Find your no-filter friends

A few weeks ago I went on retreat with my four best friends, women I met in seminary before any of us had significant others, kids, or “Rev.” in front of our names. These are the people who finally busted me out of round-the-clock study mode – a habit fueled by perfectionist tendencies and the need to achieve – with their invitations to sing karaoke, watch so-good-it’s-bad tv, and eat cheese dip. (I am forever grateful to these friends. Without their intervention, I would likely be incapable of the self-care required by ministry and motherhood.) We have aspired to gather every year now that we are geographically scattered. We’ve missed some years due to church and family commitments, because we don’t retreat unless we can all be present. But especially as we’ve gotten older, life has become more complicated, and our kids have left diapers behind, we’ve moved our trip up the priority list.

Other than my husband, parents, and brother, these are the only people with whom I can totally take off the filter. They have known me half my life, so they take what I say in the context of 20 years of deep friendship. This is an incredible gift, because while I always want to be true to my values and act out of who I really am, there’s never a time when I don’t either choose my words carefully or spool through the tapes after conversations when I’m in ministry mode, wondering how certain statements will be or were taken. That pre- and post-thought takes a lot of mental and emotional energy, and I am grateful to get an extended break from it once each year.

If you’re a minister, I encourage you to make time for the people with whom you can take off the filter. Use technology as needed, but get in a room together when you can. It will do your heart and mind so much good. If you don’t have these unfiltered friends yet, carve out time and space to find some. They might turn up at a local hangout, beside you in a classroom, in a parenting group, or with a group of hobbyists or fans. It’s not easy finding friends as an adult – especially when you have a vocation that brings certain assumptions to mind in new acquaintances – but it’s worth the effort to know and be fully known by another. While these friends will likely beyond your ministry sphere, they will bolster your sustainability in ministry as much as (if not more than) any other kind of self-care.

 Photo by Levi Guzman 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.

‘Twas the week before Christmas…

Some crunch time humor…and an important reminder.

'Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the congregation
this minister was rushing to fulfill her vocation.
The greenery was rung 'round the sanctuary with care, 
in hopes that regulars and visitors soon would be there.

The figures were placed just so in the nativity,
waiting to add Jesus with his imminent delivery.
The musician in a tizzy, and I having writer's block, 
prayed our health would hang on
'till we'd sung "Silent Night" with our flock.

When from the copy room there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the Xerox I flew like a flash,
dismantled the paper tray and pulled out the trash.

The machine had eaten all the Christmas Eve bulletins
and left me with confetti to distribute to everyone.
Little did I know that this was only the first mess
that would cause me no end of holiday stress:

The glow sticks I had purchased to hand out to kids
had been backordered due to so many bids.
My nursery workers were bailing, wanting to be in the pews,
meaning parents would have to juggle their hymnals and babies
until the service was through.

Grieving members needed extra care as they recalled Christmas memories,
and I was unsure where to focus my flagging energy.
A water main broke and half our parking lot was a geyser,
and I wondered if I could just hide in my bed, no one the wiser.

Strong Mary! Doting Joseph! Funky shepherds and sheep!
Sweet-singing angels 
and gift-bearing wise men coming to watch the baby sleep!
To Bethlehem proper, to that small, crowded stall,
now come quickly! 
Come quickly! Come quickly, all!

Time speeded up as the 24th drew nearer, 
and when was I supposed to shop for my family? That was no clearer. 
So to Amazon I went several nights, grateful for Prime, 
and shopped till my clock warned me it was nearly daytime. 

And then Christmas Eve came. It was showtime. 
I prayed that the worshippers would experience something sublime. 
As I climbed into the pulpit, white stole 'round my neck, 
I glanced toward the AV booth and gave a nod to the tech. 

Suddenly, I saw the faces. People smiling, expecting a Savior, 
glad to be snuggled together, on their best behavior. 
They were dressed in red and green, a few even in bells. 
They looked toward the creche, where God in flesh now dwelled. 

The music - how it filled me! The harmonization, how inspiring! 
The readings reminded me that I should be among those admiring. 
Communion brought us together with both future and past,  
Silence drew me into God's promise to be with us to the last. 

I then remembered that whatever did or didn't go right, 
the darkness would be pierced by Christ's growing light. 
Illumined by candles, the sanctuary filled with hope, 
and my heart beating gratefully, I scurried back up from the end of my rope.
 
God's love had been born anew, not just for me, but for all: 
good guys and bad guys, the worried and ill; 
the lonely, the wanting, the broken, and the raging, 
the hopeless, the imprisoned, the young, and the aging.

We all filed out when worship was done, 
Some to full, busy houses and some to a table of one. 
I headed home to pour a big glass of wine 
and to collapse on the couch, a hard-earned rest finally mine.

