Who’s supporting you?

Are you ready?

This year is coming at us, seemingly faster than most. It feels like everyone is on overdrive and there’s this consistent push to react and reply.

So how do we, as ministry leaders, turn away from that and craft how we want things to be? And not only for ourselves, but for the people we support. Do we seize the opportunity to build up our own leadership?

I think we do.

I think this is our time to step into our leadership like never before. To steady ourselves, to connect with mentors, and to invest in our own development so that we can more effectively lead our communities. I know that when I give even a little more attention to myself, my ability to connect and serve the people in my life grows exponentially.

So, what am I about to pitch?

In 2016, I created and ran a year-long online product called Leaders Who Last: The Training Program. It was deeply successful and leaders around the globe are still using it today.

But I don’t want to enroll you in a year-long program. I want to get specific. I want to get very focused on YOU and one main topic of growth.

Today, I’m releasing the Leaders Who Last Ministry Growth Series. And it’s going to work for you, with your schedule, and to the benefit of your legacy. I promise.

ministry growth

Pick one of six ministry areas: Leadership, Money, Relationships, Productivity, Personal Growth, or Communication. You will receive eight radically effective lessons over the course of eight weeks (one per week). These lessons are time-tested with leaders just like you. They include challenges, worksheets, tips, strategies, and opportunities for reflection. To see an example of a lesson, click here.

Now one thing I know most leaders suffer from is not doing the work!

Our best intentions tell us to jump in with both feet, while our schedules tell us we can’t add anything to our plate. I know this, I’ve lived it, and I help others with it daily.

Which is why in addition to getting the lessons, I’m adding an upgrade option that includes accountability and structure. You’ll get two coaching calls with me – one at the beginning and one at the completion. This coaching  supports you as you put these ideas to work in your own setting. This is your chance to draw from an experienced pastor who can help you sustain yourself in your ministry.

Now to brag just a little, here’s what one of my 2016 participants said:

Imagine a course that focuses on the daily life of a minister of a church (big or small) and includes insight, guided reflections and action planning as well as theories to help you understand others and yourself!  Then add the flexibility of doing it when and where you choose and substantial enough topics that some weeks you are affirmed for a practice or discipline you use already (high five!) and other weeks you are called (gently but honestly) to reflect on new habits you want to make or break.  I love being able to spend a little time with Margaret each week with these modules.  They remind me to return always to my center, God, and my call, ministry to God’s people.”

-Rev. Leigh Sinclair, United Church of Canada

I’ve  worked with many faith leaders nationally as a consultant and coach. I’ve also been a pastor myself. The Leaders Who Last Ministry Growth Series synthesizes years of wisdom and strategies from my own and other leaders’ experience, so you really can stand on the shoulders of giants while you grow even more.

Check out the details and grab the topic that you want help in, now: http://bit.ly/2ocbBAPv.


P.S. If someone you know is struggling with some aspect of their ministry, go ahead and send this link to them. The solution to their problem may be right here in one of these six programs.

When money brought me to my knees

church money

I love having you in my community of leaders. And frequently when I write to you, I think about the challenges of ministry, identify a topic, and come up with a series of action steps to remedy or support it.

But not today.

Today I want to tell you a story about my past.

For a long time I found money to be one of the most challenging areas of ministry. I absolutely dreaded stewardship time and was relieved when it was over. I did my best to read the church’s financial statements each month, but I was never confident about it. I clearly remember how it felt, as a young pastor, to sit with the executive committee and feel light headed and slightly nauseous. These older men and women, most of them with backgrounds in business, looked to me while these words pounded in my head: “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

I was interested, but afraid.

In my own family, there was always a powerful sense of scarcity. Even though my parents gave generously and taught me to tithe, it always felt like there was, and would never be, enough. My father’s challenging Depression-era upbringing and the financial difficulties of earlier generations deeply shaped him, and me in turn. Money was something that existed, but no one liked talking about it. Money was something you had to deal with, not something that worked for you. Can you relate? When I found myself having conversations about money, and leading initiatives around giving, I was at a loss. And quite frankly, I was terrified to lead in this area.

So, what helped me?

First, I worked hard to see stewardship as ministry. I reframed it from an annoyance to a tool to make the ministry I loved possible. I actively started to learn details around financials, and gained more competence. I stepped out of my comfort zone and began asking people to give. I honestly explored my own multigenerational family story, and the strengths and traumas that shaped me in relation to money.

I came to see money as a great resource in ministry and in life, rather than something scary or tainted. Used rightly, money can be a blessing for us and for others.

It was deeply liberating to feel a sense of competence and even power in this area as a pastor. I continued to grow in clarity and confidence. Of course, that wasn’t the end. I’m still on my journey with money. And I’ve come a long way.

