Learning in the Vineyard

We’re in the midst of the Octave Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Now, I don’t think this can ever be a happy, celebratory week–as this time of prayer and reflection exists due to our human sinfulness, our giving in to the temptation to divide what God has drawn together in His family, the Church. However, I do think it can be a time of deep appreciation for the reality that, despite our sins of separation, there’s a tremendous amount of practical wisdom, knowledge, and spirituality for the evangelizing we’re all called to. Lessons to be learned from looking outside the “visible boundaries” of the Church.

For example, take a look at Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources’ 2017 list of major trends for churches:

    1. Renewed emphasis on evangelism.
    2. Renewed emphasis on practical ministries.
    3. Increased frequency of allegations of child sex abuse in churches.
    4. Increased financial fraud in churches.
    5. The multi-site movement becoming a neighborhood church movement.
    6. An acceleration of church closures.
    7. Church acquisitions becoming normative.
    8. Worship center downsizing becomes normative.
    9. Longer pastoral tenure.
    10. The remarkable shift toward continual learning.


Rainer comes from a Southern Baptist, evangelical perspective, and predominately writes for established churches. Yet look at his list–practically, we’re all wrestling with similar pastoral issues. We’re co-workers in the same vineyard of the Lord, especially when our “vineyards” exist in similar cultural, geographic spaces.

Consider Rainer’s list through a Catholic lens:

Renewed emphasis on evangelism and practical ministries, like hospitality and discipleship? Big yes for Catholic parishes and dioceses.

Better operations to prevent child sex abuse and financial fraud? Absolutely. Look at the great work to offer standards of excellence from the Nat’l Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.

Leaders thinking through the right-sized organizations and footprint for the Body of Christ in local communities, including neighborhood ministries, multi-site parishes, consolidations, and more? Yes. Big time in Catholic dioceses–and it doesn’t always have to be negative either. We can learn from our separated brothers and sisters and new structures for new times can be a good thing.

And finally, longer pastoral tenure and a shift toward continual learning? Yes again! The Rebuilt Parish Association, Divine Renovation Network, Amazing ParishParish Catalyst, and the Evangelical Catholic all represent huge growth showing that learning must be continuous for practical-minded, evangelizing leaders. Fr. James Mallon, founder of the Divine Renovation Network, clearly advocates for longer pastoral tenures within dioceses and deliberate stability and mentoring relationships designed to foster healthy and dynamic organizational cultures.

During this Octave of Prayer (Jan 18 to Jan 25) I’ll be posting some of my favorite examples of lessons learned from our separated Brothers and Sisters in Christ–leaders to watch, spiritual formation, historical examples and more–all oriented toward our own participation in God’s mission through the New Evangelization. Check out the new posts daily here and most importantly, let us pray: ut unum sint, “that all may be one” (John 17:21).

©Colleen Vermeulen, 2017

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Reiss Vermeulen, M.Div., M.N.A., blogs, ministers in parish life and lay/deacon formation, and serves as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. She and her husband, Luke, have been married since 2011 and live in Ypsilanti, MI with their two young sons.

Leave a Reply

next post: Rules of the Game

previous post: What would you give up for God?