Choose Joy and Love

“Live in joy and in love, even among those who hate.” – The Buddha

The Buddha’s words are a challenge and a goal. In a world that seems full of discord, where people prey upon our fears and hatred is sensationalized, it is difficult to remain joyful and loving. But it is not impossible. We can choose to practice joy and love every day. We can choose to respond to others in joy and love, even when they choose hatred.

Choose Joy!

Joy is more than being happy or always up. Joy is an internal sense of well-being and hope. Even when life is difficult, you can still find joy in life. If you are feeling joyless, take steps to bring joy back into your heart.

  1. Begin and end each day with gratitude and a renewed commitment to look for joy.
  2. Surround yourself with people who make you happy.
  3. Choose experiences and activities that bring you joy.
  4. Smile and laugh out loud.
  5. Watch a cute or funny video or program.
  6. Listen to music and dance.
  7. Go outside and enjoy the natural world.

Choose Love!

To love someone is to honor them as a person of value. There are many kinds of love. For instance, the love we have for a significant other is different than the love we feel for our parents or children. What does it mean to love all humanity, even those who hate? Jesus said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” We can choose to show kindness to all people and consider their humanity.

  1. Pray for the people with whom you disagree or who treat you badly.
  2. Debate the issues and refrain from attacking the person.
  3. Spend as little time as possible with people who are not kind to you or who give you negative energy. Do not give up on showing them compassion and respect.
  4. Spend more time with the people who love you.
  5. Say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you.
  6. Show compassion and give support to people in need.
  7. Forgive and graciously accept forgiveness.

If you want to know more about living into joy and love, contact me. I can help you!

Authentic Happiness

Everyone hears negative messages sometimes. What we do with them is key to changing the way we view ourselves and our lives.

I’m not talking about feelings that are considered negative – sadness, anger, fear. Our emotions serve a purpose and are unto themselves neither negative nor positive; they are simply a part of being human.

Negative self-talk is another matter. Negative self-talk may stem from messages we received as children, verbal and physical abuse, or comparing ourselves to others. It is difficult for someone who has low self-esteem or poor self-confidence to change those messages.

How can we manage our negative self-talk to hear authentic positive affirmation?

Consider ashre and shalom.

Ashre (ash-ray), a biblical Hebrew word, refers to the kind of life, behavior, and mindset that creates a deep and abiding happiness. Jesus uses the term in the famous Sermon on the Mount (“Happy/blessed are the peacemakers….”) as do many of the Psalms (“Blessed are those who dwell in your house….” Psalm 84:4). Ashre is a happiness that does not depend on happenstance. It is deep and abiding no matter what is happening in your life.

Shalom is another biblical Hebrew term that helps to describe this type of happiness. Shalom (peace or wholeness) conveys well-being and having peace of mind.

My goal as a coach is to help people find ashre and shalom. The key is authentic positivity and a growth mindset. With intentional practices we can condition ourselves to think positively. The way we speak internally and with others can actually change the brain. However, lavishing flattery on ourselves is being dishonest and can actually do us harm. Our positive messages need to be real and true. Much of the popular material in books and online about happiness gives us a false impression of what we want and need.

Healthy people seek a deep abiding contentment in which they remain hopeful and positive even during the hard times. Coaching creates a safe environment where persons can explore their thoughts and emotions and learn the practice of authentic positivity.

Paddling Your Way

I enjoy the water—jumping in a canoe, paddling to the middle of the lake, pulling in the paddles, and leaning back to bask in the warmth of the sun. Everything is tranquil and calm; time stands still.

Yet, even in that calm, quiet place, I’m still moving. The slow, rocking movement and the rhythmic beating of water against the sides of the canoe remind me that if I don’t eventually pick up the paddles and steer, I could get caught in the quickening current and pull of the lake’s overflow drain.

There are times when we need to rest. In the biblical tradition, this is called Sabbath. Psalm 23 sings of still waters where our souls are restored. Floating on still water reminds me of being supported, being loved and carried when I can’t find the stamina for the journey. It reminds me of prayer, being lifted and comforted by God in the quiet when my spirit has no words.

Yet just as a floating canoe moves with the currents, our lives are never completely motionless. Even when we feel like we are going nowhere, we are moving. If we are not intentional about guiding our own movement, we may be taken where we do not want to go. A balanced, buoyed life embraces the quiet times and the times when we are in movement; when we take the paddles in our hands and direct where we go.

Immersion or Sprinkling?

