My daughter recently passed the Driver Knowledge Test, receiving her L-Plates and a log book. My free time each evening currently consists of nervously occupying the passenger’s seat of the family car, maintaining a calm veneer, and offering pearls of wisdom and affirmation as she slowly accustoms herself to the experience and rules of the mysterious world of motoring. One hundred and twenty hours of guided driving later, in a range of conditions including night-time, rain, sealed and unsealed roads and heavy traffic conditions, she will undergo an independent driving test to assess her readiness to gain her provisional licence.
While we sometimes bemoan the many hours of driving involved, the alternative would be horrifying. Imagine throwing the keys to a sixteen year old and telling them to hop in and work it out as they go.
Sadly, in ministry, we sometimes hear stories of such practices. Youth leaders, children’s liturgy coordinators, and sacramental preparation coordinators may be handed the keys to the room, and a set of guide books and sent off to work it out.
The results may be just as devastating as a car crash, unleashing untrained and unformed ministry leaders to weave and wind their way through conflicts with volunteers, children and parents, and face burnout and failure, all while wrestling to deliver content, meet deadlines and work with other ministry groups and leaders.
Fortunately, many dioceses, parishes and other groups are strongly improving formation and training before people walk into ministry. The process for learning to drive offers some good reminders of methods to adopt in supporting lay pastoral ministry.
Good Role Models: Learner drivers will pick up the habits of those whom they spend time with in the car. Our own habits in being courteous, patient and responsible in ministry are equally important to those who aspire to ministerial roles.
Before we receive our L-Plates: The Driver Knowledge Test demands a very high level of understanding of road rules, driving conditions and other relevant information. How much orientation do we offer prospective ministers before we plunge into on the job training where real lives can be affected?
Mentoring: Accompanying new lay pastoral ministers is a vital step. On the road, many different hazards and circumstances must be addressed. Sometimes before, and definitely afterwards, we pull over to review the approach taken, how it felt, and any learnings. Offering a mentor or group session to stop and reflect within ministry offers rich opportunities for self-development and to enhance our ministry approaches. Where else do we receive such valuable feedback and support?
Professional Lessons: Besides asking Mum and Dad for lessons, trainees can access the experts at driving schools. Dioceses and Catholic institutes offer professional courses, and more broadly, courses are offered in child protection, volunteer management and conflict resolution. While experienced ministers offer much to the learner, the expertise of the professional in a particular area can fine tune approaches and fill in the gaps.
Independent Evaluation: There comes a time when we believe someone is ready to take the wheel. However, having an independent assessment or ongoing accreditation process offers the peace of mind that short cuts are not being taken, especially when it comes to safety of all involved.
Finally, in offering lessons to my daughter, I have brushed up on my own driving skills, googled some YouTube videos, and refreshed myself on new road rules and approaches. Fancy that! I didn’t know everything about driving!
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns in ministry is when we believe we have all the answers and have nothing more to learn. Besides assisting newcomers, let us keep our P-plates firmly attached, seeking mentors, professional support and independent reviews on an ongoing basis as we navigate the slippery highways of pastoral life.