarily equate to growth in spiritual development.” Only the RIGHT activities foster growth, and the criteria needs to be: what IS fostering maturity?

Spiritual apathy, or “sleepwalking through faith,” is a major challenge identified by the pastors amid their congregations. One survey currently in use indicates that only 18% of Catholic parishioners are “engaged members.”  As a former investor, the author saw a silver lining: by targeting the “next” 18% - the low-hanging fruit who are a short distance away from deeper involvement - the opportunity to double these numbers is ripe. “The New Evangelization is an awakening within the church to the need to disciple our own.” The author’s willingness to realistically name this challenge was encouraging.
Excel on Sundays

This one may sound like a no-brainer, but the extensive pastor feedback here lends weight to the importance of planning, welcoming, preaching, and music. Sometimes I hear Catholics criticize attempts to make liturgies more dynamic as “Protestantizing.” This chapter, to the contrary, was brimming with insights from faithful pastors on the disciplines that really make for joyful Sunday celebrations. Unsurprisingly, a LOT of importance was placed on good preaching. “The pastors we interviewed tend to be voracious readers with eclectic tastes,” notes Simon, adding that about a third of them regularly find inspiration from non-Catholic sources.

The Sunday experience can only uplift and inspire people if they come; and that is the challenge. The busy lives of Catholics and their divided priorities was a crucial challenge cited. “What can parishes do to cut through the busyness and lift Mass above the many competing options on a Sunday morning?” Rather than just criticize the laziness of non-churchgoers, the pastors were willing to take responsibility and change the question to “Are we providing what people need from church?” Especially sobering was a Pew study statistic showing that half of those who left Catholic churches for Protestant did so “because they find their spiritual needs better met elsewhere.”

The leadership witness of Pope Francis is opening new avenues for parish-level evangelization. However, even the pastors experiencing some success in this area admitted that it is extraordinarily difficult to advance an evangelistic agenda if only a few scattered individuals are on board. “The ‘end’ that a pastor and staff look for is no less than a community-wide conversion of heart, which is elusive at best.” Evangelizing parishes are those that find a way to shift the parish mindset from an insular “mirror” approach to an outreaching “window” approach. This starts with leadership but must extend to a parish-wide commitment to “open doors” to the community.

Hesitant individuals, insular communities, and a general reluctance to evangelize are particular challenges facing Catholic parishes. “Through the years Catholics have traditionally viewed their relationship with God as a highly personal matter and believed that overt evangelizing comes dangerously close to imposing one’s religious beliefs on others.” Some pastors, notes Simon, struggled with their parish’s inability to focus on anything that does not directly affect the parish. Attrition, especially amongst millennials, was a chief focus, and some proposed ideas included honest dialogue, mentoring relationships, and leadership opportunities.

I am so grateful to William Simon for the rigorous labor that went into this book. “Great Catholic Parishes” provides a data-driven, readable starting point for pastors and parish staff seeking to bear more fruit and partner with God towards the renewal of parish life. His four categories, culled from extensive anecdotal witness from on-the-ground practicing pastors, provide a path forward that is guided by experience-driven realism rather than ideology. I look forward to sharing this book and its helpful insights within my own sphere of pastoral influence.
<![CDATA[Self-Disruption for the Sake of the Kingdom]]>Wed, 14 Dec 2016 22:56:07 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/self-disruption-for-the-sake-of-the-kingdom
My last post was all about applying the theory of disruption to the world of mission, discipleship and evangelization. Pope John Paul II's "New Evangelization" (I'm still hanging onto this term even though it's been beaten to a sloppy, meaningless, insipid pulp over the past decade) called for novelty in "ardor, methods, and expression." It's a matter of style, not substance. Take the gospel, make it sing for people of today. Sounds easy enough. So why has it proven so difficult?
Disruption out There Starts With... Disruption in Here
So here I go again, stealing wisdom from proven winners in the secular world...

Whitney Johnson's "Disrupt Yourself" is a mine of rich, useful insight for missionary disciples looking to bring some Kingdom disruption into tired old realms.

She left a wildly successful career as a financial analyst to become an author and thought leader in the field of disruption, working in close collaboration with the likes of Clayton Christensen, the godfather of disruption theory.

