Category: The Church

Taking a Spiritual Inventory (with printable worksheet!)

 

The older I get, the more convinced I am that our spiritual health and wellness is vital to our physical, emotional, and psychological health and wellness as well. (I guess I’m in the right profession!) In other areas of wellness I see a lot of resources for assessment. There are lots of ways to evaluate one’s physical health or psychological health, but how do I know if I’m spiritually healthy? How can I identify areas of spiritual health and wellness? I spent some time thinking about this and made a spiritual inventory for myself and others. If it sounds like something you might be interested in using, take a look! I would love to know if you have any questions or thoughts. Peace, and enjoy!

Evaluating Spiritual Wellness: A Guide

NOTE: To download a the questions in one easy worksheet, click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF

At the end of this, the goal is to feel more hopeful and inspired for future growth. If this isn’t the case, you did it wrong. (I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course!) It’s important to approach this exercise with that outset “I’d like to continue to grow spiritually, and I want to take look at where things are. The goal is not to give myself a grade or to feel poorly about how things are going.”

Spiritual health is intimately connected to physical, emotional, financial, and psychological heath. It’s hard to write about “spiritual health” divorced from these things. Often a detailed look into of all of life will yield interesting results or connections, and often one life change can show results in all of these areas. For example, taking up a practice of walking could lead to health in all sorts of areas, not just physical health. These are your questions, so it’s fine to go off on a “tangent.” If reflecting for a bit on spiritual health leads to some changes in the way you manage your money or cook your food, go with it. Maybe the Holy Spirit is up to something!

How to use these questions: Sky’s the limit! Some may choose to write down their answers all in one swoop, on a 1/2 or day long silent retreat. Others may choose to do them in a group, with trusted friends or mentors. Pastors and ministry leaders might want to use them as a “jumping off point” for a retreat or workshop on faith development. Work through them in a language that works for you, whether it’s long form writing or journaling, or painting, or conversation. Return to them as often as is necessary. I ordered these questions with a specific progression in mind. I believe you will get the most value from this exercise if you work through them in order and challenge yourself to complete every question. Enjoy!

1. What do I believe? (Crafting a personal faith statement)

There are no “right” answers here, and honesty is key. What do you believe about the world? About human nature? About God? Which beliefs are central to your sense of identity? For many of us, (pastors too!) we don’t often take the time to look at our beliefs closely, under a microscope. Sometimes, when we do, what we find surprises or even scares us. Consider how you want to write your personal faith statement. Do you want to write it out in narrative form? As a list of beliefs? Do you want to paint it? Make a poem? Tell a story? Select a series of photographs that illustrate your beliefs? Whatever you choose, make it something natural for you. Dig in deeply, here. What do I believe, for real? Nobody will be checking over your shoulder.

2. What are my biggest doubts and questions?

Doubts and questions are great teachers and an important part of mature faith. The purpose of writing these down is not to identify weakness or problems. Quite the opposite, identifying doubts and questions help make space for us to understand how the spirit is at work and where our faith is growing. What haunts you? What is bothering you? What can’t you reconcile? Put these things down on paper.  Sometimes just naming these things and writing them down can do remarkable things.

3. When do I hear God’s voice* most clearly now or in the past?

Perhaps there is a certain place you go where you hear God’s voice most clearly, or a certain state of being you are in when you feel the most connected to God.

I used the words “God’s voice” because it makes sense to me and it’s how I describe a feeling of spiritual connectedness to God and to others. There might be another way that works better for you. Perhaps “when do I feel most spiritually connected?” or “When am I most at peace with myself and others?”

4. How have my beliefs changed over time? How are they in the process of changing? What season or shape is my faith and spirituality taking right now?

Faith and spiritual wellness seems to change with seasons. Some describe “dry” or “dark” times of the soul when things are challenging or difficult. Others talk about “mountaintop” experiences when things seem to be going really well. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what season one is in at any particular time, but it’s helpful, I think, to take a look behind and consider how beliefs have changed over time, or are in the process of changing.

5. What spiritual practices are nurturing to me?

For this question, it might be helpful to think in terms of past spiritual practices, present ones and those that we’d like to try in the future. For this, it’s helpful to think of spiritual practices folks might label as “traditional” (such as prayer, meditation, fasting or acts of service) as well as those that might be unique to you: silence, poetry, art, walking, gardening, journaling, running. Whatever practice helps you to feel most spiritually alive and connected and able to hear God’s voice. Perhaps there is a practice that was valuable to you in the past which has somehow faded away, Write down those that were valuable in the past as well as those in the present. If there is no spiritual practice currently alive and active in your life, note that as well.

6. What goals would I like to implement in order to be more spiritually healthy?

By now, you have laid out a clear foundation of what you believe, what doubts and questions are brewing in you and what season of life you might be in. You’ve also taken the time to think about what spiritual practices are nurturing to you. Now is the time to think about some goals for spiritual wellness. I would caution against jumping straight to this question without doing the reflection that comes beforehand. Though it takes some time, it will put things into sharper focus and help refine what kind of spiritual practice you might want to embark on. A few “refresher course” words about goals. Goals should be as specific as possible and as quantifiable as possible. So saying “I’d like to meditate more” is far less effective than “I’d like to do ten minutes of meditation from Headspace per day for ten days in a row to see how it works for me.” When goals have specificity and can be measured, it’s much easier to see if you’re on track and, if not, to make a course correction. One helpful tip for goals is to make sure not to pile on too many. One or two is a great place to start, you can always add more, change or refine as time goes on.

