Tag Archives: ministry

On Competition and the Church

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I ran a race on Saturday morning, the Fairfax CASA Run for the Children. Our church has gotten connected to this organization, which provides volunteers to support abused and neglected children making their way through the court system. It was a beautiful day for a run, and we had 8 folks from Tiny Church participating in the 8K run and 3K run/walk.

I love road races for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is that it gives me perspective on my competitive nature. I’ve always been competitive, which is strange since I’m not much of an athlete and never have been. So my competitiveness would come out in other ways: trying for first chair in the junior high choir, taking part in speech/drama events, and competing with the Academic Decathlon team.

A drive to improve and achieve can be an awesome thing. It can also be harmful to one’s self and one’s relationships. (Sometimes it’s neither great nor harmful, it just shuts down the fun. Just ask Robert about The Canasta Incident.)

But road races are a great check on competitiveness. Half a mile into any race and you get how ridiculous it is to compare yourself to other people. Yes, there’s a certain kick of motivation you get when you turn on the gas to pass someone. But how meaningful is that? For all you know, they’re nursing an injury, or just started running a couple months before. (Then there was the woman who passed me in my first half marathon wearing a T-shirt that said, “I just finished chemo three days ago.” Fierce!!)

I spent most of Saturday morning ten paces behind a guy who looked to be at least 75 years old. OK, that was a little depressing. Until I realized he’s a living reminder that I can keep doing this for the next 30 years, maybe not breaking any speed records, but keeping fit and having fun.

The drive has to come from inside yourself, and be directed internally.

You’d think the church would be a good model for cooperation and mutual support, especially among clergy colleagues. We are educated in a theology of call in which it’s all about “fit” and the work of the Holy Spirit. But it’s complicated. Search committees still look for certain traits, whether overtly or subconsciously. The deck is still stacked against women and people of color. Sometimes youth is an asset; other times the congregation wants “experience.” In the Presbyterian Church (USA), we have cleared the way for LGBT people to be ordained, but it’s a tougher sell in many congregations.

And as church membership rolls continue to shrink and full-time positions decrease, there will be more and more contention for fewer and fewer slots. If you’re one of those folks whose livelihood is on the line, it’s natural to read those glossy Meet Our New Pastor brochures and think, “Why did they choose that person and not me?” We take vows to be a friend to our colleagues in ministry, but jealousy rears its snarky, catty head. All the time.

This stuff was on my mind as I spent time with The Well last week. We have “tall steeple” pastors and pastors of small churches. We have folks who’ve been open to a new call for a long time, and others who frequently get contacted by churches even though they’re happy where they are.

But just like the road race, it’s silly to think comparatively. There are too many factors at play. Several of our members are geographically limited because of their spouses’ jobs or other factors. Others have had the benefit of stay-at-home spouses who manage home life so the pastor can pursue a career more intensively. And then there’s the fact that many of us simply don’t want the kind of positions that others might clamor for. (God might surprise me, but I am having too much fun doing writing and part-time parish work to imagine going back to a full-time pastoral position.)

All that said, members of the Well have been in contention for the same ministry positions. This has happened at least five times in our six years together.

So far, we’ve weathered these situations well. We’re not perfect at this, and it would be hubris to say that we’re immune from the hurt or resentment that can come from being passed over, or the “survivor guilt” of being the one chosen. But we have learned some things along the way. Again, I offer our experience for the benefit of other colleague groups.

Transparency. Our norm is that if we find out another member is interviewing for the same position we are, we talk to that person. It’s tricky because we don’t always know, but we do our best. (Third parties who are in the know can help this along.) We picked this up from another group’s experience. One year they met and had a member of the group come down at dinner time wearing a suit and heading off to an interview. The next day another person came down, similarly dressed… and off to an interview at the same church.

Grounding. Within the safe space our group, we see our role as to build one another up when a tough call is wearing the person down, AND to keep the person’s ego in check when he or she starts to believe her own press. And outside of the group, we have that person’s back 100%.

Increased Accountability. We’ve started talking about how we can hold one another accountable to good self-care and boundaries. We have a check-in time at the beginning of every week, but it’s easy to gloss over the hard stuff. A member of the group suggested an intentional question to ask each person: Is there anything else going on that you need to tell us?

