Five ways to make work a spiritual practice


I last wrote about doing nothing as spiritual practice.  Work can also be a spiritual practice. It requires responding not reacting, and making decisions about what is important rather than being distracted by a shiny new Internet object. Spiritual practice involves attention. It is harder than ever to pay attention to our work in this way, and it is more important than ever. For ministers and other spiritual leaders, it is essential.

Here are some ways to experiment with the practice of work.

  1. Set times for starting and stopping. The Bible says, “Pray without ceasing,” but it doesn’t say “work without ceasing.” In fact, it says just the opposite. Ministry is unpredictable, but we don’t face a crisis every single day. For me, starting early and ending early has always worked, with a good break if I’ve got an evening meeting. Know your best rhythm.
  2. Clarify what’s most important. The last few months I’ve asked each day, “What’s the most important thing I need to do today?” And what are the second and third most important items? And I put those up front. I wish I’d learned to do that a long time ago.
  3. Set times for checking and responding to e-mail. E-mail as interruption is counter to work as spiritual practice. It’s allowing someone else to set your priorities, not God and your ministry purpose. I recommend you turn off automatic notifications. (True confession: I am least successful with this practice. I keep notifications off, but I check e-mail far too often.)
  4. Take breaks. Kirk Byron Jones, in his forthcoming book, Refill: Meditations for Leading with Wisdom, Peace and Joy suggests scheduling, in advance, 2-4 break times during the day. I find when I take breaks I get less tired, I’m more creative, and I am less cranky with others. But I haven’t tried scheduling them in advance, and I will. Breaks create some space around the work, which can bring more spaciousness to the work itself.
  5. Have fun. Sometimes I will set aside the priority list and ask, “What would be fun to do next?” I always know right away. Not all work days are fun. It’s called work for a reason. But most days if you look for it, you can find some fun in the middle of it. Smile at one of the children in your church’s preschool. Turn on your favorite music while you fill out your expense report. Visit the parishioner who always makes you feel better.

How do you bring spiritual attention to your work?


Photo: Alvimann

Doing nothing as spiritual practice: three things to consider


Can you do nothing?

That may seem like a crazy question to ask on September 3, when Labor Day was early. You may feel like you are running to catch up already, that the summer was (literally) too short this year and your fall planning is not done.

I believe it’s important to do nothing every day, every week and every year.

Why it’s important to do nothing every day. I don’t mean do nothing all day. I do mean to take at least a few minutes to take a deep breath and look around you. Stop on the walk to your car. When you are waiting, don’t pull out your phone immediately. A constant focus on productivity gets in the way of creativity. Don’t get me wrong: being productive and focusing on the right things is important (that’s another article). But those little pauses give room for new ideas to sneak in.

Why it’s important to do nothing every week. One word: Sabbath. I love the Creation story in Genesis which shows God (even God!) resting on the seventh day. Maybe you can’t carve out a whole day. People with young children can find it hard to find a whole hour a week for themselves. And the laundry has to get done sometime. But I recommend, at the beginning of the week, that you figure out the times when you are not working, and stick to it, barring emergency. I know, I know, that sermon has to get written. But over time, without sabbath, you and your work, including those sermons, will suffer.

Why it’s important to do nothing every year. It may seem like a long time until your next vacation. And you may be the type who likes a very active vacation. I recommend that you try at least a day or two of quiet. Or take a retreat at a monastery, where the schedule of prayers and meals may make it a bit easier. We have to slow down long enough for God to get our attention, longer than a few minutes or a few hours.

What helps you to make the space for “nothing” in your life and ministry?

Photo: Viktor Hanacek

7 things to remember while planning for your church’s fall stewardship program


Some churches have their stewardship campaign all set for this fall. Others haven’t even started planning. Whatever your situation, big church or small, early planning or last-minute effort, here are seven things to remember.

  1. Ask yourself, “What do we want for this campaign?” A dollar amount, a specific number of pledges or new pledges, a spirit of gratitude, celebratory worship around stewardship? You’re more likely to get what you want if you are clear about it.
  2. The pastor needs to ask. If you’re the pastor, don’t hesitate to specifically ask people to support the ministry in your stewardship sermons, articles and letters. If you’re a lay leader, tell the pastor you want him or her to clearly ask people to give.
  3. Highlight vision, not maintenance. People don’t want to give to keeping the lights on; they want to give to ministry. Find a few stories and photos of a youth mission project, worship celebration, or other events during the year, and use them. Even if your plans are in place, find some new stories or photos between now and the time you kick it off, the more recent, the better.
  4. Have more fun with it. Stewardship sometimes seems like a dreary duty, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are still forming your committee, choose someone lighthearted to be a part of it. And see if you can be lighter about it yourself. What can you celebrate about stewardship this year?
  5. Consider providing a way for people to give electronically. Younger folks, and many older ones as well, are used to paying their bills online. Provide options for giving.
  6. Give thanks and celebrate. Make sure you report results and celebrate along the way. And thank those who pledge individually, ideally with a handwritten note from the pastor. The pastor doesn’t have to know the pledge total to do this, if that’s a big issue in your church. And if the pastor can’t or won’t, find another way to thank people individually, not simply in the newsletter or bulletin.
  7. Think of stewardship as a ministry. You are helping people to experience the joy of giving and to develop a new, freer relationship with their resources. This is God’s work.

