What’s trending?

by Lynn Willis, LEAD Spiritual Director

Tiny houses, minimalism, and even Marie Kondo’s bestselling book and TV show about tidying up! It seems like more and more of us are craving some simplicity in our lives.

Some of us are rejecting any difficult concepts in an effort to simplify. Scientific complexities, difficult transitions, and even other people are being ignored or pushed away in an effort to achieve some sort of black and white simplicity.

A different way might be to follow Mary Oliver’s (Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry 1983) advice:

Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.

By truly noticing (which is the “magic” in Kondo’s tidying advice!) and delighting in our life with God, we can do a simple thing each day. By doing a simple thing each day we might feel that it’s not so hard to hang out with God after all!

This spring, as Lent comes into our lives again, let’s do something other than giving up chocolate for 40 days. Let’s pay attention – use the senses, curiosity and imagination that God gave us to truly notice this life. Let’s spend the day being astonished and sharing that excitement with God. And then let’s share that joy.

Set an intention every day to notice a simple thing. Sign up to receive a daily Lenten intention in your inbox starting on Ash Wednesday. Each week’s Intentions are drawn from the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm for the week.

Who has a key to your church?

By Jessica Noonan, Director of Operations – LEAD

Who has a key to your church?” I asked, and the whole youth and family ministry team laughed.

The question I should have asked is, “Who doesn’t have a key to your church?

They laughed because it’s common knowledge in their congregation that everyone has 24-7 access to their church and it’s likely there has never been a system in place to monitor that access.

You might be wondering, “Why wouldn’t we want congregation members to be able to get into the church whenever they want, it’s a communal space, right?”

While it’s true that our buildings provide shared space for meeting, connecting, celebrating, grieving, and sharing in life together, what I am concerned about is the vulnerability we unknowingly and unintentionally create when we don’t carefully consider and act in ways to protect the children and youth who gather there.

On this particular morning, I was with congregations for a pilot workshop developed by LEAD and the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast synod office entitled “Creating Safe Spaces.” The goal of the training is to assess the challenges and opportunities of the congregation with regard to the systems, guidelines and training of the adult leaders and the families with whom they work. It’s critical for congregations to develop safety guidelines, systems for training and screening adults, and awareness of the importance of all of these things in our faith communities.

I hear from people all the time who want their church to be a safe place for the people who gather there, and for those who are not yet there. They want to welcome and invite new people into the journey God is leading them on. They want to provide a safe place for children and youth in the congregation and the neighborhood. But how can a church be a safe place for children and youth when empty, unused rooms are not locked on a Sunday morning? When adults working with VBS and Sunday School aren’t background checked and trained? When we don’t take the time to create guidelines for what is acceptable and expected of adult leaders? Would you allow your child to go to a school where the teachers weren’t screened and trained? Why would we expect less of our congregations and ourselves?

Let’s start the conversation now.

In your congregation…

  • What are the requirements and expectations of leaders working with children/youth?
  • Do you have written guidelines about healthy boundaries between adults and children/youth?
  • Are your adult leaders background checked and screened?
  • Are your adult leaders trained on your guidelines and expectations?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, it is time to talk with your church leadership about taking steps to make positive change in your congregation. It’s time to make your church a safe place for all ages.

For more information about the Creating Safe Spaces workshop, contact LEAD.

Bibliotheca-What’s on Your List?

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

What are you reading? This is a real question. You can share your lists in the comments at the bottom of the post on the website/blog or on Facebook. I really want to know!

I read 66 books last year (that’s not counting articles or videos). Some were better than others.

I read to learn, to challenge myself and to relax and, as you can see from my list, almost any genre is fine!

Let’s encourage each other to read more this year.

I would LOVE to see your lists.

I am still forming my list for this year and would love to add your recommendations as I plan my personal continuing ed.

Here are a few goals that will drive my book choices:

Personally, this year I want to deepen my spirituality, grow my theological lens, walk more (audio books!) and expand my cultural sensitivities. Some of this will happen through the books I read.

Professionally, this year I want to help LEAD scale. That is a different reading list. And it will also include seeking out mentors and interviewing others who are growing their own organizations. Listening deeply will be crucial.

So, what are you reading? My goal this year: 100 books. So far, I’ve read two.

Send me your best suggestion (skip the ones that were a snooze).

Thanks for taking a minute to respond here on the bottom of this page or on our Facebook page.

2018 books not in any order…

  1. Dare to Lead by Brene’ Brown
  2. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  3. The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  4. Faith Formation with a New Generation by John Roberto
  5. Before and After Page Design by John McWade
  6. Perfectly Yourself by Matthew Kelly
  7. Your Leadership Edge by Ed O’Malley and Amanda Cebula
  8. The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
  9. The New Science of Radical Innovation by Sunnie Giles
  10. Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
  11. Simple Rules by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt
  12. The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  13. Flourishing in the Ministry by Benjamin M. Kaufman
  14. Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux
  15. Putting on the Mind of Christ by Jim Marion
  16. Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilber
  17. Is your God Big Enough? Close Enough? You Enough? by Paul Smith
  18. The Death of the Mythic God by Jim Marion
  19. Linchpin by Seth Godin
  20. Preparing the Pastors We Need by George Mason
  21. Do the Work by Steven Pressfield
  22. White Working Class by Joan Williams
  23. Scaling up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao
  24. The Roman Empire and the New Testament by Warren Carter
  25. The Spirit-Filled Life by Charlie Holt
  26. Facilitating Organization Change by Edwin Olson and Glenda Eoyang
  27. Becoming a 21st-Century Church by Fred Lehr
  28. The Ultimate Board Member’s Book by Kay Grace
  29. So Much Better by Brenda Harewood, Bruce Roberts, James Bowers, Janet Maykus, Kelli Walker-Jones, Larry Dill, Lis Van Harten, Marianne LaBarre, Penny Marler, Richard Hester, Sheila Kirton-Robbins
  30. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  31. Visionary Leadership in a Turbulent World by Rob Elkington, Madeleine van der Steege, Judith Glick-Smith, Jennifer Moss Breen
  32. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
  33. The Art of Community by Charles Vogl
  34. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  35. Elastic by Leonard Mlodinow
  36. The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo
  37. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson
  38. The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
  39. Mindset by Carol Dweck
  40. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
  41. Still Life by Louise Penny
  42. The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
  43. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
  44. The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
  45. A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
  46. The Long Way Home by Loise Penny
  47. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
  48. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
  49. The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
  50. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
  51. Glass Houses by Louise Penny
  52. Invisible Influence by Jonah Berger
  53. Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino
  54. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (again!)
  55. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
  56. Blue Ocean Shift by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
  57. Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman
  58. The Dip by Seth Godin
  59. Declutter Your Mind by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport
  60. All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin
  61. Richard Rohr on Transformation by Richard Rohr
  62. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  63. When by Daniel Pink
  64. The Open Organization by Jim Whitehurst
  65. The Book of Joy by Desmund Tutu, Dalai Lama and Douglas Carlton Abrams
  66. Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

Intensive Learning – Building New Habits

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD-Executive Director

LEAD is offering a series of intensive learning opportunities this year. We are taking all we have learned in the past six years and putting it out there so you can access it from the comfort of your own phone, computer or tablet.

Why?

Because habits are difficult to transform – especially if we try to do it alone. Yet there is proof that new behaviors can transform our lives and maybe even our congregations.

You can be part of LEAD’s very first Intensive opportunity, the Congregational Council Intensive. What does it look like?

  • Intensive trainings will be fast, focused and friendly
  • Four 2-hour online sessions with LEAD staff and leaders, just like you, from across the country
  • A network of leaders who are committed to learning and growing together
  • Four different topics of critical importance to leaders
    • Goals for change
    • Practicing courageous faith
    • Lead to learn through experiments
    • Sparking generosity
  • Weekly rhythm of preparation, learning, and tangible next steps to apply what you’ve learned

Check it out! You have until January 31 to register. We know that’s fast, but it’s a new year, why wait?

If now’s not the right time for you, watch for future intensives. Or better yet, sign up to be the first to know when new opportunities are available.

Send us your leadership questions to help shape the content of future intensives. If you want to get a direct email on future intensives as they are developed, become a LEAD partner by clicking here.

We hope you join groups that help you maintain new habits this year. Resolutions are fun, but building new habits takes work that is more sustainable with support. Happy New Year!

Inviting

by David Hansen, LEAD Director of Communication & Innovation

Many congregations are “welcoming.” In fact, more often than not, congregations go out of their way to describe how “friendly” they are. I suspect that if we were to ask, 90% of US congregations would describe themselves as more friendly than the average congregation.

The thing about being welcoming and being friendly is that they are passive attributes. You either are, or you aren’t.

By contrast, congregations that are thriving tend to be “inviting” congregations, rather than welcoming or friendly.

The act of invitation is active. It requires us to do something – to initiate a change in our relationship with our neighbors.

What does it look like to be an inviting disciple?

Asking

Too often we neglect the power of a simple invitation. “Would you like to go to worship with me this Easter?” “I’m hosting a Bible study on Thursday – can I save you seat?”

A good invitation is specific. General invitations almost never lead to specific plans (“Hey, we should get together sometime”). Invitations become effective when we invite people to a specific event, at a specific time. In our case, a specific event at the church or worship service on a specific date.

The best invitations also involve accompaniment. There is risk in going to a new place. Walking in alone. Not knowing who to talk to. An effective invitation lets people know that they will not be alone – the words “with me” are key.

Honesty

Of all places, it is the church that often struggles with honesty. We want to paint our community in the best possible light – show people the best of who we are.

But, if we invite people without being honest about whom we are, we could wind up disappointing both them and ourselves.

Learning to be invitational includes taking a hard look at ourselves. What is the preaching like, what does the community look like, how is the music, what is the programming, and who is really welcome as a part of the community?

Making Space

As you walk into church on a Sunday morning, ask yourself how the space would feel for a new visitor. Is it easy to find your way around? What is it like meeting new people? Are there signs? How was the parking?

When we step out of our own current experience, we begin to see things that we would otherwise miss. Many of these are things that we can make a difference in, in order to make space for the new visitor.

When pulling into the parking lot, we can park a little farther from the door, leaving closer parking spaces for visitors who arrive after us.

When we sit down in the worship space, we can move toward the front and middle of the row – leaving space on the end of the row and near the back for the visitors who come after us.

We can introduce ourselves to people we haven’t met yet. When we go to get our coffee, we can offer directions to someone who looks a little lost.

Just opening our eyes to the visitor’s experience helps us to become more invitational.

What will you do this week to become an inviting disciple?

Foundations of a Leader’s Influence

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD-Executive Director

Take a few deep breaths.

Inhaling the Holy Spirit blowing through our lives can remind us of three things that are foundational:

  1. We are already loved and good enough.
  2. We can love ourselves. (Read this one over and over. Influence starts here.)
  3. We can love the people we lead. (Gulp. Without this, there is no influence.)

I’m talking about agency, the ability to alter your environment according to your goals and to make things happen.

Agency allows people to use their God-given power to lead. Leading out of agency is more like a nourishing, steady rain falling on dry land than it is like a tropical storm that leaves debris behind. We can do this because our ultimate agency is rooted in our baptism, not in our own capacity.

Leading from this place gives us courage to take time off and focus with diligence on the things that may be hard but are meaningful and produce needed changes.

I find it interesting that many of the roadblocks we face in our leadership are part of systems and structures previous leaders constructed to succeed in their own leadership in a previous era. Redesigning these systems can feel daunting, even impossible. This makes me wonder, why don’t we simply refocus our efforts to design new pathways forward instead of spending time trying to redesign the current systems?

Christian leadership is claiming our God-given agency for mission. The structures around us are what determine or limit decisions and actions. If we let them.

Top 10 of 2018

Before we begin the countdown, we want to highlight a very special series of reflections by Lynn Willis about her experiences at the 2018 Parliament of World’s Religions. Beautiful and powerful, they are well worth a read.

And now, without further ado, we are excited to share our most-read blogposts of 2018. Take a moment to revisit your favorites or to catch up on those that you may have missed.

10. How do you measure what matters? by Peggy Hahn

9. Closing the Back Door: It’s about relationships by Peggy Hahn

8.Walking a Labyrinth: A visit to the grocery store by Peggy Hahn

7. Alarming Faith by David Hansen

6. Embodied Faith: The ELCA Youth Gathering by Rozella White

5. 6 Objections to Online Ministry by David Hansen

4. Smelly Church by Peggy Hahn

3. When Caring Is Killing Us by Peggy Hahn

2. Throw Away Your Mission Statement by David Hansen

And now…this is it!

[Drum roll please]

Our most-read blogpost of 2018:

1. Dear PBS by Kristen Krueger

Remember, this is just a tiny sample of the 300+ blogposts available on the website! If you don’t see what you’re looking for (or if you want more), you can check them all out here!

For Your Church Too


by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director, LEAD

Before you make your final end of the year gifts, read this.

“When I first came to this congregation, I knew there was a lot of opportunity, but I didn’t know where to start. The LEAD Journey has given us a vision for the future, skills to achieve that vision and, after almost three years, the path is clear. LEAD has helped us see a vision that we are still working out.” Pastor Mike Louia, First Lutheran, Ellicott City

LEAD has learned a lot in the past six years and we want to share it with you by taking advantage of technology and all we know to help leaders. The sooner, the better.

This is for you, and your church too. New learning is not limited by congregational size or location, if people have a passion for mission.

Join us, as together, we help caring people across the world discover their God-given path forward.

A gift of any size will help us reach the Challenge Goal of $10,000 this season. Every gift to LEAD is a gift to Christian leadership development.

Our vision is to create an interesting, meaningful digital and relational network that launches a movement of leaders.

