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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- Spend time with them.
Touch base with them between meetings. Find out more about them, their families, their interests. You will know more about their strengths and places they need to grow. You can connect electronically, but I strongly suggest you simply pick up the phone. Even if they don’t call you back, they will know you were thinking about them. An idea to consider: one pastor told the members of the board he would read a book they suggested and meet with them to discuss it. It worked so well to foster a deeper connection that he did it again another year.
If you have to choose, prioritize developing leaders over visiting shut-ins, even in a small church. Don’t feel guilty and don’t pay attention to the people who say you don’t visit enough if that’s part of the culture of your church. You need relationships with your leaders in order to do your job. You can’t delegate this.
- Use meetings to help them grow.
Teach them. Have a brief learning time at each board meeting. You’ll need to enroll the president or chair to get this on the agenda, and you may face some resistance. Here’s my experience: If you have a clear agenda and a set closing time for the meeting, you can do a few minutes of teaching and still end on time. Discussion expands to fill the time available. Some boards have studied my book Leaders Who Last. I used Ron Richardson’s Creating a Healthier Church.
Pray with and for them. Rev. Cindy Maybeck insisted that her board have a prayer time at every meeting and that they pray aloud. This was her primary teaching. They resisted strongly, and it took years, but at the end they all felt like that was one of her biggest contributions to their own leadership and the life of the church. Also let your leaders know you are praying for them, and then do it. It doesn’t have to take a long time.
- Allow them to lead.
Be clear about what their role is and what your role is. Allow them to play their role. This will vary depending on your structure. For example, in an Episcopal church, the rector has more authority than in a congregational church like UCC or Baptist. If a decision is on the table that is not yours to make, put your case forward. Then say, “I recognize this is your decision.” After the decision, even if you strongly disagree, communicate that you respect them and the choice they made. Then act accordingly
Three questions to consider:
Who are the current leaders I want a closer relationship with?
What do I want to teach my leaders or learn alongside them?
Can I stick to my role, and let them play theirs?
Here are five important things about money every pastor ought to know. Any one of them can be difficult to learn depending on your background, life experience and aptitude. This is not a 5 quick tips article. However, over time (in some cases, years) and with practice you’ll be better able to lead in stewardship and overall church financial matters.
- How to give. It’s hard to teach what you don’t know. You may have been raised in a family that was generous, or maybe you didn’t. You may have ample resources, or you may struggle under the weight of a small salary and large debt. Whatever your situation, prayerfully and thoughtfully consider how you can be generous and what God is calling you to give.
- Your own cash flow. Figure out how money flows into and out of your life and make note of your financial priorities.. Know whether you are facing a surplus or a deficit each month. Be sure you are making intentional decisions about spending, saving and giving. This will help with #1. I know we can have a lot of resistance to doing this. But I’ve noticed that not-knowing takes more energy than knowing. Facts can calm you down and help you take action, even if the bottom line doesn’t look great. And if you have a surplus, you can still make more intentional choices about how you use the money you do have.
- How to read a financial statement. I didn’t learn much about this until I had been a pastor for a number of years. I’ll ever be grateful to Andover Newton Theological Seminary for offering a Woodbury Workshop seminar on this topic which transformed my relationship with our financial reports. If you don’t have a business background, take a course or find a mentor.
- How to ask people to give. You don’t have to apologize or feel like you’re been intrusive. Remember, it’s a gift to give people the opportunity to give to causes they believe in. You can work on your learning in a couple of ways. First, help people grow in stewardship in their lives as disciples. The second way you can learn to ask people to give is to ask specific people with resources to support special projects. Many pastors never do this. If you have done a capital campaign, you may have had the opportunity to do this. I hated it at first, but I’ve learned so much, and have found it a blessing (and still growth-producing) to ask.
- That money is a tool. We shy away from money talk and from asking for money, as if money were suspect or even dirty. But money, given well, makes ministry possible. The flow of money can be a blessing.
Re-read this list. Which one can you choose to go deeper with now?
Whether the launching of a new outreach ministry, dedication of a new building, or simply the completion of a particularly successfully program year, you might feel proud of yourself and your people. You did something together! Your heart swells as you look at all you accomplished together. You might think “I’m so proud of them!” Or “I’m so proud of myself—look at what I did.” You might even feel proud of yourself for surviving a particularly difficult year, when things didn’t go so well, but you are still standing.
Pride is a double-edged sword, however. On one hand, it’s important to share your accomplishments. Sometimes pastors and other church leaders are excessively modest: “Oh, it really wasn’t that much.” Or, “I couldn’t have done it without the team.” (That is laudable and true, but they couldn’t have done it without your leadership.)
My grandmother always used to say, after a particularly delicious meal, “That was a good dinner, if I do say so, who shouldn’t.” In other words, she didn’t think she should say anything positive about her efforts. It’s become a catchphrase in our family. I now look at sharing my accomplishments in a different way: you can unapologetically claim your own giftedness and how you put it to work, without coming off as arrogant. You don’t have to brag to everyone, or overshadow the contributions of others. But you can be proud of yourself and share the remarkable accomplishments you’ve had in your life with those closest to you.
Pride of course has a dark side, though. It’s one of the seven deadly sins, after all. Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography said of pride, “For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
The real trap of pride is conflating our accomplishments with our self. Our identity can quickly become wrapped up in our achievements. Then, when things don’t go the way we expected, we can lose our sense of ourselves. This is a deeply spiritual issue for pastors. If God called me to this ministry and I responded and it’s not going how it “should,” what does that mean for who I am? I can remember as a pastor sitting in the front of the church as worship began, and my mood would depend on how many people were sitting there. Even in that moment I knew I shouldn’t feel that way, but I couldn’t control it.
Here are two ways to free yourself of the trap of pride (over time)
- Claim your intrinsic value. As a child of God, you are worthy for that reason alone. You don’t have to prove it or earn it.
- Celebrate everything. I’ve found that celebration makes me freer than pride does. I can find something to celebrate in every circumstance of life, if I look for it. If an effort fails, I can celebrate that I learned something from it. It’s not so attached to me and my efforts. If I have a major accomplishment, I can open my heart to a full celebration of what I’ve done, whether on my own or together with others.
So: What are the many ways you can claim your value before God?
And: What are the many things you can celebrate about your ministry?
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.”
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.
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.
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?
Do 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:
- 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.)
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
As 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.
From www.prayerscapes.com (used by permission)
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.
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.
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.
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!