Worshipful work meeting outline

In developing the approach to ministerial searches that is rooted in hospitality, I put together a meeting structure that weaves together the elements of discernment and the business that teams must attend to. It builds in intentional spaces and means of attending to the Holy Spirit as teams go about the work at hand. This outline can be utilized for a range of congregational processes. Consider the content below, then, a preview of Searching for the Called as well as a resource with many potential applications.

Preparing to perceive God’s guidance

  • Create an atmosphere for discernment. Prepare the gathering space in a way that is conducive to worshipful work.
  • Set aside distractions. Ask, “What does each of us need to turn over to God before we can focus on the work at hand?”
  • Worship together in your gathering space. Invite everyone to name where they have seen God at work this week.
  • Refine the question for discernment.
    • Ask each team member to give an overview of progress that has been made on agreed-upon actions.
    • Celebrate this progress and build in support for actions that are incomplete.
    • Identify what the team needs to focus on in this meeting. Parse which pieces are matters for discernment and which can appropriately be accomplished through decisions.
    • Clarify the question(s) for discernment that is/are now before the team.
  • Pray for indifference. Pray as Jesus did: “Not my will but Thine be done.”

Listen for the wisdom of God

  • Gather relevant data. Invite team members to share the details of work done since the last meeting.
  • Discuss the data. Encourage each team member to share what they notice from the data presented. Ask clarifying questions. Name what the team doesn’t yet know but needs to know. Listen deeply to one another.
  • Pray for wisdom. Acknowledge that the team has done what it can in terms of collecting and evaluating the data. Ask God to move in that new awareness.
  • Make friends with silence. Wait on the Lord. Use spiritual disciplines to tune into what God might be saying.

Consider and commit to what God is inviting the team to do

  • Identify the resolution that seems (resolutions that seem) to be emerging. Get every concern on the table. Refine every idea that bubbles up.
  • Work toward agreement. Start from points of commonality: “What is it that we all seem to be hearing clearly?” Dig deeper on points of resistance: “Tell me more about your hesitation.” Use your team’s previously agreed-upon means of coming to agreement.
  • Test the agreement. Let the resolution rest. If your team isn’t able to sleep on it, take a break and then discuss how team members are feeling in their heads, hearts, and guts about the proposed way forward.
  • Take action. Make detailed plans for action steps. Who will do what? How, and by when? What support and/or accountability is needed?

Reflect on how God is at work in the process as a whole

  • Before adjourning, check in on how the team felt it worked together today and what adjustments to process need to be made.
  • Wonder aloud, “What is God up to?”

New resource: workbook for ministers in the search process

Over the course of fifteen years in ministry, I have observed the search process from a number of angles: candidate, search team member, interim minister, coach, and colleague. I’ve noted that there are many places where a search can go off the rails. Here are a few outtakes from my (lengthy) personal blooper reel:

  • I was offered compensation that was barely enough to cover groceries while the church was patting itself on the back for extending a call to a woman.
  • I went on an out-of-state, in-person interview for which I was offered no travel expense reimbursement.
  • I was rejected by a search team, then called by the senior pastor at that church to come in for a 1-on-1 interview. (He had no clue that I’d been released from the process.)
  • I was given a 5-page job description that would have taken about 80 hours per week to fulfill.
  • I was BCCed on a form email releasing me from a search process for which I had been courted.
  • And, the grand prize winner: I was held hostage during a candidating weekend in a family’s living room while the husband/dad grilled me about my stance on same-sex marriage.

These tales, plus those from ministry colleagues, are what led me to develop a congregational search framework that is rooted in hospitality.

Despite all the bizarre things search teams do, however, candidates have more means of influencing search processes than they often realize. That is why I have created Sailing Uncertain Seas: A Workbook for Navigating the Search & Call Process. This 58-page workbook, built from search & call webinars I have offered over the last year, coaching conversations I have had with ministers in active searches, the research for my search framework, and my own experiences, is a comprehensive resource for the Christian clergyperson seeking a new congregational ministry position. Each section offers tips and reflection questions with ample space to respond. The workbook covers the following topics:

  • 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?

The workbook concludes with links to additional resources.

Are you a clergyperson who would benefit from tips & reflection questions for every step of your search? If so, this workbook will be well worth your investment. Click here to buy.

