Fr. Eugene Neff Reviews Chris Lowney’s Book

Father Eugene Neff, pastor at St. George in New Baden and director of the diocesan Ministry to Sick and Aged (MSA), has read a book recently that he believes would help in the restructuring and renewal of parishes in the diocese. The book, “Everyone Leads,” was written by Chris Lowney, a writer, public speaker, and leadership consultant. In the past Lowney has been a guest at a day of reflection for MSA volunteers. Following are Father Neff’s thoughts on how Lowney’s book could be helpful to parishes.

The Belleville diocese is involved in a process of restructuring and renewal. Chris Lowney addresses many of the issues that have necessitated this process for us in “Everyone Leads,” which could be used to guide our restructuring.

The call to discipleship is central in Lowney’s writing. “Everyone Leads” is about culture change in the Church. Leadership (ALL of us as disciples of Christ should be leaders) in the 21st century Church will need to rediscover the 1st century Jesus. Two scripture passages are central to this process – love one another as I have loved you, and the father in the story of the prodigal son.

“Remind yourself how the prodigal son story unfolds.”

Three details illustrate the culture we will create:

  1. Instead of focusing primarily on internal church affairs, we should be looking outward, scanning the horizon for those yet at a distance from us.
  2. Instead of waiting for people to find their way to us, we must run out to them;
  3. He embraced and kissed him, before the son got the chance to utter a repentant word. The father runs out to meet him anyway, full of hope and hospitality.” (Lowney)

Near the end of the book, Lowney states: “Pope Francis gets the final word on what this Christian outreach looks like at its best: If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbors, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, those who cannot repay you… There is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”

Lowney also states that “no Catholic strategy makes sense if not rooted in Jesus, and our strategy leads nowhere if not to an encounter with God… Because we are God’s Easter people, we pursue an EASTeR project to become more Entrepreneurial and Accountable as we Serve, Transform, and Reach out to the world.”

“Creating a culture of welcome has a long way to go …. What will fascinate is friendly outreach and charity motivated primarily by human solidarity. And what will fascinate even further will be our attitude, namely, that we have something to gain from every relationship and something to learn about human experience even from those who disagree with or feel marginalized by our teachings.” (Lowney)

We are ALL leaders, the disciples of Christ, who must create this culture change, a culture of welcome, inclusion, and service, thus transforming our world.

Lowney has taken the lessons learned from his diverse life experiences in leadership roles and gives us an in-depth, practical approach to renewing the life of the Spirit in our Catholic Christian community.

This book is an “easy read,” with much food for thought and discussion as we struggle to renew ourselves and the Catholic Church of Southern IL. If you take the time to read it, read it from start to finish. Each succeeding chapter builds on the previous chapter(s).

— Father Neff