0 Responses to Uncategorized

  1. Desalegn says:

    I want to know the difference and the similarity.

  2. Deborah Lindsay says:

    What a powerful post! This has me thinking on so many levels. Thank you.



  4. Joyce Morin says:

    Thank you. I’ve forwarded it to our Moderator. Hopefully, she will share it with Council. We are starting to plan for a capital campaign to complete renovation on our church after it was nearly destroyed by fire.

  5. Oluwaseun says:

    Thank you for putting together a collection of books and devotionals for the Lenten season. I was raised Catholic and became Presbyterian as an adult but I kept the Lenten season in my adult life. I look forward to reading these resources.

  6. Kita says:

    He added that there was need for Christians to be sober and reflect on the sufferings of Jesus Christ for our salvation and that these social activities were distractions to achieving a solemn Lenten season. The Parish Priest also tasked Christians on forgiving spirit, urging them to learn to forgive easily in this Lenten period and beyond. He said that any good habit imbibed in this season of Lenten should not stop after the Lent to enable Christians build pious life and be candidates of heaven. Aroh advised Christians to celebrate the Saint Valentine Day that coincided with Lenten with caution.

  7. Wendi Rank says:

    Hi, Margaret,
    Your post could have been written by me!
    However, I gave up both television and print news
    2 years ago and have no regrets.
    Well, I do read our little community paper,
    The Discovery Bay Press. The is news related
    directly to our small, rural community- no politics,
    no world news, and the op- ed extends to the county.

    Bruce can handle news and if I need to
    know about something, he lets me know.

    It was nice to read your contribution. Please pass along a hello to Karl.

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      Thanks, Wendi! I think that’s a great strategy–to let others give you necessary info. I’ll pass along your hello.

  8. David Wheeler says:

    Can’t do it. I was thinking maybe chocolate…?

  9. Margaret says:

    Hearing the stories and circumstances of other pastors and receiving creative feedback from you and my colleagues is invigorating and empowering, leading me to think more deeply about the ways I deal with anxious situations in my own church – situations that cause anxiety within the church and within me. The Roundtable discussions have encouraged me to be less anxious in my own presence in the congregation and helped me to acknowledge my over-functioning habits and realize how those habits are not helpful to the congregation or to me. It’s truly a joy and a source of hope to explore with colleagues ways of dealing with difficult situations in our ministries.

    Rev. Dennis Christiansen, pastor, First Baptist Church, Trumansburg NY

  10. Joanne says:

    I have used a daily practice to ground me each morning for years. It helps me ground. I look forward to adding an added intention to my practice.

  11. DENA WASH says:

    Are their any notes that break these beliefs down with scriptures? I will take anything extra, I was asked to give a presentation over change. Thank you for this info.
    -Servant of the Most High

  12. please I want to know 10 reasons why there is crisis in church?

  13. Margaret, public radio in Canada is doing a feature where people to call in with what they’re grateful for. A mom called in today and said the train noises near her house, which she used to complain about, are now a joyful opportunity for her baby daughter to say ‘Ding’ – which was her first word. So here’s to learning to be grateful for what I complain about!

  14. Rev Jim Hinds says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful, reasoned presentation of what’s been chewing on you. Sadly, we’ve almost all been chewing on this and while it is not all palatable, some react while the “food of the election” is still in there teeth. Not a pretty sight.
    Also, we’ve been chewed up by the words and anger and gaacckk as Opus the Penguin would say.

  15. Irene Gladue says:

    Hi Margaret. As you know I am one of those who live outside the US. I immigrated to Canada in 1979 and for the first time since then I felt compelled to register as an expat and vote. I sent my ballot in a couple weeks ago. From absolutely everyone of my friends and family here in Canada, none of them can figure out why anyone would vote for Trump. It’s is completely beyond their conservative socialist minds. You have to understand that I live in northern Alberta, a very conservative part of the country. Anyhow, I agree wholeheartedly with the need to pray. God is allowing something to happen in our country and we are not yet privileged to know what or why. Always good to read your thoughts. As a secular leader I garner much from them. Your longtime friend.

  16. Totally right, Margaret: “Pastors burn out because they take responsibility for other people’s relationships. Pastors feel responsibility for people getting along. For fixing broken marriages, or tending wounds between siblings.” The overfunctioning and the system that it creates leads to may burnouts.

  17. Scott says:

    For my context, the best way to stay in touch with my key leaders is to stay overnight with them. (the church is 90 miles from where I live and is only 15 hrs. a week so I try to go up Sundays and come back Mondays).

  18. Greg says:

    Hi Margaret,
    A great secular example for me has been Obama, because of the way he is able to focus on his role and objectives, without being sidetracked by the neighsayers or even outright abusive antagonists. He has remains focused on the job, the higher vision for all, which has included providing healthcare to more people, restoring the economy, bailing out the auto industry, and more. Regardless politics, he remains in integrity and purpose with his role.

  19. Welcome home, Margaret!

    A public figure I admire? Bernie Sanders. Here’s why.

    1. Speaks with all the ideals and conviction of an Old Testament prophet.
    2. My core social (read, spiritual) principle as a Christian — what’s good for the least of these is good for the whole — seems to be his core social principle.
    3. Places clarity of his principles as imaginative vision before refinement of his personality into a salable image.
    4. Separated/differentiated himself from the zealotry of certain followers when he needed to do so — encouraging them to support a strong, like-minded leader.
    5. Opened his concluding remarks at the first Democratic Presidential debate with words on child poverty — knowing full well that children can’t vote, and the poor seldom do and have no means to support him financially.
    6. Does not define himself by his enemies. To wit: was asked who his “favorite enemies” are. He replied, “Wall Street and pharmaceutical companies don’t like me much”: i.e., he is their enemy, not they his.

  20. Jim Ketcham says:

    Very good! I’ve preached on how Moses resists God’s call (for 2 entire chapters!). I might have told you what my Dad always said: “There was an 11th Commandment, one that Moses forgot when he killed the overseer in Egypt and when he smashed the first set of tablets: ‘Thou shalt not take thyself quite so damn seriously!'” Wise words for would be leaders.

  21. Ron says:

    I hear Pastor Carol is no longer at North Shore Baptist Church… do you know where she went?

  22. Dale Harris says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I am a retired UMC pastor living at Willamette View Retirement Community. Even though I no longer lead a congregation I always read your blogs and gain from them. I found this one on listening particularly relevant.


  23. Thomas Cobbs says:

    As the result of the present article I have email an Associate Minister who just had knee surgery, a critical who’s mother is going into Hospice Care and I have been talking with my church leaders. I am going lilly picking tomorrow! 🙂

  24. Mary Sue Evers says:

    When I have to concentrate, I use an app called “Focus Dots” that runs a 25 minute timer. Then I tell the office helpers I’m going in for 25, and close the door. Anyone who needs to see me doesn’t need to wait more than 25 minutes, and of course I can be interrupted for emergencies. On a really good day I get to do this two or three times!

  25. Jim Wilson says:

    All doors at our church have windows.
    While my door is accessed only from office, and in the corner, and the size of our congregation makes most interruptions to be from valued ministry leaders of some type … I have a series of laminated signs that I place in my window … complete with humorous pix and quotes. But in short, when door is open, door is open. Just had to learn it is ok to close the door.

  26. Dave says:

    Hi Margaret, I keep regular hours mornings Mon – Thurs from 9:00 – Noon. During those hours I am definitely available for people to walk in. When they say they hope they aren’t interrupting me, my answer is that they are what it is all about. I also try to work at the office and NOT work at home, although I do sometimes prepare for our Bible Study by working at home.

  27. Lisa Drysdale says:

    I have worked very hard to make sure that my personal finances are stable. This has taken decades to achieve, and now I find that I am less drawn into the dilemma when the church is struggling with money. Knowing that I am ok helps free me up to lead them more effectively.

  28. Jan says:

    What do we do when the pastor is always thinking of ways to spend even when he says there is not enough money coming in and he is draining the trusts left to the church.. do we find a new pastor.. he is not listening.. and is trying to control the congregation.. always at every meeting including the womans fellowship..

  29. David A says:

    I am kind of torn about it as a pastor of a church with constant money squeezes. On the one hand, I think churches that stay in the black all the time, probably are not taking as many risks or doing as much as they could. After all, when a person gives, they are making an investment in God’s Kingdom — so why bury it in the sand (bank account) and not get it out there working and earning returns? (Jesus’ parable)

    On the other hand, stewardship is so important. So if we’re running delinquent on a bill or not paying our staff due to a few months of crisis, that sets an anxious tone.

    So I guess what gives me strength in a financial crisis is knowing that our church is at the center of ministry and that we’re in touch with needs, that we’ve not clung to our resources and shored them up for a rainy day. We’ve taken risks, stepped out, and invested. In the dry seasons, I can be joyful in knowing we laid everything on the line for our passions.

  30. Rev Lynda McClelland says:

    Thank you for this article. Bishop Pierson has inspired me by taking a stance stating that God wants all people to survive happy and whole, therefore God is not perched on a tree watching every move we make so we can be punished in a burning hell. I am parphrasing, but hopefully all can hear the point.

  31. Jeff Sievert says:

    Very helpful, as usual. My wife directed me to it, as is often the case. A gift from the congregation in honor of our 20 years at the Reedville Presbyterian Church is sending us on a spa retreat starting Easter afternoon! My freshly minted motto for the remainder of Holy Week: Coasting through to Resurrection.

  32. John Scace says:

    My Grandfather always told us “Not to burn our bridges behind us. You just never know when you might need to cross them again” Sound advise that I have used more than once in my life.
    Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  33. Carol McVetty says:

    What beautiful, comforting wisdom with which to start my week! The practical wisdom passed down in my family that your thoughts brought to the surface don’t necessarily carry encouraging thoughts for high-pressure days. But they are useful at other times. Sayings like “Every pot sits on its own bottom.” (don’t blame others for your troubles) and “You’re not the only apple on the tree.” (make room for the concerns and interests of others in the group/family). Now I’m looking forward to seeing what other old bits of family wisdom bubble up through the day.
    As always, thanks for your ministry of wisdom and encouragement.

  34. “If it were easy, everyone would do it!”

  35. Abigail Stockman says:

    Another well-timed gem Margaret.
    Thank you.

  36. I appreciate your insight and your transparency Margaret..i pray for more wisdom for you. God bless you abundantly!!

  37. James Hinds says:

    Nicely put Margaret.
    Too true that ministry focus can apportion God second or third or tenth place on “to do” lists. Either loving God is first on list or so embedded that it does not need listing.
    Loving ourselves can sadly morph into narcissism, but without it ministers (and others) can become unhealthy, forgetting or neglecting to care for self. If we preach self-care for care-givers; must practice what we preach!

  38. Thanks, Abigail. Great thoughts.

  39. Abigail Stockman says:

    Thank Margaret – always timely and meaningful.

    Sometimes I remember to ask where is God (the holy and the sacred) in the critical congregant, and in me, in those uncomfortable, “could I please be anywhere but here”, moments. When I am able to do this it lowers my anxiety over the outcome or stress of the moment.

  40. t--t.info says:

    NIMH » Panic Disorder – National Institute of Mental …

  41. Thanks for sharing your story. I know this is a hard process, and grieving is appropriate. Blessings on your journey!

  42. K. Bailey says:

    Thank you for this article it was helful. I have been in leadership at the church I am in now for 4 years. Recently I have along with my husband who is also an Elder been being called back to our home state where are family is. There are several reasons for the move one is more involvement with a church that is missions oriented (this one is a good church but not into missions) I have traveled to Africa a few times and am a part of starting a new work in Uganda without support of this present church. Also I believe it is time for us to spend more time with our family I am 69 and my husband 77 and we feel we need to be more of an active part of their lives and they have asked us to be also.

    So far I have not sat down and talked with our Senior Pastor – I am an Associate Pastor of this church. I love the members (the sheep) and we have build bonds but I believe there are others in our assembly now that can continue with this work. I plan to keep in touch with them on a regular basis. This is very hard for me but I have in the past had times where God has moved me on to another assignment so to speak and it is always a good thing.

    This article helped me to focus on the issue of being my best while still here and continuing on with my work. I have never drawn a pay but have given my time as an offering unto the Lord.

    May God bless you and thank you
    you can email me back if you would like.
    I am a little bit grieving over this.

    K. Bailey

  43. DWIGHT ROBARTS says:

    I’m giving LIFE IS GOOD by Bert and John Jacobs, the two brothers who started the company Life Is Good

  44. Pat Ludwig says:

    Love this, especially this time of year! I will practice as many as I can and turn the others over to God.

  45. OK, here are my extra-biblical four:

    *Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement* by John Lewis (w Michael D’Orso)

    *When God Is Silent* by Barbara Brown Taylor

    *Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus* by Ched Myers

    *Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination* by Walter Wink

  46. Timothy Dombek says:

    “God Has A Dream,” by Archbishop Desond Tutu. While it is a fantastic book to read, better still is get the audiobook version and listen to Archbishop Tutu read it aloud himself. Nothing like it in the world. Lovely!

  47. Elizabeth says:

    Great share. Hadn’t heard the 90/15. Gonna try it.

  48. Thanks, Dwight. I also like 90 minute segments with a 15 minute break (or if I’m really having trouble, I’ll make it 45/15).

  49. Dwight Robarts says:

    Hi Margaret. Good post. I think it helps me as much as possible to do one thing at a time and finish it before moving to the next priority. Multi-tasking is overrated and counter productive. Creating a rhythm that works for you is a good move to manage our workload and stress. According to Tony Schwartz, studies of elite athletes and musicians show that they work best in 90 minute increments with breaks of 15-30 minutes in between to take a walk or do something fun and different. For me, I try to work on my #1 priority from 8:30-10AM each day

  50. Thank, Jeff — thanks for taking a a look at the site.

  51. Jeff Perry says:

    Great site! Look forward to reading more. Thanks for reaching out on Google+ hope to hear from you soon.
    ~Grace and peace

  52. David says:


    exactly what the holy spirit being saying to me, I love the stop before you dash to your car and call a sibling and ask what to do on a day off. Romans 14.6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…

  53. Marnette says:

    I am typing these up and putting them in my Bible and purse. Thanks, Maralene

  54. Thanks, Joe. I’m on the lifetime plan myself…

  55. Elizabeth says:

    Once again, Margaret, it’s like you have observed me directly and written what I needed to hear today. I was literally sitting here questioning whether some things are mine to do. They certainly fall in the I don’t want to pile, but they may be the you have to do it anyway pile. Not sure yet, but your article is helping. I am thinking if the answer to all 3 is no that is a clearer sign it’s not mine, vs. if 1 or 2 answers are no.

  56. Joe Gratzel says:

    Thanks, Margaret –

    As the Amish say, we grow too soon old and too late smart”. I am trying to learn these lessons and wish I had grafted this into my ministry 25 years ago! Will be sharing with a young colleague…

  57. Marge Brown says:

    Really liked your article especially the fifth reason: the ability to stand in one’s truth and merely disagree.
    Thank you!

  58. Great point, Betty. I do remember Ed Friedman describing criticism as a form of pursuit.

  59. Conflict is a form of pursuance, maybe not the most comfortable and easy, but engagement is better than being ignored.

  60. Elizabeth, I’m glad this was helpful. It does require discernment – pastors do have expertise and experience, and how to share that without overfunctioning can be a challenge.

  61. Elizabeth Jones says:

    This is helpful. I tend to take the problems in our church very seriously and feel I should talk to someone in authority and keep the right people informed. I tend to think that all my experience and wisdom surpasses some others who have not had as much training or experience of different congregations.

  62. JOHN LANDGRAF says:

    Terrific piece, Margaret. BTW, love your website. Well done! Speaking of casting a vision, Laura is doing it in spades right now. This weekend she’ll speak three times at Lake City Community Church in Coeur d’Alene. You’ll be able to catch the video (or vimeo) on their website — and we’ll post snippets on Laura’s (www.lauralandgraf.com)

  63. Great thoughts, Dwight. Thank you. Two kinds of powerful stories: one about how giving changes the giver, and the other about how giving changes the lives of others.

  64. Dwight Robarts says:


    Your writing about money, churches and generosity in the last couple of years has been great. I’ve learned a lot about giving and generosity from working in the non-profit world the last five years. And, I agree with you that teaching people to give is a significant ministry. A lot of work has been done in recent years in the field of positive psychology on the relationship between money and happiness. There is a relationship between the two, but only up to a certain point. Once the household makes $75,000/year there is little correlation between money and happiness with two exceptions. First, spending money on experiences contributes to people’s happiness. But, the “bigger bang for the buck” comes from giving money away. People report at all income levels that giving money away gives them the greatest sense of happiness and satisfaction. Perhaps one way we teach is to ask generous people to give testimony about what giving has done for them. Another key is church leaders need to tell members stories about how their giving has changed lives and impacted people both in the congregation and though the congregation’s ministries. That’s what the donors to my non-profit want to know. What impact has their gifts had on people or circumstances?

  65. Pr. Dan Biles says:

    I found this article rather moralizing, mostly a list of “Don’ts.” I try to cultivate a climate that encourages creativity, responsibility, initiative, and having fun at one’s work, within the mission and values of our congregation. So I have two basic questions people should ask: Is what you want to do consistent with the faith and mission of the Church? And, if it fails, can we survive it?
    Of course, having a program staff that are all first-borns helps; they are all self-starters.

  66. Dan Belgum-Blad says:

    This is something I’ve been sorting out along the way, a long time… Relevent stuff! I appreciate that being nice isn’t synonymous with compassion. It can be reactive avoidance of conflict (speaking from experience). The more I work on ‘differentiated togetherness’, I believe (and have seen) the better off I am. Thanks for this column.

  67. I rarely find cause to disagree with Margaret, but will on this one:

    “5. Always check references. Enough said.”

    My disagreement is that enough can’t be said about this. I find most churches do not check references enough. One must go beyond the names listed as references by an applicant. Get permission to ask those persons who have ACTUALLY worked with or under or as supervisors. That is, those who can provide relevant information about a person’s actual performance, functioning, and behavior.

    ‘Nuff said.

  68. Melinda Wagner says:

    Happy New Year, Margaret! I just wanted to say thank you for continuing to share these helpful insights with us. You can be sure we’re listening, and learning, even when we’re too busy or distracted to respond. Our clergy group especially appreciated your Advent and Christmas advice, and I’m sure our families and congregations benefited in untold ways. God bless, Melinda

  69. Kay Johnson says:

    Dear Margaret,
    Thank you for your articles. Even though I am “retired” I still enjoy what you have to say and some apply even to a retired pastor. Your “Celebration” article was especially appropriate. With the world in such sad shape there is still reason to celebrate.
    Keep up the good work!

    Blessings in 2015,
    Kay Johnson
    Ft Worth, TX

  70. My purpose this advent is to be present as much as possible to my family and to learn what the traditions are in my new position

  71. Jim Martin says:

    This is excellent Margaret! Thanks for such an excellent post!

  72. Maya landell says:

    This is excellent, thank you, posting a free copy of the sheet you used to track the fifteen intervals, would really help, particularly in the midst of the advent season, please consider, thank you, maya

  73. Thank you for your help in this vital aspect of congregational life.

  74. Thanks for eloquently articulating the benevolent opportunity of social media – to uplift and connect! It has inspired me to want to introduce my children to that approach before they even get involved (they’re 9 and 11).

  75. Dan Hester says:

    Sometimes I think about the posts on social media as opportunities for me to practice regulating my own reactivity. I can get quite a workout some days.

  76. Phineas Marr says:

    Reading this article infuriated me.

    No, seriously, once again you have hit the ball out of the park. It made me realize that I probably don’t need to read things that aggravate me. I’m from New Jersey. Normal living aggravates me enough. You got a problem with that? 🙂

  77. I recently unfriended someone who kept writing posts comparing contemporary American political figures to, for example, Adolf Hitler. I do not want to see Hitler’s name in my newsfeed! And here I’ve gone and written it myself! Just proves that the anxiety spreads from person to person in an entropic fashion.

  78. Thanks Margaret,your article makes me think about how I use social media. For me Facebook is a place to encourage others and learn about what’s going on in my friend’s lives. It is also a place to educate and for respectful conversation but not a place to convince the other. I agree too that it can be a spiritual practice to step away for periods of time from social media, the internet, the cell phone etc to simply ‘be’ present to life in real time and face to face. Isaiah 55:3 says ‘Listen and your soul will live’, hard to listen when I’m always talking!

  79. Dwight Robarts says:

    Margaret. This is right on. I have not only limited my time looking at social media, I have significantly curtailed my exposure to main stream news media. All they sell is fear and anxiety, except of course for the brief and obligatory “now for the good stuff,” which is probably 5% of what they report.

  80. Sean Harry says:

    Margaret – I have been thinking exactly the same thing. I actually un-friended several people during the elections as the hate and anger put me over the edge. I’ve decided that I will use a different mechanism to get my news. Thanks for the encouragement! (I’m going to post this on Facebook . . . let’s see if anyone gets upset!)

  81. Dick Moser says:

    Excellent concept. Thank you for the memorable thought. It applies to all people and organizations of every type.

  82. Rob says:

    Now this is a link worth passing on! 🙂


  83. Paul Brassey says:

    At a conference for non-profits last week I heard a lot about fund raising. The last point was very much emphasized. Thank your donors! Also, one person made this statement: People give to people, not to causes.

  84. These are great ideas, Margaret, and even though #3 takes more work, especially at the beginning, it is worth it.

    But I really want to mention that with regard to #1, I could agree more. It’s one of the things I cover in detail in my book 7 Steps to a Perfect Music Ministry Budget, more about which is here: http://cmag.ws/8d

  85. Carol McVetty says:

    Wow! These are such simple, practical, helpful ideas. I needed this today.

    Another thing I do that helps me is to set aside the time of day I am at my best (morning for me) for the things that require the deepest and most creative thought and do the more routine details at other times.

  86. I have found the Pomodoro technique helpful. There are various timer apps for phones, tablets, etc. The idea is to focus 25 minutes then take 5 minutes off. A Wikipedia article explains further: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique

    I find I get more done and it is easier on my back than staying at my desk for a long time.

  87. Laurel says:

    The title was very inviting! I remember my shock when a seminary professor urged us to “waste time on God.” Thanks for reminding us that Sabbath space and being is not just a weekly experience, but it is needed daily, and seasonally as well. One of my practices during the holiday season is this: Do nothing that I can do later in the new year. Blessings! Laurel

  88. Thanks, Rob! “Loafing” is a great word.

  89. In honor of your post….

    From “A song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

    I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
    And what I assume you shall assume,
    For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
    I loaf and invite my soul,
    I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

    “Even the least religious of men must have felt with Walt Whitman, when loafing on the grass on some transparent summer morning… the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth. ” William James

  90. Anne Andert says:

    Thanks for another good article. I once saw an acronym for NICE = Nothing Is Critically Evaluated. Before ordination I was a critical care nurse. Sometimes people think of critical as mean-spirited, but I see it as being very important. Critical words, actions, and thinking are all important. We don’t get to critical if we stay with “nice”.