We need your help to make this happen.

All gifts to LEAD are a gift to Christian leadership development.

On a very practical level, your support will be used to bring together wise leaders to innovate. The technology is easy and available. Curating the best material for you is the most important work we can do. Please be an early adopter and partner with us now!

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord.

Hospitality Is Bigger Than You Think!

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

As I was sitting in the back of worship at my home congregation recently, it hit me like a ton of bricks – there are little things that make a BIG difference and they are happening at my church! Here is what I saw:

  1. Half the people in worship were under age 35.
  2. Half of those people had coffee mugs in their hands. Yep, right in worship! Not even trying to hide it.
  3. Half of the people had little children, most under age 4 (based on their height & wiggles).
  4. One dad had his small daughter on his shoulders so she could see all the action in the front of the room, concert-style.
  5. There was a big basket in the back of the church, that you had to pass on your way in, filled with baggies of stickers, colors, coloring sheets, pipe cleaners, etc. Free for the taking. Most children in the room were already busy exploring their bags.
  6. Worship leaders included youth, young adults, families ushering together. One dad was even carrying his son, as he helped his older son pass the plate, while mom worked the other side of the room.
  7. Everyone came to communion. Most just walked through the stations and returned directly to their seats, but there were others who knelt for prayer during the distribution of the elements. There was no one “right way” to take communion. And this was good.
  8. The PowerPoint projection was clear, easy-to-read and the words on the screen actually matched what we were singing. No one had to flip from slide to slide to find the right verse. There was even a short video which was reflective, meditative, and meaningful to me.
  9. The music was very singable, though not all upbeat. Yes, it was a “contemporary” service but it wasn’t endless repetitions of the same four lines…
  10. It was clear the congregation (not just the ushers) was expecting visitors, as everything was easy to follow.

I visit a lot of congregations and I don’t see this everywhere. But I do see lots of potential. Most congregations could ask the tough question “is our culture here (or perhaps more to the point, “is our list of do’s and don’ts that shape our worship culture”) really about worshiping God or is it more about worshiping the space or maybe something else entirely?”

My best thinking is that if you want to increase the hospitality of your congregation, step one is to worship as a visitor at a few other congregations to better understand what it’s like to be new. You’ll discover that it’s not the big things that trip up newcomers. It’s the nuances that are “normal” in your congregation but may not be happening in another congregation, much less in the real world.

Step two is to widen your generational lens. How are families welcomed? Something simple like using this bulletin insert (PDF or Word) (or something with fewer words that you could project on a screen) could go a long way in letting families know the community is expecting them at worship.

It’s hard to evaluate ourselves since so much of what we do is automatic. Intentional hospitality is not just for worship, but that is a good place to start. It would be awesome for members of neighboring congregations to visit each other’s place and offer some constructive feedback.

What are the little changes that can be made in the worship experience at your congregation that will have a big impact for visitors?

Calling all Leaders!

by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director – LEAD

Calling all leaders to join us in our vision for 2019!

LEAD has received a $10,000 challenge grant from our amazing Board of Directors because they believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit, leaders grow churches!

LEAD has been working directly with 80+ congregations across the country to grow leaders who grow their congregations and we are ready to blow the doors off this process with a new digital network of videos and resources that are available to YOU and YOUR CONGREGATION 24-7, 365 days a year anywhere in the world!

What our current partners are saying:

I am looking at my church in new ways. I have hope for my congregation and feel like I know how to lead. The work we are doing with LEAD is changing our understanding of why we exist.

We are amazed at where our church is today, after two years on the LEAD Journey. The changes happened first in us, as a leadership team, then in others in the congregation. We are truly engaged in our neighborhood  with new partners.

Our congregation took a while to really listen in the neighborhood. We were anxious because the people around our congregation are very different from our members. Now that we have started listening, we are amazed at how grateful people are that we are showing up and caring about what they have to say. We aren’t sure exactly what will come out of this, but we know we will not be the same congregation in three years. It is exciting to think about the possibilities.

Are you ready to take your skills to the next level?

Are you ready to transform your congregation for mission and to establish vital neighborhood partnerships?

Are you a church council member? A first call pastor? Outdoor ministry leader? Young leader? Leader in crisis?

LEAD is here for YOU! We want to be YOUR go-to leadership development organization and YOUR gift to LEAD will help make this happen!

Christmas Blessing 2018

May we live this Christmas Day on purpose
as our gift to God.
May every breath,
every word,
every moment,

honor the miracle we celebrate today:

God as human
God in every human
God with us

Emmanuel

by Lynn Willis, Spiritual Guide – LEAD

Tis the season…of job reviews, feedback and reactions

 

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Receiving feedback is a skill essential for adaptive leadership. Before you cringe with disgust, pain or boredom, consider this:

Accepting feedback at work is important,
but in families, it’s vital.
– Bruce Feiler, New York Times columnist and author 

The book Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen is the go-to resource for upping your leadership game as you grow through feedback from others. Learning to take a few steps back from the ledge of your own triggered reactions to feedback will shape your identity as a leader in ways that affirmation never will. This is one of the most important leadership practices and gifts you can share with others.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Understanding that the brain is constantly under construction can help us navigate feedback. One of the brain’s primary survival functions is to manage approach and withdrawal. We tend to move toward things that are pleasurable and withdraw from things that are painful. Like sex, drugs, food, and exercise, feedback boggles the brain and mucks up the approach-withdrawal system. Doing what feels good now may be costly in the long run. What is healthy in the long run, may feel painful now. Think about this:

We all have a baseline. This is our default way of managing our emotions. We are not blown in completely new directions by each gust of wind that comes our way because we have an established way of navigating life.

We all have a swing. This is how far up or down we go when confronted by input from others. While this is prewired from infancy, it can be altered. (Keep reading!)

We all have to recover. This is how long it takes to return to baseline after good or bad news. Some of us recover quickly. Others get stuck for extended periods of time as they spin on the information received. Researcher Richard Davidson has found that recovery time can differ by as much as 3,000 percent between individuals.

Practices such as meditation, prayer, serving others, worship and exercise can raise your baseline over time. Life events that involve trauma or depression can have a profound impact on your baseline as well. Being engaged in a deep, relational community (like a congregation at its best) can rewire our brains to manage feedback in a positive way and raise our baseline.

  1. Implicit Rules Can Be Roadblocks: Understanding that the culture of our work environment (or our family culture) is filled with the implicit rules of “how we do things around here” is important to managing feedback. Discovering how we come across helps us increase our positive impact on others within a culture that operates differently from our own. This is more complex than saying one way is right (your way) and one way is wrong (their way). Feedback on how we are operating outside of a given cultural norm is gold, helping us lead within the context of a different worldview. By understanding more about the culture, even if we don’t like it, we can be more effective in influencing the future.
  1. Impact vs. Intent Matters: Feedback helps us see the gap between how we believe we come across and how we are actually received. Our own hopes and good intentions contribute to the story we tell ourselves, but they aren’t part of the stories others hear. Instead of immediately reacting to what we learn about how others experience our leadership, take a step back, take a deep breath, and learn from the new mirror offered to us. This mirror will show you your best self and, at the same time, provide a picture that may not be what you intend to communicate. The gap between the two is something you can only close if you are aware it exists. Here are a few examples from Stone and Heen:

Rather than immediately reacting to contradictory feedback, take a breath and consider how the same behavior is being described in different ways. It could be that others misunderstood you or it may be that you are unaware of your impact. Either way, when you hear feedback that catches you off guard, you can use it to learn about how you come across. You can ask yourself, “Do I have a blind spot in this area?” We all have them, so take another deep breath and love yourself enough to invest in personal growth.

The role of a faith community is huge in helping people navigate feedback. Don’t miss the point made earlier: a person’s baseline reaction to feedback can be altered in a positive way by meditation, prayer and service to others. We can use this for our own benefit and we can offer this to our congregation as a quiet way of loving them as we love ourselves.

Stories from the Parliament.
Physical Meets Worship

Lynn Willis, LEAD’s Spiritual Guide, attended the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto November 1-7. She will be sharing her experiences and reflections in a series of newsletter articles.

This is my body. Upon hearing these words, while flowing through a series of standing yoga postures, it all became crystal clear. It was one of those aha moments in life. It felt as if the heavens had opened up and downloaded clarity into my whole being. This is my body.
The Reverend Gena Davis, Episcopal priest, yoga instructor and founder of YogaMass

Physical awareness and physical movement were vital parts of many of the worship services at the Parliament. And here’s the surprise. I found it even in Christian services!

I read somewhere that modern Western people think of their bodies as vehicles to get their brains to meetings (and to worship services too, I might add). There are wonderful antidotes for this. Here are a couple that I experienced at the Parliament.

YogaMass

The chairs were pushed back to the wall, the floor was spread with yoga mats and live musicians provided sweet sounds. We were led in a series of yoga poses, each one increasing our energy and awareness. When we were truly feeling alive and open, Rev. Gena Davis filled our hearts with a homily. Then we shared the Eucharist. There was tactile energy in the room and a wonderful camaraderie among the worshipers.

YogaMass bridges yogic principles and practices with Christian spirituality and worship as a path for bringing the whole self (body, mind, soul and spirit) to the experience of spiritual awakening.

The Cosmic Mass

Around 200 people in the room. 10 foot puppets. An opera solo as invocation. This is not your grandmother’s Christian worship. And yet, the Cosmic Mass draws on ancient human forms of worship – song and dance, joy and mourning, creativity and strength – to bring the worship out of our heads and into our hearts and bodies.

We formed a line dance to express joy, we curled up on the floor and wailed our grief and mourning (this was extraordinary for me – I have never been in the company of so many people who are crying and moaning and being vulnerable).

We greeted each other. We experienced the Eucharist. We jumped and danced and sang. I left this service exhilarated.

Created by Matthew Fox, the Cosmic Mass deconstructs the Western liturgical tradition by employing indigenous and rave elements, live music, and other methods, in order to awaken a cosmic sense and to create a sacred space connecting community, Earth and the cosmos.

Dances for Universal Peace

While this isn’t exclusively Christian and wasn’t even a worship service per se, I want to add this as something you might like to explore.

Each day, dashing between rooms for the next session, I would see rings of dancers. Simple, repeated steps; all shapes and colors of people; simple chanted tunes. Everyone looked peaceful, happy and engaged.

Building on the work begun by Samuel L. Lewis in the 1960s, the dances promote peace and integration within individuals and understanding and connection within groups worldwide. There are no performers nor audience: new arrivals and old hands form the circle as everyone sings and dances together.

I invite you to explore ways of adding dance, music, yoga or other movement into your worship. Bringing our whole body, our whole imagination, and our whole creativity to God honors the Creator and wakes us up to the life we are meant to have.

To learn more:

Yoga Mass: Embodying Christ Consciousness

The Cosmic Mass

Dances for Universal Peace

Others in the Parliament of World’s Religions series:

First Impressions
Bible Stories and Domestic Violence
Child Bride
Climate Change
Physical Meets Worship

 

Stories from the Parliament.
Climate Change.

Lynn Willis, LEAD’s Spiritual Guide, attended the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto November 1-7. She will be sharing her experiences and reflections in a series of newsletter articles.

The ice in the heart of man has grown as the ice in the north has melted. Uncle Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Eskimo-Kalaatit Elder, the Arctic.

The reality of climate change is irrefutable, and each of us is responsible for making decisions and taking actions that will shape a future of well-being for humans and all life. The Climate Action Task Force of the Parliament is working to strengthen the growing global faith-based climate movement, bringing people of many traditions together in common commitment and effective actions.

Throughout the Parliament, I heard the warnings and impassioned pleas of people from all across the globe. I share them with you now. I hope your hearts and minds will be open to the wisdom of our brothers and sisters.

My 91-year-old Aunt said to tell you, “it’s too late.”
Uncle Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq

The countdown to Day Zero came to us in Cape Town, South Africa. The water to homes was cut off. People lined up to receive 20 liters of water per person. The climate has changed radically. Drought will be the new normal. Water is heavy. Once you have carried your own water, you will learn the value of every drop.

Cape Town is the canary in the mine. It’s a wake-up call.

Day Zero is coming for us all. This is the human rights issue of our day.
The Rev. Dr. Rachel Mash, Green Anglicans, South Africa

The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. We found alternatives.

Climate change is moving faster than we thought. A tsunami of data requires a storm of response.

The power of love can overcome the love of power.

Faith based organizations have lots of resources – they need to take the lead! We must practice what we preach. As God called Noah to build an ark, we are called to build an ark now.
Karen Christiana Figueres Olsen, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and leading force of the 2015 Paris Agreement

Women have been the water keepers all over the world.

We have allowed our religions to be commoditized and commercialized.

The future requires repentance.
Vandana Shiva, India

The crisis has less to do with climate and more to do with us.

There is an ecumenical imperative to the climate crisis. We need a model of cooperation.
John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne

God said to St. Francis, “go repair my house, which you see is falling into ruin. Creation is the first book of God. Care of the earth is our first vocation. The stewardship of the earthly garden is the first and primary task entrusted to Adam – the first human being, as we read in the creation narratives in Genesis. It is the very first commandment given to humanity.”
Joshtrom Isaac Kuteethadam, the Vatican

There is a midrash that tells of people sailing on a boat. Soon they notice that one person is drilling a hole under their chair. Of course, they object! “It’s my seat! I can do with it as I want!” is the reply. With that attitude, we will all die.
Rabbi David Rosen, American Jewish Committee

We talk with nature. We need to live.

