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?

Episode 015 – A Constructive Spirit of Discontent

Encadre-Frederick-della-Faille-FlickrCCNote: We ran into some connection issues with Skype early in the recording; the sound does clear up after a few minutes. My apologies for the inconvenience.

This month I am pleased to welcome to the podcast John Rinaldo – diocesan director, podcaster, and founder of REAL Ministry, a web site about developing church leaders to serve the kingdom of God. We discussed what it means to be a leader in the Church, what we can learn from business leaders, how we can develop our leadership skills, and some of our favorite resources including

Leave a comment and let us know how you understand what it means to be a “catechetical leader!”

Photo Credit: Frédéric della Faille

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part IV – The Kingly Ministry of Christ

Christ Driving the Money Changers Out of the Temple (Valentin de Boulogne, 1618)

(Looking for the start of this series? Go to Part I, Part II, or Part III.)

Of the kingly ministry, Pope John Paul II says

Because the lay faithful belong to Christ, Lord and King of the Universe, they share in his kingly mission and are called by him to spread that Kingdom in history. They exercise their kingship as Christians, above all in the spiritual combat in which they seek to overcome in themselves the kingdom of sin (cf. Rom 6:12), and then to make a gift of themselves so as to serve, in justice and in charity, Jesus who is himself present in all his brothers and sisters, above all in the very least (cf. Mt 25:40). (Christifideles Laici, 14)

Through the kingly ministry, then, we are called to overcome sin and Satan — through prayer and participation in the sacraments — and, through the life of holiness thus gained, to give that life as gift to others.

This is the “servant leadership” end of administration — our responsibility for overseeing that the organizations we lead carry out there missions. On the surface this may seem like the least interesting ministry we engage in — but in truth it is one of the most vital, for it is the bedrock on which a well-functioning organization rests.

Indeed, the most important job of an administrator is making sure that the right people are in place to carry out the work that needs doing. Hiring the wrong person derails your momentum, demoralizes good employees, and costs more time and money.

As a result, we need to take our time to make sure that we are hiring the right individuals. This includes knowing what qualifications, education, and experience the job requires “ not just hiring the pious mother who always attends daily Mass because “she obviously has an interest in churchy stuff.” Unfortunately I think we have many parishes where faithfulness is confused with qualification. While we certainly want the people working in our parishes and schools to be faithful Catholics, we also want them to have the qualifications necessary for the job.

Sometimes this will mean waiting to hire until the right person comes along. As I alluded to above, hiring the wrong person will ultimately cost more in the long run. Patience in the hiring process is a virtue and ensures that the right people are “on the bus” as Jim Collins puts it.

Exercising the kingly ministry also means ensuring that resources are properly allocated. This means budgeting! I know a lot of people hate filling out annual budgets (I do too!) but, as a vice-president of finance I worked with was find of saying: “Budgets are moral documents.” By that he meant that budgets tell us where our real priorities and values lie. If we say we want a robust youth ministry in our parish, are we giving the youth minister the resources necessary to carry out that vision? If we want to bring in new members, is there a line item for evangelization and the RCIA? These are hard questions, but necessary if we are honest about what it is we want to accomplish in our parishes.

Finally, the role of the kingly ministry means that we need to call a royal feast every once in a while! Celebrating our accomplishments and acknowledging successes demonstrates the virtue of hope. It is very easy to get bogged down by everything that is wrong in the Church — difficult parishioners, low Mass attendance, dwindling school enrollment. By celebrating the good that we do we remind ourselves that, with Christ’s help, we are bring about the Kingdom of God — and it’s not a fruitless struggle.

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part III – The Prophetic Ministry of Christ

No Communication | Photo by Leonard John Matthews/flickerCC

(Missed the beginning of this series? Check out Part I and Part II.)

Of Christ’s prophetic ministry, Pope John Paul II says

Through their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, “who proclaimed the kingdom of his Father by the testimony of his life and by the power of his world,” the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil. United to Christ, the “great prophet” (Lk 7:16), and in the Spirit made “witnesses” of the Risen Christ, the lay faithful are made sharers in the appreciation of the Church’s supernatural faith, that “cannot err in matters of belief” and sharers as well in the grace of the word (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rev 19:10). They are also called to allow the newness and the power of the gospel to shine out everyday in their family and social life, as well as to express patiently and courageously in the contradictions of the present age their hope of future glory even “through the framework of their secular life” (Christifideles Laici, 14).

The prophetic ministry calls us to give witness to the Gospel in word and in deed. I don’t think we have much problem accepting the latter. In fact, if anything I think we are too comfortable with the idea of evangelizing through our lives: we tend to over-quote the famous admonition (attributed to St. Francis) to “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.” This can lead to the (false) idea that words are never necessary, which in turns leads to complacency about naming the reason we live as we do in the world.

The role of the prophet is to speak the truth. In the Old Testament, the prophets called the Chosen People, who had turned from the proper worship of God to follow idols and false teachers, to return to a proper relationship with the God of Israel. They did this with a firm love, without watering down God’s call.

So, too, in administration. Our role, as partakers in the prophetic ministry, is to speak truthfully to those who work for us. We do this, first and foremost, by the feedback we give.

Unfortunately, for many people, this probably just means an annual review, but I don’t find them particularly helpful. Annual reviews aren’t frequent enough to allow employees to learn from mistakes, enjoy praise for a job well done, or grow in their roles. Taking a cue from the Manager Tools podcast, I’ve instituted 30-minute one-on-one meetings every other week with the directors who report to me. This allows for better communication, more immediate feedback, and better oversight of what is going on in the department I oversee.

