Six quick ways you can improve your ministry

ImproveI’ve been thinking about six areas of ministry and how to help clergy get better at them. Here are six quick ways to improve your ministry by working on each.

  1. Leadership.

    Just ask yourself the question, “What do I want?” Do it every day. I’ve said this before, and it’s still true. Every time I ask a coaching client this question, they say dreamily, “That’s a good question…” If you’re like me, asking yourself what you want goes against the grain-it feels selfish. Yet I’ve come to experience it as a clarifying question. It helps me discern what’s most important to me. The more I ask it, the more quickly that happens.

  2. Money.

    Mention money and the spiritual life in a sermon once a month. The whole sermon doesn’t have to be on that topic, but I’d be astounded if you couldn’t find a natural way to fit it in. If you focus on the lectionary gospel text, there’s a good chance you’ll see something. This will help normalize preaching about money for you and for your people.

  3. Productivity.

    Take thirty seconds and write a purpose for your day. I’ve been doing this, and I find it gets me out of feeling overwhelmed and on track almost instantly. It will also help you take your day off if you write a non-work purpose for that day. And if you take your day off rather than letting work spill into it, you’ll be more productive on the other days.

  4. Relationships.

    Each week, talk to a key leader about something not related to church. Find out how they are doing. It doesn’t have to take an hour – a 15-minute phone call will do it. This is valuable in itself, and it will also help strengthen your leadership. No relationships, no leadership – and relating to significant lay leaders is particularly important for pastors

  5. Personal growth.

    Read at least a few verses of Scripture that are not related to Sunday’s sermon. (You can try this practice if you like.) If you want to take it further, you could do a brief study on it. You only need a few minutes to make a real difference, and spending only minutes on it daily will help you keep it up over time.

  6. Communication.

    Read your next newsletter aloud before you send it in. I did it with this article, and it helped. You’ll find something to improve, guaranteed.

Church Leaders: Four Ways to Start Giving Thanks Now

Death_to_stock_photography_wild_smaller1Are you feeling the stress of the fall busy season? Are you struggling after paying college tuition, or your own college/seminary loans, or are you worried about end-of-year bills? My recommendation for church leaders: try a daily practice which will help you be in a different place by Thanksgiving.

Do this practice at a time of day that works for you. If you are a morning person, do it then. If you are most alert at night, use that time. You can do it in about ten minutes – and feel free to take longer if you want!

Follow this practice every day until Thanksgiving:

Each day:

  1. Pray for your needs today, financial and otherwise.

    Also pray for those you love, those you know, and those you don’t know, locally and globally. Ask God to supply their needs, whatever they are.

  1. Read and reflect on Matthew 6:25-33.

    Use the following process, taking at least five minutes to do this: Read the passage slowly. Then read it again, perhaps aloud, looking for a word or phrase that stands out to you. Read one more time slowly. Consider the words that stood out for you. What might God be saying to you about your relationship with your finances, or anything else? Sit quietly for few moments in God’s presence.

  1. Give thanks.

    Give thanks for the flow of money into and out of your life today and every day.

  1. Record everything you spend and receive today.

    Think of this as a prayer practice, not a financial one. You can track spending and income throughout the day or take a few additional minutes to enter it at the end of the day. Keep it simple. You can use an app like Mint, but even a 3×5 card with spending and income jotted down as you go through the day will work. If you miss a day, you don’t need to catch up. Just start up again. You don’t need to add everything up. The point of the practice is to notice what you are doing day by day.

    By Thanksgiving, you’ll be truly in the mood to celebrate!

Note: This is an excerpt from my new program, The Finances and Faith System: Help Your People Connect Their Money with Their Faith in 29 Days  This program shows you how to engage your congregation, your leaders and your people in a systematic reflection on money and faith. Click on the title to learn more. It can be used in Advent, Lent or any time of year.

New study shows active churchgoers want e-giving options

man-field-smartphone-yellowHave you considered e-giving options for your church? There are good reasons to do so. This guest post is written by Kevin Lee, CEO of Vanco Payment Solutions about Vanco’s new study of giving habits and giving preference. I found these results fascinating–and surprising in some ways.

Thanks for the opportunity to tell pastors about early findings from our new comprehensive survey of over a thousand U.S. Christian churchgoers. We collected data on giving habits and giving preferences of churchgoers, and the results show high demand across generations for electronic giving options.

Here are key takeaways:

  1. The survey results showed a sizable “giving gap” between how churchgoers prefer to give and what giving options their churches provide them.

Only about a quarter of respondents say their churches offer e-Giving, but two to four times as many churchgoers would give electronically if they could.

This is a substantial disconnect. But pastors may be surprised that the survey results reveal that the most substantial giving gap is with their most active members, as illustrated in the next takeaway.

