Getting in the flow

[Note: a version of this post originally appeared at Searching for the Called.]

In the field of positive psychology, focus is placed not on the diagnosis and treatment of maladies but on creating the conditions for human flourishing. A key aspect of thriving is engagement, when we are so into what we are doing that everything else fades into the background while we are doing it. The flow model developed by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi says that for a person to be deeply engaged in an activity, her skill level must be in relative balance with the challenge of the task. If her skill availability is high while the difficulty of the task is low, she will quickly get bored. If the challenge outweighs her talents, her anxiety ratchets up.

What does the flow model reveal to you about your work? Specifically:

When are you deeply engaged in ministry? At these moments you are most likely living into your God-given calling.

When are you bored? Though you might have developed some reliable skills to carry out these less scintillating tasks, you are not building on your innate strengths.

When are you anxious? There is such a thing as a healthy stretch, which is a challenge that fosters our personal or professional growth. When we are overextended, however, we can start to believe that we are frauds and worry that we will fail those who rely on us.

Take a look at your responses to the above questions. What are the percentages of time spent on engaging, boring, and anxiety-producing tasks? Everyone has some tasks that fall into the latter two categories – that’s part of work life (and adulting in general, for that matter). But if those aspects are disproportionately large, it’s time to look at ways to revamp your job description. What dull or stressful assignments can be eliminated or shrunk if they’re less essential or redistributed to others who can do them better and with more enthusiasm if they are truly important? Your personnel committee or pastoral relations committee might be able to help you assess this.

If there’s not much that can be changed, then it’s time to consider whether your position is still a good fit for you. If not, what might a great fit look like? Your gifts are too valuable not to be fully engaged.

Photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash.

The value of boundaries

[Note: this post originally appeared on Searching for the Called.]

As a minister with standing in my region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I am required to attend boundary training at least every ten years. This is important work, not just because abuse by clergy is (sadly) in the news so much these days. It’s also essential because the emphasis in these conversations shifts. For example, we spent much more time discussing preaching in this iteration of the training than in my last go-round. That’s because the political climate is such that pastors have to check their motivations and their theology every week so that the pulpit doesn’t become, well, the bully pulpit.

The increased attention to preaching was not the only new piece for me, however. The training materials lifted out that boundaries aid ministers’ work; they allow pastors to recover from the emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical demands of their roles so that they can come back to lead another day. That seems obvious enough. For the first time, however, I heard that boundaries themselves actually are the work.

I bristled at that statement initially. Surely ministers are not being encouraged to walk around wrapped in caution tape! But the materials clarified that we are constantly crossing boundaries – anytime we step over the threshold into a homebound member’s home or a hospital room, get buzzed into a school to eat lunch with a youth, hear the intimate details of a parishioner’s hurt, embolden our leadership in the midst of conflict, share a bit about our lives to let others know they are not alone, or enter the pulpit to preach. It is the minister’s job, though, to acknowledge those boundaries, to be clear on why we are or are not pushing through them, and to ensure that those reasons are to help the people in our care grow closer to God.

At the same time, spiritual leaders are called to help others recognize the boundaries they have set up between themselves and God and between themselves and their fellow humans so that they can remove these obstacles. Clergy do this through preaching and prayer, teaching and serving the community alongside church members.

Boundaries, then, are in fact the heart of ministry, recognizing and then either holding to or tearing them down. The hoped-for end is the same, regardless: to see and celebrate the image of God in all people and to remember that rootedness in relationship to God is essential for us all.

May we thus be aware of boundaries, sometimes using and other times obliterating them to promote connection and wholeness.

Photo by André Bandarra on Unsplash.

Networking that doesn’t feel icky

The last semester of seminary was an anxious time for me. Every day I felt more unemployable as my classmates were appointed or called to their post-graduation churches. Meanwhile, I went on interview after interview, breaking the top two or three several times before hearing the “no” that every minister in a search process dreads.

A big factor in my failed searches was that I didn’t know a lot of people. I was a name on a page, with too little experience to make search teams want to find out more about me. One reason for my small network was that I simply had not met a lot of people. I had only recently found my way to the progressive Baptist world, which was where I wanted to serve, yet as a Candler student most of my friends and professors were United Methodist. But there was also the side of me that rejected networking as I understood it: schmoozing and getting ahead based on the connections I had, not the work I had done or the skills I possessed.

