Listening as radical act

When I think of radical acts, I tend to think of using our voices (defined broadly) to make ourselves heard or our bodies to take up valuable real estate. Protesting, harassing – er, communicating with – our members of Congress, and creating art that reveals stark truths all fall into this category. Lord knows we need to leverage these types of advocacy in this cultural and political moment. They raise the profile of people under threat and put pressure on communities and leaders to act justly.

We have another tool to keep close at hand: deep listening – a kind of showing up in which we’re not just waiting for our turn to talk but being fully present to the speaker. It seems absurd that simply listening could be radical. But so few people feel known and valued, and when we feel disregarded, we tend to withdraw or act out. On the other hand, when we are heard and seen and accepted for who we are, we are able to operate out of gratitude and courage rather than shame. Just as importantly, listening without interruption or judgment confronts speakers with their freedom. This posture says, “You have the floor. Now, how are you going to use it?”

To be clear, people who are being treated unjustly are under no obligation to sit and listen. They have had to listen to those with power without being heard themselves for too long. But among people with like privilege, listening deeply can be a pathway not only for the hearer’s change but also the speaker’s. If you let me talk until I know I am are cared about – and until I can hear myself clearly – I will begin to understand what I need to do differently in order to live in hope.

Whom do you need to confront with their belovedness and freedom through your willingness to listen?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Fending off overfunctioning online workshop


It was December, six months into my very first call as a Minister of Education, and I was in charge of making sure all of the out-of-town college students received their pre-exam care packages. I shopped for gift cards, snacks, and cozy socks. I bought and assembled the boxes. I printed the shipping labels. I taped up and took all the completed parcels to the post office. Midway through this process, I was stripped down to a tank top – in sub-freezing weather – in a Sunday School room, grumbling and sweating and wondering why the heck no one was helping me. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t ask.)

I was waaaay overfunctioning. And it was neither the first nor the last time.

As it turns out, overfunctioning is a common struggle among ministers. We want to prove our competence. We hesitate to burden other people who are busy like we are by asking for help. Some of us deal with perfectionism. Others just want to go home, and it’s easier and quicker in the short run to cross off the tasks ourselves. And women are culturally conditioned to do all the things. These are only some of the reasons behind the tendency to overfunction in ministry.

That’s why I’m offering a workshop on overfunctioning, just in time to work on giving this default mode up for Lent (and Lenten preparations!). In this 90-minute gathering, I will define overfunctioning and connect its motivations to each Enneagram type. We will explore the implications of overfunctioning for ourselves, our loved ones, our congregations, and our successors. We’ll take a look at what scripture has to say about overfunctioning. Then we’ll pinpoint our signals that we’re easing into overfunctioning territory, discuss multiple strategies for extricating ourselves, and design the actions we each plan to implement to keep overfunctioning at bay.

The workshop will take place via the Zoom platform on Tuesday, February 12, from 1:30-3:00 pm eastern. The cost is $15, and registration is available here. I encourage you to sign up if you:

  • find yourself resentful for all the tasks that have been dumped on you,
  • have no time for anything beyond church,
  • are afraid – for whatever reason – to give up anything on your to-do list,
  • don’t know where to start with delegating, or
  • feel tired all the time.

This workshop will help you see the bigger picture and adjust accordingly so that you can have a long, fruitful ministry and a flourishing life outside of the church as well.

Taking up space in 2019

I am 4 feet 10 inches tall. Though I know many a short person who would trade bodies with someone tall in a hot second, my small size has rarely bothered me much. Sure, I get irritated when imperceptive people decide my age based on my height and thereby dismiss me, and there are times when I’d like to be able to reach the top shelves in the grocery store without doing my Spiderman impression. But in terms of simply being fun-sized, I generally like it. What would be the use of bemoaning my stature? I haven’t grown (upwards) since elementary school, so it’s not like I can will myself into a midlife spurt.

Plus, there are advantages to being small. I could hide in my locker as a high school student and jump out to give friends walking by a boost to their heart rates. My tiny fingers can reach lost objects in places where adult-sized digits would get stuck. I can sit comfortably in preschool furniture, and I can easily climb in restaurant play places to fetch my obstinate child when needed. And speaking of children, I tend to relate well with them because it’s no strain to make eye contact. (Also, I think they believe I’m one of them, because I regularly hear children stage whispering to their parents, “Is that a kid or a grown-up?”) Honestly, I wouldn’t trade these perks to be tall and svelte.

I have realized this past year, however, that there are times that I tend to make my presence as diminutive as my body. I often don’t ask for what I need, and I hold back on my opinions (sometimes) or feelings (often). I hesitate to make decisions that involve others for fear of inconveniencing someone. I abhor having people wait for me, even if there’s a good reason I’m the last one ready. This kind of shrinking is not so healthy as being at peace with my height.

