Three not-so-simple ways to be a better pastor

Do you want to be a better pastor? Here are three tips you can use to improve your leadership at church, courtesy of Jesus. They come from the great commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22:27-40

Of course, these are far more than tips. They are commandments, which means God asks us to live them out. They are not simple, and not easy. However, even a little progress in any one of them can make us better pastoral leaders.

  1. Love God.

This is obvious, and you’d think we’d put this at the top of our priority list. You might say, I’m serving God, don’t you think I love God? However, it’s all too easy to put God at the bottom of our priority list in terms of time spent. Prayer gets crowded out by the busyness of ministry life. We know God will be there waiting, and the board chair/dying parishioner/noisy son or daughter can’t seem to wait.

Alternatively, we may feel a little cranky with a God who called us into such a challenging ministry, with the attendant struggles and often personal and congregational financial challenges. We avoid having the hard conversations in prayer.

I’ve said before that five minutes, or even one minute, of prayer is better than no minutes. I don’t want to make you feel guilty for not praying. I want you to get the spiritual support you need for your ministry. Remember, even if you don’t feel like you can love God right now because you are struggling, God always loves you. See if you can at least receive that love for a moment or two each day.

  1. Love your neighbor.

Let’s face it: this can be a challenge in ministry. It’s easy to love the neighbor (read, church member) who loves us. It’s much harder to love the church member who is constantly critical, has no boundaries, or can’t tolerate even an ounce of change.

Yet there’s this commandment. Can you open your heart even an inch more to the most difficult person in your congregation? Note: this doesn’t mean letting them get away with everything, including taking hours of your time each week. It does mean accepting them just as they are, trusting that God loves them despite their challenges or the difficulties you have with them.

If you move toward loving those who are most difficult, you’ll notice a lighter spirit in relation to them. It may never be easy, but it can be a little bit easier.

At the same time, make sure to spend some time with the easy wonderful people in your congregation, the ones who are easy to love.

  1. Love yourself.

Jesus doesn’t say explicitly love yourself, but he does say Love your neighbor as yourself. So in fact this shouldn’t be last. When I was a child I learned a Sunday School song that said, “Jesus, others, then you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.” Message: always put yourself last. I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended here.

Can you love yourself no matter what is going on in the ministry, whether worship attendance is up or down, or giving is up or down, whether people in the church love you or are ready to ask you to leave?

Love yourself as much as God does – or move in that direction – and you’ll be more joyful.

Here’s a post on lowering your ministry stress.

Pastors, did you get a raise this year?

Many churches have just completed their annual meetings and passed their budgets. What was the result for your own compensation?

I find a big variation in the range of clergy compensation and in the attitudes of churches toward paying their pastors. Over the last few years, many church budgets have been flat or declining. Many churches never give raises for merit or experience, and some churches have not even given cost of living increases, in order to balance the budget. And of course, the cost of living was essentially flat last year. (Although see this article  from Smart Church Management about projected salary increases for 2016.)

Clergy have mixed feelings in talking with their congregations about their salary. They are afraid to seem greedy if they advocate for themselves. They are anxious because people’s giving supports them, and because of the percentage of the budget that is salary (the smaller the church, the higher the percentage).

I recommend a different approach: taking a clear, non-defensive stand for what is important to you, while open-heartedly appreciating your congregation and those who make the financial decisions.

What to do now:

If you DID get a raise:

  1. Be grateful.
  2. Claim your value. Don’t be defensive.
  3. Do the best job you can in 2016.

If you DIDN’T get a raise:

  1. Let go of any resentment.
  2. Start now to get clarity for next year. Don’t wait until the October budget committee meeting.
  3. Do the best job you can in 2016.

What to do in the future:

  1. Track your own finances, so you know how much you actually need to live on now and for the future.
  2. Prayerfully prepare for the budget conversations, both as a whole, and with regard to salaries (your own and other staff members).
  3. Make a specific salary request. Don’t just wait for what the budget folks offer. It’s a way of taking responsibility for your own financial life. Make this request in the spirit that either “yes” or “no” is all right with you.
  4. Save this article to reread at budget time.

