When I was in college, I was completely amazed at a classmate who could do simple repairs on cars. I had few of these skills and little understanding of how automobiles worked, but he always seemed able to diagnose and correct the problems with my vehicle. I was impressed with his knowledge, but he credited something else for his ability: “You can do anything if you have the right tools,” he said.
Since then, I have learned that this maxim applies to many other situations in life. Even in parish work, if you want people to do a good job, you have to give them the right tools.
The right tools include equipment and workspace. People at the parish need the right space to get things done. Even if their work takes them away from the parish grounds, they need space that connects them back to the church. Phones, copiers and fax machines all have to work properly if the employees and volunteers who use them are to work properly too.
The right tools also include intellectual and spiritual formation. People should continue their formation by attending workshops and retreats that enable them to reconnect with the purpose of the work they do, network with others who share their responsibilities, and deepen their relationship with the God who inspires them to share the mission of the gospel. The right tools include opportunities, not just wrenches.
In parish life, there are plenty of reasons not to get the right tools. Some are too expensive for the budget. Some take too long to master. Some require days away from work. Like doing exercise, there are lots of reasons not to participate in getting the right tools.
But they can have an extraordinary ability to help people fulfill their mission in parish and in life.
Sometimes it is helpful to have someone with a good eye and caring ear walk through the work space and talk to the people who are helping out. Such a person can ask simple but important questions: “What helps you do your work?” “What makes your work hard to do?” “Is there something that would help you do your job better?” Is there too much clutter in the workspace? Is there non-working equipment occupying much-needed space?
Does the parish have a website? Is it up to date? Is email used effectively? How do people communicate with one another? Is there adequate space for meetings to happen? Is there a common calendar for governing the space?
Of course, there are extremes. Some offices have more equipment than they use. Some have more expensive phone systems than they need. Sometimes the purchase of tools actually works against the mission of a parish trying to focus on the help we give to all God’s people, rich and poor alike.
But tools can greatly improve the morale and ability of the people who lead parish work. Some of them might even help repair your car – if they have the right tools.
This article first appeared in ParishWorks: Idea Source for Parish Leaders and Decision Makers 8/2 (February 2005):3.
Top of page