Fatigue’s impact on trust

Recently I was coaching a pastor who was two months into a new call. She was excited about her church and its mission potential. She was also enjoying getting to know the people, but she was having trouble trusting them. She was a bit befuddled by this, because there was no overt reason for this hesitation. She hadn’t received any hurtful criticism or significant pushback. When I asked what the lack of trust was about, she thought for a moment. She then named relational fatigue as a key factor. In this pastor’s case, she had taken a full month off – a typical fallow period – before diving into her new ministry. And yet she was recognizing that she needed more time to tend to her (understandably) tender heart after leaving behind parishioners that she loved.

This pastor had just provided perhaps the most powerful testimonial for taking ample time off between ministry positions. We often cite physical and spiritual exhaustion as the primary motivators for spacing out calls. But bringing closure to relationships with people we’ve walked alongside during their personal milestones, with whom we have dreamed and argued, and who have been present for our own ups and downs is hard, good work. It can be overwhelming to think about opening ourselves up to knowing and being known by a whole new congregation. And yet, the bedrock of strong connections is trust, which we do not lend or receive without the willingness to make ourselves at least a little vulnerable.

This is not to say that it’s easy to take long stretches between ministry positions. Personal financial pressures are real. Churches that have been in long search processes are eager for the uncertainty to end and the settled pastor to arrive. (Search teams in particular are known to apply pressure to be on site as soon as possible. After all, the team members know the incoming minister best and are most excited about her arrival!) The pastor herself is looking forward to a fresh start in a new setting. But before committing to a start date, consider not only what you need in terms of every manner of recovery, but also what time frame will allow you to enter the system with a readiness for mutual belonging. This is a mindset – a heart orientation – that attends to the long-term missional and financial health of both clergy and congregation.

If you are already in place and find yourself reluctant to trust even in the absence of conflict, then self-care is in order. When we are unable to risk exposure, whether we are new in a call or ten years into our tenure, we need time to rest. We need space for introspection. We need opportunities to view or create beauty. We need relief from the relentlessness of ministry. Because if we have not tended to our own inner lives, we will not be able to offer a quality of presence to others. And if we withhold, then we do not build trust and do not forge or maintain relationships that make bold ministry possible.

In the case of my coachee, we strategized ways to create space and clarity within her current personal and professional realities so that she could increase her capacity to trust. If you find yourself turning inward in your ministry setting, what changes do you need to make so that you can be the pastoral leader God has called you to be?

[Note: my coachee graciously granted me permission to share her story.]

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

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Bookending the day

Your alarm goes off. You groan and bury your face in your pillow. Is it morning already?

Your fatigued body slumps into bed, and you can barely work up the energy to pull up the covers. Meanwhile, your brain is on overdrive, trying to process everything that happened during the day and all the tasks that await you tomorrow.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Real rest can be hard to come by, making for a slow start to the day. Real exertion of every variety – part of the deal in ministry – is hard on the body, mind, and spirit, making for a fitful entrée to much-needed sleep. It’s a vicious cycle.

Starting and ending the day with intentionality can help you frame your day more positively (thus giving you energy) and end your day with gratitude (thus sending you off to quicker and more satisfying rest). These bookends don’t have to be lengthy or cumbersome. They just have to work for you. Here are some suggestions.

Starting the day

  • Breathe deeply for 30 seconds before getting out of bed
  • Do a 5-minute interval workout
  • Decide on a focus word for your day that you can repeat to yourself as needed
  • Smile at yourself in the mirror
  • Speak aloud a sentence prayer as you cross the threshold of your home or office
  • Refuse to look at your phone until you get to work
  • Read a short devotional at your desk before you turn on your computer

Ending the day

  • Utilize the examen
  • Pray in color or doodle or write in a journal
  • Identify a way you helped someone or grew as a person or pastor that day, then name and give thanks for a way someone helped you
  • Mindfully stretch out your weary body and remember that you are wonderfully made
  • Tell someone you love them, whether in person or by technology
  • Create a short ritual of letting go of undone tasks or unmet expectations for the day
  • Meditate for a couple of minutes or do a body scan once you’ve gotten in bed

You cannot control all the events of your day. Bookending your day with intentionality can help you control your responses and their effects on you, however, thereby enabling you to release what is not yours to worry about and guarding your body, heart, and mind from an unhealthy level of exhaustion.

