People come to church bearing gifts. They come to us, made in the image and likeness of God. That is gift enough. But wait … there’s more:they bring to us their gifts, their talents, their time, and treasure.They entrust to us those that they love most in this world, and ask only that we love them as well. We, for our part, ask them to serve in our parishes in a number of great ways.
Here then are seven not so great ways to invite people to ministry:
#1 Expect too little of them*
All too often we hear people say, “I can’t ask people to go to this training. They’re already too busy.” Let’s imagine someone volunteering at a local fire department. No one would ever say, “Please come join our team. Help us to put out alarm fires. No training necessary!” The fire department would never make the request without having a plan for training. Lives are at stake. We too, for the sake of the Gospel, have to have formation plans because eternal lives are at stake.
We need to personally invite people to ministry and give them clear expectations. Jesus was clear about his expectations. Often they were a lot more demanding than ours will ever be. Recall a time when a disciple said to Jesus, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.” That is a pretty clear expectation. Don’t be too afraid to expect the “more”.
#2 Be a travel agent for guilt trips*
It is the week before the youth trip, and no adults want to chaperone. In your best youth ministry voice you announce to the parents, “Hey, we have to cancel the youth trip if we don’t get more volunteers.” Or the director of faith formation says, “Sure, we will enroll your daughter for religious ed if you volunteer to teach a class.” And you have successfully sent someone on a guilt trip into ministry.
We are not travel agents for guilt trips. We are people who extend an invitation in Christ’s name to the most incredible voyage they will ever take. Speak honestly to the needs of the parishes and pastorates and invite people to be part of the mission. Jesus invited to mission. We can do no less.
#3 Let people know that “we’ve always done it this way.”*
When we tell people that “we have always done it this way,” or say, “we tried it that way before but it didn’t work,” what we are actually saying is: “we are not open to change.” We are indicating that we are not open to the person or the gifts that stand before us. This leads to death in ministry. Be alert for the Holy Spirit speaking through the person in front of you. God makes “all things new.” Can we not be open to doing the same?
Being open to the Holy Spirit will surely take us out of our comfort zone. It will mean doing new things. It will mean we cannot pull out last year’s notes for this year’s talk. In a rapidly changing world, “we’ve always done it this way” is not compatible with a growing, dynamic ministry.
#4 One size fits all.*
We set up rules. We make things clear. We allow no exceptions. No exception for the young person who cannot make Confirmation class on Thursday nights because that’s the night he goes to hospice to spend time with his dying grandmother. No exception for a child whose mom says he has anxiety issues. No exception for someone to attend the RCIA who works on Monday nights. If she cannot make Monday nights, she has to try another parish or wait another year. After all, if she is so demanding in the beginning of her Catholic faith journey, it will only get worse once she joins.
Inviting people into ministry or into a deeper relationship with Christ means that we need to be flexible. There are people in ministry whose patron saint is “Gumby” and who live by the beatitude “Blessed are the flexible.” God is a divine tailor, designing each of us to be wonderfully unique. Let’s honor that. And let’s find ways, even when inconvenient, to use the gifts or to “tailor make” programs that fit the needs of God’s people.
#5 If someone “can’t swallow” Church teaching, try watering it down for them.*
Why is it that we think we are more loving than God the Father or Holy Mother Church? Are there ways we can make Church teaching more accessible and attractive? Yes. Are there ways we can make the teaching more understandable? Sure. But in the end, the teaching of the Church needs to be clear. We need to embrace it. Will there be times that people cannot share in that embrace Yes, and we accompany people through that disagreement. Some of what the Church teaches is hard. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is pretty challenging. And much of Church teaching is challenging. But we do an injustice to the individual and to the teaching of we don’t walk through it with a sister or brother.
#6 It is just easier to do it myself.*
Wow, is that true sometimes. But think about something valuable that you’ve learned in life. Perhaps you learned how to write code or fix plumbing or use a concordance. At some point in life, we’ve all had people who have helped us to learn a new skill. Calling forth the gifts and talents of individuals, or helping someone discover a gift or talent they never knew they had is beautiful for both the instructor and the instructed. It builds community and it frees you up to do other things. Jesus always invited people to do things they never knew they could. And we know He could have done it himself.
#7 Let them know how miserable you are in your ministry.*
If you cannot authentically represent ministry with the joy of the Gospel, it is time to take a break from ministry. What kind of evangelization are we doing when we say to people, “I am overworked and underpaid, the other staff members here don’t do half of what I do, and I am neglecting my family. I would like you to volunteer and you can become more like me.”
There are difficult times in ministry, but those times should not destroy our joy. In fact, they call upon us to be even more joyful. If you are miserable in your ministry, talk to someone who is wise and discerning. Remember the lines in the Book of Revelation, “You have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.”
Recall all of the passion and dreams from when you were first called to ministry … and fall in love again with Jesus and his Church.
These are seven ways that we can be less than invitational, not welcoming, not encountering, not accompanying people in ministry. It is easy for us to fall short in these ways. But when we repent, reverse course and listen to God as He guides our ministry, it is so very, very beautiful.
*Author’s Note: There are seven items listed above – serious mistakes in recruiting for ministry that we need to avoid. Any “mistake” items with an (*) next to it indicate a mistake the author has made.
Have I committed any of the mistakes above too? How can we as a parish or pastorate recruit in a way that honors our values as a Church?