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.

A spirituality of fundraising

We’re coming to the tail end of the traditional stewardship season, and it’s highly possible that you are sweating pledge numbers that currently fall short of your ministry dreams for 2019. You might also have a treasurer or bookkeeper whispering anxious nothings in your ear about how much people need to give between today and the New Year’s ball drop to end 2018 without a deficit. It’s ok. After all, you didn’t have anything else to stress about as Advent looms large! [Sarcasm font]

Here’s the thing: we will always struggle with money – and our feelings about it – as long as it is only a means to an end: “We’ve gotta make our budget so that…” It’s not a sentiment that will make people whip out their checkbooks and credit cards and smartphones with money transfer apps. But you know what might? “God is calling us to do this exciting thing, and we don’t want you to miss out on being part of it!”

This is what Henri Nouwen called a spirituality of fundraising. He approached the ask not as an unfortunate necessity to be apologized for (a tack that makes so many stewardship sermons cringe-worthy) but as an invitation to others to join in the work to which God has called us. As such, fundraising is relational and community-building, not transactional. For Nouwen, fundraising was a “call to conversion,” an opportunity to re-orient our focus to the world beyond ourselves – to begin to see things as God sees them – as well as to transform our relationship to our own resources. In the process, we partner with God in bringing the reign of God here on earth. In taking this loftier view of fundraising, we are free to make the request out of our sense that we are ministering not just to the people we might serve but also to the givers themselves. To me, that is a compelling message. It is inclusive. It is formational. And it recognizes that those with resources have needs that can be met by relationship, so all parties involved are both giving and receiving.

So as you come to the end of this year and the brink of the next, I encourage you to view stewardship and fundraising as opportunities to grow disciples of Christ as we move together into the future God is compelling us. See what a difference this approach makes in your willingness to ask for money and in the generosity with which givers respond.

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash.

Announcing a new online workshop on trust-building

A lot of things seem hard right now, don’t they? Polarizing talk raises our anxiety levels and prompts us to seek out people who think like we do. Financial uncertainties make us grip our hard-earned dollars ever tighter. Threats to our physical safety, whether felt individually or collectively, cause us to look askance at any stranger within our peripheral vision.

God wants more for us than isolation, hoarding, and suspicion. God wants curiosity, generosity, and connection. But how do we make this shift?

It’s all about trust. 

But real trust is different than what we often think it is. It’s not just about being able to guess how others will act or react and planning our words and deeds accordingly. It’s about showing up as our authentic selves and inviting the people around us to do the same.

I will be offering a workshop about building trust on Thursday, January 10, from 12:30-2:00 pm eastern. We’ll explore what the deeper kind of trust looks like and why it matters. I’ll share 8 Cs key to developing trust. And we’ll work together on ways to apply those Cs in our one-on-one interactions, team and committee work, and whole congregations. The cost for this workshop, which will take place via Zoom, is $15 per participant. All are welcome, and I especially encourage you to attend if you are an influencer – clergy or lay – in your setting. You will come away from this workshop with greater hope for creating community and some tangible ways to make it happen.

People are crying out (whether in word or deed) for help recognizing the image of God in one another and connecting and collaborating accordingly. Learn how to lead the way in this trust-building work, which has never been more important than it is now.

Registration for the workshop is available here.

 

Balking at binaries

When I was growing up, I thought being a strong woman – since “strong” is a stereotypically masculine virtue – meant that I had to reject anything associated with femininity. I didn’t wear pink. I refused to learn how to cook. I cut my hair short. I played on the boys’ church league basketball team. (In fact, my short hair and blousy basketball jersey combined with a referee’s poor eyesight prompted him to refer to me – game after game – as “little man.”) I sought ordination and a ministry position in the Baptist world, even though I had only seen men in those roles.

So no one was more surprised than me when I bought a sewing machine ten years ago to make kitchen curtains for my new house. I then made placemats, napkins, pillows, and other domestic items in addition to some clergy stoles. I realized that I loved sewing, dangit. And, as it turned out, I was no less strong than I’d been pre-Singer. I began to understand that the feminine-masculine binary was not just hurtful but false. I deeply regretted subconsciously buying into the message that male (again, defined stereotypically) was better and female was lesser. I wondered what other joys I had deprived myself of in the effort not to be too girly.

