When I moved from Milwaukee to Cincinnati to join Dynamic Catholic, I had to leave a lot behind.
Friends, family, a great parish, and a thriving ministry I started with some of my best friends.
But one of the hardest things to leave behind was my incredible spiritual director.
Finding help to grow spiritually is really hard. The good ones are all taken up, everyone you ask is super busy, and even if you can find someone who is willing to give you the time, you might not connect in that specific relationship.
On the other hand, everyone I know who serves as a spiritual director talks about how busy they are, how they get asked all the time, and how they are constantly turning people away. In fact, I know some priests who refuse to do spiritual direction altogether because they get asked so often!
We can’t replace the experience of one-on-one spiritual direction, but what if you could get insight from incredible spiritual directors and get some of their best advice, tips, or recommended spiritual practices? Wouldn’t you love to get to pick the brain of some of the best men and women of faith?
That’s exactly why I started my newest project.
I’m launching a podcast to help people who want to grow in their faith get access to some of the best Catholic leaders and spiritual directors I can get my hands on.
The goal of the podcast is simple: I want to talk to great Catholic leaders, spiritual directors, and incredible men and women of faith to tease out some of their best spiritual practices, tips for prayer, favorite scripture verses, recommended books, and whatever else might help you grow in your faith.
The podcast is called The Best Catholic Podcast and it can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Play. These people would never call themselves the best Catholics - and God help you if you think I’m the best Catholic. The goal of the podcast is to help YOU be the best Catholic you can be.
I'm hoping you'll do two things:
I want to help people live better lives. Better personal lives, better spiritual lives, and better parishes. Church and life can be better. I hope this podcast helps you live life just a little better.
And please let me know what you think. Reply to this email, message me on facebook or instagram, and tell me what you think of the first episode!
Thanks for reading everyone, and God bless,
Does your parish intrigue anyone?
Stop. Move your eyes about 3cm back up the page. Read those five words again.
Stop. Read those five words again. Think about them for 40 seconds before moving on.
It’s a serious question.
Does your parish intrigue anyone?
Every parish wants to grow, and when they say 'grow', they're usually talking about people.
So they make themselves warm and welcoming. They set up committees for hospitality. They do some service work in the community. They hold parish missions. They create learning opportunities surrounding the mass, and increase their adult formation classes.
That's a lot of hard work, and it's a lot of great work. And still, so many parishes would say, "yeah, we've done all that. And to be honest, we didn't see a lot of results. The same people came over and over again. The same people volunteered over and over again. And not much has changed."
If you want your Church to grow, you must go back and ask yourself the question at the top of this page.
Does your parish intrigue anyone?
New people are going to come to your parish for one of three reasons.
This happens all the time. Every year every parish is going to gain and few and lose a few to ‘life’. There is nothing to get excited about here.
This is a crapshoot. Who knows which Church this person will reach out to? This person is searching, and maybe you will be lucky enough that they stumble upon you.
The only path to intentional parish growth is to intrigue people.
How do you do it? How can your parish intrigue people?
To answer that you have to understand a little bit about how intrigue works.
One of the most powerful tools our brains use to help us understand the world around us are schemas. The world works a certain way, our brain figures out the patterns, and that understanding (called a schema) is filed away for future use. Schemas help us know what to expect from the world around us. We learn how to react, how to behave, and how to process everything that is happening. But what happens when something breaks one of our schemas?
The person in front of us at the drive through pays for our coffee.
Someone is incredibly rude or downright mean.
We experience a profound instance of ‘good luck’.
We experience a tragedy.
That’s just four, but really our schemas could be broken in a thousands ways. What if the traffic light was purple, blue, and hot pink? That would break a schema that is formed in our mind about traffic lights.
Parishes that intrigue people do it by breaking schemas. It’s how we grab attention and create curiosity.
The people in your community have a schema built about your parish. What is it?
Figure out the schemas the people in your greater community have about your parish, then smash them.
Here are a few ways a parish can break schemas:
These are just a few ideas. Spend some time and you can come up with many of your own. Make sure they are way outside of the ‘normal’ that we experience in everyday life, and make sure they are visible by your community. If they also serve your community, that’s even better.
There was an incredible program in Milwaukee called OremusMKE that broke schemas.
The young adults in this group would go to a parish that was in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, usually situated amongst the bar district. From 9pm to midnight they would have music and adoration, and the doors of the church would be wide open. They had a team of people who would stand outside the doors and invite people who were on their way to the bar to come in and pray for world peace. They had confessions available in case someone wanted it, and plenty of people for passerbys to have a conversation with.
I promise you, the last thing someone expects when they are walking downtown at ten o’clock at night going to the bars is to be asked to pray for world peace. It broke schemas and it was incredibly intriguing.
If you want your parish to grow, start asking yourself who the parish is intriguing.
Thanks for reading, and as always, reach out to me and let me know what you think.
I keep a file on my computer that’s titled ‘Lessons I’ve learned’.
One of the lessons has been on my mind lately. It says . . .
Changing your life - even the smallest change - is incredibly hard.
It’s resolutions season, so life-change is on the mind. We don’t usually use that lingo, but that’s what everyone is talking about when they come up with another future member of Abandoned New Year’s Resolutions Anonymous. (Hello, my name is ‘Going to the gym’, and it’s been three weeks since I was completely forgotten.)
