I’ve always loved this informal but popular definition of insanity: Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
This idea comes up regularly in my work with parishes trying to move from maintenance to mission. We can’t keep doing things the way we have long done them.
It’s important to note that we’re not simply talking about doing different things — but instead, doing things differently. In the Church and parish life, we have many key building blocks laid out for us already. We have Mass, the sacraments and adult faith formation. We have community life, and many parishes have some form of Catholic education and much more. We are not short on things to do.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The call for a New Evangelization from St. John Paul II wasn’t meant to throw out everything we have done to evangelize for the last 2,000 years, but instead to better understand those whom we are trying to evangelize and how we might reach modern people living in an increasingly post-Christian culture. We recognize that the world is different, and so our ministry must also look different.
What we do matters, indeed. We want to use the best programs and the most effective means of reaching out to those in and even beyond our parish boundaries. But even more than what we do, what matters most is the way that we do it.
Programs can be good, but they’re not the answer. Instead, programs can be the vehicle for us to develop discipleship relationships.
I’ll never forget my freshman year at Benedictine College. Some upperclassmen were trained as leaders in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and reached out to the freshmen to build relationships. They were orientation leaders, intramural athletes, dorm resident assistants and much more.
They didn’t start by running a program. They started with authentic friendship and began to invite us to Bible study and walk with us in daily life. They helped me navigate the highs and lows, the temptations and the graces that can come with being in a new environment. They modeled for me what it meant to be a man of faith and challenged me when I fell short. They invested in me, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without them. Their discipleship invited me into deeper discipleship — something the Church has called “accompaniment.” I am honored to still call many of them friends.
St. Paul gives us the model for this in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Sharing the Gospel is most effective when we also share life. As we seek to evangelize and renew our parishes, let’s focus not only on what we do but more on how we do it. Let’s live as disciples who make disciples through authentic friendship.