Richard Baxter, the seventeenth-century Puritan, saw the “building up of the converted” to be of the greatest importance, and he particularly emphasized the care of the strong Christian, which is so often neglected. – From True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality, Kenneth Leech
"Often neglected" – four more reasons why rectors neglect the “strong Christian”
In addition to the two factors noted in the earlier post, here are a few more reasons why rectors neglect people of apostolic faith and practice
Third, “they’ll take care of themselves"
Yes in general they will. They’ll go outside the parish to be fed - to monasteries and convents, to national retreats and training programs, to other parishes offering deeper and richer resources of nurture. And as they do that, as they take care of themselves, your parish will lose something. The synergistic energy set loose by their presence and the groundedness that these people provide when the parish church is their primary support for their faith and practice.
There is an additional aspect of this that has a sad feeling about it. These people are unlikely to complain. If asked they will talk about it. But these are not the grumblers of the parish (they manage their frustration by patience, self-care, and having a few people to “blow off” with).
Forth, some rectors will neglect the core because their attention is focused on other things.
This is often related to the factor in #3 above. Rectors can set off on new initiatives, often needed initiatives, and assume that the apostolic will be fine. It doesn’t work that way. The core must always be maintained and supported. And, the new initiatives must also be advanced. Both/and not either/or thinking is required.
It may help to look at a model based on the work of Stephen Covey.
In Covey’s thinking a critical issue is the need for leaders to learn to focus on strategic issues. By their nature strategic issues don’t have a natural demand system. Crisis will draw our attention. The normal and necessary business of the parish usually have routines and practices, structures and processes, that help us attend to them. Mature leaders and well organized parishes will have in place routines that provide for the nurturing of the apostolic and the training and guidance needed by those progressing toward a more apostolic faith and practice. Most parishes don’t have such routines in place.
Take a look at the chart --
What I’m suggesting is that parish leaders build in structures and processes that become part of “normal parish business” – for example, groups for mutual spiritual guidance made up of those already of apostolic faith, quiet days and retreats, attention to preaching to be sure it addresses this group as well as the Sacramental faith and practice majority, attention to the overall climate if the parish, maintaining the teams that offer the Daily Office in the parish, adult foundation course offerings, an opportunity at the beginning of every Lent to reflect upon their Rule of Life, and publicly scheduled times in Advent and Lent for sacramental confession. If such resources and practices are not in place then this becomes a matter for quadrant II – Parish Development. That’s to say it calls for special attention until a rich network of nurturing and support has become part of the “normal; parish business.”
A fifth factor causing the neglect is when we focus our energies on the majority of the members, the Sacramental Christians.
This seems like a natural thing to do. They are the majority. Most people at the Eucharist each Sunday are Sacramental Christians not apostolic. They often control the political and emotional center of the parish. So, yes they need to be attended to.
However, if we allow them to suck up all the energy in the long run we have poorly served them. They are best served if the parish has a strong apostolic core and an apostolic climate that is both well-defined while being accepting of people in all the phases of spiritual life. That offers an environment in which the Sacramental Christian is both invited to grow and is at the same time accepted wherever they are on the journey. The parish climate offers challenge and acceptance.
The six factor that cause rectors to neglect the “strong Christians" is when they get drawn into some form of emotional reactivity.
The two most common ways in which this happens are:
1) The priest gets obsessed by wanting the least mature people to “get it.” We find ourselves noticing the most tentative and immature adults in the parish. Either out of misguiding caring or out of annoyance, we want them to grow. This is a problem often seen in the newly ordained, those who are in their first time-in-charge position, and those who by temperament get “hooked.”
2) The rector feels threatened by some people of apostolic faith and practice. That may be a form of jealously as the priest feels challenged by the maturity of the person. It may also be a situation where the person isn’t just more mature but also more competent about pastoral and ascetical theology and practice. Instead of using the person as a resource the priest attempts to avoid or control the person.