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How Your Personality Makes You a Better Evangelizer
Parish-based evangelization is starkly different from other religious communities. That's why you, personally, are so desperately needed by people looking for Jesus Christ.
A conversation this morning got me thinking about personalities in church work. In talking with parishioners and parish staff members from around the country over the past twenty years, I’ve observed a fairly common pattern to community life: There will be one or a few staff members (sometimes it’s a volunteer) who act as the gate through which parish evangelization and discipleship occur.
Sometimes, for example, a Director of Religious Education will organize and supervise all parish efforts at catechesis. Or a given deacon will be the one person who conducts marriage prep or baptism prep (maybe both), and anyone who wishes to receive one of those sacraments will necessarily be formed in the faith by that designated instructor. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just a reality of organizational structures.
Over the years I’ve heard a lot of parish staff members and ministry leaders vent their frustrations. I want to contrast two different personalities that keep coming up when the fireworks get going on parish conflicts. These are fictionalized bios that represent types, not any one single person:
The Apologist: You are logical in the extreme. You “read your way into the Church” or were renewed in your cradle-Catholic faith via mainlining Catholic Answers. You sort through hot topics in Catholic discourse by deciding (a) Does it Matter? and if so, then (b) What is the Truth? Copies of The Catechism of the Catholic Church are tucked anywhere you might want to have one handy, because when it doubt you’ll just look it up. Your spirituality is heavily informed by rigorous study.
The Spirit-Sensor: Relationships are vital to you, and your relationship with God most of all (though you might not call it that). You don’t think of yourself as a mystic, but your daily life and your prayer life are both saturated with a sense of the beauty of the world around you and the comfort and solace that come from time spent with the Holy Spirit. Academic debates seem beside the point. You have a feeling that if people can just learn to see God acting in small ways, and learn to be kind and to serve others, the theology will sort itself out well enough.
Many of your reading this can relate somewhat to one of these and a somewhat more to the other.
I am here to say today that both of these spirituality personality-types are just fine! The trick is in knowing that God needs both out in the field.
There are people who are looking for Jesus Christ and they have serious theological questions that they actually want answers to. They need to know that you the apologetics-type are open to questions, and that you’ll be charitable and rational and patient in answering those questions, and that though you consider the stakes to be infinitely serious, you’ll stick around with good humor for the back-and-forth.
If you are that type, your big play in evangelization is, “I’m happy to answer questions about the Catholic faith any time, and nothing is too weird or too controversial. If I don’t know the answer I’ll look it up.” In order to be fruitful in this, when you go to confession, examine yourself for sins of arrogance, impatience, and uncharity. Root them out ruthlessly. You want to be that intellectual needle so meticulously honed and deployed that the patient doesn’t even feel it going in.
There are other people, though, who aren’t struggling with theological conundrums, they are struggling with loneliness, anxiety, emptiness, and the unshakable feeling that there must be something more. You the spirit-sensor know that what these people need is an encounter with the all-loving, all-caring, all-forgiving embrace of Jesus Christ.
Your tool is your story: This is how God has acted in my life. These are the big and small moments when I, an ordinary person with the same flaws and past mistakes as anyone else, was able to find the God who loves me unconditionally and is always there for me, even when things are so very hard. Even in the worst of my suffering.
In that refining fire of the Spirit you’ll need to cast off the tendency for well-grounded compassion to slip off into approval of sin, and instead learn how to lay out small, achievable steps for growing in holiness bit by bit. God loves us perfectly no matter what— but don’t I want to grow in my capacity for love? That’s all holiness is: Me learning how to truly love.
Looping Back Towards Hospitality
Some of you regular readers are worried I’ve forgotten that whole hospitality series. Nope. Now we’re in the thick of it.
See, your parish and your evangelizing ministries need all these different personality types. You can’t be welcoming as a community if there is only room for the apologetics types, or only room for the spirit-sensors, or only room for whatever other type of spiritual personality has somehow taken over as the norm and now dominates parish life.
Out in the mission field and at home in the parish, hospitality requires a little bit of matchmaking. We get along courteously with everybody, but we recognize that there are certain people we just click and hit it off with because we are both made by God to embody a particular aspect of the spiritual life in a more profound way.
This is a gift! The parish should be giving the gift of spiritual friendship lavishly. The goal of discipleship isn’t to turn out identical Catholic-shaped widgets, it’s to prepare each unique individual to share the specific spiritual gifts given to him or her.
What makes parishes distinct from religious institutes is that we don’t have a main charism around which the community is formed. The parish is the local home of the Universal Church. The personality you bring to your parish is the personality God needs you to use to reach the souls He wants to put in your path.
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