Q&A with Bishop Paprocki and Catholic High Schools

Yesterday I had the pleasure of moderating a Catholic Schools Week Q&A webcast with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki and the students of the seven Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois:

I was very impressed with the questions the students came up with (a nice mixture of light and serious) and very pleased that, for our first attempt at this type of webcast, the technology didn’t fall apart on us! Our hope is to make this an annual event and to develop a similar experience for the other Catholic schools in our diocese.

The “Circles” of the New Evangelization

The phrase “New Evangelization” is frequently thrown around today to describe a variety of programs, teachings, initiatives, and projects – so much so that sometimes we forget that the New Evangelization is at its core, in the words of Donald Cardinal Wuerl, “a mode of thinking, seeing and acting… a lens through which we see the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel anew.”

To help combat the “programmatization” of the New Evangelization it may be helpful to think in terms of a series of concentric circles, each with its own needs and requiring its own approach:

circles

At the center of the circle is Jesus Christ, the ultimate end of the New Evangelization. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” That person is Jesus. The goal of evangelization and catechesis is to help individuals to know him – not just in an intellectual way, but through our lived experience in relationship to him.

The next circle from the middle consists of intentional disciples – those who have oriented their lives towards Jesus Christ and follow him in a way radically at odds with the ways of the world. It is important to note that intentional discipleship is more than just showing up for Sunday Mass. True discipleship flows into all aspects of our lives. Those who have reached this circle seek to emulate Jesus in all things.

The next circle out is seekers. These individuals are looking for more – and may be involved and present in our parishes – but they have yet to fully turn over their lives to Jesus. They are pursuing, to various degrees, a spiritual life and may well be on their way to true discipleship.

The “marginals” are those family members and friends that we may see at Christmas, Easter, or funerals, but who do not participate in the faith regularly. Many of them still have a personal prayer life and would bristle at being called “inactive” or “non-practicing.” However their religious activities do not include the wider Christian community, even if they continue to identify as Catholic.

Moving outwards we next encounter the “nones,” a rapidly growing group that identifies with no religious tradition. (They get their name because they mark “none” when asked about their preferred faith tradition on surveys.) Members of this group may or may not be hostile to religious faith, but they have no interest in organized religion, finding it to be irrelevant to their needs.

Finally, in the circle furthest from the center, is the culture. The Church’s teaching on the New Evangelization is clear that, in addition to reaching out to individuals in their communities, Christians are also called to evangelize the cultures in which they find themselves. This is accomplished through various outreach and service programs including Catholic schools and hospitals, and initiatives of the bishops such as Catholic Relief Services and advocacy for more just laws in the secular sphere.

The goal of the New Evangelization is to help people to come to know Jesus Christ – in effect, to help people to move from the outer circles to the center where we find, ultimately, union with Christ. What this looks like will depend on which “circle” we are dealing with. In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach will not meet the varied attitudes, experiences, and needs we will encounter in the people we meet. It is the work of our dioceses, parishes, and families to ensure that all people hear the Gospel and are invited to take that first step – no matter how small – towards Christ.

This post was originally written for the USCCB’s Diocesan Educational and Catechetical Leadership Institute.

Gigs, Geeks and God

GodTexting2

Today I am giving the keynote address at the Archdicoese of Milwaukee’s Gigs, Geeks and God conference. The topic of my keynote — “The New Evangelization in a Digital Culture” — explores how the Church can adapt to the emerging internet culture and rethink parish life in light of it.

A video of the presentation will be added here early next week.

Slides

Notes

The notes for this talk are available in PDF format.

Recommended Resources

The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger

“New Clues” for 2015 by Doc Searls and David Weinberger

The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet edited by Brandon Vogt

Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet by Sherry Turkel

Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps

Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis

Casting My Lots – Episode 2: Reading Time

In this week’s episode of Casting My Lots I go into a little more depth about yesterday’s “Five Books” post:

(What is Casting My Lots? Check out last week’s inaugural episode for details.)

5 Books for 2015

words

I am a firm believer that one of the most important activities a leader can engage in is good reading. Reading exposes us to new and challenging ideas, expands our understanding of the world, and offers respite from our normal business.

