Are you struggling with an antagonist in your church? How we respond to those who seem to be threatening us can be as critical as any inherent threat in them.
Doing a New Year’s book clearout of my shelves, I came across one of my favorite children’s books, Flossie and the Fox. (This wonderful edition by Patricia C. McKissack is still in print almost 30 years later, worth getting even if you don’t have kids.) Most of my kids’ books are long gone, but this one I hold on to. I’ve written about Flossie before, but I think she’s worth a revisit.
Flossie is carrying eggs to her grandmother’s house, and the fox wants them. Rather than panicking, she teases the fox. She first suggests he might be a rabbit because he has thick fur, then a rat because he’s got a long nose, and finally a squirrel because he’s got a long fluffy tail. The fox is outraged and keeps arguing with her. By the time they finish arguing, she has gotten safely to her grandmother’s house, and the dogs are threatening the fox.
What does Flossie have to do with ministry and church antagonists? It always takes two to tango, and when we engage seriously and defensively with so-called “antagonists,” we’re hooked. We play our own part in the dance.
And when we approach them at least a little more lightly, we may find they are less dangerous than we thought, or at least we are less vulnerable.
Here are four tips for relating to the most challenging people in your congregation or parish:
- Don’t get defensive. Or at least, do your best not to respond defensively. In the story, somehow Flossie doesn’t even seem to be afraid of the fox.
- Keep your eyes on your goals, not the antagonist. Flossie never loses sight of her aim, which is to get the eggs to her grandmother’s house.
- Don’t take the antagonist too seriously. You may or may not take a teasing tone, as Flossie does. if you’re too anxious, it can turn sarcastic. But in your own mind, see them in some light-hearted way.
- Look for allies. You may not have “dogs” to call on, but other powerful leaders can help challenge the antagonist.
And remember, even powerful antagonists are not as dangerous to you as a wild animal.
Here’s a simple secret to celebrating the end of 2014 and 2015: just do it. You don’t have to throw a party or even attend one to celebrate tonight and tomorrow.
Simply follow this easy process:
For introverts: sit down for four minutes. In the first two minutes, as fast as you can, write 20 items you can celebrate about 2014. Do it with a pen if you can. Writing by hand makes more connections in your brain, and you want to reinforce celebration. Include items from your own and your church’s ministry as well as those in your personal life.
Then take two more minutes and write down 20 items you celebrate about the possibility that is 2015.
For extraverts: Take four minutes and follow the process above, then grab someone and share your list with them.
Here are five things from each of my own lists:
- The launch of my book, Money and Your Ministry.
- Breakthroughs and greater freedom in my own relationship with money.
- My father is still alive at 91.
- Restrung the jade necklace my husband gave me over 30 years ago so I can wear it.
- The blessing of supporting clergy in developing themselves and their leadership.
Coming in 2015:
- Celebrating 35 years of marriage with Karl, my best friend and biggest fan.
- The chance to contribute to other church leaders through my writing, speaking, consulting and coaching.
- More wonderful books to read, both fiction (mostly) and nonfiction. (Some of them are already sitting beside my bed.)
- Taking an improv class.
- Connecting with others around the world (including you) about ministry matters in person and virtually.
Celebration is a spiritual practice. Richard Foster highlights celebration as the last of his spiritual disciplines, and says, “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong.” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 191) I know no better way to prepare for a new year.
What are you celebrating for 2014 and 2015? Let me know!
It’s not too late to consider your purpose at church this Advent. At this point you may say, “to survive.” Or, “I don’t have time to think about my purpose! We have to finish the budget, or I have to visit shut-ins, or I still have to plan the Christmas Eve worship.”
Take five minutes and think about your purpose. You’ll be less stressed and have a more meaningful experience.
Here are a few ideas:
My purpose this Advent is to provide compelling worship experiences.
My purpose this Advent is to offer a pastoral presence to my congregation and individuals within it.
My purpose this Advent is to carry out my ministry and personal tasks without feeling frantic.
My purpose is to be present to my children even with the busy-ness at church.