Johnson argues that innovation starts as an inside game, and that we must disrupt ourselves before disrupting others. “We can natter all day about being agents of disruption, but to effect real change, we need to be the subject of disruption.” Self-disruption on the personal level positions us to disrupt at the public level.

This is consonant with the gospel, in which the new creation begins with a new heart. Jesus calls us to repent and be converted in our inmost hearts so as to love God and others as commanded by Jesus and fulfill the Great Commission. The Gospel and Acts could easily be read as disruption stories, whereby Jesus and the Holy Spirit massively disrupt the “market” of human meaning and happiness, intruding with an offer of unimaginable and ultimate newness.

Although written in a secular vein and aimed primarily for business and leadership spaces, “Disrupt Yourself” is for anyone wishing to grow and improve themselves, multiplying their value-adding influence within their respective spheres of influence. With a little imagination, Kingdom-hungry disciples of Jesus can profit from her seven steps to self-disruption. The principles can help us collaborate in new movements of the Spirit to reach the lost, evangelize the peripheries, and renew the church.

But first... no Pelagianism allowed. God is the first mover. Only if His disruptive influence is upon our life can we ourselves be disrupters for His Kingdom. Grace always comes first and what follows is always and only a response. But that being said...the response matters. A lot.
Innovation starts as an inside game, and we must disrupt ourselves before disrupting others.
Here are summaries of Johnson's seven stepts to self-disruption. I've followed up each with examples from the life of St Paul, one of the church’s great Kingdom-advancing disruptive evangelizers.
1) Take the Right Risks

The rich rewards of disruption require forsaking comfortable paths and embracing some risk. Although evolutionary biology increasingly shows nature favoring calculated risk-takers, the battle against comfort-loving, risk avoiding, institution-ossifying entropy and what Steven Pressfield calls “The Resistance” pose no small challenge for those working within established institutions.  

In order to really step up and take wise risks, Johnson suggests we get serious about identifying our distinctive strengths and then put them to work on things no one else seems willing or able to do.  “Position yourself to play where no one else is playing,” then be courageous in stepping out and offering your contribution.

St Paul’s entire adult life as a Christian was characterized by bold risk-taking. From his first tentative post-conversion knock on the door of Ananias, to his lengthy period of apostolic training, to his defying Peter’s vacillation on the Gentile issue, and on through his missionary journeys, standing still was for Paul the greater risk than the manifest risks of evangelizing. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Cor 9:16)
2) Play to Your Distinctive Strengths 

After identifying something you do well, it’s time to match your distinctive strengths with unmet needs. “Look at the problems that the organization needs solved and ask yourself: Can I fix that?” Many people would rather complain about the deficits of their organization than step forward with solutions. (Sound familiar, church?) 

Johnson offers some helpful questions to help self-identify strengths: What skills have helped you survive? What makes you feel strong? Which problems most bother you? What compliments do you shrug off? What made you different or odd as a child? Disruptors focus on what they can do that others can’t, then look for a job that no one else is doing.

Paul’s rigorous theological formation positioned him to advance compelling exhortations to his flock through his preaching and disruptive letters. His life-changing conversion convinced him that Jesus died and rose for all, giving him a heart to cross tribal barriers and reach the lost. An added element, distinctively Christian, is that for the sake of Christ, Paul even embraced positions of weakness to reach souls, trusting God to fill in the gaps.
3) Embrace Constraints

“Jaws” became a classic largely by accident: due to budgetary constraints, the mechanical shark did not film well, shifting the focus toward the ominous, menacing vibe that so bewitched audiences. Dr Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat” shares a similar origin story: a friend challenged the author to take 255 unique words every six-year-old knows and write a story kids can’t put down.

These examples challenge us to stop using constraints as an excuse. Constraints are healthy. They keep us focused, give us something to push against, and demand creativity. “When resources are at a minimum, successful people dig deep to discover an embarrassment of riches right under their feet.” This is a provocative challenge, particularly for under-resourced ministries and churches.