  1. Members who are most engaged in church activities are the ones who want e-giving the most.

Sixty percent of all churchgoers say they are either using or would prefer using electronic options. But that figure rises up to 80 percent among churchgoers who engage more frequently with the church through attendance at services, participation in church schools or afterschool activities, and committee/leadership positions.

Some churches may feel that pursuing inactive members with electronic payment options like credit cards, give by text, and give by kiosk is not a good use of resources. But the survey results show that it’s your most active members who are most interested in e-Giving options. You’ve likely read all the studies that show a dwindling use of cash and checks in everyday life. This shift to paying most obligations electronically has definitively made its way into your pews.

  1. Preference for e-giving is strong across all age groups

About half of the survey respondents spanning ages 24 to 72 make monetary contributions to their church once a week, and all age groups prefer to increase their use of online, digital, and web-based giving approaches. Churchgoers between the ages of 24-44 showed the strongest preference, with 77% preferring e-giving. But younger generations weren’t the only ones expressing that preference. Nearly half of senior respondents also prefer e-giving.

We have seen ourselves in numerous case studies and testimonials from customers that a significant percentage of seniors will participate in e-Giving, and in fact, as the survey shows, nearly half of all seniors would now prefer electronic giving options.

The bottom line

The collection plate or basket is becoming a symbol of giving more than the actual engine of giving that members prefer. The question is, why put a barrier between your most active givers and their support of your mission? This is especially significant as you head into the most giving time of the year for your church. Why not get in alignment with member preferences now before the holidays? It’s a simple matter to get you set up and ready to provide members with the giving methods they prefer. As the largest provider of electronic giving options to churches in the U.S., we understand the best practices that lead to successful e-Giving programs. We’d love to help.

Additional information and insights from the churchgoer survey, including specifics on giving options such as give by text, kiosk giving, and credit cards can be found here.

For more information on e-Giving and choosing the right combination of giving options for your members, download our recent Building Blocks of Giving infographic.

Kevin Lee is CEO of Vanco Payment Solutions, providing more than 18,000 churches, nonprofits, and other faith-based organizations with convenient electronic donation tools.

Personal finance checklist for pastors

A Prayerful View of Your Money

file9981306993571Be honest – are you one of those pastors who is hesitant asking people to give because your own finances are not in order? I’ve talked with a lot of pastors who struggle personally with their own financial life. They can feel embarrassed, ashamed, and hesitant to lead and preach boldly about money matters.

In talking with both pastors and others, I’ve learned there’s a lot of shame about money and how it is spent, about debt, about feeling overwhelmed. It can be hard to face the reality of the financial choices we’ve made in the past and are currently making. Here’s another way to approach it: bring prayer into your life with money to help you find more freedom.

Here’s a checklist – you can pick and choose. Do what you are ready for.

  • Track your income and outgo daily. Simply start by writing everything down. You don’t even need to add it up. Then give thanks.
  • Figure out your net worth. Add up all your assets and liabilities. Here’s an Excel spreadsheet to use. (Or try Mint for an online option.) And here’s the trick: Give thanks for it all. Even if you have a negative net worth, give thanks. If you have seminary debt, celebrate all you learned in seminary.
  • Make a budget. It can be simple: Income, and a few simple categories for expenses, including giving. Just get started. I know someone who keeps a two-week budget on a 3×5 card (net income, projected expenses, disposable income). If you want, you can add categories later. Prepare it prayerfully, considering your priorities.
  • Do a monthly cash flow statement. Here’s a template. Add your own categories in. Later, take the next step: check it with your budget. Celebrate if you have increased (for example, savings or giving) or decreased (coffee? mindless shopping online or in the store?) as you intended.
  • Advanced: start on retirement planning. If your church has a pension board, check with them. Do the numbers. Even if it’s challenging news, it’s better than not knowing. Prayerfully commit your future to God.

As you take these steps one by one, you’ll find more freedom in your life. I know I have. It’s taken me years (literally) to do all of these steps, and it’s a huge relief. And it truly has been a profound spiritual practice to do them in the light of God’s love, acceptance and provision.

You’ll also find more freedom and enhance your leadership in money matters in the congregation.

And here’s another post on managing your anxiety about your personal finances.

The top four ministry resources I’m using right now

ministry resourcesHere are the top four ministry resources I’m using right now. They’re not magical, but they are helping me.

Dave Ellis, Falling Awake: Creating the Life of Your Dreams.

His twelve strategies (beginning with “determine what you want”) are worth the price of the book alone. It’s not an explicitly religious book, but it’s full of wisdom that can help people of faith, and particularly leaders. When I’m anxious about a circumstance or project, I go through the twelve strategies and ask myself questions such as, “What do I want?” “How can I take responsibility here?” “How can I contribute in this situation?” It helps me step back and get more neutral so I can think creatively. Get the book in paper or pdf here or in paper from Amazon.

