Ready for better communication at church? Try this.

Historically, churches have always struggled with communication. Whether it’s trying to let people know about new programs, or recruiting coordinating volunteers, to communicating the vision–we face a long list of communication challenges.

Pastors I coach say, “We need a communications committee that works,” or, “We’ve got to get someone on staff to handle communications.” As useful as those fixes can be, they don’t address the more fundamental challenge: addressing the emotional side of communication.

Communication is rooted in relationships. How and whether people hear you depends on what kind of relationship they have with you. This is true even in large churches where people may not know you personally. It’s true when a parent speaks to a child, when a president addresses the nation, and when I write you an email.

Edwin Friedman talked about this emotional side of communication in A Failure of Nerve, the book I mentioned in my last article. (p. 128.) His ideas have helped me more than any other communication training I’ve had.

Friedman talked about what he called “three interrelated variables.”

  1. Direction
  2. Distance
  3. Anxiety

Direction

When you are trying to communicate with others, pay attention to what direction they are moving emotionally. Are they coming toward you or moving away from you? Do their eyes light up? Or do they glaze over? Typically, what we do when someone’s eyes glaze over is this: we keep talking. We think if we marshal better arguments they will come around.

What to do instead? I recommend you STOP pursuing those who aren’t getting the message. Instead, connect. Stay in touch, without trying to persuade. Be patient—it may take months or even years for some folks.

Distance

When you set out to deliver a message, assess how close or far the person is, emotionally. You may have trouble communicating if the person is either too close to you or too far from you.

Too close: if there’s no emotional space, there’s no room to communicate. A parent can try like crazy to communicate the value of education with no response. Then the kid comes home quoting a friend’s parent, with the same message. Why? There’s more emotional space in the relationship, and so more ability to hear the message.

Too far: if you aren’t well enough connected with people, they won’t be able to hear you. There’s not enough of a relationship. They are too far from you emotionally. At church, this might show up in the finance committee when the chair can’t hear what the relatively new pastor is saying, but can hear it from a long-time member on the committee.

Anxiety

When people go to the doctor, they can find it hard to remember what the doctor says. It’s not just the medical jargon: their anxiety is higher, and they find it harder to process the information.

When anxiety in a congregation goes up, communication will be more difficult. Anxiety is like static. People simply can’t hear as easily. In a time of major transition, or when there’s a big conflict, pay even more attention to communication. Don’t be surprised if people act like they’ve never heard a message. They haven’t. Be patient.

If you pay attention to these three variables, you will almost automatically communicate better AND be less frustrated.

So, how can you use just one of these ideas to improve your communication?

Blessings,
Margaret

Can you recognize four signs of a church troublemaker?

church troublemakerDo you know how to watch out for a potential problem person at church?

It’s not the most fun thing to do, but being aware and alert about this can help save you lots of heartache in the future. To build up your skills, I highly recommend Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of Quick Fix. I’m re-reading it now. Friedman’s brilliant insights into the nature of societal anxiety are more relevant now than they were 20 years ago.  They apply to the global and national context, to family life—and of course, to congregational life.

He lists ten characteristics of what he calls potentially “viral” or “malignant” members of institutions. I’m going to simplify and share my favorite four of the ten. (See pp. 144-145, if you’ve got the book.) And don’t just take my word for it—go read the book.

Spot a Potential Troublemaker:

  1. They are easily hurt and collect injustices. They have a victim attitude and sometimes a long, long memory that fixates on details. You might hear them say, “No one visited my sister in the hospital…” (when they didn’t let anyone know she was there.)
  2. They tend to idolize their leaders – until they don’t. Friedman says, “Beware of those who adulate you early.” They can turn on a dime and suddenly be your worst enemy
  3. They are often black and white thinkers. They can’t tolerate difference or dissent. Their opinions are rigid and they are quick to proclaim what is right and wrong.
  4. They are prone to groupthink. Friedman says, “they fuse with others like them into an undifferentiated mass (like a tumor).” Often they already have a few people close to them who support and echo their ideas and behavior.

You can’t lead people like this by being empathetic and trying to see their point of view. You may want to, and others may urge you to do so. However, “…promoting in others the initiative to be accountable is far more critical to the health of an institution than trying to be understanding or insightful.” (p. 147) This is a hard lesson for church leaders to learn. We are trained to be understanding and insightful, not to take a stand.

Every church has people like this. Some have quite a few. In some churches they run the show. Remember, the impact of people like this is dependent on a host which allows them to make trouble. Leaders are like the immune system. Rather than blaming them or accommodating them, you and other leaders are called to take a stand and say, in essence, “You can’t act like that here.” Pastors need lay allies to do this, but it starts with you being willing to take a stand.

