Six Ways to Last in Ministry
I created this FREE one-page pdf that includes my top six strategies to:
- Energize your ministry day to day and long-term.
- Find more resources for ministry
- Create more space in your life and work
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Yes, you really can improve your leadership by cultivating a resource church leaders sometimes neglect: your own family. I don’t mean you neglect them because you are too busy, but you may not think of family – especially extended family – as a resource for ministry.
Here are three ways you can tap your family to improve your leadership:
1. Reflect on your family’s story and the strengths they had. My own father is, still at 92, a flaming extrovert. (This picture was taken last week.) When I was a child, I hated that he wanted to meet everybody he saw. (“Noooo, Dad – don’t talk to them!”) Yet it was a huge strength that contributed to his success in sales and in making his way through life. A bonus: he’s happier late in his life because he knows how to connect with people.
But now, even though I’m a bit of an introvert, I can talk to just about anyone. I’m grateful for that skill. It helped in my ministry as a pastor, and it helps now in the work I do supporting pastoral leaders.
What gifts did your family give you?
2. Ask extended family for advice. You may be surprised. Your parents, siblings and cousins have life skills that can help you in your ministry. Sometimes a pastor will say to me, “But they don’t know anything about church!” But family members may know about life in ways that surprise you.
One pastor realized one member of his staff was walking all over him. His brother, a school principal, coached him through taking a stand without being too harsh. His brother later came to him with some heartfelt questions about his own spiritual life. And they grew closer after these conversations.
You may get more benefits from these conversations than simply good advice. Clergy often give advice to their family, and experimenting with a reversal of the pattern may shift some habitual dynamics
3. Accept your family as they are, and you’ll be better able to deal with those challenging folks at church.
Remember: the people you react to the most at church hook something in you from your family story. Even if you change churches, there’s probably someone similar waiting for you. When you work on your reaction to the most challenging people in your family, it benefits your whole life.
Can you create a plan to shift one relationship a bit? A few ideas to consider:
- Have at least a brief conversation with each of your parents separately instead of together.
- Send a postcard to your least favorite relative.
- Set out a photo of a family member you’d like a better relationship with and pray for them daily.
Believe it or not, it may be the most practical work you do. In my own coaching work, I help people connect some of the dots between their family and the tough church relationships. The benefit can be less stress and more freedom in family and at church.
And why not play with your prayer life while you’re at it? Our ability to play comes from God, after all – so why not bring that playful attitude to prayer? It’s easy to get serious about prayer, especially when we feel guilty that we aren’t doing enough of it.
Play helps church leaders lead more effectively. There’s plenty of research to show the value of play for adults.
Prayer helps church leaders lead more effectively. We need a grounded spiritual life to discern where to lead and to help us persist on the path.
Both are true, so why not put them together? Here are a few ideas:
- Use your body for prayer. Try standing up or kneeling for a change. Recently, I’ve been using Praying with the Body: Bringing the Psalms to Life, by Roy DeLeon. Or try a walking prayer.
- Change it up. Think of it as cross-training in prayer. If you never use written prayers, try a few. If you always use written prayers, set aside the prayer book for a day or a week.
- Say many short prayers through the day. I just learned from a Jewish friend Monday that her tradition calls for 100 blessings through the day. Try it out. Even if you only get to 50, I predict you’ll feel blessed.
- Take a break. Can you go a whole day without praying? You may come back fresh. God won’t forget about you, I promise
- Pray outside. True confessions: I’m an indoor gal. This is a practice I’m going to try this year while it’s sunny in Portland, Oregon, where I live.
- Become like a child (Matt. 18:3) Play and Pray, a Scottish group. It’s designed to help adults introduce prayer to preschoolers. Their prayer station ideas: like finger painting, doodling and tasting fruit could help you get back to basics yourself.
This article gives some additional ideas for helping your own leadership with just five minutes of prayer.
It’s possible to take church conflict too seriously – or not seriously enough. In some church conflicts, it is vital for the pastor and other key leaders to take a stand and say, in essence, “You can’t act like that here.” All too often, church leaders avoid this.
Here are five warning signs you might not be taking a church conflict seriously enough.
- You think that setting a strong limit with someone is mean (or at least that they will think it is mean). In reality, it is kinder to set limits with those who can’t set them for themselves. This can be a real expression of love.
- You think if you ignore it will go away. With minor upsets this can be true, but if you passively ignore a person with no boundaries they will just become more invasive.
- You see it as a one-time matter, unrelated to anything else in the past or present. Instead, ask the question, “Why now?” Sometimes a conflict will pop up in one area seemingly unrelated to another. The balance in church life is like a mobile – touch one area and another might start to bounce. For example, a church might make a major change in worship and see upheaval in the youth program.
- You think you can handle it alone. Especially if you are the pastor, you must have lay leaders as allies in dealing with the most problematic folks, especially if they are central to congregational life.
- You think if you accommodate the difficult people it will solve the problem. Typically, they simply push the boundary further and ask for more.
