One Thing I Wish They Would Immediately Stop Teaching in Seminary

Young man with backpack
Photo: Hian Oliveira via Unsplash

One Thing I Wish They Would Immediately Stop Teaching in Seminary


There is one piece of conventional wisdom that I have heard again and again from parish pastors: no big changes for at least the first year.

I don’t know the origin of this guideline, but it seems to omnipresent in its reach and almost omnipotent in its influence.

I have two big problems with this guideline. The first is this: what is defined as a “big change?” Like, are we talking about structural changes to the church? Or additions or removals of parish staff? Or are we talking about starting any new programs at all?

I had a discussion a while back with a pastor who was taking it to mean the latter. “I’m not going to be starting any new programs for at least a year. I’ll be taking time to assess the needs of the parish first.”

The problem is, what if the parish isn’t evangelizing?

Many parishes are not particularly engaged in new evangelization, which a great hindrance to the success of the new evangelization! No, parishes engage in the ordinary evangelization that comes through the liturgical life, hopefully through preaching, and preparation for the reception of sacraments.

But how many intentionally seek to bring the Gospel message of salvation to those who truly don’t know Christ? How many intentionally try to use new means to evangelize both those in the pews and those far away? 

If your parish isn’t doing this, it shouldn’t take a year to figure it out. It should take a quick look at the bulletin and maybe the parish website. If evangelization programs aren't apparent there, it’s time to start making changes!

Imagine if a new police chief is brought in to your city and learns that there are no arrests being made and no traffic tickets being handed out. Shouldn’t alarm bells be going off in his head immediately?

Imagine if he said he was going to take at least a year to gauge the needs of the community first. “Maybe we don’t need arrests and citations around here. Who’s to say? I’ll give it a year and decide.” 

No, hopefully he would draw the conclusion immediately and say, “There is something wrong here! We are neglecting our duties as a police force if we are not enforcing the law! That is our mission.”

My wife and I had a coffee with a pastor recently who is working with great effort to structure his parish around the mission of the Church, to evangelize and make disciples. My wife asked him what made him decide to make the drastic changes he was making and he told her:

“I asked my secretary to look into the records for when we last baptized an adult at the Easter vigil for reasons other than marrying a Catholic. It turned out it had been over thirty years ago.

"I knew then that things had to change, immediately.”

This is the kind of urgency I wish they were teaching in seminary. If you aren’t making disciples of Jesus, you are doing something wrong in your parish!

If you aren’t making disciples of Jesus, you are doing something wrong in your parish!

The other problem I see with the whole “wait a year” approach is that many dioceses have short term limits for pastors (eg. 5-7 years, but maybe less). And I know of parishes that have had 3 different pastors in 3 years.

If each pastor is taking a year before making changes like implementing programs of evangelization, how much time has been lost? How many opportunities missed?

How many souls lost?  

"Steady as she goes, don’t rock the boat too much" is a philosophy for when things are healthy. But what about when the boat is sinking?? What about when most Catholics are no longer going to church? When most of those who do are not living lives in full accord with Christ’s teachings? When the world is increasingly seeing the Church as irrelevant? 

Maybe it’s time to rock the boat a bit!

Here's what I wish they were telling our future priests instead:

"When you go into a new parish, listen, ask questions, assess, seek feedback on ideas of course. But do so with a plan to mobilize. Mobilize the precious commodity you have (your people) to engage in the mission of the Church.

Related article: Why Urgent, Imperfect Evangelization is the Best Kind

"Be on the lookout for intentional disciples of Jesus, they will be your most willing and useful soldiers. If there aren't many to be found, plan the shortest course to make disciples. (Sidenote: If you're looking for a way to do this, I'd use Alpha)   

"Remember that you have a finite amount of time to make an impact in any parish. And realize that you can either empower missionaries in your parish, or be a bottleneck that holds its mission back." 

That's what I wish they were teaching in seminary.

If you find yourself with a new pastor who articulates a “steady as she goes” approach to you, gently ask him, “Father, what if Jesus wants to accomplish things in our parish this year beyond our expectations? Don’t we want to collaborate with that? I am willing to work for it, Father, and others are, too. Let’s not quench what the Spirit is doing in our midst. Let’s not grieve what might happen, but what has already happened! Let’s not be afraid of making a sincere effort. Let’s move!”

Let’s also be aware of when we encounter the “steady as she goes” attitude in ourselves. God wants to use each of us in his mission today. 

This is the kind of urgency I WISH they were teaching in seminary. — Josh Canning

Tweet Quote

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

Join the Converstation

We encourage and appreciate your comments and discussion on this site. Please remember to be charitable in disagreement. We reserve the right to remove comments that are deemed hurtful or excessively vulgar.