Lessons From: A Pastor’s Toolbox

Holmes, Paul A. (ed.). A Pastor’s Toolbox: Management Skills for Parish Leadership. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014.

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Several authors from the Catholic church contributed to this resource book for pastors. The purpose of the book was to provide Catholic priests the tools they need to manage their parish. Regardless of the denomination, there is much that can be gleaned from this helpful book as it relates to church administration, effective leadership, and efficient ministry. No part of this book sets it apart as a strictly-Catholic book. To me, it’s usable for any church in any denomination.

One author, Robert Stagg writes in chapter 2, “When it comes to being an effective pastoral leader, I believe there are three overarching responsibilities we all have: One is to be keeper of the vision; two, selecting a staff; and three, assessing the needs of the parish.” (Toolbox, 22) An effective leader must be able to set and implement the vision of the organization, determine the staff needed to reach that vision, and regularly evaluate if the organization is on target for the fulfilling the vision.

From another perspective, Maria Mendoza writes, “Remember, administration is not about winning a prize for having the best practices and procedures in place. It’s about supporting the mission of the parish. That’s what your overriding goal should be.” (Toolbox, 42) While Mendoza’s insights were helpful, I did find it interesting that out of all that she could have addressed in her chapter, she chose to focus on financial accountability in great length. She could have said so much more as it relates to how effective administration supports the mission of the church.

This statement from the document “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” in which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is refreshing, “Best organizational practices are consistent with Gospel values.” (Toolbox, 50) When administration is done well, it does not stifle the ministry, but actually upholds the values of the Gospel.

In chapter 5, we find ample discussion about evaluation and feedback as it relates to personnel. (See also p. 171 of Toolbox) See my post about evaluation and its importance for effective leadership.

Zech writes in chapter 7, “Let’s start by agreeing to a basic premise: the church is not a business. We do, however, have a stewardship responsibility to use our resources as effectively as we possibly can to carry out God’s work on earth.” (Toolbox, 73) He is correct. The Church is not a business, however, we cannot discount that a part of the local church operates like a business. And, if that part of the local church that operates like a business is not done well, then chances are that they effectiveness of the ministry will decline.

While chapter 7 focuses on best practices for church finances, chapter 8 looks at the importance of fundraising. Robinson writes, “The activity of fundraising is not a distraction or a contradiction to ministry but should be seen as an effective and profound ministry in itself.” (Toolbox, 86-87) As Henri Nouwen stated in his book, A Spirituality of Fundraising, “From beginning to end, fundraising as ministry is grounded in prayer, and undertaken in gratitude.” (Toolbox, 92) The criticism I would make about this statement is that generosity is not only about fundraising, but also must be rooted in making disciples. When we are making disciples in the church, then generosity becomes more and more a way of life for us.

One last chapter in this book that is relevant to my project is chapter 9, “Pastoring and Administering a Mission-Driven Church.” This chapter reminds us that good administration supports, enhances, makes more effective the mission of the church. Without good administration, the mission is nearly impossible to accomplish.


Need a Boost? Meet the PCC Network

Once a month I have the opportunity to sit around a table in a Dallas high-rise with several national companies who are committed to serving the local church. This team of companies calls itself “Partners in Church Consulting,” or the PCC Network.

Surprisingly, our gatherings are not just about business. We share life and it’s been a pleasure getting to know the leaders who run these organizations. I’ve seen their humility. I’ve heard their trials (both personal and professional). I’ve seen their commitment to integrity.

At a recent meetings, our facilitator handed out a page of questions and gave us time to reflect and respond. I’ve added a picture of the page below. He wanted us to describe our top 3 accomplishments for the year. And, he asked us to share our top 3 UN-accomplishment. Then, we talked about our objectives for the rest of the year and what we need to do to make a change in our organization in 2018. Our time of sharing was powerful and personal as these leaders never stay on the surface.


Finally, Lamar asked how he could pray for us — personal prayer needs (individual) and requests for our families. It’s tough carving out 2 hours once a month to attend another meeting, but I confidently say that this one is worth it. So much growth and encouragement comes from sitting around the table with these incredible leaders.

Please check out the PCC Network website. I recommend this group to you with no reservations. Lamar and his team cares for you and the Church.

Following Lamar’s lead: How can I pray for you personally? How can I pray for your family?

Three Questions That Will Change Your Life

This past week I had the “opportunity” to sit down with my boss for an hour and a half to undergo my mid-year check-in (a.k.a., performance evaluation). Honestly, I actually enjoyed this, but no matter how many times I’ve been through these, I still get a knot in my stomach the morning of the check-in as my mind runs through all of the critical things he could say. Why is it that my mind never considers the positive things he could say? Alas, it’s over and I survived.

I’m not sure why check-ins bother me. The pessimistic side of me says that maybe it’s the fear of rejection or coming to grips with the fact that I did something wrong. But, the reality is that personal and spiritual evaluation is really important.

When we embrace self-evaluation and evaluation prompted by others, we allow ourselves to more clearly see who we are in relation to God. My faith in Christ is a result of taking a close look at my life (evaluation) and realizing that I can never measure up to God’s standard of holiness except through Jesus Christ. It was through spiritual evaluation that I received the feedback I needed in order to make a spiritual change, which was faith in Christ.

Whether the evaluation is personal or spiritual, self-directed or prompted by others, the purpose of evaluation is to receive feedback on performed tasks and make changes based on that information. Evaluation comes in many different forms. Some forms of evaluation take hours, even days, while other forms require only a few minutes in the quietness of one’s own heart. Regardless of the form, if you want to change your life, some sort of evaluation is necessary. To encourage you in your self-evaluation, below are three questions to ask yourself regularly. The key is to not only ask and answer them, but to do something about them…take action.

