Every Priest Needs This One Thing

Day 36 of 40: The last time I checked there are not a lot of human resources or business classes at seminary. I am not saying there should be, but there is one resource every priest needs to use: an organizational chart. If the mission is starting from scratch, then under every job title will be your name. If you have an established church or mission, then put your name where the blanks are.

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Once you have filled out the chart with every possible job title, it is time to prioritize. What job do you want to fill first, second, and third? Do this until every job title is listed in a sequential order. This is the beginning of a strategic plan for your parish. You might also need to have some people step down and be replaced with someone else. I know this is easier said than done, but as the spiritual leader of that parish you need to help people discern their strengths and weaknesses. That might mean moving some people around, maybe some people take a break, while others need to step up and help out.

With the chart you also need job descriptions. Every position on your chart should have a well defined and explained job description, whether it is a paid position or volunteer. If you are hiring a cleaning service, then the job description needs to be clear. If you need a Sunday school teacher, then that job description needs to be different than the one for the Sunday school director who is over all the teachers.

This organizational chart might sound like a headache to you, but it will actually make your life easier. Anytime you feel like someone is not doing their job effectively, you can refer back to the job description. Maybe someone is overstepping their boundaries? Now you can refer back to the job description. Maybe you are expanding and adding a ministry? This means the chart can help you see on paper how this will be organized and fit into your existing parish structure.

You can run a parish without an organizational chart, but why?

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4 Reasons To Stop Inviting People To The Divine Liturgy

Day 35 of 40: In America there has been a misconception surrounding our Sunday morning service. In traditional Christianity Sunday morning is meant for the faithful, for those who are worshiping God or considering doing so as an Orthodox Christian. However, many of us use Sunday morning the wrong way. The Divine Liturgy was never meant to be an evangelistic tool. Inviting someone to the liturgy can have the opposite effect you desire in the following four scenarios.

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First, is the person prepared? Walking into an Orthodox church unprepared is like walking into the wrong movie theater. It is confusing and creates the desire to leave as soon as possible. Some of us think the beauty of the temple and the singing will win them over, but it can also repulse those who are not ready. Help your parish understand to only invite those who know what to expect.

Second, is the person interested? Many of us can talk someone into visiting church, but does the person want to visit? Let your congregation know we need to inspire interest before inviting someone. This is best done by finding out what the person has in common with Orthodoxy. For example, if the potential visitor loves history, share the historical aspect of Orthodoxy. Or if the potential visitor is passionate about humanitarian aid, talk about the aid your parish is doing.

The third reason we should stop inviting people to church involves our laziness. I hinted at this before. Some of us want the liturgy to do the work of evangelism for us. Evangelism requires effort and action. Even the Great Commission from Jesus begins with a word of action, “Go!” Encourage your parish to have energy, action, and effort in their relationships before inviting someone to church. Tell then it is their job to do the evangelism, not the job of the liturgy.

Last, we have fear. Because of the nature of fear, this is one of the harder obstacles for people in evangelism. I know some people who are immobilized by fear. Inspire those with fear to focus on finding a way to gain confidence. For example, many new runners have shared that running has boosted their confidence. Most types of exercise or sports will boost our confidence and morale. Help your parish overcome its fear.

If you have overcome the these four scenarios, consider inviting the person to Vespers instead. Sometimes this can have a negative effect as well, like when there are so few people at Vespers the guests wonders, “Is this church dead? How come nobody is here?” If that is your problem, then it might not be a good idea to invite them to Vespers. Otherwise, Vespers is a great introduction to the life of the Orthodox Church. First of all, Vespers includes everyone, unlike the Divine Liturgy where some visitors feel left out during the Eucharist. Second, Vespers is a calm and peaceful service. The environment is already overwhelming, so Vespers can help calm the experience. Last, Vespers is short. The length of Sunday morning is too much for many first timers.

How Often Does This Happen At Your Church?

