In January of 2013 I created a video showing a couple of my favorite sites for finding free images to use in presentations, worships aids, and printed materials — without violating copyright laws. The video quickly became one of my most popular on YouTube. Four and a half years later, I’ve created an updated version of the video with more resources to share!
Last year, during a presentation on the New Evangelization to a group of catechetical leaders in our diocese I’ve spoken to before, a startling realization hit me: they were attentive, engaged, and interested in a way I had not seen before.
“Well,” I laughed to myself, “that only took six years. Now to get to work on the catechists they lead!”
I was making a (silent) joke, but upon reflection I realized there was a sizable grain of truth: ministerial leadership is always a marathon, never a sprint, and we shouldn’t be discouraged or disappointed when our efforts don’t produce immediate tangible results. Too often we measure the results of our ministry in the short-term. But our faith reminds us to take a more sustained perspective and aim not just for the immediate, but for the long-term.
Indeed, Sacred Scripture is full of examples of the “long view” of leadership and ministry:
- Abraham was 100 years old when the Lord’s promise of a son was fulfilled.
- Joseph endured two years in prison, despite his pleas to be remembered by the pharaoh, before he was released and successfully interpreted the pharaoh’s dreams.
- Moses tried ten times (and went through ten plagues!) before God’s command to pharaoh to free the Jews was answered.
- Similarly, Moses had to lead a (at times disgruntled and obstinate) people for 40 years through the desert to reach the Promised Land.
- The parable of the sower contrasts the seeds that fell on rocky soil and sprang up immediately (but ultimately withered) with the seed that fell on good soil and developed deeper roots.
- Jesus formed the Twelve Apostles for three years, and they still abandoned him when he was arrested!
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes
No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no on killer innovation, no solitary luck break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process — step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel — that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.
We in ministry would do well to remember this and work on cultivating seeds that will have deep, abiding roots in our ministry.
How have you taken the long view in your ministry? How can you build your ministry step-by-step instead of shooting for instant results?
Image by familymwr under a CC-By license.
I recently called someone and reached their voicemail. As part of their greeting they let me know what their office’s normal hours were. “I don’t care about your hours,” I thought to myself, “I want to know when you’ll get back to me!”
The truth is that, when someone calls and reaches your voicemail, they want to know two things:
- Did they reach the right voicemail?
- When will you be available to get back to them?
I have found that the most effective way to do this is to change my voicemail introduction every week, first thing on Monday. In the intro I state who I am and what days that week I will be in and out of the office. This accomplishes both the tasks set forth above.
As an example, here’s the script of my voicemail introduction a few weeks ago:
Hi, you’ve reached Jonathan Sullivan, director of catechetical services for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. This is the week of May 10th. I’ll be in the office on Monday and Tuesday. I will be out of the office Wednesday and Thursday attending a curia workshop. Our offices are closed on Fridays. Please leave your name, phone number, and a brief message and I’ll return your call as soon as I can. Thank you, and God bless.
Using this system it is clear that, if someone leaves a voicemail on Wednesday, they probably shouldn’t expect a response until the following Monday. On the other hand, if all I had was an evergreen message stating the curia office hours, they might expect a return call much sooner. (And grower frustrated while they wait until Monday!)
This goes back to a fundamental principal about leadership: anticipating what people need, not what we think they need. The more we practice this principal, the more effective we can be in our ministry.
Thomas L. McDonald of God and the Machine recently invited fellow bloggers to post their own “How I Work” entry (modeled after the Lifehacker series of the same name) so I thought I would have a go. This week I’m featuring my work office; next week I’ll do the same for my home setup.
Location: Springfield, IL
Current Gig: director of catechetical services for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
One word that best describes how you work: interrupted
Current mobile device: LG G3 running Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
Current computer: Acer Veriton running Windows 7
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
Google Calendar: I keep separate color-coded calenders for my diocesan responsibilities, family (shared with my wife so she can add events), the liturgical year, and project work. I have a horrible memory, so this system helps me keep track of all of my responsibilities at a glance. The one hitch occured when Google discontinued direct syncing support for Outlook (which our office use), but I’ve implemented some workarounds so my colleagues still see my full work calendar.
Dropbox: Come, children, and hear tales of the days when we had to use floppy disks to shuttle files back and forth!