3×5 cards

If you’ve been to one of my workshops, you know this already. There’s no faster way to jot down an idea, especially when you are away from a traditional keyboard. I keep a supply in my purse clipped with a (brightly colored!) binder clip. They are cheap, and you can sort them easily. One more benefit: Handwriting is a complex brain activity, and I’m convinced we all need to keep doing some writing with a pen every day. I like unlined blank cards.

Insight Timer app

I’ve gone back to meditative prayer, just five minutes a day. This smartphone app gives me a gentle way to come back. You can choose which kind of bell you want. I’ve also used it with groups to bring people back from a time of meditative silence. (Free in iTunes and the Play store). If you don’t have a smartphone, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Orcas Island, WA, has a centering prayer timer on their site for five-minute and twenty-minute segments.

The Bible

Last, but not at all least. I don’t mean to be corny or obvious. I simply continue to find the Scriptures a rich resource. Even when I was preaching every week, I tried to read something daily that had nothing to do with sermon preparation. I’m reading Luke right now. I found Elizabeth’s words to Mary inspiring yet again: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45) I’m a fast reader, so I’m trying to slow myself down, and read just a paragraph or so at a time, and meditate and reflect on what I’ve just read.

And here’s a post sharing some of my old favorite books.

What ministry resources (of all kinds) are you finding helpful?

How to preach like a leader

holzfigur-505646_1920If you’re like a lot of pastors, then you need to use the pulpit to strategically support your ministry leadership. However, if you are simply trying to get a sermon done each week, then it may seem overwhelming to get your head above water enough to plan your preaching ahead to support your ministry goals. I’ve been there, I know.

But when I started planning preaching ahead, my life got exponentially easier, both as a preacher and a leader. I had a way of thinking about my approach to preaching: it wasn’t just about coming up with an idea each week, but supporting where I was heading. An added bonus: much less thinking on Monday, “What am I going to preach about on Sunday?” Most weeks I already had at least a general idea.

That’s why I’ve developed this little guide for planning strategically for preaching to support your leadership.

Step 1: Clarify your own vision for your ministry.

If you’ve done this before, then you know there are several possible
ways to approach it. However, I’ve discovered that a great way to complete
this step is by simply asking yourself the question, “What do I want?” You don’t need to worry that it’s a selfish question. Simply ask it prayerfully, and trust that God will speak as you reflect.

Ask yourself, “What do I want?” What do you want for yourself in your role? What do you want in worship? What do you want in outreach and mission? What do you want in discipleship? Make your own list of questions that fit your contest.

I like using 3×5 cards, one idea per card. Then you can sort them by priority. Sort prayerfully, asking God for discernment.

But in a pinch, you can simply ask, “What would I love to do now?” Come up with a few highest-priority items that you would love to invite people to join you in. Consider this your working vision.

Step 2: Create a preaching plan, using the vision.

But before I get into the steps for creating a plan, let me add two words of warning.

First, take note that a preaching plan needs to be flexible. Events in your own community may call for a shift in your plan. Or the Holy Spirit may guide you to scrap the plan and head in a new direction. Be clear about your plan, but open to adapt it.

Second, assess where you are in your relationship with the church. Generally, the longer you’ve been there, the more leverage you have in articulating a vision. You may want to share your plan with staff and board to keep them in the loop and get some feedback.

Try this:

1. Start now gathering material. Since you know what you’ll be doing, you can do some exegesis and look for supporting material.
2. Prepare and deliver your strategic sermons. You’ll find it much easier since you have a head start.Map out three months of Sundays.

3. Pick one Sunday to give an “I have a dream” sermon.

4.Choose three or four more Sundays to highlight specific aspects of your short term vision. You can do them in a row, or spread out over the quarter.
5. Choose texts for those Sundays. If you use the lectionary, decide now which text you will focus on primarily. (In the best of all possible worlds, you’ll select texts for all the Sundays in the quarter.

6. Prepare and deliver your strategic sermons. You’ll find it much easier since you have a head start

Once you’ve put the vision out from the pulpit, then move on to Step 3, the most important step of all.

Step 3: Don’t get reactive to criticism of your vision.

This step does require some patience and self-regulation. Edwin Friedman called this “The keys to the kingdom” in leadership.

Your main task is to remember that a visionary leader upsets the balance, and people automatically react. It’s not personal. Don’t get defensive.

Don’t try to convince people that you are right.

Stay connected to the people who disagree with you. Seek them out at coffee hour, not to talk about the issues but simply to keep in relationship with them.

Congratulations – you now know how to create a plan for preaching like a leader. So take action and make your own plan. The time you invest will be well worth it. Because the sooner you do, the sooner you can avoid the Monday morning panic AND see (at least some) eyes light up as people catch the vision.

