What the End of LucasArts Can Teach Us About Ministry

Two weeks ago Disney announced that, after purchasing LucasFilm from George Lucas a few months back, they are shutting down the company’s video game division, LucasArts.

If, like me, you played computer games in the 1990s and 2000s, this is a time of grieving. LucasArts created some of the greatest games of the last two decades and gave me some of my favorite PC gaming memories:

So the news left me somewhat surprised and saddened; another little piece of my adolescence has been parceled off.

That having been said, it was probably the right move for Disney to make. LucasArts’s track record in the last few years has been lackluster (their last published game was the dismally reviewed Star Wars Kinect, a game that actually included a Han Solo dance mini-game) and many of the best games using LucasFilm properties in recent years have been developed by other companies.

In other words, LucasArts was no longer producing games at its former levels, and other companies were doing a better job creating games with LucasFilm properties.

What does this have to do with ministry?

One of the hardest things to do is stop doing good things, especially good things we’ve been doing for a long time. Unfortunately we can’t do it all and sometimes we have to stop doing good things in order to do better things. In the case of Disney, this meant recognizing that they could license their propertieis to other companies who were just as capable of making great games, minimizing risk while freeing up resources for other projects and pursuits.

For parishes, this means recognizing when a program or ministry has come to the end of its lifespan. Usually this means a ministry that no longer serves the needs it was created for or consumes too many resources, leaving nothing for other important pursuits. Knowing when to refocus or even end a ministry is a difficult but task for all catechetical leaders, whether it’s a once-thriving small group ministry that has dwindled to a few members, or a youth ministry that has become more focused on activities and trips than the proclamation of Jesus Christ.

They key in all of this is discernment and regular review of a parish’s activities. We shouldn’t be afraid to take a close look at where we are putting our time and resources. Budget time is the perfect time to do this since it means looking at what is already going on and planning for the future. (As a wise CFO I worked with once remarked, a budget is moral document since it tells us what our priorities are.)  This doesn’t always mean shutting down ministries; it may simply mean restructuring them or scaling them back to more appropriate levels. But it does mean a fundamental shift in how the parish views its ministries.

Of course this process won’t come without some grieving; as I said, it’s always hard to stop doing good things. But as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for all things, including a time for endings. Our stewardship of the gifts we have been given requires nothing less than that we use them with care.

When was the last time you evaluated the programs you run? Are there any “good things” you should let go of so as to be free to pursue greater things?

The Importance of Discernment in Sacramental Prep

thinking-statueMy friend Marc has a post over at his (excellent) blog about Confirmation, restoring the order of the Sacraments of Initiation for Catholic youth, and possible effects on parish religious education programs. I’ve written about restored order a few times, but Marc argues for the other side of the coin:

If kids aren‘t evangelized the effect of Confirmation will be negligible. With little or no faith, Confirmation won‘t do much for them. They won‘t be any closer to staying Catholic than before. There goes that benefit… I‘m the last one to advocate for the carrot on the stick approach to Confirmation. I don‘t like the implications. However, with the culture the way it is, it might be the only option to keep the majority of kids in religious education.

Go read his whole post; he makes some good points and there’s good conversation in the comments. My purpose here is to point out that often neglected in these conversations is the importance of discernment when it comes to sacramental preparation.

If we take seriously the Church’s assertion that the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the inspiration for all catechesis then I think we need to look closely at what the RCIA says about discernment. No. 43 of the rite states:

Before the rite [of acceptance] is celebrated… sufficient and necessary time, as required in each case, should be set aside to evaluate, and, if necessary, to purify the candidates motive and dispositions. With the help of the sponsor (see no. 10), catechiests, and deacons, parish priests (pastors) have the responsibility for judging the outward indications of such dispositions.

Similarly, before the rite of election no. 119 says that

on the basis of the testimony of godparents and catechists and of the catechumens’ reaffirmation of their intention, the Church judges their state of readiness and decides on their advancement toward the sacraments of initiation.

Clearly, then, the Church puts a heavy emphasis not only on the preparation of individuals before they are initiated into the Church, but on discernment that the person is ready for the same.

Unfortunately I don’t see a lot of discussion on this aspect of sacramental preparation for Confirmation as it is lived in parishes. Young people are assumed to be ready if they’ve taken all the classes, participated in mandatory volunteer work, and written their letter to the bishop. Rarely do I hear of pastors sitting down and talking with catechists, parents, and the young person to ask about their intentions and readiness to receive Confirmation.

Part of this may be colored by by own experience. While preparing for Confirmation in high school I was wrestling with my faith and unsure if I was prepared to receive the sacrament. No one asked if I was ready; I went to our youth minister of my own initiative to have that conversation and decided against participating in the Confirmation that year. (I later completed my initiation in my sophomore year of college.)

If we were serious about discernment in sacramental preparation, questions about the “right age” to confirm youth would disappear. Instead of waiting for an arbitrary date we would help them to complete their initiation at the right time for them. If that means we have to change our approach to religious education, youth ministry, and sacramental preparation, I say so be it. If the studies are right keeping them in a few more years doesn’t seem to be doing much good, anyway.

Reading bad books

In a factory a man was selling many copies of a penny paper consisting entirely of attacks on God and religion. One Catholic boy, Dan, refused it. ‘Afraid to read the other side?’ sneered the seller. ‘I’d rather not swallow poison either into my stomach or my mind’ was the answer.

Jim, another Catholic boy, said: ‘Let’s have a penn’orth!’ Then during the dinner-hour, sitting around with some of his mates, he read bits out of the atheist paper with comments of his own, showing its arguments up and where its facts about the Church were all wrong.

‘Well, what about this?’ said one of the listeners, pointing to a bit about something some Pope had done hundreds of years ago. Jim read it.

‘Well, that’s a new one to me. But I bet you a packet of Woodbines I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.’

So in the evening he took the paper round to a Catholic friend who could always put him wise on such occasions.

Dan’s attitude and Jim’s were both good in their way, but Jim’s is evidently the best for those who can rise to it.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part III: The Commandments (1939)