Holy Anxiety, Batman!

Guest post by Mark Hinds, EdD

It was Wednesday! I couldn’t wait to watch my favorite show—Batman! The ABC Television network had been hyping and teasing the show for weeks. And what a show it was! Pow! Punch! Zowie! The best part? It was on twice a week! Part one aired on Wednesday with a terrifying, campy cliffhanger which would be resolved on Thursday night. It was a good time to be alive!

So, it was Wednesday. It was late winter 1966. I hurried home, ready to finish my homework before 7:00 p.m. My nose in a book, my mom came into my room to tell me that the family would be going to dinner with a neighbor family. “What time?” I asked. “6:30” was the unwelcome response.

My stomach was in knots. I had to see that show. After all, Batman was my second or third favorite superhero, who wasn’t “super” at all. How else would I know the set-up to the Thursday night episode? I was churning, hard to breathe, or at least that’s how I remember it. Thankfully, I survived. But I couldn’t face this loss alone. I had to tell my brothers! Mom said, “And don’t say anything about missing the show to your brothers!” Yikes!

Steve and Phil, fourteen months my junior and twins, could be oblivious to things at times. They enjoyed the show too, but they also liked to do other things, and weren’t obsessed like me. How to clue them in without telling them?

In the car, on the way to the restaurant, I looked at my watch, feigning that it had stopped. “Hey, Steve,” who was sitting in the front seat, “my watch stopped. What time is it?” And you know what happened. “It’s 6:30! Batman’s on in half-an-hour!” he exclaimed desperately. Mom, sitting next to me in the back seat, hit me in the shoulder and gave me that look!

Why was it so urgent to make sure my brothers knew what I knew? A dictum of systems theory is that anxiety travels. Something upsets the status quo leaving the anxious host’s stomach in knots, lungs unable to breathe. The most instinctual way to relieve some of the angst is by sharing or giving it away. Let someone else carry the burden for a while. This aspect of anxiety can be seen while watching a herd of cows from a distance. If a cow senses danger, you can see the anxiety ripple through the herd. Anxiety travels. Steve was a willing host for my anxiety. My 10-year-old self was expressing what is known as an undifferentiated self, which reacts to conflict or crisis at an instinctual level. My judgment was clouded by emotionality. And you know what? I did feel better, my mom’s punch aside.

Congregations experience this too. Anxiety can suffocate a church when its empty classrooms echo with the past glories of throngs of children; when the coins in the coffer don’t ring as often or as plentifully as they once did; when the church majors in minors. When a church leader even so much as thinks about leaving, church members can catch the scent that something has changed. Shared anxiety can mimic the balance the system once knew, yet it is an unhealthy state for any group.

If my mom were in charge, she would have undoubtedly advocated punching a few key congregation members, much like Cher in Moonlighting: “Snap out of it!” I, however, do not advocate punching. A winning strategy when anxiety has your congregation in its grips is take a step or two back, get a wide view of your people, the herd, and refuse to take on the congregation’s angst. As a leader, become a well-differentiated self.

A leader with a well-differentiated “self” responds to conflict and crisis at a reasoning level, thinking rooted in a careful assessment of facts. Such a self is less at the mercy of the feelings of the moment and can work from thoughtfully developed principles. She is less susceptible to “group think,” acting in the best interests of the group as a thoughtful choice. Confident in his thinking, he can understand and support others’ views without selling out his values and principles.

Peter Steinke imagines the intentionality of the well-differentiated self:

“Anxiety is there. Yet, now that it is where I can see it, I can keep an eye on it. I won’t let it slip- back into unconsciousness. With anxiety up front in awareness, I can tame and harness it. While I may feel like pouncing on someone, I choose not to submit to my instincts. I have good access to my thinking facilities. My emotional state is not in overdrive. I will survive this; I can take the sting out of anxiety and be a calming agent.” (Uproar, 51.)

What about Batman? It happened that the restaurant where we ate that Wednesday evening had a TV hoisted in the corner of the dining room. I didn’t say a word but looked at my brothers and my mother. “OK, let’s ask if they’ll turn the channel to Batman,” mom said. What I had fretted about, what led me to instinctually dump my worry on my brother, never happened. A moment of grace during an ordinary “crisis.” Perhaps there’s also a word of grace for pastoral leaders in conflictual settings.