Paul labored amid constraints throughout his apostolic career. Just take a glance at 2 Corinthians 11 and 12 to see a thorough cataloguing of all the personal and circumstantial constraints that so challenged him as he spread the gospel. Constraint for Paul was an opportunity for God to show up and show off. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)

4) Battle Entitlement: The Innovation Killer

In the last post, I cited examples like Netflix and Uber to show how disrupters displace established titans in the industry. A sense of entitlement leads the Blockbusters and taxis of the world to dismiss upstarts while considering themselves invincible. This keeps them from growing and adapting and instead accelerates their path to obsolescence and extinction. 

Johnson encourages gratitude as an antidote to entitlement: “The ability to admit that you depend on others and the humility to recognize your limitations…is an an explicit acknowledgement that the world is not all about you.” She also says: listen to voices outside the tribe, even those most critical. “Try re-framing dissenting voices as important allies.”  The subtitle says it all: entitlement kills innovation and thwarts newness.

Entitlement? Paul had been there, done that. He was keenly aware of his past as a proud and violent Pharisaical persecutor of the Church of Christ (see 1 Tim 1:12-14), and lived out of a profound sense of gratitude that he was saved by grace. Most of his letters begin with a greeting filled with gushing thanks and praise for all the wonderful things God is doing in the people he is shepherding. The grateful Paul developed the theme of thanks more than any other biblical author.
5) Step Down, Back, or Sideways to Grow

Our strengths can become weaknesses. If we rely too heavily on them, we stagnate. “If as an individual you’ve reached the top rung of the ladder you’re climbing, it’s time to find a new ladder.” Acquire new skill sets to avoid the ruts and complacency plateaus that sink established giants content with comfortable mastery of old skills. Warning: this requires humility and vulnerability: “Just like a snake shedding its skin, you have to lose something critical to grow, leaving you vulnerable and exposed in the process.”

Here is where the church really should take notice. Neglecting Scripture because “We have the Eucharist” or writing off a dynamic megachurch because “They’re just putting on a show” are not the attitudes of self-dirsupters. If we are top-heavy with doctrine and apologetics, yet unmoved to reach the lost and lacking skills of a missionary disciple, something's wrong. If our Twitter feed, book list, and blog bookmarks are an echo chamber of self-reinforcing ideologies, something's wrong. Stepping back from certainty-building in order to engage the awkward messiness of missional, disciple-forming relationships could be a most fruitful disruption for many.

Post-conversion, Paul quickly changed from expert to novice, master to disciple, proud law-keeper to humble grace-receiver. He was frequently recalibrating and re-assessing his methods as an evangelizer. At the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:16 ff.) he used natural theology as a starting point for evangelizing; then he went to Corinth, abandoning lofty speech and wisdom in favor of “knowing nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2). Paul embraced constant adaptation and was willing to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22) to aid in their salvation.

6) Give Failure its Due

Learning is a process that always involves a level of failure. Failure does not mean my ideas are bad or wrong, much less that I am bad or wrong. Failure, if heeded and analyzed well, gives valuable data on how we can learn and grow. Johnson says the key is in the narrative we ascribe to our failure. We should always ask: “What have I learned that I didn’t know before? How can I apply that knowledge to propel my journey up the learning curve of disruption?” Only after these questions have been exhausted is it time to perhaps let go and move on to a new pursuit.

A certain type of rules-driven Christianity can make people so fearful of mistakes that they never mature. Pope Francis told the youth at Rio: "Be creative. Be audacious. Do not be afraid." He told bishops and priests to stop acting like hens keeping their chicks under their wing. Yes, we should have a healthy caution towards the world. But these days, perhaps the greater danger is staying safely closed in on ourselves while the world burns. Practically every pastoral skill I have came only after an embarrassing pile of failures. Thankfully, God and people are forgiving, and His grace has always filled in the gaps in the process. 

Paul did not say, “Woe to me if I make a mistake.” He said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” He preferred getting a little dirty trying to score a goal for the Kingdom and missing, than staying spotless on the sidelines. Paul’s very letters are evidence that his pastoral labors were not always effective. One could point to the problems of the Galatians and Corinthians and say, wow, Paul really did a poor job evangelizing them. And yet…Paul learned and grew from it. Vexing pastoral “failures” prompted the now-treasured corrections and insights found in his epistles as he sought to constantly improve on what he began. 
7) Be Driven By Discovery

​“A leading predictor of C-Suite success is insatiable curiosity and a willingness to learn.” Disrupters follow their curiosity to play where no one else is playing and pioneer yet-to-be-defined  markets. They start with the premise: little is known, much is assumed. They are willing to test hypotheses in order to seek answers to problems that no one else is solving. Disrupters have a “learning agility” that allows them to adjust metrics of success as they go. For the disruptor, curiosity to discover new solutions and paths overcomes fear, and the rewards of new discoveries are worth the difficulty of the journey.

