Out of the Office and Into the Community: Practical Ministry Tips

It's a question that I ask every new pastoral seminarian who serves at our parish. For many of them, this is the first time they've worked in a local parish, and they have had the chance to apply what they've learned in seminary up until this point. The most recent seminarian answered my question, "Chris, I want to smell like the sheep." He was paraphrasing Pope Francis' challenge in 2013 to priests to be "shepherds with the 'odour of the sheep'" (Read his full homily HERE)

While Pope Francis’ message is directed towards priests, everyone in lay ecclesial ministry should remember this. To smell like the sheep, we must be present among them, not just on Sundays greeting them at the door. If you want to know those in your mission field better, consider the following suggestions:

Moving Your Office Hours into the Community

In today's age, with all of the technology available to us, our busy work does not have to be relegated to the office. Don't be afraid to do some busy or creative work at the local coffee house. Hold meetings with coworkers and volunteers in local gathering places, even if you have to drive there. It might not be the most productive work; however, you'll witness life beyond the church walls. Additionally, people will see you and recognize that you can be a part of their lives beyond Sundays.

Serving Outside of the Ministry You Lead

For parents, this might be a little easier. All you have to do is get involved with your child's school. For everyone else, there are plenty of opportunities, such as outreach centers, afterschool activities, or coaching, where you can interact with people of all ages.

You will get more exposure to the people in your parish boundaries and learn different ways to grow ministry (Read my last post about coaching Little League HERE). Serving in the community will allow you to evangelize in a way that serving within the church building cannot.

Engage with the Culture

I'm not suggesting we all become Swifties or start posting TikTok videos; however, meeting up and sharing life with our parishioners is key. If you work with young people, try to meet up with parents. If you lead a team of volunteers, see if you can get together with them on their coffee breaks. Ask them questions about what they are discovering about the world around them. Pick their brains about the challenges their kids and neighbors face.

Yes, this all requires a little vulnerability; however, it will communicate that you are also accessible. The more people see and believe you are willing to engage in their world, the more trust they will build in you and the local Church. If we want to bring people to Christ, if we want them to discover the beautiful mysteries of our faith, we have to learn how to smell like His sheep first.

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