What a strange way to start a blog post in a space called “Affirm Fundraising,” to say that giving isn’t all that matters. What more could I want? After all, I’m serving one church where giving has increased, and several of my clients are serving churches whose giving has increased as well.
Let’s be real: churches where giving has increased during the pandemic are RARE.
Many churches are struggling, and some are even closing.
Who am I to say that surviving churches aren’t “all set?”
Because the kind of survival that we’re seeing in churches comes at a very high price. We’re paying the price of sacrificing our leaders – their souls, their hearts, even their bodies and minds.
We’ve added a lot to our plates. At my church, we started a weekly email, we’ve done a lot more with online ministry including our Livestream, we’ve adapted worship, we’ve amped up social media, and increased contact with people. We’ve shifted staffing, we’ve added offerings for folks who are worshiping and discipling from home, and we’ve adapted our outreach ministries to serve take-out meals and do other ministries by appointment.
I have no doubt that your church has seen similar changes: the pastor doing video recorded messages or putting together online worship (which is even harder now, because you might have gone back to in-person for a while), ambling through updating a website or trying to create one, and so much more. Are there any things you can think of that you’ve “amped up” to try and stay connected to people in a disparate time?
The pace that we’re running, the race that we’re running… isn’t sustainable.
Yes, my church has seen gains in giving. Yes, we’re less afraid of the church closing. Maybe your church has seen gains, or maybe giving is still falling short… But I’m afraid that if we burn out ourselves and our leaders, that the changes in giving will be short-lived, and that we’ll lose more in the long run.
To be completely honest, I hit a brick wall in November. I crashed hard mentally and landed in the hospital for a week. I overdosed on pills to try and take the pain away – the pain of always striving and trying to hold things together, the pain of sustained ministry in a time of deep weariness.
While you might not have crashed quite as hard, I bet there are times you’ve felt low over the past two years, and your leaders might be feeling it too. So rather than talking about straight-up giving, let’s talk about long-term leadership health. Because the longer your leaders are healthy, the longer they can sustain their giving levels. The longer your leaders stay healthy, the longer they stay connected to the vision and the mission of the ministry.
People keep telling me to put on my own oxygen mask before helping others, and I think we need to take a second as 2022 begins and do just that.
So here are three ways you can focus on sustainability of leadership this year, hopefully without worrying about programming or initiatives falling apart in the process:
Take a week off. A whole week off. Maybe two. And not just the Pastor.
This is so hard to even conceptualize if you feel like you’re carrying an entire ministry. What will happen to programs, what if something goes wrong?
Well, if you don’t take a week off, something will go wrong: you.
If your leadership doesn’t take a breather, you might lose people who are tired.
So sit down with your leadership team and ask what week might work for taking a sabbath. That includes not overplanning worship and not having any meetings. That includes not answering text messages from ministry folks and taking as many naps as you’d like.
But who will preach? Hell, I will preach for you if you need it. Okay… maybe it wouldn’t be me. But I do have access to a few freelance folks who would coordinate a worship service for you if that meant you got a week off to rest. So contact me if you need help in this area – I know some people.
Or do a hymn-sing if you have traditional worship. Or pre-record a message about sabbath and have it launch on your page the week you’re out (you can auto-schedule things, it’s fancy). Or ask colleagues for help.
You’ll be surprised where your attention wanders to while you’re resting. You’ll be surprised how much more excited you (and your leaders) feel about the ministry when you reconvene. There will be new space for creativity and joy. You won’t feel the slog quite as much.
I wrote about this a little when I talked about following your motivation – maybe that insight will help too.
And an added bonus: I’d bet you’ll find one or two new leaders in the process. Because if your primary leaders are resting for a week or two, you can ask other people to temporarily step in. People are more willing to step outside their comfort zone if it’s only for a short while (but then they may decide to stay!) and has concrete boundaries. And if you give them actual authority (terrifying, I know), some cool things might happen. Maybe a unique worship service will happen in your absence. Maybe the Spirit will move amongst new leaders.
If your leadership hasn’t paused to talk about the ministry vision and planning for the new year, I highly recommend that you take time to do so.
If your leadership hasn’t paused to even talk to each other about life, their souls, and their faith journeys, I highly recommend that you take time to do so.
Leadership teams can lose sight of the big picture amongst the minutia. Ministry can wither on the vine because leadership has forgotten why the work is important, or because leadership team members forget about human connection amidst the busy-ness of life.
In other words, you need to water the garden to let it grow. You need to nurture your leaders as humans before you can grow them as leaders. And retreats are a great way to do that.
I highly recommend that you take a morning or an afternoon and treat your leadership to time away from the ministry or church. That could mean calling your local church camp or retreat center and getting space there – I highly recommend that you leverage the power of the outdoors as part of your retreat if possible, and church camp and retreat centers often offer that at a low cost. If you are in an urban area, consider retreating at a local park and including refreshments as part of the gathering.
And if you manage to get everyone together, leveraging the outdoors to connect, here’s how you start: with each other. Create a safe space where people can share about their lives, their dreams, and their faith. Start by talking about the human, and then you can talk about the broader ministry vision and where it’s going for the year.