  91. Dinah says:

    Still learning and re-learning this one. I’m finding my motives are mixed as I serve. Sometimes it’s difficult to sort out what’s done out of love, going the extra mile versus what’s done out of fear, a desire to be liked, and a lack of courage.

  92. Joe Kutter says:

    Too too true. Too frequently we think that the word love is a synonym for nice and they are not the same at all. Love, agape, has a very tough core, not mean but tough, while nice is nearly completely directly by the whims and issues of others — no core. Nicely done!

  93. Joel Alvis says:

    “Nice” may be in the New Testament – but we have the “Nicene” Creed. Isn’t that the same thing? No wait – maybe there was some stand taking as well as anxiety displacement there as well…..

  94. Good one, Margaret. Nothing wrong with being kind, but anxiety-motivated “nice” tends to lead to ineffective leadership. I sometimes quip, “Nice can get you killed under the wrong circumstance.”

  95. Phineas Marr says:

    This is a great column. I’ve had to learn these lessons the hard way. I think this is a clarifying statement in regards to the rest of your work. Maintaining non-anxious presence does not mean being nice all the time. It is possible to be both non-anxious and confrontational when needed. It’s a skill to be learned for most of us, but worth the trouble of learning.

  96. Rev. Jim Hinds says:

    Israel (and Margaret) touch on a most important issue. Jesus talked most about “the kingdom” and stewardship [in its widest context, i.e., money]. Even more than love. For him the needs of the people were paramount. For us the needs of the church in order to minister to the people are important.
    I look forward to the class this fall.

  97. Paul Brassey says:

    Churches have been extremely slow to adapt to online payment systems. We cling to the ritual of the public offering during worship. The problem that I have personally with this is that I am no longer in the habit of paying by check or carrying large amounts of cash. For any bill of a set amount (i.e., car loan or mortgage payment) I set up an automatic payment system so that I don’t have to think about it. With my church contributions, I have to remember to write out a check and bring it to church (or mail it), there being no other way to make payment. I often don’t. (Not an excuse, just a fact.) I can’t imagine that I am alone in this. Many younger people live from cards or online payments and don’t have checking accounts. In my business it was very simple to set up a card payment system using my cell phone. I suppose it would be crass to pass an iPad with card reader through the pews. But it would bring in more money. And the pastor might even get a tip.

  98. judy mackenzie says:

    I’m late–just got this today, but like it a lot. judy

  99. Sean Harry says:

    This is true for so many of my small business clients as well. People who are dedicated to making a difference often have a rather poor relationship with money.

  100. Fantastic, Jim. Just sending letters of thanks is huge. Many churches have a hard time with this. Thanks for the comment.

  101. Jim Hinds says:

    After reading a number of texts about non-profit giving which noted the various differences between other NPs and churches, the stewardship team reconsidered the sending of thanks letters. Which we are doing – time will tell how this is received. The team also wanted to have a special hand-written note on the letters of the top 5 (20% of total givers) donors. But were stymied by other leaders in getting this sub-set list. Seems to be expected in other NPs. Not within God’s churches – a great reticence to such disclosures – maybe great guilt?!

  102. Fantastic story. Thanks, Ron.

  103. Ronald Faus says:

    The stewardship group at one church I pastored called all donors of the current year to thank them. People were shocked. Some thought there must be an emergency in which extra funds were needed. After being assured they were just being thanked, most responded by contributing more the next year.

  104. Pete, I’m sending you an e-mail with more info.

  105. Thank you! What is the name/nature of the “9 month course about money” you mentioned? +!

  106. Bogdan Moldoveanu says:


    My name is Moldovanu Bogdan. I am 24 year old student from Romania. My father, Serban, is a social entrepreneur. 6 years ago he moved from Bucharest to a small village named Ciocanesti close to the capital. This village, like many others in Romania, is laking initiative for activities outside school, quality education for teenagers and is in poverty. Due to people’s lack of action and interest for developing the local community, children have no bright future in such an environment. My father, ever since he moved here, he has engaged in many activities with the locals. He involved the local teenagers in different projects. One of them was to make the first bicycle track that would attract tourists in the area helping the local economy. Another major project in which he engaged local teenagers is the Summer School. He sees education as being the a key factor to a communities evolvement and saviour from poverty. I think it is definitely one of the first conditions to a better life as an educated person can see opportunities and make things happen more easily.
    Being at it’s fourth edition, the Summer School intends to make the children more curious about their environment and raise their desire to get involved in the development of their own community.
    In this Summer School , any volunteer can come and have a workshop with the children. It can be in any subject as long as it is done with enthusiasm and passion. I, personally, know how important courage is in their lives. I wish to have a 5 day workshop with them about this subject. I don’t know yet what the structure of this workshop will be and that is why I am contacting you. I am looking for inspiration in anything I can find. And that is why I am contacting you. I relate my subject to your workshops and I think that I have a lot to learn from you on this subject.
    I am asking for some help on the know-how part. I wish to teach teenagers classes 5-8. I want to deliver my message so that they can apply it in their own lives, wether it is in their personal life, family or community. I am considering doing some games, show them some clips, make courage exercises with them and other.
    Please let me know if you have any time to give me some advice and some ideas on how I can make my workshop as interesting as possible.
    The children of Ciocanesti will be forever grateful of your help regardless of where you are from!

    Best regards!

  107. Excellent reflections on this leader of the Roman Catholic world. I am so impressed with his willingness to break with the traditions of the church that have been holding them back and to stick to his practices and beliefs – particularly his concern for the poor.

  108. What an AWESOME idea. It is so easy to let money thoughts take our freedom from us. To steal our peace. I love how you have made money fun. I have done similar things, though not for lent (I like the tie there too.) One way we have made money fun is to bless it every time it leaves our hands. The idea of blessing the person that receives it at the grocery store checkout or though an online transaction. Once a month I treat myself to something that makes me smile. Sometimes it is a manicure, sometimes something else. My husband and I also took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. It was amazing how much more free we have been since we put his suggestions into practice in our life. Keep up the great work!

  109. Thanks, Tracey. Yes, it can. I think getting free is a long process.

  110. Tracey says:

    I love this idea of freedom around money. Money can feel like such a binding.

  111. Thanks, Marty. I aim to make people think. I love the idea of using these for offering calls.

  112. Pretty thoughtful even though concise. I’m going to print it out and think about it some and use it for offering calls at church.

    These are non-standard answers and I find that refreshing, makes you think and lets the lights turn on in your brain about the real reasons why it’s healthy for a disciple of Christ to give.

  113. Vonnie says:

    What great balance you reveal, Margaret, in the way you have taken the best from both sides of your family and maximized on their strong points. To answer the “favorite cousin” question, I have to say that Jeff was my favorite when we were kids. He and I were close in age and got along so well when the families were together. I still have a strong fondness for him! When I was a young adult, however, I had opportunity to know you and your brother better, and you both challenged me to “think outside the box” regarding so many of my preconceived notions. Thank you for that! I love our family and I’m so grateful for each member. I will stop with that, because you’ve already said it well. Thank you for your blog.

  114. Donna Fenske is my favorite cousin. She takes a bush plane into 13 remote Eskimo Villages in Alaska to tend to the medical needs of the people who live there. She is truly the original “Medicine Woman”. On a visit there a couple of years ago, everywhere I went people told me of the miraculous ways that she helped the people who mean everything to her.

  115. Thanks, Dwight. I agree, there are consequences when people’s anxiety is high. Thanks for sharing your story here.

  116. Dwight Robarts says:

    Margaret, This post is right on. Sometimes there are consequences to this approach though. As you know in my last church when I came to the conclusion I had little power to lead (make, get, encourage or whatever word you want to choose) the church to grow and told the leaders so, they felt they had to “make a change.” While painful, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I no longer had to live under the burden of the anxiety the church felt about growth. And, I no longer had to live with the lack of integrity that came with pretending that somehow I was going to come up with the magic formula that would result in growth.

  117. L. Oosterhof says:

    Haven’t read the book yet!

  118. John Reinhard Dizon says:

    We must take into consideration the fact that this is the Lord’s money. Despite the name on the bank account, will one rob God? Regardless of the rationalizations, diverting funds towards vested interests lead us to the anarchies of the Dark Side.

  119. Anna Dietrich says:

    I think the best way to incorporate the Psalms into the deep heart and to really make their words your own true words is to memorize them . At one point in history , all bishops had to know the Psalter by heart and many monastics were required to know the Psalms as well . There just isn’t anything as beautiful (baring exceptional spiritual experiences ) as just sitting quietly , eyes closed and letting the Psalms wash through the mind and into the heart….to have these divine words just come spontaneously to you in times of need , in times of joy on times of fear etc.

  120. Vern Sanders says:

    Thanks for the mention, Margaret. Since I was encouraged to turn Fridays into “on” days rather than “in” days, my productivity has grown by leaps and bounds, and I find that I don’t lose touch with the big picture or long-term goals.


  121. Rebecca Maccini says:

    The Emperor’s Handbook by Marcus Aurelius

  122. Julie Weston says:

    I think it’s interesting that you say “in spite” of Churchill being a conservative, he cared for common folk. Conservatives have always cared for common folk — it’s clear where your bias lies.

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      OK, I guess I have to plead guilty to my bias. What I should have said, more accurately, is that he advocated programs to help working people which were later adopted by the Labour government.

  123. Rebecca Maccini says:

    Interesting check about facts. I think that perceptions and what fits our own thinking or theory is sometimes different from the facts. This happens in churches. It happens in families and relationships. It happens as we work to make sense of our world.

  124. Karen Gygax Rodriguez says:

    Happy Anniversary Margaret! We certainly have been blessed by your ordination! I will be celebrating 25 years next October. I’m wondering what else you are doing that helps to honor, remember and mark this sacred day in your life??

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      Thanks, Karen! Great question. I’ve been telling everyone, for one thing. My husband and I went out to a nice celebration dinner at the beach on our vacation last week. This week I got out the photo album and enjoyed reliving the service and the party.

  125. Rebekah says:

    Money is not me.
    Money is not God.

  126. Laurie Larson Caesar says:

    Excellent advice. I think we too often short-change our selves, our friendships, our favorite people in the congregation and give our best to those who are stuck and will never appreciate it. Spaciousness and graciousness with myself always helps my ministry, at every level.

  127. cort bender says:

    Thanks for sharing this great information with others. Blessings.

  128. Pastor Bryan Harris says:

    Great insights Margaret. Thank you for sharing!

  129. Linda Rutledge says:

    I love quotes that remind me that life is a lot more simple than we make it.Just go out and live, right?

  130. Margaret Marcuson says:

    Another great quote, Sean. Thanks for sharing it. I’ll add that to my list.

  131. Sean Harry says:

    LOVE the Rumi quote!

    I recently was given a plaque with a similar quote from Mark Twain — “WHy not go out on a limb? That’s where all the fruit is!”

  132. Margaret Marcuson says:

    Great idea. Thanks, Ron!

  133. Rev. Ronald E. H. Faus says:

    At Trinity Mennonite Church, we have weekly stewardship testimonies as part of offering time. It’s not always about money. One of my favorite talks is to ask a parishioner what she will be doing “this time tomorrow.” This provides an opportunity to show how faith and vocation collaborate: another facet of stewardship.

  134. Sandra says:

    I notice it more so when I am tired, so I schedule a Sunday off, to get some “reterat” and distance. I want to try to anticipate these times a bit better.

  135. Margaret Marcuson says:

    Paying attention is where it’s at!

  136. Rebecca Maccini says:


    • Rebecca Maccini says:

      I was thinking about when I begin to get annoyed by people. I have been noticing it lately and it is the end of the church year (Sept.-June) and I am tired. It is something I am beginning to pay attention to and it gives me clues that I need rest and some balance.

  137. Dinah Vaughn says:

    Great distinction there, between “they are annoying” and “I am annoyed”. Thanks, Margaret — that’s helpful to me.

  138. Rev Jim Hinds says:

    Very true. A few years ago I wrote that while we lift up Jesus as a great story teller, I felt that he was an even better listener. Of course the Gospels must present Jesus as telling/sharing/teaching. It would be pretty boring to just present Jesus with expressions of his listening. And yet, if we consider the stories as one side of a conversation, and trust that Jesus/God/Spirit are truly willing and wanting to listen to us, then, Jesus must have listened much in order to see deep into the people’s needs. From these roots comes his stories. I need to listen, cause I do talk to much, jump to conclusions, don’t always give space for the ‘other’ (the other is holding within a slice of God – so why not listen to them!) have their say.

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      Most of us who go into ministry have plenty to say! The challenge is to know when to stop talking!

  139. Rev Jim Hinds says:

    The defining of boundaries is not to just keep others away, it reminds us of what is truly important (to us and ministry), it presents ways for others to also define themselves.

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      Thanks, Jim. You’re right. To have the impact you describe, it’s important to do it in a way that is not too serious and rigid. It’s a tricky balance.

  140. Paul Brassey says:

    I get in trouble.

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      Paul — well, it’s true that defining yourself can get you in trouble. I wonder if thinking of it as “practice” could make it a little lighter. Like running scales.

  141. Ben says:

    Have you ever looked into Abraham? Some of the secular history shows he was very wealthy, and also many scriptures, and yet he was used by God. He set a great example.

  142. Dinah says:

    Love your optimism, Margaret! “. . .we might be more able to adapt than a sea cucumber. We’ve got big, creative brains”.
    Love each thought here — esp. about perspective. I often need that reminder.

  143. Margaret Marcuson says:

    Thanks, Roslyn. I forgot about that book!

  144. Roslyn Wright says:

    Reminds me of the lovely piece by Robert Fulghum “All I need to know I learned in kindergarten.”
    His words:
    All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
    Share everything.
    Play fair.
    Don’t hit people.
    Put things back where you found them.
    Clean up your own mess.
    Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
    Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
    Wash your hands before you eat.
    Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
    Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
    Take a nap every afternoon.
    When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
    Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
    Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
    And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
    Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

    Fulghum, Robert. All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thought on Common Things. London: Grafton Books, 1989, pp1-3.

  145. Rev Jim Hinds says:

    Margaret, you observations are spot on. There is often lots of data (not always in the best format for review) available on giving and spending. And there is, sadly, an inability or a fear of spending time with fincial figures. Decades ago I served as church treasurer. This ministry built off a facility (thanks be to God) to peruse and pull out salient points from finacial reports. For years I worked to streamline the report process – not to hide but to uncover the ‘facts’ for those who needed to review them. It did not always work, but it left me more prepared now as a pastor to review reports and instruct others in creating and reviewing finance reports. And as always, seeking clarity and transparency is the best policy.
    Pastor Jim

  146. P.H. says:

    Thx for the very helpful post.
    Regrettably, financial folks @ my congregation see things differently.
    They seem to be very suspicious of this radical concept we call “transparency”, immediately jumping to the conclusion that it *must* include a line-by-line name-by-name disclosure (regardless of the number of times this is clarified).
    Two neighboring congregations exhibit a different form of trust – listing a weekly money in/money out feature in the bulletins.
    If nothing else, it helps the congregant see that phone bills arrive each month, whether the family is in the pew that week/month or not.

    • Margaret Marcuson says:

      It can be a very long process to help people move in the direction of greater openness. I think what helps most is saying clearly what you think without trying too hard to convince others of your point of view. Patience also helps.

  147. Becky says:

    What a great list, Margaret! I probably have the most work to do on #5.

  148. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Dinah! Glad you found it helpful.

  149. Dinah Vaughn says:

    SO good Margaret! I love this! (Although, I’m afraid my co-workers aren’t going to love me finding yet one more thing to be candid about. ;D). All five points have such good advice!

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  154. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Bryan. I’d love to do that sometime! Blessings on your ministry.

  155. Great article and insight. Let us know when you are in Northern California again. Would love for you to teach the lesson at my church. Blessings!

  156. Thanks for the encouragement and pointers!!

  157. Shirley, fantastic. What a great model.

  158. Shirley Geisler says:

    Our interim pastor a few years ago helped us get our Annual Meetings to be “celebratory” in nature. The only item of business is usually a vote on the budget, but it is simply a vote. The budget is presented in late fall. Opportunity is given for questions at several times prior to the Annual Meeting; the finance committee moves and seconds a vote on the budget and it’s simply “up” or “down”. No more discussion.

    We celebrate the good work being done with few oral reports. All reports are written and in a book for the people to take with them. We have a little food and all seem to have a good time.

  159. Great comments. I do think the self-monitoring is key. It may not be the amount of news we take in but the anxious focus we place on it that is critical.

  160. Reminds me of the story of the teacher, a tutor at the Imperial Court in Rome, who fled to the Egyptian desert to become a “Desert Father.” Many years later a former student located him, introduced himself, was welcomed and the hermit, living a life of prayer an simplicity in a hut, asked “Who now rules the world? What cities have risen and fallen over the years?”
    Who rules the world? What cities have risen and fallen?

  161. Paul Brassey says:

    I like that he confesses listening to Fox and NPR, without condemning one or the other. Still, I know lots of people who don’t pay any attention to news at all. By comparison, he’s a news junkie.

  162. Bud Brown says:

    The day after the elections I went on a “news fast.” Went a whole month without reading any newspapers or news websites and watched no news on TV. I now monitor myself very carefully; when I start to experience negative thoughts and feelings after reading the news, I’ll go several days without reading it.

    I do not want all the negativity in my life.

  163. Thanks, Heather. Good for you!

  164. heather entrekin says:

    Thanks for passing this along, Margaret. Addiction is the right term for our obsession with both junk food and news. I am already practicing what Laufer preaches but now I’ll feel less guilty about it.

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  166. The high road is a great way to put it. I think that way benefits everyone in the long run. Thanks for your thoughtful perspective, Leslie.

  167. Leslie Miller says:

    As an avoidant personality the above is difficult but critical in promoting unity in the church body. Avoidant behavior exacerbates disagreements when they occur. So I usually take the “high road” on these matters – approach, chat about everyday things, and pray for our relationship. When something “prickly” is said, I try to diminish it by laughing at myself, and move on to “healthier” ideas and activities. Love they neighbor means practicing these things for even more trying issues of love.

  168. Lynda McClelland says:

    Thank you, Dr. Marcuson.

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  170. Thanks, Israel. Great example from Leno!

  171. Israel Galindo says:

    Good insight. I recently shared this phenomenon with students in an education course related to learning, critical thinking, and achieving “understanding.” It’s a brain-learning function. The brain does not like lacunas and their dissonance, but it will be satisfied with ANY explanation, even a wrong one, and the first explanation is often wrong, but sufficient to remove the dissonance. Engel is correct, people’s “explanation” of things rarely is the CAUSE. This is why leaders need to be apt at using and interpreting data. Entertainer Jay Leno exploits this phenomenon to comic effect in his Jaywalking segments. He asks persons on the street a question, people don’t know the answer but will MAKE SOMETHING UP on the spot and be satisfied with the answer, “Yeah, that’s it,”—even when it is patently wrong and made up. And they know that they’ve just made it up!

  172. Donna, I just heard of some new ideas on meeting covenants/agreements, which I’ll send to you when I get home next week.

    Joel, thanks so much for your thoughts on wilderness. That’s a great idea!

  173. The best way to think deeply and clearly is to spend some in the wilderness. With no distractions or interruptions, your brain changes after a few days. It’s like detox for your mind and spirit.

  174. I like your stuff. Very interesting. Do you know of covenants people use before meetings? Which include how we will behave electronically during meetings?

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  176. Thanks, Dinah! So glad this was relevant. I need to be reminded myself all the time.

  177. Dinah says:

    Thanks Margaret — good words that hit the spot for me!

  178. Thanks, Rebecca. I like the idea of thinking about it as a spiritual discipline.

  179. I love the idea of making a future time to worry. That is a great spiritual discipline. What we could learn!

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  181. Thanks, Mary. I do think we have to be careful about taking responsibility for others’ feelings. It’s a tricky balance.

  182. Mary Wright says:

    People will not remember always what we SAY and people will not remember always what we DO but people will ALWAYS remember HOW we made them FEEL.

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  184. Jake says:

    Wise words. I like imagining all the hope draining away, and then looking at the hope that remains.

  185. Cynthia says:

    Thanks, Margaret. I needed that.

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  188. Thanks, Dave, for your comment — and for what I’ve learned from you about listening.

  189. Dave Ellis says:

    What a wonderful question: What do you notice about your own listening?

    Thanks Margaret!

  190. Thanks, Dee Dee. Hope you have a wonderful dinner (while thinking…).

  191. Dee Dee says:

    Hi, Margaret,
    Thanks for a very helpful blog. I was planning Christmas dinner here at my condo without giving any thought to what the opportunity holds. You have me thinking….
    Dee Dee

  192. Thanks, Brenda. I need to keep reminding myself, too.

  193. Brenda Meyer says:

    Margaret, Thanks for the reminder to be grateful. It’s a good season to practice that, and I need all the reminders I can get!

  194. Thanks, Lynda. I need to be reminded, too!

  195. Lynda McClelland says:

    Spell check “So” many times I forget…

  196. Lynda McClelland says:

    Thank you Professor Marcuson. I needed this reminder. Some many times I forget to pause and realize how bless I really am. Make a wonderful day.

  197. Joel Alvis says:

    Perspective – it is not just for “church problems.”

  198. Lynda, I also find that breathing helps a lot. All of this is a lifetime’s practice to learn. Thanks for your thoughts.

  199. Lynda McClelland says:

    I believe “awareness” is the key here. When I am irritated I try to stop and breathe. In hindsight
    I can see that my irritation is that I can see myself in another. Professor Marcuson the exercise you required of your students to complete their genogram of their family history helped me to understand that everybody has their own story. I am not responsible for how others act, but I am responsible for how I respond to how others act.
    I have learned that my serenity is more important than my being right to prove someone else wrong.
    Blessings and thank you for the lesson.

  200. Thanks, Jim. I think it’s hard for anyone to remember in the heat of battle! I think the spiritual task is to learn to slow down our reactions so we give ourselves some space to think.

  201. Jim Ketcham says:

    This is a hard one for me to remember in the heat of battle. But I keep proving it’s true! For example, I found myself getting more and more irritated with my son a few years ago. Eventually I realized the things that irritated me most were the were the same kind of mistakes, misapprehensions and forgetfulness that characterize my ADD. Sure enough, my son has ADD, too. I have a lot more compassion for and a lot less frustration with my son than I used to. Now if I could only have more compassion and less frustration over other church members!

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  203. Lisa Jean, I’ll send you the link to download the recording — it’s always available afterwards.

  204. was trying to get into the call this morning, but didn’t realize I needed to write in ahead of time. oops. more anxiety. 🙂

  205. Sara, thanks for these thoughtful comments. “Paying attention” is a great way to put it. And of course, that’s not easy. I find I’m very easily distracted from the things that are most important.

