There’s never been a better time to explore coaching

The new year often brings renewed intentionality around meeting goals and overcoming challenges, whether in our personal or professional lives. If you have big plans for 2018 and need help getting traction with them, coaching might be just what you require to end the year feeling joyful, focused, and accomplished.

Use these questions to gauge whether coaching is a fit for you:

  • Have you thought through what your life would look like if you meet your goals?
  • Do you have a sense of the full range of resources at your disposal?
  • Do you need help viewing a situation from a different perspective?
  • Would you benefit from a thought partner who listens, affirms, and gently challenges you?
  • Could you use an hour on a regular basis that is reserved solely for your processing, planning, and growth?
  • Are you ready to make changes that will bring results?

If you answered in the negative to the first two questions and in the affirmative to the rest, you are in a coachable place. I invite you to join me for a free coaching informational call next Wednesday, January 17, at noon eastern to learn what coaching is all about, how it works, and how it can empower you to get the results you seek. Sign up here.


Five lessons from 2017 and five hopes for 2018

The turning of the calendar provides a natural opportunity for looking backward and forward. Here’s some of what I learned about myself last year:

I’ve been a complacent citizen. In the past, I have either taken for granted that others with concerns like mine would speak up or believed that my lone voice would not make much impact. This year circumstances compelled me to – for the first time – call my members of Congress, canvass, phone bank, write letters to elected officials, march for causes, and poll watch.

I have internalized more bigotry than I realized. The unmasking of white supremacy in the culture at large prompted me to do some inner examination, first as a Lenten discipline, then as an ongoing process. It turns out that forty years of insidious messaging had done more damage than I realized, and I continue actively chipping away at my biases through listening, reading, and interacting.

Scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. (This is not to deny that some people live in dire poverty through no fault of their own.) Sometimes the sermon is as much for the preacher as for the congregation. I often refer to the dangers of a scarcity mindset from the pulpit and in my writing – pointing out that time and again God has done much with little – yet I have fretted over pennies myself. I’m in an online book group that has challenged me to think out of an abundance framework, and when I’ve been able to do it, it has given me a sense of freedom and opened my heart to the dramatic and barely-detectable ways God is showing the way forward.

40 rocks. Many people dread turning 40 years old. I didn’t, and so far my new decade fits me well. The age I feel matches the age I look like on the outside. I see the need less and less to justify my perspectives and my work to those who would poo-poo it. At the same time, I want to remain open to new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things.

The act of prayer is changing me. I have been more angry and afraid this year than I have ever been. When I’ve caught myself heading down one of these paths, I’ve stopped, taken deep breaths, and confessed my feelings to God. Over time, some of my attitudes have shifted. God is working in me, and I think that the process itself of being honest with God has also made a big difference.

As I anticipate this new year, here is what I am working toward, with God’s help:

To be more generous. I want to grow in my ability to practice what I preach when it comes to the abundance of God’s love.

To be more fierce. There’s no going back to complacency. Lives are at stake. And my voice matters.

To be more vulnerable. There’s a time for privacy, but less often than I have typically exercised it.

To be more resourceful. I want to leverage my creativity and intelligence for good.

To be more connected. I tended to distance myself last year from people who had different commitments than I did. That is neither faithful nor practical.

May your new year be filled with peace, love, and hope.

Being church to abuse survivors

With #MeToo, #ChurchToo, and the Alabama special election taking up much of my newsfeed lately, the abuse prevention programs I once presented in schools and the work I did on several safe church policies have been at the front of my brain. Here is a post I wrote for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Patheos blog about ways the church can prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors of all ages. One commenter rightly notes that these are measures that help those who still attend church, and we have a responsibility to care for survivors both in the church and beyond. This post might be better titled, then, “Preaching abuse prevention and caring for parishioners affected by abuse.”



Take advantage of my most popular special!

There are 26 days left in 2017, which means it’s time to get serious about spending your remaining professional development funds. Maybe you have loaded up your Kindle, bought yourself a new Easter stole, and registered for that conference you’re stoked about – and still you have a few dollars until you hit $0.00. If that’s the case, think about investing in yourself by purchasing coaching sessions to use in 2018. You could use those sessions to

  • hone a new skill
  • develop a self-care plan
  • design your approach to dealing with difficult people
  • explore a change in call
  • think through how to orchestrate shifts in your ministry setting
  • strategize ways to handle conflict
  • create frameworks and processes for use in your congregation

Really, the options are endless.

Now here’s where the “special” part comes in: I will round up your remaining professional development funds to the next session value. You won’t leave any of your hard-earned pennies on the table, and you’ll have a thought partner and encourager to support your growth in the coming year.