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.

 

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?

Creating a Trust-Based Culture

One essential aspect to moving an organization forward is the establishment of trust. This may seem obvious, but too often change agents neglect to take the time to establish a foundation of trust before they try to make significant changes. This is true both for leaders within organizations and outside consultants and coaches contracted to assist with reorganization or transformation.

In a recent article at Inc.com, Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO of Successful Culture, discusses research that shows the significance of trust in the success of an organization. The article is directed to the business world, but also applies to faith communities and nonprofits. She suggests eight ways to build trust in an organization. Here I paraphrase Levin and add my thoughts on how faith communities can benefit from her recommendations. 

Recognize Excellence. Public and immediate recognition of a job well-done increases productivity and encourages others. Congregations and nonprofits depend heavily on volunteers. Often a small group of people do a majority of the work. How does your leadership publicly celebrate volunteer and staff contributions? Is it possible to have a time during worship to recognize what people have accomplished throughout the week? Note that a generalize “thank you” to everyone, or celebrating the mediocre may do more harm than good. It sets a tone that is not beneficial to the mission of the organization. 

Induce “Challenge Stress.” If people are not challenged, they will not step up. Attainable challenges are good for all organizations, including faith communities and nonprofits. I have worked with too many congregations that try to cater to the whims of the membership while expecting little to nothing from them. When I coach churches, I encourage them to challenge themselves with SMART goals that will move them into the future God has for them. Healthy congregations have healthy leaders that can create “challenge stress” – enough to stress to combat complacency, but not enough to overwhelm or discourage their flock. 

Empower employees [and volunteers] to choose their work patterns and habits. As Levin points out, staff would give up a raise for more autonomy and control of their work environment. Of course, we have certain boundaries and guidelines for what people do in the name of the church or organization, but we can be permission-giving within those limitations. Leaders who micromanage the mission dishearten and constrain their staff and volunteers. 

Give [people] a voice in their job design. Many congregations and nonprofits “assign” staff and volunteers to projects or committees that need warm bodies. Instead, encourage people to follow their passions to work on the areas of mission of which they are most excited to be a part. Spiritual gifts assessments are good tools for helping members discern their passions and areas of strength. 

Communicate often. Let me repeat this one. Communicate often. Every group that I have worked with has listed communication as a weakness in the organization. If Levin suggests that large corporations need daily communication with direct reports, what does this say to faith communities and nonprofits? If you want to engage people in your mission, keep it before them daily and be specific about expectations and opportunities. If you have a staff, practice direct and daily reporting, and encourage volunteers to report back regularly. Not only will this improve organizational functioning, sharing stories of mission activity will also encourage more people to get involved and financially support the organization.

Intentionally build relationships. This one should be a no-brainer for faith communities, which are in the business of relationship-building. All the major religions espouse having healthy, loving relationships with the divine and other people. For example, Christians are called to be friend to the friendless. Muslims are required to give alms to the poor. Judaism teaches that all humanity are one. Many congregations create small group ministries to encourage fellowship and mutual ministry. However, there are situations where the pastor feels isolated. The relationship between a pastor and member is unique, very different from member-to-member friendships. Pastors would do well to find friendships outside of their church, perhaps with other pastors or nonprofit leaders. Intentionality is the key.

Facilitate whole-person growth. I have known pastors and nonprofit leaders who never take their continuing education time. This is a big mistake. Continuing education and sabbaticals are opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually. When you give so much of yourself to serving others, it is easy to get burned out or complacent. Faith and nonprofit leaders are no different than anyone else. We need rest, renewal and intellectual stimulation. In my workbook for Presbyterian ruling elders, I advocate that volunteer leaders also take sabbaticals from leadership and intentionally attend to their spiritual growth. Whole-person growth is not just for leadership. Faith communities can contribute to a well-rounded, intentional personal development of all members. Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 paraphrased)

How do our organizations provide whole-person growth to our members and staffs? 

