Small group processing sessions for United Methodist clergy after General Conference

Though my primary denominational identity is Baptist, my approach to ministry was broadened and deepened by attending Candler School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary. While I was a student there, I met four United Methodist clergywomen who are still my best friends. That was also the season when I started dating my now-husband, a United Methodist pastor. I have served congregations in multiple contexts, including the UMC. I now coach ministers in more than ten denominations, with a significant number in the UMC.

Because of all of these connections, I am familiar with the rising anxiety around the called General Conference – and the potential consequences of the decisions made there – that will take place from February 23-26 in St. Louis. At that gathering delegates will act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward, a group proposed by the Council of Bishops and authorized by the 2016 General Conference to discuss and make recommendations about language in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. These conversations are high-stakes, and it’s no surprise that churches, clergy, and all people who either identify as LGTBQIA+ or love someone who does – all of us, in other words – are deeply invested.

Pastors will be bombarded with questions no matter what happens at General Conference, and I want to help them (to the extent that I can) show up as the thoughtful, faithful leaders I know them to be. And so, I will be drawing upon my outsider-insider perspective and coach approach to facilitate conversations with United Methodist clergy about what the General Conference outcomes mean for them and for their ministry settings. I hope that these discussions will be spaces for finding mutual encouragement and developing strategies so that participating pastors feel better-equipped to guide their churches in the coming days.

On February 27 and 28 I thus invite United Methodist ministers to join in one of a few 50-minute, small group (6 participants or fewer) discussions, each of which will be tentatively structured as follows:

  • How am I feeling? What self-care do I need to engage in?
  • What are the possible impacts of the decision(s) on my ministry setting and individuals within it?
  • What are the possible impacts of the decision(s) on me personally and my ministry?
  • How do I want to show up in and for my ministry setting right now?
  • What do I need to know that I don’t yet? How might I find out?
  • What are my immediate next steps?
  • What support do I need, and where might I find it?

We will bookend our time together with prayer for clergy and congregations.

There is no charge for these processing sessions. If you are interested in taking part, please fill out the form (which includes the available time slots) here. I will contact you with a day, time, and Zoom link by the week prior.

Peace and hope be with all who worry in these uncertain days.

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.

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.

Go slow to go fast

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

When we onboard members to a committee or team or launch a new program – as many of us will do in January – often the tendency is to capitalize on initial enthusiasm to get as much done as quickly as possible. That’s totally understandable. After all, novelty begets energy, and we don’t want to waste it. But if we haven’t taken the time to build our team and outline our processes, even a small bump can drain that momentum and derail our collective work.

That’s why it’s important – even though it’s counter-intuitive – to start slowly. Develop relationships among the key players. Learn where each person is coming from, what their reasons were for signing up, what skills and experience and ideas they bring, what they need from others in order to make their best contributions, and how they deal (or don’t) with conflict. When those involved have this kind of context for their collaborators, they will be able to engage one another more quickly and effectively when difficulties arise.

In addition to interpersonal processes, agreeing on procedures at the outset can make work go faster. What is the future story we’re striving for? How does everyone plan to participate in the work? What is our timeline? How will we come to agreement on major decisions? How will we ground our work in God? How will we hold one another accountable? What will we do if we come to an impasse? Intentionality at the front end can ease – if not prevent – many stresses that pop up as humans, with our anxieties and agendas, cooperate.

Note that slow movement at the start might prompt questions such as “why are we wasting time on this ‘soft’ work?” Be prepared to explain how deliberateness serves both the overall goal and the speed of the work that is to come.

In what situations do you need to pump the brakes in order to do some of this foundational work? Though it might seem tedious at times, your relationships and your efforts will greatly benefit. If you need help with going slow, this trust-building workshop is worth your consideration.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.