How to Survive Holy Week: A Guide for Church Leaders

palm-618002_1280It’s Holy Week (no surprise to any reader of this blog). Depending on your tradition, you may have one, two, or as many as five extra services. Here are some ideas for surviving with more grace and less stress:

  1. Keep the end in mind. We’re heading for Easter. It’s about life, not exhaustion. What are one or two things you can do this week to give yourself life and energy?
  2. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking has been discredited. Focus on the task at hand and the person in front of you. Turn your phone off, or at least silence it, while you are writing your Easter sermon.
  3. Accept the burden. It’s a busy week, and it will be over on Sunday. When I was a pastor, I never seemed to be able to even begin my Easter sermon until Saturday. Once I accepted it, Holy Week was a lot less stressful. I never got up in the Easter pulpit empty-handed.
  4. Have compassion for the Easter-only crowd. Celebrate that they are there, and accept the reality you won’t see them again until next year. And ignore the person who says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had this many people every Sunday?!”
  5. Let go of perfection. You won’t be prepared enough. And someone, probably you, and probably someone else, too, will make a mistake that will mar the worship.
  6. Plan a reward. You are taking Monday off, right?
  7. Protect yourself from the anxiety of others. If staff or lay leaders are running around like crazy, let them. Do a little hand-holding if necessary but be clear about your own responsibilities and keep your focus on them.
  8. Celebrate! It’s Easter, after all. Even if the week is truly crazy and you can only really celebrate at 1:00 p.m. on Easter Sunday, do it then.
  9. Remember that it’s not about you. You’re the messenger. It’s about Jesus, the Resurrection, and new life for all. Let that reality not add to the pressure, but relieve it. The new life is for preachers, too.


Increase generosity by addressing personal finance at church


A friend who worked in planned giving once told me that people can’t decide what to do for their charitable legacy until they decide how to leave money to their families.

I suspect this is true in year-to-year giving: People will find it hard to give generously if they haven’t figured out how to manage their family finances. Many people are drowning in debt, both credit card debt (now over $700 billion nationally) and educational debt (now up to $1.2 trillion).

This may be even more important in encouraging generosity than my previous two ideas: being generous ourselves and asking people to give.

It’s essential to do this in a way that helps people extend grace to themselves. The power of shame around past financial decision is enormous. I find I can remember financial mistakes I made ten, twenty or more years ago and think what I could do with that money if I had it now. I’m working hard to let go of the past and move forward with compassion for my past self and hope for the future. Helping others do the same is a huge contribution we can make.

In Money and Your Ministry,  I quote Israel Galindo as saying that all too often we give people no help during the year from a faith perspective, to deal with what money represents in their lives. He says, “Then once a year we ask them for more money while they are dealing with all this anxiety about money. So if part of my pastoral responsibility is the spiritual welfare of my congregation, I cannot avoid dealing with this real, critical faith issue in the life of my members. It’s not about the budget; it’s about a Christian response to the resources you have.”

Here are some tips for addressing personal finance in congregational life

  1. Read a book together. One of the best is Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin. There’s a great study guide downloadable here.
  2. Offer a program. Many churches of all theological persuasions have benefited from Dave Ramsey’s work. A downloadable program, The Money Course, is offered free by the folks who created Alpha. It’s geared toward a British audience but looks helpful.
  3. Preach explicitly about personal finance. Focus on grace and moving forward into the future with integrity and hope.
  4. Use denominational resources. In many denominations, foundation representatives will meet with families to hep them make choices about their estate plan, including their future giving plan.
  5. Help families and young people think through the financial implications of their college choices. Young people (and sometimes their families) are finding themselves in bondage for years due to educational debt. I’d love to see this be an essential part of youth ministry.

What ideas do you have for helping the people of your congregation bring grace and faith into their personal financial lives?


How to increase generosity in your church: ask!

file6771267335956Do you want people in your church to show more generosity? Do you want them to give more to the church and beyond? I recently wrote about starting with yourself. But it takes more than being generous to cultivate generous givers. Take another step: ask them to give.

Many pastors I speak to are hesitant to boldly ask their members to give more. They are reluctant to preach about stewardship more often than once a year. They worry that people will think the church is always asking for money. They feel conflicted because the giving they ask for helps pay their salary. And they simply feel that talking about money is somehow a distraction from their real ministry. I felt like this myself for many years.