What would you add to these lists, and what might you try to frame your day in a new way?

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash.

Coaching: then and now

This memory popped up on my Facebook feed last week:

Five years ago I was just starting out as a coach. I hadn’t planned on this path, though I’d thought I might pursue training somewhere down the line. But in 2013 the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship wanted to prepare twenty or so ministers to work with congregations – and more specifically, their pastors – in the new Dawnings visioning process, and I couldn’t pass up that kind of professional development opportunity.

At first I coached because it fit my interests and my vocational circumstances. I had personally benefitted from being coached. I am endlessly curious, to the point that my husband gets irritated by all my questions. I love resourcing and encouraging fellow clergy. And I could see immediate use for my new skills in my congregational ministry setting.

It wasn’t long, however, before I began to think bigger. The training CBF paid for put me halfway toward the number of hours I needed for an International Coach Federation credential, and it seemed like a no-brainer to take that additional step. An appointment change seemed imminent for my United Methodist clergy spouse, so I needed to make my ministry portable. My son was young, and I wanted control of my schedule so that I could spend as much time with him as possible. And I relished hearing pastors understand themselves and their circumstances better, find hope in the midst of trouble, and strategize ways to meet goals and overcome challenges. So in the summer of 2015, coaching became my primary means of fulfilling my call.

Since then I have added to my coaching by publishing resources, leading retreats and workshops, posting weekly reflection prompts, and continuing to seek out professional development outlets for myself. I find joy in each of these ministry manifestations, and I am more excited to come to work every day than I ever have been.

Now, five years in and going strong, I would like to pause and express gratitude for my coaching mentors, all the clients I have worked with, and every person who has read my blog, downloaded one of my resources, or participated in a learning space I facilitated. Your trust in me and your willingness to teach me through your creativity and courage mean more than I can express. Here’s to another five years of growing in ministry together!

Pastor’s scavenger hunt

Are you new in your call? Have you been sitting at your desk for so long that your Fitbit is angry at you? Do you need a challenge that is unrelated to figuring out how to be prophetic yet still heard from the pulpit? Are you emotionally done for the day, but for whatever reason you can’t yet head home?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have an activity for you. Below is a scavenger hunt for items around your church. (Feel free to adapt the dates and items for newer or non-traditional churches.) You can use it simply for a change of pace, or you can treat it as an anthropological exercise, asking yourself what you learn about your congregation as you cross off each find.

  • Pre-2000 photo directory
  • Past VBS group art project (e.g., banner, mosaic)
  • Spot where there needs to be signage but there is none
  • New-to-you fact about the church’s history
  • Unlikely memorial gift
  • Picture of a current lay leader as a child or teen
  • Vantage point in the sanctuary that helps you understand the worship experience in a new way
  • Book in your office or the church library written before 1955
  • Space that is underutilized or can be reimagined
  • Camp or mission trip t-shirt that is at least 5 years old
  • Symbol that encapsulates the spirit of the congregation
  • Book or curriculum piece you haven’t looked at for at least 6 months that inspires a new idea
  • Physical change you have made at the church
  • Reminder of a previous pastor
  • Something that can’t be moved or changed without a lot of hand-wringing
  • Location that delights your senses
  • Retired parament
  • Sign of hope or new life

Go forth and scavenge, and I’d love to hear the most unusual – or revelatory – treasure you find.

Photo by Rachel Pfuetzner on Unsplash.

Coaching toward vacation

I have army-crawled toward vacation many times, so mentally and physically depleted that I wasn’t sure I’d cross the threshold before I collapsed from exhaustion. Those were hard starts to time away. They involved at least a couple of days to decompress and to get some semblance of energy back before I could really enjoy my respite. Then there was the anticipatory grief of re-entering “real life,” which cut short my fun on the back end and made me already start pining for my next vacation. This pattern held whether I was in a call I loved or one that made me want to hide under the covers.

