Sunday, October 21, 2007

Moving From A "Closed Source" An "Open Source" Model of Pastoral Ministry

After Liturgy this morning I had a conversation with one of the men in the parish about different approaches or models of pastoral ministry. For many ministry in the parish, whether by the clergy or the laity, is very much a "" reality.

"Closed source," you ask, "what is that?" I'll tell you.

Without getting lost in the technical details "closed source" refers to a computer software in which the end user or consumer is does not have access to the source code or the actual program that makes the software work. In many cases this isn't really a problem. Most of us, myself included, are not particularly interested in the source code of say, Microsoft Word. We don't care how it works, only that it works. The technical details of the program, much like the technical details of automobiles, or electricity, or cell phones, don't matter to us.

Except of course when the program, or automobile, or electricity, or cell phone, doesn't work. Then we ask, pointlessly in my own case, "What's wrong, why isn't this stupid thing working?" The reality of course is I don't really care why my cell phone isn't working, at least not in any technical detail. I only care that I'm not able to make a phone call when I want to.

The typically parish I think largely runs on a closed source model. As with our computers, or our automobiles, or electricity or our cell phones, we don't care how the parish works, only that it is there and working when we want something. While it is not all together true, the work of parish is kind of like making sausage or law, most people think it is better if they don't really goes in to them.

But again, this is only the case while things are working. When things go wrong, or probably somewhat more cynically, if not inaccurately, we get upset and we want answers. Unfortunately, as with our computers or our automobiles, most of us really don't have the knowledge basis to understand what went wrong. So again what most of us look for is not for an accurate appraisal of is wrong (and right) in our community, but an answer (and it is almost always a singular explanation we are searching for) we can understand and that makes sense (justifies really) our discomfort, disappointment, or anger.

While this is certainly understandable, and I am as prone to this as anyone, it is not reasonable to expect to have a satisfying answer to a complex question without putting in the necessary time beforehand. Without a sufficient knowledge base, any explanation I can understand is likely to distort the situation. Worse it is likely to play to and re-enforce my ignorance or bias or active prejudice.

My brother priests will often tell me that because I'm a psychologist I'm less biased in evaluating parishes. I'm not, I am simply differently biased then they are. The fact that my different bias, my different perspective on a parish, the people in the parish and their relationship with one another, is useful doesn't mean that it is "objective" with any mathematical purity. Like everyone else I see what I see from my own vantage point in terms of my own life experiences and with my own very real blind spots.

So since none of us have time to master all the information necessary to run a parish, much less to diagnosis its illness, what are we to do? This is where the "" model of computer programing might come in handy. If Microsoft is closed source, open source software give the user access to the code that makes the program work. Why? Because in the open source model the conviction is that the best programs are developed incrementally, step-by-step, in an active and intentional collaborative process. In this process, those who design the software and those who use it are seen as partners in the development of the final product.

In the social realm blogs are very much an application of the open source model to the writing process. As the author of the blog, I invite you not only to read what I write, but to comment on it. These comments are especially valuable to me since they help focus my own thoughts, tell me where my thought is not being communicated effective, and are a source for me of new themes of inquiry and reflection.

So what might an open source approach to parish ministry look like?

I don't know--that's why I've written this post. Let me ask those of you who read this: What would an open source model parish look like? Have I even given you enough information to answer, or even understand, the question? As a suggestion, think of the times when your own parish has not been functioning properly, what (and not "who") need to be different do you think to avoid, or at least minimize, the dysfunction? Looking back, what might have been done differently to strengthen the parish? And what does strengthen mean anyway?

Just some grist for the mill:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says:

" When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men."

(Now this, "He ascended"—what does it mean but that He also first[c] descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, or the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Eph 4:4-16).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory