The Value of Long-term Relationships

Human relationships take time to develop. Today is my 29th wedding anniversary. My husband, Karl, and I were married in 1980. We are both amazed that it’s been so many years, over half our lives. And happy about it, which feels wonderful. Getting to know another human being more and more deeply is very satisfying. And, I have to say, the more I can accept him as he is without trying to change him, the better it goes!

A big part of ministry is relationships, of course. These connections also take time to develop. When things get bumpy in a congregation it can be tempting to look around for other options. But I’m convinced that long-term ministry has more potential for lasting results. And while we may have dreams and goals for our congregation, a fundamental acceptance of others helps the relationship grow. That’s a paradox of relationship — the more we can let go of trying to control others, the more potential there is for new possibilities to emerge.

What have been your experiences in developing long-term connections in ministry?

Leadership and Learning

I’ve got a new article on the current issue of Clergy Journal (not online, but check out your closest seminary library) called “Leadership and Learning.” Here’s a brief summary.

1. We need to learn ministry skills, and improve them over a lifetime.
2. Learning skills is not enough: we need to learn how to lead out of who we are. Skill means knowing how to do certain things. Self means knowing how to be yourself when doing them.
3. Many of the best learning opportunities are right in front of us: every ministry encounter is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, and about our congregation.
4. Still, getting away can give us valuable perspective. A spiritual retreat may teach us as much as a seminar. The best events teach us not only skills, but help us learn more about ourselves.

What do you need to learn about ministry this year? How will you make it happen, both in your continuing education time and in your ongoing learning on the spot?

Are You Looking for Information?

Here’s a resource that my husband, the reference librarian, swears by: RefDesk.com. It’s not a beautiful site, but it has all kinds of links that can be handy for preaching as well as for daily life. From the King James Version of the Bible to Grey’s Anatomy to airline information to movie reviews to urban legends, Refdesk has it all.

Refdesk includes a “thought of the day.” Here’s today’s, from Marie Curie: “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

Are You “Connecting” through Facebook?

I’ve been exploring Facebook and other social networking sites. It will be fascinating over time to see what kinds of lasting human connections can be made.

Most of my cousins on my mother’s side are on Facebook, and it’s been fun to stay in touch more frequently, and see what they are up to. (Leaving aside the slightly embarrassing photos from my past that have showed up here and there…) I’ve also been in touch with friends from college, which has been a pleasure.

For those of you who have dipped a toe in the social-networking waters, or jumped in completely, what has your experience been? Are you using Facebook to connect with those you lead, with family members, or others? What has that been like?

And if you are on Facebook, send me a friend request!

Are You Surfing?

Yesterday I took a quick read through a new book called Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, and, of Course, Surfing, by Laird Hamilton. Hamilton is a big-wave surfer, possibly the best ever. It’s in some ways a fitness book, but he talks more about paying attention to yourself than any other fitness book I’ve seen. He begins with a section on “Mind”, and the chapter titles are things like: “Risk and Its Rewards,” Dealing with Fear and Negativity,” “Cultivating Instincts,” and “The Joy of Being a Beginner.”

Given the up and down realities of congregational life at all times, and the wild ride our nation has been on economically, perhaps imagining ourselves as surfers can be useful. How do you keep your balance? As Hamilton points out, it requires a lot, in terms of mind, body and spirit. Hard work, managing your thoughts, taking care of your body, are all important for leadership as well as for sport.

I will never engage in his suggested two-hour workout, although I might try a modified version of his routine. And of course, this is not a deep book. But I found it a fun read in the middle of winter (lots of beautiful pictures of Hawaii and other places with big waves), and it might help you take the ups and downs of your leadership less seriously — usually a good thing. Check it out at your library. And click here to watch a brief (23-second) video of Laird Hamilton doing what he does best, surfing a big wave.

Is Lasting Leadership Possible? Part 2

Yesterday I had a Leadership Adventure teleconference, an interview with Larry Matthews, coordinator of the Leadership in Ministry workshops. For 32 years, Larry was pastor of the Vienna Baptist Church in Vienna, Virginia, so he knows something about lasting in ministry.

