It’s less than six weeks until Ash Wednesday. Are you ready with your Lenten plans? If not, here are five suggestions for congregation-wide emphases that you still have time to implement. Some of them you can simply choose to adopt yourself and invite others to join with you, some others will need a little more planning.
- Write a thank you note each day. Encourage people to write a thank you email, or (better) a written thank you note every day to someone who touched their life. It could be someone within the congregation, a family member, or someone from their past. Step up to do it yourself as they do. You could even order post cards with inspirational images and quotes on them, and distribute them to the congregation so they can get started. Writing a thank you note each day is the practice I’m going to take on for myself this Lent.
- Engage in a “news fast.” Take a break from reading, watching and listening to the news. In the current climate, it could be a wonderful gift, and a great thing to do for your spiritual life. Invite people to take time off from the anxiety driven news cycle. Trust me, if something big happens, you will hear about it. In The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership¸ Steven Sample talks about giving up news for six months! He didn’t miss anything significant. Invite your people (and yourself) to take more time for prayer for our nation and the world instead. You could offer three levels of opting in to this practice: 40 days completely news-free, check in on Sundays, or read paper news only (a much cooler medium) for 40 days.
- Give of yourself every day. This could be a practice, such doing something kind every day. (Here’s a host of ideas.) Or it could actually be giving at least a small amount of money away every day, which I did last year. I found it a powerful practice for finding greater freedom in relation to money.
- Read (or listen to) the same passage of Scripture together daily. There are lots of audio version of the Bible (see this guide). You could share links to the week’s text via email or social media and invite people to listen daily. If you are doing a special Lenten Bible study group, you could invite people to read or listen daily. Keep it simple.
- Help your people connect their money with their faith. This willl take a little more planning than the other ideas. However, it’s not too late to offer my Finances and Faith System for the Lenten season. It is a congregation-wide offering that focuses not on giving, but on how ordinary people can bring prayer into their daily encounters with money—perfect for Lent. Click here for more information.
Please do let me know how you observe this time. I love hearing new ideas and learning from amazing leaders, like yourself. You can leave a comment on below and I promise to reply.
It’s been a pleasure sharing with you my thoughts about church leadership this year–and even more to hear your comments about the places these have resonated and stimulated your thinking.
Here’s a lovely prayer for Christmas services, from The Rev. Bosco Peters, from New Zealand:
God of darkness and silence, you have pierced the quiet of this night by the utterance of your Word in our flesh. May your word of compassion and reconciliation resound in us and through us.
In this holy night angels proclaimed the peace of your unconquered Sun of righteousness. Strengthen all who work for peace and justice.
In this holy night you came to us in a child cradled in a borrowed bed of straw as there was no room in the inn. Open our hearts to the needs of the homeless and the hungry.
In this holy night shepherds and outcasts heard your good news. Give us grace to spread your gospel of joy and liberation.
Click here for the rest of the prayer. May your celebration of Christmas be truly blessed this year, and may you have a peaceful time of rest after. Thank you for your ministry!
What do you see in the relationships in your church? When you think about people interacting, what comes to mind?
When I ask pastors this, many of them are quick to point out the challenges or frustrations. And I understand. It’s easy to focus on the negative people and interactions and spend a lot of time discussing them (if not complaining).
But here’s what we know. Focusing on what’s working and how to get more of it is vastly more productive.
Here are five characteristics of positive relationships at church:
Growth: People are growing in their relationships with each other and with God. They may serve in one capacity together, then create their own projects. Or they may move from only attending on Sunday to becoming a member of the church. Growth is evident.
Responsibility: People can take responsibility for their own part in relationships. They don’t blame others and actively work on their own “stuff.”
Positivity: People in your church spend more time talking positively than negatively – especially in regard to how they communicate to and about one another.
Lightness: They have a sense of humor. When things go wrong, they can see the lighter side and even seek it out.
Direct: People work on person to person relationships. They don’t triangle in other people with gossip or complaints.
You can assess your own congregation for how often you see this kind of behavior, and celebrate it when you see it. And, even more importantly, you can assess yourself and how you relate to others. Remember, you can always relate to others this way, whether or not they approach you positively.
I recently came across this prayer:
With the help of God, my family and friends,
growing confidence and assurance
in myself and others,
developing new possibilities and opportunities,
advancing compassion and encouragement,
and building vision and hope.
I pray that I will complain and lament less.
I pray that I will forget how to scold and whine.
God help me to grow, develop, advance and build.