White people need to learn to listen. White people only have concern for cities and minerals. We are the keepers of the forest. White people need to learn from us.
Davi Kopenawa, the Yanomami people of the Amazon

Others in the Parliament of World’s Religions series:

First Impressions
Bible Stories and Domestic Violence
Child Bride
Climate Change
Physical Meets Worship

Leading Change

by Pastor David Hansen, LEAD Director of Communication and Innovation

LEAD is committed to congregations and leaders who are ready for the future God is calling the church into – and for the transformation that will lead us there.


There is no denying it – we live in an era of change. Change in our culture, change in our neighborhoods, and change in our ministries.

Wherever we serve – whether a rural congregation, an urban campus ministry, a suburban redevelopment – we are leading change.

Many of LEAD’s resources are designed to help congregations and ministries walk through that change – to remember where they came from, while gaining a vision for what God is leading them toward. And as we do this work, we are finding that many leaders have not been trained or equipped for leading change.

Here are a few of the most helpful reminders we have found for those who are leading change.

1) Leading Change Requires Support

In ministry, it can sometimes feel like we are in this all by ourselves. Each pastor an island, doing their ministry separate from those down the street. But there is no Lone Ranger ministry in this era of change.

We have to relearn the habits of collegiality – reaching out to our neighbors of various denominations and traditions, sharing experiences, and learning from one another. As leaders, we also need to model the healthy practices of self-care: making use of our own counselors, spiritual directors, and mentors, so that we can bring our best selves to our ministry.

2) Leading Change Requires Growth

One of my favorite stories about LEAD comes from our very first year. LEAD’s Executive Director, Peggy Hahn, went on listening sessions across our region talking with pastors and lay leaders. Afterward, she shared that she could ask one question – just ONE – and get a good feel for the vitality of that ministry.

The question? “What are you reading?

That’s all. “What are you reading?” The answer didn’t matter. If the leader was reading ANYTHING – tending to their spiritual and intellectual growth – that was enough. In our ministry with LEAD, we have discovered that congregations that are growing have leaders who are growing.

3) Leading Change Requires Discomfort

Change isn’t easy. It requires us to admit that we could be doing things differently, that maybe there is a better way. Change can mean trying things we’ve never tried before, taking risks, and being vulnerable.

There is a certain amount of discomfort inherent in healthy change. Not too much – or it will all fall apart – but just enough. (In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz calls this “productive equilibrium.”)

This discomfort is not just for the congregation – it affects the leaders, too. And so, we return to our center and our strength. Prayer. Worship. Scripture. Riding the waves of changing ministry means we have to equip ourselves with the life vest of a full and healthy spiritual life.

Your gift (in any amount) will help us build a community of leaders with the resources and support they need to transform the church, especially leaders in crisis, new leaders in the church, and those who are leading congregational change.

Stories from the Parliament.
Bible Stories and Domestic Violence.

Lynn Willis, LEAD’s Spiritual Guide, attended the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto November 1-7. She will be sharing her experiences and reflections in a series of newsletter articles.

“Words have power,” says Jan Peppler, who holds a Doctorate in Sacred Myth, “we must translate accurately.”

95% of church women have never heard a sermon about abuse.
And yet 83% of Pastors have counseled victims of abuse.

How can this be?

Religious women stay longer in abusive relationships because they identify with Bible stories. They turn to Job or to Jesus. “Suffering is my cross to bear. I must pick up my cross and suffer.”

And yet, if we look carefully, we see that Job teaches us to call out the abuser. God is not the abuser in that story. Jesus found a third way – not a victim, but not seeking revenge.

There are strong women in the Bible who need to be held up as role models.

Esther saved her family (which is, by the way, the number one reason that women finally leave – to protect their children).

To the outcast Samaritan woman Jesus says, “you are worthy, you are mine, go and tell the good news.”

Mary Magdalene was the first to be entrusted with the news of the resurrection.

The stories are there. They tell the truth about how God wants people to be treated. But tribal customs find “evidence” in sacred books.

We must, as Dr. Peppler says, translate accurately. And tell the truth. And tell the stories. Silence increases violence.

Even just changing the name given to the stories can change the message conveyed. How about changing “the Woman Caught in Adultery” to “Jesus Breaks up the Boys-Will-Be-Boys Club”? *

*While I heard this quote at the Parliament, I originally read it in this Patheos article by Bert Montgomery.

Others in the Parliament of World’s Religions series:

First Impressions
Bible Stories and Domestic Violence
Child Bride
Climate Change
Physical Meets Worship

 

Stories from the Parliament.
The Child Bride.

Lynn Willis, LEAD’s Spiritual Guide, attended the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto November 1-7. She will be sharing her experiences and reflections in a series of newsletter articles.

Susan B. Anthony said, “the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything in the world.”

Armene Modi is from India. She is the founder of Ashta No Kai (“for a better tomorrow”). Ashta No Kai is dedicated to empowering rural women.

Ashta No Kai aims to make a difference in rural women’s lives by providing them with the education, vocational skills, and resources they need to become economically independent and self-reliant.

One of the things they do is provide access to bicycles for girls in India and Afghanistan so they can get to school.

One day a mother came to Professor Modi and said her 8-year-old daughter had been given as a child bride to a powerful 40-year-old man. Would she please help to get her back?

Mrs. Modi asked all the powerful men in the area for help and no one would dare aggravate this man. So Mrs. Modi contacted him herself. Many times she contacted him.

Finally, he came to her office – with 10 armed guards. Can you visualize this?

She said, “You paid a bag of rice for this girl, allow me to pay you 5 bags of rice to get her back.”

He stormed out saying that the law was on his side.

She persisted. She kept calling him. Three times he came back and refused. Finally, he said in exasperation, “Why do you care about this one girl so much?”.

Mrs. Modi said, “She should be on the playground with the other girls her age. That is her life.  Not this.” And he said, “Fine! Take her!”

About 15 million girls each year marry before they are 18.

Armene Modi is saving one child bride at a time. Making the world better.

The day after hearing this story I was at a Lutheran/Anglican worship service. The gospel lesson was Luke 18:1-8 (The Parable of the Persistent Widow.) 

Some truths never change.

Others in the Parliament of World’s Religions series:

First Impressions
Bible Stories and Domestic Violence
Child Bride
Climate Change
Physical Meets Worship

 

Thanksgiving Blessing 2018

Come to the table,

We are thankful for new faces and new smiles.

Come to the feast,

We are thankful for new foods and new ways.

Come to the conversation,

We are thankful to learn from your wisdom.

Come to peace,

We are thankful for the stories of the paths

you have walked.

We are thankful for you.

There is room, there is plenty.

When we welcome each other,

we welcome

God.

by Lynn Willis, LEAD Spiritual Guide

Parliament of the World’s Religions.
First Impressions.

Lynn Willis, LEAD’s Spiritual Guide, attended the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto November 1-7. She will be sharing her experiences and reflections in a series of newsletter articles.

125 years in the making

10,000 people in attendance

220 faiths represented

1st city in the world for diversity (Toronto)

3 major topics – Indigenous People, The Dignity of Women, and Caring for Earth

You might be excused for thinking that when many religious people are gathered to speak about important and difficult subjects, they would be dour and officious and hard.

What I found, instead, was spontaneous dance. Enthusiastic singing. Hugs galore. And laughter everywhere.

This was a group of people who were the best representatives of their religious traditions.

The Sikh people of Toronto provided free blessed food (for all 10,000 people) every day for 7 days.

The Dances for Universal Peace people invited anyone to join the dance. Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Zoroastrians and Baha’i and Sikh all united in the dance.

And yes, there were the hard truths. The hard work. The hard realities.

Truth and reconciliation for Indigenous People who have been denied their songs and dances and cultures by colonializing nations.

A million missing women. Child brides.

An environmental crisis that calls for immediate action.

But what better place and what better people to bring the news that together we can make a difference.

A story was told of the whale who bragged about how big and powerful he was. All the birds swooped down and each took one drop of water until the whale was beached. Together we can make a big difference.

“At the conclusion of this Parliament, thousands of committed persons of faith and conscience will be further prepared to bring about the radical change that our world so desperately requires. That change, however, can only be actualized if people of faith and conscience dare to believe that a far-reaching commitment to inclusion has greater promise than inherited patterns of exclusion.

Others in the Parliament of World’s Religions series:

First Impressions
Bible Stories and Domestic Violence
Child Bride
Climate Change
Physical Meets Worship

The Power of Story

by Kristen Krueger, PhD – LEAD Consultant

When you support LEAD on Giving Tuesday and in your end-of-year giving, you help create and sustain the work of intentionally growing young leaders who are the very best of what our church has to offer.

I am a historian who specializes in the history of girlhood. I’ve studied young women and activism across the 20th century and am now raising two little girls of my own. Perhaps because of those things, people often ask me “how do we get young people to care about faith communities?” or “how do we teach young people to lead?” I believe the answer lies in the power of intentional storytelling.

Intentional storytelling is bigger than just sharing a personal experience. While that is a valuable tool, intentional storytelling has three key elements that shape young leaders.

  • First, the story must be shared authentically, including why this issue or cause matters personally and globally.
  • Second, the story should include an invitation to join in the work of the cause, alongside those who are already doing the work.
  • Third, the story must be passed on and made their own, giving leadership to young people.

By telling stories that matter, inviting young leaders into partnership, and finally moving from a leading role to a mentoring role, we can see a clear path to growing young leaders. History shows us that when we do these things well, young people emerge as leaders and world-changers.

If we can harness the power of intentional storytelling to shape the lives of young leaders, we will see the power of young people to change the world for good.  Join LEAD in growing young leaders!

ELCA Youth Gathering – intentional storytelling in practice

This summer 32,000 young people came to the city of Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering. The students were invited to collect books to donate to local literacy campaigns. They arrived with piles of books ready to share with Houston’s children and engaged in an intentional storytelling project shaped by LEAD staff, using proven models from 25 years of experience with Camp Hope.

  • First, they heard the authentic story about why literacy matters. They heard from the partners who would receive the books, including LEAD partner Pastor Deb Grant whose church’s community library was destroyed in Hurricane Harvey.
  • Next, they took action, packing the books into boxes, sending the books into the city, and hosting free book fairs. In total over 40,000 books made their way into the homes of Houston’s children in the span of three days.
  • The last step was for the students to learn about advocacy and how they can support literacy campaigns in their own cities. Through the power of intentional story telling we watched the student leaders who served in Houston adopt justice issues as their own.

Perhaps the hardest part of intentional storytelling is the idea that we need to step back and let young leaders make the movement their own. I want to be very clear that I do not mean that experience and wisdom should step out of the movement. That would be a significant loss.

Instead, I believe in striking a delicate balance of supporting young leaders without taking over their work. This work means walking alongside them, sharing, mentoring, supporting, and continuing to invite new people in to the story we are writing together. This is where the work of LEAD is so important.

In creating resources, coaching congregational leaders, and building programs like Camp Hope Ministries, LEAD helps churches accompany young leaders as they practice intentional storytelling together.

Historians aren’t supposed to comment on the present or the future—it’s not our area of expertise after all. But I believe we are living in a moment of great change.

 

Gravity vs Grounded

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Join Peggy for a phone call meet-up on Tuesday, November 13 from 8-9 AM CST (details below).

Let’s talk. Are you acting in response to the pull of gravity or the pull to be grounded?

The gravitational pull that is keeping us stuck is not as strong as you think it is. In fact, gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces of physics.

Yet our risk-adverse culture (which is at least partially a function of our change-manic world) can leave us feeling like there are no good options…only Hopelessness. Depression. Anxiety.

Grounding, on the other hand, drives us to ask questions. There is even a scientific theory about this. By digging into what holds us, we can discover new angles of vision to apply to old problems. This adaptive learner approach sets us free from gravity. We can begin to jump and play, to feel joy and liberation for a God-filled future.

If you are feeling stuck, think about working with a professional Coach or joining a Cohort with others who are working similar challenges. Being alone or feeling isolated can be the start of a downward spiral. One step forward is to phone a friend. Another is to get connected to other leaders who are bringing innovative questions to the conversation. As the holidays approach, we can take a mental leap towards next year by grounding ourselves.

Join Peggy for a phone call meet-up on Tuesday, November 13 from 8-9 AM CST. Bring your questions. By asking each other about our strategic urgencies, new paths forward may be discovered.

Call 515-739-1033, pin 599325* The call starts at 8 AM and ends promptly at 9 AM (CST). No cost.

A peek behind the curtain:
Digital tools we use every day at LEAD

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

You see our Front of the House every day. It’s things like our website, this newsletter, our Facebook page and all the people you meet who talk to you about LEAD (from our team to our partners to our clients). Our front door is always open and you know how to find it.

The Back of the House is different. Until now, we haven’t revealed the systems and tools we use, mostly because we are constantly refining them ourselves. Even as we’re sending this out, we are evaluating things in the Back of the House and making decisions about whether to pivot and try something new or persevere with what we have.

It takes a lot of hard work to keep LEAD running, something I know you all can relate to. As a learning organization, this is a two-way street; we’ll share what’s working for us and we hope you’ll do the same.

So…let’s take a peek behind the curtain.

LEAD’s Back of the House:

For Internal Communication, we use Slack. Here’s why.

We realized an average of 30% of our email traffic jam was caused by our own decentralized team. Slack, a free cloud-based service with upgraded plans available, helps us:

  • organize our conversations
  • get faster answers (more like texting than like email)
  • build deeper relationships
  • know how to pray for each other in real time

External Communication:

This is more complicated because HOW we communicate depends on WHO we are communicating with and WHAT their needs are. Here are our best tips.

Website (Worship Times is our partner for the LEAD website):

  • For us, the website is both the front door (for guests and those who are just getting to know us) and the back door (for those who already know and trust us and value our resources). The goal is to think about what each of these groups need and make it easy for them to find it.
  • How do you know if it’s working? Ask! But don’t just ask your regular attenders (or in our case, our “frequent flyers” who eagerly await our latest and greatest program, resource, or blogpost). Ask new people and visitors too. These are the ones you may have to work harder to reach and, because they don’t already know you and love you, they may not be willing to give you a second or third chance to get it right.