  • What is the one thing that I’m supposed to be doing, and am I doing it?

Sometimes I find that I’m doing too many things and none of them are the right things that I’m supposed to be doing. I’m learning to ask myself what I’m supposed to be doing, but the follow-up question is the action step. Am I doing it? My life changes when I know what I’m supposed to be doing and make adjustments to do that thing.

  • Who do I need to talk to in order to move beyond my present situation?

The changes I’ve made in my life have always seemed to be as a result of talking to the right person. Every re-direction in my life has a person standing at the intersection — my wife, a close friend, a pastor, a teacher, a mentor. I think this is why community is so important. When you invite people into your life, they can speak into your situation, giving you advice when you need to make a change.

  • Why am I doing the same thing(s) that I’ve always done, and how can I change that?

Here’s a well-known statement, but it fits well here: Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been in that spot. You’re stuck. What I’ve found in those moments is that even though I knew what I needed to do to change, I lacked courage to do anything about it. The result was that the fear forced me to be comfortable with the insanity, even though I knew I was doing the same things I’ve always done. To break that cycle, I’ve had to identify the reason I’m still doing that thing. Once I put a stake in the reason, then I’m able to make plans to change that.

If you want to change your life, you need to spend some time evaluating it. Reject the pessimistic side of yourself that tells you it’s going to hurt. Embrace the fact that evaluation will change you for the better. When you persevere through the trials, your character grows.

How to Run … Anything (btw, this isn’t about running)

My first time running any sort of distance was in elementary school. We had to be able to run one mile in less than 12 minutes. I can’t remember exactly, but I feel like this was some sort of state requirement for children. Regardless, we had to run the mile and I couldn’t do it. I had never run that far and I think I was trying to run too fast. I ended up sitting on the school lawn with a brown paper bag, breathing in and out, trying to catch my breath. Humiliating. Life-altering.

Since that time, I’ve done a lot of running and have finally mastered the mile. But, it wasn’t until last Fall 2016 that I really started taking running seriously. In my early thirties, I had reached the most weight I had ever weighed — 249 pounds! I was able to shed some of that weight, but I love to eat good, sugary, salty, chocolatey, tasty food, so it wasn’t easy. But last Fall, I decided that I had had enough of looking in the mirror and feeling disgusted, so I decided to do something about it.

I started running more. 2 miles. 3 miles. 5 k. 10k. I also started working out at Camp Gladiator with friends (who also make up my team at work) three days a week. I’m eating better. In February of this year (2017), I ran my first 10k (6.2 miles). Then, I started adding miles. I worked my way up to 11 miles … non-stop. Slow, but non-stop. Finally, in July … in Texas … I ran my first half marathon. I still cannot believe that!

This hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s a good one … and it’s still going. I’m down 20 pounds from my highest weight and will lose more. For me, it started from a desire to be more healthy, but I’ve learned so much along the way. Running has taught me about leadership. Because of running, I’ve learned how to run, lead, manage almost anything. Here are a few lessons from the trail:

  1. Confidence

    Ultimately, running is a mind game. If you start out your run saying that you can’t finish, I guarantee that you won’t finish. But, if you learn to be confident in your abilities and trust your training, you’ll finish every time. In the same way, I’ve learned that to lead well requires confidence in my abilities, experiences, and self.

  2. Hard work

    This is an understatement. I wish I knew how many gallons of sweat I’ve produced during the 150 miles I’ve run since April. Your legs hurt. You want to quit. Your muscles are spastic. Your arms fall asleep. Blisters. Twisted ankles. Hills. Running is hard work, and so is leading people well. There have been tough conversations, times I wanted to quit, mistakes I’ve made. But, like running, good leaders know that hard work is part of the job.

  3. Endurance

    You can’t run long distances, if you don’t have the ability to endure it. The funny thing is that I didn’t learn endurance by running long distances. I learned endurance by cross-training with Camp Gladiator. That’s because cross-training engaged other muscles that I needed so that I could run better, which allowed me to farther. Effective leaders develop endurance through their cross-training. I learn a lot about leading through my daily responsibilities, but it’s what I do outside of those that really will make a difference in how I lead — critical conversations, directed learning, personal evaluation.

  4. Pace

    I’ve learned that the faster I run, the shorter the distance I will go. And, the flip-side of that is, the slower I run, the longer the distance I will go. This is all about pace. On race day, runners like to shoot out of the gate … fast. I’ve had to teach myself to not join the pack, but to stick to the pace that works for me. This means that I’m slower than others, but it also means I will do better in the long run. Leaders need to pace themselves, too. Trying to do too much, too quickly, causes burnout. But, I’m seeing that when I develop a strategy, I may move more slowly, but I know that I will accomplish more.

  5. Patience

    I’ve reviewed a lot of training programs for running. Not one of them starts you at two miles on day one, then has you run 10 miles on day two. That’s because you need to build up to it, and that takes time. Weight loss also takes time. There’s no healthy way to lose weight quickly. It takes time and lots of patience. One pound a week. The same is true about good leadership. An effective leader understands that being patient yields greater results because it’s impossible to move someone from a 0 to a 10 in 24 hours. People need time to grow and to learn.

  6. Commitment

    Running long distances is a commitment on two fronts. First, it’s a time commitment. My longest runs often too 2 and a half hours. Second, it’s a distance commitment. If I run seven miles out from base, I have to run seven miles back to base. As a leader, this has taught me to make commitment to my team a priority. I always knew this was important, but I’m learning that leading well requires time and a willing to go the distance.

I’m grateful for this journey I’ve been on, both to better health and to be a better leader. My life is different today. I’m more confident, patient, committed. I work hard. I’m learning to endure, but pace myself better. That one mile in elementary school was tough, but it’s possible to do more when you put your mind to it.