Church Health and Wellness and Your Role

Pastor, prophet, priest are the roles we are called to live out in the church.  There are times when we need to be all three at once and many times when one role supersedes the others.  One of the failings, in my opinion, of seminary training is in clearly helping new pastors learn how to be each.  It seems to me, again IMHO, that many seminaries are turning out intellectual gurus who have a great deal of book knowledge but little, if any, practical knowledge when it comes to the delicate spiritual life of our parishioners.

As a result I find in my coaching that far too many pastors have an intellectual air about them that shuts them off from their congregations and impoverishes the pastoral, prophetic and priestly roles to the detriment of the church and the call of Christ.

Now, maybe I have just heard far too many lectures that are supposed to sermons lately and that is why I have come to form this opinion, or as a coach I walk into a church that has been pummeled with ideas without any attention  to the spiritual life of the congregation, or I have witnessed far too often the death of a church due to lack of passion for Christ.  Whatever the reason, I am on my soap box and posit this as food for thought.

Today the 3 P’s have been replaced by 3 C’s – CEO, Caseworker, Consultant.  Pastors are called to run a non-profit, which is often in financial trouble, to find ways to bring new life to a dying church and to direct troubled families to the appropriate services on a daily basis.  We are the ones who are expected to solve the problem.  And the problem is real if we are to survive financially and have a church to lead.

In doing so many times the power of the P’s is lost as we work and think more and more like a secular business man or woman.  The urgency of the problem propels us into problem solving mode rather than question asking mode.

The C’s are the reality of the modern-day pastorate.  We cannot escape them.  What I would like to offer though is a way to move through the C’s in particular without losing the P’s in the process.

I would like to add another C and that is of coach.  Instead of trying to be the one who fixes everything and everyone at the risk of fixing nothing, we need to be trained in the art of coaching people.  (Seminaries take note!)

When a person is coached, he/she is the one who finds their solution.  Coaching is about a relationship in which the coach is the cheerleader, advocate, question asker and accountability partner.  Developing this relationship takes time and the quickest way to destroy that relationship is to tell the other person what to do and how to do it, i.e. to fix it.  (CEO/Consultant/Caseworker can all work against a coaching relationship).

Isn’t it the prophet who asks the deep questions?  Isn’t it the pastor who established a relationship based on the word of God, trust and presence?  Isn’t it the priest who reminds us through ritual that we are all part of a bigger plan and purpose?

The church’s coach in the pulpit, the board meeting, or at the altar brings the 3 P’s to life in a way that empowers the church in a way that telling, directing and fixing can never do.

And the hardest questions to ask…are we a coach or a CEO?  are we the pastor or the Caseworker?  are we the consultant or the prophet?  are we the priest or the answer person?

Just wondering…

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land.” Psalm 137.4



Church Health and Wellness and Outcomes

We are trying to sell our house.  Or, should I say, we have a buyer for our house.  Now that should be cause for relief and little anxiety.  However, I have found that I am more anxious now than I was before we had a buyer.  And it doesn’t have to do with packing up and moving.  It has to do with all the hoops that have to be jumped through before the sale is actually finalized. 

There is the inspection, then negotiating with the buyer what will be fixed and who will pay, then there is the appraisal and waiting 2 weeks to see if the selling price corresponds to the appraised value and then the testing of the well and septic and then, if all that is accomplished satisfactorily, we are able to go out and look for a new home (because no one wants to talk to contingent buyers) in the 30 days before we have to move out.  (Insert anxiety here)

Deep breath. 

And I keep telling myself “if it doesn’t work out, then it wasn’t meant to be”.   ‘Keep’ being the operative word here because I have to tell myself this daily.  Obviously, I am not ready to let go of the outcome.  I know how I want it to end and that is what is keeping me so anxious.  Something over which I have no control.

Sometimes it is just so hard to ‘let go and let God’.   And I don’t think that makes me a person of little faith – at least I hope it doesn’t.  I think it makes me very human with desires and hopes and plans and resources and means to make things happen.  But, of course, that is only true over the things I have some control.

Do you ever find yourself stressing over things in the church because you cannot control the outcome?  Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated over the amount of time it takes to get committee or board approval for a great new mission idea?  How hard is it for you to let go of the outcome? 

Maybe you are able to let go and let God on church issues.  I hope so because that is an ideal way to lower your stress and stay balanced.  Achieving that non-anxious presence that Edwin Friedman talked about in his congregational systems work is a goal I continue to work toward in my professional and personal life. 

