CULTURE AND THE NEW EVANGELIZATION:
A BRIDGE TO JESUS CHRIST
The New Evangelization is a wonderful gift to the Church. The goal of evangelization is to “create the possibility of the encounter with Jesus Christ”* and receive the Good News. We can breathe a sigh of relief that we are not creating the actual encounter (only God does that), but simply creating possibilities. A chancery, parish, Catholic school, or seminary culture is that bridge where people can walk confidently, hopefully, and joyfully to meet Christ. It’s a bridge of possibility.
If, however, the bridge sways in motivations for service, feels unstable by lack of clarity, looks worn by mistreatment, narrow with limited creativity, and has graffiti of defensiveness all over it, the bridge looks less appealing to walk across. It might be safer to keep my distance from those possibilities, and simply yell across the river and admire Christ from afar. I can easily validate my actions by pointing to exterior things I don’t like or fear about the bridge, rather than walking toward the great encounter that awaits me.
Saints Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II desired people to walk this bridge to meet Jesus Christ. Both saints harnessed the power of culture, societally and institutionally, and led in a way to share the Good News in truth directed toward ultimate happiness attracting millions in the process. Today, Pope Francis is proclaiming the “Joy of the Gospel” and utilizing this joy (happiness) to engage individually and collectively.
Culture manifests an organization’s values and beliefs. Values and beliefs drive the way decisions, communications, and behaviors are displayed while attaching meaning to these actions. Goal attainment is important and certainly achieves something, but the way in which goals are achieved can have more individual and organizational consequences than the goal attainment itself. An outside look at civilizations and leaders through a historical lens more than validates this, let alone our own organizational experience.
Developing a culture of evangelization begins with the values and beliefs that are richly entrusted to the Church, and are exemplified in Happiness Level 3-4 cultures. These cultures move beyond fears, passive-defensive, and aggressive-defensive behavior exhibited in Level 2 cultures. Happiness Level 3-4 cultures provide the optimal environment inside the organization to manifest to the outside these values and beliefs that inspire contributive action.. This is why the adage “culture eats strategy for breakfast”* has achieved high levels of consensus.
Organizational culture usually takes a trained eye to see from the outside, but from the inside, culture is keenly seen and felt. One way to enhance what your culture feels and acts like inside is to think about how one may view it from the outside. What will they see? What types of discussions are taking place? What is the character of the people there? How are people interacting with each other, and how do they interact with those outside the organization? What are the motivations for pleasing others? Are there self-actualizing behaviors for contributive purposes, or are contributions influenced by defensiveness, fear, or for one’s own end?
This is why intentional cultural development is necessary, complementary, and even foundational to strategy, systems, hiring, and leadership skills development. The “way” is as important as the “what” because every organization does things, but the best organizations achieve in a way that reflects the values and beliefs of the organization to others in an attractive way. The people are the organization.
This is especially true for the Catholic Church today. While the term “organization” falls short of describing this divinely established institution, the Church is always manifesting something to the world, a local church, a parish, a family, and an individual loved by God into existence. Eyes from the outside are sometimes more fixated on the Church than any other institution on the planet. This eye from the outside, and a renewed sense of making Jesus Christ known and loved from the inside, is great news for the New Evangelization! Our time has come, yet again, to bring those on the periphery inside the bosom of the Church. We help do this by building a bridge that manifests the Church’s beliefs and values in a meaningful and attractive way in our chanceries, parishes, schools, families, and other institutions.
Every organization has a culture. What does your culture look like and what culture do you want to create? It is an important question because this creation can help bridge or detour possibilities for encounters with the Risen Christ.
St. Pope John XIII and St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us!
Renee Allerheiligen is a facilitator and consultant for the Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership
The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, Instrumentum Laboris, Vatican, 2012.
*“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” attributed to Peter Drucker, November 19, 1909 – November 11, 2005.