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.