When your church is struggling, panic mode sets in. When church fundraising is about keeping the lights on or paying the pastor, how can you dream about new ministries or opportunities?
Writer’s note: this post has a “sister post” about roadblocks – take a look here for more insight.
While mindset isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to solving these real issues, it can be helpful when talking about morale and messaging within your context. And reframing is a mindset skill that I have been working on and trying to share insights about – and surprisingly, one that I learned even more about after watching a webinar offered by insurance behemoth Blue Cross this past week.
Last week, I was required to watch a webinar on Strengths-Based Assessment that was delivered by Excellus Blue Cross (through one of my other jobs), and I was more than skeptical. After all, big insurance is predatory and any attempts to disprove my thoughts on the subject are simply not going to be fruitful.
BUT. I will give them props for this webinar. Mental health is one of my passions, and so is strengths-based work. After all, I did write a book called From Scarcity to Strength about church fundraising and use it constantly with my clients. So, I decided to take the strengths-based premise that I learned, which is intended for mental health settings and patients in recovery, and direct it towards my work on reframing church narratives.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself looking face-first into one of the roadblocks I describe in the last post I wrote about reframing roadblocks. Perhaps you are running into a roadblock that is entirely new to your context. Wherever you are, I hope this process is helpful:
Externalize the Problem
Nine times out of ten the problem is never about you. When someone comes to you and the fireworks of conflict start to erupt about an issue, remember that it’s not about you.
Whatever you’re up against, it’s not reflective of your identity or personality.
For example, there’s a tendency among clergy to question themselves when things aren’t going well. Sentiments can vary anywhere from “I’m not a good fit for this church” to even “I’m a bad pastor.” This puts the pastor at the center of the problem, which can often lead to mental health struggles and negative sentiment (both internally and externally).
You are not solely responsible for the life and well-being of the church. God did not put the weight of the entire congregation on your shoulders – I’m pretty sure God is supposed to carry most of that weight. So whatever you can do to externalize the problem and get it off your shoulders and out of your head, do it.
Do not talk about the church’s problems in terms of your own perceived inadequacies. God has called you into ministry, and that is enough.
Name the Problem
As you externalize the problem, it’s important to give it a name. Before, you might have used a name to the problem that starts with “I.” Now, you can look deeper at the problem to name what’s actually going on.
Some of the problems I’ve seen are in my last blog post about roadblocks – like inertia, steady decline, gatekeepers, and more. Some problems can be stated simply like, “Attendance is lower than last year.” Or “Giving is down.” Or “There are factions in the church that are in conflict.”
(Notice how none of those have to do with your character, and just state the facts? That’s externalizing the problem! I promise this approach will help in your ministry.)
How often do we talk around a problem without naming it? Or if we talk circles around a problem without getting to the actual issue? This is what we’re trying to avoid by coming straight out and naming what’s going on.
When you attach a name to the problem, you can start building a strengths-based foundation for a way forward. When you name the problem, you call it out of the shadows and that honestly takes away some of its power.
Identify Strengths and Resources
Two things I say a lot:
You are never starting from scratch.
You have more than you think you do.
That’s why I spend so much time tracking assets, looking at peoples’ strengths in a team, and evaluating community strengths. Because there’s so much out there to connect with – and it’s time to start looking at ministry through that lens.
Here’s where reframing is important, though. You can probably think of 100 adjectives to describe folks you’re working with, and not all of them are “positive” or strengths based.
Here are some examples:
Consider the strength behind the behavior:
Someone who is stubborn is also determined and persistent.
Someone who is rude is also blunt and strong-willed.
Someone who is scattered is often high-energy and creative.
Let’s try the same approach to ministries themselves:
“Worship is boring.”
“People are burnt out.”
“Leaders are volatile.”
Consider the strength behind the behavior:
“There’s a sense of respected, long-term tradition connected to worship.”
“We’ve been blessed with leaders who have served for a long time, who are hoping to mentor new leaders.”
“Our leaders are passionate and emotion-filled when looking at issues.”
Consider how long your church has survived. How resilient they are to have made it this long. Many leaders know what they must do to get the needs of the church (and their own needs met). That doesn’t mean that they’re using healthy coping skills, but their survival skills are likely unmatched. That tenacity is a strength.
Take the time to get to know yourself, your team, your organization, and community. If you need help figuring out how to go about gathering those asset maps and getting a better idea of where your ministry’s strengths lie, feel free to contact me and I’d love to talk with you more.
Consider which strengths to use to cope with the perceived problem
Here’s the beauty of having your ministry’s assets laid out in front of you in written form (rather than just in your head): you can look at them and choose which to use in each situation. It’s another way to externalize the process – not so you can avoid feelings, but so that you don’t feel drowned in the situation itself.
And this isn’t just about the pastor looking at the team’s strengths and deciding which to use. Oh, no – if the pastor does all the work, you’ll end up burning out. You can’t just fix things – when you’re working harder than your team, there’s more superficial compliance (where they say “yes” but do nothing), you’ll start to lose energy and get discouraged, and you’ll get frustrated and begin to internalize the problems again.
Gather the team and focus on strengths – once you have an idea of what those strengths are, you can start to decide which are most applicable to the situation. It’s the team’s choice of which strengths to lean on in each situation, so they’ll be more likely to be invested in the process and the decisions that are made.
Over the course of this process, consider building in a culture of mutual encouragement and reinforcement of goals.
Encouragement can look different for each group, but can include conversations about things like:
Resiliency – the group’s ability to bounce back and adapt after hardship
Reality – they are not always in crisis, remind them of exceptions to the problem and don’t dismiss the more stable times when there isn’t crisis.
Reinforcement – celebrate the small victories and remind people how strong they are.
You are not the only “cheerleader” for the group, but you can certainly help guide the culture and stand out in front in encouragement of leaders.
Remember, building new coping mechanisms for problem-solving can be heavy work, and people often need to be reminded that it’s work worth doing.
Your team is basically re-wiring the problem-solving process for their ministry, and it’s a process fraught with pitfalls. Periodically reminding people of the original mission and vision of the ministry can be helpful here. Periodically gathering people for social purposes rather than just work-related meetings can also be helpful here.
You are resilient and strong, and so is your team and their ministry.
If you need encouragement and guidance along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Sometimes a ministry leader needs extra tools in their toolbox when working in complex teams – and I’m here if you need to talk and want a free consultation.