Discernment among Friends. When I was discerning whether to stand for vice moderator, I talked with members of The Well. All were helpful in making sure I was thinking well about the situation. And one person put it plain: Give me three reasons why you want to do this… and be honest. I am grateful to her.

What do you think? What is your experience?

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photo credit: mino2006 via photopin cc

Design Your Own Preacher Camp: What Makes a Clergy Group Work

Design Your Own Preacher Camp: What Makes Clergy Groups Work

The nerdy group, doing what the nerdy group does.

I’m meeting this week with The Well, my yearly cohort group. I like to say that I laugh more during this week of “preacher camp” than I do any other week of the year. This year has been heavier than normal, with several concerns for friends, loved ones and ourselves. This has made the mirth all the more necessary and sweet.

Many colleagues have wished for their own preacher camp. This prompted me to write “Design Your Own Preacher Camp,” which has become one of my most popular posts. I stand behind those instructions, although they’re a few years old and some things have changed.

There are many different kinds of clergy groups out there. Some get together mainly to play, meeting in a beach house, say. That’s great, and in a demanding job like ministry, it’s not frivolous to do so. As for us, we’ve been called the “nerdy group,” and we wear the badge proudly. We play a lot, but we also each bring two papers about the upcoming year’s scripture texts that we share with one another and discuss. For me, it’s easier to justify an entire week away from family if I can come back with something that is going to make my job tangibly easier. And this year I’m returning with a head start on 30 weeks’ worth of preaching.

I know groups that have formed using our approach that are thriving. I know others that started out but didn’t “take.” I wish I knew everything that makes for success in a group like this—I really want such groups to propagate, as does everyone in The Well. We think it’s vital for the health of our congregations. So I asked our group for insight into why ours has worked for seven years now, and here are some things they cited.

  1. Deep prior relationships. As it happened, we started out with two circles of friends that were connected to one another through a couple of key relationships. What that means is that nobody in our group knew everyone. But everyone had a strong connection to at least one other person. We invited people we knew well, not people we knew only by reputation.
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  2. The right amount of diversity. We range in age from young 30s to almost 50; we serve small churches and very large churches and everything in between. But we are all Presbyterian. And we represent a relatively narrow theological spectrum. Yes, yes: it’s very healthy to cross theological boundaries and  be in dialogue with people who are more liberal or more conservative than you are. But this is not where we do that. That doesn’t mean we always agree. We push each other all the time. But that’s not the point of our group. The point of our group is support, accountability, and the scripture work.
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  3. A shared focus. Most of us are pastors. We do have a woman who works for a presbytery and another who directs a national network of churches, but all of us are passionate about congregational ministry, and that’s the glue that holds us together. I’m not saying our group wouldn’t succeed if we had chaplains or seminary professors among us. But our focus is on pastoral ministry.
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  4. Accountability. The papers we write are our price of admission. We all recognize that the minute we relax that expectation, we are sunk. Our group is so much more than the papers. But our group wouldn’t be what it is without them. Even if you don’t do papers, figure out what accountability you need. The group I mentioned above that gets together for recreation? Even they have an expectation: if you have two “unexcused absences” in a row, you are out.
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  5. Interminable but important conversations. We set aside time each year for good-of-the-whole conversation. This may be as simple as deciding where and when to meet the following year. Or it’s a time to work through whatever group dynamics have come up. I’m contemplating a separate post on what happens when colleagues are in contention for the same ministry position—it has happened repeatedly in our group of 18. The point is, stick with those conversations, even when they are hard (or boring). Accept what you can’t change, but name and change the things you can.
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  6. Adding people the right way. We’ve added people to the group twice, and each time we added them in a batch. Adding one person at a time doesn’t change the dynamic enough; adding two or three at a time shakes things up, but also makes us more mindful of inside jokes and communal norms we take for granted.
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  7. Inviting healthy people with healthy egos. I don’t want this to come out the wrong way. We are all wounded and broken in myriad ways, and we do not have all of our stuff together. But our group works because we all understand the value of self-care, and we do not rely on this group for therapy. Our group has a level of intimacy with one another—and we have been through some very tough stuff together—and there are years when one person leans on this group more than others. All I’m saying is, do not invite a colleague to join a group of this nature because “he is really hurting and needs something like this.” Find other ways to support that person.
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  8. Magic. There is an X factor to these things. There are cohort groups that have great people and do everything right (assuming there is such a thing) and just don’t gel. There’s some luck or grace at work here for sure. So don’t feel bad if your group doesn’t come together. Just keep trying and searching for the right fit.