Our beach trip three weeks ago was different. Beforehand, I had picked up several new coaching clients that I was eager to get started with. I had some projects I was looking forward to. I was feeling creative in my writing and planning. I was far from depleted. Still, I was glad to listen to crashing waves and spend concentrated time with my family. And I was ready to come back to work afterward.

This easy entry to and exit from time off is what I hope for you so that you can truly enjoy your hard-earned breaks, whether you have a grand adventure planned or intend to hole up at home with a stack of novels. Here are some coaching questions to help you work toward this reality:

  • What must be taken care of before your mind can let go of work?
  • Which of these tasks belong only to you, and which can others take on?
  • How far out from vacation do you need to start tackling your list to give yourself enough time, pacing yourself so that you don’t start your time off in recovery mode?
  • How will you give yourself grace if all the to-dos aren’t completed before your break?
  • How might you ritualize closing up shop so that your heart and mind grasp that you are on respite?
  • How will you acknowledge and then let go of work concerns as they (naturally) come to mind during your time away?
  • How can you celebrate the end of your vacation and reorient toward work so that you are ready to get back to it?
  • What will help you remember that you don’t have to do all the things on the first day you return to the office?

May your vacations be restful and rejuvenating. The church and world need you – particularly in this cultural and political moment – to be at your best.

The lie about outliers

In his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success, journalist Malcolm Gladwell sets out to obliterate the myth of rugged individualism. No one is self-made, he asserts, no matter how humble that person’s beginnings might seem. Everyone who has reached the pinnacle of achievement has been afforded opportunities and advantages that provided a foundation for hard work and persistence.

Money and status are obvious springboards for success. But Gladwell digs deeper than that. Athletes get a leg up when they barely miss early childhood cut-off dates for sports signups, making them bigger and more physically mature – and thus getting more playing time, attention, and investment from coaches – than their peers. The peculiar demands of rice farming created a culture of year-round work in Asian countries that filters down to students, setting them up for an unwavering focus on schoolwork. Bill Gates came of age in exactly the right era to get in on the personal computing revolution, and he lived in the right place to capitalize on a series of opportunities that got him thousands of hours of coding practice on the newest – and scarcest – technology. Privilege comes in many forms.

Though the myth of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is inspirational, the real-life weaving together of generations and circumstances strikes me as profoundly biblical. Scripture is full of success (and failure) stories that have their roots in previous eras, others’ choices, and living in a certain place at a particular time. And Jesus makes it clear that we belong to one another, as the effects of our words and actions ripple out far beyond what we can see.

What, then, are the hidden forces that have contributed to our success? And how might we help others to see their own advantages and opportunities? One possibility is to map out our lives, starting with the present day and going backward to examine (to the best of our limited vision) the factors that brought us to where we are. Who mentored us? What were our lucky breaks? How did our birthdates, cultural heritage, physical makeup, access to options, and location shape our trajectories?

If we can unearth the forces at work in our lives and give up the narrative that we got where we are under our own power, the implications for widening our (individual and congregational) understanding of and call to mission are huge. And we might discover innovative ways to support others in less traditional ways when we don’t have much money and status to offer.

Photo by Tory Morrison on Unsplash.

The value of assessments

There are times when we get stuck because we’re lacking a piece of the puzzle. Why can’t this person and I get on the same page? What’s keeping me from tackling that task that never drops off my to-do list? Why does my work feel so overwhelming or confining?

These are situations in which an assessment could help. Assessments help us better understand aspects of our personality, habits, and approach to relationships. With this new awareness, we are more equipped to lean into our strengths, read rooms, develop systems that compensate for our weaknesses, and surround ourselves with people whose skills provide the yen to our yang.

A lot of ministers are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (which was my first introduction to assessments), the Enneagram (which I’m still learning about), and Prepare-Enrich (which many regard as the go-to for counseling couples before and after marriage). Here are some others I really like:

Core Values Index. In this 10-minute assessment takers identify 72 words that best describe them. The combination of words chosen reveals the taker’s innate nature and primary motivators. This test helped me understand how two very disparate parts of my personality and work preferences relate to one another. (A free version of the test is available here.)