Discernment 101

Discernment: we talk about it. We encourage the people in our care to engage in it. But even so, sometimes we’re not sure exactly how to define it or how to wade into it. This post offers a starting point.

Decisions are intellectual exercises. People gather information from a number of sources, evaluate it, and create actions and a timetable based on the outcomes of their analysis. When people make decisions, they seek to control the outcome. Discernment is an attentiveness – cultivated in the head, heart, and gut – to God’s work in the world so that we might join God in those efforts. Wisdom about the matter for discernment unfolds in God’s time and through many of the same sources upon which decisions are made, plus some that might be discounted when acting purely on logic. Below are some of the key elements of discernment.

Create an atmosphere for discernment. Consider the location, room arrangement, and touchstones that would make your space most conducive to listening for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Set aside distractions. Name and turn over agendas and worries that could keep you from focusing on God’s yearnings.

Worship in your space. Read scripture. Pray. Sing. Remember and acknowledge that God wants good for you.

Refine the question for discernment. You are more likely to get a clear response if your question for God is finely-tuned.

Pray for indifference. Indifference means that, because you trust God’s intentions, you will refrain from nudging the outcome in one direction or another.

Gather relevant data. Use every resource at your disposal, including but not limited to hard data, conversations with others, scripture, individual and collective memories, pro/con lists, imagination, intuition, feelings, and your senses. No data source is off limits in discernment, because God speaks in a number of ways.

Discuss the data. Name what you have discovered through gathering the data – especially the surprises.

Pray for wisdom. Ask God to weave the data together and to help you step back and view the interwoven whole.

Make friends with silence. We are so unaccustomed to silence that when we do experience it, we often feel uncomfortable with it. Start with short spans of silence (30 seconds or so) and build capacity from there. In doing so, you give God a bigger opening. Wait on God to speak.

Identify the resolution that seems to be emerging. What are you hearing?

Test the resolution. Ask God for confirmation that you have discerned correctly. (See criteria for identifying, “is this God?”) Tweak the plan as needed.

Take action. Honor the faithfulness of God by moving forward boldly with the action you have discerned.

While this outline is for individual discernment, you can tweak it at any point to involve others.

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.

A reflection on my Lenten journey

Just before Ash Wednesday, I posted what I was giving up – or at least attempting to – for Lent: shame, inaction, defensiveness, withdrawal, and despair. All of these weighty realities were negatively affecting my relationship with God and my interactions with others, and my denial had been so thoroughly obliterated by the political and cultural battles of the last election cycle that it was high time to wrestle with each of these monsters.

Every one of the monsters, I realized, was the result of self-absorption. I didn’t want to hurt, didn’t want to be challenged, didn’t want to give up my sense of security. There are so many people who don’t have the luxury of avoiding hurt, challenge, and insecurity, and so my Lent was an exercise in growing my ability to center their concerns. I wrote a piece about what I learned and how I responded to these gleanings for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Patheos blog.

But if my Lenten discipline was just an experiment, a temporary shift in focus, then I was not truly willing to be formed, I was not actually interested in growing toward others and God. And if I go back to the way I operated before Ash Wednesday, then I can no longer claim to be a faithful minister or a follower of the gospel. I cannot forget what I have read and heard about the plights of others over these 40 days. I cannot pretend that I didn’t discover parts of myself that need redemption. I cannot ignore that if I believe God is self-giving love, then I must do my human best to embody that same love, comfort be damned.

So hold me accountable, will you? Call me out when needed. Tell me how I can help. I promise I will keep listening, expanding my heart, and trying to do better.

Creative Commons image “Walking the Labyrinth” by GPS is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A Maundy Thursday reflection

Jesus’ disciple went to the authorities and asked,

What will you give me…

What monetary reward?

What recognition?

What reassurance?

What relief?

…if I betray Jesus to you?

if I take you to him when he is most vulnerable?

if I deny his divinity?

if I ignore his teachings and his example?

if I turn my back on his love for me?

 

I do this every day.

I betray Jesus

for the love of wealth

for the love of power

for the love of security

for the love of comfort

for things and feelings that are fleeting and fake.

And yet, fully knowing that I will turn on him

– even as I say, Surely not I? –

Jesus invites me to his table,

feeds me with the bread of life,

and offers me the cup of the covenant, saying,

Drink from it, all of you.