Missionary disciples of Jesus Christ are not interested in C-Suite success. But we should pay attention. Because if the world is curious and teachable enough to attain its worldly goals, how much more should we be to attain our heavenly ones? Today more than ever, curiosity and willingness to learn should drive every Christian disruptor seeking to reach the lost and contribute in the renewal of all things in Christ. Otherwise we risk becoming a walking cliche, satisfied with answers to questions no one is asking.

Paul’s letters exhibit a man ready for total suffering and sacrifice if it meant discovering more Jesus for himself and others. Although a theological master, Paul never grew complacent. He never rested on his laurels. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss… because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:7-8)

For a New Evangelization that is truly disruptive, the church will need new evangelizers willing to disrupt themselves. The preceding principles can provide a good starting point to begin thinking about it.

I'll let Pope Francis have the last word:

Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: 'We have always done it this way.' I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. (The Joy of the Gospel #33)

Lost in Translation
Getting Over Certainty
Innovators and Operators
Find a New Way
<![CDATA[Disruption and The New Evangelization]]>Sat, 03 Dec 2016 21:05:21 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/disruption-and-the-new-evangelization
Although it's not yet in the lexicon of ordinary conversation, “disruption” has become the buzzword and sought-after prize in the world of business, technology, service, and every other sphere of value-adding creativity. 

Disruptors enter markets at the low end where the establishment can’t or won’t invest, re-inventing delivery systems and meeting old needs in new ways.

Toyota did it to Detroit. The mp3 did it to music. Netflix did it to screen entertainment. Uber is doing it to urban transportation. Disruption is the hustling spirit behind every underdog start-up willing to feel peoples’ pain and solve problems they have yet to recognize. 

Disruption is the new opposable thumbs. We are challenged to evolve in the face of rapid web-driven change, increasingly complex problem solving, and an ever-growing communications overload that grows both wider and shallower by the day.  Individuals and organizations are thrust into a state of permanent beta mode. Those unwilling to adopt DisruptionOS risk being the next Blockbusters in a Netflix world.
Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardor, new in its methods, and new in its expression.  (Pope St John Paul II)
What it Means for the Church

Ever since I learned about the theory of disruption, it’s made me think of the great movements of God and the men and women who helped birth them.

Jesus was the great disrupter. He “entered the market” not at the top with Herod and Caesar, but at the absolute bottom, first in the womb of an unknown young Jewess and then in the stable at Bethlehem. 

After three decades of obscurity, Jesus entered the scene as an upstart rabbi with no official credentials or recognition from any establishment other than the Father’s spoken endorsement. He proceeded to break long-held monopolized strangleholds both human and angelic. He announced good news to the poor, welcomed and dined with tax collectors and sinners, sought out and saved the lost. He proclaimed the last to be first and the servant to be the leader. 

Jesus disrupted law with grace, judgment with mercy, religion with Kingdom, power with love.

The Book of Acts proceeds with Peter, James, John, Paul, and others continuing the pattern of disruption through their Spirit-led witness of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

From the martyrs of the early church and on up through the centuries, the saints continually emerge as the great disrupters allowing the creative and ever-new Spirit of God to break into history. These men and women enter “low end” peripheries of the market where others can’t or won’t invest, re-invent delivery systems for the Gospel, and meet old needs of the heart in fresh ways. 

For the saints, the field of disruption is not primarily music or entertainment or transportation. For Augustine, Benedict, Francis, Dominic, Ignatius, Joan of Arc, Katherine Drexel, Mother Teresa, et. al… their disruptive impulse was driven by the persistent, urgent, and ever-elusive need outweighing all needs: the cry of the human heart for the Infinite love of God.
Today's vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language wich brings out their abiding newness. (Pope Francis)
Not Fads and Crowd Pleasing

It is certainly true that Christianity upholds many inherited traditions and a deposit of faith that is not negotiable. I take it as a given that the creeds and the catechism, liturgy and sacraments, et al. remain inviolate. 