Mindframes. This free test is based in neuroscience. It assesses which parts of the brain the taker operates out of most frequently for thinking and doing. Mindframes uses this information to identify how the taker’s brain processes information most efficiently. This test showed me my preferences so that I could capitalize on those strengths – and it revealed which areas of the brain I need to access when the situation calls for a perspective shift.

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. This assessment measures how much the taker uses each of five approaches to conflict. It’s useful for identifying conflict-handling modes the taker might want to utilize more or less often. It is also helpful in team work for helping the members understand one another’s conflict style.

5 Love Languages. This might sound like an odd addition to this list, since the 5 love languages are primarily used for relationships with loved ones. I have found it useful in ministry, though, for pinpointing how to relate with others more effectively, particularly in pastoral care or shared leadership.

Learning styles inventory. This free assessment is geared toward educators so that they can strategize how to communicate best with their students. I have found it helpful for realizing that I remember best information presented to me visually. The test also reminds me to utilize other learning styles when working with others.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but I hope these assessments provide some pathways to deeper understanding of self and others. Your results can be a great jumping-off point for coaching – now that I know this about myself, what do I do with this information? – so contact me if you’d like to explore that possibility.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash.

Second edition of clergy search and call workbook now available

I believe that the foundation for healthy mutual ministry is laid in the pre-covenanting conversations that clergy and congregations have with one another – namely, the search & call process. It’s a time of determining whether our strengths and purpose align with a church’s needs and mission. It’s a means of sussing out whether there’s a possibility of the two parties growing and serving together, of belonging to one another. It’s an imagining of what could be as minister and ministry setting leave behind what is known.

Because of its importance, this season of discernment can be at turns exhilarating, overwhelming, and downright frustrating for ministers looking for a great-fit position. Search teams move at different speeds, and some are more communicative than others. It can be hard to know how to present ourselves (on paper and in person) in compelling ways. We usually get gut-punched by “no” a few times before we can celebrate a “yes.” And even after a call has been extended, there are so many details to tend to – salary negotiations, leaving the current position gracefully, moving, starting the new position well.

It’s a lot. Sailing Uncertain Seas: A Workbook for Navigating the Search & Call Process is here to help. First published last year, I’ve strengthened some of the coaching questions and added six pages of content to the second edition, primarily around the end of the call process. Here’s what the workbook covers:

  • How do I know when the time is right to make a move?
  • What does a “good fit” position look like for me?
  • How do I attend to gaps in the experience I have and the experience I must have?
  • How do I get my materials in front of a search team?
  • How do I tell my story to search teams?
  • How do I prepare spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for interviews?
  • What do I wear for interviews?
  • How can I reflect on interview experiences in helpful ways?
  • How do I get the real story on congregations I’m interested in?
  • How do I deal with search team gaffes?
  • How do I juggle different search timelines?
  • How do I navigate searching while serving elsewhere?
  • How do I navigate searching while not serving elsewhere?
  • How do I make good use of a search team’s “no”?
  • What else do I need to make a good decision if a call is extended?
  • How do I negotiate compensation?
  • How do I leave my current call well?
  • How do I get off to a good start in my new call?

You can print off a PDF of the workbook and use the coaching questions within to prepare for each phase of your search.

If you’re looking to make a move, this 64-page guide is a great place to start. Click here to purchase it. (Note that a free copy of Sailing Uncertain Seas is included in a search & call coaching package. If you’re interested in learning more, go here to schedule an exploratory call.)

New (free) resource: weekly calendar with reflection prompts

I am someone who dreams pretty intensely. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time turning off my mind at night. Or it could be that the podcast I have to listen to in order to quiet my brain plants wild notions in my head. Neither explanation accounts for a very detailed conversation I had last night with Nick Saban, who sought out my advice because his board chair was unwilling or unable to innovate. Luckily for Saban, my freshman roommate wandered by, and a couple of Tennessee grads tag-teamed a leadership strategy for the most powerful man in college football. (See what I mean? Vivid. And weird.)

