self-care

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!

Clergy Appreciation Month

By Rev. Mindi 

In the past month, I have had five clergy friends think about quitting, look for a new (non-pastoral) job, or actually leave the church for good. And there have been a few times I have thought about joining them.


What is going on?

It’s Clergy Appreciation Month, but not a lot of clergy appreciation seems to be happening. Instead, it seems more like Clergy Expectation Month:

--Expectations of working a 9-5 work week plus evenings and Sundays

--Expectations of pleasing everyone, of not making waves, of getting along

--Expectations that if the pastor is effective, more people should be coming in the doors

--Expectations that pastors have a special gift to handle more stress than others

Perhaps I’m just exaggerating… or perhaps you have been there, too. With clergy salaries frozen or cut, and the cost of seminary education continuing to rise, I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it to tell those who are thinking about ministry to maybe think about some other way that they can serve God.

But I know the truth. When you are called, you know that if there was something else in life you could do that would make you happy, you’d do it. But there isn’t, and that’s why you are here. Because this is who you are.

So how do we make it through? How do we make it through the terrible meetings, the exhaustion, the emotional toil? How do we make it through when our blood pressure is (literally) rising to unhealthy levels because of the stress? How can we serve God best when we have these unrealistic expectations loaded onto our shoulders?

I’m not saying anything new here, but it needs to be said again. 

We feel so alone. We feel that there is no one we can turn to.

We cannot allow ourselves to become isolated.  And the best way to do that is to make sure that others aren’t isolated either.

Clergy friends, we need each other. We need prayer partners, we need accountability groups, we need retreats. We need respite care for ourselves. We need to be able to talk and laugh and cry and hug and care for each other.  We need to share our crisis of faith as well as our frustrations about church life. But most of all, we need to lift up one another, to listen to one another, and be there for one another.

But I think we need to take it a step further. I know that in this last move, I have had a hard time finding clergy groups to be a part of.  Within my own denomination there are groups, but I’m more removed from the urban center so there are few near me. I’m also limited because I’m part-time and have other community events, parenthood and other commitments. But I’ve never been invited by another local clergy person outside of my denomination even for coffee. I have introduced myself to a few clergy members, but nothing has ever come of it. It’s been easier to be isolated than ever before, it seems.

But then I get that green light on my email and see that there is a Google Hangout of clergy friends from back in Oklahoma, or a Skype call from clergy back in Massachusetts.  I receive a prayer card in the mail from a retired clergy member I knew when I started in ministry, and that Facebook message that says, “Thinking of you.”  And I remember that I’m not alone.

Friends, we cannot be alone. We need each other. We need to know that there are those who will help us through the tough times. Perhaps if we can reach out to one another and help bear each other’s burdens a bit, we can slow down the thoughts of giving up, and instead give to each other. 

My prayers are with you.

It's the Most Frustrating Time of the Year

By Rev. Mindi

A Song for Pastors in October

 

It’s the most frustrating time of the year

With nominating committee meetings & telephone greetings
Saying “It’s just for one year,”
It’s the most hectic time of the year
It’s the busy, busiest season of all
With those budget shortfalls and stewardship calls

When you just hit a wall--
It’s the busy, busiest season of all 

There’ll be meetings galore
And complaining some more 
And talks of red lines of woe
There'll be letters too long
And announcements gone wrong 
Reminiscing of the church long ago

It's the most hectic time of the year 
Because when this is done 
Thanksgiving will come 
And then Advent is here-- 
It's the most hectic time of the year 

There'll be canvasing done 
(aren’t stewardship cards fun?)

And meetings running late into the night 
There'll be phone calls made 
And rejections delayed
As nominating tries to fill the board right 

It's the busy, busiest time of the year
Because when this is done 
Thanksgiving will come 
And Advent draws near 
It's the most busiest time 
It's the most hectic time 
It's the most tiring time 
It's the busy, busiest time—of the year!

 

(Clergy, take some self-care days, please!)

“Does God Keep You Up At Night?”

By Rev. Mindi

That was the slogan for the Conference on Ministry that I attended when I was a prospective student for seminary. I don’t remember paying attention to it all that much, except the fact for me was God was not keeping me up at night. I had known I was called to be a minister since I was thirteen. While I had wavered slightly in college, more from fear and less from doubt, I had always known I’d go on to seminary and sure enough, I even picked that school.

But what kept me up back then, and what keeps me up at night, are still the same things. And they’re not good things. They’re not even bad things such as war, poverty—even the Government Shutdown right now—that should cause me to feel sick to my stomach to the point of wanting to change the world. They’re the things that keep me from being a healthy person and a healthy pastor.

What keeps me up at night? Budgets. Student loans. Drama between two people. Miscommunications. Worrying about my son’s education. Thinking about how in the heck I will pay for college for my son when it is already more than twice what it was when I attended. Committee meetings turned sour. Health care. Retirement. Indigestion (probably related to some of those things).

What kept me up at night in college was the worry that I’d get through seminary and not find a church. Find I was un-call-able. Be ordained but not be able to pay off my college loans. How much debt I was leaving school with.  And while some of those things have faded away, much of it has remained.

It’s not God that keeps me up at night, but all the things that hold me back from God.  And it’s not even those things, it is the fear.

It’s a hard time to be clergy. Many of us are going to part-time positions and try to balance work and home life and all the while, we still have the same student loans to pay along with other bills, and with tuition rates going up, it’s not going to get better.

