How-to tips on caring for ourselves, our parishes

Published February 1, 2008

Hard-working parish priests and other Christian leaders want to experience desirable outcomes from ministry both for themselves and their communities. It seems, however, that not every activity gets results proportionate to the energy expended. So it’s important to pause occasionally and assess what we’re doing to determine if we are accomplishing what we intend. Reading books can help with this, but only if they are useful. Otherwise, we may become like the man who dropped his keys in the alley but looked for them under the street lamp because the light was better there.

Four recent books may shed light where we need it most. The first, Faith and Fitness: Diet and Exercise for a Better World, focuses on the need for a healthy personal discipline. Author Tom P. Hafer is an athletic trainer in the U.S. but his approach suits even us followers of Jesus who huff and puff in the footsteps of our Lord. This book is not an exercise manual. Rather, anecdotally it urges the reader to think carefully about lifestyle choices. Mr. Hafer draws insights from Scripture, theologians and writers to shape a constructive approach to the world in which we live and exercise ministry. Mr. Hafer summarizes his perspective on faith and fitness by encouraging healthy purchase choices in a global economy, promoting the establishing of means to make a living especially among disadvantaged women, and offering a reminder that health for God’s world begins with taking care of ourselves.

A second book, Making the News, by John Longhurst, is a useful guide to media relations for local churches. If a church were to undertake any constructive initiative like the ones suggested in Faith and Fitness, Mr. Longhurst’s book would be an excellent source of practical advice on publicizing the effort. Making the News is a how-to book with lots of examples and templates. The author describes how to write a media release, establish relationships with journalists, manage an interview, and deal with crisis communications. Also, he provides helpful insight into how journalists tend to view the church (there’s some good news!), and what the media consider to be newsworthy stories. This book ought to be on the shelf of anybody who wants anybody else to know what the church is doing.

These first two books have the potential to increase satisfaction in ministry with their insights into how to foster relevance and increase the profile of the church’s good works. The next two books, in contrast, have the potential to decrease dissatisfaction. That is, they might not make things go better in ministry but they can help prevent things from going worse.

ParishWorks: Tips and Templates to Revitalize Your Church, by Ward McCance, is a valuable read, but misnamed in its use of the word “revitalize.” This is a pragmatic book about parish management. Granted, Mr. McCance offers suggestions for naming a local church’s aims with a mission statement but, on the whole, the book deals with the practicalities of assessing governance, managing volunteers, maintaining records and parish assets, and measuring attendance and patterns of participation. What the book lacks is a response to the underlying question, “Why bother?” A “vital” church requires a widely-communicated vision, a heart for its mission, and the passionate faith to believe God can help make it all happen. Passion is lacking in this book. Notwithstanding this criticism, ParishWorks provides useful tips and templates for parish administration. It helps parishes do useful self-diagnosis to determine areas that fall short of best practices.

The final book is The Legal Guide for Canadian Churches, by David Blaikie and Diana Ginn. This book deserves to be read by every priest and church worker, then placed on the bookshelf in the hope that it never needs to be referred to again. The reality, however, is that good leadership requires people in positions of responsibility within the church to stay well-informed so that the church acts reasonably, carefully, and diligently in light of civil law. The authors identify four areas of particular legal concern in the life of the church: governance and decision-making, civil liability, employment, and property. The prospect of wading through a book on legal issues may seem daunting, but the fact that each chapter ends with a Q&A section makes it a highly accessible resource. In a society where concern about litigation is increasing, this useful book can help leaders stay on the correct side of the law and protect the church’s constituency.

Rev. Kevin Dixon is incumbent of St. Mary’s church, Kerrisdale, Vancouver.


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