For more website tips, check out these Tips for Your Church Website.

Email:

  • We do our best to be responsive. At LEAD, we promise a 48-hour turnaround and strive for a response within 24 hours to our clients’ requests. Sometimes we have to delay while we gather more information, but even then, we’ll reply with a quick note saying “we will be in touch as soon as possible.”
  • On the flip side, we do not feel obligated to answer emails after 6 PM or on weekends unless we have extra personal time. We feel it is healthy to set work aside for Sabbath time.
  • Watch for themes in the questions that come in. If you are getting the same questions over and over, take another look at the information you are providing. Is the message unclear or incomplete? If so, fix it (change the source of the problem) AND get back to those who may have been impacted, even those who didn’t bother to contact you.
  • We do not blind copy (BCC) anyone. We want to be transparent about who we are keeping “in the loop.”
  • Figure out a plan for filing emails, AND USE IT!

Phone:

  • Never underestimate the power of a phone call. There are many instances where picking up the phone can save both time and misunderstandings. Then follow up with a short email to document what was discussed. It can be as simple as “Thank you for the conversation where we agreed to move forward with xxx.”
  • We would never record a phone call without permission.

Digital meetings:

  • Online meetings are essential to our work. We couldn’t support our clients and our staff (who are spread all across the country and beyond) without this technology.
  • We’ve tried a number of different services and our favorite is Zoom. It uses less bandwidth and is less intimidating for people who are new to digital meetings, all they have to do is click on a link.
    • Zoom allows us to see each other, share a screen, show a PowerPoint, or write together. It’s wonderful.
    • We will occasionally record a Zoom meeting but we’ll always ask before doing it. This allows people who were unable to be part of the original meeting to watch the video or listen to the audio, at their own convenience.

Organization: Drop Box and Smartsheet

Dropbox:

  • Shared files are a lifesaver. We store our work in Dropbox which gives us access on all our different devices (computer, Smartphone, tablet, etc.) AND among the team. Not everyone on the team needs access to everything, and in fact it could easily get overwhelming, so we are intentional about who gets invited into which folders.
  • A byproduct of selective sharing means that many on our team can use the free version, but even paying $99 for a team member’s annual subscription is a steal.
  • We have a few rules for using Dropbox so we don’t drive each other crazy.
    • #1 When you open a file and plan to work in it, FIRST resave it with your initials so that the last person’s document remains intact. That file can (and should) be deleted later or saved in an Old or Archive folder.
    • Make file names as short as possible.
    • Begin the most important folder / file names with a number so they are in the same order in everyone’s directory.

Smartsheet:

  • Think of Excel on steroids. This project management software interfaces with many of the other tools we use, like Dropbox and Slack. We use it to plot out our work step by step, set up calendar alerts so we don’t miss deadlines, and check progress anytime without constantly having to ask others for updates. And that’s just a tiny piece of its awesomeness!

With all of these tools, we should be AMAZING!!!! However, as humans trying to manage families, friends, our personal wellbeing, and the big work we are called to, we occasionally lose our way. When that happens, we rely on God’s grace and your forgiveness.

What tools do you use? Let’s learn together.

Vote

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director, and Kristen Krueger, PhD, LEAD Consultant

I stood in line for two hours to vote today as early voting opened. The very act of voting is one way to advocate for your faith as we stand in solidarity with those who have fought for this right. The trajectory of democracy in our country is towards inclusivity.

From the founding to today, the United States has walked a steady, sometimes messy, path to include more and more voices in the decision-making systems of our nation.

When the country was founded, only wealthy white men could vote. In order to cast a ballot, you had to be white and be able to own land.

Soon, the right to vote was granted to all white men.

With the passage of the 15th Amendment, African American men won the right to vote after the Civil War ended slavery in America.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

Most recently, during the Vietnam War, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in response to criticism from young veterans.

Every step toward expanding the vote came out of hard-fought battles and was met with attempts to recreate restrictions. This included literacy tests, voter ID laws, and the “grandfather clause.” Even so, the arc of history in the United States has been one of expanding, not limiting, liberty.

By including more voices, the Unites States becomes a truer reflection of our population and steps closer to realizing the democracy of our founders. Voting gives faithful people an opportunity to advocate for the “least of these.”

Use this interactive tool by the League of Women Voters to prepare to vote: vote411.org. As a leader in this country, lift your voice and encourage the people in your life to join you in voting. I believe we have a responsibility to contribute and I urge you to do the same.

It took nearly 100 years for women to gain the right to vote in this country (the movement started in 1848 and continued until 1920).

This is our watch and it is our turn to show up.

A New Voice for Grandparents

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD-Executive Director

I don’t know what is more beautiful – holding your new grandbaby or watching your children become parents. The sweetness of a new little life and the over-tired commitment of young parents in love with their baby are some of the best things life has to offer. With new parents able to get answers to their questions 24/7, what role does the grandparent play? We’re no longer the go-to experts for the practical, everyday concerns that we turned to our parents for. Instead, they connect to experts and peers to get answers in seconds.

But maybe by getting out of these routine conversations, it opens up a new space that no other generation of grandparents has ever enjoyed. Maybe by letting others address burping techniques, we have an opportunity to accompany our children in significant areas of life that grandparents are uniquely positioned to tend. These three overlapping circles of life that make up our family core values include:

  1. The circle of core beliefs. What is most important in our life? It’s been said that we can tell what matters to a person by looking at his or her calendar and checkbook. While I can see the truth in this, I hope that I’m living a life where my beliefs are more public than that. Research proves that our children turn out a lot more like us than we think they will, so we can actually look at our adult children to see what they caught from us. We can make adjustments in our current lives if we wish they had learned a different life-lesson by watching us. It’s never too late to clarify our own beliefs and reflect them out in our families and the world.
  2. The circle of family convictions. What do we stand for as a family? At the end of the day, there are a few things I pray my children know we value highly. Things like showing up when we need each other, trusting each other to tell the truth even when it’s hard to hear, thinking critically together about pretty much anything but especially about the intersection between faith and values, etc. We are famous for cooking together then sitting around the dinner table solving the world’s problems. What do your adult children know about your convictions?
  3. The circle of faith practices. How do we practice our faith as a family? I’m pretty sure our children don’t all pray before every meal but they definitely know how because we’ve practiced this their whole lives. And as our family grows, we continue to add new practices like the annual Christmas Letter I write to the grandchildren or the journal we just started for our youngest grandson who lives across the country. No doubt there will be more. As life evolves, our faith practices must too.

All this calls us to articulate our own values in new and different ways. The good news is that I don’t have to do this alone. Some of my best thinking partners are my peers in a Bible study group as we wrestle together with how to follow Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but if I have to choose between passing on family values or giving advice on diaper rash, I say, “Thank you, Internet!”

Giving that grows Community

Join us in changing the church! We need each other to make it happen.

LEAD is growing leaders like you in churches like yours who are called as disciples into God’s mission…and a new vision is emerging.

The vision is twofold: build a community of creative and courageous leaders all around the world who are learning together and develop a digital resource center filled with resources to support, challenge, and encourage leaders as they work together to transform the church. We need your financial support to achieve these goals.

We are looking for 100 courageous leaders to step up and make a gift of $25 per month to LEAD to make the vision a reality.

Your gift (in any amount) will help us build a community of leaders with the resources and support they need to transform the church, especially leaders in crisis, new leaders in the church, and those who are leading congregational change.

Hear from leaders who are already on this journey of transformation in their congregations and communities:

 

Imagine taking the passion and enthusiasm of these leaders in just one small part of the country and multiplying it by ten, or a hundred, or a thousand. Imagine it expanding from coast to coast, from country to country, all around the world.

THAT’s how you create a movement! And it takes YOU…everyone one of you…to make this change happen.

We have developed strong partnerships with leaders across the country in our first 5 years and together we are faithfully transforming ourselves and our church. This is just the beginning of what we can do together.

Catch the vision! Transform the church! Give now.

What is Church Growth?

by Pastor David Hansen, Director for Innovation and Communication – LEAD
Originally published at digitalpastor.org

What is Church Growth?

As we enter into – or begin to acknowledge – a new era in the life of the church, words like growing church get tossed around by church leaders. Or maybe you hear about congregational vitality, or congregational health. They are all related, and all often equally undefined.

Between my work as a redevelopment (restart/renewal) pastor and as a consultant with LEAD, I have thought a good deal about the idea of growth in the context of congregational life.

Growth is Contextual

Whatever the standard is for your metrics, context is king.

If you live in a rural area or a small town where perhaps the overall population is decreasing at a rate of 2% a year, it is a great achievement if your worship attendance holds even from one year to another. Similarly, if you live is a suburban setting where there is high population turnover and the overall population is increasing by 10% a year, it is probably not a healthy sign if your worship attendance is holding even.

This standard – taking into account the local factors – is extremely important when talking about any indicators of growth. What is the job market like, and the median income? What are the schedule pressures like on families? What is the age of the surrounding population? All of these contextual questions and more must be considered when looking at growth in the church.

Growth is Holistic

Worship attendance is a helpful number to look at – but it is by no means the only number!

LEAD has been doing some great work around helping congregations figure out metrics that help to measure ministry in ways that make sense with their values.

Talking about growth has to take a holistic approach. Are we growing in numbers, discipleship, outreach, generosity, and relationship? They all work together.

Too often in the church we zero in on one of those sorts of measures over against the others. A healthy approach to growth looks at them all together – and the interplay between them. Some examples of this might be things like the percentage of members in worship each week, or the number of people involved in small groups, or the number of service hours spent in the community each week.

When we only consider one or two of these factors, we are only getting part of the picture. I have even watched as leaders lift one part of the picture, to distract from problems in other areas.

A healthy, growing church is honest and looks at all these factors together.

Growth is Consistent

There are definitely seasons for everything (turn, turn, turn). But a church that is growing will experience some consistency in its growth.

Perhaps one year the congregation grows a little deeper in faith, and the next year they grow a little larger in worship, and the following year they grow in their service to others. That is one advantage of taking a holistic approach to growth – it helps us to see the whole picture.

There is a tendency to focus on the short term. What does worship attendance look like this month – or even this year? But it is often helpful to zoom out and look at the longer trends. Over the last five years – are we experiencing a trend of more or less people in small groups?

It is important for us to talk about church growth – about God who calls us to thrive in the context in which we have been planted. To be sure, there are faithful ministries that are not growing – for contextual reasons they are in a different season of their congregational life. But most of us in ministry are called by God to lead our communities through growth. Growth that is contextual, holistic, and consistent.

In Ephesians, Paul says that we have been equipped for the work of building up the body of Christ. Let’s get to work.

Read more about LEAD’s resource “Faithful Metrics” – which is a great resource of establishing contextual, holistic metrics in your setting. 

Have a look at my thoughts on the renewal ministry to which we are all called.

On a Quest: Listening to God

Serving 78 Congregations on The LEAD Journey, LEAD is still on a quest to listen to God.

6 years in, here are 6 things LEAD is learning from you:

  1. RISK

Everything starts with people who are willing to take a risk. Leadership means sticking your neck out. Literally sticking your neck outside of your comfort zone even when you know there’s potential for failure.

  1. MINDSET

Growing a new mindset is like peeling an onion. One stinky layer at a time.

  1. GENEROSITY

Admitting that others definitely know more than you do about some things makes space for learning. Generosity is more than giving, it is also receiving.

  1. VISION

Expecting more than you or anyone else thinks is possible, practical or popular is what it means to be visionary.

  1. BEHAVIOR

Listening, Centering, Exploring, and Connecting are still vital behaviors for personal and congregational growth. No exceptions.

  1. TIME

Teams of leaders + intentional process + new mindset + new wisdom + new skills + three years = transforming congregations. YES, 3 YEARS. THREE. YEARS. As a great start.

“I thought, 3 YEARS? ARE YOU KIDDING? Now I’m thinking, will that be long enough?” Pastor Sara Yotter, Joy Reigns Lutheran Church, Edgewater, Maryland.

LEAD has the privilege of learning how to be the church as we usher in a new era. If you or your congregation want to join us, email lead@waytolead.org or you can learn more here.

Leading the church together beats independence any day of the week. We are pilgrims on a long journey who need each other.

Advent Intentionally: LEAD’s 2018 Advent Resources


I intend to spend this Advent day with all the curiosity, generosity, and hope that God gave me.
I intend to spend this day with God.
I intend to share my joy.

Welcome to LEAD’s 2018 Advent Resources – Advent Intentionally

Each year during Advent and Lent, LEAD provides FREE print-ready contemplative liturgies, with readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, that can be used by congregations, small groups, or individuals for worship or personal reflection.

Daily intentions have been added to the resources this year. Each day’s reflection provides a suggested focus, Bible verse and suggestions for sharing the experience. The intentions are included in the weekly bulletins or they can be used on their own. You can even sign up to receive the daily intention by email. Learn more about the Daily Intentions.

Designed for all ages, the resources and spiritual practices have been used in a wide variety of settings in more than 14 different countries.

Everything provided is FREE and may be used exactly as presented or customized for your own context.

This year, let us strive to live proactively and as simply as possible through Advent. Let us start each day with the intention of finding something good in our lives. Let us see God in God’s creation and in God’s people.

When Caring Is Killing Us

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

At my doctor’s appointment this week, I notice my doctor looks worse than I do.

Doc: How are you?

Me: Exhausted. How are you?

Doc: Exhausted.

We give each other a knowing smile. But is that ok? Living exhausted will kill you. So, I push her, as she looks up my chart on the computer.

