How to Eat an Elephant: An Introduction to the Be Missionary Disciples Review and Reflection Process – Survey Series #1

Corresponds to questions 3, 4, 5, 9, and 10 of the survey.

When a task’s so daunting I don’t know how to tackle it, I remember the riddle:

Q. “How do you eat an elephant?”

A. “One bite at a time.”

When trying to tackle the Be Missionary Disciples parish survey results, recently received by pastors and pastoral leaders, this riddle comes to mind for three reasons:

  1. A lot of attachments were included in the email;
  2. a lot of information was contained in those attachments;
  3. and the reflection process they entail deals with some pretty weighty topics.

This adds up to one large paper elephant.

Here, I’m hoping to help you begin to nibble away at it and discover that it’s actually quite edible and digestible. In fact, I hope you’ll realize soon that it’s a rich feast full of good things to help your parish thrive and grow.

What is Your Parish Being Asked to Do?

Let’s start from the end product and work backwards: the “Parish Mission Readiness Statement.” This two- to three-page statement should describe your parish’s “mission-readiness.” It should lay out the greatest opportunities and challenges to the personal and pastoral “missionary conversion” of your parishioners and your parish. To produce this, each parish should gather a team of people to pray about and reflect on the survey results. This team should write the statement in light of these conversations and their dialogue with others in and around the parish.

“Mission readiness”

Let’s unpack “mission readiness” a bit more. It refers to the degree to which a parish is prepared to take up the core mission of the Body of Christ to “go, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). To be “mission ready,” we have to be alive and growing in faith ourselves, personally and as a faith community, and living it out in our daily lives. We have to be ready to share the Gospel with others at a moment’s notice, like Philip did when he encountered the Ethiopian on the road (Acts 8:26-38).

“Missionary conversion”

“Missionary conversion” is at the heart of Pope Francis’s exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium). There he emphasizes that “mere administration” is not enough, and that we need to be “in a permanent state of mission” (EG 25). It means reflecting on how and why we do things and discerning whether it is all “suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for [the parish’s] self-preservation.” And if it’s not, it means committing ourselves to change and suitably channel what needs to be changed and suitably channeled. This is why it’s truly a missionary conversion.

Easy, right?

Did I Hear Someone Laughing?

Most of you probably answered: “Wrong!”

Growing in faith and sharing it with others has been the most essential and challenging task of the Church since her earliest days. Even a cursory glance at Christ’s apostles’ struggles proves that there’s never been an easy solution. Every generation has to find its own way to reach the people of its time. As Pope Francis says, we must change to remain faithful. What’s crucial is that we engage in this conversation and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us step by step.

The survey results alone won’t give us the answers. Yes, they provide valuable information that you won’t already have. They contain data that will fill some gaps. But alone they can’t tell the whole story of your parish with its unique set of opportunities and challenges. This is where the Spirit-led perceptiveness of the pastor, parish leadership, parish staff, and others has to provide the context, narrative, insights, and meaningful connections missing from the raw data.

To aid in this, we’ve created reflection questions that correspond to the survey results. Not every question requires an answer. It’s not a test. Rather, the questions are meant to stimulate and support fruitful reflection and discussion about what the responses tell you (or don’t tell you) about the parish’s “mission readiness.”

This post is the first in a series of several that will help you nibble away at this elephant. They will tackle one reflection question at a time, delving more deeply into what the survey results are saying about where your parish is today, and where the Lord might be calling it go tomorrow.

So let’s dig in together and savor the feast. One bite at a time.

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