Masculine-feminine binaries are not the only ones that keep us from living abundantly, however. At Nevertheless She Preached, Jaime Clark-Soles talked about the way traditional interpretations of the Martha-Mary relationship sort their roles into bad and good. In Luke 10 Mary chooses the “better part” by sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha is “distracted by her many tasks” (NRSV). But the latter descriptor is more accurately translated as “drawn away into much ministry,” with the Greek word for ministry used by and about Paul elsewhere in Acts and the Epistles. We have falsely pitted Mary and Martha against each other for millenia while both were attending to aspects of the life of faith.

In congregational life binaries translate into polarities, either/or pairings that are better viewed as both/and. Should we be a church that cares for those who are already here or that goes into the community to share God’s love? Should we have traditional or contemporary worship? Should we be pastor-led or lay-led? Generally, the answer to all of these questions is “yes.” Too often we think we cannot do or be both and must choose. But polarities cannot – should not – be solved, only managed, in order for us to accept the fullness of the work and the abundance that God wants for us.

These days, I wear pink (and most days, a skirt). I’m a mom who revels in that role. I’ve also cut my hair short again and enjoy crude jokes way more than I should. My strength and joy are enhanced, not diminished, by this complexity. Where do you need to rename binaries as polarities, and what do you and the people you care about require to thrive that in-between space?

[Note: this is the fourth of four posts inspired by the Nevertheless She Preached conference.]

Photo by KT on Unsplash.

Reclaim your too-muchness

When have you been told that you were too much?

Too intimidating?

Too emotional?

Too opinionated?

Too invested?

Too smart?

Too beautiful?

The church and the world often tell women that we are too…too…too. Our too-muchness makes people uncomfortable. Our too-muchness threatens the status quo. And yet, the church and the world need our too-muchness. As Tectonic plates shift beneath the church and culture, women have the insight and innovation that can result in a more just and sustainable society.

AnaYelsi Velasco-Sanchez, an IndoLatinx mujerista and faith-based organizer, spoke about reclaiming our too-muchness at Nevertheless She Preached. She said that people want to celebrate the survival of women who have experienced trauma. They often do not, though, want to celebrate what made it possible – our too-muchness.

This too-muchness is both forged in circumstances and God-given. As a matter of faithfulness, then, we must lean into our too-muchness. But how do we do that?

  • Think about when you have felt most powerful. What made it possible for you to claim your strength? What influence do you have in recreating these conditions?
  • Think about when you have felt least powerful. What were the circumstances? Which of these circumstances can you change or work around in the future in order to claim more of your strength?
  • Who affirms you in your too-muchness? How might you amplify those supportive voices?
  • Whom can you affirm in their too-muchness? How might you go about it?
  • How has your too-muchness served you well? How might you remind yourself of those good outcomes on a regular basis?
  • What does it look like to be grateful for your God-given too-muchness?

I hope that these questions provide some points of reflection for wearing your too-muchness with pride and helping others do the same.

[Note: this is the third of four posts inspired by the Nevertheless She Preached conference.]

Photo by Ryan Riggins on Unsplash.

Vulnerability as rebellion

“Sometimes vulnerability might look like rebellion to someone else.” So proclaimed Kyndra Frazier – a pastor, mental health professional, and self-described hope innovator (I love that term!) – from the Nevertheless She Preached stage. If God is working for our thriving, she said, then we can risk standing in our truth and fully inhabiting our bodies.

I confess, I struggle with the V word. Mightily. I’ve assumed for a long time that it’s because I am an internal processor, a left-brained thinker, and a deeply private person. But lately I’ve remembered I was more outgoing – more willing to wear my heart on my sleeve – at one time. Case in point: I remember holding a boom box out the window of a friend’s house, crying and blasting Debbie Gibson, to try to win back a boyfriend in the sixth grade. Most of the girls in my grade were inside the house, while many of my male classmates were outside. I was not deterred by the gazes and whispers of this party-sized crowd. (The aim of this exercise was problematic, for sure, but also indicative that my resistance to vulnerability is learned, not inherent.)

