Season of “YES!”

“What will you do then?” was the question my Bishop asked when I said that, after thirty years of parish ministry, I was not interested in another appointment.  For at least six years before that conversation, I had an unsettling call from the “knowns” of parish life, parsonages, board meetings and preaching that I had enjoyed as a first-career clergywoman.  I had always wanted to teach and, while I found many opportunities in the parish to enjoy the teaching office, I was discerning a call to do that in a new setting.  With research and scholars.  With undergraduate and graduate students.  I was being called to retool my ministry to go out into the world; specifically, the world of higher education.

So I set off on a completely new journey.  A sabbatical.  Not one, not two, but three years.  That wasn’t the plan, but that’s how this time of retooling has unfolded.  It has been a time of reflection, healing, and resting.  It has also been an exhilarating time of new relationships, weekends with my family, and retooling a career of leadership, administration and ministry for opportunities to influence and shape new generations of scholars.  Over these years, I’ve worked on a doctorate in educational leadership and been certified as a professional coach.  In so many ways, my local church ministry has prepared me for this time to make the world my parish.

I’ve learned so much in what I call this season of “YES!”  After working so hard over thirty years of parish ministry to learn how to say “No” for the purposes of delegation and time management, I’m practicing saying yes to new encounters and learning experiences.  Here are just a few of my learnings in this season of “YES!”

  • Set goals.

Making a transition from the known into the unknown causes you to lay aside old markers of progress that formerly helped you to measure success and growth.  To retool for a new season of ministry, I had to leave old markers like the formality of appointments, charge conferences, and data reports to the informal feedback from the morning sermons or phone call about a decision I made.  I didn’t realize how these markers of progress were circadian rhythms that had shaped not only my professional life, but also my physical, spiritual and relational life as well.  Setting new goals with the help of a coach created new measures of movement and assured that the time didn’t feel wasted or unconstructive.

  • Prepare financially.

I wish I had done this better prior to moving into this season of retooling.  However, I quickly saw myself exercising my fund development gifts that I had cultivated as a parish pastor.  Only now, the vision was my own and the funds developed were for pursuing a terminal doctoral degree along with my living expenses.  The process of fund development including scholarships, fellowships, grants and loans provided me with an opportunity to hone my vision and practice articulating it to others.

  • Rest.

I had not realized what a 24/7 demand parish ministry had on me physically and emotionally.  As a clergywoman and single mother, my schedule revolved around the rhythms of church and young children.  I had to newly discover what my schedule was while cultivating new patterns of play, recreation, rest, and relating with others.

  • Be open to new communities.

Parish ministry is instant community….just add (baptismal) water.  That instant community can bring safety, security, and most certainly, identity.  I had to learn how to “date” new friends from new communities and become vulnerable when my identity was no longer “Rev.”  It took risks and vulnerability to enter new communities-I instantly learned why it’s so hard for newcomers to come into the church.

  • Be aware of the undertow of familiarity.

Just like the Hebrew people complained during the Exodus that the familiarity of making bricks in Egypt was better than the unknown of the wilderness, there is a great undertow that will try to draw us back into where we’ve been.  This was especially significant during the seasons of Advent and Lent and clergy moving time.  I quickly discovered that every institution has its calendared rhythms, and it has been gratifying to learn about those and find myself living those new patterns.  Having covenant partners who have made these transitions in their past helps me navigate the undertows, and gives me strength to stand when the waters of the familiar tug at my feet and heart.

Shortly after announcing my call to retool my call to ministry, my 90-year old grandmother asked me, “What are you now?”   She had been instrumental in encouraging my youthful call to ministry and beamed every time she introduced me to her friends as, “my granddaughter, THE United Methodist pastor.” She wasn’t the only one who asked that question, though.  My daughters had never known a time when their mother wasn’t their pastor.  Most of my adult friends always knew that I’d be at home on a Saturday night polishing up a sermon, instead of going out with the gang.  How liberating it has been to shift the question from “What are you now?” to “Who are you becoming?”  That answer hasn’t changed.  I’m still answering my call to ministry for Jesus Christ, just in a new place, and in new wonderful ways.


Making Smart Decisions

How do leaders make smart decisions?  Careful, reflective self and organizational awareness in decision making is a sound investment for an organization and its leaders.  This investment requires a great deal of attention and reflection by team participants and leaders.  Leadership researchers and authors talk about sound decision making depending on our own attention to psychological traps, cognitive biases, and the lessons and learnings from fabulous failures.  All of this work takes time and requires leaders to be self-aware and cultivate permissive learning environments in the workplace.  As I reflect on my own leadership, I’ll explore the conditions under which I am best and worst prepared to make smart decisions.  You might consider the how you are best and worst prepared to make smart decisions.

First of all, when I am most self-aware for decisions and cultivate permissive learning environments for the teams I lead, I am grounded in good rest, self-care, relational health and spiritual centering.  I am clear about my role in the larger organization and have a strong grasp of its mission and vision.  I feel supported in risk-taking and courageous leadership by my superiors.  I have found, in these special and even rare times, that I am usually working with a coach and/or strong mentor.  It’s for this reason, that I am certified as a professional coach for others now.   Having a trained and certified professional coach who encourages and facilitates our professional growth makes a world of difference in our ability to make smart and reflective decisions.

To the converse, the conditions under which I am least prepared to make smart decisions is when I am unclear about my role in the organization or uncertain about its mission.  This can lead me into many of the traps in decision making.  By being unclear about the vision of the organization or my role in it, I can fall into the trap of neglecting to understand the decision in the wider context.  Then (not a surprise to anyone who knows me), I move into the overconfidence trap that I know enough about the context of the organization and the accuracy of the decision.  At that point, my awareness is limited and I am in no position to make a good decision.

I also am less prepared to make good decisions when I’m tired and/or not careful with my personal and relational health.  Usually this occurs when I’m far too busy and rushed in decision making.  Frequently, out of the urgency to make a hasty decision, I’ll practice what some researchers describe as “anchoring,” when I’ll accept or rely too heavily on one piece of information in making my decision.  Too often, that will be the loudest voice, the cheapest data, or the presenting “symptom” rather than the root issue.   As an alternative, I constantly look to mentor leaders who practice non-anxious leadership with healthy self-differentiation with the organization and the issues they face.  My lifetime of leadership is one of constantly growing and moving to be more like these mentor leaders.

As a leader, I am constantly growing in my awareness of how I think, and the context under which I think has such a profound impact on the ways decisions are made in the organizations where I lead.  It is critical to cultivate the rich soil for growing my awareness through self-care, reflection, groundedness and self-differentiation.  Here are some questions for your decision-making reflection:

  • What are the conditions under which you are best prepared to make good decisions? How are you creating those conditions for those whom you lead?
  • What are the conditions under which you are least prepared to make good decisions? What resources do you mobilize to mitigate those conditions?
  • Who models good decision-making in your organization? How can you learn from them?
  • Name 2 or 3 concrete actions that you can take to move toward better decision-making. Who will help you be accountable for those actions?

For Seasons

I’m a cellist.  I am drawn to the experience of making music with an orchestra who depends on the talents and investments of each musician to create a moving symphony.  I love the labor that goes into rehearsals and the necessary fine tuning of instruments and the individual sections for the very best performance.  I watch the talent of the conductor, keeping time and motivating the orchestra to its very best potential.  I delight in providing the bass line of a melody or harmony, as though providing a foundation on which the rest of the music dances and moves.

One of my favorite orchestral pieces is Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.  Though written in 1720, it is by far his most famous composition and has been used widely throughout history as the backdrop of films, contemporary music and other art forms.  The familiar melodies resonate with the four seasons of creation which root us in the familiar and anticipated seasons of own lives.

This blog and website is intended to be a place where I share my own seasons of life and leadership with the bass foundation of Christian theology and our mutual call to be stewards of one another and of creation.  It is also a place where I can offer my services for coaching and leadership education out of those experiences and formal education in organizations, coaching and individual growth.  Join me on the journey for the seasons of your life and leadership!  The harmonies we share will be a pleasing offering to God and a new song for others to hear!