If you’re a living, breathing human being, you know that New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. No news there. That’s why I have never cared for New Year’s Resolutions. I never thought about them. I never made them.
But I watched a TED talk recently that changed the way I look at resolutions.
What if, instead of picking one big goal for the year, I tried to pick one small goal for a shorter period of time. . . say a week? Changing your life is incredibly hard, but you can do almost anything for one week.
So I’m going to do something new in 2019, and I want you to do it with me.
2019 is going to be the year of the
Here is how it will work:
Each week I’m going to send out an email on Monday morning with a new challenge for the week.
The challenges will be relatively small, easy to achieve, and I’ll try to make sure they are pretty universal. But every goal or challenge will be designed to help you be a better person and live a better life.
Your goal is simple: Complete the challenge.
Pay for the person behind you in line at Starbucks
Send a hand-written letter to someone you love
Drink nothing but water for one day this week
Go to bed early one night this week (1 hour before your normal bed time)
Download the free Duolingo App and pick a language and complete one lesson per day for one week
Write a poem - even a really really bad one
Stop by a Church for ten minutes sometime this week
I’m also going to include a few tips to help you complete the task. Some best practices to make it easier.
And I don’t want us to do this on our own. Changing your life is hard, but two things help: accountability and encouragement. I want the One-Week Challenge to be a true community. So here are the other elements of the One-Week Challenge:
First, each week you should find someone to complete the challenge with you. You could do it with a group of friends, or try to pick a new person each week. Or invite a specific person if you think they’ll get a lot out of that weeks particular challenge.
Second, you can share your experience on social media using the hashtag #theoneweekchallenge. Make sure you tag me in your post as well!
So, are you ready to take up the challenge?
If you're already signed up for emails from me you don't need to sign up again. If you don't already subscribe, fill out the form at the bottom of this page to get signed up.
The new year technically starts tomorrow, but we're going to give you your first challenge right now to help you get 2019 started off right.
Your first challenge: Email a friend and invite them to join you in the One-Week Challenge.
You'll have a better 2019 if you commit to trying to do something different and you have someone to do it with.
Send a short email with a quick personal note. Some version of:
"Hey Jimbo! This year I wanted to try something a little different, so I signed up to get a weekly email with a simple challenge designed to help me get more out of life. I know this is a little out of left-field, but my first challenge is to find a friend to do it with me, and I thought of you. More info and the signup can be found by clicking here. What do you think? Can I count you in?"
That's it. It's not much, but few things will help you live a better life than helping someone else live a better life.
Alright everyone. As you know, I believe in better, and I believe we can make 2019 better than 2018. Let's get out there and do it together.
If you have any questions, ideas, suggestions, always reach out to me! I love connecting with you.
God bless, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
On July 3, 2017 we lost a beloved family member suddenly and tragically.
It wasn’t a beautiful passing at the end of a long, full life. There wasn’t plenty of time to say goodbye. It was abrupt and scary and sad.
To me he was Uncle Mark.
To my kids he was Papa Choppa.
And to others he was husband, father, son, brother, neighbor, and friend.
And his death affected everyone - albeit in different ways.
His wasn’t the first death I’ve experienced. But after he died I was left with a question that I had never known before in the face of death:
What could I have done differently?
A month before he died, Papa Choppa tried to FaceTime me and my boys, but we were at a museum and I didn’t answer. And I never called him back. I don’t know why I can’t get that out of my head. I guess because now - in hindsight - I know it would have been the last time we talked.
I can’t actually remember the last time we talked. I can only remember the last missed opportunity.
That’s what I think about. What could I have done differently?
In a week, my whole family is going to get together to celebrate Christmas, but Uncle Mark won’t be there. And he will be missed. It will make me sad he’s not there.
But, while I will miss him, I’ll be spending more time thinking about how my Aunt is doing. She didn’t lose an Uncle. She lost a husband. A best friend. The person she was supposed to do the rest of her life with.
Christmas can be a brutal time for someone who has lost a loved one. Everyone knows that. But how do you help? How do you help someone who has lost a loved one at Christmas?
You can’t fix it. You can’t make up for it. You can’t bring the loved one back.
But too often we miss the opportunity to help. Why?
I’m no grief guru! I’m not a psychologist! I’m no spiritual master! I don’t know the right words to say! I don’t know what to do! I’m going to upset someone, or hurt them, or make it worse.
The one thing that stops most people from helping someone who has lost a loved one at Christmas is fear that somehow you are going to make it worse. Which, when you really think about it, is absurd.
Do you really think you can make losing a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or a sibling, worse for someone? I’m going to bet it’s already as bad as it can get.
But HOW do I help?
The reality is that there is no single ‘right’ way to help someone who has lost a loved one at Christmas. You can google the topic and find plenty of lists full of ideas. And some of them might help, and some of them might not. Everyone is different. Every situation is different.
You can only decide what is right for you and your loved one.
Here’s what I’m going to do to try to help.
That’s about it. Three simple things. It’s not much, but that’s what I can do. And I hope it will help my aunt know that I care, that my family cares, that Uncle Mark is loved, and that she is loved.
What might work for you?