As I drifted off to sleep, too tired to remove my shoes, 
I gave thanks not only for the holiday's good news, 
but also for the privilege of witnessing to God's world being made right. 
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. 

Poem inspired by “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore.





 

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.

Have you made your self-care plan for election day?

I was utterly unprepared for the impact – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically – of election day 2016. I was away from home, taking a weeklong course at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta as part of my Pastoral Study Project grant. I became more anxious through the day, despite the class focus on discernment. As precincts began reporting and the outcome became clear, I started furiously doing push-ups in my guest room. I was hardly able to drag myself out of bed the next morning to join the other zombies who couldn’t believe what had transpired.

Though next Tuesday’s election is a midterm, it is perhaps the most consequential one of my lifetime. I expect it to be a hard day, so I’m going to be proactive about my self-care. I have blocked off my calendar for the day, because I don’t anticipate being my most focused self for coaching calls. I will bookend my day with barre class, which makes me feel stronger in body and mind than anything else I do. I have signed up for a Get Out the Vote phone banking shift so that I will know I am contributing to civic engagement. I will play with my son after he gets home from school and eat dinner with my family, which will help me stay grounded in my most important relationships. I will offer prayers of thanksgiving and petition throughout the day in quiet moments. Somewhere in there, I will cast my ballot. And in the evening I will watch the results, holding in my heart and brain the reminder that though God calls us to join in justice-making, our ultimate hope is not in human processes.

If you anticipate that election day might be anxious for you (no matter what your political persuasion), how do you need to plan for your self-care? Here are some prompts to help you start your strategizing:

  • How do you want it to be with your spirit on election day?
  • How do you hope to show up for your loved ones, the people in your care, and your larger community, both on election day and in the days that follow?
  • What do you need to say no and yes to in order for these things to happen?
  • What can you use as a touchstone throughout the day, whether a word, a verse from scripture, an image, or an act?

Whatever happens on election day, let us seek out connection with others, be generous in our thoughts and with our resources, align ourselves with the most vulnerable, and continue to partner with God in bringing about God’s reign.

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash.

The ministry of absence

The death of a loved one. A financial catastrophe. The disappearance of a child. A sexual assault. The anticipation of a life-altering diagnosis. A journey into the unknown. These are some of the situations in which pastors and other caregivers are called to provide a ministry of presence – an embodiment of God’s love for those who are lonely, hurting, or anxious – because words are insufficient and our ability to do something is limited.

In the pastoral life, much emphasis is placed on this ministry of presence, and for good reason. Christians are people of the incarnation, in which God put God’s own body on the line so that humankind might feel the divine breath, touch the divine’s clothing, and experience the divine washing our dirty, smelly feet. Through Jesus God was born into the world, moved about the world, and was murdered by the world, yet came back from death to show off scars and cook fish on the beach for friends. Jesus was fully present to us, and in being so he demonstrated God’s own desire to be close to us.

And yet, we can’t always be present. Sometimes the reasons are logistical; time and geography do not permit. Sometimes the reasons are that we have multiple pulls on our ministry at the same time. And sometimes the reasons are that we have nothing left to give at that moment. At this point self-care becomes an imperative rather than merely a good idea. Many of us resist self-care, though, because of critical voices that come from within us and beyond us and because we follow a Christ who made time for others, even when he desperately needed to catch his breath. We equate self-care with selfishness, and we talk ourselves out of it.

It’s time to reframe self-care. Last week at Nevertheless She Preached, I was introduced to the concept of a ministry of absence by Jaime Clark-Soles, professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology. The term, however, was coined by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen believed that pastors had become so available that there was not enough space for the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of God’s people. In other words, parishioners have become dependent on pastors rather than on God, and pastors have become too eager to get their needs to be needed met by responding to every care request. Occasionally making ourselves scarce not only gives our bodies, hearts, and egos a rest, then, but also allows our people to strengthen their relationships with the God who wants good for them.

In a faith centered on incarnation and a vocation born out of that faith, how does a ministry of absence compute? The reality that Jesus is no longer physically with us provides a good start. He was raised from the dead, he had a few meetings with the disciples to boost their confidence for the work ahead…and then he ascended. He took off into the clouds before the disciples thought they were ready to discern and do on their own. They had a lot to argue about and figure out, and they did it with the help of the Holy Spirit. They likely wouldn’t have done it at all if Jesus had still been hanging around. For one thing, the Spirit did not descend until Jesus ascended. And Jesus’ presence enabled the disciples’ dependence, whereas his absence activated their boldness. That boldness built the body of Christ here on earth, through which the incarnation lives on, spreads the good news, and cares for the least of these.

There are times to minister through your presence, and there are times to minister through your absence. Prayerfully consider what your indicators might be that one or the other is called for, then go forth in faith that the Spirit will fill whatever space you do not.

[This post is the first of four upcoming reflections inspired by Nevertheless She Preached.]

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 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.