I know what it’s like to struggle in this area as a leader. That’s why I’m committed to helping pastors and lay leaders gain more comfort in talking about money in church life and making better decisions about it. I also know what a difference we can make  when we mobilize resources, both financial and personal, to make more ministry happen. I wrote Money and Your Ministry out of a sense of conviction that pastors need help getting more thoughtful and clear in this critical area of ministry. And what I’m hearing from people is that it’s a real help to them. I’m continuing to develop resources to support you and your congregations in this area.

Money, of course, is only one challenging area of life in ministry.  Next week I will announce a new offering to help you not only with money, but also with other arenas of ministry. Stay tuned and keep up the important work!



How do you stack up?

ministry evaluationEvery year for the past five years, I’ve intentionally carved out time to do a self-evaluation. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s provided a framework for me to address my internal criticisms and honestly acknowledge my successes.

My friend encouraged me to share a portion of this self-evaluation tool with you. And it’s super simple.

How would you assess yourself in the following six key ministry areas?

Take ten minutes and sit down with this list. I recommend you do some writing on each point. (Here’s a printable version if you’d like!) Ideally, take some pen and paper and jot down by hand your thoughts. Handwriting helps your brain work better-it’s true!

We won’t be assigning you a “grade.” Instead, ask yourself, does this describe me?How do I want to grow in this area of ministry?

In My Leadership:

I know what I want in ministry. I have a clear sense of where I’m heading. I’m able to communicate that direction with clarity and calm. I am persistent without being rigid. I am internally motivated to keep moving forward.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

With the Topic of Money:

I am comfortable talking and learning about money. I am confident asking people to give. I understand the business side of the church. I keep on top of my personal finances.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

In My Relationships:

I am well connected with key leaders in my congregation. I form relationships with members across all areas of the church. I can relate well to those who disagree with me or our ministry direction.  I have people outside the congregation (family, friends and professionals) who support me.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

Around My Productivity:

I am effective at managing the time demands of ministry. I regularly take focused time apart from distraction to work. I routinely take time off to rest and relax. I feel like life is well balanced.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

In My Personal Growth:

I attend to my own spiritual, emotional and physical health. I have a regular life of prayer. I understand how my family story has shaped me and know myself well, both vulnerabilities and capabilities. I have interests outside ministry that give me joy.

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

With My Communication:

I communicate my message clearly, verbally and in writing. I am an active listener. I understand or am learning about new media, including social media (or I have a team to help me.)

Does this describe me?

How can I grow in this area?

Wonderful job.

Now there’s one more step.

Take a moment and reflect even further.

Where do you see yourself as strongest?

In which area do you want to pursue growth next?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on where you are in your ministry–comment below and I’ll respond



Do you interrupt yourself?

pastoral interruptionsGrrrr…interruptions are the bane of pastoral ministry. It can be hard to get anything done when a church member pops into your office or sends an urgent text message, or a staff member says, “I just need five minutes of your time.” Even meetings are interrupted by someone choosing to take a phone call or glance at a text.
But when I sit back and really think, I find the worst culprit is me. I interrupt myself, and I’ll bet you do, too. I stop something important I’m working on to answer emails or check Facebook. It’s a huge productivity-buster. I’ve gotten better, and I want to share with you some ideas that have helped me.
Here are four ideas to stop interrupting yourself, from small to big-picture:
  1. Turn off notifications. If your phone is beeping at you every time you get an email or text, you’ll never be able to focus. You’ll be less present to the important work of visioning, preparing to teach or preach, or even to the conversations you have with others.
  2. Use a timer. I’ve used a timer for household chores for years. I can do something for 15 or 20 minutes and then I stop. I’ve found it helps with work, too. If you are stuck on the sermon, set a timer and tell yourself you can stop after 20 minutes. Or 40. Then you can take a break. Some people swear by the Pomodoro method, which is 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off.  Right now I’m working for two 40 minutes chunks before checking email. That’s how I’m writing this article. If I check email first, my thoughts are distracted by whatever has come in, and I’m not as focused.
  3. Use an accountability partner. I send my friend Jill an email each morning on what I want to do that day, and another at the end of the day. I’m much less likely to get distracted by unimportant matters when I know I have to report in. And if something truly important comes up that changes my plan, I can report that. Your partner doesn’t even need to be in ministry-Jill is an editor and writer.
  4. Be clear about purpose. I know my overall purpose is to help leaders grow. If I’m spending too much time reading other people’s writing online and not doing my own writing, I won’t contribute as much to leaders. I’m also thinking about my purpose each three months and every day. It helps me stay on track. I interrupt myself less because I want to achieve my purpose.
Those are the four tips I use in my life, but let’s be honest. I still interrupt myself and lose focus every day. But I get back on track a lot faster than I used to.
What helps you keep on track with your most important work without interrupting yourself?