These are just a few ideas. In the end, you have to do what is right for you and your family. Don’t be pushy or over the top. Simple is usually better. And make sure you respect the wishes of whoever has lost the loved one. If he or she doesn’t want stories told, or prayers prayed, then don’t do it.
Don’t let the fear of making things worse paralyze you from offering help and comfort. The great irony is that doing nothing - saying nothing, ignoring the topic, pretending everything is fine, moving right along as if nothing happened - that probably IS the one and only way to make things worse.
So do something. Remember. Care. Spread some love.
I’ve learned my lesson. I never want to have to ask myself again: what could I have done differently?
May God bless you and bring comfort and healing to all those you love this Christmas.
When’s the last time you did a good thing?
Most of us consider ourselves ‘good people’. What does that mean? If the standard is simply not doing something morally evil - like tripping your neighbor lady as she walks by with her hands full of groceries - we’ve set our standards pretty low.
Maybe your standards are a little higher - you carried her groceries in for her!
Sorry. . . I’m still not impressed.
Carry in the groceries. But know that that’s not good. That’s the bare minimum.
Now be honest with yourself. You be honest with yourself, and I’ll be honest with myself.
How often are we doing just the bare minimum?
But. . .
I helped my kid with his homework!
I did the laundry for my whole family!
I let the guy in line go in front of me!
I helped my coworker clean the snow off her car!
I said a prayer for my sick grandma!
Gut check: I’m usually doing the bare minimum.
This morning, I read about a friend of mine who did something really good.
His name is Pete and he posted this on all the social medias:
“Since our son (redacted for the protection of the innocent) was born last November we’ve come up with a few sing along songs for him. It started as one line tunes to keep him calm, dance around the house, and to simply love on our little guy. His love for these songs has brought us so much joy these past twelve months! One “what if" idea has led to another, and welp… here is a full album with those songs. It’s definitely not professional...it may not even be amateur! The vocals are only on key every other note and the guitar is pretty sloppy too. We just thought it’d be fun to share a taste of our family life with you and document our first year with him. It costs a little money because we apparently had to charge something instead of nothing to get it on iTunes...maybe a good white elephant gift? Any proceeds will go towards (redacted for the protection of the innocent)’s college fund! Disclaimer: This is a joke...but it is also not a joke. We hope you enjoy it! Cheers all.”
Pete did a good thing. That’s well beyond the bare minimum.
Why do I bring this up?
Truth is, everyone’s got their thing.
Their own fears.
Their own big bad wolf.
Their own drama.
Likely, your thing is tied up with someone else’s thing. It’s a worry for someone or about someone. They might know it, they might not. But it’s there, and it’s your thing.
We’ve all got our thing. And, when it comes to dealing with our things, there are four kinds of people:
Which group do you belong to?
Most of us hope we are in Group D and fear we are in Group B.
None of us are in Group A - because we care gosh darnit! And of course none of us can be lumped in with that deplorable Group C. Ugh. Those people are the worst. We’d never be like one of them!
But it’s group C you really have to watch out for. Group C is the dangerous one. See, Group C masquerades as so many different excuses. . .
I don’t want to hurt anyones feelings :(
I don’t want to offend someone :(
I don’t want anyone to make fun of me :(
I don’t want anyone to reject me :(
I’ve tried before and failed :(
Guess what. . those are the battle cries of someone in Group C. You failed in the past, or you’re scared you’ll fail if you try something, or you’re afraid you’ll offend someone, or you’re afraid someone will think you’re stupid. And all that fear puts you in Group C.
Don’t worry. We’ve all been there.
Want to get into Group D? Want to do something good?
Step 1: Believe you can make a difference.
Everyone has different narratives in their head.
You aren’t pretty enough.
You aren’t smart enough.
You aren’t experienced enough.
You aren’t clever enough.
You’re too old.
You’re too young.
You’re too out of touch.
But all those narratives can be summed up into one: You’re not good enough.
If you want to do something good, you’re going to have to start telling yourself you’re good enough.
Problem is, you won’t believe yourself.
So you’re going to have to do it again and again and again. And eventually, you’re going to do something great!
. . . and then you’ll start telling yourself you aren’t good enough again.
And you’re going to have to tell yourself - over and over again - that you’re good enough.
Call it self-help self-talk psycho babble mumbo jumbo. Call it whatever the heck you want. I don’t care.
Step one is to start telling yourself you can, never stop telling yourself you can, and if you do that you just might convince yourself you can do something good.
Step 2: Don’t focus on things that are, focus on things as they can be.
Things aren’t good as they are. That’s why you want them to change.
But how will they ever change if you only ever focus on how they are? That sentence is confusing. Maybe an analogy will help.
If you’re stuck in the mud, you can either focus on the mud, or you can look for something to get you out of it. Those are really you’re only too options. You’ll never get out if you don’t look for something to get you out.
So you’re kid is messed up, or your marriage is on the rocks, or you lost your job, or your new business went under. The solution is rarely hiding in the problem.
Focus on things as they can be, then backtrack to where you are now.
The path forward will reveal itself in the process.
Step 3: Do something only you can do, and make sure it makes a big difference.
Always operate out of your sweet spot.
