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.

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

 

A Happy Ending

I started writing a novel when I was in the eleventh grade. It was about a teenage girl named Angie (The name came from the Rolling Stones ballad.) who falls for a twenty-something man with a drug addiction. She has a difficult home life and eagerly accepts his invitation to run away with him. She believes that with enough love she can cure him of his addiction. She soon learns that love is not enough, and that she cannot change him. She begins to seek a way out of her predicament.

That’s where I stopped writing. My interests went in other directions (probably a boy), and the notebook was stored away. Years later, while cleaning out the closet in my old bedroom I found the notebook among some others. I read a few pages and contemplated what I should do with it. I don’t know why, but I was afraid someone else would find it and read it. I don’t remember thinking it was terrible. It was more about keeping something so personal to myself, or not wanting to be judged. I decided to trash it.

I think about that story every so often. I regret throwing it away because it would be fun to read it again. In many ways it was my story. I never dated a drug addict, but I did run away with a guy, the year before I created Angie. The character shared my gloom and my idealism. Thinking back on it now, I realized that Angie learned something that I must have known but had not yet internalized. We cannot love another into being better, and that we can only change ourselves.

Its easy to see this in retrospect, after many years of relationships and self-examination. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I had to do a lot of work on myself to find acceptance and healing. I tried to find it through others for too many years. I am grateful for teachers, mentors, coaches and friends who have helped me along the way. Simply stated, I learned that acceptance and healing could only come from within me. I had to let go of guilt, anger and self-doubt and embrace the person that God created me to be.

I also had to forgive. I had to forgive my abusers and those whom I thought complicit in the abuse. I also had to forgive myself for being a victim and for all the failed attempts at trying to find what I needed in the wrong places. Victims of abuse always blame themselves, for being vulnerable and not fighting back, and for not telling. We must be able to forgive ourselves before we can truly forgive others and complete the healing process.

One of the reasons I am grateful to be a professional coach is the opportunity to help others accept and love themselves. Very few of my clients are victims of childhood abuse, but they have other issues — parents who were too harsh and too neglectful, unhealthy relationships, low self-esteem, imposter syndrome …. Through coaching, I can help them to discover the amazing person that they are within, the wisdom and passions that are too often buried underneath negative self-talk and lack of confidence.

Unfortunately, there are very few people in this world who live a charmed life. We all have family-of-origin issues. We all struggle at some time with upsetting relationships or self-doubt. The good news is that we do not have to stay in the gloom. We can make the personal choice to be different, to be happy.

What kind of life do you want for yourself? What barriers are keeping you from having that kind of life? What are you willing to invest to find healing and wholeness? The first step in having the life you want is to name that which holds you back and decide what you want to do with it. You have the power to overcome victimization, negative self-image and doubt. You can choose to be happy.

Contact me for a free consultation to find out if coaching is right for you.

To Be Let Go

Congregations and denominations talk a lot about mission. It is a broad term that can mean different things to different people. We also like to create mission statements that define our unique calling.

At its root, mission means to let go or to send. The Church has a mission. In the Great Commission (commission meaning to give authority to represent), Jesus directed his followers to go into all the world. Since its beginning, the Church has been a “sent” people.

What the Church has paid less attention to is the notion of being “let go.” What does it mean for a congregation to be let go? From what are they being let go, and for what?

In a recent interview with Faith & Leadership, Sister Maryanne Stevens talked about the turnaround at St. Mary’s College in Nebraska where she serves as President. She spoke about the importance of knowing your mission:

My philosophy of leadership is to focus on what’s core to your mission and make sure people are well-versed in that so they can choose whether to give their all or else, basically, to go away.

What a bold statement! Know your mission, get on board with it, or leave. It seems to be working for St. Mary’s and Sister Maryanne.

Unfortunately, most congregations are unable to be this bold. They create broadly focused mission statements with which everyone can agree. They explore mission possibilities, then choose those that make the most people happy or satisfy the squeaky wheels. Very few congregations define their core mission, proclaim it, and invite people to get on board or leave.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order states that the “Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life” (F-1.03). Sometimes taking the risk to be faithful means letting go of programs, policies, and people who hold a congregation hostage and prevent it from being who God calls it to be.

I recently worked with a congregation with a desire to do something different to reach out to their community and grow their congregation. As I listened to church members’ many hopes and frustrations, I realized that they would never discern their core mission because they were afraid to take risks. They were fearful of offending members or losing what they have.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. For a people who should be emboldened by faith, fear cripples many.

What would it mean for your congregation to risk losing its life to be faithful to Christ’s commission? Are our buildings, budget, and programs more important than our proclamation? Are we so worried about losing who we have that we cannot reach those who need to experience the love, mercy, and acceptance of God? Can we let go of whatever is preventing us from being sent?