An Insider’s Look At The Good And Bad Of Working For The Catholic Church

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Author Unknown, By Catholic Missionary Disciples, Blog

One of the results of my many years of working for the Catholic Church was that I have had hundreds of conversations with those who were thinking about pursuing jobs in Catholic ministries. I always wanted to let those I talked to know the good, and the not so good, about working for the Catholic Church as a lay person, because I wanted to help them make an informed decision.

Before I get into the details, let me preface this post with this. I have a gift for in-depth critical examination of cultural issues. This means that I can sometimes sound like a naysayer or a pessimist. But, I really am neither. Rather, I point out the warts of the Church, because I love the Catholic Church and know we can do better! God certainly doesn’t want us to just be ok.

An Insider’s Look At The Good And Bad Of Working For The Catholic Church

Good – Most folks who work for the Church are good people, with good intentions, and good hearts. They want to help others, glorify God, and do the right thing. Therefore – it can be iron sharpening iron, if you learn to work together…which leads me to…

Bad -Most folks who work in the Church don’t know what teamwork or collaboration really looks like. This means most parishes and dioceses are operating in silos. Overcoming such division requires a pretty radical change in thinking for many. Unfortunately, changing such a divided culture is slow and hard work. Few really have the knowledge or perseverance to work at it. This means most places are stuck in such a bad habit.

Good -There is a shift in thinking occurring, which we have needed for a while. It is clear to most that we can’t operate with old strategies & frameworks to achieve different results. More Catholic leaders now understand evangelization/discipleship is needed to change and that the changes we require aren’t going to be easy. This leads me to…

Bad – The reality is that few know what evangelization looks like and how to personally do it. If you asked most Church workers how they would personally lead someone to conversion or post-conversion Christian maturity, their answers would be programmatic, not relational. The vast majority of Catholics (not just leaders) think in terms of events, programs, and classes – not intentional apostolic apprenticeship. If we pull back the curtain, we will find that most Catholic workers (clergy and lay)  have never had anyone mentor/disciple them. Thus, they have never been “apostolic apprentices” under someone who could train them in life-on-life evangelization and discipleship. If we are really going to change things, this needs to change.

Good – The vast majority of priests are good men. Many of them get a bad wrap, because they are flawed. Well, we are all flawed. Remember that seminary, ordination, and being a Pastor doesn’t make you sinless. It can make you lonely though. These men need friends & support too. These good men didn’t become priests to become paper-pushers, managers of Church decline, or administrators alone. They want to be fruitful. But…

Bad – Priests aren’t trained (in our current system of clergy formation) to be fruitful. They are trained in philosophy, theology, pastoral counseling, sacraments, etc. They were then supposed to learn how to do hands-on ministry from older priests who took them under their wings, during a pastoral year in seminary, transitional diaconate, and as a parochial vicar. But, they same system of running status quo has dominated their formation for centuries – so we have produced few leaders who are visionary apostles and change agents. This means that we need to do something different and many priests will need to humble themselves to be able to say, “I don’t really know what it takes to turn my parish around, and I need help” if change is going to happen.

Good – The younger priests are a much more solid group of men, in terms of orthodoxy. More of them have solid prayer lives, a love of the Church, and a desire to serve. This is a great thing. We don’t have as many young priests who are teaching on the fringes of Catholic doctrine. Still…

Bad – Many young priests don’t respect the older generations of priests, so there is a pridefulness about them. Too often the older priests are dismissed and shunned, as if there is nothing to learn from them. This is a new kind of elite clericalism and it can be toxic. The younger clergy need to learn to see all in the Church as family, if we are to move forward together. We don’t need to like everyone, but we do need to love everyone.

Good – There is more respect of the gifts and talents that lay people bring to the Church, both in volunteers and in paid positions. We can’t go very far, if we can’t work together for the building of the Church.

Bad – Many priests don’t understand what it is like to be a lay person working in the Church. The average diocesan priest gets most expenses paid for (insurance, housing, food, retirement, etc) + a salary (even if it is large). They don’t realize what it is like to support a family, pay a mortgage, save for retirement (or not), take out a loan to pay for an illness, worry about losing a job, etc. The priesthood is the only position where you are guaranteed a job and retirement the moment you take the position.

Good – some lay workers are getting paid more. But, the reality is

Bad – As many know – the pay of most Catholic Church lay workers is shameful. Utterly shameful. We really need reform in this area. If we want to have excellent parishes/dioceses, then we need excellent lay leaders working there. But remember, you get what you pay for!

Good – The talent pool of lay leaders in the Catholic Church is getting a bit deeper. There are more and more good people who are working in the Church.

Bad – Still, the talent pool is too shallow. We have run off so much good leadership & talent over the years, because parishes and dioceses refuse to pay what top talent is worth. So, they leave to start a family, grow a family, buy a house, get out of debt, etc. I think one of the missing elements of renewal in the Church starts with salaries of talented folks.

Good – There are pockets of renewal and signs of growth all over the country. We see it in movements, youth ministries, campus ministries, Good Catholic Colleges, new organizations, and a handful of parishes/dioceses leading the way.

Bad – We still have too many that are settling for the status quo, which is no wonder we are in decline in so many places. It takes a lot of courage for a long-time pastor or bishop to say, I really don’t know all of what it takes to turn the ship around.

Good – There are more resources that we have at our fingertips than ever before. Better catechetical resources, program ideas, events, etc.

Bad – Most want a magic bullet answer and are stuck in the same kind of results. What most Catholic leaders look for is a new class, program, event, etc. This is because these are the same things they have experienced, have been trained in, are familiar with, and are comfortable doing. Changing habits is hard. But, if we don’t change habits we merely manage decline!

Good – There is no “magic bullet” or “new program” that will renew the Church. What will do it is returning to the strategy of the Savior. He deeply invested in a few, lived life with them, and taught them how to do the same with others. In a few generations, they changed the world.

Bad – talking the talk is different from doing something about it. Too few are actually moving toward a pathway of discipleship and have a plan of renewal.

So, Catholic Church workers – let us all be honest about the bad, humble about the good, and move forward together. None of us has all the answers, but the combined wisdom of the Church can see a new age of great fruitfulness.

Bonus – if you are a Catholic leader and want to operate differently, but don’t know where to start, then consider giving us a try at Catholic Missionary Disciples. That is what we do – help Catholic leaders become Missionary Disciples who make other Missionary Disciples.