Kingdom disruption involves methods and means, not aims and ends. Putting people into contact with the saving person and work of Jesus Christ is always the goal. Let’s never forget that our doctrines, creeds, liturgy, and all other institutions are all meant to serve that end. 

Through deep discernment and prayer lived in the context of a real community of believers, every disciple is called to sing a new song and incarnate the gospel anew through creative disruptive movements of grace to reach the lost and bring the gladness of the Kingdom to the margins and peripheries.

Disruption is not about being hip and novel and cool. It has nothing to do with crowd pleasing fads or adopting secular business models. No, it is actually a matter of charity. Christians MUST be willing and able to communicate the gospel message through delivery systems that really warm hearts. Our perceived cultural obsolescence should be a cause of grave soul-searching and self-examination for anyone sharing Jesus’ heart for the lost.

One of the difficulties is that Catholic institutions, and perhaps parishes in particular, are disruption-resistant by design. They are inhabited by mostly long-time believers with deep-seated habits and expectations that naturally tend toward self-preservation and a certain self-referential conservatism. This is both a strength and, increasingly, a manifest weakness when it comes to evangelization, discipleship and mission in today’s world. 

Perhaps this is why so much vitality within the Catholic church during the past fifty years has involved extra-parish entities such as lay movements. This is a topic for a whole other conversation.

From a disruption angle, the easiest thing in the world for a parish pastor is to cater to expectations, please the masses, uphold the status quo, and fatten the “ninety-nine” (today it’s more like twenty-three) while the lost “one” goes neglected and forgotten. This is a most vexing pastoral issue. 

Today’s great pastoral challenge is to disrupt in due measure - shaking things up in ways that are Spirit-led and genuinely Kingdom-advancing - while keeping the “product” integral and intact. That is to say, remaining faithful to the institution and all its inherited spiritual capital; while having the pastoral boldness and creativity to take big risks for the Kingdom on behalf of the poor and the lost for whom Jesus suffered and died. 

Netflix did not abolish movies and shows; they came up with a better delivery system more suited to people’s current lives. Uber has not abolished urban transport; they have decentralized it, app’ed it, and lowered its costs. 

In the same way, the Christian disrupter is not out to change the gospel, but the way it is delivered and practiced. Motivated by charity and zeal for souls, Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus reach new markets on margins and peripheries that others can’t or won’t serve. In so doing, they disrupt the dismal reign of sin and darkness, bringing gospel truths with clarity and conviction to compellingly warm hearts and provide credible witness to the Kingdom of God manifest among us.
The deposit of faith is one thing...the way it is expressed is another. (Pope St John XXIII)
Some Catholics may be uneasy with “disruption” because, without spiritual maturity, it can easily lead to all kinds of doctrinal and liturgical aberrations. These are valid concerns borne out by many unfortunate historical examples. To these Catholics, I would say: Yes…well, then, all the more urgent that we effectively  promote spiritual maturity! Let’s not bury our coin out of fear the Master is hard and unforgiving, like the servant in the parable who returned it with zero increase and consequently faced a severe judgment. (Mt 25:14-30)

I believe there is vast room, in the Spirit, for effective disruption that falls safely under the umbrella of doctrinal orthodoxy. The saints certainly provide ample evidence for it. But they were burning with Christ’s zeal for souls - a zeal which, to the degree we also possess it, will inspire us to do likewise. But those who are so risk-averse as to thwart all potential disruption must confront the other risk: that we fail in the Great Commission and the Great Commandments mandated by our Savior, causing the light to remain hidden, the world in darkness, the poor unserved, the lost unreached.

The local church need not become the next Blockbuster in a Netflix world. But if that’s not to be our fate, we better start disrupting.

