Book review and giveaway: We Pray With Her

Since last Advent I have been searching for a new devotional book. Some that I looked at were too light, while others were a bit more academic than I wanted. Many were focused solely on personal holiness, and a few were so social justice-oriented that I had to stretch to apply the readings to my everyday life.

And then, We Pray With Her was published this fall. I was already looking forward to getting a copy, because some of the friends and colleagues I respect most contributed to the book. The first night I opened it up, I felt seen and understood. Here were young clergywomen speaking to the threads that I find myself pulling on daily in my ministry, parenting, and civic participation: call, courage, struggle, resistance, and persistence. In these 100 devotions I found good biblical scholarship applied to the challenges I face in this stage of life and work. The pieces invited me to tend to my spirit, then turned me outward to enact in the world my faith in God’s love and abundance.

In addition to the devotions, there are standalone prayers tailored to situations young women often find themselves in. Some center on choices and realities associated with parenting, such as being asked – AGAIN – why we don’t have children, struggling with infertility, experiencing post-partum depression, and dealing with the everyday challenges of parenting. There are family-related prayers that are not child-centered, including muddling through the illness of a parent or a divorce. Other prayers focus on professional concerns like preparing spiritually for interviews, difficult meetings, position changes, and returning to work after vacation. And there are some prayers that speak to the overall tenor of our lives: prayers for boldness, for discernment, and for help in the midst of loneliness and panic and struggle.

I have felt my way through We Pray With Her. Instead of going through the book in order, I have considered the theme that best speaks to my current state and gone to that section for a good word. I have then flipped through for a standalone prayer that relates to what I’m going through. This approach – and the words that I find on the page each night – have been a boon to my spirit. Ending each day with the sense of being seen and using the prayers to open a conversation with God have allowed me, in the midst of all that is difficult in the world right now, to be grateful and thus to be empowered.

I want you to feel seen and to be empowered too, so I am giving away one of the review copies that Abingdon Press sent to me. You can enter by commenting below with a note about why you’d like to receive We Pray With Her. Your comment will enter you into a random drawing on Friday, November 30, at noon central.

New (external) resource on clergy sexual abuse

[Note: this post originally appeared at Searching for the Called.]

Unwanted hugs.

Comments on my clothing and body.

Lewd jokes.

Revelations about his marital (and extra-marital) activities.

All of the above have been done to me by senior pastors when I was serving in associate pastor roles. All of the above fall into the category of clergy sexual misconduct. All of them, though damaging, were relatively mild compared to what many other subordinate clergy and parishioners experience from ministers.

Clergy sexual abuse is defined as using one’s pastoral role to exert power over someone else in order to meet the perpetrator’s sexual desires. The abuse includes unwanted touch as well as sexualized talk such as jokes and harassment. These overtures and acts make the church an unsafe place for work and worship for the targeted person(s), and the emotional and spiritual trauma congregation-wide of abuse takes years to work through.

Before the #MeToo (and related #ChurchToo) movement got a foothold in the larger culture, Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship formed a task force to address clergy sexual abuse. This task force has just released resources designed to help congregations discuss what clergy sexual abuse is, create policies and procedures that both prevent and respond to incidents, and locate services to aid survivors in their healing.

The resources include a series of videos intended for congregational discussions, guides for those discussions, a policy and prevention guide, and articles with survivor stories and biblical bases for setting good boundaries and caring for victims. Note that while these pieces were created by Baptists, their applicability is ecumenical.

I urge you to check out the resources and introduce them to your congregations and judicatories, for your sake and for the sake of your fellow ministers and the people in your care.

Image from Hermano Leon Clip Art.

Pastor’s scavenger hunt

Are you new in your call? Have you been sitting at your desk for so long that your Fitbit is angry at you? Do you need a challenge that is unrelated to figuring out how to be prophetic yet still heard from the pulpit? Are you emotionally done for the day, but for whatever reason you can’t yet head home?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have an activity for you. Below is a scavenger hunt for items around your church. (Feel free to adapt the dates and items for newer or non-traditional churches.) You can use it simply for a change of pace, or you can treat it as an anthropological exercise, asking yourself what you learn about your congregation as you cross off each find.

