Just for Today

I was walking through the mall the other day when I saw this tee shirt in a store window. “Not Today, Satan” struck me as a humorous and positively rebellious sentiment.

Satan, at its root, means “adversary,” “one who plots against another.” In religious traditions, Satan is the adversary of God who tempts and abuses humankind in the divine drama. To say “Not today, Satan” is like saying NO to your enemy, the person, place, or things that keeps you from being the person you desire to be.

As I walked, I thought about the demons in our lives, and I wondered what it would be like to get up each morning and start the day by saying “Not Today, _______.”

  • Not today, self-doubt.
  • Not today, sadness.
  • Not today, procrastination.
  • Not today, guilt trip.
  • Not today, hurt pride.
  • Not today, grief.
  • Not today, fear.
  • Not today, hatred.

Too often we allow negative emotions to rule our day. They keep us from contentment and accomplishment. They can be overwhelming, particularly when we have been in a period of heartache or depression. These emotional states take their toll on even ordinarily optimistic people. We wonder if we will ever be ‘normal’ again.

What drew my attention to this tee shirt is that the sentiment was expressed as a small step. One day—today—I will not let the demons get to me. It does not require making overwhelming commitments that we may not be able to keep. It only requires that we give one day to reject our adversaries. Maybe then one day can turn to two days and two days to three. And eventually, being “normal” is not so hard to reach anymore.

Dana was feeling overwhelmed by her fear of losing her position as a first-call pastor. She had been serving the small rural church for two years. In just a matter of months after she started she began to realize that the church was not a good fit for her. She worried that leaving so soon would make it difficult for her to find another call. “What if no one else wants me?” she asked during a coaching session. As we got further into the session I asked, “What would happen if just for tomorrow you decided to let go of your fear? What would that feel like?” By breaking it down to just one day, Dana was able to imagine more courage and joy. She listed things she would do that day, and the things she would not do. I could hear more animation and energy in her voice. Her fear was not so overwhelming any more.

We all experience demons in life, those emotions and negative thoughts that seem to plot against us. Some are caused my external things that happen to us, others by inner voices that sabotage our true selves. We can allow these demons to control us or we can choose to put them in their place.

To say it in a positive and proactive tone, we can proclaim: “Today, I choose _______!”

  • Today, I choose self-confidence!
  • Today, I choose joy!
  • Today, I choose to get it done!
  • Today, I will let go of the guilt!
  • Today, I choose forgiveness!
  • Today, I choose consolation!
  • Today, I choose courage!
  • Today, I choose love!

Either way you put it, give yourself permission to be the person you want to be, if only for today. Boldly proclaim it. Don’t let your demons choose for you.

12 Ways Pastors Can Pay for Coaching

Pastors are turning to coaches to help them navigate the challenges of ministry. Coaches prompt motivated pastors to discover within their own wisdom, passions, and desires the keys to living healthier lives in the fulfillment of their callings. Coaching is a valuable resource for a pastor and congregation and is well worth the investment of finances, time, and energy.

However, many pastors don’t turn to coaches because of the cost. As professionals, coaches charge a fee for their services, which can be prohibitive for a pastor’s salary. However, the outcomes of coaching can be invaluable in helping pastors succeed in their desired goals.

Fortunately, pastors often have access to resources to help pay for coaching:

  1. Some judicatories offer funds for pastors to receive coaching. Check with your diocese, presbytery, or denominational headquarters for grants or scholarships.
  2. Church boards or councils will often approve funds for their pastor to have a coach. Talk to your board, diaconate, or session.
  3. Use a portion of your continuing education funds for coaching. Most congregations provide continuing education support for their pastor. Coaching is an excellent use of these funds.
  4. Pay out of pocket. Invest in yourself by hiring a life coach to help you with ministry, family, and your well-being.
  5. Create or join group coaching. Group coaching enables a small number of pastors to share coaching sessions. These work best when the pastors want to work on similar issues or are in similar ministry settings. Each participant pays a portion of the coach’s fee.
  6. Hire a coach to work with your leadership team. A coach can help your congregation work through a particular ministry challenge. The congregation can apply for a grant from its judicatory or denomination, or from a foundation that supports vital ministries.
  7. Most coaches offer a free consultation to explain their coaching philosophy and determine if they are a good match for you. Take advantage of this opportunity and interview several coaches. Once you have decided which coach you want to hire, ask them about fees and payment options.
  8. Negotiate a payment plan or package with a coach. Many coaches offer packages that reduce the cost. If you are willing to make a long-term commitment to working with a coach, s/he may be willing to cut the per-session fee.
  9. If you are negotiating a new call, ask that coaching fees be a part of your salary package.
  10. Look for grants that will cover services like coaching. For instance, if you are applying for a sabbatical grant, include coaching in your sabbatical plan.
  11. Sometimes, church members want to do something special to say thank you to their pastor. In this event, ask that a fund be set up in the church budget to pay for coaching. Not only will it provide a wonderful gift to the pastor, but it would also be an above-board way to show appreciation.
  12. Seek out opportunities for pro-bono coaching. Some coaches participate in pro-bono services through an organization or their professional membership group. If you already have a relationship with a coach, s/he may be willing to give some free sessions while you are in-between pastoral calls or you have a particular financial hardship.

Contact me if you would like to learn more about individual and congregational coaching. It is a free, no-obligation consultation.

Love Yourself As You Love Your Neighbor

The second Great Commandment, according to Jesus, is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Many religions and sacred texts echo the same sentiment.

In my coaching with church leaders, I discover pastors and church leaders that hold to the commandment. Pastors love their parishioners. They love people in general. It is part of their calling, to love as Christ first loved them. Unfortunately, they are not always so loving toward themselves. Pastors tend to be their own worst critics. They blame themselves if their churches are not growing. They work long hours and are on-call 24/7/365. Holy days, like Christmas and Easter, are joyous celebrations spent with family for most; for pastors, they can be long, stressful work days.

Here are 12 suggestions for pastors to practice loving themselves the same way they love others:

1. Take your day off. No emails, no phone calls, no sermon preparation. Get out of town if necessary. Do something you enjoy, just for you. Focus on your family, your pets, your friends, yourself.

2. Take all of your vacation. Again, really take it. Do not respond to calls and emails. Maybe even refrain from social media. Read for fun, no study or sermon prep. Even if you take a stay-cation, do the things you want to do that have nothing to do with your ministry.

3. Take all of your continuing education time and funds. Pastoral ministry is one of the few vocations that allow for continuing education. Take advantage of it. It will improve your ministry and be a gift to your church. It is also good for you, particularly if you use your time to learn something new or focus on aspects of ministry for which you are most passionate. There are many ways to spend continuing education—programs, courses, retreats, conferences, independent study, study travel—are some examples. I have clients who spend a portion of their continuing education stipend on coaching, counseling, or spiritual direction. Use it while you have it.

4. Get a coach, counselor, or spiritual director. I know a few pastors who have all three, which they use for different purposes. Lectionary groups are great for sermon prep and mutual support, but a professional can help you focus on specific needs and goals. They also give you a level of confidentiality that you cannot get anywhere else.

5. Put yourself first. You need quiet time to listen to God and pray. You need to eat and sleep well. You need to exercise and spend time in the fresh air. Pastors get so occupied with the needs of others that they neglect their own needs. Remember the safety instructions from your last flight: Put your mask on before assisting another.

6. Be true to yourself. Preach and teach what you believe. Do the things that you believe God is calling you to do even if your parishioners don’t agree. This is easier said than done, but you will be a much happier person if you are authentically you.

7. Be open to others’ ideas. Authenticity doesn’t mean pig-headed. Listen to what others can teach you and be willing to change. Try to understand the point of view of other people. It will make it easier to love them, and for them to love you.

8. Forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Admit when you’re wrong or you messed up. Ask forgiveness of others when appropriate. Note what you learned from the experience. Forgive yourself. Move on. Too many pastors beat themselves up for past mistakes, or for not being perfect.