Which one (or more) of these would you like to try this year?

Photo credit

Warning: being nice in ministry can be a problem


Are you too nice? Being “nice” has its place – it can smooth over awkward situations. Nice people are easier to be around, and other people like them. But nice won’t take you through a whole career in ministry, and it won’t help you help your church reach its potential.

Remember, “nice” is not a New Testament word. Jesus was compassionate, which is not the same as nice.

Here are three problems with being nice:

  1. You can find yourself working far more than is good for you or your family, not to reach your own goals, but to accommodate the needs and desires of others. You can say “yes” because you’re too nice to say “no.”
  2.  You can avoid taking a stand with a difficult person that leads to bigger problems later. Whether it’s a staff person or a lay leader, niceness can cause you to let too many things go, because it’s easier. Too late, you realize that you have to take a much bigger stand for the sake of the church.
  3. You avoid moving forward with key initiatives because you don’t want to upset anyone. Or you back off on something new, whether a new worship approach or an outreach ministry, when people don’t like what is happening. Edwin Friedman called this “valuing peace over progress.”

Sometimes being “nice” is more about being anxious when people get upset with us. I’m preaching to myself as much as to anyone else: I was socialized to be nice, and I hate it when people get mad at me. Yet mature leadership mean taking stands, which can result in others getting upset with us.

For many in ministry, feeling guilty, feeling mean (or being called mean) is actually a sign you are on the right track. Taking a stand is a key part of ministry leadership.

Are you too nice for your own (and your church’s) good?


You may have a higher net worth than Donald Trump


Do you know what your net worth is? No, not that net worth, your personal net worth. Not the dollars you have, but the qualities and results you have developed, and the liabilities you have personally. Here’s how it works: you list your assets and current liabilities in detail. You do this in the areas of being, doing and having (not things, but results you have created in your life).

I don’t know what Donald Trump’s personal net worth might be, but I do know that personal net worth does not depend on financial net worth.

I’ve created this list as part of a course I’m taking, and it’s been valuable. It’s helped me myself see more clearly. I’ve interviewed several friends and family members about this, which has given me feedback on how others see me (which has been both amazing and challenging).

Here are a few of my personal assets and liabilities:



Wise (on a good day)

Loyal to friends and family


Published two books

Fast typist

Having (results)

Many people have read my writing

Two young adult children who live independently



Inflexible sometimes

Judgmental of myself and others (on a bad day


Slow to complete projects and implement new ideas

Eat ice cream secretly (true confessions!)


Have not reached as many people with my message as I would like

Have not maintained relationships with some members of my extended family

I’m committed to increasing my personal net worth.

Want to try it? Take 10 minutes and make a quick list of your being/doing/having assets and liabilities.


9 warning signs that your church may have high anxiety about money


Money easily becomes a focus for people’s anxiety. Our survival–personal and institutional–depends on money, so it draws our anxious attention. This ongoing chronic anxiety about survival shows up in a variety of ways in congregational life

Here are some of the ways:

  1. Secrecy around money.
  2. Denial of financial realities-thinking there isn’t enough when there is, or thinking there is enough when there isn’t.
  3. Overestimating or underestimating giving capacity.
  4. Regular “crises” around finances, real or imagined.
  5. Embezzlement or mismanagement (or simply unwillingness to open up the books to audit).
  6. Resisting necessary expenses like deferred maintenance.
  7. Persistent criticism of the way church leadership raises funds.
  8. Never talking about money, or, conversely, always talking about money.
  9. Blind trust in the leadership around money matters, or, conversely, extreme suspicion of leadership.

What’s a leader to do? You can’t make others be less anxious. What you can do: manage your own anxiety and be clear about what you will and won’t do (“I’m going to share with the congregation the facts about our mid-year financial report,” or, “I’m not going to ask people to make an extra gift for the third time this year.”). Let go of what you can’t control. One pastor recognized that he couldn’t make the board decide to spend funds on deferred maintenance. He said, “I strongly recommend you do this, and I know it’s your decision.” The board said no that year, but the following year, they were able to make a different decision.