  206. I initially bristled at the quote from James Lamkin, that “the key to the kingdom is self-regulation.” I always thought the key to the kingdom was something more like self-forgetting, or generosity. Or an awareness of God’s extravagant abundance. And yet upon reflection it seems that all of these are, in fact, expressions of self-regulation, being able to rule oneself such that one is bound to God’s gracious rule. It seems that paying attention–my interpretation of the key to the kingdom–leads to a more healthy degree of engagement in whatever arena needs my attention.

  207. Thanks for these thoughtful comments. Vincent, I know I’ve met people who are less anxious about money, but probably not anyone who is not at all anxious. In talking with those who work with families with wealth, I know there is often a lot of anxiety there!

    I saw something about that John Kralik book elsewhere. It sounds fascinating. I know when someone writes me a thank-you note for something I’ve done, I keep it.

  208. John Kralik was highlighted in Christian Century lately as someone whose life was in a shambles and he decided to be thankful for what he had and everyday wrote a thank-you note to someone who had done him a kindness. This made a positive difference in his life and then he wrote a book about it.

  209. Vincent R says:

    Hello Margaret,

    Your post lead me to some of the following thoughts.

    I would be interested in meeting someone who is not anxious about money. Can one be anxious about having too much money ? Is there a threshold (for each individual) beyond which one is less anxious about money? How does one get to the point where one realizes that one has enough money?

    I have crossed the Atlantic with a wife and three children and no job in late 2009. I have experienced a good deal of money-related anxiety as I looked at our savings getting lower and lower each month. The cards I have been dealt with also include some past events around money whereby I am not sure how these influence my current view on money.

    What an interesting suggestion to practice gratefulness. I am grateful for the support I have found through friends, a wonderful church as well as family to go through the rough seas. I am also grateful that while the savings are gone, I am now on firm ground and the future looks promising for the whole family.

    I have found the story from the Gospel about the “miracle fishing” (Jesus asking the disciples to cast the net again although the night-long attempt had been unsuccessful) to be a good resource. One of the ways in which I understand this story is this: when confronted with a challenging situation, we are called to find other alternatives (maybe even some that seem not very promising) instead of just trying harder.

    I wonder if the disciples faced some “fish anxiety” as many fishermen make their living at night and not catching a fish is for some a dire result (think a whole night’s worth of wage not earned) ? I also wonder if the disciples were grateful that they had a boat that could float, fishing nets in adequate condition and the skills to fish? Was this gratefulness enough to do something which sounded to be futile?

    Who knows ?

  210. Imani, I’m so glad it was helpful. Hope the council conversation goes well.

  211. I wanted to thank you for publishing this article. It is very timely and I plan on sharing it with our congregational council and discuss the questions that you listed. May God continue to bless your writing.

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  213. Thanks for this comment — I agree that trust in God and a focus on prayer is a critical response to any crisis.

  214. Facing Financial Crisis is becoming the norm and work of many ministries around the country. We must be remembered of Jesus’ words in St. Matthew 16:18 … On this rock Jesus declared I will Build my Church. Although forces will come against the church they will not overcome the church! I don’t claim to have a corner on understanding this text but, this I do know, GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE!! I suggest to pastors reading this article … do what’s suggested. I would add don’t be in a rush to call a business meeting rather immediately call for a congregational prayer time. A time to seek the face of God and not just His hand. Call for a prayer meeting directing the leaders and congregants to seek fresh direction(s) from God in their individual lives. I’m reminded of Acts chapters 2-4 when the church community had all things in common. Some folks are holding out on God just look in your parking lot. Maybe God is turning our faces for us that we might see. It’s not in how well we manage, budget or plan for little can be made much in the hands of the Master. He wants us and we have chosen stuff and things. Maybe the stuff and things have to go that we might SEE God in all of His Glory? I leave this thought: It all belongs to the LORD Ps. 24:1 ….. We now really know that we need HIM.

  215. Thanks for the kind words, Margaret. The article is getting a lot of buzz and hits.



  216. Tom Harper says:

    Thanks for the review, Margaret. I definitely see similarities between Christian business leaders and church leaders, and the same biblical principles work in both scenarios.

  217. Thanks for this, Marcy. I haven’t seen The Checklist Manifesto, but it sounds fascinating. I do think there is plenty to be learned from the business world about structure and accountability — and yet the church is very different. I heard Pete Steinke say once a business leader told him that one year in business equals seven years in church! It does take longer to move forward at church, and more patience is required. Also, much of what we are working toward is intangible.

  218. Not to dominate the comments on this blog–but first of all thank you for that repertoire of responses: “I’ll get back to you on that. I need to think about it.” And its companion: “Here’s the best thinking I can come up….” I definitely need those. I also appreciate the list of questions. I don’t know if you have come across the book The Checklist Manifesto or not. Written by a surgeon, the book explores what is the best way to deal with issues in this increasingly complex world with so much information out there. The author checks in with pilots, general contractors and builders of large structures such as skyscrapers, and even how Wal-Mart handled Katrina. I think it could be useful in the life of the church as well. At the same time, I do struggle when church growth writers leaders use business models of leadership with the church. Let’s face it, in the church, we work with “volunteers” who can quit anytime, who can stop what they are doing, who can underfunction over and over again without any consequences. I do not know of any source that addresses this issue about the church. Would love to hear your thoughts on this unique aspect of the church.

  219. Thanks, Jennifer! I’m enjoying reading the other CCblogs, too.

  220. Just saw you joined the Christian Century blogging network — congrats on that! When I follow wordpress tags, I find that the CCblogs are the ones I’m most often looking at. Of course, I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff since having class with you, but smiled when I saw your name on the list!

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  222. Marcy, thanks for this thoughtful comment. Your last point, about our fear of losing the affection of our congregation if we do what God is truly calling us to do, is a very important one.

  223. I am reading your book, Leaders Who Last, with three other clergy woman. And on that day that we met, you posted this to your blog, and I shared this with the other clergy. And we had to really ask ourselves: Do we prayer–in order to be more effective, to keep us going, so we can do the work of ministry or do we prayer–to deepen our relationship with God, Jesus, Holy Spirit? Do Christians in general attend worship so they can “get through” the week or do they worship, so they can give worth to God, to focus on God only not on their well being for at least an hour? This idea of soul care to make a difference or soul care to be made different has been a real epiphany, sending me further on a path that I have been traveling since my new appointment. Think about it: Do we do what we do in ministry to please the congregation and do we keep pleasing the congregation or do we have the courage to say, “You know my ministry is not really about you or me. It’s about what God wants of me in this time and place.” (Of course, I’m being extreme here to make a point, for God wants us to be in relationship with others and care for others. But the question is what kind of care?) We get anxious because we might lose the affection of our congregation when we focus more on what God is calling us to do, so we fall into the trap of the quick fix, make people happy so they don’t get mad at us and we’ll deal with God later.

  224. Gawain says:

    What an insightful article. I was a big fan of Bennett. I think that understanding churches as “learning organizations” can lead us productively into the future.

    I did an article using Gordon Ramsay a few months ago, in a similar vein. I also think Sidney Portier would be a good example.

  225. Wendi, thanks so much for these insightful comments. And this process of learning to love ourselves as God loves us takes a long time.

  226. Thank you for sharing these thoughts…I think you hit the nail on the head when you stated, “We will never find greater health and wellness if we only think we “should” do it. More and more I’m working on receiving God’s love and acceptance for myself, just as I am. It is out of that place of living in love that I am able to make incremental changes. I’ve begun to think of the voices of judgment and self-criticism as demonic. Can we take care of ourselves without making “self-care” yet another weapon to use to beat ourselves up with?

    I am convinced that those voices of judgment and self-criticism are very destructive and often a greater threat to our well-being than any other person or congregation, no matter how dysfunctional. When self-care becomes one more thing to add to the “to do” list and then feel guilty about when we don’t do it perfectly, it is not surprising that we try to avoid it altogether. The key is to remember, as the saying goes, that God loves us just the way we are AND loves us too much to let us stay that way. We need to love ourselves as God loves us.

  227. Thanks for this suggestion, Marcy. I’ll look for Williams’ book.

  228. Marcy H. Nicholas says:

    Before I became a pastor, I was an instructor of English at Penn State. Zinsser is a good beginning. But I would highly, highly recommend, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams. Williams is an update to Zinsser, and explains how sentences and paragraphs work and need to be rewritten.

  229. Fascinating, Jason. This illustrates so clearly that it is more our positioning within the system than the objective reality of people’s functioning and the circumstances at hand that contributes to our stress level.

  230. Jason Gamble says:

    I worked with developmentally disabled adults before coming to my current church in 2001. I started trying to think in bfst terms while still working with adults with dd. My role with a man with sever speech disability, some fine motor problems, and a terrible temper, was to help him be able to do his work. I actually got pretty good at it.
    Then I came to a church in deep conflict with some extremely low functioning board members and I slipped into far more overfunctioning/functional reciprocity than I had working with people with Down Syndrome. Why? I was paid and I ‘felt’ that it was my responsibility to make things happen to insure financial security for the church. I absorbed the anxiety of the system largely because the guarantee of funding did not seem secure as it had working with developmentally disabled adults, where someone else was the CEO.

  231. Thanks, Vern. Great comments. I’ve read other books by Barbara Sher, but not this one. I’ll take a look.

  232. Margaret-

    been there…done that…and the t shirt is quite worn.
    I don’t believe that lowering your standards makes you feel better…in my case it just produced a different kind of exhaustion.
    I do believe that accepting people for who and what they are is a first step.
    The second step is to teach/mentor them in what you know.
    The third step is to let them take responsibility. That’s the hard part.
    But at this stage of my life it is working well, I’m working just as hard, but with less concern about what I can’t change, and I am MUCH happier…
    One of the best helps for me was to read “Refuse to Choose” by Barbara Sher. According to her definition, I am a “plate spinner.” I like it. It keeps me from being bored. Understanding that allowed me to stop lining up all my plates, and instead focus on the plates that circle my core values. Instant productivity gain.


  233. Thanks, Tracy. The “sucker’s choice” is a great way to frame it — that is the bind we so often get in. It requires some real maturity to step out of it. Not easy.

  234. Margaret;
    This is a great post. I think “nice” gets in the way of so many human relatings.

    What ultimately stands in the way of Kind is the sucker’s choice: Either I can be nice and not tell the truth OR I can tell the truth and not be nice (i.e., unkind). This is the penultimate “sucker’s choice”. We can be Kind AND tell the Truth, even if it does not sit well with the recipient. Sometimes people even will hate us for telling the truth but that very act of truth-telling can be what moves people forward in their lives. They may not understand, but they will open to the truth very often.

  235. Vincent, you get right at the challenge many Christians face. Your questions are great ones to ask, on an ongoing basis. Thanks for this.

  236. Vincent Randy says:

    For me, beyond getting over-committed, the one part which jumped in front of my eyes is:
    “to want to help everyone in everything”

    It is so easy for me to forget asking myself: what is my responsibility in this situation, with this person? How much of what I do is driven by a desire to please? Is helping this person going to help him/her grow? Do I decide to not intervene in such and such a situation and deal with my own anxiety about not helping?
    As Christians this can be a difficult situation to manage (“love your neighbor as yourself”…).


  237. All I can say about Merton’s quote, which I found particularly insightful and powerful is Wow! and Ouch!

  238. A little progress counts a lot! Thanks for this, Jason.

  239. Jason Gamble says:

    I always take Mon-Tue off. This week I also took two extra days off in order to have a four day getaway to Santa Catalina Island. It was a nice break, although I had a cold the whole time which had set in on Maundy Thursday.
    Yesterday it was back to the grindstone with bulletin prep, board agenda prep and today my sermon vigil. Since I will not have this Sunday off, I still will endure all of the usual Sunday performance anxiety.
    I find that even when I have Sunday away from church and preaching, that I still get amped up on Saturday night. It’s not until at least two Sundays off sequentially that I start to relax.
    Knowing that, I did postpone a three-part history class until may that was supposed to start this week. There’s a little progress.

  240. Karin, yes, you put your finger on the challenge — every time this comes up, we have the opportunity to prayerfully reflect, is this mine to do or not? Kathleen Norris in her great book Acedia and Me talks about saying yes to things at church she didn’t want to do, as a discipline.

  241. Karin says:

    Interesting idea! I’ve struggled with this at work lately. “For us over-functioning types, this creates anxiety (what if no one steps in to do this essential thing which I know is not mine to do?) I have to be honest and say sometimes I know what not to do, and do it anyway.” I have NOT done ‘it’, as a spiritual exercise, to prove that I could leave ‘it’. On the other hand, I have felt extreme guilt that I KNEW ‘it’ needed doing, but didn’t have the humble servant heart to do ‘it’, being self-protective about my boundaries. It would have caused me no grief or too much effort to do ‘it’. Well, I guess it’s back to thinking, praying, and asking for wisdom and clarity for each circumstance. Should I do it or is it not mine to do?

  242. Thanks, Vern. Yes, it’s extremely hard to put into practice. For me, it’s a spiritual discipline.

  243. Great concept…hard to put into practice…

    I’ll be interested to read your reports on the process of your group…



  244. Thanks, Rebecca. I’m glad it was useful. It’s always good to pay attention to our own anxiety first — it’s so easy to focus on others.

  245. Because our congregation has bought two adjacent properties across the street from the church, and we are embarking on a vision/strategic planning/capital campaign/building project, my anxiety is way up. I have already seen the anxiety increase in the choir, but I am so aware of the quick and high rise of my own anxiety in all of this, so it was really good to listen to your interview with Bob Hunter.

  246. Thanks, Don. You’re right that Tony Campolo raises some similar questions.

  247. Don Watson says:


    Thank you for introducing me to this book. The quoted observations remind me of comments made by Tony Campolo when I heard him speak at the ABCUSA “I Can See It” conference in Colorado Springs. His comment and question was where is Jesus? It seems harder to see him in our church cultures.

    Don Watson
    Keizer, OR

  248. Thanks, Jason. Thanks for bringing up resentment. I know that when I feel resentful, I’m probably overfunctioning (which will never bring about true change).

  249. Jason Gamble says:

    I think that defining self as an individual in a key position like pastor, priest, rabbi,etc. automatically does change the system; but, change in others is not the goal, being myself is. I’m at a place in my ministry where I want to be more involved in the broader neighborhood and community. As I talk about doing that, others might consider and act the same way, but that it not really my business.
    Any time I catch myself ‘trying to get someone else to be or act a certain way’ I realize that I’m off the path of peace and onto the path of resentments. My predecessor at the church I serve said it was like herding cats here. I love and enjoy cats except when trying to herd them.

  250. Thanks for commenting, Tripp. I’m pretty sure I saw the reference to the report first on your blog, now that I think about it. Be sure to check out the link to Tripp’s blog in his comment to see his thoughtful remarks and the interesting comments.

  251. Thanks for this reminder. I posted on this as well. My comments are a bit too lengthy for the internet, but it’s yours to read if you like.


  252. What a great phrase. A sermon from the early 20th century that speaks to the early 21st century.

  253. Vonnie says:

    I love this Margaret! When I have more time, I’d love to leave a longer comment, but this brief challenge made an impact on me today. I especially love #4. It’s taken me a long time for me to learn to be a “giver” in this way, but it is so vital. #1 is a great reminder to not take things too seriously – to keep perspective and help others not to get bogged down.

    Thank you!

  254. Yes, that was truly a profound statement. Being frantic gets in the way of our creativity, in preaching, ministry and life.

  255. Thank you so much for the recording. I loved the comment about when we rest with God, we find peace, when we find peace, we find clarity and with clarity comes creativity.

  256. Thanks, Jason. None of this is easy — but I think it’s even harder to try to sustain ourselves without some kind of spiritual practice.

  257. Jason Gamble says:

    It’s very easy to lose track of spiritual practice between my role as father of two young children, Pastor of a small church, husband, etc. So I appreciate the invitation to distinguish between role and identity.

    Part of my identity is recovery and I begin the day with The Serenity Prayer, A Third Step Prayer, The Seventh Step Prayer, a prayer and meditation for God to let me be of maximum service, and the Saint Francis Prayer. Then I get out of bed. My many roles go better if I start with prayer.

    Of late I have been working hard on examining my fears in the 4th Step which says we ‘made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.’ It’s just amazing what comes up and how I find myself in a position to define myself instead of operating out of fear. It’s not easy, though.

  258. Marya, thanks for the wonderful example.

  259. Marya DeCarlen says:

    Transforming my walk with my dog everyday into prayerful moments has changed my spiritual life. I practice a simple emptying mantra for 20-30 minutes so as to not “let in” any wandering or chaotic thoughts: “Breathe in God, breathe out love.”

  260. Amy Huacani says:

    Altars in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

  261. Well, I always say I’m on the lifetime learning plan myself.

  262. Ouch is right! How much time does it take to learn this stuff? Don’t answer that, because it is a rhetorical question.

  263. Great comment, Rebecca. Sometimes we think “diagnosing” is actually doing something but it frequently gets in the way of being present with the other.

  264. I took notes on the conference and I found the concepts helpful. I also remember the comment about constant diagnosing in a conflict and how it isn’t helpful. I thought about all the times I ‘diagnose,’ and then am totally wrong about my diagnosis. I would have been more effective if I had stuck with what I was observing rather than prescribe reasons for why people were doing what they were doing. If I can get out of the ‘diagnosing’ business and stay on my own tasks, it will probably be better use of my time, effort and energy and keep me from being stuck.

  265. Thanks, Rebecca. I do think feelings of anger/exasperation/resentment can become a signal to pay attention, and ask some questions. What am I doing that I don’t want to do? What is my thinking about why I’m doing it? And, what do I want to do?

  266. Interesting question Margaret. After a weekend of running around and doing a lot of responsibilities that didn’t seem to be mine and becoming angry and exasperated about it all, I was challenged by my partner to ask that question of myself. What do I want to do?

  267. This raises the very good question of how our values drive the decisions we make about dollars in ministry. We need to ask some big questions about this. If we don’t ask the questions, certain values (e.g. building maintenance) determine our decisions without our knowing it.

  268. The real question is what percentage of dollars received can be attributed to positive transformation in the lives of people. Are we as the church building/perpetuating a “golden calf” as Aaron did with little eternal kingdom impact in the lives of people. Recently one local pastor met with much resistance when he wanted to provide funds to functioning missions projects but could not in order to meet the ongoing budgetary needs of maintaining a monolithic building.

    When we stand in front of Jesus one day, I doubt He’ll be asking us about how well we maintained our church buildings. Instead, He’ll be asking about the lives whose paths crossed ours and about the opportunities we had to make an eternal difference, and the choices we ultimately made.

  269. This truly is an ongoing challenge, Jeff. You articulate it well! No easy answers, I’m afraid.

  270. Jeff Sievert says:

    Helpful, as always. A group of leaders recently struggled together wondering how to maintain integrity, how to position themselves, when the more un-boundaried among us run amok. We sometimes feel pulled across our own boundaries in order to DO something to fix the situation. To be directed away from the impossible (managing others) to the merely difficult (managing ourselves) is helpful, though challening, for the temptation is great. Blessings- Jeff

  271. Douglas Harris says:

    Integrity has always been very important to me. Thank you for putting excellent practical ways of determining how we live into integrity in your words. Your thoughtfulness about different aspects of being a leader have been helpful to me in my journey. Continue to share your insights with us who need the reflections that you so thoughtfully offer. Grace and Peace, Doug

  272. Wendy says:

    . When is the last time I spent time alone to reflect on my life?
    Things are just now slowing down a bit for me… My youngest
    just started Kindergarten. Maybe I will have time to reflect now.

    2. Am I doing anything to support my physical health?
    I did excersize today on the bike my parents gave me

    3. What am I telling people to do that I don’t do myself?
    To not say CAN’T to not listen to mean people.

    4. Do I do what I say I will do?
    Pretty much, I do.
    5. Am I too available? Or not available enough?

    I did enjoy reading this fine write up!

  273. Tripp says:

    Great movie. Loved it. Immigrant stories are strange beasts. Some are so old (my family came over in the late 1600’s) and some are ongoing. They all have an impact, certainly, but how acute that is shifts and moves somehow.

  274. Tripp, thanks for these fascinating thoughts. I do think that if God has created each one of us to be unique, the more we live out of that uniqueness, the better off we are, and so is the church and the world.

  275. Tripp says:

    This has triggered a thousand different thoughts for me. How do we become ourselves when we are to die to Christ? This is the first one. I wonder if there are generational issues at work as well. How we were educated, taught to understand ourselves etc, will play into this. When I speak of the self at my church, the generations divide quickly. The Silent generation assumes that one must sacrifice. The Boomers assume that self-actualization is the ultimate goal. The X-ers are not sure what you are talking about. Finally, the Y/Milennials (sp) assume that the congregation exists so that they may find themselves.


    Yeah. This was a surprisingly fruitful and intriguing post for me. Thank you.

  276. I’ve always viewed the book of Ecclesiastes as the first “how to succeed in business” book. It was a product of the golden age of a nation, during a time of wealth, high culture, and international commerce. Such a culture needs governors, princes, and leaders to help the society thrive. The book even includes a chapter on how to find the kind of wife that will help you get ahead in the world. A quick review of the business leader “literature” at the local bookstore hints that not much has changed. Today’s business leaders still look for the shortcut to wisdom and the secret to success through the master of self and of others. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.

  277. I hope that you give some more insights from Ecclesiastes. Recently, a friend from Scotland called who is the head of the Scottish Baptist College and he said that if he were a pastor, he would do a Bible study this year on Ecclesiastes and Colossians, such an interesting juxtaposition between those two books and that is my plan. My friend has a great website entitled, Living Wittily.

  278. Thanks, Rebecca. On Sunday, Barbara Curtis-Galbraith, the Children’s Ministry Coordinator at First Baptist McMinnville, told me of a sermon she heard Charmaine Doherty-Holt give, saying that Jesus telling Mary “Go and tell….” was all she needed to hear to know that women are indeed called to “go and tell”, or in other words, to preach.

  279. When a professor from the local college came to the church and we had a discussion about The DaVinci Code, this legend about Mary Magdalene was introduced to me. I had never heard about it before that. Thanks for the picture. My husband’s dissertation was about the gospel of John and it was published with the title “Her Witness is True” and it was about women witnessing about Jesus in the Gospel of John and a significant witness was the events after the crucifixion.

  280. Thanks, Rebecca. I agree that these committees are a mixed bag (can you say, “triangle”?). It’s important to keep some perspective, as you describe, on the input that comes this way.

  281. I also believe that one has to be thoughtful about both praise and criticism. Pastor-Parish Committees, or Pastor Relations Committees, those committees in churches that are to support the pastor and build up relationships between pastor and congregation tend to be committees that give to the pastor either praise or criticism and I wonder about the benefits of a church committee having that as its primary role. When a criticism came to me in my pastor-parish committee from a church member and then a number of months later the same church member gave me praise, the majority of the committee was really happy that the person who didn’t like my performance now saw improvement in my performance. Certainly I seek to get good feedback in my ministerial skills and I want to grow as a person in ministerial skills and maturity, but I didn’t see that so much tied into one church member’s criticism turned to praise as some of the committee members.

  282. Betty says:

    Given the subject matter, it seems ironic that I would just get back to the blog today. Busy putting out fires Tripp! I like your analogy (or should I say “live it”! I’m thankful for the recording Margaret. I’ve listened to about 1/3 of it so far.

    Tripp, I think I’m going to let some of those proverbial fires you talked about, just burn. Maybe they’ll burn themselves out. “Why am I here?” has been a huge question for me lately, coupled with the fact that I really do want my legacy to be that I was connected with people, whether or not I excelled in accomplishing the tasks at hand.

    I hope I have accomplished, in following God’s purpose for my life, the ability to not take responsibility for other people’s reactions to my decisions. It’s a tough one when the criticism comes, but one I think is essential.

    Rob, I appreciated especially your last paragraph. Got me to thinking . . . when we are “sleepless in ministry” what are we demonstrating for others? Better to demonstrate that we take the time necessary to stay focused, huh? A friend back in seminary used to sign his emails, “The focused life is a powerful life.” I think I may be learning (albeit, slowly!), what that means.

  283. rob says:


    Betty . . .

    Betty, you got me thinking . . .

    Left unchecked, busyness attending to others’ can all too easily lead to firefighting, and . . .

    The problem with becoming a ‘firefighter’ is that you’re always on call 24-7. (Sleepless in Ministy!)

    The other bad news: you can end up always operating in a high stakes high stress emergency. (After all, whoever called you up and said…’just a heads up, I’ll be in crisis the week after next!”).

    Wait there’s more: if you get “busy” and good at this you’re only a crisis away from a general impression that you really can be depended on to resolve other people’s problems. (Talk about stress!)

    Better to ‘take the time for me’ >Get focused on your you own needs and goals required to successfully make your way in your role. Deomstrating for others around you the first step toward attending to most of life’s trials and tribulations.

  284. rob says:

    Betty . . .

    Betty, you got me thinking . . .

    Left unchecked, busyness attending to others’ can all too easily lead to firefighting, and . . .

    The problem with becoming a ‘firefighter’ is that you’re always on call 24-7. (Sleepless in Ministy!)

    The other bad news: you can end up always operating in a high stakes high stress emergency. (After all, whoever called you up and said…’just a heads up, I’ll be in crisis the week after next!”).

    Wait there’s more: if you get “busy” and good at this you’re only a crisis away from a general impression that you really can be depended on to resolve other people’s problems. (Talk about stress!)

    Better to ‘take the time for me’ >Get focused on your you own needs and goals required to successfully make your way in your role.

  285. If we have some clarity about purpose, we have at least a beginning basis for making judgments about those fires. It’s still much more of an art than a science — unfortunately, no simple formula exists!

  286. Joe Ehman says:

    Hi…thanks for linking to my article from long ago and far away.

  287. Tripp says:

    And that hits the nail squarely on the head. Thank you, Betty. The metaphor of “firemen” (women) comes to mind. We can be so busy putting out fires that we can forget our purpose. The trick is that many of those fires actually need putting out. How to know which to let burn and which to quell? It is a huge challenge.

  288. Betty, You make a great point, that if we don’t think about our purpose, we end up with a default purpose that we may not want.

  289. Betty Johnson says:

    Thanks for the great reminder Margaret! I wonder if busyness too often clouds my purpose. As I took time to read your post this morning I have the proverbial gazillion things to be done, including the unexpected funeral. Why am I here? What legacy do I want to leave? Not that I was the hurried pastor who managed to “get everything done, and done well.” That’s good, and things must get done, but I’d prefer to be the one who “always took the time for me” type of legacy. Balancing the two is difficult at best! Thanks for making me think – again!

  290. Thanks for these thoughtful comments, Rebecca. There’s a way that simply thinking differently about “head butting” committees in itself lowers the anxiety somewhat. Israel’s idea about the triangle between the pastor, that committee and the congregation is something to reflect on. I think he did suggest, or at least imply, that putting your leadership energies elsewhere is more productive for the ministry.

  291. Thank you for making the teleconference available. I took notes and have been very thoughtful about it since I heard it. I pondered and pondered about the comment that the purpose of a church committee might be to help maintain the homeostasis in a church. Would that be something that the leader would discern? How long would it take to discern something like that about a committee?
    What is the pastor’s role regarding those committees that we keep “banging our heads against the wall?” –Okay, I take a new stance with that committee, or don’t try so hard, or put my energies elsewhere and then just deal with the ‘reactivity’ -if the committee is Christian Education, the reactivity comes when Sunday School attendance drops and the number of children that come up for children’s time during worship decreases by half. There are probably other creative ways to deal with the problem of a ‘head butting’ committee that I am not able to conjure up in my head. There’s probably a creative church book just published that would tell me how to deal with these committees, or how to reshape them, and take away, for the short term, some of the anxiety about this problem.

  292. Thanks, Jason. Perhaps one approach is to be honest about the way these texts disturb us, too.

  293. I’ve always tried to stay closely to the Biblical passage in preaching, exegeting not eisegeting. So if the passage says ‘forgive 7 times 77’ the message is about extreme forgiveness. If the passage deals with eternal damnation as the result of a callous neglect of the poor in one’s earthly lifetime, ie Luke’s parable of Lazarus the beggar and the Rich Man, then that is what I try to preach. Disturbed people sometimes leave our congregations, that’s just inevitable.

    A professor from Princeton told me that if some people were not leaving our congregations then we must be spending too much time trying to make them all happy (keeping them from being disturbed).

  294. Jason, thanks for these thoughts. I do thinking saying yes and saying now requires ongoing discernment. As you note, it’s important not to function for others. At the same time, in every job and in our personal lives we all have things to do we don’t particularly enjoy. I think it’s a spiritual practice to learn how to open ourselves up to those aspects of life instead of simply resisting them.

  295. “Who I am” and “What I am here to do” are very helpful things to state in virtually all relationships.
    I liked most of the classes I took at San Francisco Theological Seminary and I did relatively well academically during my M Div years. My transcripts are a list of subjects that I value as part of my pastoral makeup. They are an important record of me defining self as a seminarian. I’ve thought of keeping a copy of my transcripts in my pocket whenever I’m around the church to show church folks what I’m actually qualified to do, simply because I get lots of requests to do things I’m not qualified to do or lots of requests to function for someone else.
    Someone wanted to show a dvd on a projector during worship. I was supportive, but not qualified to set up such technology. I did help with the sound, ultimately, even though I did not want to, since they struggled last minute to amplify the laptop computer and I had a solution.
    During the Passing of the Peace recently an elderly member of the church tried to give me an instruction manual to a radio controlled clock that he had donated so that I could take on the job of replacing the batteries and making sure it was right after daylight savings time changes. I declined that invitation and suggested he pass it on to a member of the building committee.
    Jesus did wash feet, John’s gospel tells us, but only once and for the purpose of defining self and the nature of being one of his disciples.

  296. Thanks, Israel. I do think those who tend to be risk-averse can get better at embracing the challenge if they are motivated.

  297. Timidity is not a quality of leadership, but courage is.

    The timid, who fail to embrace risk, never move ahead, grow, or are able to provide the challenges necessary to deal with the things leaders face daily: pushing against homeostasis (ennui, reticence, entrenchment), weathering changes, facing threats, dealing with sabotage, containing toxicity, confronting the willful, making tough decisions, and practicing persistence of vision.

    To accept the job of being a leader is to accept that taking risks comes with the job.

    Good post, Margaret. Thanks.

  298. Thanks, Israel. I can monitor my own anxiety level by the degree to which I feel inclined to be overly helpful or give too much advice. I can lower it by reminding myself of my own principles, including the fact that when people learn to be responsible for their own lives, it is better for everyone.

  299. Good thoughts from Susan, thanks. I chuckled at the line “Not all people find helping compelling.” It certainly describes me (as my students complain, “Dr. Galindo never gives us the answers!”).

    I’ve recently encountered several overfunctioners. Indeed, it is invassive, despite their attempts at being helpful. I’ve been struck at how closely tied emotional overfunctioning is to one’s family of origin functioning. It helps me appreciate that overfunctioning is a dynamic of family emotional process more than it is a “behavior.” My second insight is about how blind persons can be about the consequences of their our functioning, and their own emotional state, when they are anxious. It can be pretty scary.

  300. Congratulations upon your anniversary.

  301. Thanks, Israel, for the thought. As I think about it, perhaps “engaged curiosity” is the stance I seek: looking to understand, while recognizing that not all can be understood. Experiencing while having enough perspective to reflect on the experience.

  302. Hmmm. Interesting quote. An alternate sentiment: “Nothing in life can ever really be understood. Life is merely to be experienced–fully.” (Me).

  303. I am also new to facebook. I was visiting the family of my godson whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years and he was surfing his computer and asked if he could put me as a friend on facebook and I said, “Of course.” So, here I was ushered into this new reality, like many before me, by a twelve year old.

  304. Joel Alvis says:

    I’ve signed up and have a mix of folks with whom I’ve “friended” – from college, seminary as well as church members from the current and previous churches. Combined with the time management piece, it is an exercise is self-definition and self-regulation. Then again I’m still trying to figure out the whole thing!!

  305. Thanks, Dwight. It is fun. It does require some self-regulation to manage the time spent.

  306. Dwight Robarts says:

    Margaret- I do use Facebook to stay in touch with church members, family members and some old friends. I have reconnected with a few friends from high school through FB. I would say that most of the church members and family members who use FB are younger than me. It appears that some people have more time for this than I do. It is kind of fun.

  307. The current newsletter issue of the Leadership in Ministry Workshops has a lead article titled, “The Key to the Kingdom.” Check it our at http://www.leadershipinministry.com

  308. Rebecca, thanks for this thoughtful comment. I do think it takes a long time to make incremental progress in the way we respond to others. That phrase, “creative response” is a useful one. Simply suggesting to ourselves that the way through involves our creativity can generate some new energy.

  309. For those of us unable to be part of the teleconference, I appreciate a thought or two from it. I am still pondering resistance as ‘keys to the kingdom.’ I think there is a lot of truth in it; and that it is in the creative responses to resistance that is a ‘key.’ Admittedly, I find it extremely challenging. I asked myself recently if I am finding it any easier after ‘thinking Bowen’ for a decade. I was thinking of a parishioner whom I really find difficult and began to get worked up about it, but was able to step back a bit and say to myself that I didn’t have to get so worked up; and if I calmed down a bit, I would probably be able to think about some options when it came to my interactions with this individual.

  310. Thanks, Betty! Ed Friedman used to talk about the undifferentiated, unregulated forces (whether cellular, as in cancer, individual, or nations, as persistently invasive of others. I found that useful, both in assessing others and in managing my own functioning. I need to ask, where is the line between me and others, and stay on my side of the line.

    As for the question of “self” I tend to view our best self as God’s gift to ourselves and others. So when we live and lead out of that best self, God is part of the picture. So it’s not “selfish” to focus on self in that respect.

  311. Betty Johnson says:

    What excellent resources we are blessed with! Thank you Margaret.

    I wonder if Friedman’s reference to “the kingdom” is about power and control. I wonder if the differentiation he is talking about, when healthy (ie: not motivated by selfishness), is what disengages us from power and control struggles and therefore allows us to be ourselves within whatever “the kingdom” is. I wonder if “the kingdom” is a universal reference which applies to any interaction between two or more people. Interactions always evoke power and control issues, some just managed better than others – ie: moving from the impossible to the managable!!

    I usually have a bit of angst when I real statements like, “It really is about self…” That may be a reflection of my age and stage in life, but I prefer to focus on God-help and God-esteem, rather than self-help and self-esteem, all the while recognizing and taking responsibility for the self, of course. Just a thought.

  312. Thanks, Israel. Great thoughts as always. Your comment about your conversation with your son highlights the fact that self-focus applies just as much to parenting as to organizational life (perhaps more so…).

  313. Great thoughts, and questions, all! My new job is requiring me to pay attention to my functioning, and, to observe how others in the system function. I recently had an interesting conversation with my son, both of us sharing about the quirks of the systems in which we work. I shared with him my attention to focusing on my own functioning, as Margaret comments about, and not taking responsibility for others’ functioning, or, for their response (or not) to my actions or words. My modus operandi for funtioning tends to be simple: clarity of my stance and thoughts, challenging others, and being clear that I invest in those who are willing to grow, cooperate, and work together; from the others I don’t insist anything, but they know that I won’t invest there, and, I’m happy to leave them behind as the rest of the organization moves on.

  314. Ellen, for me, the goal is more neutrality about other people’s behavior. This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions or principles about life and relationships. But it means I have less invested in whether other people take my advice or live the way I think is best (even if it seems I’m right, and they are hurting themselves). I’ve come to realize when I focus on others behaving in a different way, I can easily try to will them to change, which can actually have a negative result. The more I want them to change, the less likely they are to change. It’s one of the paradoxes of human relationships.

  315. Tim, Acedia and Me is on my list. Thanks for the reminder. Kathleen Norris is always fascinating.

  316. Ellen Culpepper says:

    This raises the KEY issue I am puzzling about currently: how to be in positive emotional contact with people whom I observe creating their own suffering with self-sabotaging behaviors. Often they cry on my shoulder, but they do not want insight into their situation, just sympathetic support in viewing themselves as victims. A divorced man moans over financial consequences he suffers after making decisions his lawyer had warned him against. A church property chair never takes needed actions because he can’t get 100% approval from the entire congregation for say, a crucial roof repair — then he complains bitterly that other leaders disregard him and don’t let him “lead” in property matters.

    I’m struggling with the challenge of managing my own judgmentalness of people in these kinds of situations. My struggles with my reactive impatience grows as I see a person repeat the same patterns for years, never learning just repeating. I seek insight about how I might listen to them, show caring emotional connection with them, and simply accept the reality that many folks will never choose to learn from their experience. What I’m doing pretty well I think is focusing on my own growth. I am owning up to my own foibles, and making arduous efforts to change self. Meanwhile, I’m looking for ways to stay in contact with people who will keep shooting themselves in the foot. I would welcome insights about how others are doing this.

  317. Tim Schrag says:

    I recommend the book “Acedia and me”, by Kathleen Norris. Very insightful treatment of
    sloth as a profound spiritual issue, one of the seven deadly sins. Cross-references very well
    to this issue of burnout.

  318. Very cool. I have a framed print of Minard’s diagram in my study. Edward Tufte refers to it as the best graphic (chart) ever made (or something like that). It’s quite ingenious. I use it in one of my courses as an example of systemic visualization.

  319. Thanks, Israel. I’m still trying to learn many things about the fascinating world of publishing…

  320. Congrats on finishing the book, Margaret! Kudos!
    Heh, I’ve never figured out the whacky world of publishing where they have your book cover done and the listing on Amazon while you’re still working on the manuscript!

  321. Anxiety…oh, so true. Hadn’t thought of that one! The gift that keeps on giving. Of course, there are times to give anxiety away (that’s a topic for another post one day).

  322. Tripp says:

    Heh…Yes, anxiety. Ah, but it is contagious.

  323. I heard neuropsychologist Angelo Bolea say that handwriting accesses a different part of the brain than typing. It may be important for each of us to spend some time regularly writing something by hand. This may be a way to get some of those personal experiences out of our brain and into a format we may be able to adapt for preaching when appropriate.

  324. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I read that you are saying that how we come to our preaching, the process of preparation is as important as the act of preaching, or perhaps influences the act of preaching. So, to think about the process in a creative, challenging way may change the way we preach. We, in New Hampshire, ( at least those without electricity due to a severe ice storm) had to write by hand our sermons, if we used manuscripts, this week. When is that last time that preachers did that?

  325. Thanks, Margaret. Sometimes I remind seminarians and preachers who are hesitant and timid about sharing their personal experiences in preaching that, done authentically, it is one way to “teach” people the art of theological reflection. When people in the pew hear the preacher share a personal experience and how he or she wrestled with the theological questions of “where is God in this?” or, “what meaning do I make of the experience,” people can have the “Aha” moment about how to do theological reflection: “Oh, so that’s how it’s done.”

    For all our talk about the important of theological reflection in the Chrisian life, we sure don’t teach it often to our congregants.

  326. Great point, Rebecca. Sometimes “common sense” doesn’t seem all that common, unfortunately.

  327. I believe there is ‘brain power’ and then there is ‘brain power.’ Someone I greatly respect said about someone who was very bright but was not thinking clearly in a very emotionally charged situation, “Just because you are very smart doesn’t mean you have common sense.” I think that the emotionaly maturity is related to having ‘sense’ in situations. Knowing when to respond, knowing then to hold back or take a different tactic, are all part of using your brain in situations. I think that is especially true in leadership.

  328. The timing of Thanksgiving is good, as you point out, Dwight. That is one way to control our response.

  329. Rebecca, thanks. Perhaps it’s helpful to lighten up about some of these influential groups that can be challenge for pastoral leaders to deal with, if we view them as oppositional.

  330. Rachel says:


    This has really been on my heart lately. Thank you for drawing the distinction between optimism and hope. I don’t always feel in control of my situation and this reminded me that I can be responsible for me and my own response to the world.

    Blessings, Rachel

  331. Dwight Robarts says:

    Margaret- thanks for this. I have forwarded it to several people in the last two days. It’s good that Thanksgiving is coming next week, because as you say gratitude is such a faithful response to anxious times.


  332. Yes, Battlestar has some interesting relationships and dynamics. I was intrigued during the episode when the president’s cancer returned and she was at a press conference and someone asked her something like, “How long do you have to live?” and the president responded, “I don’t know, Jane (name of the journalist), how long do you have to live?” That was classic. The ‘god’ stuff is pretty quizzical. I try to piece it all together and still can’t at this point. I am going to look up Clatterford. Having presented at a “Guild” meeting while in the Church of Scotland, that organization always fascinated me. Also, I am interested because many churches I have been a part of have had ‘guilds’ or women fellowships, or women’s Bible studies, or some group that holds its own personal power and also works to influence church life, the minister, or other aspects of the organization or community.

  333. Battlestar Gallactica . . . a guilty pleasure. Still enjoy it despite the Mormon cosmology. Talk about a complex genogram!

  334. Amy, thanks for your thoughtful question. As you describe this situation, there’s plenty going on here that has nothing to do with you. One of the suggestions I make above is not to get defensive, which is of course, far easier said than done. A question I would have is, does the person who spoke to you actually supervise you, or have some kind of authority over you, or not? A possible option might be to go directly to your boss, say you’ve been given this feedback and that you want to do a good job, and you would like your boss’ perspective. That would take some nerve, I know. Another option might be to keep doing your job as calmly as possible, making sure you connect with your co-workers along the way.

    That said, it is true that some work situations are simply unworkable. If you think through your other employment options, it will help you keep your head while you research whether this situation will work for you. Staying in “research mode” can help calm you down. Every work situation is fascinating in one way or another.

  335. Amy says:

    I was reprimanded at work today by someone who reports to our boss. She said, “the staff has some concerns that I need to discuss with you.” I know I have performed my job duties exquisitely, so I was floored. I am new to this job (1 month) and have walked into a wasp’s nest of weird work dynamics, there is nepostism an insecurity involved. I was told that I come off as “too business like and not friendly enough” and was told that my job was in jeopardy.

    I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. I have been very nice to my coworkers and respectful of the ones that have been there longer. I just think that they like their little “family” the way that it is and they want me out. I have NEVER experienced this at any job I have ever had (and, I have been working for 20 years!)

    I thanked my ‘informant’ for the constructive criticism and told her I would work on it, but she did not seem satisfied with my response.

    Any thoughts, advice?

  336. Thanks, Joel. Yes, this is an idea I need to be reminded of regularly.

  337. Joel says:

    I’ve known this quote for some time. But for some reason it hit me today with a freshness that helps reframe the present moment!

  338. Thanks, Rebecca. I think a lot of self defense is about awareness, so it’s a great example of this.

  339. Congrats on the bread baking. I recently took a self defense class. I was fascinated by the story of the teacher. My senses were sharpened to her words and the way she brought together the class of women who were strangers to one another. This is so out of my comfort zone; and yet the newness of it cause me to be more awake to what was going on around me.

  340. Jason Gamble says:

    One way that I’ve used is to begin the reply with “Thank you for caring enough about (your church, my preaching, our mission, etc.) to bring up this concern.” I then try to follow up with statements that define myself, my position, or my real role without criticizing the other.
    Friedman’s right, and this was one of the best realizations out of that book for me, that compliments and criticism are both forms of pursuit.
    It’s certainly true that the relationship in question will be an important one, but let us be attentive to the relationships that seem devoid of pursuit in our emotional fields – the ones who don’t care enough to say ‘peep’ (the distant or cut-off ones). Though they get little press, they are often in need of the same level of self-defining.

  341. When I watched the original video of Obama with Joe the Plumber, who had a critique of his tax plan, I saw all these qualities. It was very inspiring and consoling to me, given the hardships we must face together. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFC9jv9jfoA

    Betsy Ritzman

  342. Hey, very cool. Kudos, Margaret!

  343. Rebecca, what a great idea. To encourage pastor/parish committees to be thoughtful about what is going on in a congregation is a real leadership contribution. And of course, it helps the pastor stay more thoughtful about it, too.

  344. That is a great blog Margaret. I have been thinking about pastor/parish relations committees recently, in regards to complaints. Sometimes these committees are seen as ‘venting’ places for the pastor and/or places where congregations can pass on their
    complaints about the pastor. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to use these committees to look at emotional process? One of my goals for the year is to work with my pastor/parish committee and come up with some questions or ponderings about emotional process.

  345. Bob, thanks for making this important point that the people who cause us the most problems stir up in us something from our family of origin. When we just can’t see straight about a situation, there’s probably some kind of parallel with our family. As you point out, it’s hard to see this ourselves, and we often need an outside eye.

  346. When I can keep a sense of clarity in my own thinking about such people and the incidents they stir-up, I realize that this is an opportunity to get clearer, in the presence of others, on some matter of importance. The “problem people” and the dust around them serve as a bit of a litmus test that indicates to the leader, “Well, this is one I need to work on. Thanks for helping me get clearer about what is important…”

    When I cannot keep a sense of clarity, when the other and the turmoil around them sucks me into the pit, when the “bulls of Bashon” are breathing on me and I can see nothing else, then I know it is time to pull out my family diagram, have it in front of me, call a coach who knows theory and say, “I need help figuring out my stuff.”
    Robert Mathis

  347. Abigail Stockman says:

    I’ve turned off NPR in the morning and find my renewal in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, especially the chorale that Peter, Paul, and Mary use as the setting for “Because All Men are Brothers”. In spite of their title’s sexism – the words are more hopeful than anxious.

  348. Thanks, Israel. Beethoven sounds like a great idea.

  349. A timely post, Margaret. For the past three days I’ve stopped listening to NPR on the drive to work. It was more anxiety-producing than the stress of dealing with rush hour highway traffic. While I recognize the seriousness of the financial times the singular extended over-focus on that one issue over the past weeks is more than I cared to take. Now I play my Beethoven CDs on the ride ot work and arrive in a better frame of mind. And guess what, at the end of the day the news is the same.