And there is that ever-present caveat that doing nothing is not letting go and letting God.  We are given gifts and the responsibility for using them to further the Kingdom.  And that is what we are called to do.  Once we do that, we are then called to trust and let go of the outcome so God can give the growth, the health and the forward movement. 

The Serenity Prayer, that has been attributed to a variety of people over the years, provides the best expression of how to let go and Let God.  Here is the long version of the prayer as written by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen. 

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”  1 Corinthians 3.6

Blessings on your non-anxious, serene, courageous, wise journey,  Nancy

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Church Health and Wellness: Are You Sleeping?

“Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping, Brother John?”  Remember that old song from childhood?  It was a fun song to sing in a round but today it takes on a new meaning because lack of sleep seems to be going around – almost like a contagious disease among clergy. 

More and more clergy that I talk to tell me that they are not sleeping well.  The reasons vary, although most involve a stressor or two or are a result of a stress related illness. 

Lack of sleep is one of the fastest ways to destroy your health, to lose your ability to think clearly and to cope appropriately that I know of.  Sleep deprivation is a torture technique used on POW’s to breakdown will power and the ability to withstand pressure and stress.

If a great many pastors are dealing with sleep loss, then it stands to reason that the church is suffering as a result.  We, who are leading congregations, may not realize just how much our sleep habits can affect the Body of Christ.  Often we think it is just our normal way of being. We get used to only 4-5 hours of sleep every night and think we can handle it and that we are coping very well thank you very much with everything we are called on to do. 

But the truth is we aren’t.  We are only kidding ourselves if we think our lack of sleep only affects us. 

How honest are you willing to be with yourself?  How many hours of sleep do you get a night?  If you are awake in the middle of the night, what do you do?  Do you get up and read or watch TV?  Do you get up for a snack?  Do you wander the house?  Do you lie there and toss and turn? 

If you are suffering with insomnia, how is it affecting your day? 

Have you noticed a link between the amount of sleep you get on any given night and the amount of energy or coping abilities you have the next day?  Do you have an accountability partner who will tell you when you are not yourself or getting short-tempered because of lack of sleep?

Lack of sleep or poor sleeping habits are pervasive throughout the modern American culture.   That means that members of the congregation are suffering from sleep deprivation too.  Add your sleep deprivation to theirs and you get a formula for a very cranky church that has little or no energy to carry out their mission.

Simply put church health and wellness depends on a good night’s sleep!  Start to change your sleeping habits this week.  Here’s a novel way to do this:  Have a piece of peanut butter toast or a small serving of yogurt before bed.  The carbs and the protein combine to relax your brain.  

“Then he got into a boat and his disciples followed him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves were swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Mt. 8.23-25

Sweet dreams,


Church Health and Wellness and Laughter

Do you laugh with your congregation?  I mean good, old-fashioned belly laughs that delight and bring joy to all those around?

I’m not sure that congregations laugh enough.  Now this isn’t anything I can statistically substantiate.  It’s just a gut feeling.  So many churches are in conflict or struggling over their call and vision that I can’t help but wonder if these churches laugh enough or at all???  Why do we let angst, worry, interpersonal conflict set the tone and atmosphere in so many churches when we should be laughing, dancing and rejoicing? 

Ours is a faith of joy based on the power of God to overcome death, to forgive sins and to grant mercy, compassion and justice to those who believe.  What is there to be conflicted over?  What is there to struggle with?  What is there not to laugh and be joyful over?

One Sunday when I was doing the children’s time I showed the kids a picture of the last supper and asked them if they knew what they ate at this dinner.  One little boy studied it closely and then said, “Well, with all those people, my mother would have served them spaghetti.” 

The congregation burst into laughter and that was the beginning of a new thing for them.  Laughing and being joyful in worship.  And it was a good thing.

Laughter doesn’t take away from the importance of our mission or our roles.  Laughter emphasizes that what we are doing is real, life-giving work.

What is the laughter quotient in your church?  In your ministry? In your life?

We have all heard the old joke that when the Pope got to heaven he found out that a scribe had left the r out of celibate.   Let’s celebrate our faith with laughter and rejoicing.  Let’s show our congregations how seriously we take our faith by lifting up the laughter that can only bubble up from people who know they are loved and saved by a God of forgiveness and mercy. 

Be Joyful and rejoice in the Lord always,








Church Health and Wellness and Clergy Health

Recently I was talking with an Executive Minister in my denomination and he said with great conviction:  “You cannot have a healthy church with an unhealthy pastor.”

So here is the $64,000 question…how healthy are you?  We have four energy centers that need to be healthy in order for our bodies to be healthy.  They are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Do a quick assessment starting with physical health.  Are you overweight?  Do you exercise daily?  When was the last time you saw a Dr.?

Emotional Health:  Are you hiding something that would embarrass you if made public?  Did you know that almost 66% of clergy are surfing for online pornography?  Do you drink too much?  How healthy is the state of your marriage or major relationship?  Are you open and vulnerable with your spouse, significant other or friends?  How many outside interests and friends do you have?

Mental Health:   When was the last time you laughed?  Do you read for pleasure?  What hobbies do you have?  When was the last time you learned a new skill not related to ministry?

Spiritual:  Do you take time to exercise your spiritual muscles through a daily discipline that is not related to sermon or Bible Study prep?  How deep is your relationship with God right now?

These are only the surface questions but they need to be asked and answered honestly if you want to be healthy and you want to serve a healthy church.



Church Health and Wellness and Death

Death is in the house.

A member of the body has died and the church goes into hyper drive to provide support meals, comfort, expertise, rides, bereavement services, an inviting church, beautiful music, pastoral care, meaningful words, reception cookies and a service of hope and celebration.  There is so much to do when someone dies in the church and everyone knows their role.

As pastor you oversee, orchestrate, organize and order the events if not physically at least emotionally and spiritually.  If this death comes in the midst of a busy time, then you do this on little stored up energy.

And because life goes on, you go on.  Plus, if we are honest, keeping busy is our antidote for moving through tough times and grief.  We truly believe that death is but a transition to eternal life and we lift that up; but, sometimes we lift that up to the detriment of our own emotional needs when someone in the congregation dies.  Realistically, it is hard to care for others and take time for yourself.  I get that.

And paradoxically, taking care of yourself, taking your days off, taking down time, taking time to be alone can go a long way toward caring for yourself and for your congregation when death comes to the house. 

We can be a powerful model for how to care for oneself, grieve and be a person of faith all at the same time.  This is a model our congregations need to see and not the super pastor model we so often default to at times like these.

Blessings on your spirit,


Church Health and Wellness: Toxic Leadership

I have just experienced a month-long bout with poison ivy.  Initially, it was misdiagnosed and therefore not treated correctly.  By the time the correct diagnosis was made there had been some long, uncomfortable days and even now traces of it are evident on my legs. The toxins were in my system and it has taken a long time to rid myself of its effects.

We all know what toxins are.  They are essentially poisons which have a negative effect on humans. Toxins come in all forms not just chemical or biological.  People can be toxic.  Relationships can be toxic.  Even financial instruments can be toxic if there is no value or no market for them.

Furthermore, I was reading an article that was talking about toxic leadership and the author used the military definition of this phrase.  A toxic leader, according to this article,  includes the following traits:  “oppositional behavior, playing ‘power politics’, an overly competitive attitude toward co-workers, perfectionist attitudes, abuse of the disciplinary system, verbal bullying, procedural inflexibility, discriminatory attitudes and causing workplace division instead of harmony.  In addition toxic leaders are not self-confident and become aggressive in order to cope, demonstrating poor self-control and/or restraint.”

Here’s a brilliant insight:  Toxic leadership in the church is counter productive to church health.  It really doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to make that statement.  And most of us recognize toxic leadership in others.  The problem arises when we recognize it and choose not to do anything about it or we do not recognize it in ourselves. 

Do you have toxic leaders in your church?    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could paste a poison label on their backs to warn people that handling them or taking them into their presence could be detrimental to their health?  Short of that how do you deal with them?  What pro-active, antidotes do you put in place to protect others from their poison?  How do you protect yourself?  Do you protect yourself and others?  Is there a poison control strategy in your church? 

What would happen if you held a conversation about this topic and how the church wants to deal with poisonous comments, attitudes, people in their midst?  Can people recognize the signs of a toxic encounter?  Can people name the effects?  What are the benefits to keeping poison under control – under lock and key? 

Now, let’s get a bit more up close and personal…do you have any of the characteristics described above?  Have you been guilty of spreading toxins around the congregation, using your pastoral power to play politics, bullying others with your words, demonstrating poor self-control or becoming aggressive in the pursuit of your agenda?  If so, what trusted friend or advisor can you seek out to wash these toxic behaviors out of your system? 

Wherever there is a toxic personality and especially if it is in a leadership position, the mission of the church is thwarted.  My poison ivy needed intense and aggressive treatment in order to leave my system and even then there was some residual scarring.  Without treatment it would have been worse.

The same is true for the church. 

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.   …Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12.2; 17-18