NEXT POST: Getting practical - seven steps towards self-disruption

My podcast is an attempt to shine a light on disruptive leaders
who are putting the New Evangelization into practice.
Available through iTunes or Soundcloud.
For a 2-minute explanation of Disruption:
For a 12-minute explanation by the leader in the field: 
<![CDATA[The Gratitude Challenge]]>Fri, 04 Nov 2016 17:05:07 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/the-gratitude-challenge
My gratitude journey really started in 2008 when I heard Fr Jim Lee, pastor of St Micheal's Parish in Olympia, WA, speak on stewardship at the ICSC national conference in Chicago. He spoke openly of his gratitude struggles. One day, he made a resolution: "Whenever anyone asks how I am doing, I will say I AM BLESSED. And I will mean it." Since then, he said, his life and attitude have radically changed for the better.

The conference was my first exposure to the deeply spiritual side of a properly understood, biblically grounded stewardship. It was also the beginning of a personal conversion journey towards gratitude and positivity that is still underway.

Those familiar with Stewardship: A Disciple's Response - the US Bishops' 1992 pastoral letter that helped launch the stewardship movement - know that gratitude is the first of the four hallmarks of stewardship (accountability, generosity, and return with increase being the others). But it was reading Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme by David W. Pao that kicked my gratitude mojo into high gear. I knew it was time to get serious with this message.

And so, in late summer I began discussing with our stewardship team the idea of dedicating the month of November to gratitude. Inspired by Shawn Achor's amazing Happiness Challenge TED talk and book, I wanted to offer a twenty-one day growth opportunity. We printed booklets with a daily Scripture verse, spaces to write daily blessings and to journal, and check boxes for praying Psalm 100 and writing a daily note of thanks. The hope was to form new habits of gratitude and celebrate Thanksgiving with fresh perspective.

Remembering a Seth Godin blog called "The Four Horsemen of Mediocrity," I wanted to include a weekly series on four enemies of gratitude culled from the David Pao book, along with solid scriptural teaching for mind and heart renewal. Here, then, are summaries of the kickoff homily and the four sessions along with the audio and PDF's of the "Keynote" presentations I used to supplement the talks.
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!
​(1 Chron 16:8)
Introductory Homily: The Gratitude Challenge

1) From Forgetting to Remembering
Audio  -  PDF
We can’t be grateful if we do not remember the blessings of God in our lives. We will focus on the command to remembrance in the Scriptures, then have the chance to remember the Exodus events in our own lives.

2) From Complaining to Proclaiming 
Audio  -  PDF
We can’t be grateful if we are always complaining. Instead, we need to train ourselves to do as the Scriptures say: Proclaim the goodness of God and his wondrous deeds. We will focus on proclaiming in the Scriptures then have the chance to focus on what we should be proclaiming and begin practicing.

3) From Comparison to Contentment
Audio  -  PDF
We can’t be grateful if we are always comparing ourselves to others. 
Comparison is a thief of joy. In today’s social media culture, the temptation to compare our lives with the highly edited “highlight reels’ of others is rampant. We will focus on the Scriptures for guidance then practice making an inventory of the blessing WE enjoy.

4) From Entitlement to Enblessment
Audio  -  PDF
We can’t be grateful if we feel entitled to everything. Instead, we should feel blessed that we get so many wonderful blessings we don’t deserve. We will focus on the Scriptures then begin identifying areas where we feel entitled, and begin repenting to cultivate awareness of being abundantly blessed.


Gratitude is not so much a feeling… it is rather a practice and habit. In a world filled with negativity, we need to start pushing back. Being grateful means acknowledging that we are dependent on God and others. Being grateful means we know we live under grace. Being grateful means being a happier, more positive, more God-conscious person.
<![CDATA[More Curiosity, Less Advice]]>Mon, 31 Oct 2016 01:06:57 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/more-curiosity-less-advicePicture

Asking Better Questions
​in Ministry and Discipleship

To grow my pastoral intelligence, I look to helpful voices from every sector. While the church is not a business and should not be treated as such, wise counsel and best practices from that space often translate (with some adaptations) into winning pastoral strategies. 

An unusually helpful resource I have discovered of late is 'The Coaching Habit' by Michael Bungay Stanier, longtime business coach and consultant with vast experience in his field. The subtitle of the book pretty much says it all: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever. 

The thesis is that managers/leaders of any stripe can be more effective if they simply learn to ask good questions and then get out of the way. Stanier proceeds to GIVE YOU THE QUESTIONS! Chapter by simple and light hearted chapter, the actionable gold just keeps coming. 