  • Pre-2000 photo directory
  • Past VBS group art project (e.g., banner, mosaic)
  • Spot where there needs to be signage but there is none
  • New-to-you fact about the church’s history
  • Unlikely memorial gift
  • Picture of a current lay leader as a child or teen
  • Vantage point in the sanctuary that helps you understand the worship experience in a new way
  • Book in your office or the church library written before 1955
  • Space that is underutilized or can be reimagined
  • Camp or mission trip t-shirt that is at least 5 years old
  • Symbol that encapsulates the spirit of the congregation
  • Book or curriculum piece you haven’t looked at for at least 6 months that inspires a new idea
  • Physical change you have made at the church
  • Reminder of a previous pastor
  • Something that can’t be moved or changed without a lot of hand-wringing
  • Location that delights your senses
  • Retired parament
  • Sign of hope or new life

Go forth and scavenge, and I’d love to hear the most unusual – or revelatory – treasure you find.

Photo by Rachel Pfuetzner on Unsplash.

Second edition of clergy search and call workbook now available

I believe that the foundation for healthy mutual ministry is laid in the pre-covenanting conversations that clergy and congregations have with one another – namely, the search & call process. It’s a time of determining whether our strengths and purpose align with a church’s needs and mission. It’s a means of sussing out whether there’s a possibility of the two parties growing and serving together, of belonging to one another. It’s an imagining of what could be as minister and ministry setting leave behind what is known.

Because of its importance, this season of discernment can be at turns exhilarating, overwhelming, and downright frustrating for ministers looking for a great-fit position. Search teams move at different speeds, and some are more communicative than others. It can be hard to know how to present ourselves (on paper and in person) in compelling ways. We usually get gut-punched by “no” a few times before we can celebrate a “yes.” And even after a call has been extended, there are so many details to tend to – salary negotiations, leaving the current position gracefully, moving, starting the new position well.

It’s a lot. Sailing Uncertain Seas: A Workbook for Navigating the Search & Call Process is here to help. First published last year, I’ve strengthened some of the coaching questions and added six pages of content to the second edition, primarily around the end of the call process. Here’s what the workbook covers:

  • 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?

You can print off a PDF of the workbook and use the coaching questions within to prepare for each phase of your search.

If you’re looking to make a move, this 64-page guide is a great place to start. Click here to purchase it. (Note that a free copy of Sailing Uncertain Seas is included in a search & call coaching package. If you’re interested in learning more, go here to schedule an exploratory call.)

New (free) resource: weekly calendar with reflection prompts

I am someone who dreams pretty intensely. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time turning off my mind at night. Or it could be that the podcast I have to listen to in order to quiet my brain plants wild notions in my head. Neither explanation accounts for a very detailed conversation I had last night with Nick Saban, who sought out my advice because his board chair was unwilling or unable to innovate. Luckily for Saban, my freshman roommate wandered by, and a couple of Tennessee grads tag-teamed a leadership strategy for the most powerful man in college football. (See what I mean? Vivid. And weird.)

Occasionally, though, I dream the seed of an actionable idea. Such was the case recently when I sleep-designed a resource for ministers. This weekly calendar with reflection prompts is aimed at bringing more intentionality to our lives. Each day has morning and evening coaching questions. In between, the days are divided into three blocks of time. Those blocks can be used to list appointments, to divvy up tasks, or to designate work and leisure time. (In the units of time approach, every day has three units: morning, afternoon, and evening. Full-time work is 10-12 units per week. Subscribers to this method usually recommend booking no more than 2-3 evening work commitments and taking 3-6 blocks off in a row for full rejuvenation per week.)

Below you will find a JPEG of this weekly calendar. Here is an 8.5 x 11″ grayscale PDF. I welcome you to download, print, use this resource. You are also encouraged to share it with others who might benefit.

 

New resource: mutual ministry review outline

Most congregations require an annual evaluation of the minister. This is a worthy requirement, but it must be framed and conducted well to be useful rather than (at best) frustrating or (at worst)counterproductive.  Below are some suggestions to get the most out of the process. (A PDF of this post, suitable for printing and sharing with your lay leaders, is available here.)

Make sure the right people are in the room. What body should conduct the review? Sometimes this information is outlined in the minister’s letter of covenant/call or in the congregational by-laws. If it isn’t, the group of lay leaders that works most closely with the minister (with input as appropriate from others) should facilitate this conversation.

Be clear about the purpose of the review. What does everyone involved hope to accomplish? The review will be an exercise in fruitlessness, maybe even frustration, if it’s being done merely to check off a box.

Frame the conversation in terms of mutual ministry. Ministry is collaborative, not performative. How are pastor and parish in this together? Where have we helped each other grow or made each other stronger this year? What do we need from one another in the coming year?

Set helpful metrics. What mile markers will tell us how well we are living into God’s call? (Having a functional mission statement makes these criteria much easier to establish.) The wrong metrics prompt focus on surface rather than substantive issues.

Look backward and forward. What have we noticed and what do we hope for? Examining – though not lingering in – the past can be a springboard for promising conversations about what lies ahead.