In time I realized that “networking” is one of those words that needs to be re-claimed, like evangelism. Good, healthy networking is not about ladder-climbing. It’s about showing interest in other people and their work. It’s about learning from and sharing wisdom with others. It’s about, in short, understanding our interdependence and strengthening relationships such that both parties can more fully inhabit their personhood and their call.

Putting on a Murphy Brown suit and making it rain business cards won’t accomplish those ends. But in his WorkLife podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently offered up ways to network that do build genuine bonds:

Build your skills. As you learn, you not only increase your range and expertise, you meet people in the areas where those skills are needed, some of whom are regularly contacted by organizations looking for those talents. So in the world of ministry, seek out parachurch trainings about how to be a head of staff or mediate conflict or navigate the interim time between settled pastors. Attend continuing education events offered by seminaries. Get coached. Go to denominational gatherings that offer practical workshops.

Give help. Want to learn how to do something new and show your willingness to be a team player? Offer to pitch in. Take on a project at the middle judicatory level. Mentor a new minister. Offer your expertise in a consultant-type role. Lead a retreat. Tread with intentionality, though, making sure you aren’t just accumulating tasks that no one else wants or that others expect women to do.

Ask for advice. Not everyone loves to be asked for help. That can, at times, feel like a burden. But who doesn’t like to be asked for their wisdom? Contact someone who is doing something you’d like to do and ask a few brief questions about how that person got there. If you want to serve a big-steeple church, reach out to a large-church pastor you admire. The same goes if you’re feeling called to be a CPE supervisor, judicatory or denominational leader, or any other role. The veteran will feel recognized for work well done, and you will gain knowledge and plant your name in that person’s memory.

The key in all of these types of network is to be sincere in your interactions. Truly be interested, and you will likely be amazed at the doors that will open for you.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash.

The joy of “barre-lesque” dancing

The only exercise I have ever truly enjoyed – aside from basketball, and even that included a lot of running I truly abhorred – is barre. In barre I have built my strength through small movements and isometric holds. Thanks to these classes I was in the best physical and mental shape of my adult life before I took maternity leave, and I am currently in the process of getting back to that state.

At the studio where I exercise, there is an instructor who is a former professional dancer. She has started developing and offering occasional classes with a dance flair. Before Christmas she led a Nutcracker workshop that combined ballet and barre. And recently she choreographed a barre-lesque (think burlesque) routine that she taught a group of about ten very uncertain women.

I am not a dancer. I have very little physical grace. (That’s what I like about barre – small movements don’t advertise my clumsiness!) But I wanted to try barre-lesque. My comfort zone was a blip in my rearview mirror, but I had so much fun. And here’s why: the instructor kept urging us to flip our hair and put more pop into our hips. She sincerely told us we were doing great. She encouraged us to enjoy our bodies. Her enthusiasm allowed us to relax, try new ways of moving, and cheer one another on.

The whole experience was not just body positive but celebratory of sensuality. My first thought afterward was, “I would like to bring every woman recovering from purity culture to this class.” Twenty-plus years later I am still dealing with the emotional and spiritual baggage that came with my church’s participation in True Love Waits, in which teens were shamed and scared into abstinence. It worked in my case, but at a great cost. Until my family moved during college, I had my TLW pledge card taped above my bedroom light switch. It reminded me to be totally confused about how God had wonderfully created me yet made me a temptress who could ruin not just my life, but the lives of anyone I let too near my body. Until my wedding day, that is, on which I was magically supposed to figure out (and enjoy) how my plumbing worked so that I could perpetuate humankind.

But barre-lesque let me inhabit and take delight in my body. For me. For no other reason than that it was joyful, and I believe we were made for joy. It was a whole-self celebration – body, mind, and soul. It was then that I more fully realized how I could not compartmentalize my physical, mental, and spiritual health.

If you haven’t yet, my hope for you is that you can find something that helps you embrace your fearfully-made fierceness. After all, God looks at your complete package and smiles, saying, “You are good, and you are loved.”