Why It Matters to Me

I often have difficulty in one on one sessions of spiritual direction, pastoral counseling, etc. I tend to talk too much and listen too little. The advice giving, answer-man approach is ever my bane, and is not only annoying to the poor persons I minister to, but is also ineffective. People gain more by talking it out and arriving at their own answers...with some minimal but targeted guidance. I've always known this, but have lacked tools and disciplines to effectively change. That's why this book has been such a helpful blessing.

'The secret sauce," says Stanier, 'is building a habit of curiosity. The change of behaviour that’s going to serve you most powerfully is simply this: a little less advice, a little more curiosity.' 

Being legitimately curious of others is always a winning approach, in my experience.

Stanier is speaking mainly to managers who oversee team members in work environments. However, his practical guidance has proven very helpful for me in the pastoral settings and conversations which constitute so much of my life and work.
'Be lazy...avoid the Advice Monster. Help people quickly figure out their own paths.'
The book is a fun and easy read. I hope it can help you as much as it has helped me. Here is a basic overview:

Seven questions to turn from an advice-giving, unhelpful manager, into a helpful and useful coach:

1) What's on your mind?
This question cedes 'power' and gives the report/employee/directee/disciple freedom to set the agenda and articulate what's on their mind. 

2) And what else...? 
This draws out greater clarity and allows them more opportunity to articulate their real concerns. (*Remember to acknowledge the person’s answers before you leap to the next “And what else?”)

3) What's the real challenge here FOR YOU?
This question helps sharpen the focus and gets more personal.

4) What do you want? 
Do not assume you know; do not assume they know. This question clarifies desires and aims. It challenges the other person become more of a protagonist in their own journey. (*Answer question for yourself too)

5) How can I help? 
This question cuts through assumptions which can often be false, and gives you the clarity to know if and how you are actually in a position to help. (*Too much of your day is spent doing things you think people want you to do)

6) If you're saying Yes to this, what are you saying No to?
This question is a gentle but clear reminder that every decision is a trade-off and helps clarify what is really at stake.

7) What was most useful FOR YOU? 
Answering this question extracts what was useful, shares the wisdom and embeds the learning. Without this question, you fail to capture the 'aha' moment and extract the value. "People don’t really learn when you tell them something. They don’t even really learn when they do something. They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.... Your job as a manager and a leader is to help create the space for people pull back, find the insight, make the connections, and have those learning moments."

Another great tip from the author is to use these questions to answer convoluted emails. It could sound like: 
  • “Wow, there’s a lot going on here. What’s the real challenge here for you, do you think?” 
  • “I’ve scanned your email. In a sentence or two, what do you want?” 
  • “Before I jump into a longer reply, let me ask you: What’s the real challenge here for you?”


I've begun using some combination of these questions in one on one pastoral sessions, and they have really helped me serve better. 

While these 'coaching habit' questions are no substitute for the substantive and invested relational demands of discipling, they make a nifty supplement. Within Christian contexts of discipleship and ministry, they provide a helpful framework which, combined with insights from prayer and Scripture, can contribute to better mentoring and discipling of others.

RELATED: Multipliers and Diminishers

<![CDATA[Praxis Gathering 2016]]>Thu, 06 Oct 2016 00:12:19 GMThttp://pastoralquotient.net/blog/praxis-gathering-2016Picture
I recently attended 'The Praxis Gathering' in Washington DC, a conference for church planters and missional practitioners sponsored by the V3 Movement. I ventured out to learn and grow with this new (for me) tribe because of a deep felt need for missional training and fellowship with mature missionary disciples. 

Pope Francis is calling Catholics to embrace missionary discipleship as our new operating system so as to reach those on the margins and peripheries with the saving love of Jesus. I need help in this foreign territory. There’s no map, at least none that I have found. And by help, I mean help of real people in the context of community. Podcasts and books and blogs are just not cutting it for me anymore.

The gathering was eclectic and encouraging. The setting was St Mark’s Episcopal Church in a quaint and lovely neighborhood setting on Capitol Hill. The crowd was a bunch of kingdom-hungry, justice-seeking, responsibility-taking Christians. I’m pretty sure that out of the 200+ in attendance, I was the only Catholic - let alone priest. Everyone was welcoming, but many were surprised and some thought I must be a real subversive.

I loved hearing new categories and terminology. As missional practitioners, these people have names for things that in Catholic circles are often lacking. Perhaps this is due to our deficit in missional training and experience. For example, I do not typically hear terms like 'mutual submission,' 'communal discernment,' 'compassionate curiosity,' 'polycentric leadership,' and the quest for 'embodied Christian practice.' My understanding was really broadened.

This is post megachurch ecclesiology with a bias for the local, the grassroots, and the relational. Fed by the conviction that God is already at work in neighborhoods and individuals, we are called to go forth in mission to incarnate the gospel and ourselves, engaging in embodied practices within  actual contexts. We are called to listen, befriend, accompany, and share life as we seek to partner with what God is doing in the renewal of all things in given places. This becomes the essence of discipleship.

There is a real desire to return to basics in order to minister and disciple as Jesus did in the gospels, especially in gathering a core team of committed disciples who eat, drink, and share life together.

Here are a few personal takeaways:

Overeducated, Under practiced
One lead pastor threw out this term and it really packed a wallop for me. In fact, it perfectly captured where I feel I currently am at. He was describing his background ministering in a megachurch, and how his growing desire for a more missional and relational church experience led him toward church planting. He read and read but finally realized that he had to take some real-life risk and step out in faith. After praying and fasting, he invited some friends to join him in discerning a call to go in a new direction. He is beginning to see some really cool fruit.

Social God, Sending God
I find this terminology really helpful. God is a Trinitarian communion, relational by nature. The Father sends the Son on a saving mission to redeem us, and the Son in turn sends out His Spirit to empower existing disciples to go forth and make new ones.  A church should look like its God.  There is a continual back-and-forth rhythm between social relationship and sending that takes place in a healthy church. If this is lacking, we need to ask why our church does not look like our God.

Pastor Yourself
One of the most striking presentations was by A.J. Swoboda from Theophilus Church in Portland. He talked of the hidden wounds, fears and pathologies in pastoral leaders. Lack of self-awareness can sink a pastor and a congregation. He spoke of leading out of vulnerability and the perils of the unchecked narcissistic ego. I loved how honest this guy was. Most impressive was his observation that in the end, there is no substitute for spending quiet time in the Presence. No technique, book, program or podcast can cover for a spiritually and emotionally malnourished pastor.

This is a principle of Catholic social teaching which insists on de-centralization and doing things on the most local and personal level possible. You will probably never hear the word outside papal documents, and unfortunately, it is a principle found more often in theory than in practice. Ironically, I have rarely seen subsidiarity in action so much as  at this conference of non-Catholic Christians. These are responsibility-takers who are not waiting for “the church” to act. They are the church, and they are acting.

Place Matters
The Gospel does not float around as an idea that goes from mind to mind. The real Gospel begs for embodiment in people, contexts, places and neighborhoods. There has been a tendency to devalue place within hyper-mobile suburban American culture. When reduced to ideology and method, the church becomes a colonizing strategy rather than a renewing force for the neighborhood partnering with the good work God has already begun.

The crowd was refreshingly diverse, and many presentations dealt specifically with issues of reconciliation and justice. I have to admit, I usually cringe and check out here because even in church I’ve come to expect the world’s shrill ideology and harsh invective here. That’s why I was so surprised and delighted to hear GOSPEL PERSPECTIVE on things like Black Lives Matter.  In my world, we tend to just ignore unpleasant issues around race and gender. I was convicted (in a good way) to ask anew: Who is my neighbor? And… What is my responsibility towards the other? Man, there is A LOT of work to be done here.

Two Kingdoms
Nobody mentioned it, but I could not get over the fact that we were blocks away from the nation’s Capitol planning Kingdom breakthrough during the thick of election year. I could not help thinking we are part of God's subversive plan to renew the country His way, gathering in this unassuming church under the shadow of the Capitol where most eyes are focused. 

The conference ended with small groups, goal-setting, and asking: What now?

This was a provocative and challenging conference. I am grateful for the organizers, and eager to see how the Lord uses it to bless me and those with whom I serve.

RELATED: Creating a Missional Culture

PS - Another great bonus: Hanging out in DC with the one and only Jim Schuster!