Follow me on Facebook for encouragement!

After writing Covid-19-related blog posts daily the week of March 16, I have shifted my focus to making brief videos and mini-posts to share on Facebook. I hope that these efforts will encourage you and offer reflection points to help you stay grounded as the Coronavirus crisis continues. If there are other ways that I can support you as a pastor and as a person during this trying season, please contact me.

I am in awe of the ministry you are providing, and I urge you not to burn yourself out. We’ll need your creativity and compassion over the long haul.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Pastoral transition in a pandemic

Currently, pretty much everything is more complicated than it was a few weeks ago. That includes ministerial transitions. If you are deep into a search process or are working out your notice, below is a flow chart to help you think through the coverage of pastoral duties and your own needs. (Zoom in so that you can read the fine print. Alternatively, here is a PDF version.)

Obviously, this chart does not address all of the issues to consider. Here are a few more to mull:

Moving. It is inadvisable at best to change locations right now. That might mean that you stay in place and begin a new call virtually. If so, be sure to negotiate now for time to move later. If you live in a parsonage/manse/rectory, you might end up still living on the property of a church you no longer serve. (The person following you will also be unable to move, so at least that might not be an issue.) Work with congregational leadership on issues related to boundaries. Consult your judicatory leader to help you navigate the issues related to housing allowance and an accountant to find out what the tax implications might be.

Closure. How do you say goodbye when you cannot safely be around other people? Two options come to mind. First, say goodbye the way you are going about all your other relational tasks right now: by phone, computer, or mail. Second, this might be one of those rare occasions to bend the rules around a hard end date. You might be able to schedule an in-person send-off for later, but do consider how your reappearance might impact those beloved church members and the minister in place.

In all transition-related matters, lean on your judicatory or denominational leaders for wisdom. This situation is new for them as well, but they might have a sense of the bigger picture and expertise that can greatly benefit you and your sending and receiving churches.

Politics, polarization, and the Coronavirus

In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt covers a range of themes about which liberals and conservatives disagree. One is the care/harm theme in which the two polarities differently attribute definitions and causes of hurt and assign the responsibilities of society toward those who are vulnerable. In another, the polarities take varying stances toward people with power.

Our relationships toward these two themes are running beneath the surface of many COVID-19 conversations. Who is to blame for the spread of the virus? Who is supposed to do what about it? How well are our leaders serving us in this crisis? Who is the boss of me and my comings and goings as recommendations for ever more stringent social distancing guidelines are urged?

Right now these questions are only helpful insofar as they reduce the spread of disease. Beyond that, they are ingredients for introducing even more anxiety into a system that is already highly reactive. Still, the questions aren’t going away.

For leaders, then, the need to self-differentiate is more important (and difficult) than ever. If we can be with our people rather than react to to them, we’ll model ways to manage self and begin to infuse the system with more stability.

What does self-differentiating in a pandemic mean? Here are some thoughts:

Listen deeply to others. When people feel heard, seen, and valued, the tension in a conversation drops.

Stay curious. Seek to understand, whether or not you agree.

Don’t try to change minds. Be clear about what you believe, but prioritize the relationship over the position.

Neither under- nor overfunction. This helps distribute responsibility throughout the system, evening out the emotions.

Balance thinking and feeling. You need both, but too much of one or the other will make it hard to keep connected with people.

Stay present with people. If you can be grounded where you are, there is always the potential for care and respect.

Take care of yourself. Self-differentiation is hard work. Shore up your support system as needed.

Your leadership matters. While others panic, blame, or scoff, your self-management is helping make it possible for those in your care not just to cope, but to assign meaning to this unprecedented experience.

Photo by cloudvisual.co.uk on Unsplash.

Gen X clergywomen and the Coronavirus crisis

I recently finished reading Ada Calhoun’s book Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. It was pretty on-the-nose about how I feel these days – stretched thin, anxious, and simmering with low-grade rage most of the time. Calhoun points out the myriad reasons why many women of my generation feel this way. Among them are having so many more career possibilities (expectations, even) without much additional support for parenting and managing a household, coming of age professionally during financial crises that ultimately let to fewer and lower-paying job opportunities, being dismissed by much of the medical community around peri/menopause symptoms, and caring for young kids and aging parents simultaneously.