One of the questions at baptism: immersion or sprinkling? For some people, immersion is desired because of the symbolism of being buried in a death like Christ’s. For others, sprinkling is the chosen mode because God’s grace is sufficient, regardless of the amount of water used.

It’s also an important question for your Christian formation efforts. What’s preferred? An immersion into the life of faith? Or a sprinkling, a little bit of this and a little bit of that of the faith?

I can hear it now: with the busy-ness of families today, the best we can hope for is a sprinkling. So we’ll keep on doing what we’ve always done, even though church members only appear at the church door once a month or less.

Sprinkling is the problem for most churches. It’s resulted in shrinking rosters, disconnected generations, alienated families, and the opinion that church is just another option for our consideration. It’s like being vaccinated; we innoculate people against the church by giving them a little bit of church. No depth, no breadth of practicing the way of life Jesus calls us to.

Let’s imagine immersion: Choose an event in the life of the church. The baptism of a new Christian, for example. Decide that for five weeks, you will prepare the congregation to receive the new member into the life of the church through an immersive event.

Identify the date, the Scripture for the day (maybe Ephesians 2:1-10), and select a key verse (v. 8: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God). Next, count back four Sundays. Imagine an event or series of events that immerses your congregation, all ages, in baptism through the key verse. You’ll need a team of helpers and a space. You’ll need water, blue fabric to simulate water, water music (Handel?), a baptism hymn, white fabric to make stoles with baptism designs, and so on. You’ll need a catchy way to memorize the key verse, repeated every week, and included in the worship service as a call to worship or affirmation of faith. You’ll need construction paper and envelopes to make welcome to the church family cards for the newly baptized. You’ll need willing people to tell their baptism stories and openly reflect on the meaning of being saved by grace through faith, a gift of God. You’ll need to display all creations in a well-traveled route in your building, prepare members of the congregation, young and old, to read, sing, and participate in the worship services.

For four Sundays, you welcome all ages into the space with an invitation to be immersed in a significant teaching of the church, to practice living what it means to be baptized and belong to the church, to exercise the memory muscles of the congregation so that the words and hymns of the faith become part of who you are.

Then, on the day of baptism, celebration! The whole congregation rejoicing with the newly baptized. Words of promise, words of hope delivered in sermon, hymns, and greeting cards. Does it require planning? Yes. Effort? Yes. Collaboration and cooperation? Yes and yes. But what a payoff!!!!

Your congregation will never forget baptism or that time they practiced hospitality and radical welcome. That’s how immersion can change your church! Give it a try! And let me know how it goes.

10 Ways to Care for Your Pastor

In the movie, “First Reformed,” the main character played by Ethan Hawke is a pastor struggling with his own despair and self-doubt. The movie is rich with themes about theology, creation care, hope, suicide, forgiveness, opulence, church decline, and pastoral identity. (For a thoughtful review click this link: Patheos.com.)

One of the things that struck me in the movie was that Hawke’s character struggled with his burden in almost total solitude. It reminded me of something I heard a pastor say several years ago in one of my doctoral classes. In complete vulnerability, he said something like this: “I am pastor of the largest church in our district. The district looks to me for leadership and other pastors tell me they admire my ministry and often ask for advice. What they don’t know is that I am dying inside. I have no one to talk to. I can’t tell my Superintendent. Who is there for pastors like me?”

This minister is not alone. I have worked with pastors for over twenty years and I hear similar stories all the time. I remember in my own pastorate feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the emotional and spiritual energy pastoring took. It helped that I had a co-pastor, a mentor on the Presbytery staff and a group of colleagues. Still, by year four I was already experiencing the symptoms of burn out.

What can congregations do to help pastors thrive?