Evernote: I use Evernote for a variety of tasks, including organizing travel documents, maintaining a digital filing cabinet, and storing recipes. Most recently I’ve started dumping meeting agendas into it so I can access them from my phone instead of printing a paper copy. (The Outlook plugin makes this a snap.)
GoToMeeting: Our diocese covers 28 counties, which makes gathering people for meetings/training/etc. difficult. One of the first things I did when I joined the office was push to implement online meetings. Most standing groups still meet in person at least once a year, but using GoToMeeting allows more people to participate without burdening them with a 2 hour drive.
LibraryThing: I’ve tried a few other book cataloging sites before, but I love LibraryThing because it was built by bibliophiles for bibliophiles. With it I can quickly browse books by subject, keep track of all my book reviews, and remind myself who I’ve lent books out to.
What’s your workspace setup like?
This is my desk on a good day. Not pictured are my four bookcases and meeting table (see below).
(I hide all icons on my computer desktop, so there’s nothing to see expect the pretty pictures I use as wallpapers.)
My phone screen is dominated by Google Now, with a few apps I use the most.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
Delegation. This is my first job where I’ve had a secretary and learning how to work with one well has been a huge boon to my productivity.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I’ve tried a variety and left most for pen and paper. Right now I’m using Trello.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
On the hardware side I love my Wacom Intuos Pen Tablet. It’s completely replaced my mouse at work. I also use it during presentations to transform PowerPoint into a digital white board.
In terms of my office setup, I couldn’t get by without my big wooden meeting table:
I inherited it from my predecessor and, given the number of staff members in my department that I’m blessed to work with, it’s invaluable for one-on-one chats, small task force meetings, and sitting down with folks from outside the curia.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I’m really good at identifying the heart of an problem — peeling away the secondary issues and getting at root causes. I’m not sure what the secret is to that, besides being able to mentally categorize the issues on the table and sort through them in a systematic way.
What do you listen to while you work?
Most days it’s either classical or jazz, although Johnny Cash sees pretty regular rotation.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders in Parishes, Schools, Religious Communities, and Other Institutions by Ann M. Garrido and Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide) by Edward Fesser.
What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?
I often say that one of the joys of my job has been seeing good collaboration between the offices in my department and the fruits of those relationships. I used to take that for granted but, as a colleague likes to remind me, “Collaboration is hard work.” So I’m trying to be more intentional about how I communicate with the people I work with and ensuring that tasks and responsibilities are clearly understood by everyone in the room.
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.
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?
Last week, at our diocese’s annual Principals’ Leadership Conference, Kathie Sass, our soon-to-be-retired diocesan spokesperson, gave a wonderful presentation on the 10 steps leaders should take to anticipate and react to crises in their ministries. The talk was based on the work of Jonathan Bernstein.
First, Kathie outlined the steps organizations should take before a crisis to ensure they are ready should a crisis occur:
- Anticipate crises and put written policies in place on how to avoid and deal with specific types of crises.
- Identify a crisis communications team. The team should include whoever is the head of the organization, legal council, and someone on staff with expertise in the crisis area.
- Appoint an official spokesperson. You don’t want media calling teachers, parents, etc. Appoint someone who is well-spoken, not just the person in charge.
- Train your spokesperson!
- Establish notification and monitoring systems. This includes both old media (television, radio, and newspapers) as well as new media (text messages, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.).
- Identify and know your stakeholders. Communicate with them and let them know who to refer media inquiries to.
- Develop holding statements. Don’t say “No comment”; at the very least express sympathy, offer prayers, and say that a statement will come later. Crisis communications team should review these holding statements regularly to ensure that they are well crafted, easily understood, and truthful!
Kathie then gave guidance on how to respond should a crisis occur:
- At the outset of a crisis, assess the situation. Make sure you know the specifics before acting or making a statement. Reacting before you have all the information can result in bad decisions or hasty statements that must later be retracted. (This is where those holding statements come in handy!)
- Finalize and adapt your key messages; continue to communicate these messages to your key stakeholders. Don’t automatically act on a lawyer’s advice to say nothing! Transparency can mitigate bad feelings and avoid the appearance of a cover up.
- Do a post-crisis analysis. Detail what you did well, what you failed to anticipate, and how you could improve. Update your policies and procedures as needed.
All of us hope that we can avoid crises in our ministries, but the past few decades have shown that we all need to be prepared to act should the unthinkable happen.
