Missional here, missional there — the word seems to be everywhere these days. But where should it actually be used? Well, in at least two places: missional disciples and missional parishes. The Church is missional by nature, which is why parishes should work to assume their identity and become more evangelizing.
But let’s face it, change is hard. As human beings, we often cling to learned behaviours and practices. For centuries the faithful have been taught to go to church and live virtuous lives, but they have not been asked to evangelize. The Church has only recently invited all believers to reach out and make disciples. However, we still seldom share our faith today. Is there anything we and our parishes can do to become more missional?
Starting with good reasons. Good reasons are needed in order to take action. There is no doubt that our parishes are losing members, but this might not be a sufficient reason. It is a good idea to list the reasons that can strengthen us in our decision to reach out more and make disciples. It could be as simple as obeying Jesus’ command and the pope’s call to evangelize. It could also be compassion for the lost. In any case, we must have compelling reasons to overcome the temptation to stay the same.
Setting a date. On a practical level, the first step is to choose a date to begin our missionary transformation. Yes, setting a date even if we don’t have all the necessary information or resources. By setting a date to begin the journey, we are pressed to prepare. And getting prepared leads to more confidence and more knowledge. Setting a date shouldn’t be put off for too long, and the starting date shouldn’t be too far off. When the deadline is far away, motivation can wane or we can be tempted to change our minds.
Creating a plan. A plan helps to stay focused, confident and motivated to change. Even if the transformation journey has already begun, planning can assist in keeping on track and preparing for tough times. Some parishes might have tried evangelizing in the past but results were not as expected. This shouldn’t discourage them; lessons from the past can be used to guide our actions in the future.
Not changing all at once. It can be tempting to throw out the way we were doing church and suddenly declare a whole new direction. But radical and sudden changes can build a lot of tension in the community. Habits produce a kind of addiction. We are used to doing things a certain way in our Christian lives. Their absence can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration with potentially damaging consequences.
Being aware that we cannot do it alone. We can, and probably should share our desire for change with others, friends and family. Their encouragement could make a big difference. It is possible to embark on this missionary transformation with a fellow confrere who has also decided to follow this path. We might also join a group of pastors and faithful in other parishes and dioceses who have made the same decision. Some may be more advanced than we are, and we can learn from them by reading their books or visiting their parishes.
Managing stress. One of the reasons we maintain the status quo is that it allows us to run our lives on autopilot and not have to think too much. We don’t have to think if we tell ourselves that everything is fine or that we can’t change anything. However, if we do decide to change, it’s a good idea to consider how to handle the stress that is bound to come. This may mean simply spending more time with friends, in prayer, or getting more exercise.
Avoiding confrontations and other triggers. Our desire to change can be hindered by certain situations. Confrontation with others is one of the most common triggers. We need to be subtle and gentle. If fatigue is the trigger, we need more sleep. Unfortunately, opposition is bound to come from evil spiritual forces and by those who tend to reject all new pastoral initiatives. This should not discourage us because the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
Trying and trying again. There are times when we try new ways of doing things and they don’t succeed right away. Some initiatives work, others don’t. Implementation often requires several attempts. Once we have decided to move forward with a missional transformation, it is prudent to think that success will not be instant. Remembering the important reasons for changing could be vital.
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