I preach about how fear is what holds us back from following God, and yet it is so hard for me to let go of my own fears. Conversations play over and over again in my mind. Bills come in and pile up by the toaster. What is it that I’m afraid of?

Failing.

Afraid of not having enough to make it through. Afraid of letting down my congregation or my family. Afraid of letting down myself (“I should have written that book by now and have paid off my debt by now!”) Afraid of not living up to some standard.

That’s not God keeping me up at night.  I don’t believe for a second God thinks I’m a failure, or thinks I don’t do enough, or thinks I’m not good enough. 

Friends, it’s high time we let go of the standards set before us.  We are going to be in debt. We are going to struggle with bills. Ministry is a tough place and budgets are tight.  But we need to know that God does not see us as failures.  Instead, I’m sure God sees new opportunities and possibilities.

I sorta wish it was God keeping me up at night, telling me that there are hungry people in my neighborhood, homeless right down the street. I wish I was kept up at night because of the war in Syria (which the news seems to have conveniently forgotten) or those who are affected directly because of the shutdown. I wish I could turn to seeing what needs to be done in the world, instead of looking only at myself.

Even then, however, I’m sure God would want us to see the possibilities and the opportunities, and not to beat ourselves up about it.  Not getting any sleep doesn’t help anyone. Even Jesus slept at the back of the boat; so perhaps we, too, need to close our eyes to the worries of ministry around us and be refreshed, dreaming of the ways God is using us now, for I believe God is using us, exactly as we are.

Messages on the Bathroom Wall

By Rev. Mindi

I’ve not had a great week, let’s just say that. Balancing parenting a special needs child and ministry is difficult. Ministry is difficult. There are demands every which way and you can never satisfy everyone’s demand.

People call on a daily basis looking for assistance and nine times out of ten, I can’t help them. The resources aren’t there. We are a very small church, but we do what we can and we’ve narrowed our assistance to food and refer everyone else on to social services. But that, of course, does not make most people happy.  Many times people hang up on me. Sometimes they even accuse me of not being helpful, or worse, not being a Christian. They tell me no one will help them. Maybe that’s all true. Maybe I am a lousy Christian because I don’t help every person who comes to me and often I turn them away. Once in a while, I can help with either a food donation or a gift card, but that’s it.

I am the pastor of a small church, but even so, it seems like I never have the time to visit everyone who could use a visit. Because my child is young, he is home with me or at the office with me a lot, making it difficult to go out and visit like I feel I should. I always seem to be a step or two behind on paperwork, on worship planning, on visioning with the church.

My energy is often low, especially on days when my son has been up since 2 a.m. There are days where I simply cannot focus on ministry. I would call them sick days, but really it’s “I’m-just-so-tired-I-need-a-break” days. They often are combined after a week of meetings and church events and therapies for my son and then a night where he doesn’t sleep.

Sometimes I wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life.

And then I remember.

*****

I was sitting on the darkwood pew, doodling on the bulletin. I put the little half-pencil with hardly any lead down, picking up the hymnal as I stood up to sing along with the congregation. This church was a little weird, in that they sang all the “Amens” at the end of hymns. I wondered if other churches sang the “Amens” and if my home church was the only one who didn’t. It seemed to make the hymn dreadfully longer than it needed to be. I looked out over the mass of silver haired heads in front of me. My mother sang perfect alto harmony as we neared the “Amen.” It echoed in my ears after we had put our hymnals back and sat down.  Then my grandfather went up to the pulpit.

I don’t remember what the Scripture reading was. I don’t really remember much of the sermon, except the part where my grandfather talked about two men who had come out as gay and loved each other. I don’t know why that is the only part of the sermon I remember, I guess it is because in 1990 it seemed a little shocking to vocalize support for GLBTQ people from the pulpit. But more importantly, what I remember is this:

“That will be you someday.”

It wasn’t a voice, it was more like a feeling—no, more like a push inside my gut and heart saying this is who you are. A minister. It’s in your blood. My grandfather, his twin brother and younger brother, their father and grandfather—all Baptist ministers. And suddenly, I knew who I was and who I was going to be. I was sure of it, certain of it, and that certainty stayed with me a long time.

Throughout high school, that certainty remained silently inside while I listened to my good Christian friends tell me how women couldn’t be ministers.

Throughout college, when at times I questioned my call, thought about going to graduate school for creative writing instead, that certainty kept me from filling out the applications for Master of Arts programs and instead requesting information for Master of Divinity degrees.

Throughout seminary, when I questioned the Bible, even Jesus sometimes, and wondered what the heck I was doing and why my dating life was suffering, that certainty melded into my identity. I began to see myself as a minister, as a church pastor, as leading a congregation. And when I became a little afraid and applied for a few non-ministry positions while in seminary as “backup,” the certainty was there in the relief I felt when those positions fell through.  Indeed, by the time I graduated I had already been called to be a Christian Education minister that later grew into a full Associate position.

*****

The certainty is still there—when I doubt it all after a hard board meeting, when I have had little sleep trying to balance parenthood and ministry, when I am pulled in every direction—my heart and my gut say, “This is you.”

God says, “This is you.”

Because a long time ago, even before I sat in that pew at my grandfather’s church, I was at my home church in Alaska which rented space from an Episcopal church. One of those funny Episcopalians—I have no idea if it was a layperson or the rector—had printed a little card and had taped it to the bottom of the restroom mirrors.

That card read, “You are looking at a minister.”

So whenever I go to the bathroom, I look at myself. I look at a minister. I look at the one called by God.

My gut and my heart say, “This is you.”