Have you ever sat in mass and prayed really hard – “please God, please. Let this be over soon!” Somewhere between the grumpy greeter, the off-key cantor, the lackluster homily and your own unenthusiastic recitation of the Creed, you realize that there’s something terribly wrong with this picture. I don’t want to be here!
Is there anything worse than a room full of people who are doing something only because they feel obligated to be there?
In Fr. Mallon’s latest book, Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish he offers a blueprint (with lots of proven practical ideas) on what it takes to turn the situation around.
Remembering Our Identity and Purpose
Fr. Mallon suggests that at the heart of every crisis, is an identity crisis. Knowing who we are and why we exist is critical. Pope Francis reminds us that the Church exists for the sake of the Mission. And the mission is to follow Christ’s command “to go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28: 16-20)
But far too many of us have been crippled by a culture of maintenance, too content with serving ourselves. Fr. Mallon explores this at length but what it all boils down to is this: are you making disciples?
I want things messy and stirred up in the church. I want the church to take to the streets! Pope Francis
Clear Out the Junk
I know, this charge is a tough one – but it’s what we have to do. Fr. Mallon reminds us when rebuilding a house there is always a certain amount of demolition that needs to happen. Structures that no longer give life or serve the mission obviously need to be removed.
I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. Pope Francis
Lay down a Strong Foundation
Laying down a strong foundation has to do with transforming the culture inside the parish. The foundation of any human organization is its culture. Even though the Church is both human and divine, Fr. Mallon reminds us that that if the human foundation is not healthy then no matter how intense or sincere the spiritual commitment – the foundation will be fragile.
The way then of determining what the community actually values is not to assess what is says but what it does.
Look at how the parish spends its time and money. If a parish says that evangelization is a priority, is that reflected in the budget? If a parish says it values adult formation, is there a budget and a person who oversees this initiative?
We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. Pope Francis
Sacraments as our greatest pastoral opportunity
People who have little or no connection to the Church regularly come knocking when it comes time to receive the sacraments. Administering the sacraments then, is our greatest pastoral challenge and… our greatest opportunity! Mallon reminds us that The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that liturgy and sacraments “must be preceded by evangelization, faith and conversion” (CCC, no. 1072). In other words, a weekend program is not going to cut it. If we want to make disciples it begins with reevaluating the way that we “do” Church. Ask yourself: are our parish programs and various initiatives bringing about genuine encounters with Christ or are we just “getting the job done”?
We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. Pope Francis
Dream Big. Acquiring Vision
Being spiritual is not enough to bring about parish renewal. According to Mallon, leadership is key. He makes many good points, but one thing that definitely jumps out is the importance of vision. He notes that the primary job of a leader is to communicate a vision or “a picture of the future that produces passion in us…If a leader cannot do this, he will not lead anyone or anything.”
The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. Pope Francis
Filled with practical insights, anyone who has worked in parish ministry will find the material discussed in this book good ‘food for thought’.
Stay tuned for an upcoming Catholic Focus episode featuring Fr. James Mallon