Last year, today was Ash Wednesday… the birthday of School of Disciples. For a long while before that day, brainstorming/talking/thinking/sketching/more brainstorming/more talking and thinking/more brainstorming had all been part of the pregnancy and then… BOOM! School of Disciples took its first breath at 9:00 am when people walked into church to begin Lent. Today we celebrate SoD’s first birthday!
A lot has happened this first year… huge successes as well as back-to-the-drawing-board experiences. None in vain… all have led to the next step down the path and provided much grist for the learning mill. I am thrilled how far it has evolved. Much is yet to come.
The initial enthusiasm for School of Disciples actually only lasted for about 5 months after Ash Wednesday in that parish. Like a lot of other great ministry ideas, it waned because there wasn’t enough buy-in from the ones who make the decisions… in this case, the pastor. The people in the pews really engaged in acts of discipleship, spiritual growth and prayer. It was amazing to witness their transformation. But in the end, expanding on what had begun never really had a chance because the pastor wasn’t willing to lead the way.
As I write and reflect on all that, I have a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I have a sense of what could have grown from those first seeds… I hope something great is happening below the surface. Ahh… such is the work of the minister… planting seeds/watering them/moving on/not usually getting to see the fruits of your labor.
In my reminiscing, I came across a memory of asking a man in the parish if he’d answer some survey questions for me. What are you selling? he said skeptically. I’m not selling anything… I just want to talk to you about your faith and what you think of discipleship. The man snapped back… You want me to talk about God?! … out loud?! He made it sound like I was asking him how much he weighed or how much money he made. I thought it was more like… what is your favorite sandwich meat? I was quite shocked. No surprise… he didn’t want to answer my questions.
I’m not sure where that kind of fear comes from… maybe from the staunch Catholic indoctrination that The-priest-is-the-only-one-qualified-to-know-the-faith-and-make-the-decisions. I realize that’s not the intended message in contemporary church rhetoric though it’s covertly subtle in public press releases. But somewhere it still lives in the memory archives of the people. The unspoken meaning survives in modern parish leadership. As a church, we’re just not going to survive that way much longer.
So another thing I want to tell you… delegate/empower/let go.
I know a priest who says to his staff: Your goal is to give away your job. In other words… Help people become disciples. Good in theory but it doesn’t really work because he doesn’t let go of the necessary decision-making strings that empower people to take ownership.
As a pastor, it might feel like creating disciples when tasks are delegated to good-hearted volunteers… but unless you hand over all of the power, people aren’t just going to continue to willingly do all the grunt work.
They want to be a real part of the team… not just on the injured reserve list.