Saying yes and no as spiritual practice


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:

  1. Have I stopped to pray and reflect on this?
  2. Do I want to do this?
  3. Do I have time?
  4. Will it be fun?
  5. 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?


Can’t keep up? Nine ways to simplify your ministry


Fall is well underway. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Ministry is hard work, but there are ways to make it easier. Here are nine ideas to make your ministry (a little) simpler.

  1. Say no at least once a week. (Just because you feel guilty for saying no doesn’t mean you should say yes.)
  2. Read the text for NEXT week’s sermon at least once by the end of THIS week.
  3. Unsubscribe from at least five e-mail newsletters (not mine…).
  4. Create a “read and review” e-mail folder for the others. Set it up (or have someone else set up) so they are delivered right to that folder.
  5. Experiment with planning worship more than one week at a time. Start with two weeks.
  6. Try asking, “What do I want to do now?” rather than “What should I do now?” You may find it easier to decide.
  7. Pray as you prioritize. You’ll get more clarity about what’s important.
  8. Finish a draft of your sermon at least one day before it HAS to be done. Don’t worry if it seems bad. You’ll find your subconscious works for you while you sleep, and you’ll come back to it with new ideas and a new perspective.
  9. Ask the question, “Is this my responsibility?”

Which one appeals to you? Experiment with it for a week. Or adapt it to make it work for you. Or come up with your own idea to simplify your work. I’d love to hear your ideas.

Three reasons to love asking people to give


Is your church preparing for your stewardship campaign? Remember this: When you provide leadership in stewardship at church, you do essential work. You help people connect their money and their faith. Both money and faith are part of everyday life, and bringing them together is one of the most vital connections in the spiritual life. It took me a long time to learn this lesson and to embrace this part of ministry.

You don’t need to be anxious, defensive about asking people to give. Nor do you need to dread it. In fact, it is possible to learn to love it.

Stewardship is a spiritual opportunity for you and for your people. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Here are three reasons to love asking people to give:

  1. You counter the pervasive fear, anxiety and selfishness around money. You make a real contribution to individuals, families and the culture at large. Asking people to give is a ministry to them. You are inviting them to consider their resources, where those resources came from, and to make a decision about sharing them. Try this: as you prepare for stewardship meetings, mailings and sermons, visualize the people in your church, or scan the directory. Pray for them, and think about how you hope to contribute to them through the stewardship process.
  2. You grow in your leadership when you have the chance to share the vision for the ministry of your church, and invite people to give to the vision. This can be fun — much more fun than asking people to give to the budget. Vision helps create momentum and energy for you and for others. Try this: If you’re not clear on the vision, simply ask yourself, with a prayerful spirit, “what do I want for this church?” Keep asking and jotting, and see what emerges. Work your ideas into your stewardship sermons and invitiations.
  3. When people give to their church, they become more engaged with the ministry of the church. They will be more committed. Having more committed people is more fun for you and for everyone. The work of stewardship, and the invitation to give, provides an opportunity to create a deeper community. Try this: Give thanks, by name, for those who make ministry happen at your church. Even better, thank them in person.

What would you add to this list? What ways have you found to love asking people to give?

Photo by Ryan McGuire

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.