No one else could make a children’s album about Pete’s family life. Only he can do that. And if you don’t think writing music for your son, singing it to him every day, and recording that music for him to listen to when you’re old and wrinkly and can’t hold a guitar anymore, then you don’t know what really matters.
Someday, I believe Pete’s son might be feeling a little unloved, or a little lonely, or a little rejected, and I believe he’s going to play an album that his Dad recorded before he knew which way was up, and I think it’s going to make him feel better. And I think that really matters.
Step 4: Do it for yourself, not someone else.
If Pete tried to make an album for the world, he would have failed. Crashed and burned. He wrote an album for himself and his family and that makes all the difference.
Don’t worry about whether or not you can sell it. Don’t worry about whether or not it will make a difference to someone else. Don’t worry about what other people will think.
I created a prayer journal that’s sold hundred of copies. But I made it because I wanted it. I could have never sold a single copy, and that would have been fine. I still would have used it myself everyday for the rest of my life.
Rebecca and I created artwork for our son’s bedroom wall. We don’t care if anyone else wants it. We did it for ourselves and our son. If someone else wants one, great! If no-one else wants one, that’s great too. Because we didn’t do it for anyone else.
Maybe you have to say something to someone you love but you’re afraid of how they will react. Don’t say it for them. Say it for yourself. If it helps them, great. If they ignore you or get mad at you, forget it. You’ve said what you needed to say.
And that’s a good thing.
. . .
Everyone wants to be a good person. Good people do good things.
I think the world needs more good people doing good things.
Not profitable things. Not amazing things. Not magnificent things.
Things like a loving Dad making his one year old son an album. Not so people will buy it. Not so he will win a Grammy.
Just so his son will always know how loved he is.
And what good music sounds like.
My friend - go make some music in your life.
God bless. Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts.
What’s your greatest fear?
If you ask me, I’ll tell you snakes. They terrify me. They are LITERALLY the embodiment of the devil. In fact, I had a nightmare about snakes just last night (this is not a joke, and I'm worried that working on this post last night had something to do with it.)
But I’d be lying. Snakes aren’t my greatest fear.
My greatest fear is that my kids will grow up and fall away from the faith.
My greatest desire. . . my only wish. . . my most fervent prayer. . . I just want my kids to grow up happy, healthy, and - most importantly - holy.
But some days I’m terrified that my prayer won’t be answered. I'm terrified that I won't raise my kids right. Where does this fear come from?
Every time I speak I hear from at least one parent who doesn’t know what to do because their kids have fallen away from the faith. Men and women old enough to be my parents, that I’ve just met, coming to me in tears, asking ME what to do. And I don’t know what to tell them.
The other reason is that I’ve seen so many of my childhood friends fall away from the faith. I grew up surrounded by incredible men and women of faith. Many of my friends’ parents became like second parents to me. Men I looked up to and thought, “I pray that I can be half the man and husband and father that he is.” Men and women who did everything right. And yet, those friends, who had such a strong faith in high school, who were instrumental in bringing me into the faith. . . so many of them fell away from the Church years ago.
So there it is. That's my greatest fear.
And that’s why I’m incredibly excited about what Rebecca and I are getting our oldest son, Anthony, for Christmas this year. I can’t wait to tell you about it. He’s going to love it. I believe it’s going to help pass on the faith. I believe it’s going to be a meaningful part of his life for years to come. And - and the importance of this can’t be understated - he is going to absolutely LOVE it.
I’m going to tell you all about it. I’m going to SHOW it to you. But first, let me give you a little background.
A few years ago, Anthony asked me if I’d come lay with him in bed one night. As we laid in the dark, he said something I’ll never forget.
“Sometimes it feels scary at night. The world feels so big and I feel so little.”
I don’t know if any sentence has ever captured the fear of a child more beautifully and more completely. We started to talk about being afraid, and how things can seem so much bigger than us, and how we wish we could control everything but we can’t. And then I told him about guardian angels.
I told him how God loved him so much that he got one of his most trusted and powerful angels, and that the angels only job is to watch over and protect him. That the angel never leaves him and how he can pray and ask his guardian angel for comfort and courage when he needs it.
It helped, I think. But I left that room feeling like I wish I could do more than just tell him all those things. I wanted to make the invisible visible.
So Rebecca and I had an idea. What if we bought artwork for his wall of a guardian angel? Something that would help him to see everything I was talking about. Something that would put all those words into something he could see and feel.
I began scouring the internet and I found. . . nothing. Well, that’s not true. I found disappointment. I did every search imaginable to find something that would be close to what I was looking for. What I found. . .
Rebecca and I prayed, and God gave us a dream. What if we just do it ourselves?
We started writing down a really clear vision of what we wanted this piece of artwork to say and do. We scoured the internet for images that had a similar design to what we were looking for, and then we sent our vision and source images out to designers.
We got a bunch of different mock ups, worked with a select few designers to get something closer to what we were praying about, polled friends and family to get their feedback, and eventually settled on THE ONE.
Here it is:
I love it. I couldn’t be happier about it. Let me tell you why.
Rebecca and I spent hundreds of dollars on this gift. We had it printed on artist quality canvas, stretched over a wood frame, and it’s BIG. 20” by 30”. We wanted the presentation to be worthy of hanging on his walls for the rest of his life.