I pinpoint the first day of seventh grade as my withdrawal into myself. New school. New people. New universe, as a formerly public school kid starting private school. The first bell rang, and I was clueless. Was I supposed to go to my first class, or was there some sort of orientation first? The first night of homework – a trauma that devolved into tears and lashing out at my parents and lasted into the early hours of the next day – zapped my confidence. The first weeks went by, and the best friend I’d followed to this new school disappeared into a new circle of peers. It suddenly felt too risky to lay out my hopes and fears and anxieties, so I stopped doing so. I was being strong and stoic, I told myself. Who wants to be a walking puddle?

What I didn’t realize was that I was playing into cultural messages that keep us isolated so that we cannot find each other, band together, and affect change. But vulnerability as rebellion exposes those messages and the systems they support for the evils they are. It prompts us to tell our stories to one another so that we see God in all people. It broadcasts the needs we each have and the barriers we encounter to having those needs met so that we can remove those obstacles. It joins us at the heart with people we see as soul siblings, and it reminds us that our vulnerability is exactly the power we need to overhaul unjust institutions. Sharing my vulnerability in service to rebellion is the least I can do as someone with relative privilege, recognizing that others’ efforts to be authentic have much higher stakes.

I’m going to try to be more vulnerable, because these times call for rebellion. Will you join me?

[Note: this is the second of four posts inspired by the Nevertheless She Preached Conference.]

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash.

 

Fatigue’s impact on trust

Recently I was coaching a pastor who was two months into a new call. She was excited about her church and its mission potential. She was also enjoying getting to know the people, but she was having trouble trusting them. She was a bit befuddled by this, because there was no overt reason for this hesitation. She hadn’t received any hurtful criticism or significant pushback. When I asked what the lack of trust was about, she thought for a moment. She then named relational fatigue as a key factor. In this pastor’s case, she had taken a full month off – a typical fallow period – before diving into her new ministry. And yet she was recognizing that she needed more time to tend to her (understandably) tender heart after leaving behind parishioners that she loved.

This pastor had just provided perhaps the most powerful testimonial for taking ample time off between ministry positions. We often cite physical and spiritual exhaustion as the primary motivators for spacing out calls. But bringing closure to relationships with people we’ve walked alongside during their personal milestones, with whom we have dreamed and argued, and who have been present for our own ups and downs is hard, good work. It can be overwhelming to think about opening ourselves up to knowing and being known by a whole new congregation. And yet, the bedrock of strong connections is trust, which we do not lend or receive without the willingness to make ourselves at least a little vulnerable.

This is not to say that it’s easy to take long stretches between ministry positions. Personal financial pressures are real. Churches that have been in long search processes are eager for the uncertainty to end and the settled pastor to arrive. (Search teams in particular are known to apply pressure to be on site as soon as possible. After all, the team members know the incoming minister best and are most excited about her arrival!) The pastor herself is looking forward to a fresh start in a new setting. But before committing to a start date, consider not only what you need in terms of every manner of recovery, but also what time frame will allow you to enter the system with a readiness for mutual belonging. This is a mindset – a heart orientation – that attends to the long-term missional and financial health of both clergy and congregation.

If you are already in place and find yourself reluctant to trust even in the absence of conflict, then self-care is in order. When we are unable to risk exposure, whether we are new in a call or ten years into our tenure, we need time to rest. We need space for introspection. We need opportunities to view or create beauty. We need relief from the relentlessness of ministry. Because if we have not tended to our own inner lives, we will not be able to offer a quality of presence to others. And if we withhold, then we do not build trust and do not forge or maintain relationships that make bold ministry possible.

In the case of my coachee, we strategized ways to create space and clarity within her current personal and professional realities so that she could increase her capacity to trust. If you find yourself turning inward in your ministry setting, what changes do you need to make so that you can be the pastoral leader God has called you to be?

[Note: my coachee graciously granted me permission to share her story.]

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.