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162 of 175 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life & Death, March 21, 2013
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This review is from: Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter (Paperback)
Before writing this review I had to read the book twice.

And this review is my opinion. I admit that. I may be and probably am completely wrong, but it is my perception of a ministry and a method based on a text. If I got to visit the parish the book is about, my opinion may be completely different. And this review doesn't cover half of my praises for the work that these two men have done and the concerns I have. It is just a few of them.

As a Director of Religious Education and someone who has been praying and working in my parish for 6 years there were times when I wanted to give the book 10 stars and was screaming "YES!" out loud, and other times when I wanted to give them -10 stars. After all, there are people at my parish who love me and others who want my head on a silver platter. I am sure their staff is used to this type of reaction. I am excited and invigorated by the work this Catholic parish has done to grow disciples and be evangelistic. The mere fact that they got any kind of reaction at all out of normally apathetic parishioners is impressive when they started the paradigm shift at their parish. Our changes have been slower than theirs, but we experience many of the same results, parishioners yelling at us and leaving the parish, withholding their title, new young families coming in, and so on.

There is so much to be commended and imitated - and oh yes - I will be taking some of their ideas. Much of what they have experienced in growing disciples, I have experienced at my own small parish. However, I have concerns with their approach as well.

It appears based on the book that they have seemingly made their Catholic identity an afterthought in their ministry because it is not seen as being "seeker friendly". This leaves me a lot of questions about when their parishioners are being fed the "meat" of the faith. There seems to be the creation of a "Catholic lite" atmosphere because seekers do not want "Catholic deep".

Modeling themselves on modern Protestant ministry and non-denominational mega-churches they have in some areas given up the language of the Church to appeal to as many people as possible. After reading the book the first time I set out to a popular Catholic youth forum and without giving any hint to my thoughts on the parish, asked Catholic youth to tell me if the church is, based on its website, Catholic or non-denominational. The majority responded that they had figured out it was Catholic, but only with great difficulty. Many thought they were Protestants. There was a very real level of discomfort among these discipled Catholics. One person even said they probably would have never converted if this was the parish they were exposed to.

So we know that while they remain faithful to the teachings of the Church, a deep Catholic identity can be seen as a liability. This is similar to my experience in mega-churches and their approach to identifying themselves as Protestant Christians. Social outreach and comfort are seen as primary driving evangelistic opportunities. Neither of those are necessarily bad ways to evangelize and I will look at incorporating some of their ideas. My concern: How do you wean the unchurched off of the milk into a mature spirituality, not just service? How does this play into the liturgy as well which they have "tweeked" for seekers.

I have been in a similar parish in my own diocese that had become "seeker friendly" and transformed the parish & liturgy, as much as they were able to along these modern lines. Greeters, information booths, coffee houses, hobnobbing with your pew neighbors during Mass, high tech A/V systems and a pastor who did his best to be "hip". It was immensely difficult to pray, and impossible to pray deeply (think about that and the long term consequences). There was a complete loss of the sense of the sacred. Yes, the Mass remains a sacred act, but the atmosphere proper to the Mass, sacred space, and sacred time, was gone. Since I have not been in the actual parish the authors describe, I don't know if it would be the same experience, I am just wondering.

The authors themselves admit, contradictory to other great works such as Denis McNamara's Catholic Church Architecture & the Spirit of the Liturgy, that they do not believe beauty plays an indispensable role in the liturgy or evangelization (see the chapter on Pretty Churches and Other Lies) - infusing modern technology and as one reviewer put it "rock & roll" does. Yet, beauty remains a transcendental and one of the three natural attributes (with truth and goodness) that attract people to the faith, so there we disagree. I believe a parish can be steeped deeply in our rich Catholic heritage and tradition and still draw in seekers. There does not have to be a discontinuity here. Our family was drawn to the beauty of the Church when we converted. Fr. Robert Barron explains this well in the Catholicism series.

There is a lot that is not answered in the book. One of my questions is what happens when the congregants and the formally dechurched start to get bored with the new trends? This goes along with who they are trying to reach - the "de"churched (a term that needs to be better defined). It happens all of the time in the modernized Protestant churches, including the one I came from. People get bored with the "style" and start to church hop. Most of those teens that were part of the busy youth ministry at my Baptist church have long since left the faith. There is no developed interior life and relationship with Jesus keeping them there. Perhaps, because this is unique experiment in infusing Protestant elements in a Catholic parish, the Sacraments will be enough to keep people there when the trendy is no longer trendy. Or perhaps their staff will be equipped enough to keep up with the trends and change fast enough to keep the attention of their consumers. That is a priority that they list for their staff. I wonder how the work that they are doing now correlates with trends to be seeker friendly in the 70s. How much this work is an updated version of that?

With their staff I do have concerns about the "hire from within" mentality and the quality of training those people get (are they sent to schools like Franciscan to get a formal eduction?)

