Manuel Flores

You have come to Pasadena, Calif., the cradle of Pentecostalism, to study at the school of theology most associated with that movement, Fuller Theological Seminary. Why? 

 

In the Philippines, I studied theology between 1984 and 1988, and afterward taught in a seminary. By 1991, the year of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, we had pretty well articulated the Second Vatican Council. Our Philippine council was well attended; it tried to be pastoral; there were good discussions about the proper roles of priest and laity; and a beautiful document emerged, a kind of indigenized Vatican II. But 10 years later, when they evaluated this council, the result was dismal.

The problem was not our vision of church but rather how to make it happen. The architectural blueprint, the picture, was there; but we had not mastered the engineering. Most priests learned about ministry by trial and error, by learning from experience. In our seminaries we got an “architecture” or theological vision, but very little on the building of that vision. You have to do that on your own. That is a very costly way to learn, costly to people’s faith.

I had been trained in business and used to be a certified public accountant. Business people do not learn how to run a business by experimenting. If your ideas do not work out, you pay dearly! In the business schools you are exposed to the experience of others—strategies, methods, systems that work. You learn from the best practice of those in the field.

When I was here in the United States for my tertianship program [a year devoted to spirituality at the end of Jesuit formation] in 1995-96, I asked around about Catholic universities, what they have to offer. Most of what they have is in Scripture and theology; their pastoral emphasis is on counseling. I wanted to learn about methods and systems in ministry—for example, how to run a good and healthy parish community, how to realize the church of Vatican II.

Two advisors in Los Angeles suggested Fuller Theological Seminary, which is the largest in the country, serving more than 4,000 students, if you count its satellite campuses. Fuller has a reputation as a clearinghouse for the best methods of ministry in the world—for what works in Korea, Africa, Latin America. I liked its very practical bent, not bogging down in little theological debates. As Pope John Paul II had said in his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, certain aspects of the Christian mystery have been better lived by our Protestant brothers. So I enrolled in the pastoral program, with its focus on methods and systems.

What was your own experience in evangelization? 

In the Philippines I had been surprised that my students appreciated so much learning that they can actually use, finding out how, concretely, things can be done. I have always started with this question, “What is supposed to be in the minister’s knapsack when he goes to the front lines?” The first requirement is vision, a correct way of understanding what is the church, what is Christian identity, what is Christian mission. These are provided by theology. Then he or she needs motivation, which depends on spirituality, that is, on the understanding one has of God and how one lives it and how you sustain that on a daily basis with some practical way of discipline. This is attended to in most seminary programs.

But how do you build an evangelizing community? That requires skills. It’s not enough to have the vision. One needs ability in planning, organizing, directing, evaluating, controlling—the same skills proper to an executive or any leader in the secular field. One also needs resources to make the work easier.

Now how to present all this in a simple way, for ready application? If the material seems too complicated, if you need a theologian like Edward Schillebeeckx to understand it, it won’t work. My course always ends up with a manual. After trying to be as clear as possible in class, I put it all together in maybe 300 pages of notes, many of which can be used for transparencies and projection.

So in studying the Protestant churches, what did you find that helped you?

They go for the jugular. They think of how they can convert people. They don’t quibble too much about the theology, at least the fastest-growing churches don’t. My heart ached when the pope was in Mexico and he told the people, “Each one of you should be an evangelizer.” Sadly, the people don’t know how.

I came to realize how effective the evangelistic strategies are. Already in four countries of Latin America—Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia and, I think, Puerto Rico—there are more active, churchgoing Protestants than Catholics. I remember a Latin American bishop saying in the early 80’s, “The soul of Latin America is Catholic.” We were hoping it would all go away—Pentecostalism, the Assemblies of God, even the charismatic movement. But they didn’t. They have a very practical bent. Their sophistication is not in theology but in method. They use what works.

What is it, exactly, that works for them?

In a study of 1,000 churches around the world, Christian Schwartz examined what makes churches grow. He found eight characteristics. The list includes empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry and passionate spirituality. Some of those churches have grotesque spiritualities; but their spirituality is so passionate, so heart-centered, it is able to draw in and attract people. Also they aim at functional structures—if it doesn’t work, change it. Their evangelism is need-oriented—very Jesuit, in a sense—you enter by their door and come out by yours. They really put a premium on communities where love develops among members. They have holistic small groups that attend to all the needs of the members. The final characteristic is inspiring worship. You can have worship that, liturgically and theologically, is correct, but if it does not inspire the worshipers, they may not come back.

You can pooh-pooh much of the above, but I find the Protestants are living the incarnational principle better than we are. I think this is the most important principle in pastoral ministry: God adjusts to us humans so as to communicate with us, rather than us adjusting to God. For all the discussion on inculturation among Catholics, the Protestants seem much more successful at inculturating than we are, at least in the Philippines. They don’t discuss it so much, but they do it—anything to enable people to accept Jesus Christ.

I spent a short time in Nicaragua with evangelical communities. There was a lot of song and Scripture reading. These were small groups, people who lived close together, block churches almost.