It comes from Kennon L. Callahan’s Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church. Published almost 25 years ago, it’s still in print, and I recommend it for your stewardship endeavors. However, the best part of it is this prayer. Callahan suggests you place it someplace you will see it every day, pray it and live it every day: “Help this be the prayer of personal growth of your congregation.”
I can safely say that if you do pray this and live it, your congregation will have more positive relationships. If you encourage others to do the same, the congregation will have even more. If you are willing, I invite you to commit to pray this prayer daily.
Questions for reflection:
Am I growing, responsible, positive, light and direct in my relationships at church?
How might I grow in one of these areas a little more before the end of this year?
Clergy families can find it difficult to connect with extended family at Christmas. We often live far from family, and we WORK Christmas Eve. Sometimes family comes to visit, and we come home after Christmas Eve services just wanting to crash when they want to celebrate. Or we travel on Christmas Day and arrive exhausted. Or we don’t see them at all at Christmas time.
Because of this, we have a unique opportunity to intentionally craft ways to connect with our families. Below are my suggestions and my hope is these get your wheels spinning so you come up with options that really serve you and yours.
Ask them what they remember about Christmases past. Whether you’re together or apart, this question inspires conversation. You can ask this of people in any generation-parents/aunts/uncles, sibling/cousins, or children of any age. You can do it before the holidays, on the day of, or even after. Whatever the timing, the conversation fosters connection.
Thank them for what you remember and appreciate about Christmas growing up, even if you have to think hard. If you are far away, write a letter (yes, on paper) and share your appreciation. If you had a difficult childhood, see if there’s one thing you can appreciate and share that. If you had a wonderful childhood, tell them. If your parents are gone, tell your siblings or cousins what you appreciated.
If you will be with family in person, take a different approach than you usually do. If you usually pull out all the stops and make a big Christmas dinner, announce you’ll be going out to eat. If you collapse in a chair and talk in monosyllables, engage with people (even if you are tired). One year I hosted Christmas and tried to do as little as possible. I found it incredibly freeing! And surprise, surprise, everything got done. My 85-year-old mother was happy to peel the potatoes.
What’s the purpose of this?
And what does it have to do with ministry?
Here’s the reason: We all learn how to relate to people (and holidays!) in the families we grow up in. We carry those patterns into our ministry. So…when you can develop a wider repertoire in your family of origin, you’ll have more choices in how you relate to others at church.
Let me know which of the strategies you try or create this holiday season. Think of it as a fun experiment.
Well, we made it through Thanksgiving, which means…it’s that time of year again. Yes, I’m talking about Advent. A time that can be challenging because along with all the church stuff to do, there are family celebrations to prepare for, and sometimes post-Christmas travel plans. Whether you are a pastor, church musician or lay leader, it’s a busy time.
One year we attended a late-night Christmas Eve service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. My son, age eleven, fell asleep. We woke him up to leave, and he walked sleepily through the door. The priest greeting everyone looked at him and said, “You look like I feel!” I laughed at the time, but remembered very clearly my days when I was a pastor, and I often felt that way at the end of Christmas Eve.
Maybe there’s no way to avoid the Christmas hustle and bustle, but here are some ways to take care of yourself during Advent.
Here are 6 ways to thrive this season:
- Do something for yourself every day. On all your lists of to-dos it is imperative at this point to prioritize yourself. It’s way too easy to let this slide, which is why it’s the first step. You’ve got to keep nourishing YOU all season long. You could sing your favorite carol. (Yes, it’s OK to sing Christmas carols for yourself in Advent even if your church doesn’t sing them in worship.) Look at pictures of past holidays. Listen to Christmas music in the car. Or, do something that has nothing to do with Advent and Christmas. Do something bigger every week; go to the movies, take a long nap or bubble bath, eat your favorite food, go for a hike or even take 5 minutes to be outside alone every day.
- Really use an Advent calendar. This tradition can serve you throughout this time. Here’s a nice online option from Loyola Press. Or use a beautiful paper one with windows, (maybe one with chocolate), even if you don’t have kids. Use it as a moment to remind yourself to breathe and enjoy.
- Ground yourself in the present moment. Like right now. Take a moment. Breathe. Experience God’s love expressed in Jesus. Smile. Notice the light in people’s eyes and on people’s homes.
- Let go of perfectionism. Seriously. Christmas happens every year. Everyone (well, almost everyone) will love the services. Focus on what is working – the electricity is on, the sound works, people arrived safely! We created a space for people to practice their faith. We made it another year. And on and on. Look for what’s working, appreciate that, and don’t let other perfectionists get you down.
