Free Webinar Series: Building a Better Disciple

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesI’m pleased to announce that this fall I will be offering a free webinar series entitled “Building a Better Disciple.” Over the course of five webinars we will explore what it means to be a Christian through the lens of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”

Full information on the series is being posted at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com; here’s a quick overview of the sessions (clicking on the links will take you to the registration pages for each webinar):

October 13: Jesus: The Face of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/961033874
Before understanding how to become a disciple we must first know what a disciple is. Through the person of Jesus Christ we will come to know what it means to claim the name “Christian.”

October 20: Scripture and Tradition: The Boundaries of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/932598546
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – passed on through the biblical authors, the apostles, and their successors – form the deposit of our faith. As the basis for all of the Church’s teaching they also provide the boundary lines for discipleship by illuminating the path that followers of Christ must follow.

October 27: Christian Community: The Foundation of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/222598314
Faith is nurtured and sustained in the context of a community of believers. This session will explore how the Church in various contexts (family, parish, school, etc.) sets the stage for a life of discipleship.

November 3: Liturgy and Prayer: The Engine of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/359999938
In this webinar we will examine how the graces received in the sacraments, liturgical celebrations, and personal prayer fuel our capacity for embracing the call to discipleship.

November 10: Vocation and Mission: The Aim of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/432332978
Faith that is not put into practice is sterile. Connecting the themes of the previous webinars we will explore how the faithful participate in the Church’s mission in the world through their particular gifts and calling.

All webinars begin at 7:30p (Central Time) and will last 90 minutes. I hope you’ll be able to join me for this exciting series!

Designing a Great Catechetical Office

Our catechetical office recently learned that we will be moving into a new office suite in a few months. Our existing suite is being converted into new meeting spaces that will be larger and more convenient for people meeting at our pastoral center.

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With this move we have the opportunity to design our new offices (within some constraints, of course) and I’ve been giving some time to thinking about how to arrange and design this space to both maintain and build upon the great collaboration we currently enjoy.

Here are a few of the ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Increased artwork – Currently our walls are pretty bare. We have some small religious artwork and posters from past diocesan events, but nothing that really fills the space or inspires greatness. I was already considering purchasing some new art for the office; now I consider it a “must” for the new space.
  • Green plants – I’m a big believer that having living things around makes any space more welcoming and inviting. In fact, I just bought a fish for my office! With the move to a new space I’m looking at various office-friendly plants to add some green, help purify the air, and add a friendly atmosphere.
  • Comfy meeting space – One of the things I love about our office is the level of collaboration we’ve achieved, especially as an office that covers parish-based religious education, Catholic schools, and youth ministry. Having a large, open space with comfortable chairs encourages good collaboration and communication, both for internal meetings and when sitting down with DREs, pastors, principals, and others.

Those are some of the issues I’m wrestling with in our new space. Do you have any advice on creating a great office space?

Leadership Bibliography

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I was recently asked by a colleague to help put together a list of some resources for lay leaders in the Church. What I put together is by no means complete, but it does include a number of resources that I have found extremely helpful in the six years I have served as a catechetical leader in our diocese.

In the interest of sharing, here’s the list I supplied:

Books

Websites

Films

  • 12 Angry Men (dir. by Sidney Lumet, 1957)
  • Amazing Grace (dir. by Michael Apted, 2006)
  • Apollo 13 (dir. by Ron Howard, 1995)
  • Chariots of Fire (dir. by Hugh Hudson, 1981)
  • Chicken Run (dir. by Peter Lord and Nick Park, 2000)
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (dir. by David Gelb, 2011)
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus (dir. by Stephen Herek, 1995)
  • Office Space (dir. by Mike Judge, 1999)

What leadership resources have you found helpful in your ministry?

Canned Programs and the Person of the Catechist

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Recently the members of our department have been looking at and reviewing some of the new Confirmation programs that have been making the rounds. (We’ll be publishing some general thoughts and recommendations in the coming months; I’ll be sure to share them here on my blog.)

One trend I’ve noticed is that all the programs we’ve looked at try to be “turn key” programs – that is, they are designed to be easy to use with little need to prep or input on the part of the facilitator. Through video presentations and guided discussion booklets, there seems to be little for the catechist to do.

On the one hand this may seem a feature. In today’s busy, fast-paced world, having a program that doesn’t require a lot of time and investment can be helpful, especially for a parish that doesn’t have a lot of trained catechists.

On the other hand, the Church’s teaching is clear that no program, video, or book is able to catechize on its own. The General Directory for Catechesis reminds us that

No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process. The charism given to him by the Spirit, a solid spirituality and transparent witness of life, constitutes the soul of every method. Only his own human and Christian qualities guarantee a good use of texts and other work instruments.

In other words, evangelization and catechesis are primarily human endeavors. They require the cultivation of relationships, not the bright glare of an LCD machine; patience and discernment, not a “one-size-fits-all” approach; and above all the demonstration of a lived relationship with Jesus Christ, not fancy graphics and music.

That’s not to discount the usefulness of programs, videos and books. But it is to remind us that the most important factor in a young person’s faith formation is the people around them who will demonstrate the importance of faith and invite the young person to enter more deeply into that faith. The former are important, yes; but the latter are indispensable.

7 Sources for Parish Social Media Content

computer-keyboardWhenever I talk about parishes’ use of social media I always try to point out that a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram profile won’t do much good if isn’t being updated regularly with new content. Fresh content shows that your serious about reaching our with new media and worth following.

But creating content isn’t always as easy as it sounds. And while posting announcements from the bulletin is certainly appropriate, finding other easy, free sources of useful content can help supplement in-house content and keep a parish’s social media accounts fresh.

With that in mind, here are some easy-to-use sources of content for your parish’s social media:

  1. Sunday Homilies: If the pastor’s homilies are written out: Great! Set up a blog and post them there every week. If the homilies aren’t written out: Great! Post two or three “big ideas” from each homily on the parish Twitter feed and Facebook pages.
  2. The Pope: Whether it’s retweeting his daily messages, posting videos of his daily audiences, or sendig out short quotes from his major teachings, the pope always has something new and interesting to say.
  3. Kids: Ask them to record short inspirational video messages on their phones to post to the parish social media sites. You’ll get content and involve youth in the life of the parish.
  4. Google Alerts: Getting customized search results emailed to you means you don’t have to go looking for what people are saying about your parish; you can have their thoughts delivered directly to your inbox and then share them online!
  5. USCCB Resources: The USCCB has gotten pretty savvy about producing social media-friendly resources for parishes. This year’s Nine Days for Life campaign included daily messages and images (in English and Spanish) designed specifically for Facebook. These resources are not always easy to find, but perusing the USCCB web site will usually turn up something interesting.
  6. Blogs: Do you follow Catholic bloggers? Don’t be afraid to share a post that speaks to you with the rest of your parish!
  7. Free Stock Image Sites: Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Search for “church” or “Jesus Christ” on sites like Morguefile and post the beautiful results. (Just be sure the pictures aren’t subject to copyright restrictions!)

I hope these ideas are helpful and help you think about other sources you can use for your parish’s social media outreach. Do you have a source I didn’t list? Share it in the comments!

Come On Up to the House – My Guest Post For Margaret Felice

How-can-I-keep-from-singing-badgeToday I’m honored to have a guest post over at the indefatigable Margaret Felice’s blog. Margaret is a religion teacher by day and opera singer by night; she’s hosting a series of guest posts highlighting favorite songs that have a spiritual significance to the authors. The song I chose, “Come On Up to the House” by Tom Waits, is a song that has long haunted my prayers:

Waits’ tune – mournful and hopeful at the same time – reminds me that, no matter what we suffer and endure, those hardships will one day be transformed by God’s mercy: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

You can read my complete reflection on “Come On Up to the House” — and listen to the song! — over at Margaret’s blog: http://margaretfelice.com/2014/06/10/the-sky-is-cracked-a-guest-post-from-jonathan-f-sullivan.