I have high hopes for what this will do in his life.
I hope it will be something faith based that he actually is attracted to.
I hope that it will make him feel safe and protected, loved, and cared for.
Without trying, he is going to memorize this verse. It’s just going to happen.
I hope that someday when he is much older, when life is weighing on him, when times are dark, when he is lonely or struggling or scared, I BELIVE that the message of this Christmas gift will shine forth from the back of his heart and mind reminding him, “The LORD Himself will fight for you. You must only be still.”
This is the best Christmas gift Rebecca and I are ever going to get our son. Hands down. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited for Christmas morning.
Last thing. . .
Rebecca and I are so excited about this, and we want to share that excitement with you. After having a few friends and family ask about getting the same gift for their son, we decided to make it available for anyone who wants to share the faith with their kids.
We got everything set up on my website for anyone who wants to get this for their son, grandson, godson, etc. I hope and pray that it will have the impact on your family that I believe it will have on mine. And please share this post with anyone you know who wants to pass on the faith to their kids.
Pray with me that God’s will is done in all this. That we’ve done something for Him and that it will help build His kingdom. And please say a prayer that anyone who has this Guardian Angel Art hanging on their wall will never leave the faith.
Let me know if you have any questions, or give me your thoughts in the comments or through an email. I really appreciate you for reading, for your prayers, and for helping me be better!
This past Saturday I received four parish mission requests in one morning.
Yes, you read that right.
Four. All for Lent 2019.
It’s exciting. I love working with parishes. Absolutely love it. The people I get to interact with inspire me. It’s a privilege to work with them.
In fact, I talk about that privilege at almost every event I speak at.
I make sure the event attendees know that I wholeheartedly believe God wants them to be there and that God wants to do something powerful in their lives. And I implore them to never allow anyone the privilege of speaking at their parish who doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that God wants them there and that God wants to do something powerful in their lives.
Speaking at a parish and working with the pastor or staff or volunteers for an event is a privilege I don’t take for granted. I want the event to be as successful as possible. I know that the organizers want the event to be as successful as possible. And I believe God wants it to be as successful as possible too.
The problem is I don’t always know what success means. And I don’t think the parish organizing the event always know what success means either.
Consider a parish mission. Is a parish mission successful when. . .
There are so many different ways to define that word: “Success”.
And I can get caught up worrying about success. . .
Am I doing it right?
Is this going to work?
Is this the right thing?
Is this the right talk?
Am I using the right stories?
Am I giving them the right next steps?
Sometimes before an event I’ll get all panicky. I’ll think I should maybe re-write one of the talks. Or that I haven’t prayed enough. Or that I’m just not holy enough to do this kind of work. I’ve had those kinds of fears for years. Luckily, a long time ago a friend gave me a prayer that helps me get over it:
Lord, I’m going to do my work to the best of my ability. Help me to trust that You will do Yours.
It’s such a beautiful prayer. This prayer puts me in my place. Because in reality, when I get all twisted up about the things that are outside my control, I’m really falling into that trap of relying totally on myself, rather than God.
This short prayer reminds me that my work isn't about me and it doesn't rely on me.
God’s called me to do particular work with parishes. But more important than my work is His work. And I’ll never do a better job than God (duh).
As the speaker, I have things I need to focus on to do my best work. And the parish has specific work it should focus on to do its best work.
What does the parish work on?
Vision - Have you prayed about your parish mission or event? Do you know who God wants you to reach? Have you asked God what He wants to do in their lives?
Planning - Have you planned the details of time, location, length, speaker, and hospitality according to God’s vision?
Execution - Are you doing the least you can do, or the most you can do? Are you settling for good enough, when you could be striving for excellence? Have you recruited people to help who have the talents to make your parish mission or event successful?
Follow up - Is there a clear point to your parish mission or event? Do the people know what they are supposed to do next? Is there some sort of clear follow up that prevents the ‘flash in the pan’ effect?
These are huge questions. Every step above could warrant an entire post to itself. Those steps outline our work. Conversion, changed hearts, changed lives. . . that’s God’s work.
In ministry - and in life - we are always better off when we focus on our work, and trust God to do His.
That’s why I’ve created the Parish Mission Best Practice Survey. I want to do the best work I can possibly do, and I want to help the parishes I work with do the best work they can possibly do.
The goal is to learn some best practices, see what works for different parishes, and learn what ’success’ really looks like when it comes to parish missions. In the end, I hope this research will lead to a practical guide to make the best parish mission possible.
Is the research going to be perfect? No. And guess what: we will never do a perfect job. But it could help us be better. And as you know, I’m all about being better.
Click below to take the parish mission survey:
It will only take you a few minutes and I plan to share the results with anyone who wants them. Take the survey and you’ll be helping me and parishes across the country do better.
Y'all are awesome. As always, thanks for reading! If you have any questions about the survey or the work I'm doing, shoot me a comment or an email.
Working for the Church can feel lonely.
I had just finished the last talk at a staff retreat I was leading, and I noticed a woman waiting patiently as I gave advice and exchanged contact information with some of her fellow staff members.
When the room had cleared out, she approached, tears in her eyes.
I tried to ask if she was OK, but I stumbled over my words. She spoke first.
Not exactly what I had expected to hear. I finally found my voice.