Coming next week: Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry, The Training Program. This resource will help support you in your leadership (including money matters such as salary conversations).

Three simple ways to enjoy ministry more this year

Would you like to enjoy your ministry more this year? Here are three simple, though not necessarily easy, ways to do so.

First, let go of the outcome for the year.

This may seem counterintuitive at a time when everyone is thinking about resolutions and goals. In fact, I do recommend setting goals and moving toward them. At the same time, anxiously pursuing a goal, can paradoxically make it harder to achieve, especially if we are trying to control what others do (see next point).

Imagine holding the goal in the palm of your hand, lightly. You pay attention to it, but you are not tightly gripping it. Your whole body is more relaxed. You can put your energy toward the goal rather than in holding on to the goal. I think this may be part of the meaning of Yoda’s statement in Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back): “Do or do not. There is no try.” Make the decision to do something, take action in the moment and let the rest go.

Second, let go of changing other people.

You’ll enjoy your ministry more if you aren’t constantly trying to change others. Try it, just this year: accept them as they are.

Instead, focus on yourself, and how you want to be in relation to them. You may find some amazing things happen this year. At the very least, you’ll be less stressed about how others aren’t measuring up to your expectations. You may find that others do change in surprising ways, and you change, too. It’s the paradox of relationships: the more we try to change others, the more they resist. When we let go, there can be room for shifts to happen in the relationship.

Note: you can try this with your family, too.

Third, every day, decide to enjoy your ministry that day.

I’ve been experimenting with this, and I find it sets me up differently for the day. I write down each day, “Have a wonderful day while…(a quick summary of my specific plan).” Monday I was in bed recovering from a fall on Sunday (where thankfully all my bones stayed intact). This had not been not my plan for the day. But I reminded myself through the day that my intention was to have a wonderful day, recovering. My experience of the needed rest was very different than it might have been if I were anxiously thinking about everything I wasn’t getting done.

Some days are harder than others. If you are officiating at a difficult funeral or meeting with a church member who is upset with you, enjoyment may be a tall order. You might decide to have a meaningful day instead. When you decide in advance how you want to respond to the challenges of even a difficult day, you will experience it differently.

Here’s a post on another way to enjoy ministry  more: do nothing regularly.


Five ways for pastors to enjoy the rest of the year

The pressure is on this next week to have a wonderful Fourth Sunday of Advent and a fabulous Christmas Eve service. You may feel like you are hanging on by your fingernails until Christmas Eve. Here are five ways to enjoy the rest of the year – three for between now and Christmas Eve and two for after Christmas.

  1. In the next week, work a little less hard than you usually do the week before Christmas. Ten percent, five percent or even one percent less. My husband says to me, “If you want to be happier, just lower your standards.” Occasionally I can actually take his advice, and it always helps. Let yourself do something less than excellent. Chances are your 90% is very good indeed. And stop every day for a few moments and breathe deeply.
  1. Receive the gifts of others. Take time to appreciate every gift you get in the next week. The tins of cookies. The book you may or may not want to read. The cash bonus. Savor each one, and the people who give them to you.
  1. Celebrate your work and the work of others. After the Christmas Eve service, stop for a moment. Rather than rushing to a feeling of relief that it’s over, take a few minutes to say thank you to everyone. Then sit down for at least one minute and appreciate your own work and the experience you helped create for everyone, including those who only come to worship once a year. Thank yourself for your hard work (even if you took my advice in #1).

Then, after Christmas:

  1. Take some time to review 2015. You can do this in less than fifteen minutes. Take five minutes and write own what went right: what you accomplished, what you learned, what you enjoyed. Then take no more than five minutes and write down some of the challenges you faced. Then take another five minutes to focus on what else went right for you this year.
  1. Celebrate all you have achieved, personally and professionally. Perhaps you could give yourself a little reward. If it was a hard year, celebrate that you survived it. It’s so easy to jump to regret or self-reproach for what we didn’t do, or the ways we failed. Or, we quickly move on the next obligation or project. Take time to savor the blessings of the year.