  350. Betty, you raise terrific questions, too. Balancing the goals of leadership with our relationship with our followers is one of the central tasks of leadership. If we adjust too much, we do cease to lead, as you put it so clearly.

  351. Betty Johnson says:

    You’ve got me thinking Margaret! Again! And asking myself some questions. Thank you. Seems like it boils down to who we please and who we decide to not please, at any given time. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of pleasing those who yell the loudest – but is that what God wants? I have a very diverse congregation which is a blessing, but also keeps me on a tightrope trying to balance, for example, those who want to say the “Lord’s Prayer” every Sunday and those who consider saying it every Sunday to be rote. How often do we do something before it becomes tradition – a blessing, or boring – a curse. And then, there is the issue of how free we are to worship if/when something is not done the way we like it. Maybe underneath of that freedom or lack of it, is whether we have a genuine respect for the other’s point of view or style of worship. How far do we take, “Let each esteem the other better than themselves…” when it comes to adjusting in consultation with the group? As leaders, how much adjusting do we do, before we cease to lead?

  352. Jason, Thanks for your comments. This process of defining who we are both to ourselves and others is an ongoing one, as you point out. Perhaps one aspect of the open circle that is important is the circle itself. There is a boundary, at the same time there is an opening. So it’s not that anything goes. It’s not an amorphous blob.

  353. Jason Gamble says:

    Yeah, what parts of the self are solid and what parts of the self are negotiable?
    Since I work in a community that is ethnically diverse, it might seem that we are culturally diverse as well, but I don’t think so any more.

    We attract immigrants from many countries and continents that have something very concrete in common: they were heavily evangelized by Presbyterian missionaries. To these immigrants who chose to give up much to come to LA, giving up their religious tradition was non-negotiable.

    As I further define myself in faith and my areas of Christian ministry become more defined, I may need to serve in a different location or denomination based on who I AM. Am I open to going to Tajikistan like a Baptist friend of mine did? NO. Am I open to including Canada, where I have extended family and denominational reciprocity? Quite possibly.


  354. Thanks, Betsy. Wonderful photos!

    If beauty is such a central part of creation, it can’t simply be an extra, or frivolous. Something in the very center of human beings responds to beauty. We need it.

  355. After a 25 year career as an activist and minister, I have been exploring this new dimension of my call to worship and praise through beauty. I have become rather immersed in this new aspect of my journey, while holding out some reservations of it’s relative worth, another Being vs Doing struggle.

    While photography had been a method of relief and renewal from my work as a pastoral counselor and spiritual care director, I’m learning now to allow it a more central “focus”. In a meditative moment, take a look at redinkphotos.com and see how I’m doing with this.

  356. Rebecca, thanks for this useful perspective. We can get too attached to our vision of the ideal, which may cause us to miss possibilities we could never imagine.

  357. I wonder about seeing a frontier as it will be, or seeing a frontier as a picture of possibilities. I think that idealism can be a trap for expectations to get caught. As I enter something new, a church, parenting, a situation, I want to maintain a vision, but do I want that vision to be the ideal? I want to maintain hope when challenges and troubles occur, which they will. I don’t want to get encumbered by my own idealism about the situation. That seems like a trap, unless the idealism includes meeting obstacles along the way in order to grow and mature.

  358. Thanks for these thoughtful comments. I’ll look for Merton’s book on Bernard. I didn’t know about it. To have compassion and humility as a leader, without being a pushover, is one of the biggest challenges we face.

  359. Margaret,

    I’ve been reading Merton’s book about Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was an idealist (So too was Merton) and struggled with the shift from immature to mature within the confines of the monastery. Not everyone could live the life of rigor without temptation. He had to learn compassion and humility in order to lead them at all. It’s not enough to have vision. One must have compassion for those who find it difficult to swallow.

  360. An interesting quote, thanks Margaret. I agree that there’s a difference between idealism and being “idealistic.” Or, between cultivating hopefulness, embracing adventure, and just being plain naïve. The most adventuresome explorers will be the most prepared for the hazards and unseen dangers of the journey—they are NOT idealist. They face adventure with sobriety. Only a naïve fool sets out with no plan for the return journey from the frontier lands.

    And, yes, thankfully, maturity tempers adolescent idealism. Discernment borne of experience and maturity allows one the capacity to be a hopeful realist, seeing things for what they are while able to hunker down and do the hard work of making things as they can be. Idealists only see how things “should” be, in their own minds, but rarely have the capacity to commit to making them so.

  361. Thanks, Tripp. As I continue to think about this, I’m wondering about the difference between mature and immature idealism. Perhaps one difference is the mature idealist is able to see the vision and be patient about steadily pursuing it, and the immature idealist is impatient. Another may be that the mature idealist is better able to relate to those who don’t yet see the vision without being overly critical of them.

  362. I am quite idealistic…and this quotation puts a positive spin on that. Thank you!

  363. It just occurred to me that one way to think about it is that God’s game is most infinite of all.

    Here’s a link to the Sojourners article: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0808&article=the-great-emergence. (You have to register to read it.) Thanks for this reference, Jan.

  364. Jan Nesse says:

    I think the “biological” thing that we’re talking about is what theologically we call original sin…that need to focus on the self as number 1. But what I was really impressed with in this article is the direction to which it calls churches as “living organisms.” Phyllis Trickle wrote an article in the latest Sojourners about the church of the 21st century being more of a network than an institution. It moves us out of the competitive mode and into a more cooperative place where discipleship becomes more important than grandiosity. Thanks for the insight.

  365. “A leap of faith” and this is grace, no? This is why Calvin speaks of depravity and others speak of fallen-ness…It’s all of a piece. Without God we cannot get there. Invariably we need Christ to intercede for us. Thanks for the response, Margaret. I appreciate it. I think today’s lectonary reading speaks to this issue as well…Matthew 15:10-28…Competition turned on its ear by faith.

  366. Thanks, Jason. The “infinite game” idea includes the notion that there is enough for all. That does involve a leap of faith.

  367. Jason Gamble says:

    I agree that there is something biological about competition in humans, among individual humans, and among human systems. When a baseball team wins the world series, it’s members often comment on the level of ‘team effort’, although our culture forces a new Chevrolet on one member in recognition that they are the MVP.
    I was thinking last night that the European conquest of North America was the most ‘successful’ invasion of all time. Within a few hundred years white Europeans decimated the competing indigenous populations as well as wildlife populations of this enormous continent, restructured its ecosystems, and vastly increased the total population of the land. But in the end, having done so may lead to our own demise. Can we control the lizard brain that wants us to do more, get more, have more than our immediate and distant neighbors? No, we can’t. At least, not without God’s help.
    I believe that the way of Jesus Christ disengages from the competitive and moves toward a cooperative ‘kingdom’ where there can be enough for all if we check our obsessions with getting enough.

  368. Thanks, Tripp, for this thoughtful comment. I do think there is something biological about competition that we will never get away from completely, but cooperation also has biological roots, as I understand it. Both are probably hard-wired to some degree.

    I may not have explained Carse’s idea of the infinite game well enough. I think he would say that an infinite game has room for both of us to do better and better (however you want to definite “better”), and that in this kind of game the other doing well is just as important as my doing well.

  369. Good morning. Thanks for posting this. I struggle with competition. I have never been a competitive person and tend to shy away from any posture the church might take that would speak of competition. I am a HUGE fan of collaboration and cooperation within and without the church. The notion of “infinite game” is interesting, but it still speaks of the “Anything you can do I can do better” or “look at me!” Maybe I’m jaded.

    Thanks again for this post. I appreciate it.

  370. Thanks for this, Israel and Rebecca. I’ll take a look.

  371. In the iTunes store, is a video called “A Conversation about Leadership/ Leadership Breakfast
    Series” – Steven Sample and Richard J. Mouw.

  372. There is a great (free) video interview of Sample available at the iTunesU site. Can’t remember exactly where, though I think maybe at Fuller’s site.

  373. Thanks, Rebecca. I adore Jane Austen. Ron Richardson has a new book coming out this fall, Becoming Your Best, which I think includes some of his thinking about Austen’s work and family process.

  374. I am reading Pride and Prejudice because I have seen all the movie versions of it and want to read the original. I read Host by Stephanie Meyers; this is a more complex and sophisticated book about aliens who invade human bodies. I will soon be reading her book “Breaking Dawn’? the fourth book in a series about the teenage girl who loves a vampire. I am also reading Steinke’s most recent book.

  375. Pingback: Will or willfulness? | G.R.A.C.E. Writes

  376. Good question, Dwight! Yes, having a will is an essential part of having a self. I think we get willful when our efforts to convince others of our point of view cross the boundary of the self of others. Emotionally if not physically we are pointing our fingers into their faces trying to pressure them into agreeing with us. And rather than getting them to agree, our efforts stir up their natural defenses, and we can get the opposite result we want.

  377. Dwight Robarts says:

    Hi Margaret- Please define willful for me. What is the difference in having a will and being willful? Isn’t having a will part of having a self?

  378. Thanks, Rebecca. This question of respecting those who don’t respect the position of others is a challenging one. Willfulness goes both ways, and it can be hard to deal with those who are trying to will us into their point of view.

  379. I think this is one of the most challenging issues that I face as a pastor. In the lectionary a couple of weeks ago was the parable about the wheat and the tares, and I believe that this parable gets close to the question about the struggle to remain in community when we disagree. As a pastor, I wonder often what it means to remain in a church community when we have totally opposite opinions on the issues that we feel most strongly about: war, homosexuality, divorce, homelessness, the meaning of justice, economic issues.
    You ask a good question Margaret. It would behoove me to respect more fully the position of many people. I admit that I have not figured out a way to respect those who deny the position of others, especially those who want to deny the right and ability of people in the congregation to speak out as a group of congregants who protest against the war in Iraq, or support organizations in some of the poorest countries of the world.
    I think that Israel is correct about the willfullness. I work to ask myself often how much I want to ‘will’ the other to think the way I am thinking, and try to find another way than the ‘willfull’ way. I think willfullness is especially ineffective in preaching.

  380. Good thoughts, Israel. Paying attention to willfulness and the tendency to take it personally (starting, of course, with ourselves) will contribute mightily to making conversations about difficult issues more productive.

  381. A topic question of perennial interest, Margaret, thanks. One factor I always look for during discussions of disagreements is willfulness. I’ve found that to the extent willfulness is absent, dialogue can happen and people are able to disagree without feeling threatened of being invasive.

    Another danger is when in the course of dialogue, honest conversations, or discussion persons “take it personally.” The tendency then, I notice, is to “make it personal.” That tends to be a very reactive posture that seems to stem from issues of self. Don’t ask me to explain what that’s all about, my rule is, “Never question motives; observe function.”

    And I must add that I so appreciate a small group of friends who can say up front, “I disagree” and so do responsibly with no fear that anyone is going to get their feelings hurt. I can count them on the fingers of one hand, though.

  382. Thanks, Betty. I grew up on “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” but I don’t know that second hymn. I’ll have to check it out.

  383. If someone is in a leadership position, it’s very important from them and for everyone else that they fully occupy their role. There’s no escaping some elements of the role that may make us uncomfortable. I do believe as we grow more fully into ourselves, our repertoire increases.

  384. Betty Johnson says:

    My favorite hymn ever is “I Know Whom I Have Believed” (Whittle/McGranahan). It means a lot to me that it says “I know” – I’ve done the research and concluded intellectually that it’s true, and “I have believed” – faith alone. The best part is that *he* keeps what I’ve committed to him – I’m so glad I don’t have to keep (protect) anything! I just have to stay committed. 🙂

    A new hymn I’ve really been drawn to that is fast becoming a favorite is “In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

  385. Jan Nesse says:

    I think you have captured the essence of what it means to be leading from your authentic self. I puzzle over people in leadership positions who use the phrase “that isn’t my style” or “that’s not me” when they are really abdicating leadership and/or management. I think that knowing the skills is one thing but without reflection on how they might be applied in different ways is nonintegrative. But to eschew the tools because of a comfort level with a non leadership “style” is not to lead.

  386. Betty, thanks for this thoughtful comment. That phrase, “less anxious, more compassionate leader” is one I’ll remember. I do think this is a lifelong process, and it’s often two steps forward and one step back. But over time, we discover our unique identity more fully.

  387. Betty Johnson says:

    Another timely post. Thanks. I was particularly intriqued with your comment in this article about the leaders/mentors who see more in you than you see in yourself. I find that true as well and am often surprised at the things my peer group/learning cluster say they see in me that can be developed and/or improved. I am reading a book now by George Barna (2002) which was recently given to me “When Leadership Becomes a Struggle, You feel Like A Fish Out of Water.” One whole chapter of the book suggests that if we, as leaders, want good followers (who doesn’t!) we need to create them. I’m finding that chapter the most enlightening and also the most challenging. He says, “Build the environment that you would want to work within if you were not in charge. Then remember: You are in charge; you can create the environment you desire.” I think that statement may be a key to what you suggest in leading out of oneself. The core of who we are will be more able to create the environment in which we would want to work if we were not the leaders. If we try to create an environment that is other than ourselves, both leader and followers end up frustrated and struggling because the “shoe doesn’t fit.”
    I also appreciated your comments about the “self” being able to be flexible while still taking a stand so that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. That’s certainly a tough one for me coming from a strong corporate world where we barked orders and expected results. But when I intentionally couple my “unique identity” with God’s unique vision for my life personally, I discover a less anxious, more compassionate leader deep within me. One of those areas that definitely needs developing/maturing. I often wonder if there are parts of me at different times that are always trying to be something I’m not. But maybe that is development of “self” or God’s leading/vision, rather than force-fitting the “other” on us? Blessings!

  388. Great story, Rebecca. Thanks.

  389. My parents were camp counselors under the direction of Edward J. (Doc) Storey, at a boy’s camp in the Berkshires. Doc Storey was a nationally recognized authority on how to kick a football. He was also one of those wise people who knew how to get the best out of the campers and the counselors. I remember, as a young girl, at many a Sunday evening campfire, sitting on a bench in the campfire circle, listening to Doc Storey hold forth with stories of life and leadership. So, I do think that football must have a lot to do with leadership if Doc is any indication of that.

  390. One thing I might add is that the early ordinations of women to the Episcopal priesthood made a big impression on me. They came about the time I first began to consider the possibility I might want to be a pastor myself.

  391. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I am very surprised to hear that the bishops voted to allow female bishops in the Anglican communion, news which came just after a recent visit I had with one of the first ordained women in the Scottish Episcopal Church (ordained in the early 1990’s) She told me her story of serving communion near Oxford England in the past couple of years and having to give a ‘theological’ out to anyone who didn’t want to receive communion from a woman.

  392. Good advice, Margaret. I always need to set aside any writing project and come back to it at a later time (at least two days) with a set of fresh eyes. And I’ve found that the larger the project the more time I need away before returning to it.

  393. Betty, you’re way ahead of the game if you can even think through what you are saying instead of simply reacting. That alone will help tremendously.

  394. Thanks, Betty. Great way to put it. It could even be a 3 point sermon in itself on the ways we dull, dampen and destroy the Scripture to make it easier on ourselves!

  395. Betty Johnson says:

    I’m lagging behind the rest of you having just joined this (my first!) blog. I’m smack in the middle of the “troubling” employee situation that Israel mentioned. I’m appreciating the insights. Thank you! It is a bit “sticky” finding myself in the situation of being the direct supervisor for an employee, yet the hiring and firing is done by a board. In another thread related to this one, there was the talk of the “why” question. I was ready to ask “Why are you here?” and I took a quick check and asked instead, “What are you doing?” I think it came across as less offensive than the “why” question but in this case, the “why” was answered in responding to the “what.”

  396. Betty Johnson says:

    I like the concept of always standing with the congregation in “the beating.” (Well, maybe “like” is not the right word there – it usually hurts!) I felt like the question emerging from the article was how do we stay out of the way of the text? How do we not dull, dampen, or perhaps even destroy the text we are so passionate about, and which we are called to preach?

  397. I do know it’s possible to spend literally hours trying to figure out someone’s behavior. I think in the most challenging situations asking someone “why” straight out may not get us very far. Even if we do, remember Murray Bowen’s suggestion to pay more attention to what people do than what they say. Jesus addressed this question with the parable about man who had two sons, and the one said he wouldn’t work in the vineyard but actually went, and the other said he would go but didn’t. (Matt. 21:28-31).

    In church personnel matters, I do think getting really clear about who is responsible for what (hiring, supervision, firing) is very important–and often not done well.

  398. What a great story, Betty. A truly radical act.

  399. Betty Johnson says:

    Trying to figure out “Why” a person engages in certain behaviors (as the article cautions us against) may be different then asking them straight out, “Why did you do that?” I guess. I wonder though what dynamics, or anxiety we might be evoking in another when we ask why they engage in a behavior that frustrates, or seems to challenge us. I imagine in some cases, it would simply lead to clarification and resolve the frustration. But I’m also thinking that it might engage one in a power struggle if we’re not careful. No one is going to answer the question, “Because you asked me not to!” 🙂 Since we’re always working toward lowering the level of anxiety in any system, I wonder where the question “Why did you do that?” fits in. I think I will take your suggestion Mike, and try this approach though, even given my initial wondering thoughts. Thank you!

  400. Betty Johnson says:

    I did an exercise in silence while I was in my undergrad. It was to last for one week and I had the approval of the professors. After the discomfort and novelty of the first day, those around me understood what I was doing, yet I was still met with all emotions, from curiousity, to humor, even to anger. Above everything else, the exercise taught me to be quiet with myself. The resultant paper consisted of ten words (the exact required length of the paper) and was the progression that happened throughout the week. (It also included a full bibliography and an explanation of how I came to the boldness to turn in such a paper!) To this day, I think it was one of the most powerful papers I have ever written. And to this day, I get communications from my peers from that time (almost 20 years ago) telling me of some joy they have found in their silence, or something new they have learned about themselves by being silent. It was a very difficult exercise at the time. Today, silence (coupled with solitude) has become, for me, an adventure in discovery.

  401. mike cunningham says:

    When faced with puzzling or frustrating behavior, I often remind myself that people do what makes sense them at the time, even if it makes no sense to me. But why not ask the person directly, “Why did you do that?” You’re right, I probably can’t figure it out myself, but maybe the person with the behavior can tell me why they do it. And if they do, a new channel of communication and knowledge will be open.

  402. Betty says:

    I found this entry so interesting given that I am in the thick of a systems upset right now. As Margaret said, “What is going on in the larger organization that might be causing the overall level of anxiety to go up enough to affect someone’s behavior? For example, uncertainty about a transition in top leadership may translate into problem behavior at lower levels.” I came to the church as pastor ten months ago. This change in leadership, has clearly caused the anxiety level of the church secretary to go up enough that her behavior has been seriously affected. I attempt to be a non-anxious presence, however the inefficiency, unteachable spirit, and insubordination, make it difficult at times! Margaret mentioned knowing our bottom line and where we need to take a stand. What about when one is very clear of their personal bottom line, it gets mutilated by another (if that is possible?), but you have no authority to replace that person, as suggested by this entry?

    Much more time and energy has been spent on the frustration of this situation than the “half-hour or so” suggested! Much more! Turning my attention back to my goals, has not really helped me to gain clarity about how to handle a situation I find myself in. I wonder what I am missing that might be helpful. (??)

    Thank you for the good insight. I will continue to ponder my goals and His will…

  403. Thanks, Israel. And if seminarians are truly involved in a local church during their education, the transition to parish ministry will be easier for everyone.

  404. A good thought, Margaret. Thanks. At a recent seminary faculty colloquy I said that seminaries need to stop fretting about the “formation of clergy” one of the recent buzzconcepts in theological education. I said that seminaries are effective in the formation of seminarians, but that clergy are formed only in the situated context and relationships of a congregation (and, to paraphrase Margaret, “It takes five years.”). To echo Willimon’s thought, only a church can really form a clergy, or, “It takes a church to create a pastor.”

  405. Perhaps we should only use the text to “beat people over the head” if we are willing to stand with them and take the beating, too. In a way we are saying to the people, “me, too.” “I struggle with these matters, too, and I’m trying to be faithful but it’s not easy.”

    I always find Brueggemann’s writing a lot to sort out! This article is no exception. But it made me think.

  406. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I do find the preaching the text triangle an interesting triangle or construct to ponder. I have to admit that the article by Bruggemann is fairly complex for me to take in all the angles to sort out. I remember that Barbara Brown Taylor said about preaching that she preaches a text when the congregation can add the words “me too.” I certainly think that Bruggemann is on to something but I think there are so many triangles in his article that I can’t disentangle them all.

  407. I believe that too many of us who preach can easily fall into the trap of aligning ourselves with the text against the people – especially when it comes to social justice issues. As a good Lutheran who looks for Law and Gospel in any text, I always admit that I too stand in judgement and sin just like everyone else. I also need the Gospel just like everyone else. I have even said that, in some ways, I have it easier because I am “paid” to be a Christian and don’t have to deal with many of the day-to-day work and business issues that most folks have to deal with.

    In my observation, a great irony exists by those who tend to “beat people over the head” with the text concerning social justice issues who are indignant about the “fire and brimstone” preachers who use the text to “beat the hell” out of them.

    One of the things that keeps me up at night: how is my style of preaching, pastoring, leading structured and reflected in line with what I say I believe?

  408. Under stress (which I suppose a blackout could be) we all have a default position. When we’re functioning the best, perhaps we can choose whether to speak or be quiet rather than automatically heading for our default.

    I’ve also been thinking more this week about Isidore’s words about “words and life going hand in hand.” This is not simply not talking, but making what we say count.

  409. I was just reflecting on an experience along this line. At a recent conference in the midwest a sudden storm came upon our group as we gathered for the evening worship. We were gathered in a space with high windows and could see violent winds, rain, and thunder and lightening. Soon, the lights went out and emergency lighting came on. A conference site staff member came to tell us about a tornado warning and ushered us downstairs to a designated storm area.

    We sat around in the semi-darkness waiting out the storm. It was interesting to see the “extroverts” filling the space with talking and joking, while the “introverts” just sat around waiting—feeling no need to speak or to fill the time with talk. As the time dragged on that pattern continued until the storm passed.

  410. Jason, thanks for the reminder of that terrific fable. I just re-read it. As you point out, it’s possible to overfunction even for young children. At any stage of parenting (or leading)keeping our attention focused on the bigger goal, which is maturity, can help us make some tough decisions in the present.

  411. As you point out so well, Israel, it has to do with maintaining the line between ourselves and others, place appropriate responsibility squarely with the other.

  412. Jason Gamble says:

    One of the chapters in “Friedman’s Fables” examines the relationship between a gardener and a ‘struggling’ tree. It helps me to remember that over involvement with my 6 year-olds life is of no help to her. The same would apply, I think, to virtually all relationships in which a leader has a tendency to assume responsibility for the emotional functioning of others.
    I do look forward to the book.

