As I examine the landscape of most Catholic parishes, I think it is fair to say that most parishes have more of a defensive posture than offensive. Our parishioners speak of Jesus publicly within the protection of our church walls and gathering spaces. When there, we can speak boldly of Christ and His work in our lives. Outside of church, in the public square, we tend to be quiet and reserved. Why?
II Tim. 1:7-8 “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” (NABre)
Apparently, in St. Paul’s day, this fear was present as well. His exhortation to his disciple Timothy gives us a sense that there is more to do, but what? What can we do to help our parishioners change from being fearful of sharing the Gospel to being bold and passionate?
The atmosphere that we generate within our parishes plays a huge role in what the people will follow. They will either see the parish as a reservoir, where we come to sip of the blessings located at the church, or as a river, constantly in motion, with a powerful current that not only can refresh our spirits but also carry us to other places and people who also need these blessings.
Below are just a few thoughts on how a parish can begin to make this transformation. This is a top-down transformation where the pastor leads, followed by the staff, key lay leaders, volunteers, and those who just attend Mass.
- Conviction of the message of the Gospel – If the leadership doesn’t believe in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, neither will the flock. Does our passion for the gospel communicate a firm conviction that God is real and worthy of trust? We say a lot of words, but then live visibly different.
- Put the cornerstone in place – Too often we try to build something at church via programs without making sure that Jesus (through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit), who is alive an actively working in our people, is present.
- Commitment to Christ IS commitment to His Kingdom – In a world of individualism, we must preach/teach against the idea that our relationship is just about our own personal relationship with God. To make a commitment to Christ is to commit to joining and serving his body.
- Disciples must be equipped to lead others to encounter Christ – Churches need to prayerfully discern what knowledge and skills a disciple must have to effectively help build the kingdom. For too long we have left the laity on the sidelines and looked only to religious and Holy Orders to do the work of the Kingdom.
Considering this last point, NEM is preparing to serve parishes by training parishioners with some of these essential elements. We are entering into our testing phase and hope to launch in 2019. Stay tuned!!!