Day 34 of 40: Several times a year, maybe even more than that, the gospel reading for Sunday morning has an evangelistic message. In addition to that, every baptism is a reading of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). How often does your parish hear a homily about evangelism when there is an evangelistic gospel reading?

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This may be one of the best ways to encourage evangelism in your parish. Let’s visit several gospel readings which can be used for this purpose: Nativity, the story of Nathanael and Philip, before, during, and after Ascension, Palm Sunday, Pascha, and Holy Week.

We need to communicate to the faithful that Orthodoxy is evangelism. When we read the book of Acts, we seen an entire book of the Bible dedicated to evangelism and fulfilling the last commandment of Jesus, also known as The Great Commission. We especially see evangelism as a primary mission of the church for the first three hundred years, when it was a faith to die for. The Orthodox Church has always been a missionary church.

The Great Commission has three parts and all three need to be preached on throughout the year. The first part is to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18). Making disciples could also be described as “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Next, people are baptized “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This is the formal ritual of people joining the visible body of Christ. Third, the people must be taught to “observe all things I (Jesus) have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Many of us are skipping the first and third parts of the Great Commission and focusing solely on number two. Two is vital, but so are one and three.

Are you ready to have more evangelistic homilies at your parish?

The Plague Of Bi-vocational Priests, Bonus

Day 33 of 40: Maybe you enjoyed my first two posts on this plague and were bothered by my offering of stewardship as medicine, or even more plainly the idea that stewardship is the missing puzzle piece for a bi-vocational priest.

To those of you still against this idea, I recommend finding the answer yourself. Here are four ways to find a solution:

Parish Council: Discuss the idea of stewardship, at all levels, with your parish council. Discuss its foundation, its presence in scripture, and how the fathers have spoken about it. Hopefully the parish council can give you a pulse of how well your parish is doing with stewardship.

Survey: Offer a survey to your parish. The survey must be anonymous. There are a number of people in your parish who will not be honest around the priest. Anonymity promotes this honesty and sharing of valuable information.

Other Priests: Ask people outside of your parish. Ask priests, deacons, bishops, and laity. 

Stewardship Calling: Here are two resources from Bill Marianes. First, he hosts a live call-in show the fifth Sunday of every month about stewardship on AFR. Second, visit his website for lots of free resources on stewardship by clicking HERE.

Yesterday I speaking with Fr. Lawrence Farley about bi-vocational priests. He agreed that the two key ingredients for him at that time in his ministry were outreach and stewardship. His journey from part time to full time took 6-7 years. His journey is the shortest one I have found.

If you are a bi-vocational priest and wish to change that, then feel free to contact me and I will freely share all I have learned. 

The Plague Of Bi-vocational Priests, Part 3 of 3

Day 32 of 40: Did you know that every reference to debt in the Bible is negative? Every single one. Another fact: the most misquoted verse from the Bible concerns the root of all evil. Many people, even Orthodox Christians, believe money is the root of all evil. Just goes to show that they have not read the Bible (1 Timothy 6:10).

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All of this relates to stewardship, but what is stewardship? Some of us think stewardship is the money we are supposed to give to God. Others of us may think it relates to charity. The answer is larger than both. Maybe good stewardship is the solution we have been looking for in terms of this plague of bi-vocational priests?

To be a steward means you are in charge of something that is not yours. Everything on earth belongs to God. Beginning with Adam, God has asked us to be good stewards of His creation, including the creation of money. How many people in your parish realize that all money is God’s money? Do they realize that stewardship is directly linked to their salvation? After you answer those questions, read on.

I believe the best way to introduce stewardship to your parish is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). While many money managers poo poo his methods, I think we should listen to all of the people who have become good stewards because of FPU.

FPU is successful for several reasons. First, having an outsider teach stewardship honors Christ’s message that a prophet in his own land is not valued (Mark 6:4). The priest needs an outsider to talk about money, or else he sounds greedy even when he is not.