Very little information is given in regards to catechesis. We do know that they use a much criticized and well known method of "lectionary based catechesis". There are many limits to this type of catechesis. They may have ways of making up for this that are not in the book. Our solution to getting kids to care has been Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for elementary school. Kids want to be there and they are developing a deep interior life starting with 3 years old. And yes, it draws in new families. Our parish has built similar environments with middle & HS, but with programs that deliver the entire content of the faith, as the bishops ask us to do. Those are some of my concerns.

Again, there is much to praise: They have built a culture of evangelization and outreach, the pastor is keenly aware of the effect of his homilies (again, he drops the Catholic language for Protestant terminology) and seeks to improve it, they have an awareness of the importance and role of stewardship and how to build faithful givers by building faithful disciples. Small groups have been hugely successful at our parish. Best practices in hiring is a great chapter - not so sure about leaning so heavily on Protestant leadership formation - however weeding out people who do not fit the mission and hiring disciples with strong character is right on. They are, in my experience, absolutely spot on about current music in most of our parishes. I am not sure that praise and worship is always the right answer. The reaction to changing music is usually either to return to the great traditions of the Church, or go with P&W.

All of that leads new questions (which are really old questions) about creating different parishes for different people, much like pastors experiment with creating different Masses for different people (the old people Mass, the children's Mass, the biker Mass, the queer Mass, the youth Mass, the traditionalist Mass, the young adult Mass, the liberal Mass, the clown Mass, the folk Mass, the BBQ chicken Mass (no, I am not kidding), the speed Mass, the Lifeteen Mass, the choral Mass, etc) and the value in doing that. I am biased and do not believe we should have different Masses for different groups of people.

So the book gets 5 stars and 1 star from me at the same time. With what they have accomplished, despite what my review might indicate, I lean more heavily on my inclination to give 5 stars than 1 star. I am impressed, but I have areas of a real concern surrounding catechesis, Catholic identity, and borrowing so heavily from Protestantism to the point of adopting their language along with their practices.

I believe this book deserves to be read, praised, critiqued, and talked about at every parish in the US by every pastor and his staff. What they have done isn't 100% new, but it's the first time we've gotten a chance to see it on paper. I am deeply impressed by their vulnerability in being so open and honest. I am itching to buy everyone on my pastoral council a copy, and yet those guys need to read Forming Intentional Disciples first.

Finally, I would love to see Fr. Ed Fride of Christ the King in Ann Arbor write the next book on parish life.
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Tracked by 8 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 24, 2013 6:05:06 AM PDT
TAV says:
Great review. I travel a good distance to be a member of this parish. So, obviously, I like what they are doing. But, you hit on my main concerns - Catholic identity and ability to pray at mass. That being the case, I think Father White and his team do a great job. I don't love or agree with everything they do. However, more than any parish I have ever been to, they try the hardest to improve the parish, attract parishoners, improve the mass, make it attractive to kids, etc.

The parish I grew up in is a dying parish and can't or won't make any changes. As the book mentions (and I apologize in advance for the generalization), regularly attending senior citizens are a hinderance, rather than an ally to that parish. The story about merely changing the order in which picture were hung on the wall prompting a visit from the Bishop is exactly the type of thing that would happen. So, the parish of my youth is stuck arguing about paint colors and minor cosmetic changes that wear out pastors and make absolutely no positive difference to the membership. I applaud Father White and Tom for pushing past that and making changes that make a difference.

Posted on Mar 25, 2013 5:28:49 AM PDT
Tim says:
Joe, really enjoyed reading your review, particularly how you compared and contrasted Nativity's experiences with your own. Having witnessed it myself weekly over the past 5+ years, I can assure you of one thing - the Holiness of the Mass has not negatively impacted by any changes discussed in this book. In fact, I'd argue it's been greatly improved by worshipping in a loving / welcoming environment where a scripture-based weekly message focuses specifically on how God directs us to live our lives. As the staff would readily admit - it's an easy church to join, but a challenging one to stay at. This isn't Catholicism Lite, it's a call to discipleship.

Posted on Mar 27, 2013 8:08:12 AM PDT
L. Sedivy says:
I think you did a great job articulating your concerns which are my exact thoughts just from the small description I read on the book's website. My heart is on set on "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi". I am passionate about the beauty of the Liturgy. "Feelings" do not carry. Truth does. Every posture and gesture in the mass is part of the strong spiritual ritual and the more continuity we have in the masses around the world, the stronger the spiritual effectiveness. But that is most difficult for most people to comprened because we typically look at the world through our temporal eyes (and minds) and not with a spiritual lens. Every thought, thing and action has a spiritual consequence (good or bad). Same as rock music (as well as other genres) have a negative spiritual influence but most don't think that is true because they can't "see" it. Lucifer was a magnificent musician. He knows how to use music to influence and deceive. Think about it! And think about WHY the Vatican states that Gregorian Chant holds pride of place in the mass. Beauty in all its forms lifts ones eyes and mind to the Creator. Does the music you are exposed to in the mass coincide with the spiritual reality of what's happening on the other side of the veil? Being united at the foot of Calvary is a pretty somber experience. Does the music add to that reality or take you to a different place? The music score of a movie is to help set the "mood" and contribute to the emotional impact of what is happening. Can't we do the same in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Anyway, thank you for a very good review on this book.

