What is your purpose this Advent?


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.


What can a pastor do in 15 minutes?

file711269350883Is 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.

Unexpected benefit

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?

How to give thanks for your church (even if you are worn out, burned out or cranky)


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?

Is social media outrage sapping your energy?



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.


Image: Prawny

Do you (or your leaders) make these five mistakes when communicating about money at church?


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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