creativity

Like a kid who can't sleep at night: Excitement in pastoral ministry

By Rev. Mindi

My son AJ gets so excited for school that he has trouble going to bed at night. Often as we finish up his bath routine and get ready for bed, he starts repeating stories or songs or other rhythmic patterns he learned from school. It runs through his head and then he can’t shut it down. He’s just so excited for school. Even in the morning, sleepy as he is, once he is out the door waiting for the bus, he is excited.

I’ve been feeling this way about the churches I serve lately. But let me step back for a minute and let me be honest:

I don’t always feel excited about ministry.

The day in, day out of pastoral ministry can be draining. I’m sure I’m writing to the choir but day after day of pastoral calls, visitations, hearing complaints and frustrations, and dealing with budget shortfalls, disappointment over not having enough volunteers, and working way too many hours can just take its toll. Ministry can, at times, seem more like a dead-end job instead of a calling.

During school vacations our son gets bored after the first few days. He doesn’t fight the bedtime routine much. He gets a little more irritated and aggravated during the day as well as a little more mischievous.

Church can be a little like that. Boundaries get tested and people seem to be more aggravated and irritated at times.  Maybe it’s not that church is boring, but that when there aren’t many changes to the pattern, it appears like boredom.  We get annoyed.

How do we break that pattern for ourselves as clergy? Look back on where you have found excitement before. Where have you found renewed energy in the past?

For me, the excitement and energy was found when I gathered with a small group of church members and started to ask what excited and energized them about church. They began talking about things such as small group dinners, book groups, lunch gatherings. Things they remembered from the past, or things they always wanted to try but hadn’t done so.

What I did was listen, encourage, and bless.

I listened to their memories, their ideas and old dreams. I let them romanticize and be nostalgic. I asked questions about those good memories.

I encouraged the ideas that had legs. I encouraged the people who had those ideas that they had the gifts to lead, to plan and to implement. I offered help only where I felt it absolutely necessary to guide or tweak, but otherwise, I encouraged them to lead.

I blessed the ideas by acknowledging them, sharing them, and lifting them up.

In another church, I had what I thought was a good idea and shared it with another member. While they had reservations about it, they had another, similar idea, and I did the same. I listened to the concerns. I encouraged the new idea and offered to help. And I blessed the opportunity to share in ministry with another.

Now, I’m the one bouncing with excitement, thinking of the ways the Spirit is moving in the church. I’m the one who is excited to be in community with these great people of faith. 

And here’s another thing I learned: While excited about my ministry, the aggravations and irritations and attitudes of discouragement don’t get to me the same way. I’m not concerned about them, not spending my time and energy worrying and fretting.

That’s not to say I won’t have a time when it will happen again. That’s not to say I won’t get tired or burned out and not feel excited. But I am hopeful as a minister that those times will be shorter and less frequent, that I will remember to start again by listening, then encouraging and blessing, and the joy and excitement of the Spirit doing new things in ministry will return rather quickly.

 

Disclaimer: I realize this may be a stretch. But it’s 10:15 pm and I’ve put my son back to bed for the umpteenth time, and in thinking about his excitement for school, I was reminded of how excited I am, right now, in my pastoral ministry. I’ve never been more excited and passionate about what God is doing in the congregations I serve and in my life than now.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

By Rev. Mindi

As you probably know, Christmas doesn’t begin until December 25th, but it doesn’t end there, either. In the Christian tradition, Christmas lasts twelve days (December 25th through January 5th), and then we celebrate Epiphany on January 6th. However, most of our American/Western culture started celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and the trees and decorations are down on December 26th. Most radio stations stop playing Christmas music on December 25th, and the Christmas specials and movies end their airtime on TV that day as well.  Satellite radio will at least go through New Year’s Eve and most businesses will keep their decorations up until then, but that’s it.  Most people do not know about the Twelve Days of Christmas besides the song.

Advent is a wonderful season, and Advent calendars for children are a great way to learn about waiting for Christmas. Advent devotionals are a great way for families or just adults to spend time reflecting on what the Incarnation means to them. Many churches write their own Advent devotionals with activities to do as a family during this season. But after December 25th, there is nothing.

Seeing how, at least in the United States, most children are out of school for two weeks (almost the entire Christmas season itself), I am proposing we do more to acknowledge and celebrate the twelve days of Christmas.  I will be writing a devotional with activities for families—both children and adults—to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and to spend time together. Plus, let’s face it—the novelty of new toys wears off in a few days and the whole second week of vacation can be spent counting down the hours and minutes until school starts again (at least from a parent’s point of view).  As a parent of a child with special needs, the break in routine and regular schedules can also be difficult to navigate—one or two days is fine; two weeks seems like two months.