Defeating the World by Embracing the Cross: Under the Influence Of Jesus Blog Tour

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One of the great gifts of the New Evangelization is the reminder that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to evangelize the culture because, like us, it is in need of conversion. Christians, we know, are called to live, work, and play within the world without taking on the attitudes and habits of that world which — while made by God and declared good — has nevertheless been broken through sin. Thus our weapons are not those of the world. Rather, our weapons are spiritual in nature.

Joe Paprocki makes this point in his new book Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ. Joe devotes an entire chapter to the power of the cross and it’s power to transform our ways of living and thinking.

By way of example Joe relates the story of Barabbas and the decision by the Jews to ask for him instead of Jesus when offered a prisoner by Pontius Pilate. Barabbas was a revolutionary who sought to overthrow the occupying Romans by force. Jesus, in contrast, was a king with no visible army who did not defend himself.

These two figures continue to challenge us today as we seek to live in a world increasingly hostile to the kerygma. One tempts us to be “realists” and utilize the ways of the world in order to defeat it. The other asks us to renounce those ways in favor of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. In short, we are asked to embrace the cross. Joe reminds us that

As Christians, we formally worship Jesus on Sunday; but all too many of us continue to clamor for Barabbas the other six days of the week. We do so because we trust that his weapons are more suited to the “real world” than are those of Jesus Christ. As a result, we remain enslaved by what I call the “Barabbas cycle.” Whenever we perceive that we are “attacked” by an evil, we are inclined to respond with a bigger, stronger (but in our eyes more righteous) version of the same evil. Ironically, our actions are self-defeating. By perpetuating evil, we are only strengthening the enemy we aim to crush.

The Gospels, of course, tell us that choosing Barabbas is a mistake — that Jesus is the savior we need, and that his weapon, the cross, is more powerful than any gun.

The cross? Cue those crickets again.

Unfortunately too often we fall short of Christ’s call and fall prey to the temptation to fight fire with fire. Whether calling for preemptive war, making disparaging and uncharitable comments online, gossiping in the office, or playing politics while ignoring the common good, the ways of the world lead away from the cross and the Kingdom of God.

Fortunately we can renounce the bad habits of the world and seek to embrace the way of the cross in our lives. Joe offers three suggestions for cultivating “kingdom habits” that will help us embrace our crosses and use them for the spiritual benefit of the world:

  1. Cultivate silence as a means of silencing the ego.
  2. Shift the focus away from our own needs by reducing our consumption.
  3. Focus on others by practicing generosity.

These three habits can not only radically transform our personal lives; they are also key habits for the New Evangelization, which calls us out of ourselves in order to preach the Gospel through the proclamation of the kerygma and the practice of the Works of Mercy.

I highly recommend Under the Influence of Jesus — in fact, I’m giving away a copy to a lucky reader! Check out this blog post for details.

Win a Copy of Joe Paprocki’s New Book!

UnderInfluenceBlogTour-SocialToday I’m very pleased to be part of a blog tour for Joe Paprocki’s new book Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ. Joe’s book is a great primer on the Christian life and what it means to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus.

(It also includes a reference to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and gets bonus points just for that.)

As part of the tour I have a copy of the book to give away to one of my readers! Just leave a comment on this post by 11:59p (CT) on Wednesday, June 11, and I’ll randomly select someone to receive a copy of the book.

Good luck!

Notes – How to Host Online Meetings

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Today at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership convention in St. Louis I am offering a breakout session demonstrating three methods for holding online meetings. Below are my slides, notes, and additional resources for those who may be interested.

Slides

Notes

The notes for this presentation are available as a PDF file.

Other Resources

Manager Tools has three great podcasts on how to run effective teleconfrences:

Notes – Growing in Holiness Through Middle Management

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Today at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership convention in St. Louis I am offering a breakout session on holiness and management. Below are my slides, notes, and additional resources for those who may be interested in living out their vocation as a catechetical leader.

Slides

Notes

The notes from this presentation are available in PDF format.

Additional Resources