John Wesley used deep questions like “how is it with your soul?” to get these conversations going. That’s a great place to start if you’re unsure. Avoid questions like “how are you” or other surface level questions that can stop at “good, thanks.” You might have to drill a little deeper to get folks to open up, but I promise that your team will be stronger if you can manage to create that safe space and engage in real conversation.
Then, once folks feel like their hearts are lighter, and feel connected to each other, you can start the work of visioning. I love having vision conversations with leadership teams, because people begin to remember why they connected to the ministry in the first place. People start to dream about what can be built and created, and the vision starts to grow and clarify. This is the kind of conversation that can change the course of the year, and really energize people.
These conversations don’t happen as easily in the church because people are reminded of all the things they have to do. A retreat offers space and time away from the responsibilities, so that creativity and the Spirit can really take root away from distractions.
First, we talked about taking care of your own soul, and encouraging yourself and your leaders to rest and recover. It’s been a long two years, after all.
Then, we talked about remembering your shared humanity and vision through taking a retreat away from your responsibilities.
Now, it’s time to remember whose you are – as in, connecting you and your leadership back to your faith and to God.
Because let’s be real: when you are immersed in creating and executing a worship experience for others, or immersed in events, outreach, the like… you don’t have time to worship. You might feel the Spirit when you sing a hymn, or feel moved during some parts, but generally speaking you are too busy giving to actually receive.
Are you too busy doing ministry that you forget to connect to your faith?
Are you too busy working events or doing outreach that you feel adrift spiritually?
I think that’s why connecting your leadership to worship (and yourself!) that you don’t create or carry out is so important.
Let me be clear: I am NOT asking you to create a separate worship space for your leadership. I’m advising that you all worship together, as a group, on a regular basis. That you and your leadership find time to nourish your souls through worship or Bible study. That you and your leadership pause from the “to-do list” and focus on your spirit.
Because if your spirit becomes parched, it’s much like the garden – without water, it won’t grow. Your ministry won’t grow if your leaders are spiritually parched.
Not sure how or where to do that? Where to find a place to worship that isn’t on Sunday mornings, that your group can connect to? There are new faith communities that are pushing aside the Sunday morning expectation and finding other times and spaces to connect – that’s where you could find a worshipful space:
Consider Church in the Wild. Their worship is on Sunday afternoons, leaving your mornings free for worship (if you do Sunday morning worship). During the winter, they are meeting via Zoom but still seeking to bring the outside in – they’re on a mission to follow the Spirit through Creation, adventure, and restoration, and have a beautifully eclectic worship style that talks about everything from Star Wars to bird migration. They have a New Moon Meditation on each new moon via Zoom, too. How cool would it be if your leadership worshiped together each new moon?
For more information on Church in the Wild worship and gatherings, visit their Event page:
Another option is New Wineskins. If you’re looking for something less worship-y but still spiritual, this might be an option. New Wineskins is a group of “spiritual exiles” that gather weekly on Sundays at 6:00 pm EST via Zoom from across the country – they tackle all sorts of liberation-centered topics and help people grow in their faith.
For more information on New Wineskins, visit their website:
I just learned about A Sermon for Every Sunday, which gives you just the sermon without a worship service, if the sermon is your favorite part or you want to just sing acapella in a small group: https://asermonforeverysunday.com/
Another option is Amplify Media and some of their videos – they were created by Abingdon Press and feature videos from prominent Christian speakers. Amplify has a relatively low price point for up to 100 subscribers and can help bring together your groups in new ways. The goal is to not have to create it yourself, but still having a worshipful, faith-filled space to help your leaders feel spiritually nourished.
Have any other worship group ideas that would be a good fit for this kind of leaders gathering? Send us a message!
If these aren’t a good fit, keep looking for a group that doesn’t gather at the same time as yours. Worshiping with another group takes the pressure off of your leadership to create a worshipful space for others. So whenever you can – find a time and space for your leadership team to worship together. No pressure, just worship and faith.
So regardless of where your church or ministry is giving-wise, I urge you to take the three items into account. Because we’re all exhausted – ministry is exhausting. And your leaders are probably just as tired as you are, and are afraid to admit it. So build in time for rest, retreat and worship.
Create the culture that you want to embody – help folks become rekindled and re-energized. When people are feeling their best, they remember why the work is so important. They remember why the giving is so important. And they help spread healthy habits and spiritual practices to others in your ministry.
Giving isn’t everything, sustainability is.
Giving isn’t everything, health and wellness are.
With those three things, giving will come as well. When people are energized, so is their giving. When people are healthy, so is their giving. We’re talking about humans and souls, not robots – let us lead with the wellness we want others to embody.
Feeling overwhelmed? Feel like your leadership is overwhelmed? If you’re not sure where to start, if these three ideas aren’t enough to get you where you need to be ministry-wise, reach out to me. I’ll probably re-iterate them – but then can help you with individualized advice and consulting that can move your ministry dream towards reality. Contact me to find out more.