Five habits worth cultivating in ministry



Here are five habits that can make ministry more joyful and less stressful. I’ve been cultivating these habits myself, and they have helped me make big shifts. And at the end of the article I’ll share a habit-change strategy that I’m finding helpful.

  1. Don’t complain.

This is a habit I’ve taken on this year, and I’m finding it to be a great mood-changer. When we complain about someone to someone else, we create a negative triangle. And nothing changes. When we complain about the church or church members to our families, we simply cause them to have negative feelings about the church. When we complain about the world or the news, we do nothing to create a better world. Since I’ve taken on this habit, I feel more positive about other people every day. Here’s a link to a fascinating article, “Help me stop being mean,” by someone who took this on. (Note: language warning for the question asked at the beginning. It’s well worth reading the whole, lengthy answer.)

  1. Answer email in batches.

Turn off notifications on your phone and computer. I’ve said this before, but when you answer email as it comes in, you are letting other people set your agenda. When you choose when to respond, you are controlling your own schedule, and you’ll find yourself being more productive. True confessions: this is a habit I am still working to develop (see below for my commitment to you). I actually stopped while writing this article and answered an email. As my father used to say, “Do as I say, not as I do…”

  1. Ask yourself, “What do I want?”

It’s not a selfish question, but a clarifying one. When I coach pastors, I frequently ask “What do you want?” and they say, “That’s a good question…I don’t know.” Then they get clear very quickly, and can decide how to take action. You can ask it about the smallest daily questions as well as the biggest life issues. It’s a good question to ask as a habit.

  1. Pray daily for at least one minute.

I know, that’s not much. But one minute is better than no minutes. Three ideas:

a. Take one minute and give thanks for five things in your life (20 seconds each).

b. Take one minute and breathe in and out, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

c. Take one minute and pray for five people you love.

  1. Every week, work on a project that isn’t due until after this Sunday.

Even if it’s just for five minutes, plan for the following week’s sermon or worship, Advent or even Lent. Or next year’s vacation. In ministry, it’s so easy to focus on the short-term, because the pressures of next Sunday, or immediate pastoral care needs, or you name it, are so relentless.

And here’s the habit change protocol I’ve been learning:

  1. Commit to it. Write it down, and tell others. (And here is my commitment to myself and to you – I intend to limit email to three times a day. No more avoiding article-writing by checking email.)
  2. Monitor it. Do it in writing. I like stars on a chart.
  3. Practice, practice, practice (without self-reproach).
  4. Joyfully acknowledge even the smallest steps toward change.

My suggestion to you: pick one of these five ministry habits, or another habit you’d like to create, and try the protocol. Let me know what your commitment is – either via email or a comment . (And for more on changing habits, see the book Falling Awake by Dave Ellis.)

Are you overwhelmed by your ministry work load?

ministry workI was talking with a pastor I’m coaching and asked, “How are you?” She said, “It’s September…” She suggested a blog post on the topic, so here goes…

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in ministry. There’s the constant pressure of preparing for Sunday, the inevitable interruptions, the evening meetings. Not to mention the email.

I just got some great tips for dealing with being overwhelmed from Lynne Twist (author of The Soul of Money). Lynne often talks about sufficiency. She suggests we do all we can to stay in a place of sufficiency – that we are enough, and we have enough time. I try to tell myself I have enough time to do everything God wants me to do. I truly believe that (even though I forget it sometimes), for myself, and for you in your ministry.

Here are some tips Lynne Twist shared. The first four come from the work of Edward Hallowell, and the fifth is one of Lynne’s, along with a few of my own remarks on each.

  1. Work on your highest priorities in your highest energy time.

You know what that is. For me, it’s morning.

  1. Refuse to rush.

I know I never do my best work when I’m rushing. Right now I’m trying to focus intently and work fast without rushing.

  1. Cultivate the “lilies” and avoid the “leeches.”

Lilies are the people, projects and priorities you love, and the leeches are the ones that drain you. I know that in church ministry you can’t always completely avoid the people leeches, but I believe you can set limits with them so they don’t drain you so much.

4. Put things in real priority order.

I think this means being honest about what we really are going to work on now, and what we’re going to set aside for later. I find myself keeping things on my list and never doing anything about them. I’m trying to set them aside for now, and pick a few key projects, rather than pretending to myself I can do more than is humanly possible.

  1. Let go of the things you’re not working on when you’re not working on them.

We spent a lot of time worrying about projects and tasks when we’re not and cannot be working on them. Then we’re not present to the people (including our families) and tasks that are right in front of us.

What are some ways you deal with that overwhelmed feeling?

And here’s a post on nine ways to simplify your ministry.