Since 2010 I’ve started out the year by recommending books I’ve read the past year to other catechetical leaders. Here’s this year’s list:

  1. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (2014); Whether you’re a Pixar fan or looking for leadership insight from someone with an impeccable track record, this book is an easy, delightful read. I’ve already taken some of his lessons to heart as a diocesan director.
  2. Confirmation: How a Sacrament of God’s Grace Became All About Us by Timothy R. Gabrielli (2013); Thinking about the Sacrament of Confirmation has absorbed much of my mental energy in recent years, and this small but dense book helped a lot in clarifying some of my thoughts. Gabrielli gives a thorough historical treatment of the Sacrament of Confirmation leading up to Vatican Council II and after, with a particular eye to its interactions with changing secular ideas about adolescence.
  3. Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis (2014); This is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically an apostolic exhortation, not a book, but “The Joy of the Gospel” continues to unfold its rich treasury of gifts as I unpack it in light of my own ministry. Don’t rush through this one: it rewards slow, deep reading.
  4. Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer (2014); This slim tome, by a Southern Baptist pastor, examines the factors that lead to a local church community’s decline and eventual failure. I posted a full review last May; suffice to say that there is much here that applies to Catholic parishes.
  5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1997); Recommended to me by the founder of LibraryThing, this science fiction novel tells the tale of the first Jesuit mission to another species on a distant planet. Russell does an outstanding job of portraying the rich faith lives of her diverse cast of characters — what could have come across as predictable and preachy is instead grounded, surprising, and tender.

Casting My Lots – Episode 1: Introductions

This week I’m debuting Casting My Lots, a weekly video in which I talk about something related to the catechetical ministry that has piqued my interest or caught my fancy. I explain the where and the why in episode 1:

I’m very excited to be doing a regular media-rich feature on my blog and I hope that you will enjoy it and find it beneficial for your ministry.

To get the fastest notification when a new episode is released, subscribe to my YouTube channel! (Of course, you’ll also get updates if you’re subcribed to my blog or email list.)

My Top Five Posts of 2014

Heavens-FenceDespite blogging for well over 10 years, I’ve never been very good about analyzing my blog’s stats to look for trends and patterns. This year I though it would be interesting to see which of my posts were the most-read in this past year. Here’s the list:

  1. Book Review: Forming Intentional Disciples (July 23, 2012): I continue to gain insights from Sherry Weddell’s book (and I’m looking forward to the follow-up being released soon). The book has taken Catholic evangelization circles by storm, so it’s no surprise that my review was my most-viewed post last year.
  2. 7 Sources for Parish Social Media Content (June 12, 2014): the intersection of catechesis and technology continues to be a mainstay of my writing and speaking. When discussing new media I love showing others easy, free ways to generate content. This post shows a few of those tricks.
  3. On the Catholic Interpretation of the Bible: Divino Afflante Spiritu (September 20, 2008): Despite being written over 6 years ago this post continues to get hits (over 2,700 since I started tracking hits) from people searching for information on Pius XII’s encyclical on biblical studies. I take some satisfaction at the thought that many term papers have been saved with this summary.
  4. The Spiritual Role of the Principal (September 27, 2010): This post summarizes the introductory session I run with our diocese’s new principals every year. (True story: every fall I just print out this post to use at the meeting!)
  5. Notes – Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization (April 22, 2014): I had the pleasure of presenting at last year’s NCEA conference in Pittsburgh, PA. This post collects my slides and notes from that breakout session.

Do you have any suggestions for what I should write about in 2015? Leave a comment!

I Don’t Want the Best

crown

Last year our diocesan department hosted a year-long discipleship program at a parish. At the introductory session the parish offered the use of a new LCD television mounted in the gathering space where we were presenting. It was obvious that the parish was very proud of the TV and wanted to make good use of it.

After that first session, our working group vowed never to use it again.

What we quickly discovered during that first session was that the LCD was inadequate to our needs — not because of the picture quality or a technological problem, but because we had grossly underestimated the number of people who would show up! The TV was too small for people in the back to see, mounted in such a way that only those sitting directly in front of it could get a clear view of the screen, and could not be moved to accommodate the entire group. In subsequent gatherings we brought our own portable projector.

