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.

Ministry in a changing context

It’s been less than two weeks since a new American president was inaugurated. The rapid pace of change – not just of policy, but also of a sitting president’s understanding of his authority – has resulted in whiplash for many. Ministry, never an easy calling to live into, has become even more fraught with tension for those who pastor politically diverse congregations or whose ideologies clash with their parishioners.’ What’s a clergyperson to do? Here are the best ideas I have to offer about how to minister in the current climate:

Advocacy

As a citizen, make phone calls, write letters, and sign petitions about issues of importance to you. There are plenty of websites, apps, and social media groups that provide action suggestions, scripts, and contact information for your leaders/representatives. You don’t have to give up your voice because of your vocation. (In fact, please don’t!)

Matters are more tricky for your public persona. Your church members don’t know when you call your senator’s office. They might take note – and possibly even offense – if they see you marching for a cause they oppose. When considering when to make your personal views known publicly, ask yourself these questions: How can I make the biggest impact for a position I believe to be biblically based? Would it be better in my context to march (for example), then share about my reasons and my experience and invite honest questions in response? This could provide an opening to important, if uncomfortable, conversation. It could also model healthy vulnerability and an openness to differing ideas. Or would it be better in my context to refrain from marching, knowing that I don’t yet have the trust level needed for my reasons and experience to be heard, and instead keep focused on what I have discerned scripture has to say about the issues at hand? You can still be plenty prophetic while continuing to build trust with your people.

[Regardless of your approach, familiarize yourself with the IRS Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations, which lays out the boundaries for political speech and action for faith communities that want to maintain their tax-exempt status.]

Ministry

In tough times, double down on the Bible and particularly the person of Jesus. Teach the gospels. Encourage people at every opportunity to put on their “Christ glasses”: knowing what we do about Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, what would he have to say about this people group or that issue? Ramp up missions, building off of the congregation’s energy. While you and your church might differ about whose needs are more urgent, together you will be bringing light and love to a corner of the world. Create more avenues within your congregation for storytelling and question-asking. Help them get to know the histories behind one another’s commitments. (Make sure you pull a seat up to this table too.) And check in with your leaders. What’s their take on what the church needs right now? Which members are really struggling with all the change and need some extra pastoral care?

Self-care

Change came quickly, and more shifts are coming. Prepare yourself to minister over the long haul. Widen your circle of care and extend your networks of people who are passionate about the same things you are. Make a recurring appointment with your therapist or spiritual director. Tend daily to your soul and your connection with God. Get good rest. Create something beautiful. Make room for fun! And please, for the love, never read the comments on internet articles.

Thank you for your ministry, which becomes more vital by the day. I have hope because of the good work you are doing. Keep it up!

Creative Commons image “IMG_1760” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Pruning programs, part I

In many (most?) churches, new ministries are added at a faster rate than dying ones are eulogized. Add to that the new standard for active membership – attending a couple of Sundays a month as opposed to three or four – and congregations are cruising for some big-time leadership fatigue.

Photo credit: Lending Memo
Photo credit: Lending Memo

It’s important, then, to evaluate ministries for their missional value versus energy expended. Here are some questions to ask staff and lay leaders on a regular basis:

Which ministries…

…embody the core values of our congregation as a whole

…help us share the love of Christ in ways that meet others’ needs, not just our own?

…are reaching people who would otherwise go underserved?

…allow room for initiative, creativity, and new participants/partners/leaders?

…meet the above criteria and are either going strong or have real potential to be re-energized?

Highlight these ministries and determine how to give more oomph to flagging but critical initiatives.

As for the ministries that don’t make this list, stay tuned for part II of this topic.

On-the-job insights

Recently I added my take on being half of a clergy couple to the online series #Yoked. (Thank you to Mihee Kim-Kort for the chance to write!) While my main intention was to provide a peek inside one dual ministry marriage, I also hoped to articulate some on-the-job gleanings that have shaped my vocational life:

  • It can take a while to settle into a ministry groove. This is partly true in my case because I had to learn how to apply seminary knowledge in the Real World. More than that, though, it took time to grow into the clothes of a pastor.
  • Calls to ministry evolve over time. When I started looking for my first ministry position, I had a clear idea of what my professional trajectory would be. God laughed, then shredded my map. Thank goodness, because this winding journey has been much more fulfilling.
  • One bad experience doesn’t have to be the end of the vocational line. I still feel the sting when I think about my stint in a toxic setting. But the pain crystallized my purpose and fired me up for what I do now.
  • Pre-fab positions aren’t the only ministry outlets. I finally figured out I could be creative within my constraints. At times I have pieced together different ministry jobs to equal full-time work. At others I have accepted positions that were likely created with someone else in mind. (Most interim minister job descriptions are not written to draw young, female candidates!) And now I have started my own sideline, which may someday be my main ministry.
  • Creative Commons "Four Seasons - Longbridge Road" by jolseyshowaa is licensed under CC 2.0.
    Creative Commons “Four Seasons – Longbridge Road” by jolseyshowaa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

    Ministry can’t be done well – at least for long – in isolation. I have my wonderful husband, who understands the joys and challenges of being a pastor. But I also have a network of local partners in ministry and an international community of young clergy women who teach and support me on a daily basis.

I hope my still-unfolding story is an encouragement to you, especially if you are a current or future minister wondering if this crazy, beautiful vocational life is for you. The church needs you!