Where do you need to step away from endless empathy and toward clarity?

Blessings,
Margaret

Have a blessed time of preparation for Easter

Easter blessingAs you approach these last days of Holy Week and prepare for the celebration of Easter in your community, please know you are in my prayers.

Here’s a blessing designed to offer at the end of the Easter service. I hope you too can experience it this Easter.

Short Easter Blessing

(a short prayer suitable for blessing the congregation with at the end of the Easter service)

May the celebration of resurrected life bring new hope to your being.
May the victory over earthly death turn your eyes to the promises of heaven.
May the empty tomb help you to leave your sorrows at the foot of the cross.
So that God’s hope, promises and forgiveness reign in your life forever.

Amen.

From www.prayerscapes.com  (used by permission)

Blessings,
Margaret

Who’s supporting you?

Are you ready?

This year is coming at us, seemingly faster than most. It feels like everyone is on overdrive and there’s this consistent push to react and reply.

So how do we, as ministry leaders, turn away from that and craft how we want things to be? And not only for ourselves, but for the people we support. Do we seize the opportunity to build up our own leadership?

I think we do.

I think this is our time to step into our leadership like never before. To steady ourselves, to connect with mentors, and to invest in our own development so that we can more effectively lead our communities. I know that when I give even a little more attention to myself, my ability to connect and serve the people in my life grows exponentially.

So, what am I about to pitch?

In 2016, I created and ran a year-long online product called Leaders Who Last: The Training Program. It was deeply successful and leaders around the globe are still using it today.

But I don’t want to enroll you in a year-long program. I want to get specific. I want to get very focused on YOU and one main topic of growth.

Today, I’m releasing the Leaders Who Last Ministry Growth Series. And it’s going to work for you, with your schedule, and to the benefit of your legacy. I promise.

ministry growth

Pick one of six ministry areas: Leadership, Money, Relationships, Productivity, Personal Growth, or Communication. You will receive eight radically effective lessons over the course of eight weeks (one per week). These lessons are time-tested with leaders just like you. They include challenges, worksheets, tips, strategies, and opportunities for reflection. To see an example of a lesson, click here.

Now one thing I know most leaders suffer from is not doing the work!

Our best intentions tell us to jump in with both feet, while our schedules tell us we can’t add anything to our plate. I know this, I’ve lived it, and I help others with it daily.

Which is why in addition to getting the lessons, I’m adding an upgrade option that includes accountability and structure. You’ll get two coaching calls with me – one at the beginning and one at the completion. This coaching  supports you as you put these ideas to work in your own setting. This is your chance to draw from an experienced pastor who can help you sustain yourself in your ministry.

Now to brag just a little, here’s what one of my 2016 participants said:

Imagine a course that focuses on the daily life of a minister of a church (big or small) and includes insight, guided reflections and action planning as well as theories to help you understand others and yourself!  Then add the flexibility of doing it when and where you choose and substantial enough topics that some weeks you are affirmed for a practice or discipline you use already (high five!) and other weeks you are called (gently but honestly) to reflect on new habits you want to make or break.  I love being able to spend a little time with Margaret each week with these modules.  They remind me to return always to my center, God, and my call, ministry to God’s people.”

-Rev. Leigh Sinclair, United Church of Canada

I’ve  worked with many faith leaders nationally as a consultant and coach. I’ve also been a pastor myself. The Leaders Who Last Ministry Growth Series synthesizes years of wisdom and strategies from my own and other leaders’ experience, so you really can stand on the shoulders of giants while you grow even more.

Check out the details and grab the topic that you want help in, now: http://bit.ly/2ocbBAPv.

Blessings,
Margaret

P.S. If someone you know is struggling with some aspect of their ministry, go ahead and send this link to them. The solution to their problem may be right here in one of these six programs.

When money brought me to my knees

church money

I love having you in my community of leaders. And frequently when I write to you, I think about the challenges of ministry, identify a topic, and come up with a series of action steps to remedy or support it.

But not today.

Today I want to tell you a story about my past.

For a long time I found money to be one of the most challenging areas of ministry. I absolutely dreaded stewardship time and was relieved when it was over. I did my best to read the church’s financial statements each month, but I was never confident about it. I clearly remember how it felt, as a young pastor, to sit with the executive committee and feel light headed and slightly nauseous. These older men and women, most of them with backgrounds in business, looked to me while these words pounded in my head: “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

I was interested, but afraid.

