Dealing with the shoulds

Do you have a case of the shoulds? (I have a chronic condition that I struggle to keep in check.)

“I should finish this sermon before I go to bed.”

“I should visit my homebound member, even though I saw him two weeks ago.”

“I should count my calories more closely.”

“I really need to marinate on my response some more, but I should send this email reply now anyway because my board chair is expecting it.”

“I should go to that third evening meeting this week, regardless of whether I have much to add to the discussion.”

“I should tackle that pile of dirty clothes in the floor.”

I should…I should…I should. 

Now, there are a few worthwhile shoulds. I should eat more veggies. I should make an appointment with the dentist. I should be kind to everyone I meet. But in most cases, this is how I’d describe that big pile of should:

Originality: How do I know what I’m capable of if my life is ruled by shoulds?

Understanding: How will I grasp who I am, what my call is, and where others are coming from if I’m too busy doing shoulds?

Leisure: How will I ever get time to rest and re-center if I’m playing whack-a-mole with shoulds?

Deeper connections: How will I ever create time and space for knowing and being known by God and my loved ones if there’s always – and there is – one more should to check off the list?

Shoulds are loud, persistent, confidence-kicking tyrants. Next time a should pops into your head, ask:

Who says I should do this?

Why is it important to that person that 1) this get done and 2) that I do it?

What do my head, heart, and gut tell me about this should?

How will fulfilling this should help me be the minister, family member, friend, or person God has called me to be?

You are valuable, you are beloved, just as you are. You don’t have to earn it.

Benefits of coaching: leading processes

The church, like the culture around it, is evolving quickly. This means that strategic plans have a very short shelf life and that ministers are called upon to lead visioning-type processes more frequently.

But where do you begin? The thought of not just structuring the process but also inviting helpful participation and managing congregational anxiety around change can be so daunting.

I have worked with several coachees who were leading their churches to discern what God is calling them to be and to do – in this time and place. Coaching offers space for ministers to consider both the big picture and the tasks that will move the congregation toward realizing it. In our conversations we talk through interpreting the work theologically, making space for the Spirit to speak, involving various parties in healthy ways, naming available assets, sparking creativity, troubleshooting obstacles, managing polarities, and taking concrete steps.

Coachees are able to lead change processes with increased boldness and sensitivity when they feel more equipped. If your church is stuck in a rut, or if you’re already knee-deep in a visioning time and not sure what to do next, let’s talk.

Creative Commons image “Vision…..” by Kamaljith K V is licensed under CC BY 2.0.



Rising Strong: reacting to anxiety

Everyone deals with anxiety, some of us more than others. Two typical responses are:

  • Overfunctioning – Keeping busy doing something – anything! – to keep our feelings from catching up with us. Not only will we refuse to delegate, we will rip to-dos from the hands of others. (This is my default.)
  • Underfunctioning – Allowing emotion to immobilize us. It embodies the attitude, “I can’t fix things, so why try?”

A bit of one or the other might serve us well in the short term. In times of crisis, there’s often a need to TCB (take care of business). Or we may need to stop in our tracks before we do or say something irreversible out of anxiety. But in the long run, neither over- nor underfunctioning serves us well. It’s basic physics – an object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest.

Creative Commons "Inertia (1 of 2)" by brett jordan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Creative Commons “Inertia (1 of 2)” by brett jordan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It’s not just individuals that are prone to inertia. Communities can over- and underfunction as a collective. A congregation that is so afraid of shrinking numbers that it never takes time to evaluate its many ministries will press on until it has run off anyone interested in innovation. A church that is so depressed that it can’t dream or discern or do will slowly die off (spiritually and numerically).

There is no way to avoid the hard work of connecting the dots:

  • What am I (are we) feeling? What won’t I let myself (we let ourselves) feel, and why?
  • How did I (we) get here?
  • What can I (we) control?
  • Given what I (we) can control, what is the first step in moving forward?

Rising strong from tough situations requires us to combine the best aspects of under- and overfunctioning. We must feel, and we must do.

Channeling conflict

No one – well, no healthy person – loves conflict. But since we are neither clones nor automatons, conflict happens.

Creative Commons "Conflict Resolver" by Bopuc is licensed under CC 2.0.
Creative Commons “Conflict Resolver” by Bopuc is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Actually, I’ll take it a step further. We need conflict to grow as individuals and as communities. That tension prompts us to reflect on and clarify what we’re passionate about and why. It (ideally) makes us more carefully consider our positions and interactions and keeps us engaged with those who believe differently than we do. Conflict also shakes us out of complacency by spicing things up.

But conflict is still uncomfortable and potentially destructive if it’s not managed well. Here are some questions to ponder when dealing with conflict in a ministry setting:

  • What is really driving the conflict? Often the presenting issue is not the real issue.
  • What does your role need to be in managing the conflict? Know where your involvement should begin and end. Don’t enable others’ bad behavior by stepping in out of your own anxiety.
  • How can the passions at play be redirected? Apathy is a much bigger problem than conflict. So what are some positive outlets for the care being shown?
  • What culture changes need to occur so that future conflict is productive? Be proactive about teaching your people how to fight well. It will be worth your effort!

The endgame is not to eliminate conflict but to do conflict well. If you know people or churches who model this, find out what their conflict hacks are and try them on for size.