Here’s another post on how to survive Advent.

Book suggestions for Christmas giving

If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, here are a few book recommendations. Books are my favorite gifts to give.

For your favorite cook, clergy spouse or pastor’s kid (the young adult variety)

Three Many Cooks: One Mom, Two Daughters, Their Shared Stories of Food, Faith & Family Pam Anderson, Maggy Keet & Sharon Damelio

Pam Anderson is the author of many cookbooks, including one of my favorites, How to Cook without a Book. Her husband, David, is an Episcopal priest. Anderson and her two daughters have been blogging for some time at Three Many Cooks. In this book, they take turns writing their stories and sharing recipes. I loved reading their candid and touching accounts of growing up, life in a priest’s family, finding their own way, and the role of food and faith in their lives.

One of my favorite stories is of Maggy, the oldest daughter (of course) dragging bags of food from Manhattan to Connecticut to deep-fry shrimp for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner while her mother is away tending to her own parents. The recipe is included, but I probably won’t be making that one, especially not on Christmas Eve. However, I’ve already made the Orzo, White Bean and Kale Soup and Banana-Oat muffins. Big success with both. Next up: New and Improved Peppermint Bark.

In addition to the recipients mentioned above, it might be good read for clergy, to get a view from the family perspective.

For anyone who wants a new way to approach New Year’s resolutions.

1000 Mitzvahs: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire, and Change Your Life, Linda Cohen

Linda Cohen started to do 1000 mitzvahs, or deeds of kindness, after her beloved father died. Linda is a Portland author and speaker, and I’ve enjoyed our face-to-face connection through the local National Speakers Association chapter. She is a thoughtful and grounded person, committed to her family, her faith and community –and a delightful writer. I’ve been reading one mitzvah a day as part of my devotional reading. It could be a great way to start the New Year. You don’t have to be Jewish to be encouraged and inspired by this book.

For the contemplative on your list – or someone who might want to become more contemplative.

Spiritual Literacy; Reading the Sacred in Every Day Life, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Spiritual Literacy is over 15 years old and still in print. (No e-book edition, but there is a recorded version available.) This is another book I’ve been reading devotionally, one short reading a day. They include readings from many spiritual traditions on topics such as Things, Places, Creativity, Work Service, Community. The Brussats also write their own reflections on the topics. I quoted them in my last post on paying attention in ministry.

A sample quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast: “My tools to cultivate patience are fossils that friends have given me. I have a small trilobite, an ancient marine animal, and another that may be an early form of the nautilus, and recently I received a tiny fish that’s six hundred million years old. I look at those and handle them, and that’s helpful to me.” Talk about perspective!

What books are you giving this year?



Pastors, are you paying attention in your ministry?

Are you paying attention in your ministry: to what you are doing, not what you need to do next? To the person you are talking to, not who you need to see next?

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat say, “All kinds of wonderful and important things are going on directly in front of us but we miss most of them because we are not awake.” (Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life). For most of us, this requires slowing down, and doing one thing at a time. That’s the opposite of what we usually do.

I’ve had to learn how to slow down recently – we changed auto insurance, and I can save hundreds of dollars if my driving patterns are monitored for several months. So I have to drive the speed limit, and be careful not to slam on the brakes. I’m learning quite a bit from this – not the least of which is to pay more attention to my driving than I usually do. And I’m also finding that I see my surroundings more when I’m driving more slowly.

Why bother to pay attention? You will experience your life differently. The Brussats also quote Fritz Perls: “Boredom is lack of attention.” If you’re bored by your ministry or your life, start paying attention to see what new things you can notice. In addition, if you are paying attention, others will experience you differently. Giving this kind of careful attention to your lfie and others can lead to more satisfaction and joy in your ministry.

So here are ten ideas for paying more attention:

  1. Drive the speed limit for one day.
  2. Drive in silence for one day.
  3. Do one thing at a time. You may have seen the recent research that multitasking does not increase productivity.
  4. Stop and take a breath.
  5. Look around you for one color and see what you notice.
  6. Watch a small child.
  7. Listen more carefully to a family member or parishioner (or both).
  8. Draw an everyday object—even if you don’t know how to draw.
  9. Extend Thanksgiving by considering what you are grateful for today.
  10. Get some coaching to help you slow down.