And yet, as many memes have been reminding me lately, Gen Xers are uniquely qualified to manage in a pandemic. Our expectations are low, partly because we’re used to being invisible to others. We’re able to entertain and take care of ourselves. We’ve partaken of our fair share of dystopian films and novels, so not much surprises us.

I think that Gen X clergywomen in particular are suited to this moment in time. No, the pressures common to our generation have not lifted. But we have the Gen X survival skills paired with the grit, wisdom, faithfulness, and creativity that come from having to make our own way in the church world. (Yes, we owe much to the clergywomen who came before for blazing the path. We have the benefit/challenge, though, of figuring out how to lead and be valued in ways authentic to us, not just imitating the guys like our forebears had to do.)

And so I would remind you that you are likely crushing it, even when you don’t feel like it, and urge you to tend to the three steps Ada Calhoun recommends:

Get support. Don’t go it alone. Lean on your laypeople to share the congregational care load and seek out clergy with whom you can vent and share best practices.

Reframe the situation. What’s another narrative you can lift out of the current crisis, for yourself and others? What expectations do you need to lower since we’re all feeling our way along?

Wait. The pandemic won’t last forever, just like middle age won’t. Life will be different on the other side.

If I can support, resource, or encourage you in this time – of pandemic, of season of life – please drop me a line.

Photo by Andrej LiĊĦakov on Unsplash.

Scarcity, abundance, and COVID-19

On the best of days, many churches have long spent too much energy on what they do not have, usually a balanced budget and pews bursting at the end caps. The COVID-19 crisis has ramped up that fear about scarcity. Not only do we not have an offering plate to pass or full sanctuaries, we cannot safely gather in person at all. We do not even have the incarnational comfort of physical proximity.

Ok. All of that is true. All of that is hard. And, it is not the only story. Abundance still exists. You might just have to look a little harder or get more creative to find it. But once you do, you can build on it in ways that will benefit your congregation far beyond the passing of this immediate crisis. Here, then, are some places where you might take stock:

Tech savvy. Who are the people in your church who know how to connect others or disseminate information in a variety of ways by technology? What platforms or equipment might they have access to that your church could use to gather constituents virtually at various times?

Connections to denominational partners. Your denomination (including publishing houses, benefits boards, and more) or middle judicatory has probably sent information out to churches. What resources are on offer? What resources might you ask about, such as mini grants to set up online platforms?

Time. Some of your church members are extra busy right now as they work from home (and possibly try to homeschool their kids simultaneously). Those who are home and cannot/do not telecommute, though, might have availability that they might not otherwise. How might they use that time to serve others, perhaps by calling or texting individuals or hosting virtual gathering?

Individual connections. Who do the people in your church know, whether from school, work, volunteer efforts, professional networks, clubs, or businesses they frequent? How might those connections be leveraged remotely to help those in need, whether within your congregation or beyond?

Individual talents. What are the people in your church good at – whether those are life skills or for pure enjoyment – and that they might teach others to do by phone or video? What can they make and share (with proper precautions) with others, such as poetry or meals or activity kits for kids?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide examples of ways to think more deeply about strengths your church can leverage in a greatly changed context. Getting creative about ways to connect has the added advantage of moving your congregation forward into an increasingly digital world – pandemic or not. And it further trains us to notice where God is at work among us, a habit that is spiritually transformative.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash.

 

 

 

Church in the time of Coronavirus

Let’s not mince words. This whole COVID-19 business sucks.

That suckage covers a big range, too. At one extreme, there’s the physical danger to immunosuppressed people and to those living in poverty, who might have difficulty feeding themselves as schools close and shelves empty at food banks and at stores that take government benefits. At the other extreme, people lament the (hopefully very short-term) loss of all that makes life enjoyable, such as birthday parties and trips and worship services and the NCAA basketball tournament. And these are only the immediate impacts.

So we’re all feeling the pinch in some way. The mortal danger is, of course, the exponentially greater concern. That’s why institutions of all kids are taking precautions and recommending safety guidelines to leaders and individuals – including pastors and church members. Talk about the things they didn’t teach you in seminary: many a minister is struggling to tend both to concerns about vulnerable people and frustrations about closures in a context that is now changing hourly.