9. Forgive others. Holding onto anger, hurt, and grudges only hurts you. Forgiving others allows you to move on and focus on the present and the future instead of dwelling in the past.

10. Don’t compare yourself with others. You are the only you, and there is no one else like you. Likewise, you can be no one but yourself. Comparing yourself with others is self-defeating. Instead, focus on your uniqueness. What do you offer than no one else can? Celebrate what makes you, you.

11. Seek rhythm, not balance. Life is not balanced. At times, we have to set aside what we want to do for what we have to do. This happens often in ministry. No one dies or gets sick on our schedule. Instead of striving endlessly for balance between work and home life, try looking for rhythms and flow in your days and weeks.

12. Accept that life is hard sometimes. Sometimes you just have to get through it. And you will get through it. The full version of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is perhaps the best way to state this.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as [God] did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that [God] will make all things right
If I surrender to [God’s] Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with [God]
Forever and ever in the next.

Motherhood Penalty in the Pulpit

Recently on 60 Minutes, Leslie Stahl reported on Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s commitment to closing the wage gap between men and women in his company. I was impressed with Benioff’s decision to raise wages for women employees and create a fair work environment. If only all businesses and organizations were this committed, including religious institutions.

I hear comparable stories from women in ministry. Although things are slowly changing for women in denominations that ordain them, there is still a bias against women being pastors. There is also a separate set of expectations and pay level for women.

In an article in Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt wrote, “In 2016, married women and moms with kids at home earned 72 cents for every dollar made by men in the clergy. Their pay gap—28 percent less than men—was twice as big as single women’s, which was 12 percent less, or 88 cents on the dollar.”

Stahl also spoke with Ellen Kullman, former CEO of DuPont about gender issues in the workplace. Kullman brought up the phenomenon called the motherhood penalty (she called it “mommy penalty”)—the unconscious bias against pregnant workers and working mothers. She told a story that reminded me of an experience I had when interviewing for a pastoral position.

At the time my first husband and I had two young children, ages seven and two. We were candidates for a co-pastorate. The search committee interviewed us together and then separately. During my interview one of the committee members asked what I would do if my two-year old wandered up to the pulpit while I was preaching. The first thought that came to my mind was, “Did you ask my husband the same question?” I kept my thought to myself and answered the question. I was also asked about who would take care of the children during worship and what I would do if they misbehaved.

My husband was the ideal candidate for most churches—thirty-something male, married with young children. I, on the other hand, was a questionable risk. The underlying assumption was that I would be distracted by my parental responsibilities, but my husband would not. What does that say about him as a father? What does it say about the Church? More important, what does it say about the Church’s theology?

Christians say that they place great value on family. If so, then why do they value mothers less than other women and even more so less than men? Unfortunately, the Bible and our traditions offer little help to change this mindset. Therefore, we need alternative theologies, including feminist theology; we need to hear the voices of those who have been marginalized by our sacred texts and traditions. We need to read and study the Bible through different worldviews. We need to lift up the contributions women have made to our faith, and value today’s female leaders for their unique perspective and gifts for ministry.

Mothers bring great value to pastoral ministry, a value that no one else can. We understand all too well what Jesus meant when he said he wanted to gather his children together like a mother hen gathers her chicks (Luke 13:34). We are nurturers and care-givers, organizers and leaders.

We have seen improvements for women in ministry. The wage gap is smaller, and women now hold more church offices than ever before. In recent years, women have been called to senior positions at large churches. However, we have further to go before we can pat ourselves on the back for being equitable and nonbiased. It takes men and women speaking up when they witness inequity. It takes intentionality in setting policies and salary standards. It takes more women in leadership, and a change of congregational culture.

To judicatory leaders: What policies and procedures need to be created to ensure equitable treatment for all pastors? What can judicatories do to create a shift in congregational culture so that pastoral candidates are considered for pastoral skills and gifts instead of gender and parental status.

To pastor search teams: What are the unconscious assumptions that you bring to the search for your next pastor?