I didn’t realize what I was doing until I was reading a prayer by United Methodist clergywoman Kerry Greenhill in We Pray With Her. In her “Prayer of Blessing to Be Who You Are,” Kerry writes, “May you take up space in the world” (169).

Oof. That was a much-needed kick in the pants.

Every time I don’t spell out what I need, I am not taking up my allotted space. Every time I bite my tongue, withdraw into my head, refuse to state a preference, or become frantic so as not to worry others, I am not taking up my allotted space. And space cannot tolerate a vacuum; someone else – likely a someone who has already annexed more than their fair share of space – will swoop in and fill up what I do not.

So in 2019 I am going to take up more space – not more than I am due, but the proper amount. I am going to use my voice. I am going to own what I feel. I am going to trust my gut. I am going to reclaim my time. I have already started making micro-expansions, and I am getting better at recognizing when I’m not taking up the space that I could.

In addition I will be looking for ways of coming alongside people who have either ceded too much territory or had it stripped from them. I am not alone in shrinking where I could be growing, or at least holding my ground. Let’s do this work of claiming our space – which really means living into the fullness of God’s image within us and God’s call to us – together.

Deep breath in, expanding our lungs. Exhale out, blowing our innovation and wisdom and beauty into the world. Let’s do this, 2019.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash.

‘Twas the week before Christmas…

Some crunch time humor…and an important reminder.

'Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the congregation
this minister was rushing to fulfill her vocation.
The greenery was rung 'round the sanctuary with care, 
in hopes that regulars and visitors soon would be there.

The figures were placed just so in the nativity,
waiting to add Jesus with his imminent delivery.
The musician in a tizzy, and I having writer's block, 
prayed our health would hang on
'till we'd sung "Silent Night" with our flock.

When from the copy room there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the Xerox I flew like a flash,
dismantled the paper tray and pulled out the trash.

The machine had eaten all the Christmas Eve bulletins
and left me with confetti to distribute to everyone.
Little did I know that this was only the first mess
that would cause me no end of holiday stress:

The glow sticks I had purchased to hand out to kids
had been backordered due to so many bids.
My nursery workers were bailing, wanting to be in the pews,
meaning parents would have to juggle their hymnals and babies
until the service was through.

Grieving members needed extra care as they recalled Christmas memories,
and I was unsure where to focus my flagging energy.
A water main broke and half our parking lot was a geyser,
and I wondered if I could just hide in my bed, no one the wiser.

Strong Mary! Doting Joseph! Funky shepherds and sheep!
Sweet-singing angels 
and gift-bearing wise men coming to watch the baby sleep!
To Bethlehem proper, to that small, crowded stall,
now come quickly! 
Come quickly! Come quickly, all!

Time speeded up as the 24th drew nearer, 
and when was I supposed to shop for my family? That was no clearer. 
So to Amazon I went several nights, grateful for Prime, 
and shopped till my clock warned me it was nearly daytime. 

And then Christmas Eve came. It was showtime. 
I prayed that the worshippers would experience something sublime. 
As I climbed into the pulpit, white stole 'round my neck, 
I glanced toward the AV booth and gave a nod to the tech. 

Suddenly, I saw the faces. People smiling, expecting a Savior, 
glad to be snuggled together, on their best behavior. 
They were dressed in red and green, a few even in bells. 
They looked toward the creche, where God in flesh now dwelled. 

The music - how it filled me! The harmonization, how inspiring! 
The readings reminded me that I should be among those admiring. 
Communion brought us together with both future and past,  
Silence drew me into God's promise to be with us to the last. 

I then remembered that whatever did or didn't go right, 
the darkness would be pierced by Christ's growing light. 
Illumined by candles, the sanctuary filled with hope, 
and my heart beating gratefully, I scurried back up from the end of my rope.
God's love had been born anew, not just for me, but for all: 
good guys and bad guys, the worried and ill; 
the lonely, the wanting, the broken, and the raging, 
the hopeless, the imprisoned, the young, and the aging.

We all filed out when worship was done, 
Some to full, busy houses and some to a table of one. 
I headed home to pour a big glass of wine 
and to collapse on the couch, a hard-earned rest finally mine.

As I drifted off to sleep, too tired to remove my shoes, 
I gave thanks not only for the holiday's good news, 
but also for the privilege of witnessing to God's world being made right. 
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. 

Poem inspired by “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore.


Aligning responsibility and authority

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

Do you feel like you cannot dig your way out from under an avalanche of work, but when you make a request or propose an idea, no one listens?