“Is everything okay?”
Her name was Anna and she was the DRE at the parish. She went on to explain how deeply she cared about her parish and the people that she served. She told me about all the late nights alone in the office and long weekends around the parish. And she told me that for a long time she felt entirely alone in her work.
“Sometimes I wonder if anyone else even cares,” she said. “It seems like everyone else is just fine with the way things are, and I’m by myself trying to help the parish get better.”
One of the topics I speak about on staff retreats is how to develop a culture where ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough. Almost every person who works for the Church is good hearted and kind natured. More often than not, it is not that they have stopped trying, but ‘good enough’ has become the norm. Anna started pouring over every aspect of the talk. It was one of those, “I felt like you gave that talk just for me” kind of moments.
I’ll share with you the practical portion of the talk which made such an impact on Anna’s parish, and in turn helped Anna feel like she wasn’t fighting alone.
During the talk I give three practical steps for developing a culture where ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough.
1. Be thirsty for best practices
I see it all too often. A parish is trying to do something and they are just making it up as they go along. Or they have been doing something for a long time, and they have ‘their way’ because ‘that’s just the way we have always done it around here’.
There is NO poorer decision-making process than simply settling with, “that’s our way”.
If you want to develop a culture of excellence, become thirsty for best practices. Best practices should influence everything your parish does, from the landscaping to the emails.
Let’s use email as an example.
Every parish sends emails. And more likely than not, ten different staff members spend time collecting the same parishioner's email addresses, and they email them on their own schedule, with their own style - other than the fact that they are all using blue size 16 Comic Sans for their font. It’s awful, and pretty soon parishioners stop opening their email. If it comes from the parish it gets the quick delete.
A parish that is hungry for best practices won’t make up their email design on their own. They will consider who they are trying to reach, find a best practice, and copy it!
Let’s say you work as the secretary for the parish’s grade school, and you are responsible for the weekly email to the parents. Consider who you are trying to reach: the parents of young children. Who is incredible at reaching them? Disney. Go to the Walt Disney Resort website and sign up for their email list. Then look at the emails you get from them and copy them.
If they have a large image as the first thing you see, make sure yours does too. If they use bullets, use bullets. Compare the fonts and try to use the same one, the same sizes, the same colors, and make sure you change it based on headings, body, hyperlinks, etc.
This is just one small example of how you put best practices into action. Use best practices for bulletins, emails, homilies, music, decoration, landscape, parking, communication, and everything else your parish does.
2. Commit to incremental improvement
Imagine if you exert an inch worth of effort twelve times in twelve different directions. How far will you get? One inch.
Imagine if you exert an inch worth of effort twelve times in the same direction. How far will you get? One foot.
When every member of a staff is exerting their effort in their own direction, no one gets anywhere. Get everyone pointed in the same direction and you will be more effective.
Get everyone on the staff on the same page, and get them to commit to one thing at a time. Try to coordinate effort around a single issue that is affecting your church. Then move onto another.
We call this ‘alignment’.
Trying to fix everything at once is a surefire sign that you are taking the short view, and looking for silver bullets. There are no silver bullets in parish renewal, and we can only be successful when we see things as God sees them. And God always takes the long view.
If you coordinate efforts it might mean that an issue you care deeply about won’t get addressed until three or four other issues are addressed. But if you will take the long view and be patient, you will find how much stronger an effort you can make when you aren’t on your own, and how much less lonely it is to work with other people.
3. Work like everything depends on you.
You’ve probably heard the old saying before: Pray like everything depends on God. Work like everything depends on you.
Develop a culture of hard work. If you aren’t sure how to do that, next week I’ll be posting an article on just how to build a culture of hard work in your parish.
People who work hard together feel strong bonds with one another. People who work hard feel better. People who work hard have a sense of skin in the game. People who word hard care more about results. People who work hard have a better sense of accomplishment. People who work hard, simply put, often do better work.
God doesn’t want you to feel like you are on an island. That’s not why we work for the Church.
Parish renewal is hard. Trying to fulfill God’s dream for your parish can feel like lonely work, but it doesn’t have to be.
Look at the three practical steps above, and try implementing them in your parish. You might not have the authority to implement all of them, but you always control your own effort.
Try putting your effort behind someone else’s, even if it doesn’t immediately benefit you. See how that makes you feel more like a team. Commit to best practices in your work, and see who notices. Work hard, and let yourself be an inspiration to the rest of your team.
We always control more than we think. And we don’t have to be alone.
I was a bad dad today.
Bottom of the last inning, my son’s team is up six runs.
New pitcher comes in. Gives up five runs without getting an out.
Tying run at third. Winning run at second.
Intentionally walk the bases loaded, bring in a new pitcher, instruct our infielders to play in and throw home on any ground ball.
First batter: strikeout.
Second batter: strikeout.
Instruct the infielders to move back. Get the easiest out at any base.
Third batter: popup between short and third base, closer to the third basemen. Easy catch for the third out. Easy catch to win the game.
My son is the shortstop. He’s drifting over. The third basemen has a better angle on the ball. Four coaches (myself the loudest) start screaming at the boys “call it!”. They both do. Neither of them can hear the other. My son jumps up. Their gloves bump into each other. The ball ricochets off one of the gloves and goes behind them. Runners at third and second score.