But I learned to think differently about asking people to give. I came to believe that helping people deal with their money and become more generous is ministry. It’s a critical part of pastoral ministry to individuals, and an essential part of leading a congregation.

And I don’t think pastors need apologize because people’s giving pays their salary. Pastors’ leadership is a critical part of the work of the church. And, as Paul says, “the laborer is worthy of his [or her] wages.”

Five reasons to ask people to give

Here are five reasons to ask people to give, and to ask more than once a year:

1. Many won’t give unless you ask. They weren’t raised to give, and they are used to giving in response to an appeal by other groups.
2. Other groups, such as faith-based nonprofits, do not limit their asking to once a year.
3. Asking regularly can increase giving, which means more money for your church’s ministry and more money to give away.
4. Giving can help your people grow spiritually. Encouraging them to give is a real contribution to them.
5. Helping people let go of their money can lead to greater freedom and sense of sufficiency in other areas of their lives.

What ministry could your church do if everyone understood the gracious flow of money into and out of their lives, and supported ministry within and beyond your congregation?

How to increase generosity in your church: start with yourself

file0001885635491 (1) Do you want people in your church to be show more generosity? Where can you start? With yourself.

Becoming a more generous person doesn’t guarantee your people will follow, but it’s much easier to lead people where you are willing to go yourself. And it helps to create a sense of sufficiency in yourself which will help you be calmer in your leadership.

Ask yourself, what are the many ways you can cultivate generosity in yourself?

I’m seeking to practice what I preach this Lent by working on generosity daily. I intend to give money away every day.

Here are some ideas I have.

1. Give a 100% tip in a restaurant.
2. Give to my church every week instead of once a month.
3. Give my kids some extra money.
4. Give money to someone on the street who asks for it without worrying what they will do with it.
5. Turn our overflowing penny bowl into dollars and give them away.
6. Take my dad out for lunch or dinner.
7. Decide together with Karl on the international development project we’d like to support and send the money.
8. Seek out a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding project I’d like to support and donate.
9. Give extra money to one or more of the ministries I already support.
10. Give some cash to our neighbor kids.
11. Leave a big tip to the maid in the hotels I’ll be staying in.

I want to be more generous myself, as well as encourage others to do so. What other ideas do you have for me? Or for yourself?

Here’s another post on someone who inspired me by her generosity.

Pastors, do you struggle with supervising staff?

file0001362503108 Are you struggling with a challenging employee? Are you looking for a new employee? Most pastors have next to no training in hiring and supervising staff. I know I didn’t. Managing staff is an essential skill for church leaders. Here are ten things I’ve learned about supervision at church.

1. Don’t hire someone just because they need a job. Here’s a great article on this topic. Hire because the person is the best for the job.
2. Don’t hire someone with the skills who you suspect has a bad attitude. Their attitude is unlikely to improve. It’s better to hire someone with a good attitude and train them.
3. Don’t hire if you can’t fire. You can hire church members, but you need to be clear about roles and expectations and be willing to let them go if it doesn’t work out. (See the excellent book When Moses Meets Aaron by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont on hiring church members and many other matters, not just for large congregations.)
4. Don’t overaccomodate difficult employees. You can be reasonably flexible with employees who do their work, but if you find yourself tiptoeing around an employee or once again making excuses to yourself or others for them, think twice. It may be time to take a stand with them.
5. Always check references. Enough said.
6. Be clear about roles, including what are the job responsibilities and who supervises. Written job descriptions and clear lines of accountability don’t solve all problems, but they help.
7. Remember you can’t always make church employees happy. Be able to tolerate their disappointment or upset.
8. Don’t complain about one employee to another. If you have a senior colleague, you may be able to think together on how to deal with staff challenges in a larger church. That’s different from complaining.
9. Learn the birth order of your staff, and think about how you mesh. If you are a younger son and your office manager is an oldest daughter (especially if she is older than you are), you may find it harder to supervise her, and vice versa. It’s still your job. Consider asking one of your odler siblings for advice.
10. Work on relationships. Find ways to connect in a light way with all of your staff individually. It will pay off.

And if being overly nice in supervision and the rest of ministry is an issue for you, here’s another post to read.

How to disarm church antagonists: don’t take them so seriously


Are you struggling with an antagonist in your church? How we respond to those who seem to be threatening us can be as critical as any inherent threat in them.