Second, Financial Peace University is incredibly effective at communicating the reasons for and traditional methods of stewardship, such as tithing 10%. How many of your parishioners know that a tithe is considered the first part of their paycheck? Several years ago, after going through FPU, my wife and I made tithing the first thing we do with our paycheck, just like Able (Genesis 4:4). We have experienced multiple miracles from tithing first.

The third reason, and just as powerful, is the practicality of this resource. Financial Peace University is a tested, turn key method for reaching the average parishioner. Several Orthodox churches have already tried FPU and were blown away at how it helped inspire good stewardship.

By now many of you may wonder what my benefit is from promoting FPU. My benefit is not financial. I won’t get a sales commission or kickback. I work for the Antiochian Archdiocese full time. My benefit comes from seeing medicine offered for a plague. FPU looks like medicine, smells like medicine, tastes like medicine. Not only that, this resource may be the greatest medicine available to a bi-vocational priest.

If you are still hesitant, or want details about other churches who have tried FPU, then feel free to contact me, adamr@antiochian.org.

If you are interested in moving forward, click HERE.

The Plague Of Bi-Vocational Priests, Part 2 of 3

2413574376_cef9b2e87f_oDay 31 of 40: A man feels a call to be a priest. He applies to seminary, is accepted, graduates, and is ordained. Then the assignment comes, “You are going to (blank) Church/Mission and will have to get a full time job.” The priest agrees, happily, because he is finally doing what God has called him to do. Then a year goes by, then another, and another, and things don’t really seem to be changing. He’s tired, his family misses him, and his parishioners miss him. He begins to wonder if this will ever end.

At this point he has a choice: quit and walk away or request a transfer. The transfer happens, and the cycle starts over for the new priest. Unless, and this is a big unless, the wife works. When the wife works, the priest is less likely to have a full-time job, more likely to grow the church, and more likely to quit his secular job. I am not mentioning this as a solution, but as something which is happening.

The proposed solution (not by me but by many others) to our plague of bi-vocational priests is stewardship. Assuming the average household income is $40,000, this translates into an annual tithe of $4,000. Ten households should create an annual budget of $40,000, and twenty households should be able to create an annual budget of $80,000. If they are all tithing 10%.

That sounds great, but what about the following: What if the priest had a good deacon who could help with visiting those who are home-bound or in the hospital? What if there were two deacons, one ministering to the faithful and one in charge of outreach? What if there was a sub-deacon helping with homilies and catechesis? What if there was a really good Sunday school teacher who attracted families in the area? What if coffee hour was so wonderful that visitors came back because of how they were treated?

What if the solution is the body of Christ, with all of us working together following our priest as the spiritual leader of that community? What if…

 

The Plague Of Bi-Vocational Priests, Part 1 of 3

7996146488_8f4b410d97Day 30 of 40: I know very little about this plague of bi-vocational priest. First, I know that the priests are not the plague, but a symptom of the plague. Also, I want to make clear that I do not blame our clergy for this problem, and possibly no one is to blame. Today’s post has been stirring in my heart for about a year and a half, so it may be uncensored and unsettling. Over the last two weeks I have been searching for the following priest:

“Wanted: Married priest, used to work full time in a secular job and at the same time was the sole priest at a parish, the wife did not work, and is now a full-time priest without a secular income.”

I have talked with clergy from the GOA, Antiochians, OCA, and ROCOR, all without success. In one of my conversations a priest told me his prediction concerning bi-vocational priests, “within ten years the bi-vocational priest in America will be the norm.”

While he is probably right, it does not remove my desire to learn more about this situation and see if something can be done. My friend was telling me this in response to my desire to help priests move towards a full-time status. I truly desire this for all of our priests. The pain they experience when something happens in their parish and they cannot respond promptly overwhelms many of them to the point of exhaustion. I have been brought to tears more than once over their struggles.

