I've noticed a concerning trend in recent times – it seems like numerous individuals have departed from parish and diocesan ministry. Although I lack concrete data, those who I have talked to have transitioned to roles in other Catholic organizations or have completely stepped away from ministry altogether. When I ask them the reasons behind their departure some leave because of big opportunities. Today many of them are in different parishes or faith-based organizations accomplishing incredible things.
But what concerns me is those who are leaving to get away from their current situation. It leaves me wondering: What factors contribute to their departure? Was the situation avoidable? And how can we create an environment that nurtures and retains talented individuals dedicated to ministry? To answer those questions we have to look at the different reasons why people stay. After talking to clients, and colleagues and reflecting on my own experience this is what I've found. People stay in their ministry positions because:
PROFESSIONAL MINISTRY IS FISCALLY FEASIBLE
I am fortunate that my wife has a job she enjoys and earns a good income. Reflecting on what we were paid when we both worked for the Church, it's remarkable that we managed to make ends meet. While my pastors have always strived to compensate me fairly, the problem lies in the overall market conditions.
The Church must prioritize finding ways to offer fair and just salaries to lay ecclesial ministry professionals. Moreover, it is essential that benefits such as paternity care, dental insurance, vacation, and more align with the Church's values and be substantial. I have encountered numerous full-time parishes and diocesan leaders who are compelled to seek second jobs to fulfill their ministry aspirations.
I acknowledge that budgets are tight, the economy is in disarray, and dioceses are contending with lawsuits. However, the reality remains that if the Church wishes to attract more professional laity, it must initiate a conversation about what constitutes fairness and justice. What troubles me the most is that salaries, benefits, and professional development often become an afterthought. Individuals who dedicate their professional careers to serving the Church should not have to worry about the financial feasibility of their commitment.
DESPITE HEAVY WORKLOADS, HELP IS NOT TOO FAR AWAY
As staff numbers dwindle, the workload grows heavier. It becomes burdensome for everyone involved when a parish fails to exercise prudence in trimming down its programming and services. This is a time when job descriptions need reevaluation. Although it would be ideal to witness the hiring of specialists for youth ministry, information technology, and other areas, it is likely that we will witness an increase in more generalized roles such as pastoral associates and directors of evangelization. However, it is crucial to clearly define and specify the responsibilities associated with these positions.
Furthermore, there should be a stronger focus on developing internships and cultivating volunteer leadership within both parish and diocesan contexts. While volunteers cannot fully replace the contributions of full-time staff, they possess the ability to provide fruitful assistance and contribute to long-term planning. Investing in the development of future professional laity through volunteering and internships is an area that parishes should consistently explore. It sets a vision for what can be achieved in the future.
WORK ENVIRONMENTS ARE HEALTHY AND DYNAMIC
When individuals are burdened with excessive work and insufficient compensation, it often leads to highly stressful situations. The Church is currently confronting an immensely challenging period, particularly within this country. The repercussions of abuse scandals, diocesan bankruptcies, declining Mass attendance, and disaffiliation across multiple generations are weighing heavily. Working for the Church during such times is undoubtedly tough, so when a parish or diocesan team exacerbates these difficulties, finding hope becomes exceedingly difficult.
What is desperately needed is bold and courageous leadership that is willing to establish systems of accountability and foster a culture of healing. It all begins with examining the culture within one's office. Does it truly reflect a commitment to Christ, or is it merely a place of job performance?
To cultivate a healthy culture, it is essential to have the right type of leadership, a clear vision, and a set of values centered around Christ. It may even require seeking external guidance to assess the current state of affairs, but the effort is worthwhile. When people genuinely enjoy their work environment, they are more likely to remain committed, contribute wholeheartedly, and aid the Church in achieving its vision.
TEAMS ADAPT STRATEGY TO THE CHANGING MISSION FIELD
When reflecting on the past two decades, it becomes evident that ministry has undergone significant changes. Technological advancements, evolving conversations around gender and race, and the ever-shifting nature of our mission fields have necessitated adaptation. However, embracing change can be exhausting.
To navigate these dynamic landscapes, it is crucial to examine how staff members socialize, learn, and pray together. The presence of trusted companions is invaluable when facing any kind of change. Parish and diocesan staff who grow and develop collectively are stronger together.
Leadership can foster communal formation by implementing various strategies, such as:
- Scheduling regular prayer sessions or daily moments of adoration.
- Organizing monthly lunch meetings where the staff engages in discussions about relevant books or videos centered on specific subjects.
- Conducting weekly teaching sessions focused on sharing insights and knowledge acquired by the team.
- Inviting local experts from the community to share their discoveries about the mission field.
Regardless of the specific approach to formation, the key is for the team to grow together. This not only instills confidence within the group but also creates opportunities for trust-building among team members.
Ultimately, every leader has a limited tenure, and not everyone will remain on your diocesan or parish staff indefinitely. However, what truly needs to change is the underlying cause behind people's departures. No one should feel compelled to leave ministry due to burnout, isolation, or a lack of appreciation.
If you currently hold a leadership role within your parish or diocese, I urge you to pause, step back, and reflect on why individuals choose to stay or leave. Dedicate some time to consider what aspects require improvement and how you can further invest in what is already working well. By creating environments that are irresistible for our teams, we can continuously fuel the mission that God has called us to undertake.
How can you foster a culture that retains and nurtures passionate individuals in ministry?