Over the years I have heard pastors comment on their councils with words similar to these, “our parish council is all talk and no action.” The pastoral council’s role is to assist the pastor with planning for pastoral activity. In order for them to plan, the council needs working groups. Councils are not working groups. They make the work of the people involved in pastoral activity easier and more effective.
Councils need committees or ministry teams and not just the pastoral council. Effective finance councils should also have established committees that carry out special tasks entrusted to the finance council. Every finance council, for example, should have a buildings and grounds committee. How can the finance council possibly monitor everything that needs to be done to the facilities and property which make up the parish? They need experts or qualified people in these areas as well as a committee or team which can devote an entire meeting to that area of administration.
If a parish has staff members, there should be a personnel committee that develops a manual for employees, reviews and determines benefits, works on salary ranges and job descriptions, and assists the pastor with job interviews as well as personnel issues. It is difficult to imagine in this digital age that a parish would not have a technology committee. Who is monitoring the update of the parish’s current technology, setting up a rotation for the introduction and replacement of computer systems, and studying and recommending new technology? Some parishes have other committees for investments, legal matters, and endowments. A finance council simply does not have enough time or expertise to do all these things plus review and monitor the parish finances.
Pastoral councils should have several essential committees or ministry teams based on Avery Dulles’ classic work, Models of the Church, which is rooted in the Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47. All institutional matters are addressed by the finance council. Pastoral councils should have an evangelization and catechesis committee, a worship and spirituality committee, a social concerns and pastoral care committee, and a community building and communication committee. These four areas address the mission and ministry of the Church. Parishes often do well with the first three areas but are short on the fourth. If a parish is not community building, the parish cannot grow in size or in vitality.
It is possible to have specialized committees under each area of mission. However, any specialized committees should report to and be coordinated by the overall committee. The overall committees should meet on a regular basis with the respective council so that there is not only good communication but opportunities to evaluate the ministerial efforts and to work together on matters of pastoral importance. Too many parishes maintain ineffective programs for too long with the hope they will improve next year or completely overlook major trends among the parishioners.
There are parishes that have eliminated committees because they have hired staff and staff suggest that “the committees are all talk and no action.” Committees or ministry teams need to be made up of parishioners who are working in the ministries. If staff is working mostly on their own, that is problematic. Staff should minister to the ministers. If a parish entrusts a ministry solely to a staff person, that is also problematic. Effective ministry is best achieved through collaboration. If parishes are trying to establish consistency in their ministries, there must be parishioners who know all the ins and outs of the ministry in the eventuality that a staff person leaves or retires.
Parishes may disagree about what these groups should be called. Are they commissions, committees, or ministry teams? What they are called is certainly not as important as having them in place. How they are named, however, does help parishioners understand their importance, role, and connection to the organization and mission of the parish and the Church. These committees or ministry teams should be formed from the people who are really making ministry happen in the parish.