Evangelization demands from us, calls us to, and compels us toward healthy parish life. Why? Because the normative path in Christian life, after conversion, is into Christian community. And, if our community isn’t one where strengths are utilized, where relationships are genuine, and where friendship is real? Well, then the radical reality of the Gospel and Spirit filled life starts to look like a bunch of abstract idealism.
And our parish life matters. Big time. We need healthy parishes, “The parish is where the Church lives” (USCCB, Communities of Salt and Light, p. 1). The parish–the concrete community where Jesus comes in Word and Sacrament–is the embodied local center of a growing, evangelistic Church, not an appendage to be merely tolerated, while movements and apostolates substitute in the “real” evangelization. Being a healthy organization as a parish takes leaders (clergy, staff ministry teams, volunteers–everyone!) dedicated to people, more than programs, buildings, a new technology, or the latest “silver bullet” solution. As Patrick Lencioni, a leading proponent of the value of organizational health and co-founder of Amazing Parish explains:
the biggest reason that organizational health remains untapped is that it requires courage. Leaders must be willing to confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their organization with an uncommon level of honesty and persistence. They must be prepared to walk straight into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them (“The Last Competitive Advantage”).
A healthy parish starts at the top. If leaders aren’t functioning in a healthy way, then the newest members of the parish won’t be functioning in an organizationally healthy way either (though the signs would be less obvious, as the parishioner can simply disengage from the parish as a genuine community with a mission, and relate to it simply as a place for private liturgical matters). When we put in the hard work of love to be a more healthy, life-giving parish community, we attract courageous, disciplined, entrepreneurial, and proactive followers through our clear message of the Gospel, lived out here and now. The entire community feels, right down to their bones, that this is a movement, a supernaturally empowered group of people who’ve been called together and divinely anointed for mission. Heads start to turn.
St. Paul understood this well, and wrote to one of his trusted leaders, Philemon, “although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I rather urge you out of love” (Philemon 8-9). This is the essence of a healthy parish, when we in the local Body of Christ are neither ordered, nor guilt-ed, nor commanded, but are encouraged and respond out of love. All because the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our actions in response have been put forth so compellingly that we begin to take the initiative, to move in and toward the Kingdom of God in an uncontrollable number of ways that, though diverse, tend toward the same goal. A healthy body, a healthy parish lives, and grows, and moves together, neither out of fear nor scarcity; but instead, out of love for who and what Jesus Christ calls us to be in the world, and the bountiful gifts He gives to us, so graciously, so that we can be fully empowered to transform all of our personal relationships from dysfunction to health. The healthy parish community attracts in a world where relationships are broken, organizations cause strife, and finding a place to belong isn’t easy. This attractiveness gives concrete form to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the life God offers us right now as His beloved sons and daughters. The light that Jesus Christ has given to each one of us glows more strongly, and the darkened world notices.