And while this is a great idea to take up time while school is out, it’s more than that—this can be a time to acknowledge, celebrate and respond to the Incarnation in our very homes and daily lives. The Incarnation gets swept away in the cultural celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Even in the life of the church, the first Sunday of Christmas is often a Sunday with low attendance, carol-sings, guest preachers or other special activities. The following Sunday is often Epiphany Sunday or looking at the New Year. We end up missing the Incarnation that we waited all Advent to celebrate.

So I will be putting together a Twelve Days of Christmas Calendar on my website, http://rev-o-lution.org, along with some activities before Christmas to help prepare (and to take up those few days of no school before Christmas) and will conclude with Epiphany.

In the meantime, think of how you might mark the Incarnation rather than just recycling your wrapping paper (although that is a good idea). Celebrate the Incarnation not just in worship on Christmas Eve, but in your daily practice. Don't let Christmas be overshadowed by the busy-ness of Advent. As tired as we clergy may be, we also need to remember God's entry into this world in a new way. We all too easily let Christmas fade away after December 25th. I hope we don't this time.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Creative Pastors, Energized Ministries

By Rev. Mindi

Some might think I’ve taken a few steps down in my career: I started off as an associate minister of a well-to-do congregation in an urban area. The type of church that pastors like to retire from.  The type of church that is often called a flagship church.  But I felt called to something else, so I moved to a smaller urban church in another town, where I had no administrator, and after my first two years, I became a solo pastor.  Then I took time off and became a volunteer chaplain and stay-at-home mom while my husband pursued a full-time call into ministry.  And now I am the part-time pastor of a very small church, which was referred to as “Oh, isn’t that church a dying church?” during a clergy conversation recently.

It’s not a dying church.  I don’t believe it is.  And while I have enjoyed each calling differently, I am loving this call because this is exactly where I am supposed to be, now.  This is how I have felt at every position I have been called to so far, and I hope it will continue.  Right now is where I am called to be.

One of the great skills that all pastors need is the skill of drawing out people’s gifts.  In my view, many of those gifts lie in great ideas—creative energy—that often lies dormant in the minds and hearts of people.  They are afraid to share their great idea because it will be turned down. Because no one will hear them. Because someone will say there isn’t enough money or enough people to do it, or it’s not the right time.  And the idea, the dream, the energy—will fizzle out, fade and even die at times.

There are different ways to draw out the gifts of others. Some will go to a meeting and say, “Anyone have any bright ideas?” It’s not exactly the best way to start, especially if you’ve had a history of people turning down ideas for the reasons mentioned above.  People may be afraid to share their ideas.  There’s also the risk that people who don’t have such great ideas, but instead say, “Church A is doing this down the street, we need to do what they are doing,” will come forth.  Just taking other people’s ideas and programs doesn’t really work and is trying to be a band-aid to the real problem, which is not using the gifts of the people you have.

What I have found in my ministry is that when I share my ideas, my energy and enthusiasm, others catch on to the spirit, but are fueled for their own ideas.  In a church where we had few children and no ideas for a Children’s ministry other than “we want them to feel welcome in the worship service,” we are now coming up with creative ideas for children’s space within the worship service as well as for those who would prefer to go to their own space downstairs (cleaning out the nursery that has been used as a storage facility for the past few years).  We are moving from a Wednesday night Bible study series into a Pub theology forum.  And while I may have begun with these ideas, others in my congregation are now sharing their ideas for Children’s ministry, outreach to seniors, and other ways to be involved in the community.

In order to give space for people to use their gifts, to share their creative energy through their ideas and dreams, a leader also has to be willing to share their creative energy, their ideas and dreams. And it all takes a little work. There are still the same trip-ups that happen, where someone shares the idea but doesn’t want to do the work. Some ideas sound really great but are awful once you start implementing them, or just don’t fit your community.  Time and again I have found myself starting off with a great idea, then find myself doing the work, then realizing that if I stopped no one would really notice (except with a “Why aren’t we doing that anymore?” question at the next board meeting).

But don’t stop. Try and try again. I have found in all of my ministry locations that when I come to the table with ideas, not only do others get on board, but they get inspired. They remember the idea they once had a few years ago and find the courage to bring it up again.  They see your energy and enthusiasm and are encouraged to tap into their God-given gifts and creativity.

There is life in the small churches, and perhaps there is still time to re-create the vision (Habakkuk 2:2), to be inspired again, to see the possibilities for new life in ideas that had been dormant for so long.  So don’t give up. Be creative. Let your ideas flow. Go for it.