What are you reading?

I’m curious…what do you read? Aside from articles on your phone and the occasional magazine in a waiting room, what do you pick and spend some time reading?

In addition to the Bible, I’ve read plenty of wonderful ministry books (and I still like my own). And when I meet with leaders, their office is usually stocked with books that support their ministry. While I absolutely understand this, I also believe clergy benefit from stepping outside our niche. It enriches our thinking, our practice and our life.

So in addition to your must-read ministry books, here are three reads I highly recommend:


Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, by Mark Levy

This book helps you write sermons, newsletter articles or anything else. It spurs you to think through ministry dilemmas, visioning and clarifying your ideas.  Levy is an advocate of “freewriting,” simply putting ideas on paper without worrying about having to get it right. He has dozens of brilliant ideas for freeing up your brain through writing.

After reading Accidental Genius, I experimented with these three tools:

  • Hold a “paper conversation.” This means, on paper, writing down a brief, imaginary dialogue with someone important to you.  Levy suggests you have them ask you questions  about your life or ministry. I’ve done this with Jesus, Rabbi Edwin Friedman and my mother. I always learn something new.
  • Do a mini-marathon: a series of 20 minute writing sessions. At the end of each session, note what catches your attention. Pick one thought and start again. I did this for two hours and got some great nuggets.
  • Use prompts for writing, such as, “The simplest thing I could do to make a difference would be…” or, “The two things I could do today to make things more exciting… “ or, “I love…”


Why Won’t You Apologize, by Harriet Lerner

Harriet Lerner first introduced me to family systems thinking over 20 years ago in her book The Dance of Anger. That book had a profound impact on my life and led me to study with Rabbi Edwin Friedman. Her latest book is a fascinating examination of the apology, both giving and receiving. The chapter ”Apologizing Under Fire” is a must-read for pastors. She includes 12 points to keep in mind when we’re on the receiving end of criticism, a regular occurrence in some churches.

Here are three of 12 points about apologies:

  • Listen only to understand (do not interrupt, argue, refute or correct facts).
  • Ask questions about whatever you don’t understand.
  • Find something you can agree with (even if it’s only 7%).


Improv Wisdom, by Patricia Ryan Madson

I have always been intrigued by the art of improv. One day I will take an improv class, so this book caught my eye. Madson suggests some useful things:

  • Just Show Up. This reminds me of Friedman’s idea that what’s most important is not technique but the nature of your presence.
  • Say Yes. I coach many leaders on being able to say no, especially to those who don’t have boundaries. Yet it’s also important to say yes, and even to find the, “yes” in the “no.” Madson suggests saying “Yes” for a whole day.
  • Change it Up. One great idea of Madson’s: if things are stuck, move to a different place. I wonder about having a board meeting in another room in the church than you usually do. Or try taking a walk with someone to see if movement shifts the energy in the relationships.


So, these three books are not for ministry, yet support it.

What non-ministry books have you read lately? Comment below and let me know. And if you haven’t read any, consider checking out one of the books above.



Five ways to pray (in 5 minutes or less)

prayer practice for LentIt’s true. Nothing will help support your ministry like prayer. So let’s get to some prayer ideas to try for Lent:

  1. Pray through your calendar.

As you review your schedule do it prayerfuly. Do this monthly, daily, and weekly as you plan. Approaching your activities with prayer rather than with the frantic sense you will never get it all done can transform your experience of it. It will help you thoughtfully choose your priorities. You know you can’t do it all, and that means making choices. Don’t go it alone. Ask God for help on what to do and-even more importantly-what not to do. You have to do some planning anyway, so it won’t even take extra time.

  1. Practice intercessory prayer.

You’ll find it easier to persist in ministry if you pray for your people and for the ministry as a whole.You can pray for the leaders and potential leaders, for your staff, for those in difficulties. This doesn’t take hours. A few minutes daily or a few more minutes weekly will help you considerably.

  1. Practice meditative prayer.

Most of us pastors love to talk. Much of the prayer we do involves talking to God, whether publicly or privately. I recommend trying meditative prayer for five minutes or less. I find even that brief time helps my busy mind calm down. As challenging as quiet prayer is, I think it is unsurpassed at helping us find more peace, not only when we are praying but throughout the rest of our day.

  1. Pray while walking or running.

For some pastors, sitting still is like pulling teeth. I’ve known a number of clergy who run or walk daily and use that as their prayer time. I met one pastor from the upper Midwest who even ran on ice with special shoes, and he prayed throughout. The rhythm of your gait can act like a prayer word or phrase to help you keep your mind on your prayer. If you’re a runner or a walker, you can pray without adding any time to your schedule.