Of course, clergy have more than one duty to fulfill. You may still have to attend the budget meeting even if you decide your main purpose is compelling worship. And you probably won’t want to miss the council meeting even if your kids want you to stay home that night.
We all have competing commitments. But that five minute thinking session will help you make choices through the next two weeks. If you want to offer a pastoral presence, you will find it easier to make at least some of those visits you’ve been putting off. If you want to avoid feeling frantic, you might skip that one last trip to the mall or the last-minute sermon rewrite (it’s probably good enough…).
What is your purpose this Advent? I’d love to hear.
Is it possible to do anything in 15 minutes? A lot, I’m discovering. Time management experts often suggest taking a few days to track your time in 15 minute blocks. I’ve resisted this my whole ministry. It seemed tedious and useless.
Well, one of the most productive people I know recommended it again recently. So I embarked on a two week experiment: simply track 15-minute increments for a week, and then plan and track for a second week. I was skeptical.
Surprise! It works.
I was so productive, I was astonished. And it wasn’t nearly as tedious as I expected, especially when I saw how much I was getting done.
So I’m continuing my experiment. I don’t expect I’ll be doing it forever, but I’m finding it helps keeps me going through the day.
And, perhaps even more important, it helps me be realistic about what I can actually achieve in a day. Planning out your day by 15 minutes, I can see this list is at least a week’s worth of work. I should plan for it to take a week, not a day.
What about interruptions? Some days in ministry seem like nothing but interruptions. But it is possible to block out times when you won’t answer the phone. And if you have a plan, you may be less likely to spend an hour shooting the breeze with someone who comes into the office. Perhaps half an hour—or even 15 minutes–would do it.
What can you do in 15 minutes? A lot. Here are some ideas:
- Outline a newsletter article.
- Answer some e-mails (and then stop after 15 minutes).
- Go over the order of service with your assistant.
- Read the text for Sunday.
- Leave three voicemails for people letting them know you are thinking about them.It’s true at home, too. I’ve meant to clean out my freezer since last summer, and it took me not fifteen, but only ten minutes.
My father was in sales, and I still remember a catchphrase he had: “Plan your work, and work your plan.” I’m getting better.
What can you do in 15 minutes?
Have you had a challenging year at church? Every church goes through ups and downs (and some churches seem to have a challenging year every year).
One pastor, after surviving the recession unscathed, is facing a pay cut next year. Another is at the end of his rope with a mutinous staff member. A third has had at least one funeral a week since September. At times like this in ministry, it’s easy to feel exhausted, overwhelemed and resentful.
Now there may be practical approaches to these and other challenges. Reduced pay should mean reduced hours (which may not solve the personal budget impact). Steps can be taken to terminate a difficult employee. An exhausting pastoral care season calls for post-Christmas (if not Thanksgiving) vacation time.
Give thanks for the challenges
And you can choose to step back from the negative feelings and give thanks even for the challenges you really wish would go away. I’m working to practice this for myself, and I know it isn’t easy. I had a big disappointment with a planned retreat which didn’t have enough registrants for me to go. I was disappointed about missing out on the trip (and honestly, the paycheck). But it meant I was able to go on another retreat with my clergy support group, and in the midst of the letdown I was able to give thanks.
In the examples above, the pastor with the pay cut could consider giving thanks that: 1) he does have a job; 2) he finally has to decide to move to a new church, when he’s been putting it off for years; 3) at least the leaders at last faced up to the budget challenges instead of pretending they weren’t real.
The minister with the difficult staff person could give thanks that: 1) he might actually learn how to fire someone, 2) he’s learned more about himself from the staff challenge than he ever did with a rebellious teenager in the house or 3) he isn’t in this alone, because her leaders are 100% with her.
The priest exhausted from funerals could give thanks 1) for the privilege of standing with families at time of loss 2) for the planned vacation 3) that she loves ministry so much more than her previous life in the corporate world, even though she is tired.
I truly believe that giving thanks even in the middle of difficulties helps energize us and creates resilience. It’s always worth it if you learn something.
What challenges have you faced this year? And can you find a way to give thanks?
