Monday, January 29, 2007

Ministry discernment: Do I need more training?

The following article by Diana Macalintal originally appeared in Eucharistic Ministries, 244, July, 2004.

The short answer is always, “yes!” No matter how long you’ve been doing your ministry, every minister should discern on a regular basis the effectiveness of his or her work, because ministry doesn’t happen in isolation. Ministry is a relationship. It involves the minister and those being ministered to, a giving and a receiving. The quality of what we give—our talents, skills, and performance—might be excellent, but if they don’t fit the needs of those we minister to, or if they are inappropriate for our parish situation, then we are ministering ineffectively and need more training.

Some examples that will require of you more training: the church installs a new sound system; the Lectionary or Sacramentary translations change; your health changes and it’s harder to project, read print, stand or play your instrument; more people attend Mass; more parishioners do not speak English as a first language; more older and fewer younger people attend Mass; the Communion rite changes; you start using homemade bread; more younger children share in Communion and more inquirers come forward, unsure of what to do.

Discern the effectiveness of your service by asking yourself, “What do I do well, and where do I need improvement?” Be honest. Like ministry, discernment cannot be a solitary task. Ask others who know your work and whose opinions you trust. As a group, your ministers might use a parish survey to “take the pulse” of liturgical ministry. When someone compliments you, thank them, then ask what helped them engage better in the liturgy. Pay attention to their answer. For example, if they say they love to listen to you sing, consider if you are helping the assembly to actively sing or encouraging them to passively listen. Reflect on the changing demographics and needs of your parish.

Honest discernment can be difficult, especially for veteran ministers. But ministry is never just about us or even about the parish. It’s about God using us to meet the real needs of others in that particular time and place. Regular discernment will help us be attuned to what God needs us to do, and on-going training will help us continually respond better to what God needs.

Here are some ideas for discerning and improving your skills.

Read the liturgical documents
Go back to the source documents to review your ministry’s purpose and role in liturgy and parish life. Read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to remember that our aim as ministers is the full, conscious and active participation of all the faithful (CSL 14). Lectors should also read the General Introduction to the Lectionary (pdf file). Communion ministers should read the United States document, Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds. Music ministers should read Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today. All can review Environment and Art in Catholic Worship and Pope John Paul II’s Dies Domini: On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy.

Gather with other ministers
On a regular basis, meet with other parish ministers. These gatherings can include prayer and faith-sharing, continuing-formation and training, updates on parish changes, support and sharing helpful tips, discussion on a liturgical document, shared reading, or strategies on discernment and training of new ministers.

Examine your preparation and attitude
Do you find yourself “cramming” at the last minute? Do you often forget when you are scheduled to serve? Do you pray during the week? Do you regularly ask for and listen to honest feedback? Do you dress appropriately for your task? Has your ministry become “routine”? Are you overly nervous or excessively confident when you minister? Do you catch yourself saying “I don’t need to be re-trained; I already know how to do my job”? Do you complain about changes and refuse to adjust?

Examine your performance
Partner with another minister to give each other feedback. Videotape yourself when you practice or as you are doing your ministry. Ask your family (especially your kids) for feedback. Watch and learn from other ministers. Encourage new ministers with sincere compliments and constructive critique. Be a team player. Each year, discern if you are still being called to your ministry.

Use available resources
Attend one workshop a year in your diocese to brush up your skills or learn something new about your ministry. Consider participating in a national conference for people in your ministry. Read books, newsletters and magazines on your ministry.