A couple of quotes from the interview stood out for me. I asked Larry the question of the day, “Is lasting leadership possible?” He reminded everyone that leadership is always a relationship between two parties, and that there are no guaranteed outcomes. He said, “I can only function in a way that lasting leadership is possible.” He highlighted that an essential (and challenging) element of that functioning is releasing outcome.

He also talked about the critical importance of dealing with the inevitable resistance. He said, “We expect ministry without resistance.” Larry taught with Edwin Friedman for years, and often speaks about Friedman’s notion that “the key to the kingdom” for leaders is dealing with resistance. We so often get frustrated and reactive when resistance kicks in, without recognizing that it is part of the picture for all leaders.

To read Larry’s article, “The Key to the Kingdom” in the Leadership in Ministry newsletter, click here to go to the Leadership in Ministry website and then click on “newsletter” to find the Winter 2009 issue. It’s a brief and thoughtful article that will help you think about the most important thing you bring to your ministry: yourself.

The Pressure of Projection

Did you watch the inauguration? I hope so. I was moved to tears (a fairly rare occurrence, to be honest, and never watching any previous inauguration). The election and inauguration of Barack Obama is remarkable for many reasons, including, of course, our first African-American president. He also seems to be a thoughtful and disciplined leader, not afraid to take chances in an intentional way, nor to challenge those he leads.

At the same time, millions if not billions of people (at least a million of them right on the spot) in America and around the world are projecting their hopes and dreams on one (human) leader. That’s a lot of pressure. Leaders, including Obama, have to tread carefully as they deal with these inevitable projections. When we pretend the projection doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter, and say we are “only human,” and think we can say or do whatever we like, we’re in trouble. Likewise, when we internalize the projection and believe our own press, we’re also in trouble. To sustain ourselves as leaders, we have to take almost a meditative stance toward the projections of others: “Oh, there it is.” Then we can make thoughtful choices about how to respond to it.

All leaders must at some point disappoint and disgruntle their followers. It’s the nature of leadership. Obama himself is bound to disappoint, because no one can live up to the build-up we’ve had. It’s true, however, that we are in desperate need of calm, clear and confident leadership nationally and internationally, and my prayers are with him.

Is Lasting Leadership Possible?

How tired are you? In the depths of winter, whether you are facing snow, rain, or merely cloudy skies, the demands of leadership sometimes feel overwhelming. Top it off with the burden of budgets, high anxiety in society, and any personal challenges you may be facing, and you may feel like you can hardly take the next step. Going forward can seem impossible.

We often begin the year resolving to take better care of ourselves. If we exercise more and eat better, we think, we’ll be able to manage the burdens of leadership better. All true. But “stress management” and “self-care,” as we usually think of them, are not enough. The best stress-management program around has to do with self-management in the way we relate to others: focusing on ourselves rather than trying to fix or change others. When we are growing emotionally and spiritually, we can better handle the challenges of leadership. And as I’ve often said before, we give others the room to do their own growing.

Every one of my Leadership Adventure newsletters includes the tagline, “Moving from the impossible, changing others, to the merely difficult, managing myself.” When I began to make that shift in my own leadership, my life took a significant turn. Before the shift, I truly believed I could change others by convincing, cajoling and willing them to be different (despite much evidence to the contrary!). And I was flirting with burnout as a result. I was exhausted, and felt like I couldn’t carry on with my leadership.

As I slowly began to realize that I needed to focus on myself, my goals and my emotional maturity, my stress level went way down. I was able to sustain myself over time, without wearing out or burning out. And to my surprise, I found that others responded better to my leadership than they had before. Now, I must confess that this is a long learning process, and I still often get caught up in my own need to pressure others to be, act or think the way I believe they should. The shift to putting our primary attention on ourselves and our own functioning is the first step toward lasting leadership.

Make a list: in how many relationships are you trying to change someone else? Then ask yourself: if I focused on managing myself instead, what would I do differently?