I said in my last post, on taking conflict too seriously, that “seriousness is a sign of anxiety.” But by “serious” here I mean something different:
- Having the courage to stand up and set boundaries,
- Being a leader who functions as the immune system for a congregation,
- Protecting the wider community from the least mature, for the sake of the whole and for the sake of the future.
Here is another article on the importance of taking a stand.
So many pastors I speak to hate church conflict. It’s possible to take conflict too seriously. Surprisingly, taking it seriously can get in the way of moving through the conflict. Seriousness is a sign of anxiety, and makes it harder for us to think creatively.
Here are seven warning signs:
- You feel like you have failed because there is conflict. In fact, if no one is upset about something, you might not be moving forward strongly enough.
- You take personal attacks personally. It’s not about you (even if they frame it that way). You won’t find it easy to take when people blame you for everything. Yet it can be a little easier if you remember it’s not really personal. It’s about your position as leader.
- You feel like it’s your responsibility to fix it. Remember that you can only take responsibility for yourself. You can manage yourself (a full-time job always, and especially in intense conflict). Others have to manage themselves. And the future of the congregation is not up to you but up to them.
- You think you have no options. There are always choices, and the more you can see, the freer you will be. Sometimes resignation is a positive choice. Sometimes staying on and toughing it out is a positive choice. You can learn either way.
- You blame one individual. It always takes more than one to make the conflict dance work. Blame is a serious stance. See if you can step back and watch the dance. And find out about past conflicts. You may see similarities which can help you lighten up. There might be an opening for a bully in your church which someone always seems to fill.
- You allow the conflict to absorb all your time and energy. In intense conflict, it’s hard not to be completely distracted. However, if you can keep at least some focus on your own goals and your own spiritual support, you’ll give the conflict less weight, which will be better for you and the church.
- You see the conflict and its potential negative outcome as ultimate. As important as any local church is, God’s purposes go far beyond the outcome of any given situation. See the bigger picture, and remember that God loves you (and your antagonists) no matter what.
Keep as light as you can, and do what you can to relax. Remember: focus on yourself and your own functioning and goals. That’s the biggest contribution you can make to your church in the midst of conflict.
Here’s another post that can help you keep perspective in a conflict.
Is it possible to be too generous? I think so. Church leaders can be too generous with their money, their time, and their forgiveness, in ways that are not good for them or the people they are being “generous” with.
1. Are you too generous with your money? Some people actually give away too much money. It’s important to be appropriately generous. Do you know how much money you give away? Sit down and figure it out as a percentage of your income. For some, an appropriate goal is to give less and save more for their own future.
You should at least know how much you give in dollars and as a percentage of your income. Then you can make a thoughtful choice about whether you may want to give less, and what to do with that money instead.
You should also know where you fall in the list of givers to your church. If you are the biggest single giver, the church may be too dependent on you. You may not choose to give less, but you can have a conversation with key leaders about this fact, and how to encourage others to give more.
2. Are you too generous with your time? You may be giving too much of your time away. When you spend large chunks of time with anyone who asks for it, you allow others to set your agenda. The people at church who repeatedly ask you to do this are usually the most unregulated. When you say yes to their constant demands for your time, you do not help them. Instead, you teach them to be dependent on you. They need someone to say no to them more often. And if you are going to keep moving toward your own ministry goals, you need to say no.
Of course, ministry does sometimes mean you set your own agenda aside to spend time with others. However, if you constantly put your goals last, you will never move forward on the initiatives that matter most to you.
3. Are you too generous with your forgiveness? What I mean by this is continually tolerating bad behavior in people who don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. We often say, “Let’s give him another chance.” This is related to item #2. Church leaders often are too accommodating to staff, volunteers and members who lack boundaries and repeatedly don’t fulfill their responsibilities. You will help them more if you expect them to carry out their commitments.
When you set limits with people like this, they will think you are mean. Just because they think you are mean, it doesn’t follow that they are right. In fact, it can be kinder to set higher expectations with someone than to continually accommodate them. You help them grow.
Of course I don’t mean we withhold forgiveness. But I do mean there need to be consequences for bad behavior. Holding people to account is good for everyone.
I believe in generosity and in encouraging ourselves to become more generous with our resources, including our time and emotional energy. But I recommend you be thoughtful as you give of yourself. Know when to draw the line with money, time and your willingness to be flexible with others. Remember, only God has infinite resources.
Where do you show too much generosity?
I was in Dallas recently, and went to the Sixth Floor Museum, about John F. Kennedy and his presidency, assassination and legacy.
I read about the speech where he cast the vision to reach the moon in the decade of the 60s. The museum audio guide quoted a scientist who said that we had not even successfully sent an astronaut around the Earth. Yet Kennedy’s statement inspired him to do his part to make the vision come true. And, in 1969, they did succeed.
An impossible dream
Can you dream something that seems impossible? Are you brave enough to say it aloud? Edwin Friedman always recommended that clergy give their “I have a dream” speech: that they take the risk to stand up and speak their ministry vision to their congregation.
I’m sure some people thought Kennedy was crazy to imagine landing on the moon. Or that it was a waste of money. If you share your dream, some will think it’s crazy or impossible or unnecessary.