In my own family, there was always a powerful sense of scarcity. Even though my parents gave generously and taught me to tithe, it always felt like there was, and would never be, enough. My father’s challenging Depression-era upbringing and the financial difficulties of earlier generations deeply shaped him, and me in turn. Money was something that existed, but no one liked talking about it. Money was something you had to deal with, not something that worked for you. Can you relate? When I found myself having conversations about money, and leading initiatives around giving, I was at a loss. And quite frankly, I was terrified to lead in this area.

So, what helped me?

First, I worked hard to see stewardship as ministry. I reframed it from an annoyance to a tool to make the ministry I loved possible. I actively started to learn details around financials, and gained more competence. I stepped out of my comfort zone and began asking people to give. I honestly explored my own multigenerational family story, and the strengths and traumas that shaped me in relation to money.

I came to see money as a great resource in ministry and in life, rather than something scary or tainted. Used rightly, money can be a blessing for us and for others.

It was deeply liberating to feel a sense of competence and even power in this area as a pastor. I continued to grow in clarity and confidence. Of course, that wasn’t the end. I’m still on my journey with money. And I’ve come a long way.

I know what it’s like to struggle in this area as a leader. That’s why I’m committed to helping pastors and lay leaders gain more comfort in talking about money in church life and making better decisions about it. I also know what a difference we can make  when we mobilize resources, both financial and personal, to make more ministry happen. I wrote Money and Your Ministry out of a sense of conviction that pastors need help getting more thoughtful and clear in this critical area of ministry. And what I’m hearing from people is that it’s a real help to them. I’m continuing to develop resources to support you and your congregations in this area.

Money, of course, is only one challenging area of life in ministry.  Next week I will announce a new offering to help you not only with money, but also with other arenas of ministry. Stay tuned and keep up the important work!

Blessings,

Margaret

How do you stack up?

ministry evaluationEvery year for the past five years, I’ve intentionally carved out time to do a self-evaluation. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s provided a framework for me to address my internal criticisms and honestly acknowledge my successes.

My friend encouraged me to share a portion of this self-evaluation tool with you. And it’s super simple.

How would you assess yourself in the following six key ministry areas?

Take ten minutes and sit down with this list. I recommend you do some writing on each point. (Here’s a printable version if you’d like!) Ideally, take some pen and paper and jot down by hand your thoughts. Handwriting helps your brain work better-it’s true!

We won’t be assigning you a “grade.” Instead, ask yourself, does this describe me?How do I want to grow in this area of ministry?

In My Leadership:

I know what I want in ministry. I have a clear sense of where I’m heading. I’m able to communicate that direction with clarity and calm. I am persistent without being rigid. I am internally motivated to keep moving forward.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

With the Topic of Money:

I am comfortable talking and learning about money. I am confident asking people to give. I understand the business side of the church. I keep on top of my personal finances.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

In My Relationships:

I am well connected with key leaders in my congregation. I form relationships with members across all areas of the church. I can relate well to those who disagree with me or our ministry direction.  I have people outside the congregation (family, friends and professionals) who support me.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

Around My Productivity:

I am effective at managing the time demands of ministry. I regularly take focused time apart from distraction to work. I routinely take time off to rest and relax. I feel like life is well balanced.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

In My Personal Growth:

I attend to my own spiritual, emotional and physical health. I have a regular life of prayer. I understand how my family story has shaped me and know myself well, both vulnerabilities and capabilities. I have interests outside ministry that give me joy.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

With My Communication:

I communicate my message clearly, verbally and in writing. I am an active listener. I understand or am learning about new media, including social media (or I have a team to help me.)

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

Wonderful job.

Now there’s one more step.

Take a moment and reflect even further.

Where do you see yourself as strongest?

In which area do you want to pursue growth next?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on where you are in your ministry–comment below and I’ll respond

Blessings,

Margaret

Do you interrupt yourself?

