Something that has been coming up over and over again, is the notion of slowing down. Just yesterday, I was text messaging with a friend. She commented that I am the busiest person she knows. That’s saying a lot because this particular friend is a mom of two under age 4, a small business owner, an army wife, someone who is involved in her church, and so much more. While I know she didn’t mean for it to sound as a not so good thing, those few words made me stop and think. Busy.
I have a tendency to fill my calendar so full that if I try to jam anything else in, something falls. I have a tendency to book myself to be in 3 different places at the same time without even thinking about it. I try to keep it all straight, but I often fail. I do this, not just in my personal life, but in ministry also.
I had the privilege to sit in a breakout session presented by April Jackson from Group Publishing. It was called Slow Down: How Slowing Down Will Move Your Ministry Forward. Talk about good timing! April gave us 4 principles to slow down so we can move forward called S.T.O.P.
- Spend time with God each day
- Take time to listen
- Organize with structure
- Practice Daily Reflection
Spending Time With God Each Day
When we talked about spending time with God each day, I absolutely loved the idea of making sure I write an appointment with God each day in my planner – in ink. I live by my planner. The thought of writing this in ink in my planner every day is just amazing and crazy and mind-blowing, for me. I prefer to write things in pencil because of the fact that I tend to over-schedule myself and because with my crazy schedule, things get moved on a constant basis. I’m also a military spouse and a veteran, so I know that things will change multiple times before these things happen. Writing them in ink says a lot. It means this IS going to happen.
Another item in this category is to recognize long lines in the grocery store as an opportunity for a few deep breaths and a time to listen for the voice of God. This is a great time to practice breath prayers. I started to think, as we talked about this particular point, “You want me to be patient in a line at the grocery store? I don’t have time for that. I’ll find the shortest line, thank you.” I am learning to change my thinking on these things. Not only is a line in the grocery story a chance to listen for God’s voice, but it’s also a chance to talk to the person in front of or behind you – a new opportunity to show the love of God – to be the light, so that when others see you, they see God.
Taking Time to Listen
We talked about listening to understand versus listening to respond. I am guilty of listening to respond more than listening to understand. How often in ministry are we listening to parents or volunteers or even our pastors and thinking of our response as they’re talking instead of listening to understand and process? We have all the answers, right? I don’t think so. It is always good to clarify what the speaker is saying. I have been working to retrain myself to listen to understand. Sometimes I will say back to the speaker, “So what I am hearing is….” in order to make sure I am understanding what they are saying. It is also god to ask, “Is this what I hear you saying?” or “Do you mean…..?”. At the end of a discussion, it is always good to summarize it so that everyone is on the same page.
Organize with Structure
I consider myself to be an organized person. I have some OCD tendencies, but sometimes in ministry, I can lose that structure. April gave us some suggestions for organizing meetings with these questions:
- Where are we going? (This is a team mindset)
- Where are you going?
- What is going well?
- Where can we improve?
- How can I help you?
- How can you help me? (How can I be an effective leader?) – this shows you are willing to grow and that you have a teachable spirit
Structure forces us to slow down and think. It also helps us to reach our goals. Sometimes in my strive for perfectionism ( I am so guilty of this, as you may have read in one of my Haiti trip blog posts), I do not want to ask the question, “How can you help me?” in the meaning of asking how I can improve and grow. Sometimes I am not open to constructive criticism. I’m working on that. I know that I cannot be an effective ministry leader if I am not open and receptive to constructive criticism. I don’t have all the answers. Notice I said constructive criticism. This does not mean I need to be open and let myself get hurt with criticism from those who are saying harsh things out of angst or not getting their way. That is not constructive criticism.
Practice Daily Reflection
As a young teacher, I learned to often reflect on my performance of the day. Could I have done something differently to be more effective? Was I fully engaged? What worked or didn’t work? We did this in the Army too – it was called an After Action Review (AAR). April gave us some other questions we can ask ourselves at the end of each day:
- Did I do my best to set clear goals?
- Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals?
- Did I do my best to find meaning?
- Did I do my best to be happy?
- Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
- Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
These are some excellent questions to ask ourselves at the end of the day. In the handout we got for this session, they used a rating scale of 1 to 10 for each question. This was adapted from Trigger by Marshall Goldsmith & Mark Reiter. This is a good thing to follow. I don’t know if you personally need the 1-10 scale, but at least ask yourself these questions and answer yourself honestly.
Be honest with yourself in your reflections. Sometimes that’s the hardest part. Sometimes it’s also too easy to be your own harshest critic. As you find yourself reflecting at the end of the day, don’t forget to reflect on God’s word. This can help to keep you balanced. It can help you to be honest with yourself and not be too hard on yourself.
Rest in the Lord. I am going to add something in addition to what we learned with April. Try to take a day of silence and solitude at least once a quarter – once a month if possible. As leaders in ministry, we need this. We need it to be refueled and renewed. In another session, Heidi M. Hensley talked about making sure her volunteers, staff, and herself get to a worship service over their weekend so that they are being fed. That can be hard to do in ministry – especially if you’re at a smaller church with fewer services and less volunteers. Something I’ve found is that there are some local churches with Saturday services that I can attend. Crossroads is a mega church in Cincinnati. It’s 5-10 minutes from my house. I try to get there on Saturday evenings where I can worship Jesus completely undistracted. If I don’t make it there, I subscribe to their podcast which will download the video to my phone each week. In addition to that, my new church posts the sermons to our website on Monday afternoons, so I can go home on Monday evening and watch the sermon. Recently, in a KidMin group on Facebook, a known and respected ministry leader posed a question about doing a live stream worship service for those of us in ministry – something we can come together for virtually. I love that idea. We need to take care of our own personal faith journey. That is going to require us to slow down. When we do this, I believe we will see great growth in our ministry and ourselves.
Slow down. Rest. Reflect. Breathe.