- Take advantage of the fact that everyone is busy. Focus on what actually needs to be accomplished and who really needs to be at the table. For example, which teams or committees can skip their meeting this month? Trust me, no one will complain, and you can get an extra evening at home.
- Remember: it’s not all up to you. God works through Advent and Christmas worship. The story of God’s love made real in Jesus has emotional and spiritual power that has lasted for centuries. People bring themselves to worship and other church events and get what they need to out of it.
So, with those six steps, I wish you an awesome Advent. I’m here for you this season, so do feel free to email me with any stories, challenges, or questions.
Here we go,
Right now, are you worried about money?
Whether it’s your church’s money or your personal money–the thought of cash coming in and cash going out can be stressful, especially if more is going out than is coming in.
Here’s my secret to moving beyond worry, and it’s the perfect week to practice:
Changing my attitude to one of gratitude.
Giving thanks is a radically effective way to focus on your strengths, what’s working, and what already is giving you an advantage. Plus, you can be grateful for big achievements and smaller blessings. For example: We have a church building that safely houses our growing community! The lights turn on with the flick of a switch!
I read recently that successful businesses focus 70-80% on their assets on only 20-30% on their liabilities. Focusing on the liabilities is a sure way to failure, so why do so many of us do it in our personal lives?
It’s not that we don’t need to be candid about the challenges. It’s important to face them.
However, we don’t get energy to solve problems by spiralling downward in fear and worry. In fact, just the opposite happens. We lose energy, become paralyzed and don’t take action at all. That’s a formula for disaster.
Here’s what to do instead: Observe Thanksgiving not just this week, but every week.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Give thanks every time you receive a check or electronic payment.
- Light a candle when you pay your bills.
- Go around the table when you have a meal and share one thing that delights you.
- Make a list once a day of five things you are grateful for.
When you experience worry, acknowledge it. Then think of at least one thing you can celebrate.
Now, I’m not saying you will never have thoughts of worry again. I am saying that with time, you can develop the habit of moving quickly from worry to gratitude. If you can do that, your relationship with money will be completely different.
In my constant quest to practice what I preach, I want to share how deeply grateful I am.
I’m thankful for the lives we’ve touched, for the relationships that have developed, for the new adventures that continue, for the possibilities that still exist. I’m grateful that God is present with us no matter what the future may hold.
I’m also grateful for:
- You! Thank you for reading. I love hearing from you, when you have a thought or comment, and especially when you have a different perspective.
- The church leaders around the world who are seeking to faithfully serve God and touch the lives of others with the message of faith and love.
- My country, the United States, for freedom of expression and freedom of worship.
- The public library and the Internet, together the greatest sources of free reading material anyone could imagine, and a boon to a compulsive reader like me. If I had to buy everything I read every year, I’d be broke.
- My family, immediate and extended. We’ll gather Thursday with just a few of us here in Portland, but my father at 93 will be with us, and I’m so thankful for his continued life with us.
- And as always, I’m aware of and grateful for the money that flows into and out of my life and yours, and into and out of our churches, making ministry possible.
So…what are you grateful for? (Let me know in the comments!)
Help your people connect their finances with their faith with The Finances and Faith System:
The Finances and Faith System can help you engage your congregation, your leaders and your people in a systematic, daily reflection on money and faith. In just 29 days, it will help your people link their money and their faith. You’ll create a solid core of folks who deeply understand that God is part of their daily walk, including how they relate to their money.
Get all the details here.
Wow. Social media is crazy right now. And it reminds me of one key component that most people are bypassing.
Before you spend ANY time (or any more time) on social media, whatever the platform, it’s important to think about your purpose. Remember, your purpose for using social media is not the same as Mark Zuckerberg’s. These companies are in business to make money by getting your attention. You, however, have a different purpose.
Possible purposes for using social media include:
- To connect with church members and friends to get the word out about events.
- To create an online conversation with your church community about faith.
- To connect with younger members of the congregation and wider community.
- To enhance your online presence in the community.
- To experiment with any of the above to discern what’s the best direction to go next.
- To have fun and be personable online.
Being clear about your purpose (and loving that purpose) helps in two ways:
1) It can motivate you to learn some things that might be challenging, if you aren’t already comfortable with social media.
2) It can keep you from spending too much time on it, because you are crystal clear about what gets your attention and what you fly by.
Of course, you may have a couple of purposes, but I recommend you don’t have more than three big reasons. .If you are clear on your short and long-term ministry purpose, make sure your social media purpose fits with it.
You can ask yourself, “Would someone with this (bigger) purpose engage in this social media activity?”
So…what’s your purpose?
How can you use social media to further your purpose?
I can’t wait to see what you create!