7. What steps do I need to take in order to make my goals a reality?

Perhaps something needs to be moved off of your schedule in order to have the space and time to focus on a new goal. Perhaps you need to enlist the help of another person to encourage or help you stay focused. A word of caution here: be wary of thinking that your spiritual goals can only be reached by investing a lot of money. Particularly in North American culture, we’re trained to believe that if we just purchase the “right” (fill in the blank) we’ll have what we need. This is a lesson I feel like I’m still learning. Whenever I want to tackle the clutter in my house, I am tempted to buy more baskets or boxes or clutter busting devices when, in reality, what I need to do is this: get rid of the stuff that’s creating the clutter in the first place. There are so many great products, tools, services and “gadgets” to help with spiritual heath and wellness. Over time you may find a natural way to incorporate some of them into your life. At the same time, when you’re laying out your goals and vision, try to resist adding a long list of things to buy.

8. What resources do I have that will help me with my goal?

Here you can list personal resources (motivation, strength, kindness, attention), people resources (friends, spiritual mentors or leaders, family members.) and stuff resources (supplies, books, videos, songs.)

9. When will I begin?

The sooner the better!

10. When will I re-evaluate?

I think it’s a great idea to give yourself a relatively short timeframe (say 6-12 weeks) in which to try a new practice and then re-evaluate with a mini version of this inventory to see how things are going and try something new!

There you have it! My attempt at a spiritual inventory. I’ve done variations of this myself and found it very helpful. If you try it either on your own, or with a group, let me know how it goes in the comments. 

Don’t forget to snag your printable worksheet!  Click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF!

I would love to know your thoughts! Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking!

 

How to Transform Scarcity Mentality to Abundance Mentality in Ministry

Do you feel like your ministry is marked by a lack of time, volunteers and money? You’re not alone. Many ministry leaders feel this way, and while there’s no “one size fits all” remedy, I’ve come to believe an abundance mentality is part of a successful ministry.

The idea of abundance mentality comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (now a classic!). Covey writes,

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

In deep contrast to this mentality is the abundance mentality. The abundance mentality says there’s more than enough (time, volunteers, and money) to go around.”

I think this general concept is a very useful one for ministry, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Often, it seems, when we open ourselves up to abundance, we find it. When we’re in “scarcity mode,” we’re anxious, overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Scarcity mentality leads to cynicism and burnout.

Having an abundance mentality means focusing one’s energy on the belief that resources are not limited, and that there is more than enough to go around. Covey writes that leaders with a scarcity mindset will compete for resources even when there’s an abundance of them.

Properly understood, the abundance mentality can be helpful in combating some of the common struggles and challenges of ministry: lack of time, volunteers, and money. I’ll start with time:

Scarcity mentality: “I don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Abundance mentality: “I can delegate, prioritize, and let go.”

Being busy is often seen as such a badge of honor and evidence that a person is productive. It’s not true. Some of the most productive pastors, authors and parents I know have plenty of time to relax and enjoy life. Conversely I know some people who are constantly “busy” who don’t seem to produce very much. Lack of time is often lack of time management. When we feel like there’s too much to do, often the solution isn’t more time, it’s a better handle on how to complete the tasks before us in the time allotted. Have you ever had the experience of getting surprisingly little done when you didn’t have that much to do in the first place? That’s because of Parkinson’s Law which says work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. To have time in abundance, remember to delegate, prioritize, and let go.

  • DELEGATE – Ask yourself, do I need to be doing this task? Which lay leader or staff person might be better equipped to do this? If I feel I’m the only one who can do this, why do I feel that way?
  • PRIORITIZE – At the beginning of the day, ask yourself what absolutely has to happen today? Try, if you can, to get the “must dos” done as early on in the day. One abundance trick I learned recently was to put only three items on the to-do list each day and ask about each item “If this was the only item I got done today, would it be enough?” One of the tricky things about ministry, I think, is that there are so many balls in the air, all the time.
  • LET GO –  I used to have a little post it note on my desk that had two questions: 1. What is the value in getting this done? and 2. What is the risk in not doing it? There are a lot of things we do out of habit and think they are important when, in fact, they take up a disproportionate amount of time for their value. One classic example of this for pastors is Newsletter articles. I agree with MaryAnn McKibben Dana that many pastors should consider not doing them. 

Scarcity Mentality: “I don’t have enough volunteers to do the work of ministry.”

Abundance Mentality: “I can ask, empower, train, and thank.”

Most churches I know run on volunteer power, yet it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. Working with volunteers is a huge part of ministry, yet it’s not taught or talked about in seminary very much. If you have people in your congregation, you have potential volunteers. To have volunteers in abundance, ask, empower, train and thank.

  • ASK – The first step in getting volunteers is to ask. Seems obvious, but often overlooked, at least when it comes to asking in a way that will get people to sign up. Some common mistakes in terms of getting volunteers, in my experience are
    1. Doing a blanket ask rather than a personal ask. Putting “all calls” in the bulletin or standing up in front of worship and trying to get volunteers is great, and sometimes it works, but nothing is more effective than thinking about the specific job you need done and making a phone call or asking a specific person face-to-face. It’s easy to ignore “if you’re interested in volunteering, please talk to me.” It’s much harder to turn down the personal ask.
    2. Being super apologetic/having a low standard for volunteers. This is something I learned from Doug Field’s book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry back in the day. In that book he talks about how Youth Directors often stand up and say “We need volunteers for the youth group. We’ll take anybody. Pleeeeeease help.” In reality, the pitch should be “Working with our youth group is an amazing privilege and opportunity for you. Apply to help out and we’ll consider you!” His point was that the youth deserve the best possible quality in their volunteers and the volunteers deserve to know that what they’re doing is important and makes a difference. The same thing is true when asking for volunteers to do any other job in the church. It’s important to be confident you’re not asking them to do something painful, you’re asking them to participate in the kingdom of God on earth.
    3. Not being clear about what you want or need. “Can you help with the soup supper?” is a completely different ask than “Will you bring two bags of tortilla chips to church for the soup supper?” or “Will you come one hour before the soup supper and set tables?”
  • EMPOWER – One of the things ministry leaders need to be crystal clear about is that our ministries work better when we’re not the center of everything. I know many ministers who take on all kinds of tasks that would be better suited to volunteers, either because they don’t know how to delegate, or because they’re afraid that if they don’t do everything, their congregations will think they’re lazy. I appreciate the wisdom that says leaders are effective when they’re able to work themselves out of a job, or at the very least, not have catastrophe when they’re away. Empowering means allowing people to take ownership and do things “their way.”
  • TRAIN – Sometimes things that seem obvious to the leader or minister are a challenge to the volunteer. Organizing a youth lock in is a piece of cake to a youth minister who has done it a hundred times before, but to a volunteer, there are a daunting number of moving parts. Take the task you need done and break it up into simple steps. Walk the volunteer(s) through exactly what needs to be done at each turn. Creating guides or videos with the directions is a great way to only have to do the training once.
  • THANK  – Minsters get paid for the work we do. Volunteers are, by definition, unpaid. So often we are running to the next thing that we forget to say thank you. Notes, sincere hugs with “thank you so much,” announcements, and simple gifts of recognition are easy and they increase the likelihood that volunteers will stay engaged.

Scarcity Mentality: “We don’t have enough money.”

Abundance Mentality: “We live within our means, take calculated risks, invest in what matters, and are faithful with what God has given us.”

Let me be clear. An abundance mentality when it comes to money is not the same as saying “If you think positive thoughts or pray hard enough, or are holy enough, you and your congregation will be rich.” I believe there is an important difference between the abundance mindset described by Covey and the message of abundance taught by advocates of the prosperity gospel.  Both are rooted in the idea that it is important to cultivate positive thoughts and think positively, but the prosperity gospel teaches that financial success and health are evidence of God’s will and favor. In writing about an abundance mindset here, I’m not implying that those whose ministries are struggling and suffering are not following God’s will. On the contrary, God always shows up among the marginalized and disenfranchised. That said, a scarcity mentality when it comes to finances often leads churches to destruction because they are unwilling to “think big” or invest in their futures. To have money in abundance, make the following true for your congregation: we live within our means, take risks, invest in what matters and are faithful with what God has given us.

  • LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS: In church budgets, as with home budgets, going into unsustainable debt is the quickest way to financial scarcity and anxiety. One of the biggest ways churches run into this kind of trouble is by having buildings that are too large for them.
  • TAKE CALCULATED RISKS: Many times in order to grow, churches need to try something new or take a risk. Oftentimes the best thing a dying church could do would be to spend money on consultants or other investments that would help them get out of trouble. With a scarcity mentality, there’s a belief that spending money in order to grow or get out of trouble is foolish, and “saving money” becomes a self-destructive idol. I love Dan Pallotta’s TED talk The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong  for more on this way of thinking.
  • INVEST IN WHAT MATTERS: Churches aren’t trying to make a profit, so the way we handle money is fundamentally different than the business world. Our “business” is the kingdom of God, so when we spend large sums of money on caring for those Jesus calls the “least of these,” we’re making an investment in something we can’t put a price tag on. Often churches find that when they invest in mission and outreach, the money follows. Why? Because people are inspired and invested and they want to be a part of it.
  • BE FAITHFUL WITH WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN: Recently the church I pastor noticed that a sum of money was in an account that, instead of earning interest, was actually being charged a small amount of money each month. A group of people got together, made a plan, and put the money elsewhere. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Later, when we received a larger amount of money, we were prepared. A struggling church should ask the question “How will we manage our funds when there is a surplus?” and begin to implement the answers right away.

 

So what do you think? Where do you see abundance mindset working for your ministry? Comment and let us know!

Food for thought:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252840

http://www.success.com/article/john-c-maxwell-6-tips-to-develop-and-model-an-abundance-mindset

 

15 Reasons Pastors Should Visit As Much as Possible

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A couple of weeks ago an article called “Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much” by Thom Rainer was circulating widely on Social Media. It has been rattling around in my mind for a few days and I’ve debated whether or not to post my own thoughts on visiting. Ultimately, I decided to write my own list of fifteen reasons I take a different approach to visiting. My goal is not to say that my way is the best way or that the original article isn’t worth some food for thought. Different churches require different leadership styles, and no two church (or minister) is the same.  My own philosophy is to visit as much as I can, knowing that balancing all the demands of ministry is always a challenge. There are seasons when I feel like I’m woefully behind on visiting and other seasons when it’s great to catch up on folks.  Here are fifteen reasons I think pastors should try to visit as much as possible. I’ve tried to address the opposing view of many of the arguments in the original piece.

  1. It is biblical – The Ephesians text about pastors training others to do ministry reminds us that church members must be mindful that visiting isn’t exclusively the job of the pastor. This doesn’t mean that the pastor is “off the hook” for visiting because he or she has trained others to do the work. Pastors have many examples in scripture about the importance of bearing one another’s burdens, visiting the sick and needy, and praying for one another. These verses don’t speak exclusively to pastors, but pastors do well to remember them as we visit out in the world.
  2. Visiting sets a positive example for members to follow – It is absolutely true that ministers should not be the only visitors in a congregation, but pastor can lead by example as we visit our members, even bringing other elders and members along with us as we do this.
  3. It brings in people who are out on the margins – The most important people to visit are those who don’t have strong connections to other church members or strong family relationships. Visiting these members helps them to maintain connected to the church, particularly when they’re not as connected as other people. There are simply some people who fall through the cracks. The pastor is often in a unique position to know who these people are and visit them.
  4. It fosters an “out in the world” mentality – I have written before about how important it is for pastors to be out of their offices  and visiting is a great example of that. When folks stop by or call and hear the office administrator say that the minister won’t be able to take the call because s/he is out visiting, it sends a strong message that the church is out in the world.
  5. It enhances sermon preparation – Sermon preparation requires study and office time, to be sure, but it also requires a connection to the living word in the world. The pastor’s sermons are enhanced by getting out of the office and visiting his or her members. It connects pastors to the people to whom they are preaching, and it helps ground the weekly message.
  6. It helps ministers understand the community in which they are ministering and serving – When pastors are visiting, we are in homes, hospitals, retirement communities, detention centers, jails, schools and countless other places in our community. It is on these visits that we can learn about what life is like for our parishioners on the six days a week they’re not in worship.
  7. It strengthens relationships – We can only get to know one another so well in five and ten minute snippets. Its during longer visits that we have the chance to hear the whole story about how Mr. and Mrs. Jones met and fell in love, or what happened so many years ago during that Christmas Eve service.
  8. It allows congregants to get to know their pastors on a deeper level, and even give back by caring for them – I am usually visiting to help show love and care and concern for my church members, but they always show that same concern for me. It’s a joy for me to be able to share stories about my call to ministry, my family and my views on where the church is headed with congregants and visitors, and they appreciate hearing these things too.
  9. It means so much to the people being visited – I have heard people tell about visits they had from a pastor that happened years ago, when someone came by to offer a special word of encouragement and prayer when it was most needed. Visits provide community, comfort, conversation and connection.
  10. It can be energizing for pastors and remind us why we went into ministry in the first place – To be engaged in a person’s life at the happy and sad moments is a true honor and a privilege. There is truly no more important task in ministry.
  11. It provides an opportunity for “out of the church” thinking – Sometimes folks think differently about the church when they’re not sitting within the walls of the church. This goes for pastors and parishioners alike.
  12. It is an investment of time that is multiplied many times over – When the pastor visits one person, that person often tells other people. Instead of being a negative as pointed out in the original article, this can be wonderfully positive. Congregations gain a sense of assurance that their leader cares for them. Just because there is potential that someone might feel slighted (why wasn’t I visited?) doesn’t mean the solution is to not visit anyone.
  13. It can be wonderfully affirming for pastor in a very healthy way – So much of ministry is never finished. There are always more goals to reach, new projects to take on. Sometimes the satisfaction of saying “There is still suffering in the world. I did not get all of the things crossed off the to-do list, but for one hour today I know that my presence made a difference in someone’s life” is enough to help a pastor to feel encouraged.
  14. It can share the good news about your congregation to many more people than just your members – When we visit we get to meet our congregation’s family, their friends, their co-workers and their neighbors. Sometimes we run in to people we’d never meet within the walls of the church.
  15. It is a sign that the church is alive and well – Visiting should not happen to the exclusion of other, equally important and vital tasks, but I would never say that a pastor who visits his or her members is a symbol that a church is dying. If so, we ought to redefine our definition of life and death.

Good leaders lead by example, and visiting is a very important part of a healthy ministry. I’m curious about your thoughts! Do you think visiting is an important work of pastoral ministry? Why or why not?

Q&A with Kyndall Rothaus, Author of Preacher Breath

Front Cover

It’s with great joy that I’m hosting this Q&A with my friend Kyndall (pronounced like Kindle. In fact, we call her Kindle Fire in our house.) Rothaus.  Kyndall is a preacher-poet. Ever met one? Me neither. Let me say this: everybody needs a preacher-poet in their life. Kyndall recently published a book all my preacher peeps have to read, and I asked her to do a Q&A for the blog to start getting the word out. 

TS: Kyndall, thank you so much for stopping by my blog and doing a Q&A about Preacher Breath. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time! Ok, how about I give you a question that sounds kind of artsy and awesome and gives you a wordy challenge. You are a poet, after all. Here goes. Give us your resume in 10 words: 

KR: pastor, poet, lover-of-words-and-nature, very solidly human

TS: Yup. That describes the Kyndall I know, at least. Ok, how about something juicy. Three pet peeves: 

KR: ?

TS: Seriously? No pet peeves to report? I assume those will be revealed in your second book. Moving on… Three hidden talents?

KR: I am an eighty percent free throw shooter, I can fit in small spaces, and I am almost always the coldest person in a room no matter how many layers I am wearing, which I find remarkably inexplicable.

TS:  How about three writers who influence your work?

KR: Hard to narrow it down to three! At the current moment, these three writers are near the top of the list: Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, and Alice Walker.

TS: Ok, so the reason we’re all here. You just published a book! Tell us a little about your book, Preacher Breath

KR: Preacher Breath is a written reflection of my ongoing journey to live as a wholehearted person, to preach with sincerity and imagination, and to approach both Scripture and world with a sense of wonder and playfulness. The last two years of my life have been extremely difficult, but out of that dark place emerged this book—evidence to me of the light that dawns after long nights.

TS: Who is the target audience?

KR: I sorta see Preacher Breath being for anyone on the journey towards an authentic life, but of course I imagine it having a special appeal to preachers who are fed up trying to be perfect.

TS: Wait, I’m supposed to be trying to be perfect? Ha! I know what you mean. As a pastor, I found it to be so affirming and just… gentle. I love how yur book is organized around the human body. There are chapters like “Heart: Purpose in Preaching” and “Veins: Emotion in Preaching.” So clever and so true. How did you come up with that? Was there one chapter/part of the body that inspired all the others? 

KR: The chapter titles sort of just poured out of me. But I think the chapters happened that way because the connection of the body to the soul has been a significant aspect of my spiritual growth. I want a full-bodied faith, you know? It’s easier for me to stay stuck in my own mind, but I’m on a quest to let faith seep all the way down to my toes. A disembodied religion just doesn’t do justice to the miracle of the

preacher, poet, friend, Kyndall

  incarnation. 

TS: The chapter that was the most interesting to me was “Skin: Vulnerability in Preaching.” With Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, it seems to be a “hot topic.” For me, I always feel like I’m walking a thin line between some of the things you say (vulnerability is good for the congregation when tastefully expressed) and some of the other wisdom I’ve heard (namely that too much vulnerability or “falling apart” is unhealthy for the congregation.) How do you balance the two? How does a preacher know when she is being “tastefully” vulnerable, or just a wreck? 

KR: Well, the preacher rarely knows for certain when she is being tastefully vulnerable versus being a wreck. You have to make your best guess and go with it. I know my natural tendency is to be private and to hide, so if something is prompting me to be more honest and open, that prompting is probably exactly what I need to do. I don’t know how to balance it perfectly, but I do think it helps to pay attention to your motives. If you’re being “vulnerable” to get attention, to make people feel sorry for you, or to try and feel better, that may be a sign you are falling apart and expecting the congregation to fix you, which won’t work. If you’re self-disclosing your human struggle and feel scared to death what will happen when you do, chances are, you’re on the right track.

If you believe your troubles are worse than anyone else around you, and that by sharing them, you’ll get sympathy, this is not good. If you think by daring to expose what is most personal to you may in fact have the capacity to resonate with other hurting people, this is good. Very good. I think it means you’re getting it—that we are all having a hard time and that we are all connected.

Share in order to connect, not to get attention. But do share. If you want your people to stop hiding, you have to be willing to go first.

TS: Which chapter/passage of the book are you most proud of, and why? 

KR: Well, I feel proud of “Bones,” but it is hard to explain why—I’m not even sure I know myself. I can tell you I am most surprised by “Legs”—the last chapter of the book. It was the unexpected chapter that came to me after all the others were finished. I wrote about “authority in preaching,” which just shocked the socks off me as I was writing it, because I’m rather averse to the word authority. But as I wrote, I redefined the word, and I was startled to learn I rather liked my own definition.

TS: I rather liked it, too. In fact, I loved the whole thing and encourage everyone to get it. Get it from the publisher HERE or Amazon HERE. Keep up with Kyndall at KyndallRae.com

Thanks for stopping by, Kyndall and congratulations on Preacher Breath!

The Confirmation Project: Guest Post by Katie Douglass, Co Director of the Confirmation Project

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Traci’s Note: One of the things that always seems strange to me in the protestant tradition is that of confirmation. If done right, I think confirmation can be a rich time where young people grow to understand their faith and their role in it. Many times, though, students report confirmation as a time where they are asked to “jump through hoops,” or are “kicked out of the church.”  It makes me sad and angry to hear stories of young people who are experiencing a normal part of faith development — questioning — and are then made to feel unwelcome in the church. I don’t believe the church should get rid of confirmation, but I do think it needs some serious evaluation and discussion.

Enter the confirmation project. The confirmation project, co directed by Katie Douglass and Richard Osmer is an academic study of confirmation. I can’t tell you what they’ve found yet because, well, they’re still finding it. Read a little from Katie below and if you are interested in participating in the survey, please get in touch with them via www.theconfirmationproject.com  I’ll keep you posted on their findings. This research is important to how we pass on faith to our kids!  

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Katherine M. Douglass, Co-director of The Confirmation Project

Princeton Theological Seminary

December 2, 2014

Thanks for inviting me to share a guest blog post on your website Traci. Like you, I want to help parents and ministry leaders encourage growth in the faith of youth and their families. Confirmation is one of those traditional practices in the church that is meant to do just that. I currently co-direct a research project called The Confirmation Project with Richard Osmer that is aimed at discovering how congregations practice confirmation and equivalent practices. We are interested to discover how participation in confirmation intensifies faith in youth and integrates them into the body of Christ, the church.

For this project we are only studying five mainline Protestant congregations that practice infant baptism: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church. Through the survey and site visits we hope to hear from youth, parents, volunteers, mentors, and ministry leaders.

Every church in these five denominations is invited to participate. If your church has not received an email invitation, you can request one through the “Contact Us” link at our website. www.theconfirmationproject.com

The survey takes 15-20 minutes to complete and asks questions about what people believe, their involvement in the church, their interest in various topics, and what they think the point of confirmation is. The parent and leader survey ask many similar questions and, in a more detailed way, about how confirmation is conducted.

Some confirmation programs happen all year and some happen in the spring. Because of this we are keeping the survey open for almost all of the year (fall 2014-spring 2015). The goal is to have youth, parents, and ministry leaders take the survey at the beginning and at the end of confirmation. We are interested in seeing how participating in confirmation brings about spiritual formation in youth.

This study was inspired by a research project happening in Europe. In some European countries, like Finland, confirmation was something almost everyone participated in (over 80 percent of youth!), however, it did not result in high levels of congregational participation (only 2-3 percent of Finns attend church weekly.) In other countries, like Austria, only 10 percent of youth participate in confirmation, however, those who do are much more likely to be regular members of congregations. This study also showed that confirmation gives youth the opportunity to volunteers in ways that are otherwise inaccessible to them. Their study was very well received and as a result they have been awarded further funding to conduct two more waves of the study.

From talking with ministers and pastors early in our research we are interested in knowing if there is agreement between parents, youth, and ministers as to what “confirmation” actually is. If what we heard from the ministers is correct, there is quite a big disparity between what people think this practice is.

We also believe that we will see a higher correlation between participating in confirmation and being an active church-goer. In the US, congregations seem to have higher levels of retention than in Europe anyway, however, we have a hunch that “believing” and “belonging” will go together (i.e. when youth are convicted about their beliefs, they will be more likely to see these beliefs as part of their identity as a Christian, to belong to a church).

Our goal for this project is to help ministers grow in their awareness of what this practice can or could look like. Many ministers we have talked with feel like they are at a loss as to what they are supposed to be doing.  Many, although not all, feel frustrated that despite their efforts to help youth “confirm” their faith, they are seeing this function as the final graduation for youth out of the church. Some have seen great fruit from their confirmation ministry – and through our site visits, we plan to share these stories. I am hopeful that through our research, we will be able to help those frustrated ministry leaders have the resources they need to change confirmation into a practice that integrates youth into the body of Christ and intensifies their faith.

World Mental Health Day: 5 Thoughts from a Pastor’s Perspective…

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Today, as I’m sitting in a hospital waiting for my mother to come out of recovery for her knee surgery, I’m reminded that today is World Mental Health Day. Here are five things that are on my mind a lot when it comes to mental illness…

1. Mental Illness deserves the same treatment as physical illness in the church. I’m talking about the casseroles, the cards, the prayer requests, the phone calls from the pastor, the full court press. People who are suffering with mental illness (and their families) need real support. So many times, though, we’re afraid to mention it. There’s a stigma and a shame we can’t get over. I know the reasons for this are varied and complex, and I don’t have easy answers. I think the first step is for us to admit that we don’t talk about it enough. Maybe the first step is for everyone to say to each other “You know, why don’t we bring someone a casserole when they are depressed?” or “Why don’t we know when someone is suffering with bipolar disorder?” Mental illness is largely hidden away under layers of shame and silence. Lifeway Research points out how infrequently mental illness is discussed by church leadership which is part of the problem.

2. Colleagues… how can we help each other when we ourselves are suffering with mental illness? The same study referenced above also found 1 in 4 pastors reporting that they (we) are suffering from mental illness. We need to speak up in our clergy groups. We need to seek counseling and help if (when?) we suffer. We need to help each other.

3. Another reminder to my colleague brothers and sisters We need to find the best therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists in our town and refer to them often. In the same way: parishioners – your pastor is not a therapist (usually). Most ministers are not trained mental health professionals yet many people with mental health needs come to us. This is only a problem if we aren’t clear on what will (should) happen in that situation. We should provide appropriate spiritual care and then refer out to excellent appropriately trained mental health professionals. Every pastor has his or her own policy on how and when to counsel and the “rules” are different depending on circumstance. I usually agree to meet with someone (or a couple) up to three times about the same issue or situation and then always refer out after that. Sometimes it takes even less meetings to know when something is out of my area of expertise and education. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit that we can’t help, it’s a sign of strength. 

4. A word to all of the mental health professionals out there: thank you! Your work is so important and often invisible. Thank you for working long hours and taking on difficult cases. Another word — pastors in your community can help. Though we’re not trained to treat mental illness, we are trained to provide spiritual care. Many of your patients need that too. We can help. Let’s work together.

5.  I want to pledge to keep learning more I want to end this post with a shoutout to fellow Chalice Press author Sarah Lund and her new book Blessed Are the CrazyI’m not going to lie, the title of this book makes me nervous. I was really happy to read the Huffington Post Article she recently published explaining and defending the title. The book is important. It’s Sarah’s story about mental illness in her family. I think she’s exceedingly brave to tell it. More than this, the book aims to bring the topic to churches around the country that we might begin (or continue) to talk about it. What an important and worthy goal. Congratulations, Sarah, and I can’t wait to read your book.

On Friendship, Mentorship, and Kelly Allen for Moderator of the PCUSA

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Kelly Allen for Moderator

www.kellyformoderator.com 

OK, warning… this post might be boring if you are not Presbyterian (USA). I say might because it’s also a post mostly about friendship and what it means to be a good friend, which I think applies to everyone.

Every other year in the Presbyterian church we all get together and vote for someone to lead us. That person has a largely symbolic role. (sorry moderator candidates! It’s true!)  After all, the moderator doesn’t have much actual power. He or she can’t decree something or change the rules. Nevertheless, it’s a huge deal and what that person represents and says and does can make a lot of difference in the culture and climate of our denomination.

This week I saw the Presbyterian Outlook’s spread on the three moderator candidates and it sort of took my breath away to see the picture of my friend, colleague and mentor Kelly Allen smiling up at me. I’m so proud of her and excited about her candidacy. Though I’ve wanted to write a post about this for months, it almost feels overwhelming because there’s so much to say (hence the reason you should just read about the candidates for yourself on the article I just posted.)

There are a ton of things I could say about Kelly:  I could say she is a passionate advocate for society’s most vulnerable (it’s true). I could say she loves Jesus (true.) I could say she’s a bridge builder and a master dialogue-r (those things are true, but dialogue-r is not actually a word. Whatever.) I feel fortunate and confident that Kelly’s views on all kinds of matters in the PC(USA) align with the direction I think we need to be going, but I don’t really want to write a blog post about those things, because what took my breath away when I saw that picture smiling up at me was that this is a great friend, and mentor, and while that might not make a difference in the race for moderator, it makes a difference to me.

My first introduction to Kelly was shortly after I moved to San Antonio. She dropped by my office to welcome me to town. As in, she called me up, asked if she could come over, made an appointment and came over. That very simple fact speaks volumes. She didn’t say ‘Stop by, anytime!’ She didn’t say ‘my door is always open,’ she made the effort, and there was no real need to do that other than what I saw (and still see) as a genuine desire to be present for a new colleague At a time when we need to be reaching out to others, (and when isn’t there a time when we need to be reaching out to others) she shows what that means.

One of the things that Kelly said to me in that first meeting was this: “When I was first starting out in ministry, I had a lot of people helping me, and so if you ever need anything, I would be glad to listen and tell you what I know.” In the past two years, I’ve taken her up on that, many times. Without getting too sappy and boring and long winded, let me tell you some things that I’ve learned about Kelly as a friend and mentor that I have 100% confidence would translate over to her work as moderator:

1. She has time: I’m not going to read her impressive resume of all the impressive and fancy things she does, but she does them. Her church is big, it’s busy, it’s all of those things that people who run for moderator have. But I have never, not once, not even for a minute thought “I bet she doesn’t have time to help with my silly old problem.” I’m guessing she feels cramped for time, but I’ve never seen or felt it.

2. She’s collaborative: I’ve worked with Kelly in a number of settings and they have one thing in common: bringing people together. She makes introductions and lets people share their own gifts. She doesn’t hog the spotlight; she facilitates discussion.

3. She’s fair: Good friends and mentors don’t just listen to what you say and then rubber stamp it. They challenge you and say “I wonder if you’ve thought about that in this way.”

4. She doesn’t just regurgitate what she thinks she’s supposed to say: Kelly recently posted on her Facebook Page a long and interesting question about what it means to talk about a theological or political “spectrum.” One of the things she said was  

I am passionate about Jesus Christ being the center of my identity as a person of faith and committed to sharing this good news AND I am passionate about honoring the dignity and learning from the wisdom of people of other faiths. Does that make me a right wing evangelical or a left wing liberal or do those do just cancel each other out and put me in the muddled middle?

I love that because 1. It sounds just like the Kelly I know (asking brave and challenging questions that make a lot of sense) 2. After that she said “So help me come up with a metaphor that works. (see also: collaboration!) Love.

Ok, so what I really want to do is keep going and gushing and using words like awesome and amazing and “I want to be like her when I grow up” (true, true, and all true) but I don’t want to be like that person at a wedding that keeps yammering on at the speeches time (you know who I’m talking about). I’m sure that in the coming weeks there will be lots of endorsements and opinions coming out and running around and I wanted to put mine out now, before I start to censor it and wonder if I should write it at all. Because here’s the thing: she’s a good friend and a good mentor, and that matters. It would matter to me if I were voting in this election in Detroit this summer.  Good Luck, Kelly!

 

Four Reasons Why This Pastor Encourages Egg Hunts in Churches

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The Saturday before Easter, my lovely congregation will be holding a little Easter Egg hunt with cupcakes, cascarones, music and laughter. Some pastors might argue this is liturgically, theologically or spiritually inappropriate. I don’t think so, and here are four reasons why.

1. The Easter date was chosen to coincide with a pagan festival... there’s already ample historical precedent for the church putting itself squarely in the middle of culture. The early Christians thought it was a good idea to celebrate the risen Christ in the middle of where the party already was. They contextualized it. It doesn’t make Jesus any less risen, it makes him risen at a time when people are already having a party. I’m fine with that. Eggs and bunnies, chicks and candy aren’t going anywhere, culture-wise. Children will associate Easter with bunnies and chicks and candy and eggs even if there is no egg hunt on the church lawn. So why not have a celebration that includes these things in a place where there are adults who love them and will also share the message of Jesus and resurrection and new life?

