The Ministry Institute of Christ the Servant is a group dedicated to serving and forming those that work in ministry. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Brandon Harvey, the founder and director, a few questions about the work that they do. Brandon is a husband and father. He has served the Church as a Director of Religious Education, Director of Youth Ministry, Evangelization Director, Instituted Acolyte, Professor, Deacon Formation Instructor, Catechist, Speaker and Theological Consultant.
What compelled you to start this institute?
Many things played a part: the discerned will of God, the life and writings of Benedict XVI, the experience of parish life in the Midwest, the expressed needs of ministry leaders, deacons and religious.
Perhaps two unique inspirations were the experience of ministry leaders leaving their posts and the reality of ministry being done possibly without college training. Each year I experience those that I went to school with or have worked with dropping out of ministry. They leave for higher paying positions elsewhere. The burden of student loans, among other things, was too much for the salary they were receiving. I once belonged to a dynamic parish with more than a dozen theology graduates from either Benedictine College or Franciscan University of Steubenville. None of them work in ministry today. I became convinced that those working in servant leadership, like ministry, should not be expected to take on the same debt.
After watching a Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson dealing with schools killing creativity, it launched a cultural change within me and those around me. We began to realize that the university experience is not for everyone. There are plenty of people that work in ministry today that either have no theology/ministry degree or a degree in another field. What more can we do to help them? What more can we do to offer adequate formation that will empower them without pressuring them to go back to school if that is not a possibility? These questions helped form the ideas behind the institute.
Who is your target audience?
We are focusing our efforts on those providing ministry today or planning to do so in the near future: Catholic school teachers, directors of religious education, RCIA coordinators, adult formation coordinators, youth ministry leaders, liturgists, deacons, religious etc.
Since our focus is on those serving in the Church’s mission our programs are:
- Convenient: offering online, or summer intensives or local formation
- Affordable: We are working to move away from the loan model
- Diverse: Formation is ongoing and happens on various levels. We will offer formation through academic programs, professional training certification with various levels, youth conferences with formation for the adults and ministry resources aimed at empowering leaders to do more than facilitate but to lead, mentor and disciple others.
- Those courses or programs that focus on forming a parish leader in the methods or spirituality of ministry will be taught by someone who is currently serving in ministry and knows the challenges they face today.
What do you see as the most pressing need in ministries today?
On a spirituality level I see that we ministry leaders need to have a more cohesive spirituality that in turn impacts our methodology. The cohesive spirituality is an issue we all struggle with but is essential for those working in ministry. Too often we have a list of things we do: Mass, adoration, rosary, theological reading, service to others etc. We need to know how to integrate these into a healthy and fruitful spiritual life that knows how each one is related to the other. The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of all Christian life. That is our starting point. We then must ask how do we then integrate the Divine Office, devotional prayer, social justice and evangelization into this reality? Otherwise ministry leaders find themselves in burn out from piling everything together in a gigantic heap of things they “must do.”
Enabling: There are a lot of wonderful ministry resources being provided. These resources have allowed parishes to offer programs in a way they never would have thought possible. Yet, we must understand that the programs should cultivate spiritual multiplication and enable new leaders in our programs. This enabling also needs formation but the goal is to have qualified people from within the community to create and develop programs specifically for their community. That is the goal. We need to remember that evangelization and the new evangelization is about seeking new ways to bring the unchanging message of the Good News to the unique circumstances of each community. It is best to aim to develop and enable people within the parish or a given city to be able to do this as they will know best the spiritual, economic and cultural realities being experienced and how to move forward.
The need from here is to find new unique ways to provide formation opportunities to allow each parish the possibility of this dynamic and pastoral approach to ministry.
What fruit have you seen through this mission?
The greatest fruit at this early stage has been the affirmation. During our time at conference vendor tables or meeting with parishes, it becomes clear that there is a real hunger for a liturgically grounded approach to ministry and a desire to be able to offer more programs within the parish that are based on the issues the parish is currently experiencing or areas in Catholic life they need to experience.
I need to remember that the institute has only been public for a month. Yet, the amount of people registering and signing up for our programs is great for this early stage. We have people registering for our youth conference in July, which will offer adult formation for chaperones, and signing up for our professional training pilot courses in liturgy and in Catholic education.
How can people get involved?
The biggest interest has been the academic programs. Our planned certificates and graduate degrees will be developed in an unparalleled radically affordable manner. For a new institute like this, the academic programs cannot become active first. We are building toward it. Our biggest need right now is in word of mouth to promote our Champions of the Tau Youth Conference this summer that will provide a new opportunity for adult formation of the chaperons. It is July 29-31 in Iowa. Please consider helping us promote it: briarcliff.edu/youthconference
We are also looking for people who may be interested in taking some online professional training courses toward certification in: Evangelization and Catechesis, Mystagogy and the Sacred Liturgy.
Can you share a grace you experienced in your ministry?
In my parish ministry a grace is surely the impact adult evangelization has made. Sometimes our adult efforts focus on catechesis, social opportunities or service. Adult evangelization is a beautiful thing. This is something I will be speaking about at the Benedictine College Evangelization Symposium, that, we must find avenues for people to come hear the proclamation of the faith and discern in adult discipleship groups where do they stand. Do they agree? Why? Do they doubt it? Why? Does this bring up any questions? Watching them thinking out loud and to realize that we are hear to listen to their story, has made a huge impact. This level of evangelization is not ideal for all circumstances in Christian life but is still needed for many.
In the process of this approach there have been numerous non-Catholics that have come to fall in love with the Catholic Faith and the couples in irregular marriage situations that have experienced such a conversion that they remain active in parish life even if they are not able to receive Communion at this time.