In the 1991 film “City Slickers,” a crusty old cowboy named Curly supervises three New York city dwellers as they learn to drive cattle across the Southwest U.S.A. As Curly helps the“slickers” get in touch with their souls, he shares tidbits of wisdom. In one memorable scene, Curly takes off his leather glove, points his finger to heaven, and says, “It’s all about one thing.”The three men in mid-life crises respond with the obvious question, “What is the one thing?” To which Curly responds, “That’s what you have to figure out!”
Before the pandemic, Bishop Susan encouraged people in the Diocese of Niagara to consider the “one thing” that would help them draw closer to God and to prioritize that “one thing” in their lives. Like Curly, BishopSusan was on to something important. We need to be truly clear about our priorities, but we can’t figure them out on our own. As followers of Jesus, we determine our priorities with God in the context of community.
The Mission Action Plan has been guiding parishes to discern what God is calling them to be and to align themselves with God’s renewing power. That same renewing power is already at work in their spiritual lives, collective lives as parishes, and in the world beyond the church walls. The brilliance of the MAP process is that it helps every parish focus on a few key initiatives that will move them forward towards being the missional church that God is calling them to be.
As the new stewardship &campaign advisor, I join the parish development team, helping to grow healthy and vibrant congregations across the diocese. There are so many different aspects of parish life to steward in a healthy parish: effective governance models; a culture of unity, harmony, and generosity; holistic small groups; inspiring worship; passionate spirituality; strong lay leadership; and a missional vision. Every parish is in a different place, so, as leaders, we must discern what needs to come first. What is the one thing that is the most important?
My experience as a parish priest for almost three decades has shown me that the one thing at the heart of what we are called to do is practice, teach, and help others to grow in faith. As church leaders, it is easy to get lost or overextended by engaging in the never-ending projects that “keep the church running” at the expense of engaging in our primary business: forming people to be disciples of Jesus. As the stewardship& campaign advisor, I will be focusing on faith formation as the means to develop a culture of generosity in parishes.
I have a passion for working with clergy. Clergy need to be equipped and empowered to form God’s people in faith. Achurch can have a great vision statement, but if the people sitting in the pews do not have a dynamic faith in Jesus and a deep understanding of how theHoly Spirit should be shaping our lives and the way we interact with the world in radical ways, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to live fully into the vision.
Although there are many good resources about church health and growth on the market, I recommend the book Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Rainer and Geiger (2008; B&H Publishing Group). In this book, the authors demystify the disciple-making process by returning to the simple ways that Jesus formed people in faith. “One thing” your parish could do to begin improving culture of stewardship would be to read and discuss this book together.
Another step you could do would be to get in touch with me. It’s my “one thing” to make myself available to ministry leaders, with a specific focus on the clergy of the diocese, to help you guide parishes in implementing the stewardship and faith formation aspects of your Mission Action Plan.
Even though I’ve only been in this role for a few months, I have seen how hard the leaders in the Diocese of Niagara are working. I’ve seen a clear love of God, of your parishes, and the communities which you are called to serve. In this ever-changing world, we need to prioritize our tasks strategically so that we are working smarter and not just harder. I am here to help you figure out how to do this—how to prioritize and focus on the “one thing” God is calling you to do now. I look forward to working with you.