Leaders have a unique view
Remember, no one else shares your perspective. If you are the leader, you stand in a unique position. Leadership involves sharing what you see, even if no one else sees it.
Last month I also took part in a conference on Christian philanthropy at the Church of the Resurrection, in Leawood, Kansas, Adam Hamilton, the pastor, is a visionary leader. He imagined something that wasn’t there, and the results, 25 years later, are inspiring.
Of course, it takes more than a visionary to make a dream come true, People like that scientist need to catch the vision and do their part to make it happen.
You don’t have to be a super-visionary, an entrepreneurial pastor, or a natural dreamer. Just start asking yourself, “What do I want?” And as you get clear, share it with others. Invite them to want that dream, too.
You are not guaranteed you will reach it. But remember, Kennedy’s vision came true years after his death. You may never see it. But if you are brave enough to dream it and say it aloud, it’s far more likely to happen. And if even 25% of your dream came true, would you be happy?
What is your dream for your ministry? What can you do to get it clearer? And where can you say it out loud?
Here’s another brief post with an inspiring story about vision.
If you want people in your church to show more generosity, try telling them a story. Help them imagine what you are asking them to give to. You will communicate with them why you want them to be generous. People are motivated to give to something meaningful.
And people of all ages respond to stories. We all know that the sermons people remember are the ones with the best stories. The Bible is filled with wonderful stories for a reason.
Here are two ways to tell the story: tell the story of the past, and paint a picture of the future. Both are important.
Tell the story of the past (recent and distant). Share with the congregation the ways your church has ministered in the past and present.Here are a few ideas on how to do that.
- Tell a brief ministry story each week or once a month before the offering.
- In a sermon, tell a story from the more distant past that connects with what you are doing in the present.
- Include a ministry story in the quarterly report of giving.
- Make the annual report and meeting a story. Do more than share reports: have stories and pictures.
When people are excited about what is going on in the church, they will want to give generously to support it. (But don’t forget to ask.)
Try this: at a stewardship meeting, ask yourselves, what are 20 ways we could share the story? Think fast, generate ideas (some of them ridiculous) and pick three that sound doable and fun.
Paint a picture of the future.
Share the vision of what you want for the future, and invite people to support the vision. Visioning can be a long process, where you have a conversation with others and clarify where you want to go together. Part of the work I do is helping churches with that process.
You can begin at any time, simply by sharing something of what you want for the future with the congregation, and painting the picture. Fill in the detail, for yourself and for them. How would you know the vision was coming true? What would be happening? Think more than one year out: imagine five, ten, even twenty-five years from now. You may not be the pastor there in ten years and probably not in twenty-five. Many of them will no longer be alive. But the decisions you make now and the resources that people give now will contribute to what will happen in twenty-five years. This includes whether your church (and the wider church) will be in business or not.
Visioning like this is not a prediction, but a direction. You are inviting people to take a journey with you. The more compelling the story, the more likely they are to want to come along and support it with their resources.
Finally, it is important to bring the focus back to the coming year. What decisions and resources are needed next year to make the story come true? A narrative budget is one way to begin to put numbers with the story. Here’s a great sample guide from the United Church of Christ.
Instead of a simple line-item budget with salaries, program and building costs (which causes most people’s eyes to glaze over), you can talk about ministry areas – and again, include stories and pictures. Have the numbers available for those who really want to look at each line. But most people don’t – it’s the story they care about.
Try this: just for yourself, take two minutes and write down what you want for your church in twenty-five years.
We’re all thinking about numbers this week since taxes are due today. Do you know your church’s numbers? Many pastors feel intimidated when reading church financial reports and having conversations about finance and stewardship.
Here are seven church finance numbers that deserve your attention:
- The relationship of spending to budget. Advanced: know what the spending flow is through the year. Some expenses are monthly, but many are not.
- Cash balance: the cash available to pay bills. And what is the trend month to month? If it’s going down, you may have a problem.
- The number of pledges at each level of giving, even if you don’t know the names.
- The percentage of givers on the board. It should be 100%.
- Net assets at the beginning and end of each year. You want to be able to see the trends.
- Giving and spending trends over the last three years. Advanced: know what the giving flow is through the year. No church receives one-twelfth of their giving each month.
- Amount of money that is unrestricted, or available to be spent on anything, versus restricted.
Many church financial reports are inadequate. In some churches finance committees and treasurers hoard the information. I heard of one treasurer who told the pastor the reports were “none of your business.” If you’re in a church like that, it may take some time to dig out these figures. Be patient, but don’t give up.
Other churches produce so many reports it can be overwhelming for the beginner. If church financial reports and conversations seem like so much noise to you, be patient with yourself. Pick one of these numbers and see what you can learn, then move on to another. Grace abounds!
Do you want to learn more? A great book is Ministry and Money: A Practical Guide for Pastors, by Janet T. Jamieson and Philip T. Jamieson.
If you love church numbers, celebrate, and find a colleague to mentor in this critical area of ministry.
Want to read more? Here’s another post on 7 things pastors must do in church finance.