Of Ministries, Apostolates and, Crop Rotations?

What a WEIRD title, you might be thinking! Why, praytel, are ministries and crop rotations involved in the same sentence? Are crop rotations even Catholic?

Let me back up a minute and tell you that I have been wanting to write on this very topic for some time now – but the reason I haven’t been able to until now has been due to a lack of time. I quite literally had no time to write. See, I wait for the Holy Spirit to clear my plate so I can bring on new projects. The last two years of my time on the pastoral council {full term of three years} was spent as chair person. I discerned for a full year before I was able to even see if it was the will of the Spirit that I join the Council. And, as it turned out, it was. I scaled back my other ministries and projects so that I could devote my time entirely to whatever service Father Dean required of the council…or me, specifically. When the outgoing chair person mentioned me as a possible candidate a month before discernment at the end of year one, I had FIVE kids, one still an infant. The thought of doing anything in a leadership position scared the snot out of me. Maybe literally, I think I blacked out when he mentioned nominating me.

After the initial wave of panic, paranoia and nausea settled, I got reallllly casual with the Holy Spirit and said “hey, if YOU want this to happen, You’ve got a lot of work to do on my heart cuz I sure don’t feel like the right candidate!” Let me just mention that I have since learned not to challenge the Holy Spirit because He has the exact same kind of humor as God the Father. No big surprise there.

I accepted the idea of being nominated as chair person and just kept my head down and moved forward. It was a lot of work, but a ministry I thoroughly enjoyed. I spent most months meeting with our priest outside of council meetings to go over agendas, ideas for guest speakers, lots of e-mails and phone calls, scheduling and booking retreat locations, coming up with the agenda for the retreat, asking for help everywhere, and getting to know MANY parishioners, as well as the staff. By the end of my term, three years had passed, and two more members joined our family, #5 and #6. SHEW.

WHO DO I SERVE FIRST?

Prior to discernment, I was pretty heavily involved in parish ministries and activities. Bible Study on Tuesdays, Pastor’s Talks on Thursdays, facilitating for RCIA on Mondays, joining and helping out with our then newly formed MOMs group.

By God’s design, always, I was introduced to our Faith Formation director Noe Rocha in the summer of 2006 when I attended a series of apologetics classes. Over the years we have had many conversations, and I always felt the Holy Spirit was talking through him. I remember he mentioned once, roughly paraphrased, how people go headlong into ministries, joining everything under the sun. Not surprisingly, I think to myself, this unbalanced use of time creates an undue burden in the home, causing a fire on the home front. His approach was quite simple. You start with service to family {Jerusalem}, then to your community {Judea and Samaria} and then the rest of the world. In that order. Always. If not, your spiritual alignment gets out of whack…and hooweeee, will it ever if you try to go to the ends of the earth first and ignore the home.

Our first witness is to our family – they are our oxygen mask. How can we reasonably expect to help others when our own spiritual house is in ruin or near collapse? It’s important to understand that God will not call us to do anything that puts our family at risk…even if we think a volunteer, service, ministering opportunity seems like a good idea. Volunteering, ministering, serving-these are good things, but when we are doing them at the spiritual cost of our own Jerusalem, it’s time to go inward and work on the list, placing these first in our life and starting at the top:

God.

Spouse {if applicable}/religious life.

Children {natural or spiritual}. 

WHAT ABOUT ME?

You might be thinking to yourself, what about me? Where do I fit into the equation? God? Check. My spouse? Check. Children? Check. What if I am the one in need of oxygen? How can I spiritually provide for my family? Ah, you see, you answered the question of whether you should be involved in ministries to begin with! If your spiritual life is in crisis, then that undoubtedly needs to be addressed FIRST. Prayer, confession, frequenting use of the sacraments, especially Mass, at minimum Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, but daily Mass as well. Seeking out support with fellow Catholics can be helpful, too. Look to friends to be inspired to do better with your spiritual life. Look to them for inspiration, not comparison. It’s important to not get the two confused. So, if you are taking care of yourself spiritually and in service to others, you will start to see the fruits of your labor. Notice I never say that your life will be devoid of drama and that it’ll all be lollipops and rainbows. I’m just saying God will equip you with the spiritual armor you need to get through the inevitable life drama.

FACTOR IN THE CROP ROTATION, PLEASE.

So, we’ve covered the basics of ministries and the importance of caring for the home front first. Assuming all is in order at home, and your house is not on fire, you’ve now got the makings to step foot just outside of Jerusalem. You’re involved in a few ministries at church, but you are BURNED OUT. Ministries are like crop rotations. Crop rotations structure planting so that the soil remains fertile, yielding the most abundant crops. Since methods vary, I’ll share the nutshell version. You grow several different types of crops in the same area, rotating the area they grow from season to season. By doing this, it improves soil structure and fertility by utilizing the differing crops each year. Some farmers choose to leave one field alone to reestablish nutrients which, in turn, increases the life of the soil.

