Obstacles to Change

Margaret MatijasevicFeatured

“We have always done it this way.”

“We have tried this before, it didn’t work.”

 “We have that room on Tuesdays.”

“We don’t have a budget for this.”

“There is already so much scheduled on this evening.”

“But what about the other ministry?”


Many of these statements may sound familiar for catechetical leaders who tried something new. While some people simply like things the way they are, or some may be more selfish than giving, there are also deeper spiritual obstacles that keep the Church from taking the missionary option and making disciples. These can be hard to identify, since they have become part of a community’s culture. Transforming that culture can be difficult, since culture consists of many unarticulated customs, norms, expectations, and values. In other words, if we have never put our expectations or objectives into words, it will be difficult to imagine and discuss change.


Other sources of resistance come from what Pope Francis calls “spiritual worldliness,”[1] which is an appearance of piety and love for the Church that actually seeks human glory and personal well-being instead of the Lord’s glory. One example is a subjective faith that is focused on experiences of enlightenment and self-help, without consideration of others. Another is putting trust in one’s own powers and feeling superior to others based on rigid practice of a particular expression of faith, resulting in elitist attitudes. Pope Francis criticizes both as “taking over the space of the Church.”[2] Neither is open to grace, mercy, and the incarnate Christ on the Cross. The dramatic effects of these two ways of “spiritual worldliness” are described by Pope Francis:


In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few. In others, this spiritual worldliness lurks behind a fascination with social and political gain, or pride in their ability to manage practical affairs, or an obsession with programs of self-help and self-realization. It can also translate into a concern to be seen, into a social life full of appearances, meetings, dinners and receptions. It can also lead to a business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the Church as an institution.[3]


If some of these seem familiar, then these can be a starting point to look for obstacles to change and to distinguish between these and legitimate concerns in the resistance to change. The most difficult obstacle is the one we do not know and cannot see. The most challenging opponents of change are the ones that pretend to serve the Church but do not. We know from history and from all the great new Catholic innovators, new orders, saints, and reforms that Church can be renewed and refocused on the mission of Christ. Where are we called to renew ourselves to the mission to go and make disciples?

Understanding Culture in Our Communities and Obstacles to Change

Recognizing Hidden Expectations

  • What are unarticulated expectations, customs, and norms in our community?
  • What do newcomers find surprising about the customs of our parish community? Are we able to articulate the reasons for our practices?
  • When do we say in our community that “we have always done it this way”?

Taking Over the Space of the Church

  • What are the “nonnegotiables” in our planning? How do we prioritize our resources? Are we willing to examine critically each priority and program?
  • What ideas get shut down? What structures are perpetuated, even though they do not seem appropriate anymore? Why?
  • Which of the symptoms of spiritual worldliness described by Pope Francis do we see in our community?

A Church That Goes Forth

  • What are fruitful initiatives propelling us toward mission? How can we nourish and grow them further?
  • What do we have to let go of in order to overcome that which prevents us from fully living our missions?
  • How can the culture of our community become more missionary-oriented? What new customs, expectations, and norms can we foster for change?


[1] EG 93.

[2] EG 95.

[3] EG 95.


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