Sociologists tell us that what most draws people to organized religion is the socialization that it makes possible. The second major impulse is to find help in a life crisis. Only in third place comes the individual’s earnest search for God.

In Korea the church is alive, with a percentage of Catholics 20 times that of Japan. In Korea we were ahead of Protestants by 50 years, but the latest statistics show 6 percent of the population is Catholic and 30 percent is Protestant. Eighty percent of the Protestants are Pentecostal. And we are congratulating ourselves!

Protestants have a different ministerial structure from ours. Does that help them?

One of the key points in Vatican II is the priesthood of the laity. The council wanted to open up lay ministry. But there is still confusion, because when, in the context of Vatican II, you ask what is the ministry of the clerical priesthood and what is that of the laity, both answers come out practically the same: imitation of Christ as priest, prophet and king. Confusion remains about the distinctness of ministries.

The Protestants are much clearer. A key to the matter is Eph 4:11-13, which you could etch over the entrance of Fuller Seminary: “God gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, to equip God’s people for ministry.” According to this, the function of the leaders of the church is not so much to do ministry as to prepare others to do ministry. The missionary as a kind of apostolic Rambo, doing the work alone, is foreign to this model. It prefers the Marine sergeant at Parris Island forming thousands of other Marines, or forming other sergeants to form them. Analogies aside, the one who forms other ministers is not to be a competitor of theirs.

Isn’t this complicated by the Catholic sacramental sense? A priest, according to the ordination ceremony, is meant to offer the Eucharist, reconcile sinners, anoint the gravely ill—in other words, do what others cannot.

Let me go back to Eph 4:12: “equip God’s people for ministry.” The Greek word for “equip” has three meanings. One sense is “to train.” The second is “to fix what is broken,” or “to heal.” The third is “to lay foundations.” They can all be accommodated by the priestly function. “To train” is to teach, prepare the understanding of others. “To heal” refers to reconciling, anointing, counseling. “To lay foundations” is to communicate Scripture and essentials of the faith.

Your question seems to ask, “Aren’t we too busy with the sacraments to form others for ministry?” I have to say no. I have just described what we may call “the equipping ministry.” The goal is to make other people, everyone, a minister. We find this in the early church. The new Christians ministered to one another in love. It was not just the apostles. What we have now is a dependency model of ministry. I am the big professional, and you come to me to be ministered to. You are the dependent one. I am the one with the skills, the know-how, the power; you are the passive recipient. A co-dependency has developed. I have the need to be needed. Because I am doing the ministry, I get the praise, the boost, the esteem. Ninety-nine percent are there watching me perform. The dependency model is so difficult to overcome, it has to be evaded with cleverness. People actually like it the way it is now.

A vibrant parish, you say, is a place where all these ministries to one another are active and at work. Any specifics?

A distinguishing mark of the fastest-growing churches is their fostering of small groups. You can see effective small groups in the church of David Chonggi Yo in Korea, which counts about 500,000 members. Practically all of the adherents are in groups of 10. Those small groups have two theological engines. One is the Great Commandment; they are to love and care for one another. The other is the Great Commission. From the very start, when they are first organized, they are oriented to the day when they will disperse, or split, to attract other members, so that later on they can do the same thing and attract still others. They practice a kind of cell mitosis, constantly multiplying.

Isn’t this an artificial and forced procedure?

This method has been tried in Colombia, in the International Charismatic Mission, for a period of about 10 years. They already have about 12,000 cells in Colombia. The Latin Americans looked at the method used in Korea. They brought it to Colombia, adapted it and made it work even better. Some of these groups split up into as many as 90 units in a year. Let’s say that only half of them are really viable. Can you complain?

There are Presbyterians in Texas using Vatican II to explain to the laity their role in the church. Our theology is so good, Vatican II is so good, they don’t have anything like it. It is very scriptural. Yet they are way ahead of us in implementing it. Ephesians 4 is the missing link. Our theology of ministry has not been developed.

I have heard many groans and cries of alarm about the evangelical mushroom in Latin America.

A missionary can go to Jamaica and in six months leave a congregation with its own pastor, prepared from among the leaders. All they need is six months. I know of a remote town in Mexico, where the priest could rarely visit. Evangelicals came and picked out the most likely and educated man in town, won him over and made him the local pastor. The people followed him. When the priest came back, he was no longer welcome. Catholics in Latin America up to now have depended heavily on foreign missionaries. They can’t supply enough priests. The evangelicals and Pentecostals, especially Pentecostals, are 99 percent indigenous leadership.

The Philippines has a little more than 6,000 priests. South Korea is producing 6,000 pastors a year. A Protestant pastor told me in 1999 that Korea had already sent 1,000 missionaries to the Philippines. The language poses a real barrier to them, but they are still there.

The problem is not theology any more; it’s our need to wake up. How do we come across to people? It can be argued that we make things too complicated. The Pharisees overcomplicated Judaism, and Jesus went in the direction of making things simple. Our strength can be our weakness.