So this is my response to my friends prediction: until we reach the point that the bi-vocational priest is the norm, and even then, we should do what we can to help our current bi-vocational priests move to a full-time status.

Welcome to my new journey: to figure out this plague in America and find the cure.

 

How Can The Evangelism Cube Help You?

Day 29 of 40: The cube is a nifty idea. However, it has little value if it cannot help the leaders of our parishes promote evangelism. So how can the cube help you and your parish?

Let’s review the sides of the cube first, and then I will reveal how the cube is to be used: 1) internal evangelism, 2) external evangelism, 3) current relationships, 4) new people, 5) faith prepared, 6) faith in action.

The first way the cube helps is by drawing attention to a lack of balance in our lives. For example, it is easy for some spiritual leaders to focus only on current relationships and ignore the need for new people. Or, maybe reading Orthodox books all day long in the office is preferred instead of taking some risks on behalf of the parish. The cube helps us determine where we need balance.

The next use of the cube I learned from a fundraising class. This other use requires an actual cube. I am in the process of having physical evangelism cubes manufactured. They will be ready to ship in the first quarter of 2017. Once you have an evangelism cube in your possession, place it on your bedside table. At the end of each day, before you fall asleep, position the cube side so that you are looking at however you were weakest that day. That side will be your focus on the next day. With this method we are always working on our weakness.

Side Six Of The Cube: Faith In Action

Day 28 of 40: Yesterday I wrote about preparing our faith with scripture. It may have seemed like I was leaving out other ways to prepare our faith.

The church gives us many ways to prepare our faith, such as prayer, fasting, and more. Anecdotally I believe our area of greatest weakness in terms of a prepared faith is scriptural knowledge. Without this knowledge it is difficult to have a faith in action.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God,
so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
Hebrews 11:1-3

God wants us to put our faith in action. Earlier in this series I wrote about the Ananias from the book of Acts. Ananias had to have faith in God when he was asked to visit a known persecutor, Saul. Ananias was nervous but still obeyed God. Do those around us see our faith in action? Do Orthodox Christians see me as an obedient servant of God or someone who relies on his own wit and resources?

If we are not demonstrating our faith in action, then we cannot lead by example. Sometimes this means taking a risk, stepping outside of our boundaries, and doing things which feel uncomfortable but are the right thing to do. One of these areas is evangelism.

Maybe another way to consider faith in action is this: We know Jesus told us we would be persecuted in his name. If we are not being persecuted (in America that mostly means verbally), then do people know we are Christians?

 

Side Five Of The Cube: Faith Prepared

Day 27 of 40: A faith prepared comes from knowledge, study, and paying attention. I can pay attention to the gospel reading, which will prepare my faith, or I can wait for it to be over. Also, there is more to the Bible than the epistle and gospel readings.

St. John Chrysostom wrote on the problem of scripture. He stated that the lack of scriptural knowledge is the source of evil in the church. We must equip our faithful with knowledge of the scripture. One of the best ways to do this is with a Bible Study. I recommend weekly meetings during the school year, maybe in conjuction with Sunday school?

We must teach the scripture to our congregation. If we are going to teach the laity that they need to embrace the interpretation of scriptures according to the church, then we need to teach them that interpretation.

Think on this: it is rare and difficult to preach a homily on all of the scripture in the Bible, because we have a set list of readings for the gospel and epistle. Not only that, our homilies are not designed for discussion. Your introverts will learn from homilies alone, while your extroverts need to have dialogue about scripture to internalize it.

I hope you are beginning to see why we need Bible Studies and why they should be a natural part of the life of a parish. Side note: a Bible Study can also be a great way to gauge if there is interest in that area to start a mission. This is done by having home groups in different geographic areas around your church. Many of our churches are spread out. Helping laity form home groups with the purpose of a Bible Study is a healthy way to help them grow. 

Remember, without scriptural knowledge we cannot have a faith prepared.