What do you notice about your reaction to people in your ministry?
When I was a pastor, I noticed my annoyance level varied. Sometimes the people in my church, or specific individuals, drove me nuts. At other times, I thought, “Aren’t they charming?” “Aren’t they sweet?” Or, “I love my people so much.”
Over the years I noticed that come the end of the program year in late spring, I tended to have the first reaction more often. I finally learned that I was just tired–or my anxiety level was up. The issue wasn’t so much that they were annoying, but I was annoyed, or frustrated or angry. Over time, I realized that if I just waited, the feeling would pass. I learned not to take my feelings and thoughts about others or about the congregation as a whole quite so seriously.
It’s a long process, and I still get caught. But I can see my thoughts more clearly and hold them more lightly than I used to.
Is someone getting on your nerves in your ministry? What is one different choice you might make as you relate to them?
In my last post, I wrote about six ways to practice defining yourself at church.
But listening is equally important. Here are six ways to practice:
- In any conversation, listen as much as you talk.
- Don’t argue. Listen.
- Don’t defend yourself. Listen.
- Don’t defend someone else. Listen.
- Be curious while you listen. What can you learn about this person?
- While you are listening, pay attention to your own response. Are you anxious, bored, interested, agreeing, disagreeing. What do you notice?
How do you practice listening in your own ministry?
- Here’s what I think:
- I want…
- I’d like to…
- I’ll be leaving the meeting at 9:00.
- I don’t answer my cell on Monday.
- I’d love it if we could…
What do you do when you need to say what you think or set a boundary?
In my recent (fabulous) interview with Ed Bacon, he talked about his hour of quiet time first thing every morning. I must admit my first thought was, “Oh, no! I’m not praying enough.” I spend about 5-10 minutes in quiet in the morning. I’ve spent more (though not an hour) at other points in my life and ministry
I do notice when I ask the clergy I coach about their spiritual life, they often say, “I should do more.” It’s easy to approach prayer with a sense of obligation. And while I’m convinced spiritual support is essential for ministry, obligation and duty rarely lead to a rich spiritual life.
I’ve found that my Lenten practice of daily fun enriched my spiritual life and my creative work, even though few of the activities were what we would normally call “spiritual.” (James Bond movies, anyone?)
Here are a few of my current thoughts on prayer and ministry:
- Starting with what gives you joy, rather than what you ought to do, may work better in the spiritual life.
- Accepting where you are in life personally and spiritually is a kind of prayer (for example, if you have small children or are dealing with illness, burnout, or the dark night of the soul.)
- Any prayer is better than no prayer. (And more isn’t necessarily better, although it might be.)
And a few questions for you:
- What is your best time of day for prayer?
- What kind of prayer do you find easiest?
- What kind of prayer best allows you to experience joy in God’s presence?
I’ve been cultivating the practice of celebration over the last couple of years, learning to focus on what is working rather than what is not working.
I think there’s a big difference between a focus on celebration and simple denial.
Of course there can be profound issues that need to be addressed in churches and in families.
But when we approach people from the perspective that there is something to appreciate, however small, we’ll be different in relationship to them. And the hard conversations will be, if not easy, then easier.
In this way we focus on strength, which I think is essential for bringing change.
- Think of a person who you find challenging right now, whether at church or in your own family. What are three things about them you can celebrate? It doesn’t matter how small.
- Think about your church. What are three things you can celebrate about your church?
What do you notice how your thinking and energy shifts?
Friday, after completing some work in Chicago, I was able to visit the Shedd Aquarium with my daughter, both of us for the first time.
I was struck by several things which might have something to do with church:
- The variety of creatures and colors was astonishing, as you can see from the above photo of the Wild Reef exhibit. We have an idea of what colors “go together.” Creation is much more diverse. This may say something to how we develop our communities. Ministry is not about all being the same.
- Habitats are at risk. Just as sea and river creatures face changing conditions, so do we who are a part of the church. But we might be more able to adapt than a sea cucumber. We’ve got big, creative brains.
- Water is important. It’s essential to life even for those of us who don’t live in it. For Christians, of course, the water of baptism is an essential part of our practice.
- Looking into some of the small exhibits made me dizzy. I had to look up and farther away to get my balance back. And the best perspective came in the pools with the dolphins and beluga whales. They were constructed so you look right out across the water and out the window onto Lake Michigan, all the way to the horizon. I’d love for church leaders to keep that unlimited perspective. It’s energizing.Photo copyright Fritz Geller-Grimm
Allyn Harris Dault, a former student of mine at Central Seminary, posted this video on Facebook (with an ironic thanks to me for helping him learn about the challenge of changing self in a system). I’ve watched it about 5 times.
Does this apply to church?
I’ve been reading devotionally Margaret Guenther’s At Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us. It’s a wonderful book, which I intend to review when I’m finished. The passage I read today, in a chapter entitled “Loving Generosity,” included a stark quote from the fourth-century bishop Basil the Great.
“What keeps you from giving now? Isn’t the poor person there? Aren’t your own warehouses full? Isn’t the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now — and you want to wait until tomorrow? “I’m not doing any harm,” you say. “I just want to keep what I own, that’s all.” You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone’s use is your own….”
Basil’s passage concludes, “You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.”
I’ve been thinking about this all day. What do you think?