renewal

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.

Ten Tips for Cultivating Creativity in Ministry for 2014

By Rev. Mindi

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!

Lion of Judah, King of Israel [Hebrews 3:7-14]

I preached this sermon on October 29, 2006, and guess what -- the vision came true! A 53-year-old church still satisfies even charter members with traditional worship, draws young families with contemporary worship and children's church, and builds a new community on a recovery ministry. With 150-200 worshipers on Sunday and 60-90 at Celebrate Recovery, Tropical Sands Christian Church thrives because the old supports the new -- and vice versa! The premise is simple: If you want to settle down in the grasslands of Judah, you have to help the other tribes take the Promised Land!

Read More