Eight Cs for growing trust

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

The most important ingredient in any process isn’t expertise or charismatic personalities or financial resources. It’s relationships. When the bonds are strong among the people involved, there can be productive disagreement, a full exploration of possibilities, deep investment in the work, and mutual support and accountability, all leading to forward progress.

The foundation of relationships is trust. Not simply predictability – I know your passions and hot buttons and how you’ll react to each being tapped – but shared vulnerability and risk-taking. Many congregational teams and committees start with some sense of predictability by virtue of the members attending church together for a long time. But most (if not all teams) will need to dig in before high-intensity work begins to develop the second-level trust that will allow for the most thorough and faithful process.

What does it look like to grow that deep trust? Here are eight Cs – from lowest to highest risk – to guide that essential work:

Clarity is getting straight within ourselves about our thoughts and commitments, then being honest with others about them.

Communication is putting our clarified knowledge and understanding out there, and in turn listening to others with open hearts and minds.

Curiosity is admitting we don’t have the whole picture and wondering about what we don’t know.

Compassion is showing care to and connecting at a heart level with others, believing the best about them as we do so.

Companionship is being present and authentic while still maintaining the boundaries that allow us to be clear and compassionate.

Consistency is showing up the same way every time and admitting when circumstances have thrown us off balance.

Conflict is being willing to disagree and to have our ideas improved upon.

Control release is relinquishing attachment to the outcome, trusting that the process will end up as it should so long as we bring our whole selves to it.

Jesus embodies each of these Cs in his ministry. He bookends his active period with a time of clarifying his identity and purpose in the desert and a prayer in the garden of “here’s what I want, but I’m here to finish the job.” His interactions with followers and adversaries alike are centered on getting his message out while asking about and listening to their hopes and fears. Time after time Jesus shows up for people, particularly the least of these, truly valuing them and radiating divine love for them. With those who want to hold on to what they know and have, he’s not afraid to offer a challenge. And in the end, he allows himself to be led to the cross so that he can expose all that is wrong with the hunger for power.

The eight Cs and the resulting trust can strengthen relationships not just within the team but between the team and congregation. The effects of deepened connections, in turn, extend beyond the process itself, cultivating beloved community with the Source of love at its center.

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash.

Follow your curiosity

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

In a recent TED interview, author Elizabeth Gilbert talked about creativity in terms of following our curiosity. We are often told to follow our passions, she said, but that is an all-in pursuit that can be both overly risky and quickly discouraging. For example, if we quit our jobs to write the book that is taking shape within us, we might not have money for groceries. And if that book bombs once it hits the shelves, we’ll have to muster a whole lotta moxie to put ourselves out there again.

Attending to our curiosity, in contrast, is more gentle. Instead of running out on our jobs, we ask, what’s going on in me? What is God nudging me toward? What would it mean for me to make a major life change? What would I need (externally or internally) in order to take that step? The ultimate outcome might be the same, but it would derive from discernment and come with a more settled spirit. The point is not to abandon passion, after all, just to probe it a bit. Or you might discover a previously-unconsidered way of being true to your gifts and faithful to God.

This curiosity is not just useful for individuals but also on group and organizational levels. Sometimes we’ll have a big vision for our congregations, or a member will bring an idea for a new ministry with hopes it will be implemented immediately. Asking questions can help flesh out initiatives, align them more closely with God-given mission, and stoke enthusiasm in others such that they are eager to join in. Or these queries might reveal that this thing is not right for this people at this time and plant seeds for other possibilities.

As you consider what is going on in and around you in this new year, where would a bit of curiosity help you listen deeply, plan faithfully, and move forward confidently?

Photo by Joe Green on Unsplash.

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.