2. It’s a great way to reach out to people who don’t have a faith home. Eggs and candy and games are a very low-stress way to drop by a church. If a child and his or her parents drops by and has a great time and is inspired to come back, I see that as a huge win. If not, it’s an opportunity to share our love and joy with the community.

3. There is time for deeper reflection and Good Friday Mourning later One of the arguments against holding Egg Hunts before Easter (during lent or on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday) is that it is to be a time of penance, mourning and reflection. I agree with this, and I think that families can do a lot of age-appropriate things to teach their children about meditation and grief and restraint. At the same time, let’s let children be children, let’s let them be joyful even if we ourselves are in mourning Life is hard and our children will be adults soon enough. I believe that we, as adults, have a responsibility to shield our children from some of the darkness that is Good Friday. There is a balance here. We can’t ignore the truth of what happened on the cross, but we have to be mindful of what little heads and hearts can grasp at tender ages.

4. There is room for both. I don’t think we should baptize the Easter Bunny, but our children can have both. They can understand that Easter is about the Resurrected Lord and it’s also about celebration and joy (and sure, candy eggs, why not?) There is nothing to fear. If we do our jobs, Jesus will become more real with each interaction they have from loving adults and pastors who will stop at nothing to make sure that they grow up to be fun-loving, Jesus-following, life-giving people.

What do you think?

For Further Reading: Where Did the Easter Bunny Come From?

Heaven… ticketed guests only?

A Ticket to Heaven... The Worst Idea I've Seen in a Long, Long Time.

A Ticket to Heaven… The Worst Idea I’ve Seen in a Long, Long Time.

Like just about anybody who works in a church, I get a lot of catalogues. I mean, a lot. I usually flip through them quickly before dumping them in the recycle bin, but this week, a particular catalog caught my eye. It’s not important which one, but it was for children’s spiritual formation-type things: Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, children’s church and other similar things. I took a look at it while I was waiting for the rice to boil and it turns out that my blood ended up boiling right alongside the rice when I came across the product pictured above (side note: I just read some sort of article that suggested I use the time waiting for water to boil to “see how much I cleaning you can get done in your kitchen.” Ha. Ha ha ha.)
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So… color your own “Jesus is my ticket to heaven” tickets for kids. Let me count the ways this product is upsetting to me. I wanted to let this one go. I really did. After all, there are a lot of Christian products for kids out there that aren’t my cup of tea. A lot of it is cheesy, or poorly made, or not my style. This “Jesus ticket” is not your run of the mill Jesus Junk, it’s actually offensive (in my oh so humble opinion). Some thoughts:
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1. I don’t want my children (or any children I minister to) to get the idea that they need a ticket to get into heaven: Not a “be good” ticket, not a “believe exactly this” ticket, not a “if you’re not doing it right you won’t get there” ticket, and certainly not a paper ticket. There is a view out there that you have to have some sort of “ticket” to get into heaven. I think it’s hogwash.

 

2. Though adults can clearly understand that this craft is meant to be “symbolic” (of a ridiculous concept, see point #1) Many young children will view this as a  literal ticket to heaven. Sound ridiculous? It’s not. This is an object lesson, and many object lessons are too complex for young minds to grasp. For more on this, see Fowler or any other writer on faith development. Young children need safety and security not an implicit “You need this or you might not get to heaven” message. If even one child leaves the ticket making activity with the impression that they need that actual piece of paper to make it in to heaven, that is one child too many.

3. Jesus as a ticket to heaven completely misses everything Jesus was and is about.

So… what do you think? What am I missing here?

Sermon Remix: The Nicene Creed

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For the next four weeks we’re studying creeds at Northwood. We’re getting a little academic (in today’s sermon alone we learned about ousia, orthodoxy and the council of Nicea. We also talked about Constantine and Arianism. (Basically, we tried to cover a semester’s worth of Church History 101 class in approximately 10 minutes. What!? It can be done!) In our exploration of the creeds, we’re also going to be thinking about what it means to use the creeds as a launchpad for personal devotion, and to look at these ancient words and be open to where the spirit might be speaking to us.

If you were at NPC today and want to dive into some of the history of the creeds, I urge you to take a little spin around the wikipedia and other articles above as well as some of the sources cited. They give a great overview.

For the second part of thinking about the creeds, that is, picking a word or phrase and using it to let your spiritual imagination wander, I talked for a few minutes about the phrase “We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

This idea has been rolling around in my head for awhile. What does it mean to be seen, to let others see us as we really are? I had a friend staying with me this week who was attending a training with Dr. Brene Brown. As we chatted about what she was learning this week, that theme came up several times. Dr. Brown researches this very question and tries to help people overcome some of the barriers to being fully seen. I talked, too, about this fascinating study about why young children cover their eyes when they hide. The easy answer is that they’re not able to see things from the point of view of another person. In other words, if they can’t see you, they assume you can’t see them either. This leads to some really hilarious photos of children who think they are winning at the game of hide and seek, when, in fact, they are in plain view. I also read from this lovely post about what happens when people let their guard down for a photography session.  

What does it mean to be seen?