To women clergy: What do you need to value yourself as worthy of the same respect and compensation as men? How can you be empowered to speak up against conscious and unconscious discrimination?

To those who recognize the gifts of all women and value them as equals: Thank you.

 

 

Pastors, Learn to Use This Word

A recent article on thriveglobal.com caught my attention. Sociologist Christine Carter offers three steps to saying “no.” It is a word that pastors and other care-giving types find hard to say. However, learning to say “no” is essential to healthy leadership and pastoring.

Several years ago, I taught a workshop at a national conference titled, Saying No Without Feeling Guilty. I adapted strategies from William Ury’s Power of a Positive No to the experiences of church workers. The workshop was a response to stories I often heard from pastors, educators and other church folk about their struggles with setting boundaries and taking care of themselves.

Today, I work with coaching clients on these same issues. Pastors are people-pleasers and they want parishioners to like them. Too often this translates into over-functioning and taking on responsibilities that belong to others. Sometimes pastors say yes to doing things simply to get them done because they don’t want to ask someone else to do it or they don’t trust that it will get done (the way they want). Unfortunately, this leads to an disempowered laity and a frustrated and exhausted pastor.

When you have clarity about your values, responsibilities and personal goals – what Ury calls your YES – you can make better decisions about your responses to requests. Here are a few coaching questions that can help you learn to say no:

  • What are the values that guide you in deciding to what you will say “yes?”
  • How do you discern what are your responsibilities and what belongs to someone else?
  • What is your YES, and how does it influence your decision-making?
  • What is the worst that can happen if you say “no” to things that do not belong to you?

My goal as a coach is to help pastors be the best they can be personally and professionally. Contact me if I can help you set goals for yourself that will lead to health, happiness and a successful ministry.

 

Asking for Help

Do you have trouble asking for help? I do. It may be because I am an introvert, or I learned at an early age that I could depend on myself more than others. It could also be that I am a minister. People in helping professions often have the hardest time asking for help. They consider themselves to be givers, not receivers.

There are a lot of reasons we give for not asking for help.

1. I don’t want to be a burden.
2. I don’t want to look weak or helpless.
3. I want to be independent and self-reliant.
4. I don’t need anyone else.
5. I can do it myself.

Some of these reasons are conscious decisions. Others are sub-conscious messages left over from some past relationship or event, such as messages received growing up in a toxic environment. For others, it might be an experience of being abused or taken advantage of by a loved one. Whatever the trigger, we learn to distrust others’ motives or kindnesses, and we think that the only way to succeed is to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and do it ourselves.

Consider alternative reasons to ask and receive help from others.

  1. Most people are kind, and they typically want to help. Being in a relationship means caring and doing for one another. It is how we show affection and concern. Refusing to ask for help only isolates us from one another.
  2. There is strength in numbers. Even those known as loners (the Lone Ranger and numerous superheroes) had sidekicks or supporters. We show strength when we engage others and share in accomplishments. Asking for help is helping ourselves, and we can enjoy our tasks much more when we do them together.
  3. Employers want employees who can work with a team. In today’s world, collaboration and group-processing are essential to success. Mutual dependence and reliance are vital for creativity and innovation.
  4. Diversity improves creativity and performance. Other people help us expand our horizons and think outside of our box. We also need others to care for ourselves. Loneliness causes depression, self-doubt, despair and even death. People who believe they are better off by themselves or working on their own hurt their potential for success and happiness.
  5. Working alone for long hours leads to burn out, depression, and ill-health. It is also a sign of poor boundaries. We suffer, our work suffers, and our families suffer. By asking others to help, we not only give them an opportunity, but we lighten our load. We can set more reasonable expectations for ourselves and others. It also enables us to be more present, energized and focused on the tasks at hand.

Understanding the positive outcomes of asking and graciously receiving help makes it easier for those of us who are uncomfortable doing so. It takes intentionality and practice to let down our guard and allow ourselves to be dependent on others. As we get more comfortable with the practice, we will reap the benefits and learn that we are our best selves with the help of others.

helping hand