You don’t have to go to a Protestant seminary to learn this. Just consider how corporations go about things. They swipe from the best. The issues are not exactly doctrinal. Rather, how do you make small groups more caring, how do you make decisions more participative, how do you avoid factions? A recent book, Excellent Catholic Parishes, by Paul Wilkes, points out the parishes nationwide that can be emulated, that provide a good example in areas of church life such as youth ministry, finances, etc.

Excellence is a pretty high goal for the many priests who are alone in parishes of a thousand or more families.

That’s true. If 1,000 people are dependent on you, how many of them can you really serve, with quality? In the “equipping” model, you are the general who runs the training camp. You don’t train everybody, but you set things up so people are being trained. This fits very well with our emerging Jesuit concept, expressed in the latest General Congregation, of the laity as our true collaborators. How can they really become such, be well equipped and not have to remain second-class all the way? It is not a matter of education but of inviting people to take a more active part in the church. There are Protestant churches that expect and demand greater and greater involvement of their members, which they monitor and keep pushing as time goes on. We are going that way. Pieces are falling into place. It’s a matter of time, but a lot depends on how seriously we take this. This is a direction I believe we are already taking. And there is no turning back.

Manuel Flores, S.J., is a professor at the Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, in Quezon City, the Philippines. James S. Torrens, S.J., conducted the interview in Los Angeles, Calif., on May 20, 200

Comments

Robert E. McNulty | 7/28/2004 - 6:34pm
Jim Torrens, S.J. told Fr. Flores that he heard groans and cries of alarm over the evangelical mushroom in Latin America.

Fr. Flores replied that a missionary can go to Jamaica and in six months leave a congregation with its own pastor prepared from among the leaders. Isn't that the way we did it for our first several hundred years? Fr. Flores continued that the problem is not theology but our need to wake up.

Assuming want to bring a vibrant Christianity to Latin America and the Third World where are we going to get the people to do it? Obviously our present system requiring 7-14 years to prepare male celibate ministers is not going to work. Perhaps we should go back to what we did in the beginning.

Thomas Weaver | 8/4/2004 - 5:25pm
It seems to me that the Church's capacity to evangelize would be greatly increased if we kept ourselves aware of the following premise at all times:

The priesthood of the Ordained is to stand in the place of Christ before the believibg community. The priesthood of the Laity is to stand in the place of Christ before the world.

This simple prescript would ensure that focus is placed on providing the training necessary to enable each ministry to carry out its particular mandate.

Fr. Larry Schreiber, OFM | 7/22/2004 - 12:02am
I totaly agree with your article. I have felt for so long that our approach to our Catholics, especially in the RCIA Programs has been aimed at their brains and not their hearts. Thank you for validating my feelings and experience.

When are we going to learn this and put it into practice. Jesus talked to the hearts of people with his stories and ministry, not their intellects.

The Franciscan approach has always been one of talking to the hearts of others.

I would like your permission to use your article to print portions in our Provincial Newsletter. Thanks for expressing your thoughts and feelings.

(Rev.) Cyril D. Edwards | 2/9/2007 - 4:03pm
It is interesting that the articles “Lessons From Evangelicals” and “The Road to the Diaconate” are on consecutive pages in your issue of July 19. The article on evangelicals notes how success is rooted in simple and successful programming that requires relatively short preparation. Mr. Greg Kandra’s formation for the diaconate requires lengthy years of study and courses on anthropology, among other topics. While no one would deny that careful screening of candidates is important—indeed essential—it seems that we continue to demand years of study, when our competition is highly successful using simple and practical means of preparation.

Robert E. McNulty | 7/28/2004 - 6:34pm
Jim Torrens, S.J. told Fr. Flores that he heard groans and cries of alarm over the evangelical mushroom in Latin America.

Fr. Flores replied that a missionary can go to Jamaica and in six months leave a congregation with its own pastor prepared from among the leaders. Isn't that the way we did it for our first several hundred years? Fr. Flores continued that the problem is not theology but our need to wake up.

Assuming want to bring a vibrant Christianity to Latin America and the Third World where are we going to get the people to do it? Obviously our present system requiring 7-14 years to prepare male celibate ministers is not going to work. Perhaps we should go back to what we did in the beginning.

Thomas Weaver | 8/4/2004 - 5:25pm
It seems to me that the Church's capacity to evangelize would be greatly increased if we kept ourselves aware of the following premise at all times:

The priesthood of the Ordained is to stand in the place of Christ before the believibg community. The priesthood of the Laity is to stand in the place of Christ before the world.

This simple prescript would ensure that focus is placed on providing the training necessary to enable each ministry to carry out its particular mandate.

Fr. Larry Schreiber, OFM | 7/22/2004 - 12:02am
I totaly agree with your article. I have felt for so long that our approach to our Catholics, especially in the RCIA Programs has been aimed at their brains and not their hearts. Thank you for validating my feelings and experience.

When are we going to learn this and put it into practice. Jesus talked to the hearts of people with his stories and ministry, not their intellects.

The Franciscan approach has always been one of talking to the hearts of others.

I would like your permission to use your article to print portions in our Provincial Newsletter. Thanks for expressing your thoughts and feelings.