 

I guess “all” truly does mean all,

thanks be to God.

I guess I’d better start living like it.

 

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.

 

To ministers lying prostrate on their office floors

I have been there.

I have been bullied by power-obsessed parishioners, then gaslighted by a senior pastor who denied the bullying was happening.

I have been left with few advocates – whose voices were diluted in a sea of people who either actively opposed me or didn’t know what was going on – even as I was forbidden to advocate for myself.

I have been afraid of what would happen to my vocational future if I got let go and if I resigned, even as those were my only two options.

I have faded away into a congregation’s ether when no one wanted to announce my departure, because then the folks caught off guard would start asking questions.

I have endured a last lunch I didn’t want with a staff that refused to back me, at which the senior pastor poo-pooed my next steps in ministry.

I have worried about my family’s ability to pay the bills, having just purchased a home, when my income went away.

As I said, I have been there. And it sucks beyond words.

But this lowest point in my career was also the beginning of my rising.

I learned from the missteps I’d made while also refusing responsibility for others’ bad behavior. I continued the work of shifting my pastoral identity from a job title to my unchanged sense of call. The shape of that call deepened and sharpened, making the approaching points on my professional trajectory crystal clear. I sought training for those next steps, loading up my ministry toolkit. I was going to be more discerning, more wise, and more prepared emotionally and spiritually for the next opportunity to serve.

As a result, the years of ministry since I found myself prostrate on my office floor have been exponentially more fruitful than the years before that moment. I feel more creative and impactful and I’m having more fun.

Who knows? I might find myself facedown again. But I have learned that there is life after noting carpet impressions on my face. I will thrive again, God willing and with God’s help. You can too.

So, when you’re ready, peel yourself off the floor. Let others help you stand back up, because we don’t rise on our own. And follow your call from God into what is next for your gifted, amazing self.

Creative Commons image “Defeat” by Cameron Kisel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

For the love of spandex

It all began with my (mild) obsession with flash sale sites. I had not only been getting some great deals through Groupon and Living Social, I’d also gotten a little cocky. I’d been posting my unique link referring others to my super bargains, and so many friends had fallen prey to my powers of persuasion that I’d gotten some of my vouchers for free. That was why, when the opportunity to buy a package for pure barre showed up in my inbox, I broke one of my cardinal rules: never pay to exercise.

As it turned out, I didn’t get that deal for free. But my body needed a tune-up before a beach vacation, so I happily scheduled the purchased classes anyway. Pure barre was an awakening – a painful, booty-kicking one. Every 55-minute workout was harder than the previous one, with its small movements and isometric holds, its ballet barre work and fiendish double tube sprints. But I left each class reinvigorated physically and mentally, since the focus required leaves no room for thinking through my to-do list or playing back tapes of conversations gone wrong. I was quickly hooked because of both benefits.

Most importantly, though, barre work enabled me to come to terms with my body. I have never begrudged my height, all 4’10” of it. I have lamented how quickly that extra slice of pizza shows up (to my mind) on my backside. I have also spent many a morning cursing my adult acne, wondering when my miracle creams will finally work their wonder. These preoccupations have made me a hypocrite, seeing as how I’m a minister in a very incarnational faith. I tell young girls to love their look even as I’ve hardly been able to look at myself in the mirror. I’ve preached that God intentionally made us the way we are, inside and out, even as I’ve wished wholeheartedly that God would have spent a little more time tweaking my design. I’ve reminded people that God loves bodies, or else God wouldn’t have given Jesus one. But still I’ve found mine wanting.

It’s not been a complete 180, but it has been major progress. I know it because of my love of spandex.  Oh, spandex, we spent some ill-advised time together in the late 80s and early 90s when bicycle shorts counted as, well, shorts. Since then, though, I’ve steered clear of you – until barre work came into my life. Barre exercises require stretchy, breathable clothing, and spandex best fits the bill. I’ve found that the more form-fitting the outfit, the more comfortable the workout … relatively speaking. So I wear it, tight as it can be, as I tuck and pulse. And the more I wear it, the more I flaunt it. I love the way it feels, and I like the way I look in it. My glances in the mirror now are to measure my muscles’ progress rather than to check for pimples (on my face) and dimples (not on my face). I no longer put my tights on just before a workout and take them off first chance I get – if I have to run errands before or after I torture my thighs, I do them in spandex.