I take three bounding steps towards third base, eyes blazing, and yell, “That’s it. That just lost us the game.”
I can’t believe I said it. I can’t believe I did it.
I was a bad dad today.
. . .
Church and Life can be better. If you go to the homepage on my website, it’s the first thing you’ll read.
I’ve been thinking about the second half of that sentence a lot since that game. If you want to believe life can be better, you have to recognize that it’s not perfect now. And, frankly, I’m just not very good at that.
Social media is, of course, the purest example of this. If my son’s team wins the championship, I’ll post a picture of us all smiling. They lose a tough game, I flip my lid and act like an ass, am I posting about it on Facebook? Of course not. (Apparently I’m writing about it on my blog though. . .)
So here it is: Sometimes I’m a bad dad. Sometimes I’m a bad husband. Sometimes I’m lazy at work. Sometimes the people in my life hurt me. Sometimes I hurt myself by eating too much, or swearing too much, or falling to the same sins over and over again. People I love have killed themselves. People I love are dying of cancer. I’m really scared about work and finances right now.
In so many ways, I wish life was better.
In so many ways, I wish I was better.
So sometimes I need to be reminded:
Church and Life can be better.
Life can be better. It’s more than just a tagline. It’s more than a catch phrase. It’s a core belief. It’s an organizing principle.
I believe life can be better. I believe I can be better. I do not believe it’s going to happen overnight. I do not believe it’s going to happen by magic. But I believe it can happen. I believe God can make it happen.
God’s done a lot in my life (Understatement of the Century Award goes to. . . ). More than any of you will ever know. It’s a miracle I’m where I am and doing what I’m doing. The credit goes completely to Him, and not at all to me.
And when I stop, and I remember where He has brought me from, I am reminded: It’s all going to get better. He is going to make it better.
I need that reminder sometimes. And I need to be reminded to do something about that core belief.
What’s the best reminder that God’s going to make life better? For me, the answer is gratitude. If you’ve got something better, please shoot me an email or leave a comment and share it. But for me, the best way to remind myself that God is going to make life better is to look back at all the good work he has already done.
Gratitude. It’s one of those simple and life-changing things. Taking a few minutes, grabbing a real sheet of paper and a real pen, and writing down ten things that you are grateful for. Doing it every morning, and every night. It will absolutely change your life. And it’s so easy. It’s the ultimate reminder that God’s got this, and He is going to make life better.
But just because God’s got it doesn’t mean I’m off the hook. I need to work to be better too.
The way I behaved after that baseball game was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done. I’m ashamed of it. And I never want to act that way again.
So I went and got a small pocket sized notebook, and I wrote down how I want to behave as a baseball coach. I closed my eyes, imagined myself as the incredible coach I want to be, and I wrote down what that person looked like.
You are going to be the emotional rock of the team. You will not react emotionally to the game. You will be calm and unfazed throughout the ups and downs of the game. When a kid makes a mistake you will not react. You will remember that mistakes are part of the game. If the mistake requires instruction, you will do it after the game, in private. You will never raise your voice. You will be the quietest person on the field. You will praise good performance in a simple way. You will be reassuring to the kids. They will never fear you. They will never fear how you will react when they make a mistake. You will encourage the kids to play with joy and respect.
It’s not a perfect list. I wrote it down never thinking anyone would read it but me. But that’s what I wrote. And before the next game, I kept that small notebook in my back pocket. I read that page in the morning when I made the lineup. I read that page in the car when I arrived at the park. I read that page after warm ups, right before first pitch. I read that page before the start of every half inning.
And guess what.
I was better.
I was a bad dad and a bad coach, but I got better.
Life can be better.
At some point in life, most people are going to stop and wonder if they are doing the right thing.
I suppose this question escapes the insanely arrogant, but I’m going to assume you aren’t a member of that elite club.
Am I sending my kid to the right school?
Is this the right person to marry?
Am I in the right job?
Those questions are about the big stuff, but there are many more questions about the little stuff.
Did I say the right thing in that moment?
Was this the best use of my time?
Should I have had that second helping of cheesecake? (The answer, for the record, is yes. The second helping of cheesecake is always the right thing.)
And, of course, the question comes up in ministry too.
At the end of every talk I give, I wonder if I should have covered a different point or shared a different story. I wonder - sometimes to the point of worry - if I met the audience where they are, if I shared a message God wanted them to hear.
Questions like this are a plague. Anyone who is doing ministry - and that can mean working professionally in ministry, serving as an ordained, or just a mom who wants her kids to keep the faith - knows questions like this. Was there something more I could have done? Was there something else I could have said?
If you’re like me, you care a lot. You aren’t here for the paycheck (obviously). You’re here because it’s a ministry - a calling. It’s the most important thing: to help people know God.
So how do you know if you’re doing the right thing?
Speaking as someone who has done the big stuff - spoken at the conferences and retreats, consulted for parishes and Diocese . . . And as someone who has been the volunteer small group leader for the youth ministry retreat and served on my parish council . . . I’ve come up with a simple litmus test for how I’m doing.
And it’s probably going to surprise you.
Too often, we want other people to validate what we are doing. We actually aren’t seeking to do the right thing, we’re just seeking the validation. But the one way to know you’re doing the right thing is actually the exact opposite of validation.
