Is your phone a net gain or net loss in your life?

I love having a smartphone. I’m old enough to remember the world before cell phones (even the flip phones!), and they make life easier in so many ways.

And yet. My phone is also a huge distraction and I can’t help but wonder: is it a net gain or a net loss to my life? I think it’s a net gain, but it all depends on how you use it.

How phones save time

Here are some ways I find my phone hugely beneficial:

  • Texting is quicker than a call.
  • GPS!
  • I have quick access to information, including contact information.
  • I always have something to read with me.
  • I’m never without my calendar.

How phones waste time

And yet…

  • My phone can be a distraction from activities which move me toward my goals.
  • My phone–and others’–can interrupt my thinking process and conversations.
  • I have to pay attention to make sure my phone is charged.
  • I turn to my phone for distraction when I have a few minutes instead using that time to think.

And of course, there are other benefits. I love music or audiobooks I can listen to in the car or elsewhere. I’m not a podcast listener, but I know many people love them. There are tons of apps that can benefit your life, from budgeting to exercise to, yes, prayer.

I want you to use your phone as a way to have a more meaningful life, not a less meaningful life.

Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Make decisions about how you are going to use your phone. One example: I’m experimenting with turning to a daily prayer app instead of Facebook when I have a few minutes.
  2. Turn off notifications on most apps. This goes double for news headline notifications. Don’t let other people’s priorities and anxiety become yours via your cell.
  3. Carve out some time in your day when you are not available to anyone by phone or text.
  4. Read a book on your phone instead of scrolling through Facebook.
  5. If you are waiting, once in a while intentionally choose not to turn to your phone and just look around or think. Let your mind wander.
  6. Try a habit formation practice to slow yourself down (a la Stanford researcher B.J. Fogg). “When I pick up my phone to call or text someone, I say a prayer for that person.”  “When my phone buzzes with a message, I take one breath before I check the message.” “When I plug my phone in to charge, I give thanks.”
  7. Put your phone upside down when you are having a conversation (especially with someone you love).

How do you find your phone a blessing? What are your challenges in using it? (You might be addicted, or you might hate it.) Comment below and let me know.

Do we need rules for email and texting?

Recently I shared some rules for leadership to help you function when anxiety is high. In addition to these, today I want to recommend you develop some rules for yourself for how you relate to email and texting.

These are both tools, and vary in effectiveness depending on how they are used. They can be valuable for the purposes they serve well, and not so useful for other tasks. You don’t use a screwdriver to pound a nail, and you don’t use a hammer to turn a screw!

So, how can we best use these tools in our ministries? Here are some suggestions:

1.    Never respond quickly to an email or text that upsets you. Always take the time to think through your response. Do not respond to any message that causes your anxiety to spike while you are still experiencing the anxiety spike. Calm down first.

2.    You don’t have to respond to someone  with as long an email or text as they send you. If someone is sending you repeated lengthy emails rehashing the same ground, you don’t even have to read it all every time. (Yes, really.)

3.    Make choices about when you will read emails and texts, and how you want to be contacted in an emergency. If you have to read every text church members send you and respond immediately, you may spend your whole evening at home with your family checking texts. That’s not the best way to be present with your family. Set policies for yourself. Then follow them.

4.    Use email to communicate information, not emotion. Corollary: don’t argue via email. It rarely helps.

5.    Don’t make a decision much bigger than setting or changing a meeting via an email thread. “Let’s talk about this.” can become your new mantra. You might even consider having a conversation with your board so you can develop congregational principles together for the use of email/texting, such as the role they will have in decision-making.

6.    Resist the pressure to use email and texting exactly the way your church members want you to. Of course you need to understand your context, and communicate in ways that get their attention. However, you get to decide when and how you will respond.

7.    You don’t have to be in touch as often as your most anxious people want you to be.

8.    Periodically review your rules. We’re in a changing context.

True confessions: I’m not a big texter. I find it’s a great way to communicate with my young adult children, and to send information when I’m travelling. Otherwise, I don’t text much. You may love to text. Figure out a way that works for you.

Perhaps the biggest recommendation is this: Think about these matters and develop some rules for yourself, so that when things heat up you have something to fall back on. Anxiety (others’ and our own) can easily get transmitted via email or text. You don’t have to take the bait. Take some time to think it through.

What rules do you have for yourself re: emails and texts? Comment and let me know.


Rules for leadership

At a recent Leadership in Ministry workshop presentation, Israel Galindo suggested a “top ten rules” list to help you function when anxiety is high.He said “rules” are not high-level principles, but more practical and contextual. When we have some guidelines for how we want to react when we get blindsided, we’ll be better able to respond in the moment, without getting completely hijacked by the reactive part of our brain, the part that thinks we’re in physical danger even when we aren’t.