  413. I suspect the longstanding caution against using “you” has to do with precisely what Margaret and others are saying about the need to take self-defining stance. But I’m perfectly fine with using “you” language when conveying what is the other person’s responsibility (as in Rebecca’s example with her children). For example, when dealing with troubling employees where the problem is poor attitude my practice was to define the problem as I saw it, define my expectations, and then give them a day off with pay saying, “Take the day to decide whether YOU want to work here or not.” That gives the responsibility on the part of the employee to choose how, or whether or not to stay.

    How do you challenge or coach someone without using “you” language? I think it’s possible to use “you” without being willful or engaging in advice-giving (a willful way of thinking for others).

  414. Yes, I think if we can make statements like this in a lighthearted fashion they can work well. Thanks, Rebecca.

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  416. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I was listening to a tape of Ed Friedman about Work Systems and Family Systems and I thought I heard him say some of those ‘you’ statements as he was offering another way to consider a problem in a work situation between co-workers. I have used the ‘you’ work with my children when they seem to be totally stuck in blaming one another or fighting over a particular chore and I say something like, Well, you can keep blaming each other or perhaps you can find another way to work it out, or negotiate with one another, and sometimes I may even recommend a couple of options to negotiate.

  417. I do think drawing out triangles can be really helpful, and considering what your choices are in terms of where to position yourself. We might revise Ecclesiastes, “There’s a time to step into a triangle and a time to step away. There’s a time to position yourself on the inside of a triangle, and a time to seek out the outside position. There’s a time to accept an invitation to be in a triangle and a time to decline it.” Simply asking the question of where you should stand puts you in a different place already.

  418. Rebecca Maccini says:

    Since reading Peter Titleman’s book, I have been thinking more and more about triangles. I wonder how helpful it would be to consciously think about the triangles (and also draw a visual presentation of them) I am in on a weekly basis and think about how I would like to ‘be’ in those triangles. I think about how Bowen really increased the intensity in his family of origin triangles on purpose, and I wondered if I could do that at all to get at some crazy issues going on in my family of origin. When to step in? When to step away? When to stay and how much ‘presence’ do we give? I have been thoughtful, Margaret, about your comments about presence. That ‘presence’ is on a spectrum from withdrawing to being present, to being in people’s faces.

  419. Thanks, Israel. I won’t forget “I don’t have a dog in that fight.” Hope it works as well in the West.

  420. It’s always interesting how much conversation the concept of triangles can generate. I have one presentation in which I just cover Friedman’s “Seven Laws” of emotional triangles in the course of three hours. In various groups (couples, family, divorce) I’ve never been caught short on material.

    Yes, with time we get better at recognizing, or intuiting, when we’ve been “triangled.” And while it’s true that the GOAL is not to “get out of a triangle” it’s also a gift when we’re able to discern the triangles that do not belong to us. If we’re in triangles by virtue of the position we occupy in a system then it’s not a matter of “getting out” of the triangle, but rather, as you say, learning and choosing how we need to function in it. But when anxiety spikes we’re often “invited” into triangles in which we do not belong. For those times I’ve learned a helpful lesson during my sojourn in the South. The phrase, “I don’t have a dog in that fight” can be a speedy way to bow out of an invitation to overfunction in someone else’s issues.

  421. Jason, We can never actually get out of the triangles we are in. I think of it as positioning ourselves in a different way. A less anxious way to be in those triangles is to take less responsibility for that other side. Managing ourselves so we don’t jump in so quickly is one important task. Saying “I don’t know” can be one way to try doing this. But even when we do that it’s important to work on our own anxiety so we can say it in a fairly light way.

    You might view this as an experiment. How quickly can you recognize the triangles–a week later? Thirty seconds after you’ve already jumped in? Before you jump?

    This process of learning to see triangles and manage ourselves in them is a lifetime’s endeavor.

  422. Jason Gamble says:

    Good systems thinking as usual, Margaret.

    Lately I’ve been reflecting on the classes I chose to take in seminary. Within certain parameters, I was able to follow my interests and define myself in several areas. I wound up with a concentration in Spirituality in my MDiv and I also did a separate internship in Spiritual Direction.

    In any given week at the little church where I serve a thousand things come my way that don’t seem to be covered by my MDiv: the preschool tenants, the toilets, which brand of midi to use on the new organ, ‘where are the bulletins?’. I frequently make the mistake of hopping into triangles that don’t interest me or for which I am not actually qualified to operate, in truth, confessing now, to deal with someone else’s anxiety. A Family Systems therapist told me I’m an ‘absorber’.

    I’m thinking I should walk around with my MDiv transcripts, merely the things I wanted to do as a Pastor, and look at it before answering any questions that come my way. If questions regarding carpet color or cake storage don’t seem to fall under a relevant syllabus, my best answer would probably be ‘I don’t know’. Does that get me out of the triangle?

  423. Both of you point out the way short-term triangles (a chaplain’s visit, a mediator’s intervention) can help people manage intensity in relationships. Even then, the person who is called in needs to be able to manage themselves to be most useful to people, never an easy task.

  424. Michael Roth says:

    Excellent insight Margaret! In conflict resolution, a triangle is viewed as an effective strategy in diffusing differences and opposing sides. As one thinks about it, one on one or mano y mano, is or can be very confrontational. When I was trained in conflict resolution, a prime directive was to dilute the confrontation between opposing viewpoints by introducing the mediator as a neutral third party and even implement such tactics as using a round table instead of a square or oblong table for parties to sit at. The Theosophical Society in America used to facilitate a meditation program based on triangles that seemed very effective and thorough in connecting people and programs for effectiveness and building energy and initiative. In some societies confrontation is not only not considered bad manners but a major faux pas. It is also interesting to note that not only Christianity, but most religions teach that a triune relationship comprises the components of the godhead.

  425. Paul Brassey says:

    Thanks for this reminder about triangles. In my work as a hospital chaplain, functioning as a temporary third leg of a triangle is almost exclusively what I do. Patients and families take advantage of the opportunity to vent various emotions to me, to complain about a family member or their medical care, or to question why God is allowing this to happen to them or their loved one. I’m sometimes tempted to offer advice, but this is almost never what the individual wants, even if s/he asks for advice. They simply want to speak freely and know that someone has heard them. Often a silent presence is what’s needed. Sometimes there are boundary issues, such as a family member’s attempt to pull the chaplain into one side of a family dispute or to maneuver the chaplain into solving a live-long personal problem for them. Because of the temporary, short-term nature of the relationship, it’s easier to detriangle from these situations than it is for the parish pastor or the business executive who has to interact with the same people over a period of years or decades. In my case this sort of long-term relationship management happens with colleagues or staff members. Thanks for the reminder.

  426. Thanks, Paul. We had a terrific time at graduation. Hannah is planning to take all of those books with her to graduate school.

  427. Paul Brassey says:

    It happens that Margaret’s daughter played a small role in helping me to let go. She and my son have been friends since birth, and she was a “groom’s-babe” in his wedding. She was at our home over this past New Year’s holiday. Knowing that she is determined to pursue further ancient Near Eastern studies, I went through my dusty collection of academic books and pulled out some volumes that I had accumulated during my own graduate studies and gave them to her. That track had led me to an academic doctorate but a career dead end. My collection of books languished in boxes until I was able to complete the conversion of a garage into a study, complete with book shelves. Giving those books to Margaret’s daughter was an important step for me to “close the book” on that period of my life and integrate it into the person I’m still becoming.

  428. One of the things I like about Frank Schaeffer’s book is the way he is honest about his perception of the gifts and challenges of the God focus. Thanks for both your comments, Rebecca and Israel. I do think the “God” factor in and of itself is not determinative. Some PKs do fine, others have challengs.

    I first went to church at 3 weeks!

  429. Two other good books by Frank Schaeffer are Portofino (a novel) and Dancing Alone: The Question for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion.

    Rebecca, good question. Religion and religiosity provide an interesting set of functions in family emotional process. Sometimes it binds anxiety and sometimes it’s a source of grace. I suspect you are correct in that it is emotional process that is determinative.

    In my seminary class today I asked the 16 students in my May term class to share “What was your first ‘home church’ and how old were you when you first attended?” ALL of them attended their first home church from infancy (One said, “Since before I was born,” and another “at six weeks.”). No surprise that these folks are in seminary!

  430. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I think that you ask a great question about a very God focused family. Does the “God” factor take some of the anxiety away from the relationships of the other family members? Does it produce more anxiety? We always hear about PK’s. Does the God factor impact PK’s in some way? or is God just ‘content’ and it is the multigenerational family processes, projection, and other emotional process qualities that affect the family?

  431. Thanks, Israel, for these additional suggestions.

  432. Thanks for the suggestions, Margaret. I’m in the middle of writing a book, so that always puts a crimp on reading time. But I’ve been working my way through The Oxford Book of American Poetry. At over 1000 pages, and given that this is the kind of book you sip and savour, it’ll take me a while.

    I’ve also been reading A Church of All Ages: Generations Worshipping Together by Vanderwall (Ed.). An insightful new book on intergenerational worship from the Alban Institute Highly recommended.

  433. Betty, thanks for your thoughts. For me the issue is not hard work in and of itself, but cultivating the discipline to lift our head out of the water from time to time. This is in fact a spiritual practice. Can we pay attention to what is in front of us (including our families)? I have to work on this myself daily.

  434. Betty Brighton says:

    I’m anxious to hear some wisdom from the troops on this one. I’ve been accused of being “too focussed” by my family. It’s quite bewildering. I always thought hard work was a good thing. I do admit that all else seems trivial besides my vocation. I have learned not to bring work home, but then there is the matter of disciplining myself of contemplating work and those whom work involves. I can see the suggestions here are a good start. B. Brighton

  435. Even apart from the family issue, assessing our ministry setting in challenging times is critical. When things are tough, we need to evaluate what the potential is. Is there enough soil for something healthy to grow? Is this an acutely difficult time, or are these problems chronic? Leadership is never easy, but some settings are healthier than others. How do I want to spend my limited life energy, and is this worth it?

  436. I’ve been pretty good at leaving the work at work and not bringing work “issues” home. Early on I determined that I’d never work at a place that was toxic, knowing that innevitably I’d bring that home to the family. Every place and every job has its challenges, but a challenging job is qualitatively different than a (emotional and psychologically) toxic working environment.

  437. You’ve developed a great blog, Margarate, with consistently interesting and helpful entries. Keep it up!

  438. Thanks, Dwight. Sometimes success is going home from an evening meeting and being able to go to sleep.

  439. Dwight Robarts says:

    Hi Margaret- I want you to know that your newsletter/blog have been very helpful to me on my own journey of leadership. You are exactly right, as a pastor, I do need to spend much more time on me than on others. Every second and fourth Monday nights we have our elders meetings. Over the last two years they have often been tense due to the decline in our church. I have been involved in way too many “wrestling mathches.” I have been preparing for these meetings by doing some of the things that you have suggested in your newsletter. I think I am doing better in these meetings though the issues haven’t changed. Thanks for your good coaching. Dwight Robarts

  440. I was surprised and delighted to get a review copy in the mail. I read it during a conference trip. Will post a review on the GRACE blog sometime, and likely will review if for a journal. You are right, Margaret, a fun read. His chapter on BFST remains one of the best, I think.

  441. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I, too, am a very fast reader. I usually have 10 books sitting on my bureau. I am a speed reader and have a challenging time reading the scriptures because it is not speed reading. I can gaze through a book and get the general gist of it in an hour and relay it back to someone. For me, this kind of reading is a sign of my anxiety because I am afraid that I will not get read all the books that I need to read to grasp the meaning of life and learn everything that I want to learn. Who knows the next book might be the book of my salvation! Hopefully, learning to read might be in my future, when and if the challenges of the environment that I live in are lessened.

  442. Pingback: So many books . . . | G.R.A.C.E. Writes

  443. Thanks, John. Reframing the story to position people to move into the future both individually and corporately is a key part of pastoral ministry and leadership.

  444. Yes, I’m still learning to read, myself.

  445. The insight that different kinds of literature require different kinds of, and levels of, reading can be a breakthrough. It’s an insight I’m perpetually trying to help my students “get.” Some try to read research works like a novel, slowly and cover-to-cover. Some dissect the Bible critically and lose the capacity, for a while, to read it devotionally. And most, it seems, lack the ability to read poetry at all.

    I always recommend to my first year seminarians Mortimer Adler’s “How To Read a Book,” telling them that they need to “learn to read.” Most have not been taught to be discerning readers.

  446. John Rosenberg says:

    I just reread this post after spending Monday morning with a group of colleagues talking with Diana Butler Bass as part of a project we’re working on. One of the qualities she talks about that characterize “vital congregations” is “narrative leadership” defined as listening for individual and congregational stories, giving them voice if necessary, but also assisting individuals and congregations to “reframe” their story by asking good questions and looking for signs of strength and hope.

  447. John Rosenberg says:

    For years, I’ve been discouraged by my my slow reading rate. I even took an Evelyn Woods speed-reading class while I was in seminary in an effort to “speed it up.” Lately, however, I’ve been trying to make a “virtue out of a necessity.” I’ve discovered that if I’m going to read — which I very much enjoy — I need to be intentional about setting aside “reading” time at the beginning of every day. So, in a sense, my slow rate has forced me to be more intentional about reading. The result is that I read (and seem to retain) more than I used to. One other discovery is that rather than trying to read the Bible through in a year, I switched to the two-year plan. What’s the rush?

  448. Thanks, Cheryl. I’ll look forward to reading the book and doing the exercise.

  449. Hi Margaret! I am a McAdams fan and highly recommend doing the life story exercise.

  450. Simply working on being present with people when they are talking to us is a spiritual discipline,and a challenging one. We can practice this with family members as well as church members.

  451. Thanks, Margaret. Challenging, but helpful, thoughts. As someone who has little patience or appreciation for “small talk,” I often fail to appreciete the underlying process of what is really happening when people engage in that kind of chatter. Sometimes listening to the content of the stories is important—but I suspect that more often than not, what is important to pay attention to is that people are communicating meaning and making an emotional connection. Oftent the question is not, “What are they saying?” but rather, “What are they trying to communicate?”

  452. I did read the McKee book, which I do highly recommend. I read it thinking more about writing than using stories strategically in leadership. I’ll have to go back to it, and look for the McAdams book. Thanks.

  453. Two good books on understanding narrative are: McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting; and McAdams, The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self.

    Ironically, both use the term “story” in the title, yet both are, in fact, about the nature, function, and power of narrative. While McKee’s book is specific to the craft of screenwriting its worth is in its treatment of how narrative works as the dynamic behind “storytelling.”

  454. I don’t know that I have a deep understanding of the nature of narrative, exactly. The way I tell stories may be more instinctive (my dad is a great storyteller–I thought I’d heard all his stories until this year when he’s surprised me with some new ones). Further thoughts, Israel, or anyone?

  455. Hope your presentation goes well, Margaret, I’m sure it will. Story is important, as are stories. But to understand WHY they are both important and powerful we must appreciate the nature of “narrative.” The reason stories are powerful is that they are a form of narrative. It’s not so much coming up with interesting stories that is important, it’s understanding the nature of narrative and how to use it.

  456. Thanks, Chuck. Conundrum is a great word for it. I do think these are matters we keep working at and working at over time, both working on self and staying connected. Never easy, and always important.

  457. Margaret, I always resonate to your sound and sensible (often obvious when you think about it) ruminations around leadership in ministry. I especially appreciate the second paragraph of this writing as this has been the biggest conundrum of my journey in ministry. Keeping that center, not panicking, not over reacting. These are all important.

    Staying connected is the second most significant challenge. This is most true when I just plain don’t feel like staying connected!

    Thanks for your continued faithfulness and for serving as a model of the constancy and centered spirit that is called for in ministry.

  458. One of the big pluses to taking on a spiritual discipline for a time, is it helps us notice what we do. When we give something up, we can begin to notice how strong our tendencies are to want that thing, a spiritual milestone in itself.

  459. Rhonda, I appreciate your pastor’s response: offering a challenge to you with a promise of support for your efforts!

  460. Rhonda Cushman says:

    Last year I gave up driving over 55 mph on the Turnpike (on my long commute.)

    This year I decided to giving up negative comments and criticisms of what others in leadership say or do… substituting silence, a pause to listen and consdier, prayer, or some other kind of response. So far, not batting 1,000 but doing better than if I weren’t at least trying.

    Rhonda Cushman

  461. Rhonda Cushman says:

    A few weeks ago I asked our pastor whether we were going to do anything about Ash Wednesday at our Baptist church. “That’s a great idea. Would you plan something? I’ll come, and we’ll announce it.”
    Gotcha. Sometimes I shouldn’t open my mouth.

    So I enlisted our seminary intern to help plan something and my husband to play the piano; and purchased some ashes at the local Catholic bookstore. With singing, prayers, 2 brief reflections on the gospel reading and Psalm 51, and the ashes, a very small circle of folk marked the beginning of Lent. It was short notice, and a small group, but those who came expressed their gratitude for the opportunity; my need for worship on that day was met by sharing it with others.

    This time, I’m glad I opened my mouth.

  462. Impressive and touching. Thanks for the link, Israel. (Note: If it doesn’t come right up, just do a search on “last lecture” at StumbleVideo.)

  463. This Baptist went to his local Episcopalian church for the imposition of ashes and the humbling reminder of personal mortality.

    Speaking of which, this video of “last lecture” is an authentic reminder of such. Worth watching: http://video.stumbleupon.com/

  464. Thanks, Israel. Working on our own clarity is essential for leaders. Clarity evolves based on new learning, and dogma tends to be static.

  465. Constantly challenging our assumptions and getting in touch with our prejudices is hard work. And self-reflection can be both humbling and disturbing. There is a difference, however, between second-guessing ourselves due to insecurity, and working on critical discernment about our beliefs. The one can lead to stuckness and timidity while the other can lead to “exploration,” the exercise of imagination, and growth.

    Dogmas keep you stuck because they are the bedfellows of homeostasis, but clarity about the values that inform both beliefs and principles that inform our actions and decisions can help us “stand” in the midst of the storms of fickleness and reactivity.

  466. Yes, you are right that it’s an art. It would be nice if there were a formula, but it’s really more about paying attention in the moment. Having some principles thought out in advance is a good idea, but we still have to show up.

  467. R.T. Miller says:

    Once again I am reminded the “helping profession” is less a social science and more a studied/practiced art form. The relational nuances to which you allude are subtle and contextual. Thanks for the reminders.

  468. I think it’s going to be 15 below tonight, but I’m still having a great trip.

  469. Dwight Robarts says:

    Margaret- I think when you get to Minnesota in January you are going to find a new definition of hell- January in Minnesota. I noticed that in St. Paul today it was 8 with a windchill of -5. Here in Dallas it is 64. Have a good trip.

  470. Yes, and we can get better over time at not showing our reactions. Edwin Friedman’s phrase, “the non-anxious presence,” doesn’t mean we don’t feel anxious, but that we work on managing our anxiety (our “sweat”) rather than letting it control us.

  471. Good advice. I’d also add the old, “Never let them see you sweat.” Often “standing still” (appearing non-responsive) elicits “barking”–an attempt to get some kind of reaction in order to know how to approach. So, if you stand still and someone barks, don’t let them see you react or sweat. Consider how to respond instead.

  472. kitketcham says:

    I hope you have MANY more Christmases with your parents, Margaret. And come see me on the island sometime.

  473. Merry Christmas, Margaret. Thanks for the great blog. Keep it up in the new year.

  474. I like your idea of using the cycle itself to express your thoughts on the ministry and vision for the future.

  475. Rebecca Maccini says:

    That was a great Leadership Adventure for the month. It is easy to get caught in the ‘cycle’ of the church, which lends
    itself to a lack of visionary thinking because one gets caught in the cycle. At this time of year in the church cycle, I am so caught up with nominating, budgets, annual reports, and holiday programs, that it becomes too easy to lose the bigger picture, and use this time to share my thoughts on how I view the church’s ministry overall and where we are headed as we journey into a new year.

  476. Thanks for pointing out the importance of the leader position, Israel. The fact of our occupying that position appropriately by articulating the vision is probably as important as the content of our vision, whatever that might be.

  477. Good entry Margaret. I’ve seen that timidity to offer vision on the part of leaders many times. While there are a multitude of reasons for it, you are correct to point out that vision is a function of leadership. Therefore, regardless of a leader’s discomfort in offering vision to the congregation or organization he or she leads, the leader will do well to remember that articulating the vision is “not about you” personally. Leaders need to offer vision because that is what the system needs of the person in the leader position. You’ve described the consequences of failing to do so.

  478. Thanks, Marc. I guess the ideal balance would be to function rather than over- or underfunction. But I do think we all have certain rhythms of work. Just noticing what they are is progress.

  479. Marc RIce says:

    Oh Man! Now I can’t hide out in the underfunction crowd either. 🙂 Who will rescue me from this awful predicament? When I get tired and worn out I tend to underfunction in pastoral care– avoiding engaging needy members of the congregation at times– When My energy is up I tend to over-extend my empathy arms–taking what may be too long with the lonely person– spending more time in some instances than is reasonable to expect me to maintain in the future– then I get tired, avoid, underfunction, etc… It can be a repeating cycle. I am really seeking Balance through this Advent season– best laid plans and all that– Thanks for a thought-provoking article-

  480. When we are too invested in decisions people make after we leave, we may be too fuzzy about the boundaries between us and them. But when we leave somewhere after years of leadership, it’s hard to let go of outcome.

  481. Maragaret, you describe my experience thrice-told. I’ve left three organizations at which I was able to provide leadership that resulted in some healthy institutional, organizational, programmatic, and personnel health and development. But once I’d left it did not take long for each to de-volve or regress. I’ve struggled to identify to what extent those were the result of my overfunctioning, and certainly there was some of that. When one is ultimately responsible for an organization it seems that overfunctioning, to some extent, is inevitable.

    But my conclusion is that we are responsible for being good stewards of the organizations we lead while we are there. After that, as Paul correctly says, we must give up responsibility or expectations about what we have accomplished or about what legacy we’ll leave behind. In my experience, that legacy usually is not something we can anticipate.

  482. Paul Brassey says:

    Good article. What you describe is exactly what happened when I left my music director position. The three people whom I had replaced four years previously, all of whom remained in the congregation, returned to their positions. The church formed a staffing committee to decide what they ultimately wanted their staff to look like, but the ready return of the former workers to their previous roles got the committee off the hook so that they could postpone their work indefinitely. One can’t, however, measure one’s impact by such details. I know that I had an impact on people’s lives, and I was instrumental (pun intended) in exposing the congregation to new worship and music forms. What they do with that is up to them, and whatever they decide is OK with me. Given that the previous pastor, the previous youth and family director, and all three previous music directors are still in the congregation, it may be that the most important thing I did was to leave on good terms.

  483. Thanks, Rebecca. I appreciate your observation of Geraldine’s mixed success at boundary-setting, and how we’re all like that sometimes.

  484. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I will have to watch that episode. It is interesting that sometimes Geraldine has the worst time ‘keeping boundaries’ and at other times in the episodes, she is so creative and makes clear and principled stances. It reminds me of most of us in ministry.
    That balance of saying no and yes is a challenging one for me, for sure. It is harder for me to say ‘no’ to those parts of the church in which I am so invested in the outcome and I want to take over other people’s jobs to make sure that the outcome that I wat i assured.

  485. Sometimes we just have to notice what we’re doing as a prelude to stopping.

  486. Well, I guess I should stop stealing my neighbor’s newspaper, for starters. At least during Lent.

  487. Rebecca Maccini says:

    I appreciated your thoughts about the ‘stop-doing’ list. I get carried away when someone in the church is angry or hurt about something. My thoughts get started about doing something to make them not hurt or not be angry. This is both silly and ridiculous. So, my ‘stop-doing’ has to do with holding unto my own vision and my own responsibilities instead of getting carried away and thinking about doing someone else’s responsibilities because, erroneously, I think it might make them feel better.

  488. Getting willful toward ourselves is something to pay attention to. It does help the resistance kick in. I do think on some level we stop doing things when we are ready to, or fed up enough with things as they are.

  489. Wes Stanton says:

    Whenever somebody tells me to do or to stop doing something, I tend to resist. I’m invested in the way things are. When I tell myself to do or to stop doing something, there’s also resistance. The stop-doing list, especially, is a resistance-generator. Too often I treat my do- and stop- lists, and all the “shoulds” on them, as external pressures rather than as my own self’s aims.

    I think it’s important to be clearly connected to one’s self’s motives for stopping stuff: less email, to allow for more writing; less irritation with people, by increasing connection with them.


  490. Hi, Margaret,
    I’m working on the same thing. One thing on my stop-doing list is thinking resentful thoughts about people who irritate me. I almost always find that when I get to know the person better, I don’t feel resentful any more. Just being open to people who are irritating helps me get past the irritation and into a better place.

  491. I do think preaching is very important, but your point about the difference between the sermon that is preached and the one that is heard highlights the importance of humility about the impact of any one sermon, or even our sermons over time.

  492. The question, to what extent can you be yourself in the pulpit is an instereting one. As you’ve pointed out before, many of our congregational members will have a relationship with our “pastoral role” more than they will with us personally and actually. And, preaching does involve a certain dose of “performance,” after all. Finally, preaching is more often than not a phenomenon of hearing rather than speaking—to the point that the sermon we think we preach is not the one heard on any given Sunday. We may preach the one sermon we’ve prepared, but as many sermons were “heard” as there are people in the pews.

    But I do think that one’s capacity, if not ability, to be a genuine self can go a long way in making that important emotional connection with integrity with the flock.

  493. Pingback: Thoughts on leadership | G.R.A.C.E. Writes

  494. The balance is always tricky. If we are too close to our followers, we can’t lead, because we become one of them (which rarely works). If we are too far away from them, we can’t lead, because we aren’t connected enough for them to follow us.

  495. Leadership often is a lonely position. Few people in the organization you lead are able to see or appreciate things from your point of view because of the position you occupy. But, as you point out, Margaret, while lonely, leadership should not be an isolated position. Leaders who isolate themselves from constituents, clients (church members), and peers enter into a danger zone. It won’t take long for isolation to lead to ineffectiveness.

  496. Margaret, This reflection is terrific, right on the money and very true. It is my experience that openness and collegiality is not always the “main thing”, that sometimes it brings with it the sense among others that they are right alongside you in leadership when in fact, my role is unique and cannot be replicated. That’s not an ego trip. That’s just fact. I think it’s important that people know that they are heard but I think it’s important for them to know that just because they have been heard doesn’t mean that it’s the way we’re going to go! Anger will come among those we lead. Some may drop off. When we hold back on our leadership in order to please it never works. It never works to abandon our role. I know when I do that I am off track. It makes me grumpy! And I get very irritable within the community. That also happens when I take all of the anxiety of the group on me. Thanks again for this. I’ll read it more than once!

  497. Thanks, Israel. Your question is a good one, worthy of meditation.

  498. Excellent post, Margaret. Any child or teenager whose parents can consistently function in the way you describe will rise up and call their parents blessed.

    Your final question is intriguing. While I appreciate the importance of asking if we believe in God’s grace, another question is, “Do I believe in my own capacity to extend grace?”

  499. I do have a cell phone, but I don’t answer it all the time. I try to get back to people by the next day. Right now I have 64 e-mails from my last trip. I’m not that free, so I’m going to answer them (especially the ones about my book proposal…). I subscribe to some e-zines, so I need to learn to delete the ones that I don’t have time to read. (Don’t try this with my newsletter: it’s always worth saving!)

  500. Here’s one way to manage your time that I’ve found helpful: Don’t get a cell phone. I just got my official government letter designating me as “the last male in America without a cell phone.” That suits me just fine.

    Another hint: when you return from a trip and have 124 e-mails in your inbox, hold down the delete button till they are all gone, then move on to more important tasks. If any e-mail was important enough, the person who sent it will send another (or call you on your cell phone. Oh, wait, you don’t have one anymore, right?).

  501. Thanks, Israel. Having a clear purpose in mind helps us and everyone else.

  502. Good thoughts, Margaret. As I tell my students, “Never invite someone into a vacuum.” When we are not clear about the purpose of a gathering, whether it is a formal meeting or an informal get-together, people get frustrated and confused, “Why am I here?” “What’s this meeting about?” “Why are we wasting time?” “What am I supposed to do?”

    Do that to people twice and they likely will not return the next time. One of the unspoken unforgivable sins is wasting people’s time. People may not complain overtly, but they’ll vote with their feet and not come back.

  503. Is staying calm harder or easier in an anxious church system than in a pastoral care setting?

  504. This quote is a great example of having a research approach to ourselves and to life. When we can do that we are more able to respond and not simply react.

  505. Paul, I was a hospice chaplain for several years. You describe a common phenomenon in family dynamics related to the acute anxiety of an impending death in the family. More often than not the “freaking out” member was the out-of-town family member who shows up at the last minute demanding action, answers, and insisting on having his or her way (obstensably for the welfare of the patient). Basically, my job was to be the “non-anxious presence” in the room. When I was able to do so (if “do” is the correct word here) the hospice staff were able to function better and the family members were able to regulate themselves—and thereby, regulate the acting out family member. It was always a fascinating phenomenon to experience—all I had to do was “be calm” and everyone in the room eventually did so too.

  506. Paul Brassey says:

    I’ve recently been reading “On Becoming a Person” by Carl Rodgers. Early in the book he lists a number of learnings about himself that have been important to him. One is this: “Evaluation by others is not a guide for me… I have come to feel that only one person (at least in my lifetime, and perhaps ever) can know whether what I am doing is honest, thorough, open, and sound, or false and defensive and unsound, and I am that person. I am happy to get all sorts of evidence regarding what I am doing and criticism (both friendly and hostile) and praise (both sincere and fawning) are a part of such evidence. But to weigh this evidence and to determine its meaning and usefulness is a task I cannot relinquish to anyone else.” (p. 23)

  507. Paul Brassey says:

    Thanks for these thoughts. During my recent stint as a CPE student, I observed that when an important family member is facing death, frequently, though by no means always, one family member takes on the role of “freaking out.” This seems to take the pressure off the other family members, enabling them to stay calmer. I found that my most effective ministry in such situations was to stay calm myself, because any attempts to directly influence the excited family member to calm down were ineffective.

  508. And a key part of focusing on self involves developing, over time, a sense of self that is not dependent on what other people think of us. That is a deeply spiritual question. And not easy for many of us clergy who grew up with plenty of expectations (to be good, to be helpful, to accommodate to others).

  509. You are brave to share a scenario that is all too common: being blindsided by an unexpected confrontation during which we are given “THE LIST” of grievences collected, in secret, over time. All too often leaders take THE LIST at face value. To do so is to focus on content over process (“What’s really going on here?”).

    I jokingly tell my students that for a fee I can provide them with THE LIST so that on the ocassion they are confronted with the litany of complaints they can say, “Wait a minute, let me get MY list and see how well the two match.”

    You are correct, Margaret, that in those times focusing on self, rather than on content, is the key. If you can give up expectations of outcome, or trying to convince the grievance party that they are mistaken, you can usually come out all the better for it.

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  511. We probably all could count that handful of leaders we know who are their own real self, apparently naturally. I do think we can all make progress in this direction, and function out of that self more of the time.

  512. IGalindo says:

    A very intriguing question, “Is there a secret to ministry?” Vague enough to allow for some playfulness.

    Clergy are prone to role expectations, and too many seem too ready and willing to buy into image-related role expectations that create burdensome image and pseudo-self functioning. Perhaps that explains the fondness among so many of “leadership style,” a pseudo-self stance that fails to grasp the concept that leadership is about one’s functioning, not one’s “style.”

    I think I can count on one hand the number of clergy I know personally who are their own “real self,” genuinely and function with integrity (they are who they are, and what you see is what you get). But I suspect that’s not true only of clergy leaders.

  513. I never saw Billy Graham in person, which I regret. Your comment shows an attitude that is a source of strength: even when we move to a different place than our upbringing, to show respect and appreciation for that heritage is a sign of maturity.

  514. Me too, Margaret. Billy Graham has always been one of my heroes, from the days when I used to go with my parents to his revivals in Portland up through the many crises of leadership that have challenged our nation’s presidents and to this time when he mourns the loss of his dear wife. I’m not an American Baptist any more; I’m a Unitarian Universalist. But he is still a mentor and a moral hero to me.

  515. The time limit is a good idea. Sometimes I even use a timer.

  516. rachel curry says:

    some answers, some questions…
    I find it extremely effective to set a time limit for e-mail usage. 40 min the morning and 20 min at the end of the day seems to work well. Its enough of a time crunch that I am focused, but not too short that I find it difficult to finish. This works well when I keep up with it. When I travel and don’t choose to pick up email, that is when the inbox gets messy–i find it super hard to catch up but I am not willing to keep up daily checking when travelling. the full day I spend playing catch up gives me a headache! I am still in search of the healthy relationship with my e-mail…

  517. Israel, thanks for raising these important questions. I do think that marketing can be undertaken in a self-defined way, although it is not easy. When we think clearly as a congregation about who we are and who we can best serve, and how do we want to say who we are to the community, that can be growth-producing.

    I think a generation ago pastoral training focused more on the shepherd leadership function, and the focus now is more on the organizational. As you point out, both are important and difficult to balance.

  518. IGalindo says:

    Pastors of congregations straddle two functions: (1) faith community leader (shepherd) and (2) organizational leader. For better or worse, while congregations are by nature a type of community, they are also a type of organization. Few pastoral leaders seem able to balance the two different leadership functions required of those two elements—which at time, are contradictory and at cross-purposes. Some pastors over-focus on the organizational-institutional aspect. They love to read business management, marketing, organization, and “leadership” books. Others are more “shepherd”-oriented. They love spending time with the people more than they do planning, administrating or thinking about institutional development. So much so, that they often neglect caring for the institution in necessary and appropriate ways.

    I suspect that marketing books appeal to the first rather than the latter. As important as it may be, it’s hard to know how much weight to give to concepts like marketing and branding for a church. When does self-definition and identity degenerate into image-managing and branding? At what point is marketing a type of corporate pseudo-self?

    I don’t have any answers, just questions.

  519. Thanks, Israel. Reading fiction helps both preachers and writers.

  520. IGalindo says:

    Mostly I’m catching up on journals and periodicals, but I’ve read these (all fiction except for the last one):

    The Nightland, Hotchkins
    The Well at the World’s End, Morris
    The Tale of Murasaki, Dalby
    Melmoth the Wanderer, Maturin
    Signs and Wonders, Bukiet
    The Good Men, Craig
    Made to Stick, Heath & Heath

  521. Thanks, Israel. Maybe if we take ourselves less seriously your #1 could be a heavenly reason.

  522. Pingback: The pastoral life. Heavenly? | G.R.A.C.E. Writes

  523. IGalindo says:

    Just ten?! O.k., here are mine . . .

    10. No one ever told us we’d have to be plumbers, janitors, electricians, printers and typists, and refuse disposal technicians
    9. Sunday comes around every week—and with it, the need for another fresh, original, motivating sermon (and Sunday is like the mail: it just keeps on coming!)
    8. We live in a fishbowl and people expect our children to be perfect
    7. No, they don’t pay us enough for all that we do
    6. Just how much fried chicken can a person eat over the span of a ministerial career before showing symptoms of genetically becoming poultry?
    5. No matter how hard you work at it or how long you try, there’s just no way to get this “church” thing right
    4. Committee meetings
    3. If you ever get to the point of being so frustrated that you want to leave your congregation for another, you’ll only discover that the next one is the same as your last
    2. More committee meetings

    And the no. 1 reason ministry is not heavenly . . . Too often, God lets us believe that we are indeed God so he can have a good laugh.

  524. 10 more good ones, Israel! Thanks.

  525. IGalindo says:

    Another 10 heavenly things about ministry…

    10. If you’re in a high-liturgical congregation you get to wear neat ecclesiastical garb
    9. People will tend to listen to your opinions (even when you don’t know what you’re talking about)
    8. When you visit people they always clean up their language and offer you desert and coffee
    7. You don’t have to show up at the office every day
    6. If you work it right your job includes study leave, sabbaticals, and conferences at nice places where you can bring along your family
    5. You get to work with children and watch them grow
    4. As part of your work you’re expected to grow and mature more spiritually
    3. Most of the people you work with are the nicest people around
    2. The music (the GOOD kind—sacred music before 19th century)

    And the no. 1 best heavenly thing about ministry . . . Tax benefits like housing allowances!

  526. Thanks, Dwight. I’ll remember that quote from your father. I do think objectively observing ourselves is a matter of degree, and we can get at least a little better at it over time.

  527. Dwight Robarts says:

    Hi Margret, I was part of the group in Colorado Springs this year. Anyway, my late father used to say, “It’s hard to get over your raising.” I remember that often when I get frustrated with my own struggles as a leader. I think that you are right. We do need to learn to be observant about our leadership- but I find it to be one of the most difficut things to do- to objectively observe myself.

  528. Yes, I agree that reactivity to the leader taking a stand is not about rationality. Our preparation and response will be most useful if we work on keeping ourselves in a thoughtful, or as you say, curious, place. Marshalling our best arguments is rarely useful. It’s more about our clear presence than it is about convincing people to agree with us (which doesn’t work very often, anyway).

  529. IGalindo says:

    “Part of the clear thinking in advance can include not only our own position but what the expected response may be, and how we are going to deal with it.”

    I agree, but only if the anticipation of possible response is from a stance of curiosity and imagination and not of machination. It’s one thing to playfully ponder “I wonder where the reactivity is going to pop up and what form it will take?” It’s another to spend time parsing logical or “reasonable” arguments to counter protests or to try to “convince” or win over detractors. For one thing, it’s too akin to “mindreading,” and for another, it misses the point. Any reactivity is more about “emotional process” and not about rationality. Trying to reason with an angry, reactive, willful person is a waste of time.

    I’m not referring to those few whose assumptions, beliefs, or values have been challenged and they take responsibility for engaging in dialogue. Those who take that mature stance are always open to “negotiation” and finding the middle way rather than cutting off. But the others, the reactive ones, are not interested in rationality—-they just want their own way. (When reactive people ask me the “Why?” question for justifying a decision I usually ask, “How many reasons do you want me to give you? I can give you one or twenty.” The point being that for reactive persons, no amount of “reasons” will ever suffice. Do I need to add that they don’t “get” the question?).

    So, yes, we shuoul anticipate reactivity when we take a stand—and we should work more on anticipating what OUR own (emotional) responses and function will be in the face of sabatoge, resistance and confrontation. But I’d work hard at avoiding the myth of rationality when it comes to reactivity.

  530. Yes, it’s true that you never really get away with it when you do take a stand. It’s important to remember so you’re not blindsided by the reaction when you have the courage to do it. Part of the clear thinking in advance can include not only our own position but what the expected response may be, and how we are going to deal with it.

  531. IGalindo says:

    This issue of leaders taking a stand is a tough one. I suppose that one reason leaders in any system—a congregation, organization, or family (and people in general)are reluctant to take a stand is that when we do so there are consequences. Taking a stand means you need to take responsibility for your convictions and decision, that you’ll be held accountable for them, and you will indeed force a decision for or against you or your idea. To put it bluntly, taking a stand requires courage, a quality in short supply these days.

  532. I think for myself I prefer “Wise Old Woman.”

  533. IGalindo says:

    Lash’s biography of E.R. is a great read. Crabby at 50? One of the BEST things about turning 50 is that you don’t have to apologize for being crabby! I myself revel in my priviledged status of “Old Coot.”

  534. IGalindo says:

    Thanks, Margaret. Remaining curious is a helpful stance in discovering stories significant to the congregation’s emotional process. But I’ve also discivered that for some reason, congregations (all emotional systems, really) tend to be rather stingy about sharing stories and history with “newcomers”—even when those newcomers are their (pastoral and staff) leaders. Oh, they’ll share anectdotes and stories that make them look good—but it’s amazing how quite they can be about significant events in their corporate life history that relate to emotional process, nodal events, and patterns.

    I was at one congregation for about three years when I overheard a table conversation where members were recalling that the church had fired a staff member who previously occupied my position. I literally stopped that conversation by asking, “What?! You mean to tell me that someone in my position has been fired and this is the first time I’ve heard about it?!” That little tidbit of information was never shared with me by the search committee, my primary committee, by the pastor (who’d been there at the time), nor by any individuals involved. Why was this a secret? But, I was not curious enough for the question to occur to me—and so I never asked.

  535. Thanks, Kit. Terrific story. I so appreciate the way you can take the best of your heritage and claim it.

  536. kitketcham says:

    What a great question, Margaret! And even though my dad was a very conservative (though American) Baptist minister, he definitely was the one who called me into ministry and anointed me. My first sermon was at his invitation, in his little church in Goldendale, Washington, when I was a Home Missionary at the Denver Christian Center. Every career I undertook was because of my dad’s influence, not because he suggested it, but because it was a career of serving others: welfare work, missionarying, teaching, counseling, and now ministry. I am always conscious of the words of the boy Jesus in the temple, even though the context is not the same, when he said “Know ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” All my life I have been about “my Father’s/father’s business”.

  537. Helping people to grow is the most important helping activity, and sometimes that means doing nothing (hard as that is for good Christians and other folk). I have to work on this all the time.

  538. Thanks for these thoughts. I’m wondering how we respond to a situation which is urgent in a less-anxious way. Perhaps “tools” become “gimmicks” when they are used anxiously, rather than taking the time to be thoughtful about what our situation truly is, what our unique call is, and how we might live it out in the context where we find ourselves.

  539. Jim McConnell says:

    Yes, transformation is possible. To qualify my comments, I will be honest, and tell you that before I joined the Presbyterian Church, and became an Elder, and started my studies to become a Commissioned Lay Pastor (CLP), I was a member of the Methodist Church, and traveled all over the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean Islands, singing gospel music, and occasionaly preaching. Thus, the “revival meeting” mindset ! I believe that too much emphasis today, in the large denominations, especially, is being placed on programs invented by committees ! The main reason that we go to church, is that our lives have been transformed by Christ, our Lord and Savior, and we continue to go to church out of our love of God, and a desire to go deeper in our faith. One of the last replies, touched on my sentiments, also when they mentioned the word “gimmicks”. I agree that most of the time, “gimmicks” are short term fixes. However, what some may see as a “gimmick”, may really be an effective “tool”, for stirring up some interest in the community, but it needs to be spiritually based, for if someone is looking for entertainment, they can go many different places in the world and find it. The church cannot compete with Disney World. Mankind has never changed: under all of the false fronts and laughter at life, there is a need to worship; a need for some one and some thing to give deeper meaning to their lives, to be there in tradgedies, sickness or despair. Probably 99% of all people when faced with some tradgedy in life, their first words out of their mouth is, “Oh my God !” Our churches need to offer the life-changing message to the multitudes, and seek new conversions to Christ, and especially among the youth of our nation. 75% of all Presbyterian Churches are made up of 100 members or less. Many of those, like the two that I pastor, are probably 75-90% Senior citizens or late middle age. If we do not get their children, their grandchildren, and pick up some from the community,,,then in the next few years, we can put a pad lock on the front door, and close it up. Many have already become victims of this scenario. The non-denominational churches, TV churches, and independent groups are proof, that “transformation” can happen quickly and “explode”, because: 1. They are evangelizing and preaching the old message that mankind is lost and needs a Savior, and: 2. Providing a place of more freedom of worship which is not laden down with polity, committees, and old traditions. So, my question remains, “how much time do we have?” Your article is great, and has so much solid truth. My intent is just to “add” a little to your excellent article. I shared this with my congregations last Sunday (6-24-07), that a young preacher had a sign on his desk the first 5 years of his ministry that read: Win the world for Christ ! The second 5 years, he changed the sign to read: Win one or two for Christ ! After the second 5 year period passed, he replaced that sign with one that read: “Try not to lose any” !! I close with some scripture as a reminder to myself and all who might read this. Rom. 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. And then, the thing that makes people want to “stick”, is the welcome change that takes place in their lives, that the world cannot give. 2 Cor.5:17 Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence. (God’s Word translation) Changed lives are brought about by the blood of Christ. I’m thinking that when a “new family member” is born, then, they will want to hang around their “family members”. May God Bless you all.

  540. IGalindo says:

    One of the interesting things to watch when someone is first introduced to some of the concepts of BFST is the dissonance they experience related to “things they used to believe” about “helping,” “advice,” “change,” “leadership,” etc. All of a sudden they may realize that their “helping” behavior is actually an act of overfunctioning and that their penchant for advice giving is little more than willfulness related to a poor sense of self. After that, learning how to function differently becomes a challenge: how do you learn to help people by not helping? (Do I need to say that this issue is a big one when it comes to parents and their children?).

  541. IGalindo says:

    Good article, Margaret. I think transformation is possible, but not in the willful and anxious ways I see so many clergy attempt to bring it about. One sad pattern I think I see related to this is clergy giving in to denominational or popular hype about “change” and “transformation” and “growth” in congregations, engaging in manic programs, methods, and gimmicks to “make it happen,” and then giving up in two or three years when it’s not happening fast or big enough to satisfy what they imagine SHOULD be happening. They’ll typically move on to a more promising church and do it all again, only to leave in three years again.

    Transformation takes a looong time and in congregations has a life of its own that rarely can be engineered or programmed by any johnny-come-lately leader with messianic aspirations. But, I rant….

  542. I do think denominational leaders can get in the same bind that pastors do. It’s a challenge to have a bigger vision and to have significant goals, without trying to willfully convince congregations to get on board.

  543. Glynis LaBarre says:

    This article “hit the spot” as I began my ministry work this week. It helped me clarify the struggle between anxiety related performance and relationship building time. Thanks for raising the question. It was very helpful.

    With you in Christ’s adventure, gl

  544. Jan Nesse says:

    I like that statement that transformation is a by-product. We’ve been talking about growth as a by product and focusing on “getting healthy” (that is, being a place of purpose and spiritual growth). Maybe I should think about a different way to categorize congregations that we now put in the “transformational” bin. I would hope that every congregation would be transforming… good things to think about. Thanks.

  545. Like everything else, it’s a process not an outcome.

  546. IGalindo says:

    Heh, is this a koan? I suppose the answer is “no” for to try to “do” nothing is actually doing something, namely, either TRYING to do nothing or actually DOING nothing.

    Thanks for the challenge. For some of us the benefit may be in accepting the challenge of the discipline (with little hope for any success is being able to “do nothing”). I think once I did nothing for about 10 minutes. But then they revived me.

  547. Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll look for that one, too. Sounds like it might be relevant to church as well.

  548. IGalindo says:

    Frans de Waal has another related book on this subject that’s a hoot: Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes (2000). And yes, some church members resemble apes, but others look more like ferrets. Sorry, was I being reactive?

  549. IGalindo says:

    Kudos on the article, Margaret!

  550. Thanks, Israel. I know I’ve experienced that sense of biological threat. At the same time, part of the maturing process is learning to pay attention to reality: I feel under threat, but I am not really in danger. That gives me a little space to begin thinking about how I might respond thoughtfully.

  551. IGalindo says:

    Relating back to your previous post about the amygdale, it’s worth noting that while it is true that “…most of us are not in a life-or-death situation very often…” it seems that the emotion-producing amygdale makes little distinction between physical threat to the body and existential threat to self and identity. This may be because when those anxiety fight-or-flight pathways are triggered all we FEEL is the effect of the emotion regardless of the cause (it’s why we call it “reactivity”). That’s analogous to how pain seems to work—once the pathways of pain along the nerves are triggered and established they may result in CHRONIC pain long after the wound or injury heals. (Recall the phenomenon of “phantom pain” in a lost limb).

    All that to say that we should never underestimate the power and influence of our biological selves. Threat to a cherished belief or value (whether it’s right or wrong) can FEEL as much of a (existential) threat to survival as a potential punch in the nose.

  552. Thanks, Israel. I’ll add “pretend learning” to my vocabulary. I’m not sure adults have time for it. Life is too short.

  553. IGalindo says:

    One of my ocassional educational rants is about how much “pretend learning” we tend to do in formal schooling settings—including seminary. The reason for that is that some of the most important things we need to learn need to be learned at the time it needs to be learned (and not before) and in the context in which is needs to be learned (and not in a different one–like in a classroom). There is so much I don’t bother trying to teach seminarians precisely because they’re (1) not ready for the insight, and (2) they need to learn it in and from their congregation and not from me in the seminary.

    And, to echo your sentiment, I recently told our Dean that I found it ironic that the most effective teaching I do is not in the seminary context, but at the Leadership in Ministry workshops. That’s because, aside from having a sound learning model, it involves timely learning from the context in which the participants are actually practicing ministry.

  554. Yes, one of the gifts I trust both my parents have given me is the gift of longevity. Their own longevity, at 84 and 85, is a gift, and I have high hopes for my own.

  555. Thanks, Israel and Phil, for two great illustrations of how the story of the past shows up both in families and in institutions. More questions than answers is probably always a good ratio in both settings.

  556. IGalindo says:

    For those of us who do a lot of genogram with with people in our coaching, it’s important to be reminded that our parents and families pass along blessings along with curse and dysfunction. While it may be true to an extent that “all families are dysfunctional” it is also true that all families have strength. That, coupled with the seed of hope can shape destinies.

    Yes, parents pass along gifts to their children and to the generations that follow–intentional or not. And for that, they should be honored and given their due.

    Happy birthday to your mom, Margaret! Shoot, just reaching 85 is an accomplishment!

  557. Phil Mitchell says:

    Margaret-thanks for the stimulating thoughts! Serving a church that has 225 years of history brings both an incredible sense of heritage and a huge challenge to resist calcification. I am finding life and spark in folk as we are all seeking to reshape our systemic questions in the absence of a Senior Pastor. We are slowly moving from “Wasn’t it great when…” to “What are we now doing that might be described as adventurous?” to “What emtionally stands in the way of bold, new initiatives.” Such questions are threatening to some and liberating to others. We are asking more questions than we are finding answers, which for the first time in a long time feels OK.

  558. Yes, and as a firstborn I need to remember that even when I’m in charge I don’t have to tell everyone else what to do.

  559. IGalindo says:

    The past returns in many ways, often in repeated patterns, or in cycles, sometimes springing up in unexpected places and persons. Sometimes the past haunts us, plodding after our steps to remind us of where we’ve come from generations ago, pulling us back, saying, “Who do you think you are?” Sometimes the past is realized in the present as echoes of deferred dreams and hopes, like in a gift of land for the common good, or in a namesake.

    Yesterday my youngest son graduated from his college’s school of engineering. When they called his name to walk across the stage I heard my father’s name echo in my son’s middle name, Thomas Samuel Galindo. My father was never able to start college, much less finish it. Circumstances in his native war-torn country and a decisions to immigrate to a foreign land for the sake of his family and—its later generations—-meant personal sacrifices of opportunities, and of dreams deffered. My father loved learning. Despite his lack of formal education we grew up in a home full of books. (That’s an environment rarer than I realized until years later. Even as an adult, visiting many homes as pastor or as hospice chalplain I was always surprised at the lack of books people had in their homes).

    My father’s love of learning was instilled in his children, along with the message of the importance of an education. I remember his affirmation when I graduated (eventually doing so five times!), making no secret of his regret at never being able to do so himself. But yesterday, a Samuel Galindo walked across the stage, and two generations later the past is present, as a dream deferred was realized.

  560. Dick Moser says:

    This was an excellent article. I found many ideas that affect our lives in many ways, as well as the church and other organizations.

    Thanks for a great and positive work.


  561. IGalindo says:

    One phenomenon that comes up often for seminarians who are challenged to clarify their calling to ministry has to do with the realization that, despite previous mystic assumptions about their calling, in effect it was “Mom” who called them to the ministry. That’s not to negate the fact that, as Cowper wrote, “God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform” and often relies on moms to inculcate spiritual values and the moral center in their progeny.

    You are correct, Margaret, clergy often work out their unresolved family of origin issues in their congregations (as do many congregational members). In times of anxiety it’s helpful to remind ourselves that “the chair of deacons is not my father,” or that “my staff colleague is not my little sister,” or, that even if we feel like the “youngest, the baby in the family” when in a room full of firstborns, if we’re the leader we need to function like the leader in our system, not according to our birth order tendencies from our family of origin.

  562. Transitions are often opportunities for dormant seeds to sprout (in us and others), if we can stay loose about it. Defining self and how we see it as we leave, as you did, Kit (rather than trying to whip people into shape) gives room for people to make those choices.

    Regarding taking things personally, I have been thinking of the image of “elephant hide” as a valuable asset in ministry. Some people have it as a birthright, others have to develop it.

  563. IGalindo says:

    I’ve seen several instances lately of people “taking things personally,” needlessly. It’s a sure sign of reactivity and/or immaturity. The immature part seems to include an inability to grasp one’s boundaries—just because something is an issue with someone else does not mean it has anything to do with you. Also, when one feels powerless there is some satisfaction to be had from railing against the injustices of the universe, I suppose.

    Personally, I seem to have had two advantages related to “taking criticism” (if they are indeed advantages): (1) I’m an Enneagram 5, which means I’m arrogant enough to not really care what you think; and (2) I grew up in NYC, which means my initial response is not to wither from a criticism but to respond, “Yeah? Criticize THIS!” I’ve learned that second response tends not to be helpful in the “genteel” Southern culture in which I work, so I’ve learned to practice restraint—but you can bet I’m thinking it.

  564. I had a terrific experience with a small Unitarian congregation I have been serving and am getting ready to leave. Last Sunday was “Visions for _____” sermon day and I knew I needed to say some hard things to them about their sense of mission to the community. They have been meeting only twice a month for years, though I have been encouraging them for the four years of my service to them to offer services every week. So I hit it pretty hard during the sermon, though trying to be fair and recognize the fears that hold them back. Much to my surprise, during the after-church sermon reflection time, a spontaneous effort arose to begin weekly services starting in September! Seeds may sprout belatedly, but they do sprout!

  565. IGalindo says:

    Good thoughts, Margaret. I’d add one more way to “take in what you need”: READ. It seems as common-sense to say that as it is to say, “drink water,” but given that less than 3% of the adult population in the United States actually reads books (REAL books, romance novels don’t count!) it needs to be said. And dare I say it? Clergy as a group are notorious about not reading much of anything once their formal education is over. And, as I tell them in my worst moments, “it shows.”

    As to point 5. Yes! But if you can’t find a mentor, or if you’re in that stage of life where you don’t require one (mentoring is a vocational relationship that has a short lifespan) then find a spiritual friend.

    And yes, drink lots of water. Your brain needs it!

  566. Glynis LaBarre says:

    When I arrived in PHX to pastor there, I was met at the airport by my guide with a gift of a water bottle and the instructions, “Don’t ever go out without water.” It struck me as an apt metaphor, that you captured with your article. I enjoyed reading your blog.

  567. Thanks for this useful distinction, Israel. Perhaps an ongoing, substantive prayer life, can also help us develop our core self and learn how to protect ourselves from those who inappropriately seek to trespass on it.

  568. IGalindo says:

    Prayer is a fundamental spiritual discipline that can “cover a multitude of sins” and keep us centered. I find that remembering the concept of the psuedo self and core self can also help discerning to what extent it is appropriate to give ourSELVEs away. To oversimplify, the pseudo self is that part of us that we can appropriately share with others–and when appropriate, it’s the part of ourselves that we can allow others to “borrow” with little risk of invasiveness or toxicity. For example, when another person is in emotional crisis and lacks personal resources of inner strength we often allow them to “borrow part our our pseudo self” to get through. Perhaps we can frame that as “bearing another’s burden.”

    But to give away our core self–that inner part that makes us who we are, is inappropriate and harmful. Those who insist that we do are invasive, and those who are willing to give that part up are treading dangerous territory. Our core self consists of things like our identity, our values, our will, and our capacity for self-determination. Clergy, or others, who demand that others give up that core self–by subjugating their identity, giving up their will, handing over responsibility for their thinking to another, or requiring devotion–are practicing a form a spiritual abuse.

  569. Shades of my mother, gone these 12 years now, who taught me over and over again, “honey, you can’t change your sister, you can only change yourself.” Thanks, Mom, you didn’t know how cutting edge you were!

  570. r.t. miller says:

    Thank you for the link. Father Joseph Martin of the 1970s Chalk Talk films on Alcoholism explained the Serenity Prayer that seems appropriate in this conversation:

    1) Lord, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (That is – everything outside of my self. 2) Lord, Grant me the strength to change the things I can change (that is everything about me) 3) And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

  571. Yes, focusing on the behaviors of others often seems like the natural fix. And most of the advice given both formally and informally heads in that direction. The problem is that it provides at best a short-term fix and takes a lot of energy. Focusing on self is a long-term project that ultimately can give us more energy.

  572. IGalindo says:

    This is a challenging insight. The paradox is that we’ll tend to have a healthier impact on the functioning of the systems we lead to the extend that we are able to work on managing ourselves. The natural temptation of leaders, of course, is to (over)focus on the symptoms of the systems and work at changing the behaviors of the persons who are acting out or underperforming.

  573. You raise an important point how we may bring about negative change by wilfullness and unhealthy relationships. We often (though not always) have the best of intentions, but when we focus more on others than on ourselves, it’s hard to bring about positive change.


  574. IGalindo says:

    In a recent presentation to clergy one of my points was, “Your congregation may not be your church.” While the fact is that we all need community, the paradox about ministry is that more often than not, the congregations that pastors lead may never be their “church.” Clergy occupy a particular and unique place in the congregational system, and the things that church members seek of their church is often not available to clergy, at least, not in the very churches they pastor.

    I think it’s possible to find “church” within your congregation, and I think you can develop intimate personal friendships with congregational members. Often we are blessed with particular church members with enough emotional maturity and sense of “Self” as to not get stuck in issues related to their pastor being their friend and a human being. Certainly it requires all of the factors that make any friendship possible: affinity for each other, predilections for the same things, shared interests and passions, the ability to carve out and spend time together (propinquity), etc. But issues related to the pastor’s position in the system often means that a pastor will never experience his or her own congregation as “church” (often that extends to the pastor’s family as well).

    Issues such as tenure, a disparity in the stages of faith of the pastor and the majority of the church members, a clash of culture (educational, socio-economic, social, ethnic), or a difference in spirituality styles can often result in enough differences that preclude the pastors from finding “church” in their own congregations. Or, as framed by Margaret, from getting “too close.” All the more reason we repeat often to clergy that they need to “find a support group” for their well being. A group that can be “church” and in which friendships can develop beyond the shared professional guild that brings them together. It’s not for nothing that we often say that leadership is a lonely place. But I also suspect that will be true to the extent one allows it.

  575. Hi, Margaret,
    This issue is something I deal with a lot, as a woman minister in a small rural community. I am aware that I must be both approachable AND authoritative, with my own set of friends, but it can be tricky to pull off. I occasionally socialize with parishioners but I always go knowing I am “on”, not just their pal, even though my manner is friendly and casual. I am careful to limit myself to one glass of wine or one beer, knowing that two is too many. I dress a little more “up” than others, I am willing to talk church but I tot up the time, so that I don’t go over my parttime hours. In a small community, often my parishioners are my closest associates, so that it takes effort to find other friends I enjoy. But I’ve been managing and certainly do love living here!

  576. Sean Harry says:

    When I was teaching college classes in leadership I used a scene from Henvry V (the 1989 Kenneth Branagh version — http://www.amazon.com/Henry-V-Brian-Blessed/dp/079284615X) to show how a great leader can motivate ordinary people to accomplish extra-ordinary things. The scene is the St. Crispin’s Day speech in which he proclaims, “this story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered, — We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;” and ” all things are ready if our minds be so.”

    A bonus for those who liike sword fights is the scene immediately following wherein the English defeated the French at Agincourt. A bit bloody, so if you don’t like that thing turn it off after the speech.

    Kenneth Branagh and William Shakespeare! What a combination!
    Sean Harry

  577. IGalindo says:

    My hunch is that the answer to the question is “Yes, we can change people.” But any direct ‘change’ (however one cares to define it) will be the result of manipulation or coercion—not a very healthy kind of change. Typically that kind of change does not last long, and if the change is permament, it likely is toxic.

    The kind of leadership that results in healthy change—as you describe, usually comes about as a result of good functioning on the part of the leader that INFLUENCES others in the system. I prefer the notion that “leadership is influence” over notions of leadership being about power. If people are not moving toward you, your capacity to influence them is minimal, in fact, it’s likely resisted. The bottom line: the quality of our relationship mediates change in others. Healthy relationships yield healthy changes; unhealthy (willful, manipulative, coercive) relationships yield unhealthy changes. Both by virtue of the influence the leader has on the system. All the more reason to focus on one’s integity, maturity, and one’s own functioning.

  578. IGalindo says:

    Weinstein’s blog is a hoot and a clever way to address an issue of communication. And yes, please, no open-toed shoes or sandals in the pulpit!

    One way to grasp why this is not an insignificant issue is to appreciate that the PRIMARY purpose of clothing is not protection from the elements, or to “cover up,” but rather, identification. Clothing serves a social and cultural function–always has. I’ve read that anthropologists say that all cultures have two things in common universally, and one of them is clothing (the other is religion). But clothing in the sense of its function: to identify one’s place and status in the culture. So, the members of a culture may only wear grass belts around their waists and ankles, but you can alway tell the “chiefs” and leaders: they wear the widest belts. And you can tell the warrior class, they may have feathers on their belts.

    Clothing identifies us. So, the question may be, do your clothes identify you as the leader? I’ve often experienced the uneasy feeling of listening to someone try to tell me something while in my mind I’m thinking “How am I supposed to take you seriously dressed like that?”

    As to the previous comment about a certain choice of attire that “…causes us to fail in our responsibility to convey the relevancy and vitality of the contemporary church,” I say point well made. As I put it, if there’s not difference, then what’s the difference? I think the misguided attempts by churches to accomodate themselves to culture in order to “attract” those in the world by sending the message, “We’re no different than you,” only denies those seeking what the church really has to offer and what they really are looking for: the truth that we ARE qualitatively different from the world.

  579. PeaceBang says:

    Thanks for giving me a shout-out, Margaret. My PeaceBang persona is over-the-top and intentionally humorous and provocative, but I am happy to have helped this conversation along. One of my litmus tests for how well we are projecting a confident leadership image is to ask clergy, “When a national leader appears in public to explain his or her reasons for supporting a war, don’t you think that those who advocate for peace should look *at least* that put-together?”

    Another of my beefs is that our attire is incredibly dated, which causes us to fail in our responsibility to convey the relevancy and vitality of the contemporary church.

    (this comment box is showing up in a funny way on my browser, so I can’t proofread this comment. I hope it’s not too incoherent!)

  580. Yes, as you point out, the maturity question is more important than age–in leadership and in life. As a pastor I always found it a gift to visit the elderly who had learned from their experiences. They had true wisdom to offer me and others.

  581. IGalindo says:

    Happy birthday, Margaret!

    Another question to ask is, “How mature does a leader need to be?” Maturity is a relative term, of course. There can be mature 26-year-olds just as surely as there are emotionally adolescent 50-year-olds. I just mentioned in a recent blog entry that I often tell congregational search committees that they should discern the “maturity” of prospective candidates and give that more weight than “experience.” As you hint, some people have lots of experience, but they’ve never learned from it. Likely it’s because regardless of the “experiences” they’ve had, they really have had only the same experience over and over again, with little insight to show for it. I sometimes tell persons that yes, “experience is the best teacher,” but that they don’t tell us the second part of that axiom: “afterward, throw away the experience and keep the lesson learned.” People who cannot do that stay stuck on the experience and don’t learn anything.

    As to the question of what to call me, I find it very helpful when entering a new system to insist that people call me “El Jefe Grande.” 😉

  582. IGalindo says:

    One interesting wrinkle on this issue is the phenomenon that the relationship(s) we think have with our congregation or organization’s members may not be the same as the ones they think or experience with us. This can happen in many ways, including episodes of “projection” one either party. The ones that come to mind for me are those where I was surprised at the relationship and connection people in the congregation seemed to have with me that was disconnected with the one I perceived I had with them. I took it as one of those instancies of people relating to or projecting something on me mostly by virtue of the position I occupied in the system. In other words, it “wasn’t about me.”

    This came out in spades after I left one congregation and would go back for an occassional visit. People I’d never talked to in the time I was there would rush up to me with blustery hugs, saying how much they missed me, and starting to catch me up on their lives—which was unsettling since from my point of view I didn’t know these people from Adam. It always felt like showing up on stage in a middle of a play and having to catch up and play your part. This would happen over and over again.

    Working on developing relationships, staying connected, and maintaining the distance required of the “dance of leadership” is important. But it’s more art than science, I suspect. And the vagaries of perceptions and how people desire, or can or cannot get or give from their relationship of their leaders may have more influence on some relationships than is within out capacity to understand or address.

  583. IGalindo says:

    Margaret, a good companion movie for this is “A Man For All Seasons,” (1966) written by playwrite Robert Bolt and starring Paul Scoffield, Leo McKern, and Robert Shaw. History repeats itself (multigenerational transmission?) with Henry VIII who, wanting to divorce his wife, seeks the approval of the aristocracy. Sir Thomas More (Paul Scoffield) is the man of principle and reason who is placed in the difficult position of choosing to stand up for his principles and risking the wrath of the King (who has a penchant for executing those who disagree); or giving in to the wilfullness of the man in power. Tragically, the lesson is similar: the nobler persons live by well-articulated principles, but that does not guarantee success or victory in a system that tolerates poor leaders.

  584. admin says:

    My own observation fits with yours, Israel, that there appear to be at least tendencies toward more authoritarian leadership on the conservative side and tendencies toward less-assertive on the moderate-to-liberal side. The extremes of either approach are neither effective nor sustainable, it seems to me.

  585. sean says:

    I like the quote that encourages us to take neither criticsm or praise too seriously. I have done fairly well over the years or learning to take critique with a “grain of salt”, but needed to be reminded that praise should also be accepted with temperance. Great Blog Margaret! Sean H

  586. IGalindo says:

    It seems to me you’ve identified one of the biggest dilemmas for congregational leaders. I wonder how accurate, or fair, it is to identify stances along the spectrum in certain traditions. In my own Baptist tradition, those on the conservative side of the theological-ideological spectrum seem to lean toward a Machiavellian leadership stance, while those on the “moderate” end tend to fault of a less than assertive approach to congregational leadership.

    I suspect that a helpful corrective for deciding between being a “strong” leader or a “willful” leader is the capacity to hold and practice guiding principles and values related to leadership and relationship. But I think it’s telling that if we’d ask most congregational leaders, “What are your guiding principles for leading your congregation?” we’d likely get a blank stare.

  587. admin says:

    Point taken, Israel. I’m assuming there is a continuum. I remember “The Guns of Will Sonnet,” too–perhaps “no brag, just fact” is a useful approach, particularly in the church where false humility is often valued highly (another form of excessive interest in appearance, perhaps?).


  588. IGalindo says:

    Given that the qualifier for narcissism is “excessive” self-love and “excessive” interest in appearance, I’d have to say that the term is probably not the best to use for the kind of stance advocated. Narcissism suggests a self-concept disconnected from reality. And while we all tend to have an unrealistic perception of self to some extent or the other, I’d say narcissism would be off the scale of the norm, or healthy. “Adaptive narcissism” is a nice literary hook, but I don’t find it too helpful.

    Many years ago I enjoyed a TV show titled “The Guns of Will Sonnet” (it ran from 1967-1969). It was a journey saga involving a father and his grandson searching for the senior’s lost son. The father (played by a grizzled Walter Brennan) would often have occasion to say, “I’m the fastest gun in the West. No brag, just fact.” I suspect that stance and unapologetic self-definition is more in keeping with strong, self-assured leadership than a narcissistic one.

  589. IGalindo says:

    I’m glad to see your blog up and running! Looking forward to it!

  590. Rebecca Maccini says:

    This is a great idea for a blog. I think that one of the most challenging parts of ministry is figuring out what are my responsibilities and what are the congregation’s. Responsibility and accountability often seem to get murky in a church setting. Congregations set up external protocols and policies to figure what is what; however, I have seen powerful emotional forces in churches run rough shod over policies. I am more and more convinced that as pastors, we need to get as clear as possible as to where we are headed and what our job is so that we are less likely to be drawn into or toward the complaints/criticisms and expectations that come our way from individual members of the congregations or the various committees and councils.