Don’t tear your hair out. Many of these patterns have persisted for decades. In churches with more extreme patterns, there’s only so much you can do. Be patient, don’t be too willful, and make it a research project. Get curious about how do they do things, how long they’ve been doing it that way, and when you notice the pattern intensify or lessen. See what you can learn about yourself and how you relate to others who are anxious about money.

What do you notice about your church?

Photo credit

Money and Your Ministry online course, with Israel Galindo


by Israel Galindo

(Guest post today by Israel Galindo, my co-teacher for the Columbia Theological Seminary online course on Money and Your Ministry, coming in October.)

I’m looking forward to co-teaching the online course Money and Your Ministry with Margaret Marcuson, the author of the book by the same name, which will serve as our text. The course will be offered by the Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary in October 2014. In preparation I’ve been reading two additional resources. First, I’ve revisited Loren Mead’s seminal work, Financial Meltdown in the Mainline?

In his book, Mead posited, ”In our use and misuse of these words–money, tithing, proportional giving, endowment, planned giving, fund raising, stewardship–we are crippled in addressing our financial problem because of our ambivalence and complex emotional feelings. … we are in deep water in the financial crisis that is rapidly approaching, this doublemindedness, and sometimes doubletalk, about money will handicap us in solving our financial problems almost as much as it already complicates our spiritual relationship to the world and to God.” (p. 88). 

Mead observed, “In short, clergy are uncertain and uncomfortable about money, and their leadership in this area of responsibility is not as strong, clear, and effective as their leadership in many other areas.” (p. 103). Having consulted with clergy leaders for over twenty years, aside from dealing with difficult relationships and lacking expertise in organizational development, providing leadership in the area of money and ministry is the biggest challenge, and often the most precarious liability, for many pastors. 

Along the lines of the intent of the course, Mead wrote that clergy “need to know why they feel uncomfortable talking about money when Jesus talked about it more than any other topic he is recorded as having talked about.” (p. 103). Typically, money is not the troubling issue (simply put, one typically doesn’t have enough, has too much, or, has sufficient), it is the leader’s relationship with money, and what it represents, that is determinative of effectiveness.  

The second resource I’ve been reading is the more recent work by Lisa A Keister,  Faith and Money: How Religion Contributes to Wealth and Poverty. Keister is professor of sociology at Duke University. Keister’s book acknowledges the under appreciated influence of religion, and religious beliefs, on American’s incomes, savings, and net worth. Keisler wrote, “Religious beliefs and values are an important part of culture, and what I showed was that these beliefs and values are indeed important motivators of the behaviors that lead to a critical component of well-being: wealth ownership.” (p. 223). In her book she demonstrates the relationships between religious affiliation and wealth, and, values regarding work and money. Her work does not merely propose the idea that religion matters for wealth accumulation, but she also provides strong empirical evidence to demonstrate that the two are closely related. 

Of particular interest to those with a family systems theory orientation will be Keister’s approach in her research: ”I began by exploring the intergenerational and demographic processes through which religion directly affects wealth. I showed patterns by religion in family background, including parents’ income, education, wealth (by exploring inheritance), immigrant status, and childhood family structure.” (p. 220). 

At the very least, these two studies underscore two important points:

1. The relationship between money and ministry is important, and we should understand it.

2. The relationship we have with money is important, and we should talk about it. 

Interested in learning more? Join us for the course Money and Your Ministry. 

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Ministry (Educational Consultants) and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan. Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.





Let’s practice all year what we preach on the Fourth of July

beach smaller

It’s always easier to speak lofty ideals than to live up to them.

Preachers face this difficult challenge. Week after week, we have to get up in the pulpit and give sermons, of all things. We consult with people on the most intimate challenges of their lives, and try to be helpful. It’s a lifelong challenge to live with integrity in the face of what we preach whether it is about prayer, money or relationships.

But preachers aren’t the only ones who face this challenge. On U.S. Independence Day, I’ve been thinking about American ideals and the daily opportunity to live up to them. This gorgeous photo (from Death to the Stock Photo) reminds me of the phrase “from sea to shining sea” in “God Bless America.”

When I was choosing hymns for worship, I wasn’t crazy about patriotic hymns around the Fourth of July. I felt like worship should be about God, not praising America. But the one patriotic song I liked the best and seemed most appropriate for worship was “America the Beautiful.” The lyrics say this:

God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

With the caveat that the language is a bit patriarchal (natural for a song written around the turn of the last century) what I like is that it is aspirational. It means not that God has shed his grace on thee, but may God shed his grace on thee, and may God crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea. The song expresses that hope that we may live out our ideals of universal brother- and sisterhood across the nation.

We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve made progress since 1900 and even more since 1776.

My hope for preachers, Christians and citizens is that we can all embody more fully these ideals between now and the next July 4.