 

Upcycle the Blue Hymnal: Five Easy Advent Crafts

Like many Presbyterian churches, Tiny Church recently purchased a set of the new hymnal, Glory to God. (I love it.) Now, of course, we have stacks and stacks of blue (1990) hymnals we are no longer using.

We’ll keep a set of them, but we’re starting to talk about what to do with the extras. Are there fledgling church communities or nursing homes that could use them? Undoubtedly… though I suspect many of these organizations will be inundated with offers of old hymnals since there’s a lot of us suddenly trying to unload these things.

If and when we find a new home for the hymnals, there will be some random extras that are in such poor condition that they can’t be passed along. I myself have 2 or 3 hymnals floating around my house and study, and they are not fit to donate.

So… how about upcycling the copies that have lived a good life and are ready for some transformation? Old sheet music is beautiful and historic and a lovely material to work with. It’s good stewardship to give these old books new life.

Presenting: five easy Advent crafts using the blue hymnal!

I enjoy doing things with my hands, but I’m not skilled. So my suggestions are meant to be simple enough even for the craft-challenged. Got an Advent ministry event coming up? Sunday School lessons to plan? Potluck dinner in need of an activity? Here are my five best suggestions for EASY crafts with the blue hymnal… or any other sheet music or pretty paper. (Of course, I recommend you use hymns 1-60 for these crafts: Advent and Christmas.)

Stamped Music Ornaments

Upcycled Vintage Book Paper Holiday Ornament Tutorial

My girls and I are in the middle of making these right now and they are pretty and simple to make. The circles of music are so pretty, and the snatches of lyrics are festive. I got a set of Christmas-themed stamps and some burlap ribbon and we’re good to go. We’re putting sheet music on each side so there’s no “wrong” side.

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Clear Globe Ornaments

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This picture is done with a wedding invitation but it would be easy to create strips of hymns and coil them inside the ornaments. Add a decorative ribbon and you’re done. Here’s one set of plastic ornaments I found.

For this project and the one above, it would be nice to have a small tag explaining the source of the music… especially if these are gifts.

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Advent Poems

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This is a craft and a contemplative activity rolled into one—great for a Quiet Day or prayer gathering. Take a favorite Advent/Christmas hymn (or maybe a non-favorite) and read through it for words or phrases you might string together to make a new poem. Circle those words and doodle the rest of the page as shown.

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Paper Chain

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Oldie but goodie! Use strips of hymnal pages to make a garland for the tree or a Christmas “countdown” chain. I can report that vertical strips of the hymnal are a good length for stringing together.

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Paper Trees

CONFESSIONS OF A PLATE ADDCIT Easy Vintage Paper Trees_thumb[5]

Scroll to the bottom of this page for instructions. This is the most complicated of the five options here, but still not all that challenging.  

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I’ve started a Pinterest board with these and other ideas for upcycling the old hymnals. With each liturgical season—Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost—I will choose my favorites and create a post just like this one. In the meantime you can follow my “upcycling-the-hymnal” board (or all of my boards).

Speaking of ways to connect, starting later this month I’ll be writing weekly email articles including tips and inspiration to have a “Sabbathy” Advent. Sign up for those here.

Mind Your Margins

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Do college students still mess with the margins in order to make their papers appear longer? Or has that practice fallen away in the age of email and word counts?

(And how dumb did we think our profs were to fall for that?)

My family’s yearning for Sabbath began several years ago when we realized that our lives hummed along perfectly well, so long as nothing went wrong. We jam-packed our days and worked to exhaustion, which was fine so long as nobody got sick or the basement never flooded. Regular periods of rest gave us some emotional decompression time and also helped us think about the rest of our week differently.