Fully acknowledging how much the situation stinks, there are a couple of opportunities to keep in mind.

First, the church is not the building where your congregation is used to meeting. The church I attended in seminary had (and probably still has) a sign that said, “Oakhurst Baptist meets here.” It was a way of separating the congregation from the physical location. Many a church struggles to do that. After all, how many conversations about sanctuary carpet or the color the youth want to paint the walls of their meeting space become seemingly all-consuming, to the detriment of actual ministry? With many churches canceling in-person gathering for at least the next few weeks, there can begin to be more daylight between the people and the place.

With that in mind, how can you help your congregation members see in new ways that church is about relationships, not a facility? How will you equip and encourage your people to tend to those connections in the absence of a physical gathering place?

Second, the church as it was has been dying for some time. Many pastors know that, yet it can be hard to imagine what a new iteration of church might look like. And even if we can visualize it, how in the world can we inspire our people to be courageous enough to attempt it? Well, this pandemic offers a laboratory for that. We can’t conduct business as usual. We thus have unprecedented permission to discern new ways of connecting to one another as we seek to grow in our relationships with God.

So what expressions of the scattered church have you wanted to play with but heretofore haven’t dared? If you’re not sure what you’d like to experiment with, how can those who are accustomed to relating to people who aren’t physically present (e.g. youth ministers, digital natives, tech professionals) show us the way?

I am praying for you, pastors, and I am confident in your faithfulness, compassion, and ability to innovate. Lean into those strengths – you might be surprised by what emerges. And as you attempt new things, give yourself permission not to have all the answers immediately. We’re all feeling our way along in this brave new world.

Photo by Sheldon Kennedy on Unsplash.

Workshop: managing impostor syndrome

At the height of Michael Jordan’s NBA career, Gatorade launched the “Be like Mike” campaign. If we replenished our electrolytes with the same sports beverage as Jordan, then we could hope to lead our teams to NBA titles, be named the NBA’s MVP, and take home multiple NBA scoring and slam-dunk championships.

It’s important to have role models, people who broaden our imaginations about what’s possible. At some point there becomes a danger, though, of feeling like a fraud if we compare ourselves to those role models – or even to those who don’t seem to be putting in the work yet reap the rewards of their positions – and judge ourselves as coming up short. There aren’t enough gallons of Gatorade to make up for gaps in privilege or charisma or opportunity or raw talent.

Even in 2020, many clergywomen are treated as if we are “playing at” pastoring, as if we don’t deserve to live into the fullness of God’s call on our lives and aren’t capable to exercise the fullness of God’s equipping for our vocations. While we often feel like we are treading water, toiling for our authority every day, we see others gaining bigger platforms.

Enter impostor syndrome: what am I doing here? Is someone going to realize I don’t belong and call me on it? Does my effort even matter, since I might never be recognized as the Michael Jordan of ministry? (Spoiler alert: YES.) Impostor syndrome is widespread and insidious. It makes us feel like our gifts and ministries aren’t valuable to God or God’s people. It urges us to lead in ways that are not authentic to us, which means we don’t leverage our God-given strengths as faithfully as we could. It causes us to doubt our decisions instead of using outcomes – whatever they might be – as fodder for ongoing discernment. It causes us to compare ourselves to others, which prompts discouragement that can eventually lead to our departure from ministry altogether. And that is not ok, because the church and the world need the leadership we have to offer.

From 11:00 am -12:30 pm central time on May 13 I will be offering an interactive workshop for clergywomen on managing impostor syndrome. Within a theological framing, we’ll name what impostors are. As counterpoints, we’ll discuss how we came to be where we are, what our impact is on our ministry settings, how we can remember our worth, and how we can develop mutual support networks to bolster one another when symptoms of impostor syndrome emerge. Participants will take away awareness and practices they can put in place to live out of God’s call on their lives and their love for God’s people rather than out of the (sometimes internalized) expectations of others.

The cost for this workshop, which will take place via the Zoom online platform, is $20. There will be an option to add on three 1-hour coaching sessions, at a discounted rate of $225 (total for all three sessions), to help you apply what you learn. Click here to sign up.