Here are some examples::
“Don’t take responsibility for what is not yours.”
“Don’t accommodate to weakness.”
“It’s not about you (even when it feels like it and involves you.)”

I took a stab at my own list, and came up with not just ten, but 35, all of which help me act in more thoughtful ways when anxiety goes up. Here are a dozen of them:

1.    Notice who is moving toward me and who is moving away. Ask,”Who is motivated?”

2.    Stay connected–continue to work on relationships.

3.    If I feel anxious about stating my point of view and inclined to be quiet to keep the peace, find a way to say something about what I think.

4.    Breathe consciously, especially if I feel anxious.

5.    Remember my purpose, which is to help leaders grow.

6.    Focus on my own growth, and trust that will help others grow.

7.    Don’t be afraid to challenge people: it’s another way to help them grow.

8.    Operate out of a sense of sufficiency, not scarcity.

9.    Connect with people who are better-functioning than I am.

10. Pray for those who annoy me the most.

11. Pause before saying yes to any requests, especially big ones.

12. Don’t click links online that make me anxious.

Here’s what I have found: having a list like this helps me step back. It helps me draw on many years of thinking about what I believe and how I want to act, instead of reverting to toddlerhood and stamping my feet, or hiding in the corner.

Here’s a recent example. During the recent U.S. Senate Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, I had to continually remind myself on a rule I’ve been following this year, #12 above: “Don’t click links online that make me anxious.” Following the rule that week was more difficult than it is in an ordinary week.

I stuck with another rule of mine, read news in the newspaper and The Economist, and I did read the articles about the hearings and about the U.S. Supreme Court in those publications so I could have a sense I knew something about the issues at stake. But I didn’t spend all day reading articles or people’s anxious posts on Facebook on either side of the issue.

True confessions: I did spend more time than usual scrolling through my FB feed, but I didn’t read the dozens of articles that had been posted. Overall, I spent more time focusing on my own goals.

Or in another case, “Pause before saying yes to any requests.” I was recently asked to be on a board. It was tempting to say yes, and flattering to be asked. But when I thought it through I decided it wasn’t the best use of my time, even though I appreciate the work of that organization. It didn’t seem a fit for what I’m up to right now. A sub-rule might be that being flattered is never a good enough reason to say yes to a request! (I love it when people love me and my work, and that can be a trap.)

I don’t always follow these rules. I avoid people. I get caught in scarcity. I chase after people. But I do all of these less than I used to. And I’m less vulnerable to being hijacked by anxiety than I used to be, and I think I’m a better leader as a result.

What is one of your “rules” for how you respond when anxiety spikes? How does it help you in your leadership?



Pastors, what prayer practice works for you?


Some kind of prayer practice is essential for pastoral leaders. I firmly believe it, and I have done my best to put it into practice throughout my ministry. This is challenging work, and we need spiritual resources to sustain ourselves through the week and through the years.

That said, there are all kinds of ways to incorporate the practice of prayer into the life of ministry:

In the middle of the night

My friend and colleague Rev. Cindy Maybeck prays during the night. She’s always dealt with insomnia. She says this: “It gets rid of the pressure of how I’m going to find time to pray. For years, I fussed about the insomnia.” Now she sees it this way: “God wakes me up to talk to me.” She adds, “There’s never anything else scheduled at four in the morning.” Then she goes back to sleep.

In the morning

Cindy’s pattern of prayer wouldn’t work for me. I’ve always prayed first thing in the morning. I can’t do it in the evening, and I can’t do it in the middle of the night. I’m a morning person. Even in college I got up for breakfast. Morning has been my prayer time for 30 years.

In chunks of time

I had a mentor early in my ministry who didn’t have a daily prayer time. He would find a block of time at some point during the week for prayer. I know other colleagues who regularly take a day of retreat at a local retreat center or monastery.

If you don’t have a practice of prayer right now, how can you start small – as in really small? Here are five ideas:

1.      One minute of meditation.

2.     Pray for one member of your board every day.

3.     Prayerfully read one verse of Scripture.

4.     Pray while you walk from your car into the church. If you walk or bike to church, use that time to pray.

5.     Take ten prayerful breaths when you wake up, in the middle of the day, or if you wake up in the night. (You could breathe in on “The Lord is my shepherd” and out on “I shall not want.”)

What’s your practice? Or, what do you want to try?



Things every pastor should know about money

learning about moneyPastors, what do you know about money?

How we relate to money is a deeply spiritual matter and a critical part of ministry. No money, no ministry. Doing God’s work requires resources. Raising and managing money for ministry is holy work.

Here’s what you should know about money. Or better said, here’s what you should be learning about money as you grow in your ministry.