Show vulnerability. As Levin indicates, the research shows that leader vulnerability increases trust and cooperation. Some faith leaders are afraid to be vulnerable with their members. They believe that they need to be an example of true faith and strength. Healthy leaders are able to show appropriate vulnerability and ask for help when they need it. Followers need to know that their leaders are human, that they are not only trustworthy, but trusting as well. This is also true for subordinate staff members. Team leaders who ask their team members for help and acknowledge that team members have knowledge and skills that they do not, establish a higher level of trust, respect and cooperation.

As Levin states, the bottom line is that trust-based culture is able to attract and retain high-quality workers and achieve greater results. A trust-based culture begins with leadership. Two questions for faith and nonprofit leaders to consider:

  1. How would you rate the level of trust in your organization?
  2. What steps do you want to take to strengthen the culture of trust?

 

Bouncy Church

Today’s congregations, no matter what denomination, size or theological bent, are experiencing change at a rapid pace. Many are bleeding members and money, while others are struggling with vision and relevance. They compete for people who still feel a call or need to be a part of a religious community. Thousands close their doors each year.

One characteristic that enables a congregation to thrive in this environment is the ability to bounce. Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and manage change in healthy ways. A resilient congregation has the capacity to adapt to changes or transform itself into a new way of being.

In their book Resilience Thinking, Brian Walker and David Salt discuss this ability to either adapt or transform. They suggest that adaptation means that a system can get through thresholds to get back to a desired place. Systems can also transform themselves into something completely different.

To be a bouncy church a congregation needs to be willing to go through the groan zone, the place of discomfort, chaos and confusion that leads to clarity and convergence. Trying to avoid this zone leads to floundering and apathy. Trying to go around it may lead to temporary gains, but not long-term success.

Resilient congregations make a conscious decision to adapt to the changing world around them, and some also choose to transform themselves to better minister to the surrounding communities and follow what they discern to be God’s will for them. Congregations that cannot bounce choose to either ignore what is happening around them, or make half-hearted adaptations for which they have no real commitment.

How do you know if your church can bounce?

Resilience requires diversity, modularity, communicational intelligence, openness to change, trust, innovation, imagination, accountability and humility. It also requires healthy leaders who are self-differentiated and visionary.

Transformation requires all of these plus financial, human and social capital, readiness and commitment to change, and realistic options for the future.

Your congregation may be resilient if …

  • You are poised to cross the threshold, including engaging the groan zone.
  • The majority are committed to change, and you are willing to lose the resisters.
  • You welcome diverse ideas, opinions and cultural perspectives.
  • You can let go of traditions and habits that are no longer relevant or useful.
  • There are strong and healthy relationships between leadership and membership.
  • You can handle the truth.
  • You sincerely want to go where God is leading.

What Do They See?

What is the first thing that catches your eye when you look at this picture? Is it the flower? Maybe the bee? When I walk in the parks, I am attracted to the things that catch my eye; that are inviting enough to get me to stop my walk long enough to admire God’s creativity and take a picture. 

What is the first thing people notice when they pass by or visit your church? Does your property’s outward appearance entice people to stop and come in? Does your exterior witness to the God you worship? 

It is a challenge to create an appearance that is both attractive and representative. I have coached congregations that struggle with their building and grounds, particularly with making them attractive and accessible. How do churches create spaces that convey the message they want passers-by to receive?

Some churches have flashy signs, or signs with clever slogans or comments. People seem to enjoy cleverness and humor in church signs. They take pictures of the signs and post them online. There has even been at least one book published about such signage. Do these signs work? Do the people who enjoy reading the signs ever stop to check out the church? 

Some churches use banners or yard signs to make public statements or advertise events. Typically, these are temporary ways to communicate particular events or activities. They usually work well to get people’s attention for that particular activity and sometimes make clear statements about a mission or belief of the congregation. 

Signage is not the only way churches can communicate. Landscaping also makes a statement about who the church is, as does architecture, outdoor furnishings, and the condition of the buildings. What does the exterior of your campus say to folks passing by? 

Congregations like to think of themselves as friendly and welcoming. However, if people drive by your facilities without taking notice, they may never know how friendly and welcoming you are. How do the building and grounds reflect the welcome of the church?