Contact me before December 31 to take advantage of this offer. If you’re a prospective coachee and you want to chat before you commit, schedule a free introductory call here.


Advent arcs

The special season of waiting for the birth of the Christ child has come around again, bringing a new liturgical year with it. I don’t know about you, but for me the undercurrent of danger in the Advent scriptures is more relatable than ever before, and I need to hold on more tightly to the peace, connection, and equality that Christ’s incarnation portends. If you’re feeling the same, here are some possible themes to explore in preaching, teaching, and writing this month:

Listening to women’s voices. The lectionary gives us the Magnificat (with an option to use it on Advent 3 or 4) and Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel. Mary is not a wilting flower in either passage. What do these interactions tell us about how God sees women? How do we better attune ourselves to and/or amplify the voices of women?

Naming the ills of the world. In addition to the Magnificat, the texts from Isaiah and Mark invite us to pinpoint the injustices we see around us and to repent for our roles in them. How – specifically – have we fallen short in loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to what changes do we commit? Who else do we need to call to repentance, and for what?

Claiming our role in the redemption of the world. God uses mere mortals to bring about God’s purposes: Mary and Joseph; Elizabeth, Zechariah (thought merely mentioned in this year’s texts), and John; shepherds; even – dare I say – the emperor whose decree forced a very pregnant woman to make a hard journey and give birth in a barn. What is our part in ushering in God’s reign?

Staying vigilant. “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33) As our political scene, cultural dynamics, and military engagement status quickly evolve, we are living in times that call for wakefulness. How will you stay alert?

Preferring the outcast. Mary’s Magnificat makes no bones about it. God favors those who show awe and fells the proud. He fills the hungry and gives nothing to the powerful, for they have already grabbed more than their fair share. God has done these things, and there is no reason to believe that God will do otherwise in the future. Who are the “lowly” to whom we should be paying heed?

Embracing hope and joy in the midst of uncertainty. Gabriel’s visit blew to bits Mary’s (and Joseph’s) expectations of the future. Her “overshadowing” by the Holy Spirit put her in dire straits. And yet, scripture points us to the long arc of God’s work in the world. How will we open our hearts, minds, and spirits to the work of God so that we might choose joy over fear?

Renewing the promises. We are starting the church year over and journeying again to Bethlehem. In doing so, we note the reliability of God’s promises and presence, still firm even as circumstances around us change. How does this trustworthiness encourage us to live? What in our lives needs renewal or redemption with the turning of the liturgical calendar?



Breaking shame’s hold on our congregations

In a recent podcast with pastor/author Jen Hatmaker, research professor Dr. Brene Brown shared an insightful nugget from her work: shame is the enemy of innovation. When we believe that we are not worthy – of love, of belonging, of joy, of dreaming – we cannot think beyond our current circumstances. We cannot brainstorm new ways of being and doing. We cannot envision a future much different from our present.

I have noted this truth for myself. When I feel bad about how I look, it seems like making new friends is out of reach. When my inbox is not dinging, I worry that I’ll never get another coaching or consulting client. When I don’t have expertise about the topic of discussion, I’m certain my conversation partner won’t take my input seriously. It becomes hard to put one foot in front of the other, mentally and emotionally.

It’s no secret that many of our churches are stuck. They try to strategically plan their way out of the mire, but those plans often involve more of what the congregation is currently doing, has done in the past, or has seen work in other contexts. They cannot imagine a different way of being church, only returning to a day when attendance was three times what it is now and children’s Sunday Schools were bursting at the seams.

I think corporate shame plays a role in this stuckness. We think, what is it about our church that makes people want to leave, or not even come in the first place? Why do our regulars only come once or twice a month now, when a decade ago they were here every week? Why would a new pastor accept a call to a dwindling congregation with a shrinking budget? How can we draw in newcomers when everyone in this community knows about “the incident” that happened here twenty years ago? How can we call ourselves a vibrant church when our educational wing is a ghost town?

These are all questions of worthiness. And yet, our value does not come from attendance patterns or the weekly offering. Just because something bad occurred in our past doesn’t mean our story is irredeemable. There’s no need to sound the death knell when one part of the physical plant is lying fallow. We don’t have to earn our place in the whole of Christ’s body. We have significance simply because we were created by God and gathered together in God’s name.

How, then, do we push against this collective shame that prevents us from moving into a fruitful future?

First, we must unearth it. With a group of leaders – or possibly with the congregation as a whole – pose some discussion prompts. What chapters of the church’s life or which former pastors do we not talk about, and why? How do we think others view our congregation? What are our biggest worries about the church’s present or future? How do these worries affect how we do ministry?

