Church Life

Obstacles to Movement in a Complex Church

No matter how many parishes I visit over the years I find the exact same silos and turf wars. The Liturgy Department has their group of volunteers over here and the Outreach folks are a separate group of volunteers over there. The people that help out with Bible studies and other classes are generally the same 50-100 people doing all of the faith formation events, love Jeff Cavins, and are waiting for the next Matthew Kelly book to come at Easter time. They might stack chairs or run copies, but they are probably not volunteering regularly to serve the poor, immigrants, or refugees. One group prefers classrooms, the other soup kitchens, and the other the sanctuary, and rarely do these groups overlap.

The problem with larger suburban parishes is that there is no clear movement between these different areas for adults. The volunteer teams are completely separate with no clear lines connecting them to one another and thus no movement between them. So my question became how can we make the path clear between the ministries so that they can cross-pollenate one another’s ministries.

One glimpse of clarity comes by way of the documents of Vatican II. The Council Fathers make the distinction between work ad intra and ad extra for the Church. As you can probably figure out, ad intra concerns work within the Church and ad extra is outside the Church. These two categories refer to the types of documents they produced, but it also works concerning the action of the laity in the world. The laity are clearly called to be nourished by the priests and then sent out on mission into the world. This is our gospel vocation. The clergy are called to serve the world precisely through fostering holiness in the laity. This is their ecclesial ministry. 

Rick Warren’s Saddleback goes with the terms ministry and mission: ministry is a term that refers to work done within the parish and mission is the work of the parish outside to the wider community, the nation, or the world. They take these views very seriously, actively encouraging mature Christians to continuously take part in one or the other. They have a clear path: member, maturity, then ministry or mission. His simple discipleship track has a ton of kinetic energy behind it, almost pushing his congregation into one gospel work or another. 

When we turn back to the Catholic parish we find a smattering of clericalism among God’s lay faithful who, piggybacking onto some of Vatican II’s legal reforms, seek not to go out into the world empowered to do mission, but to return to the parish and become quasi-clergy. Lay members of Christ’s faithful run around the altar seeking to do the little tasks of liturgical management and administration. It’s painful to watch ministry usurp mission, but predictable. Who would want to go out into the cold, cruel world and share the gospel with a potentially hostile audience? Well, actually, now that you ask: equipped saints want to go out into the world and tell sinners the good news. But who, pray tell, is equipping them for this mission?

Now we have a parish where half of the pew-sitters are stuck in their silos and the other half are so bored and disconnected they have already started drifting away. Competition for new blood causes tensions to rise in meetings, over bulletin space, and during the Mass announcements. I’ve seen actual screaming matches by people wanting their flyer handed out or their announcement read over and above someone else’s. 

Well then. How do we bust down the silos and turf wars?

We build some beautiful bridges from one department to another and encourage people to start taking some “next steps”. One of the details that the research from Simple Church bore out was the cornerstone ideal of intentionally structuring every class, session, or event to end with a clear answer to the question “Now what?" Each successful church has built baby steps from each program or ministry or mission intentionally to the next.

Like it or not, we are in the business of maturing people through the evangelization process. The Church calls certain aspects of this process “moments” along the journey. Blessed Pope Paul VI called catechesis a “moment” within evangelization and recognized apologetics, pre-evangelization, and such things as moments as well. The parish’s task is to take people through the moments to mature them. One needs to be matured from seeker to believer and from believer to follower of Christ. Creating a simplified movement lets the seeker or believer know there is more to come and that just because one is in the Church does not necessarily mean one is of the Church.

Silos are created in parishes where they do not feel the need for collaboration. Liturgy has nothing to do with Elementary Faith Formation, so the thinking goes, so they should stick with their stuff and we should stick with ours. We should have our volunteer pool and they theirs. We have our calendar and they theirs.

Personality conflicts among staff and volunteers are another reason why silos are a problem. If person A in one department hates person B in another, then they will not willingly or cheerfully find opportunities to work together on joint projects. They get used to not communicating well with each other and will blame the other for any problems that arise due to that lack of communication. 

This applies to the clergy as well. One can very easily see how clergy can get disconnected. Good Catholics respect their priests, at least the office, and will tend to not share negative things with them even if it is true. If pastors are disconnected from parish administration, staff and volunteers will keep their heads down and “team work” flies out the door. 

A failure in leadership does not result in inaction, but in a flurry of activity. Too many things are getting done. Enterprises fail because groups are all doing their own thing and side projects diffuse the energy and attention away from what matters most. In a parish, the Christmas pageant may distract from Christmas Mass, or the annual Fall Festival might turn attention away from much-needed catechist training.

There are many obstacles that push against simplified movement in the parish and instead create additional silos. These silos will prevent “Next Step” movement from one area of discipleship to the next, further frustrating the growth and maturity of the lay faithful.