The one way to know you’re doing the right thing in ministry is to have someone else tell you you’re doing the wrong thing.
That’s it. That’s the one way.
Now is where you ask me to explain. . .
There are four reasons why having someone else tell you “you’re doing the wrong thing” is actually the best sign you are doing the right thing.
Reason 1: Because Jesus said so
“If the world hates you, realize it hated me first.” John 15:18.
Usually people in ministry use this verse to say that they should be hated by ‘society’ or the ‘outside world’. But I’m not positive that Jesus meant the only animosity can come from our culture.
If you stop and consider the story of Jesus’ life, it wasn’t usually the ‘world’ who hated him. Usually it was some combination of the Sanhedrin, the pharisees, or the scribes. Meaning the hatred came from the inside, not the outside.
They were the ones who were so threatened by him. They were the ones who chastised him for healing on the sabbath, for breaking the rules and not doing ministry the right way. Jesus was the first one who was trying to do really good things, and instead got called out and shot down (or at least they attempted to shoot him down) by other ‘ministers’.
So, if someone is telling you that you’re doing it all wrong, don’t worry. You’re in good company.
Reason 2: Because it means you’ll have real honesty
It’s important to recognize that there is a chance that you might actually be doing it wrong. But here is the thing. . .
Doing it ‘wrong’ is usually the best way to get at doing it right anyways.
Doing the wrong thing is the quickest way to doing the right thing IF you can have real honesty about what’s working, what isn’t working, and how to make things better. Of course the problem is that honesty is pretty hard to come by.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a family, a group of friends, a marriage, a school or parish council, a parish, or a ministry: honesty is hard to come by.
No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Everyone wants to be so nice.
So what do they do? They don’t say anything when they see someone else making a mistake, they just tell everyone else. They bite their tongue and watch as someone they care about makes mistake after mistake, because they don’t want to hurt their feelings. They are afraid that if they try to help someone improve, that person will feel judged and hurt, so it’s best not to say anything anyways. They let their parish or ministry fall further and further from excellence under the banner of being ‘nice’.
At least if someone calls you out, you know you can have some honesty. And honesty is always the best policy.
Reason 3: Because it will help you redefine what it means to do the right thing
If someone has the honesty to challenge whether or not you’re doing the right thing, it will force you to really examine yourself - and examining yourself is always good.
If you’re doing the right thing, you’ll quickly be reminded of why. You judge a tree by it’s fruit (that’s another line of Jesus’ by the way. Turns out he knew a thing or two).
Let’s say someone comes to a youth minister and tells him he is doing youth ministry all wrong. It’s not enough discipleship and there aren’t any small groups! He thinks about it and looks at his group. It’s growing in size, the kids are coming because they want to, and more and more of the older kids are taking leadership positions. He looks at the fruit and thinks, you know, I think we’re doing just fine right now.
Or someone comes to the pastor and tells him he is doing it all wrong. You aren’t chanting the Mass! You aren’t celebrating ad orientem! The priest looks and sees that his parish has grown in size year over year for the past five years. Their percentage of households giving financially has increased 30% over the past three years, and they’ve hired two new staff members to help coordinate everything the parish has going on. The community is vibrant and alive. He looks at the fruit and thinks, you know what, I think this is probably working out.
For the record, I have nothing against small groups, discipleship, chanting, or ad orientem. That’s not the point. The point is that when we are challenged, we are forced to look at the evidence of whether or not something is working. And that only leads us to one of two things:
1) There is good fruit of the work so I’m going to keep moving forward
2) There isn’t good fruit, so I need to reevaluate things.
Doing something and having honesty about it is always the right thing, even if it’s just a step in the road to getting to the better thing.
Reason 4: Because history shows us that this is the way it has to be
Under attack for doing what you think is right? Congrats, you’re not the only one.
St. Paul is one of the first Catholic examples. He got down and dirty with the gentiles, changing how he behaved/spoke/ and the customs he followed based upon who he was ministering to. And you know what? People - not the culture or the world, but literally the other disciples - chastised him for it.
St. Paul was part of more than one debate about how to ‘do ministry the right way’. And he had to call out a lot of his brothers - including St. Peter - with honesty and love, to help them do the right thing too.
St. Francis is a beloved figure today, but was controversial in his time and despised by many in the Church leadership. St. Therese of Lisieux wasn’t much cared for by some of her fellow sisters. Mother Theresa and John Paul II knew that people doubted them and told them they were doing it all wrong.
Don’t even get me started on Pope Francis. The world loves him, the Church though?
The point is, this isn’t new. The biggest ministry names in history had to face the challenges of people within the Church telling them that what they were doing was wrong.
And so has every great mom, dad, friend, employee or employer, and lay minister.
It comes with the territory.
. . .
In the end, I want you to know this:
Doing something is always the right thing. That’s the bottom line.
Too many people do nothing out of fear of doing the wrong thing. But doing something with a good heart and pure intentions is always the right thing . . . Even if you discover at some point that there is a way to do it better.
Keep doing things everyone.
And as always, thanks for reading.
If you need anything just hit reply and email me!
My name is Dominick Albano and I'm an author, speaker, and consultant.