My 28-year-old daughter recently got back on Facebook for the first time since college. She’s enjoying the renewed connections, but she also said, “I’m outraged a lot more.” Her comment started me thinking. You know how it is: you see a link that gets your heart pounding, and you click on it. You read an article that upsets you even more. Then maybe you read some ridiculous comments on the article or on the original post. Twenty minutes later (or more) you come back to yourself, and get back to work.
I’ve decided this is a waste of valuable energy. I’m going to fast from clicking on those upsetting links for three months. I don’t think spending my time that way is productive. It doesn’t lead me to action, and it keeps me from working on my most important goals, which include helping leaders make a difference in the world.
Sure, there are plenty of outrageous things going on – some scary, some tragic, and some simply annoying. But we can’t work on them all.
And the spread of these outrage-producing links is actually counterproductive. It heightens anxiety, which causes people to think less clearly. Edwin Friedman used to talk about “step-up transformers,” people who amp up the anxiety in any system. Your church probably has one or two. Don’t be one of them on social media. If you want to share links, share things that will help people become more thoughtful, not less. That’s my own intention from here on out.
In fact, if we spent as much time working for change in the world as we do jumping from link to link, our lives and the lives of others would be different.
What are the many ways we can work toward a different world? The Internet is an important part of it, but only if we use it in a way that supports our goals, and doesn’t distract us from them.
I don’t have to tell you that communication is a big challenge for church leaders. “I didn’t know about…” “No one ever told us…” You may have shared the message for weeks, and people still didn’t get it. This is often hardest when it concerns money. Here are five mistakes church leaders often make when communicating about money.
- They share only numbers. Budgets and financial statements are important, but they won’t communicate to most people. And they will not motivate people to give. Stories of lives touched will do far more than a sheet of numbers. Using pictures will help even more.
- They don’t consider the role of anxiety. Anxiety is like static, and it makes it harder for people to receive information in any form. If anxiety about money is high, you need to communicate more often and through more avenues. Expect that people won’t hear, or won’t hear correctly, and put extra effort into the message. Then don’t be frustrated when they come back asking for more information. Simply give it again, neutrally.
- They report giving on an evenly-divided twelve month calendar. No church receives giving evenly throughout the year. If you report giving in this way, in most churches you will be giving bad news every year until December,. An alternative: Based on a three year average, calculate what you can expect to receive in each month. That way you can report a realistic expectation for July, not one-twelfth of the annual expected giving.
- They use only one means of communication. Many churches still send out one stewardship letter. See if you can find five different ways to ask people to give. Here are a few ideas: a letter, an e-mail, a request from the pastor, an invitation from a lay leader in worship, a personal invitation to new members.
- They don’t communicate their thanks, only their request. Thank people for their pledges and their giving. Do this individually, not just with a blanket thank you from the platform or in the newsletter. People like to be thanked, and it helps motivate them to continue to give.
In my last post, I suggested that feeling guilty about saying no doesn’t mean you should say yes. When should you say yes, and when should you say no?
Most ministers and key church leaders grew up in a responsible position in their families. They were the oldest, or for some other reason found themselves responsible for a parent or other children. So taking responsibility and saying yes to more responsibilities comes naturally.
Being responsible is not a bad thing. Responsible, even overfunctioning, people make the world go round. Responsibility is not a problem until it becomes compulsive. Saying yes is all right, unless you can never say no.
I recommend a process of discernment before you say yes, especially to a big responsibility. But you can practice the process on little requests, too.
Here are five questions to ask:
- Have I stopped to pray and reflect on this?
- Do I want to do this?
- Do I have time?
- Will it be fun?
- How does it fit with my own sense of purpose?
There are reasons to say yes even if you don’t want to do it, don’t have time, and it won’t be fun. A pastoral emergency needs a response even if none of those things are true. But if you find yourself saying no to these questions often, it’s time to say no to more requests.
Try a one week experiment: ask these questions at least once a day when someone asks you to do something. Notice what happens. Do you say yes or no more often? Do you feel guilty, sad, happy, relieved?