Me: So, what’s going on with you?

Doc: I haven’t had a vacation yet this year. I realized I have 3 hours a day where I am not working and that is just enough time to work out, shower, eat and wash a load of clothes. I love my job but this is not sustainable.

Me: What can you do about this?

Doc: I’m working on it.

Me: Me too. I’ve been focusing on how to work smarter. A big key for me is sharing the work and the responsibility for the workwith my very capable team.

If you are exhausted too, do yourself a favor right now and keep reading.

___________________________________________

The practice of adaptive leadership* requires us to go up to the balcony. We need to drag ourselves up the stairs to look over our own lives, then take concrete steps to DO something.

Here are the next steps I’m making space for in my own life:

  • Confidants: (beyond your partner/spouse): get a coach, spiritual guide, therapist, peer group to talk with outside the people you work with every day. Do this now.
  • Sanctuaries: make time in your life to create, exercise, garden, read, worship, pray, study… whatever it is that renews your soul. Get disciplined about this. Do this tomorrow.
  • Learn: get a continuing ed plan cooking. What do you want to learn? Get out of the conference world and into more transformative learning. Go on a pilgrimage by digging deeply into something you love. It doesn’t have to be church related. Do this as often as you can.
  • Gratitude: practice optimism and realism with a grateful heart. Hold these together no matter what. Do this every day.

___________________________________________

My doctor is amazing. That is her problem. She is really good at her job and the job is exponentially growing. Exhaustion from answering your call is still exhaustion.

As my friend and partner in ministry, Bishop Mike Rinehart, always says, “when you are burning the candle at both ends, ask yourself who’s holding the match?”

Compassion fatigue is real, and it is not just related to natural disasters. It is part of the lives of people who serve others 24-7. We need a personal compassion plan to love ourselves too.

*The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow

Smelly Church

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

What is that smell?

Walking into churches across the country, I am struck by three things:

  • hospitality of the people
  • hospitality of the building
  • hospitality of the experience

Oddly enough, all three are impacted by what I can only call: The Church Smell.

You are probably used to or may even like the smell of your church. Most people don’t realize how the smell of their own home gives them the “I belong here” feeling. It’s that feeling that can make us immune to the smell of places we love, like our church buildings.

This is not true if you are new to the place. Smells hit me like a shock wave when I enter these sacred spaces.

Friends, the smells in our church are often, well, let me just say it: stinky.

But the good news is that we can detox our churches. Let’s not wait; I say act now and act fast!

Do the Sniff Test:

  1. Ask 5 people of different ages who have never been in your church before how it smells.
  • Like nothing at all
  • Like a place you can relax and want to stay
  • Like yesterday’s meal
  • Like mold and way overdue for deep cleaning
  • Like you just want to leave

Do this test in the sanctuary, fellowship hall and education spaces.

  1. Talk about smells: Ask them what they expected the buildings to smell like, what they wish they smelled like and what bothered them the most.
  2. Take care of business. Make a detox plan to rid your building of stink. Is it the carpet? The ancient banners? The pews (no pun intended)? Or is it something harder to manage like mold or rot?

You may be smiling right now, as I am while writing this, but that is only because we both know…

This is true. And it matters.

It’s Fall! What can we learn from school?

by Erin Storm, with Sanctuary (formerly Houston Lutheran Campus Ministry)

In my work in campus ministry, I discovered that LEAD and campus ministry are partners in mission, working in different realms, yet anchored by similar practices and goal. And guess what? You are too! Let me show you what I mean.

On campus we are called to tune into the ever-shifting community formed there. We ask, “How do we extend Christ’s love and grace to this often-forgotten corner of our greater church community?”

Have you ever considered that your community is “ever-shifting” too?

We look with intention at the pressures and stresses of the college years and engage in these communities purposefully, in an effort to be Christ’s life and light on campus.  For some, this might mean reaching out to students, who feel that their identity is completely connected to worldly success or perfect grades, in care and conversation; for others it may be helping students to find flexible work, or adequate housing. And often, for many students, the act of engaging a minister in an open and non-judgmental way is healing in itself, as many students have distanced themselves from their faith after negative personal experiences of church.

What does this look like in your congregation?

Within our communities on campus, we are constantly digging down beneath the surface to ask hard, complex, and vulnerable questions. In my experience with Houston Lutheran Campus Ministry, my heart is so often filled by how engaged and open-minded our students are. They are ready to dig deep, if we create the trust and space to allow the work of the Holy Spirit to happen.

Where is this happening in your congregation?

And finally, we are all constantly working out-side of our comfort zone to reflect the diversity of God’s creation.

A quick look at the demographic information from the 2017 Annual Campus Ministry Report reveals how ELCA campus ministries are doing this vital work of extending God’s message of welcome to those who are yearning. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Ethnic and Racial Background: 96% of the campus ministry sites reported working with white/Caucasian students, 60% of the sites reported working with African-American students, 41% with Hispanic/Latinos, 38% with Asian/Pacific Islanders, 24% with Middle Eastern/Arab-Americans, and 12% with American Indian or Native Alaskan students.  These findings indicate a significant increase in the number of campus ministry sites working with student populations other than white/Caucasian.
  • Religious Background: Almost all of the campus ministry sites (90%) reported working with Lutheran students, 82% with non-Lutheran Protestants, 55% with Roman Catholics, 29% with Muslims, and 20% with Jewish students. These percentages indicate a significant increase in the number of campus ministry sites serving students from other Christian denominations and from non-Christian faith traditions. Over 70% of the Lutheran Campus Ministry (LCM) sites reported working with students who have no religious affiliation, “Nones.”
  • Sexual Orientation: Over three-quarters of the sites (78%) reported working with students who identify as gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender. This represents an increase over previous years.
  • Disability: About one-third (34%) of the Lutheran Campus Ministry sites reported working with disabled/differently-abled students, which also represents an increase over previous years.

What do these demographics look like for your own congregation?

And finally, what ideas from campus ministry might you use to extend God’s message of welcome to those who are yearning in your own neighborhood?

I urge everyone to find your local campus ministry representatives and show them your support. If your congregation doesn’t support a campus ministry, build that connection. The college years are vital to developing mature faithful leaders for the church today and in the future.

______________________________________

Check out these LEAD resources to help your congregation:

Tune In to your neighborhood and the world

Wake Up to God’s mission

Dig Down into theology, staffing, governance and generosity

Work Out to expand relationships beyond your comfort zone

Alarming Faith

by Pastor David Hansen, Director for Innovation and Communication – LEAD
Originally published at digitalpastor.org

“How can I grow in faith?” 

This is one of the key questions that pastors often help people to answer.

How to grow deeper in relationship with God – how to have a faith that transforms our lives and makes a difference in the world.

Sometimes the answers are big: connecting with a church, developing a routine of worship attendance, finding a spiritual mentor to guide us.

Sometimes the answers are external: read this book, or use that journal, or participate in this program.

My experience has been that people feel overwhelmed by it all. The distance between where they are (what feels like not much faith) and where they want to be (life-changing faith) feels like it is insurmountable. The commitment, the time, the effort to get from point A to point B just seems like it can’t be reached.

But what if I could suggest an easy, attainable way to grow your faith – no matter where you are starting from?

Being Alarmed

The answer is in most of our purses and pockets – that handy connection to the world that most of us carry with us wherever we go.

Your phone.

You can use your phone to grow in faith, without any special apps, tools, or difficult processes.

Take out your phone, and set an alarm – sometime in the middle of the day. Set it to go off every day. And when that alarm goes off – whatever else you are doing – stop and pray.

Set another alarm – sometime toward the end of the day. Again, make sure it goes off every day. And when that alarm goes off, stop and think about what gave you joy – what you are grateful for that day.

It is as simple as that. Take time each and every day to pause and pray, and another moment each day to pause and give thanks. 

A couple important notes:

  • Don’t give up if you have to skip a day! Just start again tomorrow.
  • Not sure what to pray? Use the Lord’s Prayer, or borrow a prayer book from a church
  • Feel weird about it? Ask a friend, coworker, or family member to set an alarm for the same time, and you will always know that you aren’t alone

Is It Really That Easy?

The short answer? Yes!

Taking time each day to pray and to give thanks is a life-changing practice, and something as simple as an alarm to remind us to do those things can be the perfect encouragement to start this new habit.

So, go ahead. Pull out your phone and set an alarm.

Take a step toward a deeper faith.

Hurricane Harvey: Reflections

by Rozella Haydée White, LEAD Consultant

Disasters. Whether they are personal disasters or natural disasters, we all experience them. Personal disasters can include the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage, the diagnosis of an illnessor the loss of a job. Natural disasters may be floods, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, or more, and they are becoming more common as our climate changes and population increases. Anything that rocks our world, negatively impacts our resources, and has the power to influence how we think about ourselves and others could be counted as a disaster.

I have experienced a series of personal disasters in my life. Each of these disasters literally took my breath away. I fell into a downward spiral that had me question everything I thought I knew.

When we are in the midst of a disaster, it’s all we can do to get through each moment of each day. Adrenaline pumps through our bodies as we figure out the next step to take. It never ceases to amaze me that the world keeps spinning as our world falls apart in the midst of the disaster.

Last year, I, along with my fellow Houstonians, experienced the natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey. This event had a huge impact on our city and on the people who call Houston home. Harvey uncovered the underbelly of our life together, revealing how poor city planning led to major flooding especially in areas that should have remained open land but had been built upon instead.

We discovered the number of people living in poverty without a safety net; they did not have rental insurance or monetary resources to make up for their time away from work. We learned how complicated government assistance is and experienced struggles with agencies that were supposed to be supportive during these times, but were overwhelmed by the need.

In the midst of the disaster, people supported one another and provided resources to help make life easier. That got many of us through the initial aftermath.

It wasn’t until six months after the Hurricane, which totaled my car while I was away from the city, that I realized I was still impacted by the disaster and experienced what could only be described as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Every time a storm would form in the city, I would wonder if the rain would flood the city again. The stress of the first couple of months post disaster caught up with me around January. I had a hard time sleeping and my anxiety would spike unexplainably. One year later, as we live into hurricane season, I still make sure that I leave my car on higher ground when I travel.

Over the years, I have learned the importance of reflection following a disaster. Once the adrenaline dissipates, it is important for us to feel all the feels; to drop into our bodies and take stock of the recent happenings. We have to do the hard work of reflecting on how the event impacted us, what meaning it does or doesn’t hold, and to be gracious with ourselves as we take time to heal after such an earth-shattering event.

This is where our communities of faith and support come in. We have the opportunity to create spaces for processing and healing in the aftermath of any disaster that shakes our individual and communal lives. Communities of faith can come together, not just in the aftermath to provide charitable acts, but as life continues. Communities of faith can be healing centers and invite those impacted by the disaster to process their feelings and connect with one another.

After Harvey, LEAD recognized the need for communal healing. We knew that for our leaders to support those they led, they too would need to be supported in the midst of the disaster. LEAD created the Courageous Community as a resource for leaders and communities experiencing disaster. The Courageous Community offered monetary resources for leaders to use for personal expenses, weekly prayer calls, a respite retreat, and resiliency coaching. This endeavor led us to recognize that this type of communal support shouldn’t just be provided in the aftermath of a disaster but should be a way of life for leaders so that they can experience optimal health and support.

This is what LEAD is about – we are an adaptive leadership organization focused on empowering Christian leaders and transforming faith communities. We want to influence the world and for us that means living out a deep, bold consequential faith in Jesus. No matter the disaster, we know that this deep, bold consequential faith, empowered leaders, and transformed faith communities will not only survive, but thrive.

Christian Leadership-Always a Holy Experiment

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Just try something new.

What if we stopped asking “What is the worst that could happen?” and started asking “What amazing thing might happen?”

This is the leadership mindset* that opens us up to God moving through us and our world. Imagine the possibilities if we started experimenting our way into the future!

It may be surprising, but this adaptive work is not new. In fact, the term “Holy Experiment” originated with William Penn in 1681.

Imagine this:

Penn thought everything would be possible in the New World, unlike in the England of his time, with The Holy Experiment in Pennsylvania.

Friends, we are in a new world. What if Penn is right? What if he was prophetic and the time is now? What if everything IS possible?

First, a brief history lesson…

According to The Holy Experiment, in Pennsylvania, Penn established the city of Philadelphia with aspirations that still have merit today:

  • Fair treatment for Native Americans
  • No military
  • A new approach to governance
  • Freedom of religion
  • An enlightened penal code where prison was to reform, not only to punish
  • Work for everyone
  • Education for everyone, girls and boys
  • A widened franchise where all men could vote [unfortunately, women were not yet included]
  • Town planning for healthy living with wide public squares and parks

And now…

What are our aspirations that could turn into Holy Experiments? Whose permission do you need to try stuff? What if you start small and just do it?

If you are not sure where to start, remember Penn and start with love.

*For more about leadership mindset and moving from a judger to a learner mindset, I highly recommend Change your Questions, Change Your Life, by Marilee Adams. It’s a very accessible book that will change the way you listen and ask questions not just at work, but in your everyday life as well.

Walking a labyrinth: a visit to the grocery store

Excerpt from Work Out Guide,
by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

This is an invitation to be mindful; to experience something familiar in a new way.

How many times do you think about your grocery store as a labyrinth?

I don’t mean “a complicated, irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s waylabyrinth that frustrates you on a typical weekend.

I mean a labyrinth that welcomes you, as a spiritual pilgrim, into a walking prayer.

On your next trip to the grocery store, consider setting aside your list for a moment and…

Think of the grocery store or another public space as a labyrinth…

Before you get focused on your own needs and wants, walk up and down every aisle or around the space two times. (Trust the process. You won’t look weird; in fact, most people will not even notice. With the exception of the children, they are all inwardly focused.)