With the inauguration of 2014 it’s time once again to engage in the annual practice of setting New Year resolutions! And while I think too many people make resolutions without thinking about how they will support them, there are plenty of ways that we, as catechetical leaders, can work to deepen our ministry in the coming year.
Here are five suggestions for improving your leadership in 2014:
- Hone Your Leadership Skills While many of us have degrees in theology, religious studies, and education, these degrees don’t always prepare us for the day-to-day work of leadership and management. You might pick up a good book (I’ve set up a list of some of my favorite leadership books), listen to a podcast like Manager Tools, or even try to take a course at a local college; regardless, make a commitment to learn more about how to be an effective leader in your parish or diocese!
- Make Something… Too often in catechesis we look for a canned program instead of creating something that will meet the specific needs of our parishes and schools. This year, try creating something yourself! It doesn’t have to be grand. A short study guide, a reflection booklet, a prayer card; just flex your creativity for the glory of God!
- …And Share It With the World If you have something you’ve made that you’re particularly happy with, share it! Send copies to your diocesan office to distribute, put it online, or just email it to someone. Share your blessings with others so that the great work you do isn’t just confined to your local area. You might even consider releasing your creation under a Creative Commons license.
- Go to a Conference There are plenty of great catechetical conferences around the country that offer ongoing education and networking with other catechists. I’ll be speaking at the National Catholic Educational Association, the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, and the Indiana Conference for Catechetical Leadership this year. If none of those work for your schedule, you might try the LA Religious Education Congress, the St. John Bosco Conference in Steubenville, or the Mid-Atlantic Congress.
- Pray For Success Above all else, commit yourself to praying more for the success of your ministry. As I’ve mentioned before, our diocesan offices have been praying the Rosary weekly with a special intention for an increase in faith and discipleship in our parishes. Choose a special intention centered on your efforts and pray constantly for it!
What resolutions are you making regarding your ministry this year?
A few times a year I get manila envelopes in the mail from other diocesan catechetical offices. Every time I wonder “What is this?” And then it dawns on me: it’s another paper office newsletter.
I’m a bit bewildered why, in 2013, catechetical offices are still mailing physical newsletters. Part of that is my own history in diocesan work. In fact, in many ways I was fortunate: when I joined our diocese the catechetical office didn’t have a newsletter so when I instituted one it was simple to just go digital from the start. Still, there are some good reasons to make the move from a “dead tree edition” to an electronic newsletter.
- Stewardship Diocesan offices are the beneficiaries of the generosity of our parishioners and donors. It behooves us to do as much as possible with these gifts by exercising good stewardship. Moving to an electronic newsletter cuts down on production costs by eliminating printing needs (including paper and ink) and postage charges. It also reduces our impact on the environment by keeping newsletters out of landfills.
- Increased Production Values The paper newsletter I get are simple black-and-white affairs. By contrast moving to an online newsletter frees office from the constraints of ink costs and allows for the full use of color, photography, layout, typography, and design.
- Utilizing Connectivity It can be hard to direct readers to the many wonderful online resources. By switching to an online newsletter it’s a simple matter of embedding a link into the document. This reduces the “friction” (resistance to movement) of getting people to a given resource by eliminating the process of manually retyping the URL in a browser. (And be honest — how often do you do that?)
- Better Tracking Metrics How many people read your dead tree newsletter? That’s hard to tell since we don’t know how many wind up in the waste bin. Electronic newsletters, on the other hand, allow administrators to track the number of times the link opening the newsletter has been clicked. While this still isn’t a perfect metric it’s a lot better than the “shot in the dark” of a piece of mail sent into the world.
There are plenty of ways to go about producing an online newsletter. Our office uploads a PDF document to a free Issuu accountand emails the link to our email list; we include a link to the raw PDF so that recipients can print out a copy if they desire. Services like MailChimp and FlockNote create attractive email newsletters that are easy to set up and maintain.
For those of you worried that your parish catechetical leaders “of a certain age” still want to read your newsletter on dead trees, you can always maintain a separate list of people who opt-in to receive a physical copy of the newsletter. This will still cut down on the amount of paper and postage while getting them your information.
Use of electronic newsletters will surely grow in coming years. Starting sooner rather than later will help diocesan offices grow more comfortable with the technology and use it in the most effective ways.