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As you know, the US presidential election has been a wild ride. I know I have readers outside the U.S., and I’d love to hear from you. And for those of us who are in the process of voting, it’s fascinating.
Here’s what I know through and through:
- Anxiety is high.
You may say, “duh!” However, I think it’s useful to step back and observe the flow of anxiety, whatever your political views. Edwin Friedman in A Failure of Nerve, has a whole chapter called “A Society in Regression.” He talks about the characteristics of chronically anxious families:
- Herding (essentially group-think)
- Blame displacement
- A quick-fix mentality
- Failure of nerve in leadership
Sound familiar? It’s true not just in politics, but in church, education, business, you name it. The media feeds off it and enhances it.
I’ve noticed this reactivity in myself. A couple of years ago I decided not to click on links on social media that tapped my outrage (see this post). I’ve stuck with it—until recent weeks. It’s addictive. I realized that spending time reading about the election was keeping me from my own goals. I’ve cut back, though not completely.
When we are anxious, we are more likely to operate in those five areas. Which do you more often finding yourself doing?
- We can choose how to respond.
A principled response is always better than an anxious response. Here’s what I’m trying to do:
Regulate my media exposure. I intentionally consume media in a (mostly) thoughtful manner. I try to make choices about which media I consume, when and for how long. I prefer reading to watching or listening (then I can think about it).
Pray. Months ago I felt called to pray for all the presidential candidates through the primary season. Most days I simply mentioned them all by name to God. I’m still doing it. I haven’t told too many people about it because it seemed a little holier-than-thou, but I feel led to share it now.
I’m also using the Forward Movement’s litany and daily prayer before the election.
Vote. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton for president. I think she is the better choice not only in terms of my own views, but a primary quality leaders need: ability to self-regulate in the face of challenge. I’ll be honest that I’ve not always been a big fan, but to me the choice is clear. And I’ll also be honest and say that to have a viable woman candidate is exciting.
Love. Especially for those who hold positions I dislike (or stronger), I want to practice love. In 2000 Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, invited Bill Clinton to his Leadership Summit. Hybels talked about people calling the church and yelling at his staff. One man said to Hybels, “I hate that man!” Hybels asked the audience, “Excuse me. Did the rules about love change?” I’ve thought about this in recent weeks. I know there are millions of people in this country, some of you reading these words in fact, who disagree with me politically. I want to open my heart to people who hold views I profoundly disagree with.
Edwin Friedman used to recommend you assess the maturity of people in your congregation this way: If they came up to you and said, “How can you say that! That’s outrageous!” that was one clue. If they said, “I disagree with you,” that was another. The latter were the people you wanted in leadership, because their level of differentiation was higher. I want to work on my own growth by saying clearly and calmly, “I agree” and “I disagree.”
- Thoughtful conversation is possible, even among those who disagree.
One of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had this election season was with Rev. Jeff Coppage, pastor of Covenant Moravian Church in York, Pennsylvania. This fall they’ve had a class on faith and citizenship. Here’s what he said about it:
The goal of the class is to address the election season from a faith perspective that deepens our support for one another even when we know that we are voting for opposing candidates. I remind us weekly that our commitment to one another’s welfare as brothers and sisters in Christ far surpasses our political affiliations. Each week a church member shares a bit of their story about their life as both citizens and follower of Christ. We’ve heard from a German immigrant who grew up in Berlin during the Russian occupation. Her story of emigrating to the US and working “as a white slave” (according to her late husband) for a local doctor’s family was gripping. Then we heard a Vietnam Vet share about his lifelong anguish ties to an incident when a 8 year old boy threw a grenade beneath his army jeep. We’ve heard from a scientist who worked for the NIH, an engineer who is a district school board chair, and a civil servant with the state government. Each class has provoke more free flowing discussion and questions for the week’s leader than any class I’ve been apart of here. We close each class with a prayer for the “speaker”, our community, and our nation.
I’d love to see more of this kind of conversation in churches around the world.
P.S. For another thoughtful conversation, listen to Krista Tippett interviewing liberal E. J. Dionne and conservative David Brooks for an episode of NPR’s On Being. Here’s the link. Tippett quoted from former Senator (and Episcopal priest)John Danforth:
“If there was a Christian agenda for politics, what should it be? I, for one, cannot be certain. Then one might ask, ‘What does faith bring to politics if not an agenda?’ For me, it brings a struggle to do God’s will that always falls short of the goal. It leavens the competing self interests of politics with the yeast of the Love Commandment, but it seldom fulfills the Love Commandment. It makes us better participants in politics, but not the custodians of God’s politics.”