On your first trip around, pay attention to your personal way of being. Take deep, slow, breaths as you walk with an awareness of your posture, feel the tension in your own body and quiet the thoughts going through your mind.

When you have walked around the space and have returned to your starting place, pause to feel God’s love for you. You might do this by noticing the vast array of fruits and vegetables provided for your nourishment or by reflecting on your own gratitude for access to food.

On your second trip, look at the faces of those you see. Greet people, if you feel called to do so. Pray for those you feel prompted to pray for. Wonder about their lives. Become acutely aware of the diversity of gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, culture, etc. Know that each person you see is made in God’s image.

Now, do your regular activity with a renewed connection to this sacred space.

If you found this experience meaningful, you may also want to check out A Summer of Intentions, 20 free daily intentions for spending time with God.

Camp Hope-the Power of Leading

If youth aren’t leading, they’re leaving. -Lyle Griner, National Peer Ministry Director

People often ask “how can we keep youth in the church” and the answer is simple: invite them into leadership and support them along the journey. When people know they are indispensable, they stick around. They use their gifts. This is true for people of all ages.

In almost thirty years of programming, Camp Hope Ministries is one of the best ways to grow student leaders, connect churches to their communities, and pass faith on to families. Camp Hope achieves this by creating a culture of youth-led, adult-mentored ministry.

As Aaron West of the Houston Chronicle writes:

Anyone walking into Holy Comforter Lutheran Church in Kingwood over the next few weeks probably wouldn’t be blamed for wondering where all the adults are. When eight teenagers have been hired to lead more than 40 elementary and middle school kids in a series of Bible lessons, drama activities and crafts, it’s a question that might come up. Read full article.

In this video from “Faith Camp” (the name for Camp Hope at Faith Lutheran in Bellaire, Texas, which is currently in its 23rdseason), it’s easy to see why former campers and staff are bringing their children to camp, some even spending the week with their grandparents or other family so they can attend!

Camp Hope offers a Spanish version, Sembrando Esperanza,with congregations all across the US and in El Salvador participating.

Now is the time to begin making plans for next summer. Is God calling you to grow young leaders and reach out to your congregation and your neighborhood through Camp Hope? Your congregation can host this camp on your own or in partnership with other organizations or faith communities.

To learn more about Camp Hope, visit Camp Hope Ministries’ website or you may also email your questions to lead@waytolead.org.

Throw Away Your Mission Statement

Originally published at digitalpastor.org

by Pastor David L Hansen, Director of Communication and Innovation – LEAD

Every church I know of has a mission statement. Your church probably has a mission statement. And the first thing I think you need to do with that mission statement is throw it away.

Out of Date

Often mission statements are out of date in congregation. They were written 10 years ago or 15 years ago for a church that no longer exists.

Maybe once upon a time, this mission statement was great for the congregation. But since then, it has become embedded in the culture of the congregation. And we all know how much institutions love change.

So, even as the congregation has changed, or the neighborhood around the congregation has changed, its mission has not.

Throw away your old mission statement.

Uninspiring

Usually, a committee is in charge of writing a mission statement. And those missions sound like they are written by committee. The number of people who get excited by things written by committees is exceptionally small.

Mission statements written by committee more often than not have no passion in them, no excitement in them. They are bland. And nobody is getting excited about your bland mission statement. Throw it away.

Non-Specific

God set your church in a unique neighborhood. Your congregation has specific gifts – gifts that only your congregation brings to your unique setting.

Your mission statement however is not unique. Chances are I could take your mission statement and use it at any other church in this country by just changing the name of the church.

We should not be able to take a mission statement from large suburban Minneapolis congregation, and use it at a small rural Colorado congregation – but far too often we can.

Your church deserves a mission as unique as the gift that God gave you, not a bland one size fits all universal mission statement.

Throw it away.

Mission That Changes Lives

Your congregation is in a specific location, with unique gifts given by God. You need a mission that inspires passion about the unique role you play in the Kingdom of God.

If the problem is deeper – you don’t know your neighborhood, or you can’t think of the unique gifts of your church – that is a big conversation that you need to have.

Get started by throwing away your out of date, uninspiring, and non-specific mission statement. Then get to work naming the exciting and unique work God has called you to in your neighborhood.

I highly recommend the resources of LEAD. Tune In” can help you to reconnect with your neighborhood, while “Wake Up” is designed to help identify the unique values and purpose of your congregation

How do you measure what matters?

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Many (most) congregations choose to count people in pews and bucks in the offering plate every week, but there are at least two big problems with these metrics:

  1. They don’t really tell you anything about how you are growing disciples and raising up Christian leaders.
  2. By the time you have the numbers, it’s too late to change them (that’s why these types of measure are called lag metrics).

As part of LEAD’s research for our newest book, Faithful Metrics, we interviewed a group of pastors younger than 40 to get their thoughts on relational metrics. Check out their creative and insightful responses as starting places for developing both lag and lead metricsthen share your own ideas on LEAD’s Facebook page.

  • How many kids are in worship vs. how many families send kids to Sunday school while the parents go to church?
  • If your church has a school or preschool, how many school families vs. how many church families participate in congregational events?
  • How does milestone attendance change over the years? For example, follow one class over the course of a number of years to watch how participation changes and grows.
  • How many failures can we celebrate as people take risks and try new things?
  • How many hours do members spend volunteering with community organizations each month over a year?
  • How much time do grandparents spend with their grandchildren in prayer and faith formation, and how often?
  • How much time do men spend with male friends outside of work and church, and how often?
  • How many people are able to be vulnerable with each other in and out of worship?
  • How many younger leaders are invited, stepping up, coached, and freed to serve?
  • How many people have attempted, are in the process of, or have learned English or Spanish so they can have better relationships with other members?
  • How many different people show up early for worship to help set up or stay after to tear down?
  • How long do people stay after worship because they enjoy the relationships that are developing?
  • What is the number of phone calls/texts/conversations centered around faith development and prayer outside of Sunday worship?
  • How long does it take to turn to the correct chapter/verse in the Bible during Bible study and Sunday worship?
  • How many people are engaged in small groups or seasonal devotions?
  • How many parent conversations and engagements happen outside of Sunday morning?
  • What is the number of new people who have transitioned into a higher level of leadership in the congregation during the year?
  • What is the number of people who consider themselves mentors to someone else in the congregation?
  • How often do people talk about or mention their church to people/friends outside the church?
  • How many people know the congregation’s purpose/mission/vision? How many know what the core values are?
  • What is the parking lot capacity during the week? (Is the building being used?)
  • How many neighbors/partners can identify your church?
  • What percentage of the total budget is allocated for mission support?

Are these ideas prompting others in your imagination? Make your own list.

Think about this:

  • Can you see the human connection in each of these lag or lead metrics?
  • Can you imagine their meaning?
  • Can you tell their stories?
  • Can you brainstorm experiments?
  • If they are lag metrics, can you identify a lead metric that will influence them?

The rich conversations that come out of this process help grow trust, shared language, and commitment.

Dear PBS

by Kristen Krueger, PhD – LEAD Consultant & Director of Student Leadership

“Dear PBS,

I don’t think the Cat in the Hat shows respect. Because every time Nick takes a picture, Sally says “great photo Nick!” but every time Sally takes a picture Nick says “Next time I get to take the picture.” Just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve fairness.”

–Cora, age 6

Several weeks later, PBSKids sent Cora a thoughtful, personal reply in which they validated her opinion, admitted that they could make improvements and assured Cora that they had passed her words on to the writers of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That. They encouraged her to “always speak up if you hear something that doesn’t sound right to you” and assured her that her criticism was appreciated.

That letter and the response convinced Cora that she is a person with the ability to create lasting change for good. At age 6, Cora has no doubt that her voice matters and that she should use her words to speak out when she perceives injustice.  She proudly tells anyone who will listen “I know I can change the world. I already changed PBS.

But the truth is, it almost didn’t happen.

When Cora came up to me with her criticism of the TV show, I only half-listened. I had hoped the show would entertain my kids long enough for me to cross a few things off my never-ending checklist and maybe allow me to drink my coffee in peace. I had not bargained on a letter-writing campaign. Later I dashed off a quick “isn’t my kid cute?” post on Facebook and a teacher friend suggested writing the letter, an idea that Cora jumped at.

It is so easy for adults to talk over, half-listen to, or fully dismiss children like I wanted to that night. We do it without even realizing it, assuming that small people’s thoughts can be pushed aside for grown-up matters. The letter PBSKids sent to Cora reminded me of just how wrong that can be. Empowering kids today means building young people and adults who are the catalysts for change. It means hearing criticism and being willing to make changes based on a child’s ideas.

There are four things that we can do with the children in our lives right now to encourage young people to become advocates for change in their worlds.

  1. TEACH children to name their feelings and provide healthy ways to process them. Truly listen when children tell you how they feel, validate their thoughts and ensure that they know their feelings have value. Put down the mental lists and really, truly listen.
  2. EQUIP young people to solve their own problems. This means granting decision-making power to children, allowing them to make mistakes and helping them rethink choices so they can succeed in the future.
  3. SHARE stories of ways kids have changed the world. Fill your home, church, school, and neighborhood with true stories of kids who identified a problem and made a change. Remind kids that not all changes have to be big to make an impact that is felt across their community.
  4. EMPOWER kids by providing platforms for them to make an impact. Family meetings, neighborhood service projects, community gardens, and congregational days of service learning all teach kids that they can shape their worlds. Be sure to celebrate each contribution.

Most of all, live authentically. Serve as a family, create intentional time and space for open conversations, build trust by sharing feelings, and invite children to join in promoting the causes near to your heart.

What if every kid felt empowered and encouraged to speak out the way Cora did? And what if they received encouraging responses each time? I imagine they would change the world.

List of Children’s Books I love on this topic:

Embodied Faith: The ELCA Youth Gathering


by Rozella Haydée White, Creator/Consultant with LEA
D

The ELCA Youth Gathering brings together over 30,000 people – youth and adults – for times of worship, learning, service, reflection, and community. This is not just an event. This is an experience that practices embodied faith. The Youth Gathering models what life would look like if we took discipleship seriously. It’s not just about the number of people gathered. It’s about what happens when they are together and how the Spirit moves them to live their faith out loud.

And this is the gift that the ELCA Youth Gathering offers us all, whether or not we attend. It provides a roadmap for what a life of faith could be, could look like, could feel like, if we practiced our faith in community.

Inspiring Worship

I’ve attended the Youth Gathering since 2003. Every worship is carefully curated to take into account the faith we profess and the experience of those gathering. Styles of music, the usage of varying art forms, lighting, sounds, the sermon, and much more are thoughtfully crafted in order to create an unforgettable experience. Every participant is invited into holy space and the Holy Spirit shows up in ways that most congregations never experience.

Transformative Learning

The Youth Gathering takes seriously the reality that there are various learning styles. Each day and every experience presents a new opportunity for participants to learn stories of our faith, stories of people from the host city, and stories about how God has transformed the hearts of a community. The creativity used to craft learning experiences is breathtaking.

Holistic Service

Using the model of accompaniment, of recognizing the gifts, talents, and skills in a community and beginning with listening to the stories of those who serve as partners, the Youth Gathering shifts perspectives on serving. No longer can participants boast about what they did for someone. They are invited to walk alongside a partner and learn the story of a city as they engage in service that is respectful of people.

Intentional Reflection

At every turn, participants are asked to reflect on their experience. From what they did to what they heard to how they felt to what they saw, all aspects of the participants’ experience are used to uncover what God is up to. Time is given and taken to explore the meaning behind each moment and encounter.

Beloved Community

The Youth Gathering nurtures community at every level. There is a community of leaders that plan the event. There is a community of volunteers that help execute the event. There is the host community that has been in relationship with the gathering staff for years prior to the event. Community is the glue that makes this whole thing work.

How might your congregation or community follow the example of the gathering? How are worship, learning, service, reflection, and community created in such a way in your context that people are drawn deeper into faith?

LEAD is a proponent of the ELCA Youth Gathering. Many of our staff and partners are volunteering this week because we believe in the ministry of the gathering and have experienced first hand the transformation that occurs. As an organization committed to empowering christian leaders and transforming faith communities, we believe that the Youth Gathering is a critical component of people’s formation. It has served as an entry point for many youth and adults seeking to dive deeper into the practice of faith.

We join with thousands of people praying for those traveling to Houston this week and for those who have been planning and preparing for this time. You can join in the fun by watching evening Mass Gathering events via live stream at

In Search of Paul-2019

By Rev. Dr. Don Carlson, host of LEAD’s In Search of Paul pilgrimage

Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man, set in River City, Iowa in 1912, opens with a group of traveling salesmen riding the Rock Island Line. They agree on one thing; to be a good salesman, “You gotta know the territory!”

After hosting five In Search of Paul study pilgrimages for LEAD, I am convinced that knowing Paul’s territory – the Roman Empire – brings a much richer understanding of the apostle Paul and his gospel.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has said, “For too long we’ve read Scripture with 19thcentury eyes and 16thcentury questions. It’s time we get back to reading with 1stcentury eyes and 21stcentury questions.” My experience tells me that Wright is right; too often we read Paul through Reformation lenses.

Walking through ancient Philippi, seeing the Roman forum at Thessaloniki and the Temple of Apollo at Corinth, discovering that there were imperial temples to Hadrian, Domitian, and Augustus at Ephesus –  these experiences bring with them the realization that Paul was writing to very small faith communities that lived in a world very different from Luther’s or ours.