  • Provide financial assistance for a coach, spiritual director, and pastoral counselor. Each of these offers a ministry of presence from a different perspective and with varying techniques. I have coaching clients who also have a therapist and spiritual director. Pastors may not need or want all three, but every pastor should have at least one professional with which they can process their emotions, discern God’s will, and keep accountability.
  • Provide adequate compensation and benefits. Financial insecurity adds more stress to an already stressful occupation. A congregation that values its pastor should show in its budget and stewardship.
  • Honor the pastor’s day off by leaving him/her alone. That means no emails, calls or texts unless it is an emergency. An emergency is a serious illness, accident or death of a member. The power going off in the church building is not an emergency for the pastor to cover.
  • Provide for a Sabbatical every five to seven years. Researching, writing and preaching a sermon almost every Sunday for five years on top of all the other pastoral duties is taxing. Sabbatical gives a pastor a substantial amount of time away from day-to-day ministry to refresh, renew and study so that they can come back with new ideas, energy, and knowledge. This time apart can also be renewing for the congregation and keep the pastoral relationship thriving longer.
  • Ministry is a work of the people, not just the pastor. The pastor does not need to attend, let alone lead, every committee meeting and ministry activity. If chairpersons take their responsibility seriously and are adequately resourced, they will create their own agendas and lead their meetings. The pastor needs to be present only when needed as a resource for a particular project or discussion.
  • The same holds true for mission projects, congregational care, and fellowship and educational activities. Volunteers can lead projects, visit the sick and homebound, host gatherings and teach classes without the pastor. This is not to say that the pastor does not visit or attend activities. It means that the pastor should not be responsible for everything. A pastor who over-functions takes the ministry away from the people. A congregation that under-functions burns out their pastor.
  • Some congregations observe October as Pastor Appreciation Month. This is a nice way to publicly acknowledge a pastor for her/his faithfulness and hard work. However, giving affirmation, and showing gratitude and care need not be relegated to just one month a year. We have all experienced the emotional high of hearing someone say, “thank you” and “you’re doing a great job.” Share a little love with your pastor on a regular basis. Invite her to dinner at your home. Send him a thank you note. It does not have to be a huge gesture. It is the little things that can make someone’s day.
  • Treat the pastor as a partner in ministry. Pastors are not above congregation members or below them. All Christians are called to follow Christ and use their gifts for in God’s service. The functions may be different, but the call to discipleship is the same.
  • Practice grace and forgiveness. Pastors are human and make mistakes. Many parishioners put the pastor on a pedestal. The fall from that height can be terribly damaging. Be realistic about expectations and refrain from petty complaints.
  • Do hold the pastor accountable for maintaining appropriate boundaries and behaviors. Forgiveness does not mean turning a blind eye to misconduct. Studies show that the stress and exhaustion of ministry can lead to poor decision-making and succumbing to temptation. The above tips can help prevent this, but if it happens name it and deal with it directly and lovingly.

Congregations want a long and vibrant pastoral relationship. Pastors want the same thing. By working together to maintain healthy boundaries and lifestyles, pastors and congregations can thrive in ministry together.

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.

A Different Kind of Bucket List

Many people kick off the new year by removing the clutter from their homes. An organized home helps them begin the new year with a clean slate.

People who commit to de-cluttering have found success with the 3-box method— keep, get rid of, or store. As you go through your clutter put items into the appropriate box. Once you have finished sorting, take care of each box appropriately and promptly.

We can use a similar strategy to organize our lives, helping us to focus our time and attention on the things that really matter. Think of it as a different kind of bucket list.

Bucket 1 includes the things that you want and need to spend your time on, things that are your responsibility or that help you achieve your personal goals. This is your keep bucket.

Bucket 2 holds the things that you need to deal with—eventually—but are not priorities. You can retrieve an item when it becomes important or when you have extra time. This is your store bucket.

Bucket 3 is the place for items on your to-do list that are not really yours. If you are not sure if the items belong to you, ask yourself: “Is this my responsibility?” or “Is this something I really want to do?” If you answer “no,” these items do not belong to you. This is your get-rid-of bucket.

Once you have sorted your items you can more easily prioritize your commitments and live a clutter-free life. Give your Bucket 3 items to the people to whom they belong or dispose of them. Put your Bucket 2 in a location where it is not always in front of you and let the items go for now. Focus your time and energy on Bucket 1. Do the things you want to do and need to accomplish first.

As you begin the new year consider de-cluttering your tasks. Reflect on how you spend your days.

  • Are you doing the things that are most important to you?
  • Have you been spending too much time on other pursuits that can be put aside or given away?
  • Can you let go of tasks that belong to others?

Remember that over-functioning and micro-managing keeps you from pursuing your passions and keeps others from contributing to the ministry.

A pastor client was struggling with finding the time to do the parts of ministry she loved—sermon preparation and pastoral care. She complained that she spent too much time on administrative duties. Her church had a secretary and treasurer. She also had a committee structure that included administration, finance, and personnel. She applied the bucket list method and determined that she had been doing jobs that belonged to others. When she was able to sort her to-dos into the right buckets, she could clearly see that she was letting go of her passions in order to over-function for her staff and committee chairs. She made changes that enabled her to focus on her priorities and thus enjoyed her ministry much more.

Start 2019 with a clean slate. De-clutter and give yourself the gift of time and energy to pursue your passions and take care of yourself.