Let’s apply the idea of crop rotation to ourselves from a ministry standpoint.

Example: I join a ministry – let’s call it “The Super Fabulous Every Church Needs This Kind of Ministry in Order to Thrive” ministry. Or TSFECNTKOMIOTT. The ministry is ON-FI-YAH and the t-shirts prove it! I am pumped and, like a glove, this ministry fits all of my talents. I decide to join other ministries, too. Like Lays potato chips, I can’t just have one. I sing in the choir, lector on alternating Sundays and I’m currently discerning whether I should be an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister. I was also humbled to be asked to start running Bible study. Of course I couldn’t say no. In addition to all that, I am on several committees and leading the charge on a project.  Before I know it, I find myself run down and out of steam. I never saw it coming. Now, from the outside, it could be a possible case of  “I can’t say no” syndrome, and in that case, I need to take time to learn to make my yes’s mean yes and my no’s mean no.

Consider participating in one or two ministries at a time…and only for a time. Ministries, like crops, have a season…a shelf life, if you will. And there is nothing to feel guilty about when it’s time to prayerfully discern your way out of one ministry and into another…or perhaps no ministry next. It all has a place, if we are always listening to His plan for us in service to Him.

SO, HOW TO FIND THAT HAPPY MEDIUM?

Back to Noe. Between our conversations over the years and my listening to him teach our Adult Faith Formation program for three years, or six semesters, I have learned there are two kinds of ministries: 1) you give, and 2) you receive. I have tried to adopt the one for me, and one in service to others approach and that has always worked for me. Like anything else, this is a constant process, as life will dictate circumstances and your ability to participate in various ministries. Don’t be afraid to ease up or leave a ministry altogether, even IF you were the one to create it. If it is meant to thrive, it will thrive without you – as hard as that is to believe, our emotional attachment to programs and ministries should never cloud our desire to be in service to God first. So, try some new ministries out, ease out of others, and like the crop rotations, it can even be good to take time away from ministries altogether to explore other prayerful pursuits.

Now it’s your turn to sound off. Share in the comboxes some of your experience or tips for others when it comes to ministries and avoiding burnout. I look forward to hearing what you come up with. Until next time, friends!

3 comments
  • jeanneJune 29, 2013 - 7:58 am

    Ah yes, Head of Religious Ed for the past 20 yrs,( tried to drop it, no one stepped up), taught CCD for 25 yrs many different classes from 1st grade to sole High School CCD teacher (all 4 yrs in one class) – only have 60 box holders in the parish, now we have combined our CCD program with our sister parish, but still hold the DRE office, tho I no longer need to teach.

    I rotated in and out of the Parish Council, President of the Altar Society for the past 3 yrs, supposed to only be a 1 yr position,I was finally able to lay down the President position this past spring. During that time I also rotated in and out of Group2’s chairmanship.

    Parish Rep to the Deanery Council, Secretary of the Deanery Council, Deanery rep to the Diocesan Council, all of these positions have lasted longer then the term limits, and are on going. Our Bishop was named an Arch-Bishop and all the Diocesan and Deanery meetings were suspended until we had a new Bishop. He has now been installed – Bishop John Fulda – so I have had nearly a year off from those meetings, and will continue at least for the foreseeable future in those positions while getting a chance to know him. Just before these meetings were suspended, I had talked to Father about having to step down, I just couldn’t find any enthusiasm for continuing. Now I am excited again about staying on at least for a year or so.

    Choir member

    Lector

    Considered Eucharistic Minister but decided that if I receive Communion on my tongue and not in my hand, how could I administer Communion to others?

    Only female member of our parish who wears a veil.

    It is time for others to step up and take some of these.
    So, I understand what you are saying. And agree, things at home need to be taken care of first or nothing else works well. and home includes you and your soul.
    Thanks for articulating this topic, not too many people really understand how you can feel so wrung out that you have nothing left to give.ReplyCancel

  • JPJune 29, 2013 - 1:01 pm

    Very good! I have been mostly fallow for a few years following burnout and major surgery. It would be really great if pastors could be aware of burnout potential and not encourage busy-ness among those parishoners who are inclined. Some people need reminding that the ministry, if ordained, will not disappear without them. I am starting to dip my toes in again. Cautiously.ReplyCancel

  • Tommy SustaitaDecember 16, 2013 - 4:26 pm

    Nice. I like the metaphor of “Crop Rotation”. Nifty thoughts and well expressed by Martina. The ministry of the Church is dynamic in its nature and everyone should consider their role and requirements before beginning any ministry. This is the plan, God did not intend the Church to be stagnate but instead moving and flowing into every part of society.

    Point taken: healthy soil provides a good harvest!

    Peace,
    TReplyCancel