1.      How to ask for it

You can have staff or volunteers handle many of the practicalities of dealing with money in church life. However, the pastor needs to ask people to give. You don’t have to be the only one asking, of course. But if you’re the pastor, you need to ask.

Remember, the pulpit is a powerful platform for helping people grow in their giving.

2.     The basics of how to read a financial statement

Almost no one learns how to do this in seminary. (Let me know if you did!) Some of you may have learned in another career, or learned on the job in ministry. I always recommend Ministry and Money: A Practical Guide for Pastors, by Janet T.  Jamieson and Philip D. Jamieson. They tell you exactly what to look for and how to prepare for a finance committee meeting. I still have to work hard to read a statement. Words are my native language, not numbers. However, I keep getting better.

3.      Someone to ask about it

For many of us in ministry, dealing with money doesn’t come naturally. We like the softer relationship and spiritual side of our work. However, attending to the bottom line is also part of the job.

Find someone you feel comfortable with and ask them questions. One of my early mentors was particularly helpful. I knew I could call him up and he would answer my questions without making me feel dumb.

4.      Your own cash flow and net wealth

How much are you bringing in and how much are you spending/giving/saving? I recommend you keep track of it month to month. I know it can be difficult to find time for it, as well as dealing with the emotional resistance to it. My daughter swears by the app You Need a Budget. It helps her track both cash flow and net wealth.

5.        Your worth doesn’t depend on your net wealth (or your church’s)

I’ve quit using the phrase “net worth” even though it’s in common usage. It’s all too easy to assign our value based on that bottom line figure. We can experience deep shame about past financial decisions and current circumstances. No matter how much money you have or don’t have, or how much debt you have accumulated, you have infinite value. No matter what the bottom line is at your church or how successful the latest stewardship campaign has been, your ministry has value. Never forget that.

None of these things happen overnight. I’ve been working on my relationship with money personally and professionally for over 30 years. I’m still learning. Everything I learn contributes to my life and what I have to offer to others.

What are you learning about money right now?

The one thing every pastor should know about leadership

Here’s one thing I learned about church leadership: It’s not about changing others. This was a hard-won lesson for me, after years of trying to do just that. And it was a relief when I finally learned it.

What is church leadership, then, you may ask. Isn’t that what I’m here for? Isn’t that my call?

Well, no. If people change, they do it themselves in partnership with the Holy Spirit. We can help create conditions that make it more likely change will happen. And the truth is, one of those conditions is that we aren’t in their faces all the time telling them they should change. Typically, that has the opposite effect!

You may wonder, What am I supposed to do instead? This is the job of pastoral leadership:

1.     Work on yourself and your own clarity. Know who you are. Know what you believe about God’s call on your life and ministry, and your understanding of how God is leading you forward. Be yourself in your ministry — your best self, not your sleepy pajama-clad self, or your cranky need-a-snack self. Pay attention to your own growth and put to work what you are learning.

2.    Connect. Show up and be present. Stay in relationship with key people in your congregation. For change to happen, little by little, you have to build relationships. You connect with people for their own sake, not simply to convince them to come along with you.

Over time, you do develop allies. But it starts with simple connection. Who are the key leaders and influencers? Have coffee with them. Connect, in person, in a way that works for them. Ask them questions. Listen and be pastoral. Remember, you are in a years-long process. Even if the situation seems urgent, take the long view.

3.   Stay calm. When change happens, people get upset. If people react to where you want to lead, it’s a sign you are on to something. Don’t take it personally: it’s not about you. Rabbi Edwin Friedman used to say “Don’t get reactive to the reactivity.” The main thing is to keep your head. Recognize that this is part of the natural process of leadership. If you react, step back and think it through. Get someone to help you reflect on your experience and see what you can learn from it.

As you face people’s reactions, you can repeat #1 and #2. Ask yourself: 1) “What do I think? What principles are at work here? What do I believe? What is my call?” Then 2) “Where can I connect? Whom do I need to talk to?” That doesn’t mean you need to process endlessly with someone who is upset about something. But don’t avoid them, either. Make sure to connect with those who give you energy as well as those who drain it.

Then, repeat #1, #2 and #3. Over and over. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s tiring. Yes, leadership is a challenge. However, remember to pay attention to what is right, what is working, what are the small achievements. Be patient.

Like you, I so want things to be different, better, easier. I have to remember that all change takes time. While vision is important, I don’t ultimately know what is best. I have to trust God is in the process.  Over time something new may emerge I never even imagined. The key part is how I manage myself. What happens right now is only momentary. This little upset won’t matter in a year, or ten years — or in heaven. My job is to pay attention to myself.

All clergy should memorize and put to work these words of Warren Bennis, a business leadership expert: “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.” (On Becoming a Leader, p. 9)

How are you attending to your own growth?