Occasionally, though, I dream the seed of an actionable idea. Such was the case recently when I sleep-designed a resource for ministers. This weekly calendar with reflection prompts is aimed at bringing more intentionality to our lives. Each day has morning and evening coaching questions. In between, the days are divided into three blocks of time. Those blocks can be used to list appointments, to divvy up tasks, or to designate work and leisure time. (In the units of time approach, every day has three units: morning, afternoon, and evening. Full-time work is 10-12 units per week. Subscribers to this method usually recommend booking no more than 2-3 evening work commitments and taking 3-6 blocks off in a row for full rejuvenation per week.)

Below you will find a JPEG of this weekly calendar. Here is an 8.5 x 11″ grayscale PDF. I welcome you to download, print, use this resource. You are also encouraged to share it with others who might benefit.

 

As young clergywomen from all over gather this week…

Note: I wrote but did not publish this reflection one year ago upon attending my last The Young Clergy Women Project/Young Clergy Women International conference. I offer it now as clergywomen from a number of denominations and locales gather in St. Louis.

I departed my first – the first – Young Clergy Women Project conference in inner turmoil. In 2007 I was floundering in ministry. As a moderate-to-progressive Baptist, congregations in northwest Alabama that aligned with my theology were scarce, and open positions in them were rare. Yet as the spouse of a United Methodist pastor under appointment, I had no say in where I lived. Just before the conference I was called to a staff position at a nearby church. This opportunity was a huge relief to my self-esteem and my bank account. I would be in ministry full time! With benefits! My start date was set for the Sunday after I returned home from the conference at the Cathedral College of Preachers in Washington, DC.

My relief morphed into exhilaration and then plummeted to an “oh, crap” feeling over the course of the TYCWP conference. Something in me was unleashed through that gathering of clergywomen, through our study and practice of homiletics. Maybe it was my preaching voice. Maybe it was clarity about the shape of my call. Maybe it was a sense that I was settling for a position that didn’t match my gifts in a setting that had already shown glimmers of toxicity. Whatever it was, it told me I had no business beginning my new position. As I traveled home, my husband was on a retreat and unavailable to help me process. My parents could only commiserate. So I went to work that Sunday, a sour feeling in my gut.

As you might imagine, the eight months I served at that church were not pretty. (I claim my part in the debacle. I was too fearful to heed the gut-jabbing elbows of the Holy Spirit.) In the end, I was forced out. I probably would no longer be in ministry after that experience. Except…I now had a community of YCWs who had helped me claim a new understanding of my ministry at the conference. Who afterward accompanied me through the many low points of my short-lived job. Who picked me back up when I was emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and sometimes even physically prostrate following my resignation.

And so, as frantic as my inner monologue and as chaotic as my vocational life became out of that first TYCWP conference, I couldn’t imagine not going to the next one. In fact, I’ve been to all of them but one, which got pushed off my calendar by a mission trip. All of them have been great. A few have been life-altering.

The conference is (by far) my most extroverted week of the year, when I float between groups of conference participants, skip naps and stay up late for conversations – if you know me well, you get that this is not my usual M.O. – and drink up all the wisdom and laughter I can. Those of us who have been attending conferences since those early days get to check in annually after tracking one another’s family additions and losses, changes in positions, and cross-country moves on social media throughout the year prior. Those of us older young clergy women also get to welcome first-time attendees and learn about the latest practices and resources from pastors just coming out of seminary.

This month’s Young Clergy Women International conference – the organization, like my own tenure in ministry, is no longer tenuous – was my last one, as I’ll turn 40 shortly. It felt like coming full circle. I arrived at the closing worship with a settled spirit, celebrating that I am feeling more creative and productive in ministry than ever before. After the sermon, proclaimer Casey Fitzgerald asked each participant to describe herself with a single word, to tell that word to another YCW, and to receive affirmation and anointing from that colleague. My word came immediately: encourager. Some YCWs laughed and nodded in confirmation when I told them my word.  I am an encourager. I am an encourager because so many YCWs have encouraged me by recognizing and calling forth my gifts, by sharing with me about the amazing ministry they are doing, and by telling me to rock my new haircut. I am who I am as a person and pastor in large part because of this community. And I am ready to leave it in the capable hands of young clergy women, which I no longer am, and support it from afar as I re-join friends who have gone on to the alumnae group.

Bless you, YCWI. Keep on doing great things for the people of God, in the name of God.