What ideas do you have for paying more attention to your life?

And here’s a post on doing nothing as a spiritual practice.

Six quick ways you can improve your ministry

I’ve been thinking about six areas of ministry and how to help clergy get better at them. Here are six quick ways to improve your ministry by working on each.

  1. Leadership.

    Just ask yourself the question, “What do I want?” Do it every day. I’ve said this before, and it’s still true. Every time I ask a coaching client this question, they say dreamily, “That’s a good question…” If you’re like me, asking yourself what you want goes against the grain-it feels selfish. Yet I’ve come to experience it as a clarifying question. It helps me discern what’s most important to me. The more I ask it, the more quickly that happens.

  2. Money.

    Mention money and the spiritual life in a sermon once a month. The whole sermon doesn’t have to be on that topic, but I’d be astounded if you couldn’t find a natural way to fit it in. If you focus on the lectionary gospel text, there’s a good chance you’ll see something. This will help normalize preaching about money for you and for your people.

  3. Productivity.

    Take thirty seconds and write a purpose for your day. I’ve been doing this, and I find it gets me out of feeling overwhelmed and on track almost instantly. It will also help you take your day off if you write a non-work purpose for that day. And if you take your day off rather than letting work spill into it, you’ll be more productive on the other days.

  4. Relationships.

    Each week, talk to a key leader about something not related to church. Find out how they are doing. It doesn’t have to take an hour – a 15-minute phone call will do it. This is valuable in itself, and it will also help strengthen your leadership. No relationships, no leadership – and relating to significant lay leaders is particularly important for pastors

  5. Personal growth.

    Read at least a few verses of Scripture that are not related to Sunday’s sermon. (You can try this practice if you like.) If you want to take it further, you could do a brief study on it. You only need a few minutes to make a real difference, and spending only minutes on it daily will help you keep it up over time.

  6. Communication.

    Read your next newsletter aloud before you send it in. I did it with this article, and it helped. You’ll find something to improve, guaranteed.

Church Leaders: Four Ways to Start Giving Thanks Now

Are you feeling the stress of the fall busy season? Are you struggling after paying college tuition, or your own college/seminary loans, or are you worried about end-of-year bills? My recommendation for church leaders: try a daily practice which will help you be in a different place by Thanksgiving.

Do this practice at a time of day that works for you. If you are a morning person, do it then. If you are most alert at night, use that time. You can do it in about ten minutes – and feel free to take longer if you want!

Follow this practice every day until Thanksgiving:

Each day:

  1. Pray for your needs today, financial and otherwise.

    Also pray for those you love, those you know, and those you don’t know, locally and globally. Ask God to supply their needs, whatever they are.

  1. Read and reflect on Matthew 6:25-33.

    Use the following process, taking at least five minutes to do this: Read the passage slowly. Then read it again, perhaps aloud, looking for a word or phrase that stands out to you. Read one more time slowly. Consider the words that stood out for you. What might God be saying to you about your relationship with your finances, or anything else? Sit quietly for few moments in God’s presence.

  1. Give thanks.

    Give thanks for the flow of money into and out of your life today and every day.

  1. Record everything you spend and receive today.

    Think of this as a prayer practice, not a financial one. You can track spending and income throughout the day or take a few additional minutes to enter it at the end of the day. Keep it simple. You can use an app like Mint, but even a 3×5 card with spending and income jotted down as you go through the day will work. If you miss a day, you don’t need to catch up. Just start up again. You don’t need to add everything up. The point of the practice is to notice what you are doing day by day.

    By Thanksgiving, you’ll be truly in the mood to celebrate!

Note: This is an excerpt from my new program, The Finances and Faith System: Help Your People Connect Their Money with Their Faith in 29 Days  This program shows you how to engage your congregation, your leaders and your people in a systematic reflection on money and faith. Click on the title to learn more. It can be used in Advent, Lent or any time of year.