Consider these ideas:

church sign (2)Put together a team of folks with the skills and interests to evaluate the church exterior and make recommendations on how your space can better communicate your identity. Evaluate everything — buildings, landscaping, signage, and parking.

Be generous and clear with directional signage so that guests know where to park and enter the building. If you have multiple entrances, label each one with what guests will find once they enter. Once they enter, have signs directing them to different locations (sanctuary, nursery, educational wing, etc.) When there are activities like worship services, have a volunteer at each entrance to assists guests. 

Be invitational, purposeful, and playful with outdoor messaging. List worship times and special events, but also consider ways to draw people in. 

If you have a large campus, have volunteers in the parking lot as well as at entrances. 

Consider an outside sitting area or meditation garden, and be clear that the public is welcome to use them. Have some type of informational station that informs guests about your congregation. labrynth

Whatever you decide to do, start with the question, “What do we want our exterior to say about the God we worship?”

 

 

Ten Things Pastors Can Do to Have a Great Day

Pastoral ministry is hard work, and often stressful. We have the privilege and responsibility of accompanying people through their most vulnerable circumstances. Our parishioners have expectations of us, and look up to us for guidance and moral example. It is easy to succumb to the burdens of ministry, and to put ourselves last on the list of those who need care.
To be healthy and happy leaders, we need to be intentional about our own attitudes and self-care. I offer here ten things that pastors can do each day to have a better day. This is not a complete list, but just a few ideas I want to share with you.

  1. Start your day with happy thoughts. Research shows that for every negative emotion, we need three positive emotions to overcome an overall negative point of view. When you first wake up in the morning, think of someone or something that makes you happy, remember a joke or a funny occurrence. Say, “thank you” for a new day, and a good night’s sleep. Put a smile on your face first thing and it will go with you the rest of the day.
  2. Schedule time for exercise or play. Take a walk or hike. Play a game with your children. Go to the gym. Find some way to get your body moving for at least 10 minutes. Do this three times a day and you will have exercised for 30 minutes. This will make your body and your mind stronger, and make your feel better.
  3. Greet everyone you meet with a smile. Whether it is your family, a stranger on the street, a parishioner, or a co-worker, smile and say “hello.” Take at least one minute to talk with each person at work and at home. Let them know they are important to you, and you will be important to them.
  4. Listen more than you speak. In prayer, listen to God more than you talk to God. Listen to other people who are sharing themselves with you. Be intentional about giving them your undivided, undistracted attention.
  5. Listen to yourself. Be aware of how you are feeling emotionally and physically. Do you need a break from what you are doing? Are you thirsty or hungry? Are you able to focus on what you are doing or the person you are visiting? Being aware of your own emotional and physical needs helps you do what you need to take care of yourself, and be more in the moment.
  6. Eat well. Healthy meals and snacks make for a healthier, happier you. Make good choices about what you put into your body. When eating, be mindful of tastes, textures and smells, and avoid eating too fast. Really savor your food. You may find that you eat less and enjoy it more.
  7. Set healthy time boundaries. A 40-50 hour week is enough for any pastor. When you over-function or overwork, you set a poor example for your staff and parishioners. Hold dear your family and alone time. Keep Sabbath. When you go home, be home. Let go of the concerns of the workday, and be present with your family, God, and yourself.
  8. Let others own their own problems, and make their own choices. Be present for others, but you are not called to fix others or dole out unsolicited advice. Give it only when it is requested.
  9. Trust your staff and volunteers to do their tasks. Give encouragement, but don’t micromanage. Ministry is a communal affair. Even Jesus called people and equipped them to share in his ministry. He loved them even when they made mistakes, and he trusted them enough to send them out on their own. Micromanaging not only takes too much of your energy, it also disrespects the gifts and skills of others.
  10. End your day with gratitude. Just like you start your day with happy thoughts, finish your day by giving thanks to God for your life, your family, and your call. Name specific things and people from your day. Go to sleep with gratitude in your heart, and good thoughts on your mind.

What do you like to do to have a great day? Post your thoughts so that my readers and I might learn good habits from you.
If you want someone to help you have the life you want, contact me. I am committed to helping congregational leaders be the people God created them to be – whole, happy, and exceptional.