Posted on Mar 27, 2013 8:18:51 AM PDT
L. Sedivy says:
I did want to add that I had learned through the 2-year diocesan course from Fr. Felix that many young people are being attracted to the TLM because it is SO different from what their parents grew up with AND because it plays on all the senses. It took me a couple of years (information hog had to get all the information before making a decision) but I finally made a commitment last Lenten season to attend the TLM and learn to pray it. I didn't think I would be able to do it, but by the end of Lent I was so in love with all the beauty and reverence. It is the best thing this side of heaven for me and my family. My 18-year old says people are there because they "want" to be vs our old parish where he thought it was apparent that people were there because they "had to" be. There must be a reason why the TLM is really growing in this country. I'm not "dissing" the approach taken in this book (which I have yet to read and am intrigued) but it appears that this is in an experimental phase and only time will tell whether it stands the "test of time". I agree with the reviewer that Catholic identity is really quite important. How are we to convince our protestant brethren that there really and truly is something very different happening in the Catholic mass (True Presence) if it looks, sounds, smells and feels the same as a protestant "service". After all, if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and smells like a duck.......why, it must be a duck!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2013 4:01:21 PM PDT
Norma Allen says:
I have been to Mass at Nativity many times. I am always honestly moved by the music - sometimes to tears! I wouldn't call it "rock" music - it is more contemporary Christian music. The music stays in my mind during the week and can actually keep me on the right path!

I think your concerns about the way the Mass is celebrated (and the people in the pews actually sing in celebration) would be put to rest if you could attend a service, bear witness to Jesus's prescence there, and hear testimonies from the people who have embraced the Church's message- Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2013 6:06:58 PM PDT
I too travel to Nativity to attend Mass occasionally. I enjoy the vibrancy of the congregation, However I have begun going to another Church on most Sundays so I am able reflect and pray in a more sedate and quiet place.
There is no question that Fr. White and Tom are focused leaders whose purpose of spreading God's word is reaching thousands. I applaud them and wish them well. However, I would still want access to those parishes that allow my quiet time to reflect.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 19, 2013 5:43:56 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 19, 2013 5:47:40 PM PDT]

Posted on May 9, 2013 2:30:59 PM PDT
R. Keller says:
I think you really strike at the core of what is a further development for them. I agree with you and yet I still have a great respect for the authors. As I was reading the book, I don't think they intend this as the answer. They make it clear a lot and they seem to look at what they don't know. It is a beginning to the conversation, a very important conversation that needs to happen.

The biggest drawback is that a deep theology is seen as a bit of a liability at worst. However, as others have mentioned, I think beauty and theology are actually part of discipleship. I would even argue an essential part. We can mirror protestant mega-churches and they do some things well. I am glad to learn from them. However, many of them bleed members as fast as they gain new ones because the people who are closest to the core have to be fed with real meat and real food that encourages them to grow deeper.

That may be happening at this Church and I hope it does more in the future. If it does and that becomes a part of the heart of the whole thing, I think the results will not only be "successful" but will lead to an even deeper community and a greater encounter with God.

Posted on May 31, 2013 6:47:20 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 31, 2013 6:48:14 AM PDT
Mary Wert says:
I just bought and started reading the book. But I wanted to know the end of the story first so I found their website. This church is completely indistinguishable from a thousand other service, happy coffee stand we-are-here-to-greet-you churches. Sadly, it doesn't even list "Mass times" up front but can be found under schedules. We plan to attend Mass their this summer. About a 2 hour drive for us. You ask great questions in your review.

Posted on Jun 14, 2013 8:09:17 AM PDT
Patty B says:
I am a parishioner of Nativity and I feel so blessed to be a part of this church. Since attending Nativity, I have joined a small group, gotten out of the pew and served as a Host minister, and served in ministries outside of Nativity. I have grown deeper in my faith and continue to grow in my relationship with Christ. I am not satisfied with the status quo. I continue to read the bible and spend time praying privately daily. (Something I never used to do)

So when you say, "It appears based on the book that they have seemingly made their Catholic identity an afterthought in their ministry because it is not seen as being "seeker friendly". This leaves me a lot of questions about when their parishioners are being fed the "meat" of the faith. There seems to be the creation of a "Catholic lite" atmosphere because seekers do not want "Catholic deep"." I know in my heart how wrong you are...and that Nativity has got it right and that we are more "Catholic deep" than most parishioners that attend other Catholic churches. Isn't it sad how many people have left the Catholic church in search of more and a desire to grow in their faith? What about those that remain and attend church out of duty or guilt? Father White isn't perfect but he is a great leader, who is honest and transparent. You say you haven't visited Nativity. I think it's time for a road trip!
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