pastoral interruptionsGrrrr…interruptions are the bane of pastoral ministry. It can be hard to get anything done when a church member pops into your office or sends an urgent text message, or a staff member says, “I just need five minutes of your time.” Even meetings are interrupted by someone choosing to take a phone call or glance at a text.
But when I sit back and really think, I find the worst culprit is me. I interrupt myself, and I’ll bet you do, too. I stop something important I’m working on to answer emails or check Facebook. It’s a huge productivity-buster. I’ve gotten better, and I want to share with you some ideas that have helped me.
Here are four ideas to stop interrupting yourself, from small to big-picture:
  1. Turn off notifications. If your phone is beeping at you every time you get an email or text, you’ll never be able to focus. You’ll be less present to the important work of visioning, preparing to teach or preach, or even to the conversations you have with others.
  2. Use a timer. I’ve used a timer for household chores for years. I can do something for 15 or 20 minutes and then I stop. I’ve found it helps with work, too. If you are stuck on the sermon, set a timer and tell yourself you can stop after 20 minutes. Or 40. Then you can take a break. Some people swear by the Pomodoro method, which is 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off.  Right now I’m working for two 40 minutes chunks before checking email. That’s how I’m writing this article. If I check email first, my thoughts are distracted by whatever has come in, and I’m not as focused.
  3. Use an accountability partner. I send my friend Jill an email each morning on what I want to do that day, and another at the end of the day. I’m much less likely to get distracted by unimportant matters when I know I have to report in. And if something truly important comes up that changes my plan, I can report that. Your partner doesn’t even need to be in ministry-Jill is an editor and writer.
  4. Be clear about purpose. I know my overall purpose is to help leaders grow. If I’m spending too much time reading other people’s writing online and not doing my own writing, I won’t contribute as much to leaders. I’m also thinking about my purpose each three months and every day. It helps me stay on track. I interrupt myself less because I want to achieve my purpose.
Those are the four tips I use in my life, but let’s be honest. I still interrupt myself and lose focus every day. But I get back on track a lot faster than I used to.
What helps you keep on track with your most important work without interrupting yourself?

Blessings,

Margaret

What are you reading?

I’m curious…what do you read? Aside from articles on your phone and the occasional magazine in a waiting room, what do you pick and spend some time reading?

In addition to the Bible, I’ve read plenty of wonderful ministry books (and I still like my own). And when I meet with leaders, their office is usually stocked with books that support their ministry. While I absolutely understand this, I also believe clergy benefit from stepping outside our niche. It enriches our thinking, our practice and our life.

So in addition to your must-read ministry books, here are three reads I highly recommend:

 

Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, by Mark Levy

This book helps you write sermons, newsletter articles or anything else. It spurs you to think through ministry dilemmas, visioning and clarifying your ideas.  Levy is an advocate of “freewriting,” simply putting ideas on paper without worrying about having to get it right. He has dozens of brilliant ideas for freeing up your brain through writing.

After reading Accidental Genius, I experimented with these three tools:

  • Hold a “paper conversation.” This means, on paper, writing down a brief, imaginary dialogue with someone important to you.  Levy suggests you have them ask you questions  about your life or ministry. I’ve done this with Jesus, Rabbi Edwin Friedman and my mother. I always learn something new.
  • Do a mini-marathon: a series of 20 minute writing sessions. At the end of each session, note what catches your attention. Pick one thought and start again. I did this for two hours and got some great nuggets.
  • Use prompts for writing, such as, “The simplest thing I could do to make a difference would be…” or, “The two things I could do today to make things more exciting… “ or, “I love…”

 

Why Won’t You Apologize, by Harriet Lerner

Harriet Lerner first introduced me to family systems thinking over 20 years ago in her book The Dance of Anger. That book had a profound impact on my life and led me to study with Rabbi Edwin Friedman. Her latest book is a fascinating examination of the apology, both giving and receiving. The chapter ”Apologizing Under Fire” is a must-read for pastors. She includes 12 points to keep in mind when we’re on the receiving end of criticism, a regular occurrence in some churches.

Here are three of 12 points about apologies:

  • Listen only to understand (do not interrupt, argue, refute or correct facts).
  • Ask questions about whatever you don’t understand.
  • Find something you can agree with (even if it’s only 7%).

 

Improv Wisdom, by Patricia Ryan Madson

I have always been intrigued by the art of improv. One day I will take an improv class, so this book caught my eye. Madson suggests some useful things:

  • Just Show Up. This reminds me of Friedman’s idea that what’s most important is not technique but the nature of your presence.
  • Say Yes. I coach many leaders on being able to say no, especially to those who don’t have boundaries. Yet it’s also important to say yes, and even to find the, “yes” in the “no.” Madson suggests saying “Yes” for a whole day.
  • Change it Up. One great idea of Madson’s: if things are stuck, move to a different place. I wonder about having a board meeting in another room in the church than you usually do. Or try taking a walk with someone to see if movement shifts the energy in the relationships.

 

So, these three books are not for ministry, yet support it.

What non-ministry books have you read lately? Comment below and let me know. And if you haven’t read any, consider checking out one of the books above.

Blessings,

Margaret