MINISTRIES OF SAINT GEORGE CHURCH of KINGSTON, NY
I MUST DECREASE!
John the Baptist is the role model for thoughtful Christian service.
Fr. Mark Sietsema
I must decrease!
No, this is not an article about weight-loss resolutions. That would be a cruel thing to publish just after Thanksgiving and before Christmas.
I am referring to the words of Saint John the Baptist with regard to Jesus Christ (John 3:30): "He must increase, but I must decrease." John's point was simple: he himself was the warm-up act. Now the main attraction was onstage, and that was his cue to step aside.
Jesus Christ must increase: it was time for His ministry to grow and gather followers and garner strength. John must decrease: the mission of the Forerunner had been fulfilled. He had played his part in God's plan and prepared the way. His joy was full (John 3:29) at hearing the voice of the one who was to replace him. But now it was time for his ministry to diminish, for his disciples to join Jesus, and for his audiences to shift from the banks of the Jordan to the Teacher giving sermons on the mount.
I must decrease. These are words of tremendous faith. It takes a believer's heart to "let go and let God" be in charge of His Church, to trust that the future is in His hands, and to relinquish the control that we humans find so addictive.
I must decrease. These are words of tremendous humility. It takes a selfless soul to admit to one's limitations and to accept the loss of the limelight that the ego so eagerly craves.
I must decrease. These are words of tremendous strength and wisdom. It takes a truly mighty man to step aside gracefully and to master his inevitable feelings of rejection. It takes a truly wise man to realize that for everything--and everyone--there is a season, and that one's own seasons come and go; but also to realize that, with every decrease in one arena of life, there is an increase in another, one with the potential to be equally rewarding, equally glorifying to God.
We have developed new materials from the Archdiocese on parish administration and organization. There is an emphasis in these materials on the topics of volunteer mentoring and succession. The key concept was this: one of the duties of any parish volunteer is to help prepare the next generation of leadership--and then to step aside when willing workers come forward to offer their service.
No one is indispensable. On the contrary, we have a duty to make ourselves dispensable--by sharing our personal know-how freely, and by giving others their chance to lead once we have had our turn. This ensures smooth transition of leadership in all of the parish functions.
We can make our leadership felt in a negative way by letting the church struggle in our absence. Or we can empower others to offer their talents to serve the church as they have been blessed.
When people bring their own new ideas and offer them in service to the parish, there are two things we should never say:
We’ve never done it like that before; and
But this is the way we’ve always done it.
Good servants of the Church know that they must decrease when the time comes for others to increase. Responsible decreasing is like responsible weight-loss: it is done purposefully and methodically.
Responsible decreasers don't handpick their successors and then play puppet-master from the sidelines. They offer encouragement but not interference. Responsible decreasers don't sit back idly and throw stones of criticism. They help when asked, and they graciously support new leadership with praise and advice.
There is also a need for responsible increasers. These are people who step forward gladly when their turn comes up to take the lead. They don't wait to be courted or cajoled; they answer the call because they love their God and their Church. They don't get discouraged at a little sniping or pessimism from the old guard. They have the humility to listen to advice and the dedication to follow through on their commitments.
"I must decrease!" For his faith, humility, strength, and wisdom, John the Baptist received from Christ the highest compliment imaginable (Luke 7:28a): "I tell you, among those born of women, none is greater than John." They share in this greatness who decrease and increase as he did, at the right time, out of love for the Lord. By the intercessions of the Holy Forerunner and Prophet John the Baptist, may we all, as church volunteers and co-workers in the Kingdom, be enlightened to know when to serve and when to step aside, so that Christ may always increase among us!