Do you feel like your congregation looks to you too often for guidance, yet during your office hours you find yourself bored and unsure how best to use your time?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might be experiencing a mismatch between responsibility and authority. Responsibility is what you are assigned – by self or others – to do. Authority is the weight people give to your perspective, and it comes from a combination of role, experience, and earned trust. Part of developing a healthy pastoral identity and creating right-sized expectations is making sure responsibility and authority are not out of proportion with one another.

If either your responsibility or authority level is too high, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are the roots of my over- ( or under-) developed sense of responsibility or authority?
  • Which roots can I pull up?
  • What specifically am I gifted and called to do?
  • In this context, what work is truly mine to carry out?
  • How might I shift, in whole or in part, the work that isn’t mine?
  • What authority do I, in actuality, have?
  • How can I use this authority wisely and on behalf of the most vulnerable?
  • How might I utilize less obvious sources of authority when needed (e.g., a lay leader with whom you have mutual respect and who is trusted by the congregation)?

Aligning responsibility and authority is key to leading well and avoiding burnout. If your levels are out of whack, take the time to consider why that is and what you can change. If needed, I’m available to help you with your reflecting and strategizing.

Photo by Jason Ortego on Unsplash.

Go slow to go fast

[Note: a version of this post first appeared on Searching for the Called.]

When we onboard members to a committee or team or launch a new program – as many of us will do in January – often the tendency is to capitalize on initial enthusiasm to get as much done as quickly as possible. That’s totally understandable. After all, novelty begets energy, and we don’t want to waste it. But if we haven’t taken the time to build our team and outline our processes, even a small bump can drain that momentum and derail our collective work.

That’s why it’s important – even though it’s counter-intuitive – to start slowly. Develop relationships among the key players. Learn where each person is coming from, what their reasons were for signing up, what skills and experience and ideas they bring, what they need from others in order to make their best contributions, and how they deal (or don’t) with conflict. When those involved have this kind of context for their collaborators, they will be able to engage one another more quickly and effectively when difficulties arise.

In addition to interpersonal processes, agreeing on procedures at the outset can make work go faster. What is the future story we’re striving for? How does everyone plan to participate in the work? What is our timeline? How will we come to agreement on major decisions? How will we ground our work in God? How will we hold one another accountable? What will we do if we come to an impasse? Intentionality at the front end can ease – if not prevent – many stresses that pop up as humans, with our anxieties and agendas, cooperate.

Note that slow movement at the start might prompt questions such as “why are we wasting time on this ‘soft’ work?” Be prepared to explain how deliberateness serves both the overall goal and the speed of the work that is to come.

In what situations do you need to pump the brakes in order to do some of this foundational work? Though it might seem tedious at times, your relationships and your efforts will greatly benefit. If you need help with going slow, this trust-building workshop is worth your consideration.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.

Announcing a new coaching package

An out-of-control blaze. A hose flopping around because of the high volume and velocity of the water running through it. A pool so deep that sunlight barely filters through. Dozens of dinner plates spinning precariously. These are just a few of the ways new coachees describe the ministry life. Expectations – internal and external, stated and unstated, real and presumed – make it seem impossible to meet all the demands. Pastors are intelligent, gifted, and called, but they are uncertain how to tackle what seems like a Sisyphean vocation.

That’s why I have put together a new coaching package around helping pastors focus their leadership. Through an initial assessment,* 5 one-hour coaching sessions, and a resource list that I will customize for each coachee’s needs, we will tackle the following:

  • Sharpening a sense of purpose in ministry. We’ll consider how the assessment results highlight the best uses of your energy, pinpoint areas of strength and high engagement, and work toward a personal statement of purpose in ministry.
  • Setting clear, contextual goals for your pastoral leadership. We’ll identify how you want to show up as a minister, think through how your statement of purpose can help you prioritize your work, and concentrate on the aspects of your professional and personal lives are within your influence and control.
  • Designing organic strategies for reaching those goals. Taking the goals you named separately and as a whole, we’ll create action plans and benchmarks.
  • Stocking your toolkit for proactive and responsive time management. Based on your personality, goals, and challenges, we’ll come up with ways to plan ahead good uses of your time and to adapt when inevitable pastoral emergencies arise.

The cost for this package is $550 ($425 for members/alumnae of YCWI, $225 for seminarians or ministers between positions).

If the opening paragraph of this post and the proposed four-pronged approach to combatting overwhelm resonate with you, I invite you to set up a free exploratory call about coaching. The church needs your focused, eager leadership!

*The Core Values Index is a 10-minute assessment that helps takers gain awareness of comfort zones, decision-making and conflict styles, areas of struggle, means of improving relationships, and ways to make the biggest impact.