Church Life

The Professional Church: Introduction

Introduction: An Unprofessional Story

A few years ago a parish ministry leader asked me to be in one of her big events as an Emcee. The event was just not my cup of tea, at all. I did not want to be in it, and so, politely, I told her just that, which should have been enough. A few days later, however, I was greeted with an email saying that, oops! she went ahead and wrote me into their official program and printed off 1,000 of them with my name in there. "So," she said "I guess you're stuck!" 

I was furious and astonished that someone would do that.

In my reply I told her how unprofessional it was to try and paint me in a corner to do something I already made clear I did not want to do. Her reply told me volumes about parish work: "Professional? It's not like we work at Exxon or something! This is a church. You don't have to be professional." 

Wow. Just wow.

So with that lead in, I would like to bring up some questions and draw upon the wisdom of the private sector to find answers to some pressing parish worker questions, like: 

  • Where is the line between being pastoral and being professional? 
  • How much should your local parish reflect the life and culture of a successful business?
  • What practices, if any, should a parish incorporate from the business sector?
  • What is the role of numbers in terms of audiences reached and money budgeted?

 

The Problem

Parishes have specific challenges and benefits. In terms of benefits, parish ministries are connected to the life of a local community, to the liturgical and sacramental life, to priests and deacons, and to staff personnel that are seemingly working to the same goal. They have buy in from the people who attend that parish already. They've been "branded" as it were before they ever even see your product, your program or your mission.

The downsides are the petty politics, damaging gossip, territorial workers, unprofessional behavior, lack of leaders and trained managers, and mixed messages about money (do we want more of it, or is it the root of all evil?) and about the sizes of our audience (is it all about reaching that one person, or do big numbers equal great ministry?).

The faithful parish ministry coordinator wants to give glory to God, but finds him/her self running into barriers that prevent good, solid ministry from bearing fruit and being effective.

 

Looking for Answers

I have been doing a lot of late night market analysis research to see what programs are not being offered so that a third party, like me, can fill in the gaps. I spent literally dozens of hours looking at parish bulletins and diocesan websites from around the country to get a sense of what ministry looks like around the country.

I have also been reading a lot of business books- a lot of business books- stories of successful CEOs, marketing strategies, Peter Drucker management books, leadership guides, and legal manuals to make it all legit. There are some things that I have learned along the way that can definitely cross-pollinate into the world of the parish or diocese.

 

Getting Closer to Clarity

The Church is not a for-profit business. It's a public sector operation whose metric for success is not cash flow but discipleship. I get that. I really do. 

But that reality is often a false cover that many who hold jobs in the Church (or any non-profit, really) use as an excuse to engage in inappropriate actions, unprofessional behavior, and ineffective leadership. I have heard and used myself the excuse "We aren't a business!" to attack some plan or critique some policy that I did not approve of or found unduly restrictive. 

I believe there is great truth, insight and even wisdom in the private sector that many Catholic institutions, especially at the parish and diocesan levels, need to incorporate in order to be good and faithful stewards of that hard-earned treasure, time and talent. I want to invite you to start thinking about these great business ideas into your thinking about ministry, effectiveness, leadership, and your passion for Jesus Christ's Kingdom on earth to spread.

I am not saying the Church would be better if it were more business-like. It is not a business, so making it more like a thing it is not, would be disastrous. That is not what I am advocating.

 

Some Initial Answers

I would like to spend a few posts on this subject, breaking it down and applying aspects of the world of business into Church work. Here are a few initial observations:

 

  • First, we need leadership that is not afraid to evaluate their staff and their ministries, who are not apprehensive about dismissing the ineffective or rewarding the really effective. 
  • Second, we need real mission statements that carry real weight and not flowery, nice-sounding, framed-and-hung-in-the-lobby mission statements that mean nothing.
  • Third, our parishes need candor. We need honesty at work and not gossip.

 

 

Conclusion

This post is long enough without more thoughts being added, of which I could have done easily. I am going to treat a little bit more in-depth these three points in their own posts, plus maybe a few more along the way. 

In the meantime, I can recommend a few business books that I have found pretty effective to hold you over, and even better, most of these are available as audiobooks on iTunes. Enjoy!

 

1. Good to Great, by Jim Collins

2. Good to Great in the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins

3. Winning, by Jack Welch

4. Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni

5. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

6. Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, by Patrick Lencioni

7. Inside the Mind of the Leader, by Harvard Business Review