My spandex has covered me in comfort through some difficult times. Pregnancy left me blah most of the time, such that I only felt normal when my tights and I were at the barre. When my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, spandex and that blasted double tube anchored my body and my mind in the midst of physical and emotional chaos. My spandex has also reminded me of my strength through change and the upward creep of my age. The visible curves of my muscles – even beneath the post-baby weight that might be here to stay – are proof that I can hold my own, come what may.

No, I don’t wear spandex under my preaching robe or to conferences or pastoral care visits. But you just might see me in it shopping at Target, running after my son, or grabbing coffee. I don’t don it to allure or to fit the mom dress code. It’s sort of my power suit. I invite you to put yours on too, whatever that looks like for you. Let’s be powerful and beautiful together.

Taking time to transition

I love my lists and my Google calendar. They make my chaotic life feel manageable(ish). Still, there are times when the to-dos meld into  asinglerunontask and events overlap. That’s when my brain kicks into hyperdrive, my eyes dart around my desk, and my heart picks up the pace. I’m TCBing, with output of questionable quality. I’m everywhere at once, but nowhere fully present. Maybe you can relate.

I confess that I sometimes I sing “I’m Every Woman” to myself with whiff of pride. But it’s not always (often? ever?) good to be every woman at every moment. I don’t want to be mentally running through research while eating dinner with my family. I’m not my best self as a leader if I’m sketching my sermon outline during a committee meeting. It’s hard to give good pastoral care to someone who is grieving when I’m still coming down off a tense conversation with a colleague. Yes, there are times when I have to manage multiple responsibilities, but not as often as I try to.

Hence the need for transitions: into and out of my workday, from one task to another, between conversations that require emotional awareness and sharp mental focus. Anytime a shift in mindset is warranted, I’ve got to take a moment to close one internal file and open the next. This transition allows me to consider how I want to show up for the situation I’m about to enter and to re-center myself so that I can live toward those intentions.

There are any number of ways I make the shift – sometimes more successfully than at other times, I admit. Taking deep breaths to re-set my brain. Jotting down notes about what I’ve been doing so that I can fully set that work aside and come back to it later. Doing a couple of quick yoga poses or pilates exercises. Shutting my eyes for five minutes (making sure to set an alarm!). Queueing up the playlists I’ve created for settling down and amping up. Turning over loose threads to God and asking for awareness and guidance going into whatever is next on the agenda. Taking a lap around the building.

What are the ways you transition from one task or event to the next, or even into and out of your day? Where do you need to build in a couple of minutes on the front and/or back end of your to-dos so that you can fully be you – insightful, compassionate, prophetic, gifted you – as a pastor and a person?

Creative Commons image “bridge” by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

11 red flags search and call candidates shouldn’t ignore

Are you a minister engaged in the exhilarating, overwhelming, often frustrating search & call process? I’ve ridden that roller coaster too. I’ve participated in some healthy call processes and in others that left me wondering, “What was that search team thinking? Lordamercy.”

Through all these experiences I have learned that the way a church handles its ministerial search is a big indicator of how the clergy-congregation relationship will go. That means it’s really important to be attentive to red flags in interactions with the search team. Here are ten to be on the lookout for:

Inappropriate questions. Outside of small talk, queries from a search team should stay focused on your call to ministry, qualifications, and capacity to engage fully the responsibilities of the position.

Incomplete information. Particularly if you are a finalist for a position, you have the right to obtain complete answers to your questions about the congregation, to view the church’s key documents., and to meet church leaders.

Lack of space for your questions. You are interviewing the congregation as much as the congregation is interviewing you.

Rushed search. A rush job often indicates high anxiety, which means you could be stepping into a hornet’s nest if you accept the call.

Unresolved conflict in the congregation. A church that has completed the hard work of a transition will have addressed tricky issues – or at least will have an already-activated plan for doing so that is not simply “let the next minister handle it.”

Difficult dynamics within the search team. If you can hardly see the search team members because of the elephant in the room, name the dynamics you notice and ask what’s behind them. These difficulties could be a microcosm of what’s going on in the congregation as a whole.