Are you addicted to other people’s words?

My daughter has a sweatshirt my mother-in-law gave her. “So many books, so little time.” We might add, “So many blogs, so little time.” In ministry it’s possible to spend what little spare time we have reading other people’s words. It’s easy to think that the right idea, the right technique, or the right turn of phrase are out there somewhere just beyond our grasp.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests that many creative people are addicted to other people’s words. She recommends that you take a week off from reading and other forms of media to break your reliance on others’ opinions and give yourself a break.

I did this in the days before the Internet was everywhere. I gave up reading everything except the Bible, and I decided that I would only check email once a week (yes, in those simple days…). I’d been reading books every day since I was about five years old, so I expected it to be quite a difficult week.

However, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I decided to experiment: Could I write a sermon without any external resources? Thankfully, the lectionary texts for the week included I Corinthians 13. God was kind! Even so, I had never written a sermon without consulting commentaries and looking to outside sources for illustrations.

When I stood in the pulpit that Sunday, I felt powerful. I knew I had a message that I had developed with my own best thinking, in prayerful reflection on the text as I understood it as well as on the people I knew and loved who would be sitting in the pews that day.

I also had a lot of extra time in my week. Because I wasn’t reading anything in my free time, I had time to go through all my clothes and get rid of the things I never wore. I spent more time talking with my family.  I tried out some new recipes.

You may not want to do a full week of media deprivation. But at the very least, I recommend you pay more attention to the words you consume. It could be a meditative practice. Notice when you instinctively turn to the Internet or a book instead of thinking for yourself. I still find myself turning to others before I reflect for myself.

It’s not all about improving your preaching, of course. It’s about ministry in a broader sense, and about life. There’s no need to be a know-nothing or to think others have nothing to teach you. (If you are reading this I know that’s not you, anyway.) However, when you have a question about something, try this: stop, breathe, and ask yourself, “What do I think about this?” Write something down. Then ask someone else or do your research. This will help develop the muscle of thinking more deeply. And you will have a baseline to assess other people’s ideas.

Could you give up other people’s words for a week? A day? Comment below and tell me what you think.

Can money be holy?

We have a historically thorny relationship with money in the church. We need it to live and we need it for ministry. And we are little afraid of it.

Pastors and lay people can view money as secular. At an event where I spoke about money to pastors and lay leaders, one man came up to me afterward and said,
“Our pastor doesn’t talk about money, and we don’t want him to.”

We feel like money is a little tainted. There’s no doubt that money can be tempting, as the story of Judas shows. Jesus spoke about it so much because he knew it was important to develop it spiritually and work on our relationship with it.

And yet: can Christians, who have a theology of incarnation, step away from dualism? Can we see ways that money can be baptized and become holy?

Money is holy when it is used for holy practices:

  • to sustain life,
  • to support ourselves and others,
  • to care for God’s creation.

Holy doesn’t have to mean wholly utilitarian. It’s been a great pleasure in my life in recent years to spend money on art made by artists I know. (Note: Original art doesn’t have to be expensive.)

Money is intended to flow. It becomes less holy when it is stops flowing. Perhaps money is like anxiety. My colleague Michael Nel used to say that anxiety is like manure: it stops things up if it’s stuck in one place. And it fertilizes if you spread it around. Money, anxiety, and manure are meant to be spread around. (And love, while we’re at it.)

I remember riding the bus regularly when we first got to Portland. Karl was driving an hour to work, and we only had one car. I asked myself, “What would Jesus drive?” (Remember this was the early 2000s.) I decided Jesus would take the bus, or be driven around in a Mercedes by one of his wealthy friends, like those women who supported his ministry. In fact, I had a friend with a Mercedes who would sometimes give me rides. She was sharing her resources with me at a time I really needed it. It was a blessed, if difficult, time.

I have a car of my own now. And of course, there are many, many people in my city, in this country and in the world who will never own a car: Some by choice (this is Portland, after all), and some because they cannot afford it. I always want to remember how wealthy I am (and was, even then), by global standards.

Here are ways money has been holy in my life:

  • When I’ve been surprised by God’s provision when I didn’t think there would be enough.
  • When I can take care of myself and my family.
  • When I can give it away to support work I believe in (through giving and through payment).
  • When I have the opportunity to do work I’m called to and receive payment for it.
  • When money has come in for ministries I lead (and when my own salary has been paid by the generous gifts of others).

If we view money with the potential to be holy then we can be in a different relationship with it. Instead of the fear and anxiety and greed and longing (all of which I have felt), we can gratefully appreciate the flow of money into and out of our lives. We can allow more of it to flow outward to others, according to our resources.

How has money been holy in your life?