My purpose here is not to put down the parish for purchasing the LCD television — for most of their needs it is no doubt perfect! But it is to point out that the “latest-and-greatest” isn’t necessarily the best choice for our ministries. Gains in one area (for instance, a sharper image on an LCD screen) sometimes mask drawbacks in other areas (screen size and usable viewing angles) that can limit the actual use. In our case, an older LCD projector turned out to offer us greater flexibility, which allowed us to respond in a more nimble way to actually meet our changing needs for this program. (Imagine if the number of attendees had exceeded the size of the room where the LCD TV was mounted — we would have had no way to display our presentation!)

This is true not just for technology, but also for catechetical programs.

It’s easy to be distracted by the new shiny and buy into a program, technology, or idea without considering how it fits into our established use patterns or weighing the pros and cons in real-life ministry settings. As catechetical leaders who are called to steward the resources we have been entrusted with, it behooves us to do our due diligence before investing time and money into something. For me, this includes asking my colleagues for their input since they bring experience and perspectives very different from mine. They often see things that I am blinded to — this is one reason having a good braintrust is so valuable!

Again, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t explore new possibilities or dismiss new programs and ideas. But it is to say that we are called to exercise the discretion called for by Christ: “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52)

Have you ever been suckered in by the new shiny? How can we exercise good discernment in bringing out the new and the old in our ministries?

Are Your Tweets Putting Your Ministry at Risk?

5897611358_5c15cd6f87_bYesterday I ran across a story about a recent Federal Trade Commission settlement with Deutsch LA, an advertising firm, regarding their social media marketing on behalf of a client.

Long story short: Deutsch LA a) tweeted information for a client and b) encouraged employees to do the same on their personal accounts, c) without disclosing the business relationship between the client and the company or the employee and the company. The FTC ruled this a violation of their disclosure rules. These rules state that if you promote something for which you have a vested interest (including, but not exclusively, a monetary interest) you must disclose that fact. This is one reason, for instance, I always state in my book reviews if I received a free review copy — that fact may color my perception of the book and readers should be aware of that fact.

Similarly, if an employee tweets or blogs something on behalf of their employer, they have an interest in it and that fact should be disclosed. These rules have been in place for years, but with the advent of new media the boundaries are a little blurry about what constitutes adequate disclosure.

This got me thinking about implications for employees of Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries who use blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media to promote their activities.

(Here’s where I add a disclaimer that I am not a lawyer and don’t play on on TV, so don’t take any of the following as legal advice.)

I regularly tweet and blog about the activities of my diocese. As I read the issue (and the original FTC rules about disclosure in social media), I should be disclosing in the tweet or blog post (or whatever social media I’m using) my relationship as an employee of the diocese. It’s not enough to state in my bio or elsewhere on the page that I am employed by the diocese, since this does not meet the FTC’s “proximity and placement” rule. (I also don’t see any exemption for nonprofit organizations.)

So, for instance, this tweet would be a violation of the rule, because “our” does not clearly name the relationship between myself and the diocese:

But this one would include proper disclosure, since it references “our office,” making it clear that I work for the sponsoring organization:

(The FTC says you can also disclose through the use of hashtags such as #client or #ad.)

Obviously this has big implications for those who work in Catholic ministry and how they promote their ministry’s events and interests. Our diocese is already working to make sure we can give good advice to help priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and lay employees follow these disclosure rules in their blogs and other social media.

In the meantime, I would recommend everyone keep an eye on their use of social media to promote their ministries to ensure that we are following “best practices” and not inadvertently misleading people regarding our relationships with them.

Photo Credit: daniel.d.slee via Compfight cc

Forming Intentional Disciples in the Parish

800px-Simon_ushakov_last_supper_1685

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to record a video session for the USCCB’s Diocesan Educational and Catechetical Leadership Institute. The video, “Forming Intentional Disciples in the Parish,” is now available.

The session includes a few handouts to download; you can access the slides and discussion questions as a PDF file. The other handouts are available in the video session.

Thank you to Michael Steier and the Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis for the invitation to record this video session. It was a lot of fun to produce!