Creative Commons image “Backwards” by Quinn Dombrowski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Safety in hard conversations

Hard conversations are everywhere – or at least are needed everywhere – these days. Politics, faith, and the practicalities of everyday life are converging in ways that necessitate honest and vulnerable dialogue if we are to grow as disciples and tend to the well-being of our congregations, our neighbors, and ourselves. Before we can have helpful hard conversations, however, we must establish some degree of safety for people to share their deepest worries and highest hopes. Trust is the bedrock of this safety, and I’ve written about what trust is and how to build it.

In this post, though, I’d like to focus on signs that trust-building isn’t complete. (In a sense it is never finished, because the work of mutual respect is ongoing.) If one or more parties is engaging in either silence or violence, that means said party does not feel safe enough to be fully seen, and more trust-building exercises are required to create the conditions for real dialogue.

As defined in the book Crucial Conversations, silence is a fear reaction that can manifest as sugar-coating one’s feelings, avoiding the real issue, or walking away altogether. Violence is also a fear response, and it consists of such tactics as defensiveness, blaming others, and using power over another in manipulative ways.

All of these approaches to difficult topics are common in congregational life, and they are very frustrating (at best) to those of us who lead. I wonder how our perspectives and the conversation might change, though, if we were able to keep in mind that silence and violence are the result of feeling afraid. With a more generous read, how might our willingness to engage and our approach itself evolve? What might we be willing and able to do with that generosity to continue upping the trust factor?

Photo by Harli  Marten on Unsplash.

The course of least regret

[Note: a version of this article original appeared at Searching for the Called.]

A few weeks ago my area was under a tornado warning. (Tornado season in Alabama is pretty much year-round.) I turned on the tv to watch the continuous weather coverage, which was led by a meteorologist known for his suspenders and his uncanny knowledge of local landmarks. He was telling viewers that rotation could spin up at any time, so we should follow the “course of least regret.”

That phrase has stuck in my head ever since. It is an encouragement to look at the big picture. Don’t try to run out for supplies in this weather. Don’t decide today is the day to fulfill your stormchaser dream. Get to a safe place and hunker down until the danger has passed. Otherwise, you might get the batteries or see a marvel of nature but lose your life in the process.

Often, though, we find ourselves traveling the path of least resistance instead of the course of least regret. This perspective is focused on our present comfort level. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t make anyone mad. Keep your imagination in check. We might stay safe in the short term, but we’ll have a lot of clean-up to do when suppressed emotions and long-held disappointments spin up.

While I like the thought of the course of least regret, I might reframe it more positively, like maybe the course of greatest possibility. We’re acknowledging what is going on in the present – as well as the potential impact – and responding pro-actively so as to keep future options open.

Where are you following the path of least resistance, and how is it limiting you? How might you take the on-ramp to the course of greatest possibility, earning trust among peers and creating more options in the process?

Photo by James Forbes on Unsplash.

Workshops for your clergy colleague group

In one of my contract ministry roles, I help clergy put together peer groups for mutual learning and encouragement. Some of these groups convene around a common focus, such as digging into the Enneagram or working for racial justice or balancing parenthood and pastoring. Other groups, however, understand the importance of a colleague group for combatting isolation and burnout in ministry but aren’t sure what topics to discuss when they gather.

If you have a peer group that is eager to get together and engage in professional development but isn’t sure what that might look like, consider a workshop. Here are some of the learning opportunities I offer:

  • Creating and using your personal purpose statement
  • Living into your pastoral potential
  • Building trust at multiple levels
  • Fending off overfunctioning
  • Strategizing for self-care
  • Creating helpful feedback loops
  • Searching for a new call
  • Leaving and starting calls well

Most of these workshops can all be completed in 1-1.5 hours, including a high degree of interaction. They are conducted via Zoom, which means they would work for clergy groups that are accustomed to gathering in person or those that are geographically scattered. The online format makes the workshops very schedule-friendly, customizable, and affordable. The material presented could provide the springboard for deeper conversation over multiple gatherings.

If you would like to learn more about a particular workshop and/or discuss options for putting one on the calendar, I invite you to contact me here.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash.