Gifts gratitude calendar

“I don’t have enough time to do all the things.”

“I don’t have anything worth contributing.”

“Our congregation is so much smaller and grayer than it used to be.”

“We’re gonna have to send these church budget requests back to committees to be pared down, because our projected giving is down 10%.”

Do these sentiments sound familiar? They play in loops in individuals’ heads and reverberate through sanctuaries of all sizes. They are the product of scarcity thinking, of focusing on what we don’t have. The scarcity mindset is rampant in our culture, manifesting in the beliefs that we need to guard what we have and prepare for the worst possible scenario. And unfortunately, while we worship a God who created the universe out of a dark and formless void and follow a Savior who was all about opening up the law and the bounds of community, this thinking has trickled down into our churches. The result is that many of our people are afraid to dream and reach out, instead turning inward and wondering how long our congregations will be able to hold on.

The scarcity scourge is a huge barrier to growing our faith in and love of God. (It’s also a huge hurdle in a pastor search, because few clergy want to lead a church that can’t imagine a vibrant future.) Luckily, the season focused on removing such obstacles to our discipleship is almost upon us, and I want to offer a resource that might help individuals and congregations note the abundance that God has blessed them with in the form of resources, talents, connections, hopes, and ministries. The calendar below gives a gratitude prompt for each day of Lent and the first day of Easter. (A printable PDF is available here.) Feel free to download and/or share it. I hope that those who use this calendar will talk with one another about the unexpected ways they have realized that God is at work in and around them.

Gifts gratitude calendar.jpg

Consider the co-pastor model

In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to coach several co-pastor teams, each a bit different in its composition. Some of the teams are comprised of married couples, others are not. A few of the co-pastors have solo or lead pastor experience in their backgrounds, but the majority are in the first chair for the first time.

In addition to coaching these co-pastor teams, I have received inquiries from search teams about whether they should consider calling co-pastors. These questions often come from congregations that started out looking for one person to fill the role of pastor, then candidates have asked whether the church would be willing to call two ministers to fill the position.

Since the co-pastor model seems to be growing in prevalence, I think it would be worth most (if not all) search teams’ time to have a discussion about what that paradigm of leadership could look like in and whether it could work for your context. For search teams that seriously explore this staffing possibility, here are some advantages I have noticed from the co-pastors’ perspective:

Each co-pastor has a built-in sounding board. This cuts down on isolation, allows budding ideas to be more thoroughly thought-through before they are acted upon, and lets the congregation know that at least two minds are always at work on problems that pop up.

Complementary gifts mean that each co-pastor can lean more fully into strengths. There are some combinations of skill sets that are extremely rare to find in one person, causing solo pastors to have to work at times out of areas that are very challenging for them. It is very possible, however, to find co-pastors who are each good at different things. Thus more ministry areas are covered with greater competence, with less pastoral energy expended on working out of a growing edge.

Co-pastors can be in two places at any one time. Ministers often feel like there is not enough of them to go around. With co-pastors, the hospital visit and the finance committee meeting can be  covered simultaneously.

There are challenges to the co-pastor model, of course. Married co-pastors will, naturally, want to be on vacation at the same time. (I would argue, though, that this presents no more issues than a sole lead pastor being away.) And married co-pastors need to be careful that their ministry doesn’t consume their home life in unhealthy ways. On the whole, though, it is definitely worth search teams’ time to mull calling co-pastors if great-fit candidates present themselves.

As with any candidate, search team members should ask themselves what excites them about co-pastor possibilities, what support the co-pastors would need to thrive, and what educational pieces would help the congregation embrace this new-to-it way of doing ministry. These questions are opportunities for the church to grow in imagination and faith with the potential to expand pastoral leadership capacity.

Photo by James Balensiefen on Unsplash.

Broadening perspective when you're stuck

[Note: a version of this piece originally on laurastephensreed.com last year. I have been reminded lately how important it is to have tools for breaking out of a rut in search team work, so I am now sharing this post here.]

My son loves school, but every morning it’s like we’re living 50 First Dates. He forgets how much he enjoys learning and playing with his friends until he actually enters the building. He yells at our Amazon Echo when it reminds him that it’s time to get dressed for school. He mopes while he picks out (at an excruciatingly slow speed) his mismatched clothes.

Recently I’ve been using a coaching technique that has helped everyone’s mood. I’ve been taking his complaint and using it to broaden his perspective. Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1

Alexa reminds him to get dressed.

Him: Your reminders are terrible, Alexa!

Me: Are they really that bad? Let’s play a game. We’ll take turn naming things more terrible than Alexa’s reminders. I’ll go first: dropping my ice cream on the ground.

Him: [Thinks.] A monster destroying Ninjago city.

Me: Getting a cold and missing something really fun.

Him: A baby penguin dying. [Yikes.]

After a couple more rounds, he was laughing and we were declaring each other winners of the game. He then got ready without complaint.

Example 2

Child is refusing to put on his school clothes.

Him: I don’t want to go to school today. Today is Saturday. I want every day to be Saturday.

Me: Hmmm. I like Saturdays too. What would you do on your perfect Saturday?

Him: [Lets me dress him while he talks.] I would watch the Ninjago movie and play Legos.

Me: That sounds fun! What would you eat for breakfast on your perfect Saturday?

Him: Fish and krill. [He was a penguin that day.]

By then he was dressed, and he penguin-waddled across the hall to brush his teeth.

In both of these examples, it would have gotten us nowhere for me to keep askyelling for him to get ready. We would have both been grumpy and started our respective days in a terrible headspace. But by taking his lead and using it as prompt for us both to think creatively, he felt heard and reoriented his focus.

I use this approach in my coaching. If a coachee gets stuck in a thought spiral – often around the worry that she is not an effective pastor – I ask a question to help her widen the view: “What’s the best affirmation you’ve received lately?” (Often this is not an explicit “thank you” but a realization that she has been invited into a tender place by a parishioner.) She realizes that she is making a difference in tangible ways. Or, “what is one change you’ve seen in the congregation since your arrival?” One small change opens the door to thinking about several ways the coachee has led the church toward growth.

This can work for search teams in their work too. Consider the following:

Search team member #1: We aren’t getting anywhere in this search.

Search team member #2: I had hoped we’d be further along by this point too. I wonder if we can find a hint about how to move forward if we think back on everything we’ve learned to this point about ourselves, our church, and our candidates.

Brainstorm what you know now as a team that you didn’t know at the beginning of the search process. Celebrate this new awareness, even if it parts of it seem negative. For example, you might name that the candidate pool is smaller than you anticipated. This is knowledge you can work with. What are the reasons the pool is small? Are you looking in the right places for candidates? Is your advertised compensation range too low? Have you made your criteria too stringent? Is there a shift in clergy availability that means you’ll need to be more creative in structuring the position to make it attractive to candidates? Moving the conversation in this discernment direction is important in at least three ways: it acknowledges the frustration of the current situation while limiting its power; it gets the brains in the room thinking in more positive ways, thus opening up the neural pathways for bigger-picture thinking; and it focuses on digging deeper for the data needed to jumpstart the search.

Perspective shifts like these are invaluable when there is stuckness. Next time you feel mired down, try opening up the conversation with a question, brainstorming prompt, or game.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash.

KonMari-ing your church's ministries

The latest rage on Netflix is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, an eight-episode series in which an internationally-renowned organizational consultant goes into cluttered homes and helps families cull their possessions. All of the people that Kondo works with are at some sort of transition point in their lives. Some are newlyweds or new homeowners. Others are readying themselves for the arrival of a baby, grieving a loss, or wanting to move from living like students to inhabiting more adult personas. These changes provide the urgency for making their home more welcoming.

The tidying method Marie Kondo uses is not a light-a-match-and-walk-away approach. Instead, she asks her clients to hold each article of clothing, book, or tool and note whether it sparks joy. If it does, keep it and find a more efficient way to store it (for example, the KonMari method of folding clothes). If it doesn’t, say “thank you” and donate, recycle, or dispose of it. The overall purpose of the tidying is to be grateful for the past and to imagine the future you want to move toward, being more thoughtful about what you need in order to get there.

There is much about the KonMari method that is worthy of churches’ consideration. Lots of congregations, even (maybe particularly) small ones, are stooped over from the weight of so many ministries. As more are added, few to none are brought to an intentional close, making the church’s mission unclear and stretching congregation’s financial and people resources much too thin. What might it look like, then, to identify what God’s purpose for your church is? To name everything that the church is doing, just as Marie Kondo requests that her clients put every clothing item on the bed and every book on the floor to look through? To examine each ministry, noting whether it is an essential part of the present and/or future and saying a sincere “thank you” to those that are not? A pastoral transition is a great time to do this work, because there is already ongoing discussion about who we are as a church and what we believe God wants us to be and do.

At the end of each episode of Tidying Up, the families have worked through clashing priorities and conflict styles to create a home that reflects who they want to be. And while I realize this is a tv show that is comprised of carefully curated clips, the struggles the subjects go through are a microcosm of congregational community, and the desire to move forward with intentionality rings deeply true. So consider capturing the cultural moment, taking the best of what the KonMari method has to offer and assessing your church’s ministries for a more peaceful, purposeful future.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash.

Eight Cs for growing trust

The most important ingredient in any process isn’t expertise or charismatic personalities or financial resources. It’s relationships. When the bonds are strong among the people involved, there can be productive disagreement, a full exploration of possibilities, deep investment in the work, and mutual support and accountability, all leading to forward progress.

The foundation of relationships is trust. Not simply predictability - I know your passions and hot buttons and how you’ll react to each being tapped - but shared vulnerability and risk-taking. Many pastor search teams start with some sense of predictability by virtue of the members attending church together for a long time. But most (if not all teams) will need to dig in before the search begins to develop the second-level trust that will allow for the most thorough and faithful search process.

What does it look like to grow that deep trust? Here are eight Cs - from lowest to highest risk - to guide that essential work:

Clarity is getting straight within ourselves about our thoughts and commitments, then being honest with others about them.

Communication is putting our clarified knowledge and understanding out there, and in turn listening to others with open hearts and minds.

Curiosity is admitting we don’t have the whole picture and wondering about what we don’t know.

Compassion is showing care to and connecting at a heart level with others, believing the best about them as we do so.

Companionship is being present and authentic while still maintaining the boundaries that allow us to be clear and compassionate.

Consistency is showing up the same way every time and admitting when circumstances have thrown us off balance.

Conflict is being willing to disagree and to have our ideas improved upon.

Control release is relinquishing attachment to the outcome, trusting that the process will end up as it should so long as we bring our whole selves to it.

In pastor searches, these Cs and the resulting trust can strengthen relationships not just within the search team but between the search team and congregation and between the search team and candidates. The effects of deepened connections, in turn, extend beyond the search itself, cultivating beloved community with the Source of love at its center.

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash.



Living in the tensions

My five-year-old is the most amazing, maddening person I know. Ironically, it’s the frustrating aspects of his personality that make possible the parts of him that bring me the most joy. He fights sleep like he thinks he’ll never wake up from it…because his never-bored mind always has plans and ideas to implement. He grabs the microphone from me during the children’s message in worship…because he has been self-conscious (that I have observed) just twice in his young life. Our house is constantly a mess…because he is interested in art and reading and martial arts and music and Legos and science and more. He has strong clothes preferences that lead to laundry meltdowns…because his beautiful mind conjures up characters that he embodies each day, and he needs certain shirts and pants for his “costumes.”

When I find myself gritting my teeth, I try to remember that occasional irritation is the price I must pay for overwhelming delight. The same is true for congregations as they consider their relationships with their ministers. For example, is there muttering that the pastor doesn’t make enough pastoral care visits? Chances are that minister is spending painstaking hours researching and writing a sermon that will help draw parishioners into God’s presence on Sunday mornings. Or is the pastor less attentive to details than some people prefer? The minister is probably focusing on big-picture discerning that will allow the church and its members to live toward God’s call more fully. Delight must live in tension with frustration; capacity coincides with complaint.

That’s why search teams must know how the church prioritizes criteria for a good pastor-parish match. With a good grasp of sought-after competencies, the search team can identify potential tensions like the ones named above. The search team is then equipped to help the congregation adjust expectations, and the minister can be set up with staff or lay help that fills in any gaps. This work up front will create clarity for all and a much more seamless entry for the incoming pastor, laying the groundwork for a long, fruitful ministry.

Photo by Luís Eusébio on Unsplash.

Having trouble pinpointing your congregation's identity? Here's a way in.

I was recently coaching co-pastors who wanted to help their congregation name and claim its identity, but they weren’t sure how to help the church get its arms around such a big topic. During their tenure, they hadn’t yet picked up on a narrative that felt like it captured both the past and current character of the congregation.

The pastors mentioned that there had been some good conversation around All Saints’ Day, when church members were telling the stories of people who were key figures in the congregation’s history. In recounting the names, the pastors recognized that the departed were loved for the ways they welcomed others through the things they did and by their very presence. The theme of hospitality emerged - not mere friendliness, but a deep sense of embracing everyone who comes through the doors. The co-pastors realized that hospitality is still a lived value in their church today. This awareness created excitement around a through-line that not only resonated but could be built upon in a number of ways in the coming year.

During pastoral transitions it is important for congregations to learn to tell their stories in ways that are informative, accurate, and hopeful. A resonant identity gives newcomers a reason to return, members a way to assess which ministries to undertake, and - perhaps most importantly for the purposes of a pastoral search - the congregation a sense of what they need in a clergyperson. Just as in the case of my co-pastor coachees, however, it can be difficult to know where to begin in sussing out church identity. If everyone in the room is shrugging their shoulders and looking to others for answers, ask about the congregation’s saints. Who are they? What are some anecdotes about them? How are they part of the church’s DNA? What are the legacies that the congregation has built on? Look for the commonalities and try them on: is this who we are? If so, what does that mean for what we do going forward and whom we call as our pastor?

This kind of historical study promotes hindsight rather than an unhelpful nostalgia for days gone by. Done thoughtfully, these questions about individuals can prompt laughter and tears and bring to light clarifying and encouraging through-lines that the church has never considered.

Photo by Zoran Kokanovic on Unsplash

Lagging and leading indicators

The easiest measurements of how things are going are quantifiable, such as money or attendance. Unfortunately, they are not the most helpful. One reason is that unlike in the business world, where the number of widgets produced or the profit margin does tell much of the story, numbers don’t necessarily reveal the kind of spiritual growth we’re (hopefully) aiming for in church.

Another reason that nickels and noses don’t give us much useful information is that they are lagging indicators. This means that they are backward-looking.

Leading indicators, by contrast, give us benchmarks toward progress. We ask, “What are we going to do to work toward our hoped-for outcomes?” When we name our part in bringing about change, we acknowledge our responsibility, build in accountability, give ourselves an assessment tool to measure our progress along the way, and set goals that we have actual control over.

So, for example, a lagging indicator might be a certain percentage of growth in worship participation. A leading indicator, however, might be that our church develops a team that prays for those who are seeking a faith community like ours to find their way to us. It might be offering training on better including people with disabilities. It might be offering a Bible study on hospitality. It might be learning to tell the story of God’s work among us to our surrounding community in a more compelling way. It might be revamping the bulletin to make it more visitor-friendly. It might be pulling out a pew or two and creating a prayground. All of these efforts emphasize imagination, not fear. They are in service to a larger goal, but with the emphasis on what is now within our control and requires our investment and ongoing discernment. They lay the foundation not just for growth in numbers but also in understanding of our connection to God’s story, God’s work among us, and the gifts God is asking us to use on behalf of others.

I encourage you to assess your current measurements. Which ones are lagging? How might you transform them into leading indicators, and in the process allow yourselves to be transformed?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Focus on what you've got, not on what you don't

These are interesting times indeed for the church. Membership, budgets, and staff in many mainline congregations are shrinking. Attendance patterns are changing such that “regular” participation is now 1-2 times per month instead of 3-4. The Sunday morning and Wednesday evening time blocks, once considered off-limits by school, sports, and other community activity schedulers, are no longer so. Many people define themselves as spiritual but are uninterested in the institutional church.

For these reasons some congregations are fearful about survival. This anxiety often manifests in a scarcity mentality, a focus on what we no longer have (or never had). In turn this mindset generates a wide range of potential “solutions,” which are rooted either in personal preference or observations about has worked for the megachurch down the road. This is a recipe for scatteredness - as everyone’s preferences will likely be different - and discouragement, since what works for one church rarely lands the same way in another.

Luckily, there’s a different approach we can take, one that is grounded in abundance. (Don’t we believe, after all, that God’s love and creativity know no bounds?) Instead of beginning by naming what we need, let’s start by laying out all that we already have. This is called asset mapping, and it’s a tool we can borrow from the world of community organizing. Gather your lay leaders, or possibly even your entire congregation. Write down on sticky notes all of your church’s advantages:

  • Physical plant

  • Geographical location

  • Finances

  • Leadership (lay and staff)

  • Current ministries

  • Skills and interests of members

  • Denominational connections

  • Relationships (congregational or individual) with community institutions, associations, or influencers

  • Name recognition

  • Any other assets you can think of - be creative!

Step back and look at all the gifts. Ask what God might be telling you or inviting you to do through them. Combine your assets together in new ways to birth initiatives. These are the efforts that will bear the most fruit, because they are rooted in who your congregation is and what it has.

This activity is very helpful during a pastoral transition. Congregations can have a hard time imagining what the future will look like now that the former leader is gone. Mapping assets can remind them that they are the church and that God is still at work through and around them. This exercise can also help a congregation understand what kind of pastoral leadership is needed to help them leverage their strengths and share a more accurate narrative and expectations with pastoral candidates.

Go forth, then, to take stock of what is good in your church and to plan out of grateful awareness.

Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash.

Aligning responsibility and authority

[Note: this post is written to clergy about a common problem in ministry. It is posted here to allow search teams to eavesdrop and thereby make sure expectations of the incoming minister are clear and appropriate.]

Do you feel like you cannot dig your way out from under an avalanche of work, but when you make a request or propose an idea, no one listens?

Do you feel like your congregation looks to you too often for guidance, yet during your office hours you find yourself bored and unsure how best to use your time?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might be experiencing a mismatch between responsibility and authority. Responsibility is what you are assigned - by self or others - to do. Authority is the weight people give to your perspective, and it comes from a combination of role, experience, and earned trust. Part of developing a healthy pastoral identity and creating right-sized expectations is making sure responsibility and authority are not out of proportion with one another.

If either your responsibility or authority level is too high, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are the roots of my over- ( or under-) developed sense of responsibility or authority?

  • Which roots can I pull up?

  • What specifically am I gifted and called to do?

  • In this context, what work is truly mine to carry out?

  • How might I shift, in whole or in part, the work that isn't mine?

  • What authority do I, in actuality, have?

  • How can I use this authority wisely and on behalf of the most vulnerable?

  • How might I utilize less obvious sources of authority when needed (e.g., a lay leader with whom you have mutual respect and who is trusted by the congregation?

Aligning responsibility and authority is key to leading well and avoiding burnout. If your levels are out of whack, take the time to consider why that is and what you can change.

Photo by Jason Ortego on Unsplash.

Go slow to go fast

When we gather a search team, often the tendency is to capitalize on initial enthusiasm to get as much done as quickly as possible. That's totally understandable. After all, novelty begets energy, and we don't want to waste it. But if we haven't taken the time to build our team and outline our process, even a small bump can drain that momentum and derail our collective work.

That's why it's important - even though it's counter-intuitive - to start slowly. Develop relationships among the search team members. Learn where each person is coming from, what their reasons were for agreeing to serve, what skills and experience and ideas they bring, what they need from others in order to make their best contributions, and how they deal (or don't) with conflict. When those involved in the search have this kind of context for their teammates, they will be able to engage one another more quickly and effectively when difficulties arise.

In addition to interpersonal processes, agreeing on procedures at the outset can make work go faster down the road. What is the future story we're striving for? How does everyone plan to participate in the work? What is our timeline? How will we come to agreement on major decisions? How will we ground our work in God? How will we hold one another accountable? What will we do if we come to an impasse? Intentionality at the front end can ease - if not prevent - many stresses that pop up as humans, with our anxieties and agendas, cooperate.

Note that slow movement at the start might prompt questions from the team and the congregation such as "why are we wasting time on this ‘soft’ work?" Be prepared to explain how deliberateness serves both the overall goal and the speed of the work that is to come.

In what ways do you need to pump the brakes in order to do some of this foundational work? Though it might seem tedious at times, your relationships and your efforts will greatly benefit. If you need help with going slow, this trust-building workshop is worth your consideration.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.

Follow your curiosity

In a recent TED interview, author Elizabeth Gilbert talked about creativity in terms of following our curiosity. We are often told to follow our passions, she said, but that is advice that can lead to unnecessary risk and discouragement. Attending to our curiosity, in contrast, is more gentle. It involves asking questions before making big leaps: what's going on in me/us? What is God nudging me/us toward? What would it mean for me/us to make a major change? What would I/we need in order to take that step? The ultimate outcome might be the same, but it would derive from discernment and come with a more settled spirit. (The point is not to abandon passion, after all, just to probe it a bit.) Or the queries might lead to a previously-unconsidered way of being faithful to God.

This curiosity is not just useful for individuals but also for groups such as search teams. Sometimes teams want to drive right in to their work, or they are drawn to a particular candidate from the first encounter. Asking questions can help flesh out the process, provide needed touchstones, situate the work in service to God-given vision, and allow us to explain why the candidate of choice is the best fit. These reflection points might also reveal that the team is not yet ready to get into the meat of a search or that a candidate - while charismatic - does not meet essential criteria, saving a lot of heartache down the road.

As you consider what is going on in and around you (as an individual and as part of a collective), where would a bit of curiosity help you listen deeply, plan faithfully, and move forward confidently?

Photo by Joe Green on Unsplash.

A spirituality of stewardship

[Note: a version of this post originally appeared on laurastephensreed.com.]

We're coming to the tail end of the traditional stewardship season, and it's highly possible that your church is sweating pledge numbers that currently fall short of its ministry dreams for 2019. (This is common across congregations - you are not alone! - and even moreso during pastoral transitions.) You might also have a treasurer, bookkeeper, or ministerial staff person anxiously reminding members how much people need to give between today and the New Year's ball drop to end 2018 without a deficit.

Here's the thing: we as individuals and churches will always struggle with money - and our feelings about it - as long as it is only a means to an end: "We've gotta make our budget so that..." It's not a sentiment that will make people whip out their checkbooks and credit cards and smartphones with money transfer apps. But you know what might? "God is calling us to do this exciting thing, and we don't want you to miss out on being part of it!"

This is what renowned minister and author Henri Nouwen called a spirituality of fundraising. He approached the ask not as an unfortunate necessity to be apologized for (a tack that makes so many stewardship sermons cringe-worthy) but as an invitation to others to join in the work to which God has called us. As such, fundraising is relational and community-building, not transactional. For Nouwen, fundraising was a “call to conversion,” an opportunity to re-orient our focus to the world beyond ourselves - to begin to see things as God sees them - as well as to transform our relationship to our own resources. In the process, we partner with God in bringing the reign of God here on earth. In taking this loftier view of fundraising, we are free to make the request out of our sense that we are ministering not just to the people we might serve with the money but also to the givers themselves. To me, that is a compelling message. It is inclusive. It is formational. And it recognizes that those with resources have needs that can be met by relationship, so all parties involved are both giving and receiving.

This is all well and good, but what do stewardship and a spirituality of fundraising have to do with pastoral searches? Often churches regard the time between settled ministers as an opportunity to save money by getting as little external help as possible (e.g., supply preachers or part-time interim clergy). The compilation of the new pastor’s compensation package can trigger debate about how much salary the congregation can afford and how much the incoming pastor actually needs. Both of these tendencies derive from an approach to money based on shrinking the vision to match what we already know about our assets, not from a freedom in God to dream and to invite others into that dream. And both prevent the church from moving toward its next chapter of ministry with enthusiasm and the most motivated leadership.

So as you come to the end of this year and the brink of the next, I encourage you to view stewardship and fundraising as opportunities to grow disciples of Christ and to attract the most qualified and energetic ministerial candidates as we all move together into the future God is compelling us.

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash.

Announcing an online workshop on trust-building

One of the keys to a successful search is taking the time to build trust - within your search team, between the search team and congregation, and between the search team and candidates.

But real trust is different than what we often think it is. It’s not just about being able to guess how others will act or react and planning our words and deeds accordingly. It’s about showing up as our authentic selves and inviting the people around us to do the same. This risk-taking doesn’t happen automatically, even among church members who have known each other a long time. It takes great intentionality.

I will be offering a workshop about building trust on Thursday, January 10, from 12:30-2:00 pm eastern. We’ll explore what the deeper kind of trust looks like and why it matters. I’ll share 8 Cs key to developing trust. And we’ll work together on ways to apply those Cs in our one-on-one interactions, team work, and whole congregations. The cost for this workshop, which will take place via Zoom, is $15 per participant. All are welcome, and I especially encourage you to attend if you are an influencer (clergy or lay) in your setting. You will come away from this workshop with greater hope for creating community and some tangible ways to make it happen. 

Many search teams make the mistake of skipping the trust-building work. It seems too slow, too soft. The benefits aren’t immediately obvious. But when your process hits a bump - there’s a conflict, there’s uncertainty about next steps, there’s pressure from the congregation - your team will have the relational tools to address the challenge and see the opportunity within it. Let me help you prepare for this time well spent building trust on the front end of your search process.

Registration for the workshop is available here.

Building trust workshop.jpg

Personnel and percentages

As we enter the holiday season and draw closer to the end of the calendar year, many people are getting into the giving spirit. Knowing that, watchdog groups will begin circulating information about how charities use donation dollars. The typical thought is that the higher the percentage that goes toward direct services (e.g., hot meals, cancer research funding, disaster relief supplies), the better an organization uses your money. It is, then, more deserving of your donation.

In his TED talk, fundraiser Dan Pallotta challenges this way of thinking. Rather than criticizing organizations for spending money on personnel, advertising, and building the necessary infrastructure to live toward their visions, Pallotta says that we should be measuring the impact an organization has on its area of focus. Here’s an example. An organization to feed hungry people spends 1% of its donations on overhead and serves 1,000 unique individuals each year. Another hunger-relief organization spends 35% on overhead and serves 1,000,000 unique individuals each year. Which organization is having the greater impact? The numbers are straightforward.

But what does this perspective shift have to do with your pastor search? As you put together a compensation package at the outset and negotiate the details at the end, people in your congregation might ask why a minister needs that salary or those benefits. They might be concerned about the percentage of personnel costs relative to the total church budget. Anticipated impact is the reason why a church is willing (eager!) to pay a good wage and why the personnel budget doesn’t need to keep members up at night. Your congregation has discerned the vision toward which God is calling it and named the pastoral gifts and passions that will help your church inhabit it. Now it’s time to invest in those gifts and passions that can lead to equipping more leaders, creating more connections, and affecting more lives.

Your church can have a big impact on the surrounding community and beyond. Don’t be afraid to pay for the leadership that can help you make that change you want to see in the world.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

New (external) resource on clergy sexual misconduct

Unwanted hugs.

Comments on my clothing and body.

Lewd jokes.

Revelations about his marital (and extra-marital) activities.

All of the above have been done to me by senior pastors when I was serving in associate pastor roles. All of the above fall into the category of clergy sexual misconduct. All of them, though damaging, were relatively mild compared to what many other subordinate clergy and parishioners experience from ministers.

Clergy sexual abuse is defined as using one’s pastoral role to exert power over someone else in order to meet the perpetrator’s sexual desires. The abuse includes unwanted touch as well as sexualized talk such as jokes and harassment. These overtures and acts make the church an unsafe place for work and worship for the targeted person(s), and the emotional and spiritual trauma congregation-wide of abuse takes years to work through.

Before the #MeToo (and related #ChurchToo) movement got a foothold in the larger culture, Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship formed a task force to address clergy sexual abuse. This task force has just released resources designed to help congregations discuss what clergy sexual abuse is, create policies and procedures that both prevent and respond to incidents, and locate services to aid survivors in their healing.

The resources include a series of videos intended for congregational discussions, guides for those discussions, a policy and prevention guide, and articles with survivor stories and biblical bases for setting good boundaries and caring for victims. Note that while these pieces were created by Baptists, their applicability is ecumenical.

I bring your attention to these resources because the time in between settled ministers is ripe for having hard discussions about leadership needs and putting new policies in place. If your congregation has endured clergy sexual misconduct, some intentional conversation around the trauma will make your church more ready to trust the next pastor. And taking this subject seriously will signal to pastoral candidates that your congregation is a place of mutual belonging - a signal to predators to stay away and an indicator to healthy pastoral leaders that your church is a good place to be.

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.

Fatigue's impact on a new minister's ability to trust

Note: A version of this post was originally published on laurastephensreed.com. It was written to clergy, and it appears here to give search teams both a peek into what their new minister might be experiencing and encouragement to allow their incoming pastor an ample break between positions.

Recently I was coaching a pastor who was two months into a new call. She was excited about her church and its mission potential. She was also enjoying getting to know the people, but she was having trouble trusting them. She was a bit befuddled by this, because there was no overt reason for this hesitation. She hadn’t received any hurtful criticism or significant pushback. When I asked what the lack of trust was about, she thought for a moment. She then named relational fatigue as a key factor. In this pastor’s case, she had taken a full month off – a typical fallow period – before diving into her new ministry. And yet she was recognizing that she needed more time to tend to her (understandably) tender heart after leaving behind parishioners that she loved.

This pastor had just provided perhaps the most powerful testimonial for taking ample time off between ministry positions. We often cite physical and spiritual exhaustion as the primary motivators for spacing out calls. But bringing closure to relationships with people we’ve walked alongside during their personal milestones, with whom we have dreamed and argued, and who have been present for our own ups and downs is hard, good work. It can be overwhelming to think about opening ourselves up to knowing and being known by a whole new congregation. And yet, the bedrock of strong connections is trust, which we do not lend or receive without the willingness to make ourselves at least a little vulnerable.

This is not to say that it’s easy to take long stretches between ministry positions. Personal financial pressures are real. Churches that have been in long search processes are eager for the uncertainty to end and the settled pastor to arrive. (Search teams in particular are known to apply pressure to be on site as soon as possible. After all, the team members know the incoming minister best and are most excited about her arrival!) The new pastor is looking forward to a fresh start in a new setting. But before committing to a start date, consider not only what you need in terms of every manner of recovery, but also what time frame will allow you to enter the system with a readiness for mutual belonging. This is a mindset – a heart orientation – that attends to the long-term missional and financial health of both clergy and congregation.

If you are already in place and find yourself reluctant to trust even in the absence of conflict, then self-care is in order. When we are unable to risk exposure, whether we are new in a call or ten years into our tenure, we need time to rest. We need space for introspection. We need opportunities to view or create beauty. We need relief from the relentlessness of ministry. Because if we have not tended to our own inner lives, we will not be able to offer a quality of presence to others. And if we withhold, then we do not build trust and do not forge or maintain relationships that make bold ministry possible.

In the case of my coachee, we strategized ways to create space and clarity within her current personal and professional realities so that she could increase her capacity to trust. If you find yourself turning inward in your ministry setting, what changes do you need to make so that you can be the pastoral leader God has called you to be?

[Thank you to my coachee, who graciously granted me permission to share her story.]

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

Staff involvement with a senior pastor search

At a church with staff, there are often questions about whether and how staff should be involved in a senior pastor search. Here are some reflection questions to guide those decisions:

What does your polity say (officially and unofficially)? In some denominations there is a policy – or at least an expectation – that staff members serve at the pleasure of the senior pastor. This means that staff, ministerial and otherwise, typically have little to no input into a senior pastor/head of staff search. It’s important to know what your judicatory recommends or requires.

What do you need to know from the staff? Most laypeople don’t know much about the day-to-day operations of a church, much less the details of a pastor’s schedule and the weight of conflicting expectations. Staff could provide essential information that helps shape search criteria and interview questions.

Beyond “need to know” information, how might the wisdom of the staff positively inform the search? Pastoral staff in particular can speak to congregational needs and dynamics that could greatly impact ministerial fit.

How might the staff’s attachment to the search outcome potentially hinder healthy involvement? Staff at a church without a settled senior pastor are stretched thin (having picked up extra duties) and highly anxious (worrying about compatibility with the next senior pastor). And on occasion – if polity allows – a minister on staff might want to be considered for the senior pastor position. As a result, staff involvement might (unconsciously) be shaped largely by self-interest rather than investment in the congregation.

Use your responses to these questions to create clear expectations about what staff involvement with the search will look like: no involvement, information provider, ex-officio/non-voting role, or full member of the search team. No matter what you decide, remember to communicate frequently with staff to let them know how the search is progressing, and thank them often for their ministry during this challenging season.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Setting your pastor up to succeed

Your church has invested a lot of time, effort, and probably money in a ministerial search, and you no doubt want to enjoy a long, fruitful season with your new leader. The interactions the search team and congregation have with the incoming minister throughout the covenanting and start-up processes will directly impact that person’s level of engagement and length of tenure. Consider how you can offer the following:

Motivation. Ministers who feel heard and cared for (emotionally and financially) will be eager to come to work each day and give their best. This will translate into better sermons and Bible studies and more enthusiastic pastoral care.

Encouragement. Ministers who hear not just constructive criticism but also affirmation will see the pastor-parish match as a good one. They will be much less likely to jump ship for other ministry opportunities.

Flexibility. Ministers whose reasonable personal needs and family responsibilities are honored by the congregation will be more fully present when they are at the church. They will be less distracted by the tug of other roles.

Alignment. Ministers who understand (and have agreed to) what the congregation expects will know better how to concentrate their efforts. This prioritization will result in deeper engagement and broader creativity and will make it easier for the clergyperson to empower others in their discipleship.

Small gestures of hospitality around these four areas can make ministers feel focused, energized, and invested for the long term. Constantly be on the lookout for ways to build the clergy-congregation bond.

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash.

New resource: readiness checklist

When it was originally published, the Searching for the Called materials included a list of reasons your church might choose to use them. It did not include an assessment to help congregations assess whether this approach to ministerial searches is right for them. This checklist is now available.

Searching for the Called is best suited for congregations that resonate with the statements below:

There is high trust and good communication among the congregation and its leaders.

While eager to call a new minister, the congregation and its leaders are ready to take the time needed to search well.

The congregation and its leaders understand the search as a spiritual process, one in which God is at work and through which people can grow in relationship with God and one another.

The congregation and its leaders are willing to be curious about what God is up to, to wrestle with hard questions about the church’s past, present, and future, and to be open to the unexpected.

The congregation and its leaders want to encourage all candidates they encounter and bless the larger church through the search process.

The congregation and its leaders view the pastor-parish relationship as one of mutual ministry and care.

The judicatory affirms all of the above and supports the congregation in utilizing Searching for the Called.

[Note that the term “congregational leaders” includes the search team (once formed) as well as such standing decision-making bodies as deacons, elders, vestry, session, board, council, etc.]

Photo by Atish Sewmangel on Unsplash.