I was going to write a great post to kick off the New Year, something like Ten Resolutions for the Church in 2014, but then there was this great post on Sojourners by Rev. Evan Dolive of 14 Things Your Church Can Do in 2014 that is pretty awesome. Way better than what I was coming up with. Plus, my creative capacity was zapped.
I was sick. On Christmas Eve, I had this tickle in my throat that I just thought was leftover from narrating the Christmas Pageant the previous Sunday. On Christmas Day I felt a little down, but just thought it was the after-Christmas-Eve energy crash. But no. I was full-blown sick by December 26th and it lasted right up until this past Monday, the end of my vacation time.
Clergy are suckers for overworking. And it’s not just the long hours of extra worship services and activities in Advent—it’s the overtaking of mental and physical energy. It’s exhaustion on many levels. As I went back to the office today for the first time in two weeks, I wondered why no one had reported a burglary. Papers strewn everywhere, books piled haphazardly on the floor, shepherd’s staffs and costume pieces thrown across the table. As I picked up my child’s toys from the floor (I had been in the office on Sunday, and my son was with me) I tried to remember the last time I cleaned and organized my office. It was probably September, around Labor Day.
So as I get back into the swing of things, here are Ten Tips for Cultivating Creativity in Ministry for 2014.
1. Don’t get sick! Yes, if only there was clergy immunity. But apparently, if you eat healthy, exercise and sleep well, your body is much more able to fight off viruses. The entire month of December I wasn’t eating well, eating lots of sugar (mmm, Christmas cookies!) and I didn’t exercise much. I remember many nights staying up after 11 and getting up around 5:30. I also can’t remember the last time I took a full day off. So, first I would say start with yourself. Start by going to bed at a reasonable time and scheduling in exercise. Think about what you will eat for the entire day in the morning or the night before and make a plan for healthy living, day by day. Oh, and take your day off. Schedule them in on your calendar as if it was an appointment for yourself.
2. Clean up/declutter your work space. Spend a day, or at least a morning, decluttering. Clean up from last year. File away those papers you need, recycle what you don’t, create a clean workspace. Hang up a 2014 calendar. Buy a scented candle (if you like those sorts of things). One thing I have in my office that I love are some cork boards covered with fabric, and on them I pin things such as inspirational quotes, Bible verses, pictures and other things that inspire me in my ministry. I also keep a big three-ring binder in which I put articles or jot down sermon ideas when they come to me, or Bible study ideas, etc.
3. Plan an outing once a week. Don’t spend all your time in your workspace. Coffee shops and diners, pubs and libraries—all sorts of public spaces can also at times provide new inspiration and help you to connect to the community. Sometimes all you need is a change of space for your mind to declutter.
4. Use your calendar. Whether an old-fashioned calendar that hangs on your wall or Google calendars that sync to everything, use your calendar to plan out the year. Plan out sermon/worship themes. Plan out a visitation schedule (I know for me, one of the first things that can go is remembering my pastoral responsibility to visit others). Plan out vacation times and rest periods and reading weeks.
5. Turn your phone to silent once in a while. When you are decluttering, or writing a sermon, or brainstorming ideas, or praying, turn your phone to silent. That way it’s not actually off (vibrating still is distracting) and though you will miss a call you won’t miss it all day if you forget to turn the sound back on. We are connected to everything and part of our role as clergy is to foster connections. But sometimes we need to disconnect briefly.
6. Say no. I’m the first to overcommit to things and become overwhelmed. I have to learn to say no, even to others in the church. Some things are not my responsibility or should not be. We have to learn to delegate to others and share the load. If we take it all, there is little room for creativity or inspiration.
7. Seek others. Hang out with other clergy or colleagues or friends. Don’t get together and talk shop. Go bowling or to a movie or out to dinner and talk about other things rather than ministry. Give yourself one hour, one space, in which you are not the pastor. Time away helps you recharge and use other parts of your brain that sometimes are neglected in clergy life.
8. Read. Read books. Read articles. Read blogs. Read your Bible. Read a magazine. Do some reading every day. Remember those read-a-thon charts in elementary school? I don’t know about you, but we had, in almost every grade, some sort of reading challenge. In fourth grade we were challenged to read at least fifteen minutes a day and if everyone in the class read fifteen minutes a day all week we got an ice cream party. Everyone who read could earn points for rewards—and I always got the top rewards. In sixth grade, I read so much that I got every prize twice—I started over after finishing and won everything again. Yeah, I know. Overachiever. Anyway, back to the point—read fifteen minutes a day. Give yourself a treat at the end of the week if you finish—and if you don’t, start again the next week.
9. Don’t sweat it when it doesn’t come together. I had planned today, my first full day back in the office, to begin in prayer, plan out themes, plan out my visitation schedule, make meal plans and an exercise schedule—and the water heater in the parsonage decided today was the day to break down and flood. Things happen. I spent much of my day on the phone taking care of the situation, which meant getting approval to replace the water heater, cleaning up the mess, and figuring out if they were going to shut off all our water to the parsonage or not which would necessitate a hotel stay (luckily, that turned out not to be the case, and I’m writing this knowing I will not get a shower in the morning).
10. Pray. I sadly know a lot of pastors who do not pray outside of Sunday morning. Everyone’s prayer practice is very different. Some of us pray in the shower, some of us close the door (and turn our phone to silent!). Some of us pray for others out loud; others of us simply take deep breaths. Whatever it is you do, do it. Create a spiritual discipline that is yours and that you can keep. It will help remind you of where the source of your creative energy comes from, especially in those times you feel drained. Above everything else, find time every day to pray.
Happy New Year!