The pervasiveness of Roman Imperial Theology, the patronage system, the social restraints of slavery and caste, the inescapable economic inequality, the array of gods and temples, and the brutality of the “Pax Romana” – the peace of Rome – all stood in stark contrast to the grace and peace of Jesus. Faithfulness to Jesus called for a different way of doing life together. Paul knew his territory.

A pastor, rostered less than ten years and who received a partial scholarship, wrote this note of thanks for his In Search of Paul experience:

Dear Scholarship Provider,

I wanted to write you this note of deep gratitude for the money you gave to the “In Search of Paul” trip. Since I began professional ministry, this trip was a dream of mine and your generosity made it possible. The experience has forever changed the way that I read Paul. It has influenced every sermon since returning and I have already offered two presentations on the experience. Later next month I will also use my new insights to lead a listening session after a showing of “Paul, the Apostle” motion picture at a local theater.

Your scholarship makes it possible for younger people like me to have experiences like that will directly influence the next 10-20 years of service. Because of this, I plan to give to the next scholarship drive. It will not be much, but I feel called to pay it forward and I pray that your continued help will make more dreams possible.

Peace always,

Justin Dittrich

That is the goal of any pilgrimage or immersion: to know the territory and understand life from a different point of view. In this case, to begin to understand Paul from a 1stcentury point of view; and then begin asking some 21stcentury questions.

Visit In Search of Paul for more information about the 2019 pilgrimage.

Praying as a Family

excerpt from Faithful Metrics by Peggy Hahn

It’s the people who love me and whom I love that give my life meaning. For me, sitting at the table with my parents, my children, and my grandchildren provides a window into what makes a meaningful life of faith.

We often wait with hot plates of food in front of us while the older children argue over which grace we will say together. At ages five and six, they have a long list of songs and prayers to choose from. This takes time, while everyone impatiently waits. Once we pray their childhood prayer, my mother chimes in with her prayers. Wow. Everyone sits in silence to listen. For the first time all day, all six children under the age of six are quiet in this moment. Then one of the children interrupts with a loud AMEN and laughter erupts from everyone.

How do we know how to pray as a family?

This is not a rhetorical question. We know because the church taught us to pray. The church keeps us praying even when we have had seasons where mealtime grace was not the norm. We were held through hard, heart-wrenching times when we didn’t have words to pray for ourselves and during busy times when we didn’t make prayer a priority.

Before long, the children are finished eating and leave the table to play nearby. The adults are free to engage in grown-up conversation. My parents reflect on how different things are from when they were parents. They tell stories about their childhood. It makes me remember when my grandmother looked me in the eye and said, “Peggy, this is not my world.” She died four years ago at age 93. She was right.

I feel this truth in what my parents are sharing. I can admit that I feel it in myself.

I watch my parents wonder about the dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian meals we share together. I share their curiosity about the ways young parents set boundaries on screen time, something we never understood could be helpful when the screen was a television. There are so many new rules; the old rules seem antiquated.

That is until we stop to pray together before meals. Or in those moments when the children ask for (or give) a bedtime blessing.

These practices take my breath away because it is in these sacred moments that I realize what hasn’t changed. There is a core way of being that connects the dots between our generations. We are a family that worships, prays, and serves God in the messiness of life.

The power of the Holy Spirit and our home congregations should get all the credit for this. But no one is counting. There is no place for me to tell this story in a way that inspires leaders in the church to keep praying and teaching our traditional prayers (including ones like Johnny Appleseed) to the community.

Instead, the church feels a loss on the weeks we are together as a family practicing our faith outside the walls of our church.

The church feels like it has lost out because we aren’t in the room validating the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I am aching for a church that can find ways to celebrate with us when we have a faith that leaves the building.

I pray for a church that understands, expects, and prepares people to go. Yes … people go.

Where is the happy dance for people of God sent out to live their faith in daily life? At work, at school, at the table, or at bedtime? This should all count if it is indeed faithful to the Gospel.

Church leaders could stop judging people who miss worship because God is going with them and instead wonder and celebrate all who encounter Christ in these people, all those who will know God’s love is for them because people have been sent.

If only we could flip the paradigm with a new value system that encourages going.

The big pushback here is around things no one wants to talk about. Real concerns about funding the salaries of congregational staff, facility maintenance, and programs that teach the faith and serve the poor. These are crucial, right? Or are they? Who decides?

So many of the things I have felt were crucial have turned out to be less than important. If I could reclaim the number of hours I spent ironing my children’s church clothes or cleaning and polishing their little shoes so they would look cute at church, it would be shocking how much time I would have had to play and pray with them instead.

We get to lead through a very sacred season in our world where what is kept as a core value and what is released is up for grabs. Some of these decisions are made with God’s mission in mind. Others are made to preserve our treasures on earth. There can be a fine line here that is hard to discern.

I love using the lace tablecloth from my deceased mother-in-law or the silver from some relative I never really knew to serve my family dinner. It feels like a perfect blend of values, tradition, and respect made available to my grandchildren, who blow bubbles in the crystal glass filled with milk. In the end, I don’t care if they keep the dishes for their own families, but I do care with all of my being that they keep the faith.

Please join me in praying that leaders in the church focus on what matters most. The Holy Spirit is way ahead of us and we are wasting precious time.

Leverage

By Peggy Hahn

The tipping point is never one action. That is a myth.

It is a result of persistence, the gradual effort that feels thankless at the time but ultimately adds up.

One conversation at a time, one sermon each week, one leadership retreat each year, these are what shift culture over time.

The only time change happens fast is when one of two things happens:

  1. a crisis, or
  2. a choice.

While these both offer significant opportunities for birthing new things, they happen less frequently than the everyday, incremental nudging that ultimately creates the tipping point.

The leader’s job is to determine the direction of the push. Nudging or pushing without direction are exhausting and fruitless. Pick the destination (even if this point moves over time, start somewhere) and start walking people with you down that path.

Don’t overthink it.

In some cases, the big work is just to start walking with a prayer that the path will show up.

In the end this is faithful leadership.

Hard times? Show up!

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Everyone knows the gut-wrenching pain of a hard time. I am sure you have noticed, we are living through one in our world right now.

  • When going to school is a life-threatening experience for students of all ages
  • When going through a divorce
  • When living with or accompanying terminal illness
  • When abused or impacted by emotionally or mentally ill people
  • When addicts are not working on getting clean
  • When under or unemployed, unable to pay bills or feed children
  • When a natural disaster rips our lives apart
  • When death shocks us as dear friends, parents or children leave this world too soon

Life can be unbearable. The pain and suffering is real and it is all around us. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

In hard times, how are we showing up for each other?

Sometimes hard times mean we must hit STOP on life as we usually live it. We can’t just do what is on the calendar. It is more important to show up than to send a note, say a quick prayer, or talk by phone.

This is what it means to be incarnational.

It is easy to believe people when they say, “I’m okay,” when we know in our hearts they are NOT. Their statement can give us permission to stay caught up in our own whirlwind. Stop doing this.

There is truly nothing like being there.

Jesus lived this. Sometimes, like in the case of Lazarus’s death, he showed up later than the family wanted, but he still came. Maybe one point of this story is to remind us that late is better than never when it comes to being with the people we love as they go through hard times.

Too many people are going it alone. They are surrounded by coworkers, friends and even family, that believe them when they say “I’m okay.” We can tell ourselves, “it’s none of our business.” Or “I don’t want to mettle.” We are really just letting ourselves off the hook for not showing up.

If there is any reason to follow Jesus, it might just be to figure out how to love other people, even in (especially in) hard times. This is less about the church and more about the Christians. You know who needs you. Be there for them in a way that gives them the courage to heal. Don’t back off on tough conversations because they are awkward. Stick your neck out, pray like crazy, and be Jesus in hard times. This is our watch.

A Summer of Intentions

Summer is a great time to truly appreciate God’s gifts to us. This summer, LEAD is offering 20 short daily reflections that are totally free for you to use and share. Each day includes a suggested focus, a Bible verse, and ideas for ways to share your experience. You can even sign up to receive the daily intention by email!

Let’s live intentionally with God this summer.

I intend to spend this day with all the curiosity and imagination that God gave me.

I intend to spend this day with God.

I intend to share my joy.

Resources created by Lynn Willis, LEAD spiritual guide.

Pentecost Blessing

As the third Person of the Trinity blows into our hearts today,

May we feel the imagination of the Creator,

The compassion of the Christ,

And the motivation of the Spirit.

May we feel the energy of this complex Trinity God within us –

always giving, always receiving.

A God who cherishes diversity.

And, as God intended, may we celebrate the value and dignity of every being – all of us.

Without exception.

by Lynn Willis,  LEAD Spiritual Guide

Reflecting on Perspective

by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD

Every year in their childhood, my children built (or rebuilt) their tree house. At first we worked with them, but as the years went by their confidence in the process and their passion to create something wonderful on their own made us step back to make space for their growth.

I can remember helping my children learn to break their big projects into manageable tasks. One year, to my surprise, they hoisted the porch swing into the tree to make a “sofa.” Now that I think about it, I can’t recall ever getting that swing back on the porch. The very act of creating the treehouse took on a life of its own.

It has been my personal experience that things that feel insurmountable or even impossible can become doable by breaking them into smaller parts. I’m sure you can reflect on similar experiences where you took it one rung at a time before constructing the treehouse or whatever it was you were after. God has given us the ability to change our perspective. We can move from the feeling of being overwhelmed to some small steps in the right direction. We can open ourselves up to create, to dream, and to imagine the possibilities.

Sometimes it takes a leader to step into an anxious moment and point out the possibilities. Gaining new perspectives may mean moving closer to something, or stepping away. Often, we need a thinking partner to help us notice what God is already doing.

One definition of perspective is “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” (Oxford Living Dictionaries)

What I love about that definition is that it implies that there is an alternative perspective.

Dear God, please open our capacity to see more like you do. To have a wider, deeper, closer, farther perspective so we feel the urge to create. Amen.

A Word on Seasons


by Rozella White, founder of RHW Consulting, and creator, consultant with LEAD

For some of us, spring has sprung. I am in a location where we are experiencing beautiful days – the mornings are cool, the days are warm, and the evenings are alive with cicadas. There is NO humidity, which for those of us living in Houston, is a rarity. I literally see nature coming to life and people engaging with each other after a time of dormancy. I, for one, love this season. It provides a brief window where we can enjoy the outdoors without being eaten alive by mosquitoes or melting because of the damp, oppressive heat that overtakes us for much of the year.

For many of you, however, spring is taking its sweet time to make an appearance. I do not miss the Midwest this year as I see blizzards overtaking my neighbors to the north and east. Thinking of the winters I spent in Chicago and Philadelphia brings me to tears. Literally. I don’t know how many of you do it, especially this year as winter is saying a prolonged goodbye.

As I consider these realities, I can’t help but think about the parallels of nature’s seasons to our lives. I’ve learned that life is cyclical; that much like the seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall, we experience seasons throughout the course of our life. There can be a time of dormancy and death, one of new life and growth, one of vibrancy and opportunity, and one of pruning and major shifts. Seasons teach us that life and death are intertwined. I’ve also learned a few additional lessons from seasons.

Seasons come and go. No season is permanent. I am reminded of the phrase, “This too shall pass.” As long as we are alive, we will experience change. While our feelings are always valid, we have to remember that any given moment, be it good or bad, does not define who we are. Nor are these experiences permanent. Change is the one constant in life that we can be sure of.

There is no way to hasten a season. No matter how hard we try, we are not in control of the seasons of life anymore than we are in control of Mother Nature. We can’t speed through a season or slow it down. All we can do is be open to the gifts and graces of each moment and commit to learning the lessons that a season holds.

For every good thing a season provides, there are also lessons to be learned. Seasons can be hard and good. We might experience deep pain and soul stirring joy. There may be times of isolation and times of community. Regardless of what happens, there are always lessons to be learned, lessons that teach you more about who you are and what you value. When we take the time to mine the stories of our lives, we are awakened to insights that lead us deeper on our journey of awareness.

What season are you currently experiencing? What are the gifts of this season? What are the struggles? What lessons are you being invited to learn?

Love,

Me

P.S. If you are interested in more reflection on the seasons, I highly recommend this resource by Parker Palmer.

Originally published in the RHW Consulting Newsletter.

6 Objections to Online Ministry

 

by David Hansen, Director of Communication & Innovation, LEAD

I have been privileged to be able to help congregations and leaders across the country work on how they communicate. In particular, I have often taught about social media and online tools for ministry.

In doing this, I have heard the same objections over and over again.

Here are the 6 most common objections to having an online presence that I hear from leaders in congregations and my answers to them.

1) People just use social media to avoid real relationships.

This is far and away the most common reason I hear for churches avoiding an an online presence. It also comes in the form of “I don’t care what you had for lunch.”

It’s true. People talk about some pretty inane stuff online. Things that we may not care about, or which we might think are pointless or meaningless. But this is true of every mode of communication!

Traditional print publishing has giving us both the works of William Faulkner and trashy romance novels.
The same medium gave us both the Washington Post and the National Enquirer.
And in the same way, alongside the trivial conversations on social media are very deep and meaningful conversations about faith, community, and the world.

Even more importantly: some of the most important conversations in our lives are built on these “trivial” conversations.

At the end of the day I spend time with my spouse, and we talk about our days: what we had for lunch, who we talked with, the things we did at work. Those so-called trivial conversations are often the mortar that bind together the relationships in our lives.

2) No one in our community is online.

I don’t believe you. Period.

It’s true, some communities are more wired than others. Communities that are near large cities tend to have better connectivity; younger communities tend to be online more than older communities. I get that. I lived in a rural area for years. High speed internet access was not easy to come by when I moved to that community. But mobile connections have changed everything.

As of 2016 88.1% of the North American population is online (source).
77% of all Americans have a smartphone (source).
Facebook recently passed the 2 billion total accounts.