What we were doing was minding our margins. I prefer “margins” to boundaries, which feels too unyielding to be helpful amid the complexity of life. But even with the looser language, margins are hard for me.

After James was born, I went to a half-time schedule and became very good at efficient scheduling. I suspect it was hard on some of the folks I worked with, whose model for ministry was more “be open to what comes and savor the interruptions.” Yes, ministry is about relationships. And interruptions are a part of the package. But as an associate pastor in a programmatic position with 20-25 hours on the clock each week, there were certain things that needed to get done each day.

I still like back to back meetings—random 25 minute blocks of time between appointments make me a little batty. Like many of you, a lot of my work involves thinking and writing, and I can barely get my metaphorical pencils sharpened in 25 minutes.

That said, it’s important to build adequate margin between appointments, especially if those meetings have a heavy emotional undercurrent to them—or you think they might.

Plus, you know… traffic.

The goal for me, as always, is flow: an effortlessness and mindfulness to what I’m doing. In those moments I am neither rushed nor languishing. I am just… in time.

Yesterday was a tight-margin day in which I moved in and out of flow, and even had to cancel something because I’d packed things in too tightly. First up was a coffee appointment with someone to plan an event I’m doing in January. We met at the Starbucks, because right after that a church member and I were doing some de-cluttering, to get ready for some high school band students whom we’d hired to do some schlepping to the dumpster. That took longer than I’d expected, which led to the cancellation. After lunch and some emails and phone calls, I had a quick run, which had to be cut short (another too-tight margin). Then it was a hospital visit and home with the kids.

As I type it, it seems frenetic, like a lot of chopped up experiences and harried distraction. And given the need to cancel stuff, clearly I’d planned too much. But I didn’t feel harried at all. The Starbucks conversation meandered and flowed and ended when it needed to. I was not checking my watch at the hospital; there was sufficient time, and I had prearranged with my neighbor to get the kids at the bus stop so I could take my time.

So yesterday was good, on the whole. But there are just as many jam-packed days in which I feel like I’m all elbows and stubbed toes. I’m hard-pressed to figure out what makes the difference. In the meantime, I’ll chalk it up to the work of that mysterious Holy Spirit.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

Tiny Church: Transforming Lives, and Maybe Saving One

Dear Blog Friends,

I’m excited to share what’s going on at Tiny Church (Idylwood Presbyterian) in a few weeks. Mainly because I’m very proud of our small but mighty congregation for taking on a massive effort such as this. But also because if you’re local, I’d like you to come.

And if you have contacts in the media here in the DC region, please let me know. Our story is compelling. It is a faith story. It is a story of light out of darkness, life out of death. Please help us share it.

Jacob and Eric Osman

Jacob and Eric Osman

Idylwood Presbyterian Church will sponsor a bone marrow registry drive on Saturday, November 16 from 10 a.m. – noon. This Be the Match campaign is inspired by Eric and Jacob Osman, brothers and members of our church who lost their battles to adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare genetic disease. Eric and Jacob were students at Lemon Road Elementary School before being diagnosed with ALD, and sadly this disease took each of their lives by the time they were eight years old.

The drive will take place on the two-year anniversary of Jacob’s bone marrow transplant.  It is our way of putting faith into action and tending the glimmers of hope that can rise from of tragic circumstances.

Tens of thousands of children just like Eric and Jacob are fighting life threatening diseases, and you could be the answer to their hopes and prayers. The registry process is simple: just fill out a form and swab the inside of your cheek, and you might Be the Match for one of these children.

The registry drive will be accompanied by a health fair at the church. Questions about the Affordable Care Act or allergies and asthma? Need a flu shot? We will have people to answer your questions, check your vision, body fat or blood pressure, and more. There will be door prizes as well. 

Please help us get the word out. Several years ago a man in his 40s joined the registry. He ended up being Jacob’s donor. The person you invite to join the registry—or you yourself—could give someone the gift of life.

Idylwood Presbyterian is 7617 Idylwood Rd. near Route 7 in Falls Church.

Thank you, friends.