From optional to optimal
Great to see you!” I exclaimed as I sat down for a cup of coffee with a fellow DRE from a different diocese. “How’s it going at the parish?”
“Well,” she replied, “I don’t know — I’m thinking of leaving the job. I love the faith formation side of things, but I feel distant from the pastor. I just don’t know what he wants; it’s frustrating. He says he’s happy with my work and is friendly, but I often feel like I could just stop doing anything but the minimum, and he and the parish council wouldn’t care at all.”
What’s behind what this DRE is experiencing in her ministry? At the core, a lack of quality communication between the DRE, pastor, and other senior leaders is contributing to her doubt and low morale.
It’s easy for us as catechetical leaders to take communication with our parish pastors and senior leaders for granted. We tend to be visible to the parish and have a friendly posture of openness to volunteers and parents at all times. While these are important characteristics, they’re not a substitute for the specific communication we desire (and need!) with parish leaders to be most effective in our own roles. Communication with parish leaders, especially those we work for, is part of having healthy work relationships that both sustain us as individuals and yield fruit for the kingdom.
Where to begin?
1. Know which parish leaders matter most for your ministry. Make a list of parish leaders whose support is essential for your effectiveness. Maybe it’s the pastor, the deacon who oversees adult faith formation, and the parish council president. Maybe there’s a “Children’s Ministry Commission Chair.” Trust your instincts — you know your parish and which leaders matter the most for your work.
2. Start with a one-to-one. An in-person meeting with each of the senior parish leaders you’ve selected allows you to learn the most about how they receive information and prefer to communicate. Does the person take extensive notes? This likely means they value written details. Do their nonverbal signals show a lack of interest? This means you may need to focus on how you fit into the bigger parish picture before getting into details. Ask the person directly about their expectations and preferences. For example, would a written “faith formation” update that covers what you’re planning, what’s most important now, and what shortfalls you’re experiencing be the right fit for them? There’s no one right answer. The goal is to align your communication styles and preferences toward something that’s mutually productive.
3. Develop a flow, frequency, and format. Once you decide on your information flow (how much and what information most benefits this parish leader), a frequency for communicating it, and the format (written, in-person), start doing it and continuing doing it. Over time, as you share the “why” of your work, your own questions of prioritization, and so on, this person will likely start to contribute back, maybe helping you make connections you otherwise wouldn’t have, giving feedback, or offering resources and support in new ways.
Communication with parish leaders can be challenging! It takes time and exposes us to the risks of rejection — for instance, finding out the pastor doesn’t love our favorite event or discovering that the parish council leader we thought was simply quiet actually doesn’t think our job should exist. There’s no way to sugarcoat these realities. But be encouraged — these are small bumps on the road. They bring us to a place of more effective ministry, a more integrated vision and direction for our parish, and more support by parish leaders who will now know us and all of our unique gifts as beloved sons or daughters of God. These are the fruits of regular communication with parish leaders that overflow into our work, blessing us and those we serve.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last of a three-part series on improving communications in our catechetical settings. Find part 1 and 2 at the links below:
Colleen R. Vermeulen, Mdiv, MNA, is an instructor and director of mission with the Catholic Biblical School of Michigan. She provides ministry and leadership training and consultation for dioceses and parishes. Visit PracticalEvangelization.wordpress.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2019
PHOTO: GEORGE MARTELL/BAYARD