Second, we must address the three Ps. Psychologist Martin Seligman writes that personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence radically impact our self-perception. In personalization, congregations think “we are not good enough” rather than “those members who went elsewhere needed something we don’t offer.” In pervasiveness, an issue in one area is generalized to all of church life: “our youth group has hit a membership lull” becomes “the church is dying.” And permanence prompts us to think that we can’t get off whatever train we’re on: “if we’re in decline, there’s nowhere to go but down.” Those big, shame-inducing Ps have to be shrunk down to their proper place as lower-case ps that focus on actions and circumstances rather than unalterable character.

Third, we must broaden the narrative. What are the stories that demonstrate the congregation’s uniqueness? How has this church changed lives for the better? What are the gifts of our current circumstances? What can we do now that we couldn’t do before? What are the non-financial resources we haven’t yet tapped? For whom would this congregation and its mission be really good news?

God did not make us – as individuals or churches – for shame. God created us for love, connection, joy, and innovation. Let us do the hard work of exposing and eliminating the shame that keeps us from embracing the worthiness that comes from our kinship with Christ, thereby becoming free to live fully into the purposes God has for us.


Thanksgiving challenge

For some of us, Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with family, eating more than we should, and falling asleep in a recliner in front of a football game. For some of us, Thanksgiving is a time of stress, knowing we’ll be sharing space with people we love but with whom we disagree passionately. For some of us, Thanksgiving is a lonely time, spent apart from dear ones. For some of us, Thanksgiving is a work day, full of meeting others’ needs.

Whatever your Thanksgiving looks like, I invite you to read through the list below and join me in a challenge that expresses gratitude for all that we are and all that we have through self-care, connection, service, and resistance.

  • Take a nap.
  • Read an article, watch a video, or listen to a podcast from a Native American point of view.
  • Tell someone three specific reasons you are grateful for him/her/them.
  • Challenge a fear-mongering or prejudiced statement.
  • Fully embrace your pledge not to listen to Christmas music before Advent – or play your list of favorite holiday tunes on an endless, joy-inducing loop. (I’ll be doing the latter.)
  • Eat something delicious.
  • Engage in an act of community service or make a donation to a service organization.
  • Jump in a leaf pile.
  • Stay out of the shopping fray on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Have a conversation with someone who knows and loves the whole of you – and about whom you feel the same.
  • Help with the cooking, the dishes, or the trash.
  • Move your body, whether by participating in a Turkey Trot or simply by walking around the block.
  • Thank God for your life, your call, and your people.


Countering loneliness

In chapter three of Braving the Wilderness: the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brene Brown cites a startling statistic. The odds of dying early are increased by the following factors:

  • air pollution = 5% more likely to die early
  • obesity = 20% more likely to die early
  • excessive drinking = 30% more likely to die early
  • loneliness = 45% more likely to die early

Yikes. I know a lot of pastors – single and partnered, extroverts and introverts – who are seeking meaningful connections they haven’t yet found. I’ve been there many times myself, even as a person who loves her alone time. The boundaries and ethics that have been drilled into us for good reason by seminaries and judicatories often mean that we keep parishioners at arm’s length. (The paradox is that appropriate self-revelation is the key to building trust with a congregation.) Our personal theology and politics can cause us to feel estranged from the people we serve and even from many in the larger community. And the odd, demanding hours of a minister’s vocational life, not to mention the assumptions people have about clergy, make it difficult to cultivate connections outside the church.

We have some significant hurdles to overcome, but the 45% more-likely-to-die-early stat makes it plain that loneliness is a life or death issue. It’s also a matter of theological integrity; we serve a God who seeks us to draw us ever nearer not just to the divine heart but also to one another.

So what can we do to push past the loneliness? Here are a few thoughts:

Know how much connection you need to feel emotionally healthy. Typically (perhaps stereotypically), introverts need a few deep relationships while extroverts value a wide range of friendships.

Identify and share what makes you feel understood and embraced in relationships. What you need to feel seen and close to someone varies from one person to the next. (That makes it important to consider this same question about others.) Gary Chapman’s work on the five love languages has been extremely helpful to me in this vein.

Look for places and people where you note commonality. For example, join a club or a team. Volunteer for a cause. Go to an art class. Look for ways to expand on or dig deeper into that shared interest with those you meet.

Prioritize people. It’s so easy to get buried in tasks. Step back occasionally to remember the purpose behind the task, which is often human-centered. And when faced with the option between nurturing a relationship and checking off a to-do, choose the former as often as possible.