Honest, forthright feedback is how we encourage good employees and help mediocre employees improve. Unfortunately their are times when all the feedback in a world won’t improve someone’s performance or attitude. At those times, as a VP for mission I worked with once said, we need to “invite people to live out their passions elsewhere.” Or, as Jim Collins puts it, we need to get the wrong people off the bus.

The truth is that bad employees are toxic to the work environment. If allowed to remain for too long they will demoralize teams and actually drive good employees to find work elsewhere. By participating in the prophetic ministry of Christ — by speaking truthfully and with authority — we can avoid sabotaging our work by ensuring that people know what the expectations are and that they are consistent across the organization.

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part II: The Priestly Ministry of Christ

Photo by Prakhar Amba / flickerCC

(Missed the first part of this series? Start at Part I)

The three-fold ministry of Christ is beautifully summarized in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Christifideles Laici. Of the priestly ministry the pontiff says:

The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the Council says: “For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God. (14)

So the faithful participate in the priestly ministry through prayer; offering up their work to God; and through their participation in the Holy Eucharist.

I am convinced that, as administrators, the most important thing we can do for those who work under us is to pray “ first, for ourselves! “ that we may be given the wisdom, discernment, and patience to do our jobs well. But we also need to pray for those who work for us, that they may be given those same gifts. (Especially that they will have the patience to deal with us!)

In the Church we also have the privilege and responsibility to pray with our co-workers. Hopefully we all pray before meetings, but time should also be taken for more extended times of prayer, such as days of reflection and retreat. We must also remember to pray together when significant events occur in the lives of our coworkers, such as the births of children or the deaths of spouses.

In addition to prayer we participate in the priestly ministry of Christ when we engage in and encourage others in their formation as disciples of Christ. This, too, is a type of prayer! (Don’t believe me? The Order of Preachers actually has a tradition of study as prayer, such that a Dominican friar may skip communal prayer if in the middle of studying.)

As our bishop said in his homily during Sunday’s Morning Prayer, faith formation is a life-long process. We didn’t graduate at Confirmation! God is mystery, and the depths of that mystery are never plumbed. We grow in our faith by participating in programs of formation, by readings spiritual works, by studying Sacred Scripture “ all for the purpose of our own sanctification and to better enter into communion with God, his Church, and one anther.

Photo: Prakhar Amba / Flickr

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part I “ Introduction

Priest, Prophet, King / photo by Br. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr

This past weekend I offered a breakout session at my diocese’s biennial adult enrichment conference entitled “Administration as Service: Practicing Leadership in the Light of Christ.” I had planned to record the talk; unfortunately my laptop zonked out on me the day before and, while dealing with an unfamiliar machine, I forgot to start my audio recorder.

Instead of recording the talk in my office, I’ve decided to offer the major talking points as a series of posts.

I began the presentation by offering a story told to me by Barb Rossman, the first CEO I worked with in Catholic healthcare. Like many other hospital administrators, Barb started as a nurse. She enjoyed having her “hands on patients,” helping them to get better. She eventually became a manager and finally entered administration.

When she became an administrator, however, she had a difficult time understanding how her role fit into the mission of the hospital. As a nurse it was clear: her job was to help treat patients in a very direct way. How did her new role contribute to the health of patients? She no longer had her “hands on patients”; what was her new role about?

What she eventually came to realize is that, while she was no longer a direct caretaker, her role was now to be a “caretaker to the caretakers.” Her role was to ensure that those working for her had the tools, resources, and knowledge to do their jobs well.   This was the spirit that Barb took to her role: to help those who help the patients.

Barb’s story is a perfect example of Christ’s admonition in the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel: “[T]hose who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mk 10:42-45)

In fact, this sort of leadership can lead us to holiness! As the Council Fathers stated at the Second Vatican Council:

[I]n the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification.’ However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others. (Lumen Gentium 39)

In other words, no matter what your station in life, you are called to live it out in holiness!

As those baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we do this by participating in the three-fold ministry of Christ: priest, prophet, and king. In the next three parts I will outline how administrators participate in these ministries through their work as leaders of their organizations.

Photo: Br. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr

The Spiritual Role of the Principal

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with some of the new principals in our diocese as part of their ongoing formation. I talked briefly about the spiritual role that principals play in Catholic schools and what it means to be a spiritual leader.

This seems an important topic to me because, while principals may receive training in management, curriculum, and finances in their education programs, very few get formed in what it means to work in a specifically Catholic educational setting.

There is any number of topics that we could have talked about, but I distilled them into five points:

  1. The primary job of a Catholic school — and therefore the primary responsibility of the principal — is to build disciples for Christ. Everything else is secondary.
  2. Principals must encourage parents to assume their role as the primary catechists of their children. Parents cannot outsource religious instruction to schools or PSR programs. For better or for worse, children will follow their parents’ example.
  3. Principals are responsible for the spiritual formation of their staffs. This means more than just the occasional diocesan formation class; it means forming them through prayer, retreats, and spiritual reading, and inviting them to participate in the faith.
  4. As part of their oversight of curriculum, principals must ensure that the catechetical textbooks and materials used in their school conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
  5. Finally, principals must be an example of joyful faith and holiness to their staff, faculty, and students.

Admittedly this is a tall order! But, as spiritual leaders acting on behalf of their pastors and the Church, principals are responsible in assuring that our schools are not just placing of academic learning, but places where the faith is nurtured and students can become the saints they are called to be.