Inflexibility. If the search team can interview you at X date/Y time and no other options are available, for example, consider what might be behind this rigidity.

Job description that is outdated or “kitchen sink.” If the minister description has not been revised since 1957 or it would take four full-time clergy to fulfill all the duties outlined, the search team doesn’t have a good grasp on what it’s looking for.

Lack of courtesy. The best search teams communicate clearly and in a timely manner, plan for interviews and visits with hospitality in view, and don’t leave you guessing about search expenses.

Focus on hot buttons. When you’re asked where you stand on gay marriage, for example, don’t just dive in. Probe the concern behind the question.

No spiritual component. If the search team could have conducted the exact same interview in a secular hiring process, the search process may not have the requisite spiritual grounding.

If you note one or more of these red flags, don’t panic. These aren’t necessarily indications that the congregation is a train wreck or that you should immediately withdraw your name. (Most people who serve on search teams are participating in this process for the first time, and there’s a steep learning curve for calling a minister.) Do, however, proceed with caution. Do your homework. Leave no question unasked. Parse your search team interactions with a trusted colleague, coach, mentor, or judicatory leader. Mull whether this church’s challenges are a good match for your passions and your skill set.

Above all, enjoy the ride when possible, and hang in there!

Creative Commons image “Red flags” by Rutger van Waveren is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Where does your authority reside?

Two nights before I got married, my parents, husband-to-be, and I went to dinner in the restaurant adjoining the wedding venue. The hostess – a fellow young adult – placed menus with fancy fonts in front of everyone…except for me. I got a coloring sheet and crayons.

At first, I was stunned. After I got my wits about me, though, I was boiling. I marched the kiddie menu back to the hostess stand and asked, through gritted teeth, to exchange it for a grown-up one.

I’d like to say this incident was out of the norm, but it wasn’t. (It was, however, the most embarrassing in a long line of ego-shrinking moments!) Until I had a high-energy child who quickly and visibly aged me, strangers often underestimated my age. The mismatch between my perceived and actual age ballooned into a bigger issue when I became a minister. Not only was I female, I looked like a 14-year-old. Not a great combination for being taken seriously in the pulpit, in hospital rooms, and at the funeral home. I spent a lot of time justifying my presence to others…and to myself.

All of my insecurities came to a head during my first unit of CPE. Some doctors, nurses, and hospital staffers were more open to the idea of chaplaincy than others. Once I was mid-prayer with a patient in ICU – at the request of said patient and family – when a nurse burst in and told me to go so she could perform a routine blood pressure check. I acquiesced. When I brought my frustrations to my CPE cohort, my supervisors challenged me: “Do you believe you had a right to be there? Why did you leave?” That situation was in sharp contrast with the all-night vigil I kept with a family whose patriarch was dying. They – and the doctors and nurses – welcomed my ministry. In fact, the deceased’s wife called the hospital later that week to thank me for my prayers and my presence.

Those two encounters worked on me mightily. I realized I had been waiting for others to grant me pastoral authority rather than locating it in my call and my sense of self. God has pulled me into ministry. God has equipped me and continues to do so. I won’t get it right all the time, but that’s ok. Sometimes my humanity opens opportunities for connection that perfection in pastoring would not.

There’s a certain amount of authority we gain by virtue of our education, ordination, and job title. We also earn some of it by being with our people at points of pain and celebration. But these sources cannot be the primary means of understanding ourselves as ministers. Otherwise, when we are between positions, when we don’t have our ordination certificate handy, when we are at the center of conflict, when others don’t yet know us well enough to let us in, when someone tells us to get out, we won’t have much to keep us rooted in our pastoral identity.

Instead, we must continually (because it’s not a one-and-done exercise) develop the ability to ask, “Do I deserve to be here? What are the gifts I have to offer? What is God prompting me to do here and now?” Not so that we overstep our authority, but so that we live fully into it.

I found that once I stopped questioning myself so much, so did other people. Or, at least, those moments prompted more of a willingness to educate (and, let’s be honest, some mental eye-rolling) than a vocational crisis.

Are you called by God into ministry? Are you called by God to be in ministry at this time, in this place? Has God equipped you, or is God currently equipping you to serve? Then go forth to use your gifts, embracing your identity as pastor and person.