Know your warning signs. How do you know when you’re lonely? What happens in your heart? What changes in your body? How does your calendar look different? When these alerts pop up, step back and reflect on what is happening.

What would you add to this list?


Course on resilience in ministry coming in 2018

I coach clergywomen around a number of topics: widening the margins in their lives, leading in ways that are true to their gifts and purpose, visioning new ministries, finding a best-fit next call, leaving and starting a position well, navigating conflict, leading change in the church.

I believe from the split ends of my hair down to my non-pedicured toes that each coachee is capable of navigating the issues in front of her. But that doesn’t mean that these clergywomen don’t get tired and anxious, don’t occasionally daydream about 9-5 jobs, or don’t wonder if they can do this pastoring thing for the long term.

It takes resilience – the ability to withstand and even thrive in the midst of stress – to to lead at a high level throughout a ministry career. That’s why in 2018 I am offering Pastoral persistence: cultivating resilience for the long haul. This three-session course will cover three key areas of resilience in ministry: leading with authenticity, dealing with feedback, and tending to joy. Each 1.5-hour video call will include teaching and coaching time. Participants will come away with a clearer understanding of their specific call and leadership style, a plan for setting up helpful feedback systems and learning from criticism, and a strategy for ongoing self-care. The format will be part teaching, part coaching.

Here are the pertinent details:

January 9, January 23, February 6
12:30-2:00 eastern
Zoom platform

Space will be limited. Sign up here.



New resource: mutual ministry review outline

Most congregations require an annual evaluation of the minister. This is a worthy requirement, but it must be framed and conducted well to be useful rather than (at best) frustrating or (at worst)counterproductive.  Below are some suggestions to get the most out of the process. (A PDF of this post, suitable for printing and sharing with your lay leaders, is available here.)

Make sure the right people are in the room. What body should conduct the review? Sometimes this information is outlined in the minister’s letter of covenant/call or in the congregational by-laws. If it isn’t, the group of lay leaders that works most closely with the minister (with input as appropriate from others) should facilitate this conversation.

Be clear about the purpose of the review. What does everyone involved hope to accomplish? The review will be an exercise in fruitlessness, maybe even frustration, if it’s being done merely to check off a box.

Frame the conversation in terms of mutual ministry. Ministry is collaborative, not performative. How are pastor and parish in this together? Where have we helped each other grow or made each other stronger this year? What do we need from one another in the coming year?

Set helpful metrics. What mile markers will tell us how well we are living into God’s call? (Having a functional mission statement makes these criteria much easier to establish.) The wrong metrics prompt focus on surface rather than substantive issues.

Look backward and forward. What have we noticed and what do we hope for? Examining – though not lingering in – the past can be a springboard for promising conversations about what lies ahead.

Welcome the opportunity to minister in the midst of the review. Framing the conversation in terms of mutual ministry allows the participants to check in with one another, not just as fellow constituents of the church but also as people.

Use feedforward for constructive feedback. How can we leverage difficulties into positive changes? Useful criticism starts with what we’ve learned and where we are now, then looks ahead to what we can do differently.

Agree on intervals and means for feedback through the year. Concerns and celebrations don’t need to wait until the formal review. What are the logical times of year for all parties to touch base with each other, and what’s the most helpful way to go about that?

Re-covenant as needed. What about the covenant we’ve been operating under needs to change? As shifts happen, intentional tweaks to how minister and congregation relate to each other need to be made.

Below are some questions that could be useful toward the ends named above.

This past year

At the beginning of last year, what did we believe God had called us to do and be together? In what ways did we live into that? What obstacles did we encounter, and how did we navigate them? What did we learn?

Where did we notice God at work most powerfully in our ministry together this past year? When were we most energized and engaged?

How have we grown as minister and congregation since the last review?

As individuals, how are we doing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically?

This coming year

What do we believe God is calling us to do together in the coming year? What are some first steps in living toward that vision? What obstacles do we anticipate?

How can we create even more space for the Spirit to move in, among, and through us this year?

What changes do we need to make to address obstacles that remain from last year or that we anticipate for the coming year? What resources and leadership do we need to overcome these challenges?

What are our self-care plans for the coming year? How can we support and hold each other accountable?

In what areas do we want to grow as minister/disciples? How might we go about that? How can we support and hold one another accountable?

Specifically for the minister

How well does your position description match what you actually do? What do you need to stop doing? What needs to be updated in your position description to make it more accurate?

How well does your compensation align with your needs and responsibilities? What adjustments need to be considered?

Loose ends

Coming out of this conversation, what follow-up is needed? Who will do it, and by when?

Which aspects of this conversation need to remain confidential? How do we define confidential?

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.