Welcome the opportunity to minister in the midst of the review. Framing the conversation in terms of mutual ministry allows the participants to check in with one another, not just as fellow constituents of the church but also as people.

Use feedforward for constructive feedback. How can we leverage difficulties into positive changes? Useful criticism starts with what we’ve learned and where we are now, then looks ahead to what we can do differently.

Agree on intervals and means for feedback through the year. Concerns and celebrations don’t need to wait until the formal review. What are the logical times of year for all parties to touch base with each other, and what’s the most helpful way to go about that?

Re-covenant as needed. What about the covenant we’ve been operating under needs to change? As shifts happen, intentional tweaks to how minister and congregation relate to each other need to be made.


Below are some questions that could be useful toward the ends named above.

This past year

At the beginning of last year, what did we believe God had called us to do and be together? In what ways did we live into that? What obstacles did we encounter, and how did we navigate them? What did we learn?

Where did we notice God at work most powerfully in our ministry together this past year? When were we most energized and engaged?

How have we grown as minister and congregation since the last review?

As individuals, how are we doing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically?

This coming year

What do we believe God is calling us to do together in the coming year? What are some first steps in living toward that vision? What obstacles do we anticipate?

How can we create even more space for the Spirit to move in, among, and through us this year?

What changes do we need to make to address obstacles that remain from last year or that we anticipate for the coming year? What resources and leadership do we need to overcome these challenges?

What are our self-care plans for the coming year? How can we support and hold each other accountable?

In what areas do we want to grow as minister/disciples? How might we go about that? How can we support and hold one another accountable?

Specifically for the minister

How well does your position description match what you actually do? What do you need to stop doing? What needs to be updated in your position description to make it more accurate?

How well does your compensation align with your needs and responsibilities? What adjustments need to be considered?

Loose ends

Coming out of this conversation, what follow-up is needed? Who will do it, and by when?

Which aspects of this conversation need to remain confidential? How do we define confidential?

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.

Thinking about church size in relationship to mission

Last week I shared discussion questions to help a congregation understand what exactly its church size is and how this size relates to 1) expectations placed on the pastor and 2) the ways newcomers are welcomed and included. These reflection points are important because they help leaders pinpoint why the numbers aren’t increasing – or why they rise, only to be bumped back down. But much more than that, the accurate assessment of size enables a congregation to consider what God is calling it to do and be and to make needed cultural and structural shifts toward those ends. Here, then, is part two of the discussion guide.

Opportunities

Who comprises our community? A demographic study could be helpful for gleaning this information. Even better, take a prayer walk or drive around your immediate community, making an effort to notice who your neighbors are. Once you have identified your neighbors, ask them about their concerns.

What organizations meet the needs of the different populations? According to the different populations and service organizations, what needs are not currently being met? There’s no need to re-invent the wheel. Where might there be opportunities to come alongside agencies or churches doing good work? Where are the gaps your church might consider filling? (Hosting a panel discussion with representatives from city leadership and/or the service sector is one way to get at these questions. Talking with social workers and school counselors is another.) Think in terms of physical, spiritual, relational, mental, and emotional challenges.

Assets

What resources for ministry do we have at our disposal? Consider but don’t limit your thinking to money on hand and the physical plant. Other assets include spiritual leadership, ministries/programs, relationships/contacts/spheres of influence, special skills/knowledge, work ethic, and the willingness to try something new.

Capacity

What is our capacity for ministry? Every congregation has a sweet spot in which members feel a healthy sense of urgency and deep engagement but aren’t in danger of burnout. What is your congregation’s capacity in terms of relationships, leadership, energy, finances, and physical space?

  • In which areas have we maxed out our capacity?
  • What do we need to give up to create more capacity?
  • In which areas do we still have capacity left to use?

Represent the different areas of capacity with pie charts or thermometers, then color in the percentages.

Convergence 

What is God nudging us to consider? Given what you have noticed and prayerfully considered, what is your congregation’s mission in the coming months and beyond?

Are we the right size for taking this on, or do we need to size up or down? You have discussed your church’s size, culture, and expectations. Now it’s time to lay those over the vision God has given you and see where there’s alignment and where changes need to be made.

If church size needs to change size to fulfill calling, in what ways can we begin to function at that size? The system will always bump your congregation back to the size it was if you don’t make infrastructure changes first. Given what you know about various church sizes, what might those changes include? Think in terms of pastoral/staff leadership, lay leadership, inroads for newcomers, and procedures. If you can articulate the why for making these shifts – your mission – you will have a much easier time executing them.