Doing a New Year’s book clearout of my shelves, I came across one of my favorite children’s books, Flossie and the Fox. (This wonderful edition by Patricia C. McKissack is still in print almost 30 years later, worth getting even if you don’t have kids.) Most of my kids’ books are long gone, but this one I hold on to. I’ve written about Flossie before, but I think she’s worth a revisit.

Flossie is carrying eggs to her grandmother’s house, and the fox wants them. Rather than panicking, she teases the fox. She first suggests he might be a rabbit because he has thick fur, then a rat because he’s got a long nose, and finally a squirrel because he’s got a long fluffy tail. The fox is outraged and keeps arguing with her. By the time they finish arguing, she has gotten safely to her grandmother’s house, and the dogs are threatening the fox.

What does Flossie have to do with ministry and church antagonists? It always takes two to tango, and when we engage seriously and defensively with so-called “antagonists,” we’re hooked. We play our own part in the dance.

And when we approach them at least a little more lightly, we may find they are less dangerous than we thought, or at least we are less vulnerable.

Here are four tips for relating to the most challenging people in your congregation or parish:

  1. Don’t get defensive. Or at least, do your best not to respond defensively. In the story, somehow Flossie doesn’t even seem to be afraid of the fox.
  2. Keep your eyes on your goals, not the antagonist. Flossie never loses sight of her aim, which is to get the eggs to her grandmother’s house.
  3. Don’t take the antagonist too seriously. You may or may not take a teasing tone, as Flossie does. if you’re too anxious, it can turn sarcastic. But in your own mind, see them in some light-hearted way.
  4. Look for allies. You may not have “dogs” to call on, but other powerful leaders can help challenge the antagonist.

And remember, even powerful antagonists are not as dangerous to you as a wild animal.

The secret of New Year’s celebration for church leaders


Here’s a simple secret to celebrating the end of 2014 and 2015: just do it. You don’t have to throw a party or even attend one to celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

Simply follow this easy process:

For introverts: sit down for four minutes. In the first two minutes, as fast as you can, write 20 items you can celebrate about 2014. Do it with a pen if you can. Writing by hand makes more connections in your brain, and you want to reinforce celebration. Include items from your own and your church’s ministry as well as those in your personal life.

Then take two more minutes and write down 20 items you celebrate about the possibility that is 2015.

For extraverts: Take four minutes and follow the process above, then grab someone and share your list with them.

Here are five things from each of my own lists:


  1. The launch of my book, Money and Your Ministry.
  2. Breakthroughs and greater freedom in my own relationship with money.
  3. My father is still alive at 91.
  4. Restrung the jade necklace my husband gave me over 30 years ago so I can wear it.
  5. The blessing of supporting clergy in developing themselves and their leadership.

Coming in 2015:

  1. Celebrating 35 years of marriage with Karl, my best friend and biggest fan.
  2. The chance to contribute to other church leaders through my writing, speaking, consulting and coaching.
  3. More wonderful books to read, both fiction (mostly) and nonfiction. (Some of them are already sitting beside my bed.)
  4. Taking an improv class.
  5. Connecting with others around the world (including you) about ministry matters in person and virtually.

Celebration is a spiritual practice. Richard Foster highlights celebration as the last of his spiritual disciplines, and says, “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong.” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 191) I know no better way to prepare for a new year.

What are you celebrating for 2014 and 2015? Let me know!

What is your purpose this Advent?


It’s not too late to consider your purpose at church this Advent. At this point you may say, “to survive.” Or, “I don’t have time to think about my purpose! We have to finish the budget, or I have to visit shut-ins, or I still have to plan the Christmas Eve worship.”

Take five minutes and think about your purpose. You’ll be less stressed and have a more meaningful experience.

Here are a few ideas:

My purpose this Advent is to provide compelling worship experiences.


My purpose this Advent is to offer a pastoral presence to my congregation and individuals within it.


My purpose this Advent is to carry out my ministry and personal tasks without feeling frantic.


My purpose is to be present to my children even with the busy-ness at church.

Of course, clergy have more than one duty to fulfill. You may still have to attend the budget meeting even if you decide your main purpose is compelling worship.  And you probably won’t want to miss the council meeting even if your kids want you to stay home that night.

We all have competing commitments. But that five minute thinking session will help you make choices through the next two weeks. If you want to offer a pastoral presence, you will find it easier to make at least some of those visits you’ve been putting off. If you want to avoid feeling frantic, you might skip that one last trip to the mall or the last-minute sermon rewrite (it’s probably good enough…).

What is your purpose this Advent? I’d love to hear.