  1. Pray with others.

For extroverts who find being alone a challenge, group prayer can be a wonderful practice. For introverts, it can be a structured way to be with others (far easier than the church coffee hour).  If you have any special Lenten gatherings, try including five minutes of group prayer-for your own sake, as well as for others.

Of course, praying is not simply about saving time. However, I find it’s easy for pastors to feel guilty that they aren’t praying more. Don’t let time be a roadblock. Simply take five minutes today and try one of these ideas.

How do you pray? I’d love to hear what your practice is.

And here are some additional ideas for Lenten practices.



Let’s make church finance team meetings easier

church finance

Do you dread meetings of your church finance team or committee? If so, you’re not alone. I often hear:

  • “I feel SO uncomfortable dealing with money matters. It’s outside my comfort zone”
  • “I get frustrated with the bottom-line mentality of business-oriented lay leaders. Everything can’t be quantified.”
  • “The conversation is always about how much we don’t have and how much we need. It’s depressing and wears me out.”

Those are big concerns and I completely understand. Finances can bring up a lot of emotions and challenges. AND these meetings are critical to your leadership success. So here are three ways to make finance team meetings easier (for everyone):

  1. Prepare thoroughly. Develop your skills at reading church financial statements. If you need to find a mentor, whether inside or outside the church, do so. Even if you know a lot work to increase your skill level. There’s always more to learn. Do your best to obtain and review the statements in advance of the meeting. Ask questions of the treasurer or bookkeeper so you understand. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something-that’s how you learn! I discovered that the more competent I felt, the lower my anxiety was.
  1. Keep your sense of humor. Take a breath. Every leader has to grapple with finances and meetings. So lighten up about it. When I was a pastor, I always found that if I could stay light, I had a much better time at the meeting. My anxiety didn’t infect everyone else, and I was less vulnerable to the anxiety of others. I was less likely to get caught up in fear, blame or a sense of inadequacy. You are learning and so is everyone else.
  1. Remember that money is never the issue. This is true in families, in the wider society, and, of course, at church. Our anxiety focuses on the money. Keep your eye on the bigger picture of what’s going on in the congregation and beyond. If you can remember that it’s not “about” the money at all, it will help you keep your cool in the meeting. If there’s a financial crisis, ask yourself, “Why now?” What else is going on in the congregation and beyond? What is the history of this congregation in relation to money? Stay curious and interested and see what more you can learn about your church in every finance meeting.

I’d love to hear from you!

What has helped you in your leadership around church finance?

What helps you keep perspective?

And for lay leaders, how can pastors improve in this area?



Why some pastors are better leaders than others

better leadersIt’s no secret: some pastors do better than others. They enjoy ministry more, their churches seem to thrive, whatever their size. So what does it take? Here’s my take on the four basic principles pastors can utilize to step up their leadership game:

  1. They take a stand. To be a leader, you have to have a position. You have to, over time, develop a sense of where you are headed, and actually get up and tell people what you think. You have to say, “I believe in this.” “This is where I sense God is leading us.” “This is what I will do (and won’t do).” You need a strong spiritual life and growing emotional maturity to be able to do this. And good leaders take stands.
  2. They relate to people who have different perspective without getting defensive or overly anxious. Effective leaders anticipate the pushback, rather than get surprised by it. They don’t try to talk people into something they are not prepared to support. They are curious about new ideas and perspectives and can even separate the viewpoints from the person – which allows them to continue to value every interaction with that person, instead of dread it.
  3. They tolerate other people criticizing them. Being a pastor means going through some tough criticism, even attacks. In my observation and experience, those who can ride this out end up doing better in the long run. Sometimes they need help. (Some of my own coaching practice is helping people get through times of intense criticism and conflict). Edwin Friedman called this “not getting reactive to the reactivity.” He thought the reactivity was inevitable when a leader took a stand, and the ability to manage oneself through it was critical for leadership. Criticisms will come and go – can you stay steady through it all?
  4. They adapt without being a pushover, and persist over time. You won’t always get your way. That’s the reality. Sometimes paying attention to feedback and backing off is the better part of valor. You can come back with your vision and ideas later. You have to discern when to push through and when to step back, and to let go of needing to take the credit. I’ve heard more than one story of a board member bringing up an idea the pastor mentioned earlier and having it be enthusiastically accepted. These pastors laid the groundwork, even though it took longer than they thought. Adapt and persist.

These are my top four recommendations for long lasting leadership. Of course, every church is different. Some churches have more potential than others. There’s no magic formula. It’s about the relationship, about the wider community, and a myriad of other factors.

However, all you can work on is you and how you take a stand, relate to those who differ or are critical, and cultivate flexibility and persistence. Whatever your ministry setting, you can always pay attention to these matters.

Which of the four leadership tasks above are you doing well? Let me know!