More people in your community are online than you think. The number of older adults online (and on social media) is growing exponentially.

Even if the people currently attending your congregation are not online, the rest of the community around your congregation are. The people that you want to invite into your congregation are online.

3) Social media is just a fad.

Facebook is now old enough to have a Facebook account – 13 years old.

The world’s first website is over 25 years old (and still online, an archived info page about the CERN “world wide web” project).

The first BBS (bulletin board systems, an early form of online community) came into being 40 years ago!

Social media will change. New platforms will become important, and others will fade away. But people will continue to use online media to build community and communicate with one another.

4) We can’t afford to be online. 

You can’t afford not to be online.

The days when you could just be listed in the phone book or put an ad in the newspaper and be done with it are over. In 2008,  60% of people started their searches for information online – can you imagine what that number is now?

Do you know the top search term on Sundays? “Church near me.”

If someone in your community is looking for a new place to worship, the chances extremely good are that their first stop will be online – either a google search, or via a friend’s recommendation on social media. You want to be there.

More to the point, it is very easy to develop an online presence with little or no budget. It is free to develop a presence on all of the major social media platforms. FREE. There are many ways to build a website for free, or on a very limited budget. FREE.

5) Social media is just for ________ (large, suburban, wealthy, young, etc.) congregations 

Some of the best social media ministries that I have seen come out of smaller congregations. In truth, larger institutions often have trouble with new ways of communication – it has to go through the proper committees, and be voted on ten different times, etc. Smaller institutions tend to be more nimble and able to adapt to new ways of being.

In addition, smaller congregations need online media more. The large, wealthy, etc., institutions have lots of resources for building a community and raising awareness. It is smaller communities that are often looking for the low-cost alternative (see #4).

6) Online interaction will never replace face-to-face interaction.

You are absolutely correct. There is no replacement for face-to-face interaction.

But the thing is: nobody is suggesting that congregations and pastors abandon face-to-face interaction! It is not an either/or choice.

Your newspaper ads do not replace face-to-face interaction. Your phone line does not replace face-to-face interaction. Your print newsletter does not replace face-to-face interaction. They are all tools to help facilitate good face-to-face relationships, and help your congregation proclaim the Gospel.

And the same is true of your online ministry. It is one tool (among many) to help facilitate communications in your congregation and your work of proclaiming the Gospel and building community. It does not replace anything. It works alongside other tools.

If you are just getting started using online communications for your congregation, I highly recommend the books The Social Media Gospel and Click2Save as starting places. 

Originally published on digitalpastor.org

What frame are you holding?

by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director – LEAD

I am a leader carrying an ancient frame into a fast-changing world. The people I serve are beautiful, faithful, stuck, and stubborn. Many of them love a God who is part of a worldview from the industrial age. They cannot envision a God who is on the loose in a networked world.

God is bigger than our frame. No box fits, but every generation, every society, from the beginning of time has had to name and claim a box. It is their only way to make sense out of this omnipotent God. Rightly so. As open and interested as we might be, we have limited vision and real blind spots.

It is my call to engage this conversation. By looking at the lines on my face, you know I am from the past box. I confess that “Lift High the Cross” is one of my favorite songs even as I cringe at the “battle lyrics.” But my heart-songs are not the whole story.

What you can’t see when you look at me is my bleeding heart. My true, inner heart that is breaking for the smallness of people’s God-view. I am sick about this to the point of not being able to do anything else with my life except engage this conversation.

My life would be a lot easier if I could set all of this aside and enjoy my beautiful family, our home in the country, and being Dewayne’s wife. Trust me, I have often asked, why can’t I be a normal person in my age group? Why don’t I spend all of my time reveling in the graciousness of God instead of wrestling with God’s church?

I look at the faces of my six grandchildren, or at my five adult children and their partners, and I know that I will never be able to let go of this call, not in spite of them, but because of them.

I do believe that leadership makes a difference. I know that God uses people to do God’s work in the world and I am a small part of this movement. The frame I choose to hold is about love. It is a frame that opens up a God-view to engage every diversity, every story, everyone. I don’t really mind if you feel different because, in the end, that fits in my frame too, even if it doesn’t fit in yours.

What does a person do with this way of being when it is your job to help stalled and out of breath leaders? I am talking about leaders who may care more about the cemetery on their property than the people walking on the same ground.

I can’t stand this kind of small thinking about who belongs in the Christian community. It is outside of my frame. It is unthinkable that some people might be more important or better, or somehow more worthy.

I am convinced of this because, to be honest, I know church people. Friends, they just aren’t that great. They are just like everyone else. Not worse. Not better. This us and them BS is wrong and I want to scream that from the rooftops but no one is signing up for that seminar. 

So, we incrementally walk people towards a wider view. We teach about the frame, about blind spots and about the art of listening. We empower people to be their best self. We believe that God can work in anyone, even us.

Yet the process feels so darn slow. My grandchildren will be parents at this rate.

This is why we are experimenting with different technologies. We are calling the church to better, more faithful metrics. We are saying that Christian leadership really is about loving God with our all – all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Loving all of our neighbors as our self. It is about this three-letter word: ALL.

Our strategy has been to take people on a three-year journey. It is a walk from where we are right now to a new version of ourselves, transformed by personal growth, by listening to people outside of our frame, and by growing others. But it is a s-l-o-w walk.

For four weeks, I participated in the altMBA. This is a crash course on leadership by Seth Godin, one of the world’s most interesting marketers. It has opened my eyes to a fast-track for forming leaders. I am a convert. I want to engage this technology for others who are willing to do the work. I know this is not for everyone, but we still have the slow plan for that crowd. I am excited to explore this with others because I believe the system worked on me, why not on others?

Stay tuned as we dig into this as a possible future for LEAD. For leaders who want to follow Christ and lead the church into a bigger God-view. If you want in on this vision, beware. We need funding partners. We need people willing to do the work.

It is a relief to me that someone has figured this out and is inviting us to do the same. Check out altMBA. Be ready to grow, to work and to lead. THIS is what all of us are called to do.

Fully human. Incarnational.


by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director, LEAD

The goal can’t be quality, not for people anyway. It needs to be humanity. The rough edges of caring, of improv and of connection. – Seth Godin

Let excellence go. Focus on relationships. On being a human being, connected more deeply than we will ever realize to other people.

Pay attention to each other. This starts by noticing what’s happening at home. How are people loving each other wherever you live? It’s not about gender, marital status, age or sexuality. It’s about being Christ in real life, even on the hard days.

What will set Christian leaders apart – pointing to a risen God – is not new news but it is good news. It is how we love each other.

It does take more time. It is messier than we have patience for. But it is the only way to really lead like Jesus.

If your church spends time avoiding the neighbors, keeping certain people out of leadership or in leadership, or talking behind backs in the parking lot, it is time for you to move to a better version of yourself.

Lead your congregation from power struggles to integrity by modeling this yourself.

This does not mean everyone is at the leadership table. It does mean everyone has a voice and is fully loved for who they are.

This does not mean letting bad behavior rule. It is exactly the opposite as we hold people accountable to treating each other right.

This does not mean ignoring the child who acts up. It means making that child (even if he or she is a grown-up child) worth investing in by figuring out how to love them more fully.

Being fully human starts with dealing with ourselves. This is an Easter invitation. Imagine a movement of Jesus-followers being more human to multiply humankind. It’s not going to be easy, but it is the only way forward.

we are Easter people and our song is yes!

Yes to walking humbly
(Palm Sunday)

Yes to the earth’s gifts –
water and bread and wine
(Last Supper)

Yes to loving one another
(the new commandment)

Yes to non-violence
(in the garden of Gethsemane)

Yes to forgiveness
(on the cross)

Yes to trust and even to death
(Good Friday)

Yes to Life and to Love
(Easter and beyond)

May we join in God’s great YES!

 

“We are Easter people and Alleluia is our song.” St. Augustine of Hippo
blessing by Lynn Willis

 

From Me to We: Shared Ministry as a way forward

 

by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director, LEAD

Until about the last 100 years shared ministry has always been included as an indispensable model for the Christian movement – faith communities sharing mission, pastors, buildings, and resources for the good of the whole church. Reclaiming this ancient model is more about the faith than it is about survival once people can let go of the idea of “my church” and embrace the truth – the church belongs to God.

Watch this video as leaders from congregations tell their stories of shared ministry and ask yourself this:

Who is your congregation called to partner with?

Since the days of Jesus, people have understood that God’s call to mission includes building networks of communities with people of other faiths, local businesses, hospitals, schools, and more.

A shift in leadership mindset from me to we, is a faithful, ancient and renewing response to being church in a changing world.

Work-Life Balance – It’s a Lie!

Did you know that only 20% of the US population feel like they have a healthy work-life balance? So, you’re not alone! But since when is work-life balance our life goal anyway?

There is no perfect metric that can set life on a balanced course. From day to day, week to week, or year to year, the variables are tremendous.

So, how are we to live the lives we are meant to live as holistic, integrated, fully-human human beings?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. I want you to take a moment now and ask yourself this:

How can I live the life I was born to live?

At the end of your life, would you prefer to be known as the person who did a great job juggling life or a person who had integrity?

If our goal is to keep our lives balanced, we will lose. Most days, real life is too hard to balance.

If our goal is to identify and live out our personal values, the values we share with our partners at home or the values that define our work teams, we have a chance at an integrated, centered life that holds together, no matter what.

How can you break free of the work-life balance life to really live the life you were born to live?

As much as we love planning ahead, being organized, and checking off lists, it is even more important to hear the people who are closest to us say:

You are the same person at home and at work. You practice what you preach. You walk your talk. You have integrity.

For this to happen, we need to be centered.

I don’t know about you but I have a better chance of hitting that mark on a day to day basis. If I can wake up in the morning knowing what I believe, if I am centered, I only have one me to manage…and that is a relief.

It won’t matter if I am playing at the park with my grandchildren, in a heartfelt conversation with a staff person, responding to a client, sitting with my aunt as she gets cancer treatment or responding to the aftermath of hurricane Harvey…I am centered and what I am doing reflects that.

If this is something you want to work on with intentionality, LEAD offers Value Cards (or you can make your own using Post-It notes) that can help you get centered. They work for personal reflection or for teams of people negotiating shared values. My husband and I used them when we were working on his retirement plan. Once you’ve identified your values, go to work aligning your life around your top 3-5 values.

Embrace the feeling of living a holistic life. Notice that I did not say easier life because once you have your values in place, being centered means using them to make decisions with intentionality rather than letting the markets, your peers, or competing values drive the day. We can do this…you and I can do this…it’s worth it.

The Stories of Easter

Our Kids Are Crying

Hurricane Harvey-6 Months Later

From Athletic Coaching to Leadership Coaching: Taking Your Development Seriously


by Rozella Haydée White, LEAD Consultant

I’ve been coached since I was 13 years of age. I grew up cheerleading in Texas. Contrary to what many think, cheerleading is INDEED a sport. Not only did I take it very seriously, I still do! I began cheering in middle school and continued cheering through my senior year in high school. I “lettered” in cheerleading, earning patches that went on my letterman jacket for cheering on both the junior varsity and varsity competition squads.

After I graduated from high school, I began dancing on college dance teams. All of these teams had coaches that crafted our practices and provided us with the tools needed to grow our skills. We provided the raw material with our physical bodies and talents and they provided the frameworks needed for us to excel.

Not only was I coached during this time, I also worked as a coach to a high school cheerleading squad. I loved this work. I have always been passionate about helping people develop their skills and my time as a cheerleading coach was no different. I was able to accompany my squad members not just in the task of cheerleading but also in their development as young women. I provided accountability and support, while empowering them throughout the year. I did this work throughout my twenties until life changed and coaching seemed to be a thing of my youthful past.

I encountered coaching again during my time in seminary. This time, it was life and leadership coaching rather than athletic coaching. There were people in both my personal and professional life that did something other than mentor me. They asked me thought provoking questions that made me look within for answers. They encouraged me to articulate my goals and helped me craft plans to meet them. They were concerned with me reaching my fullest potential and would recommend resources to aid in my development. These people were as much coaches as any athletic coach I had as a young person.

While a well-known tool for empowering and equipping leaders in other industries, coaching is still misunderstood or unheard of within faith communities. Many of us know the power of therapy, mentoring and spiritual direction but we haven’t explored how coaching might be a tool that is beneficial to ongoing leadership development.

LEAD is an organization that believes in the power of coaching to help people become faithful leaders who nurture their spiritual lives while growing in their adaptive skills. Much like the athletic coaches of my past and the coach I was to young people, LEAD coaches are a resource to empower leaders in their ongoing development. Athletes wouldn’t dare compete without the support of a coach. Why would leaders, tasked with transforming faith communities and influencing the world, NOT partner with a coach in order to fulfill their call?

When was the last time you had an accountability partner? When was the last time you did some serious visioning for your own leadership? When was the last time you created space in your life to listen to your leadership voice within? When was the last time you had someone cheering you on as you continued to develop your gifts and passions?

It is LEAD’s goal to offer excellent coaching services to leaders and teams that help you understand yourself, envision change and transform your community. Consider partnering with us today. I promise you, it’s worth it.

Renewing Leadership

photo credit: Julia Scruggs

by Pastor David Hansen, Director of Communication & Innovation – LEAD

In January, much of the US was hit by winter storms. Even here in Houston, schools and businesses were closed as ice made it unsafe for us to travel on roads.

And all of a sudden, I had three extra days off.

Let’s face it. Those of us in ministry are prone to overworking. We are likely to not take all of our vacation or continuing education time. To put in work time on our days off.

People in ministry are people who sometimes don’t know how to turn it all off.
To really rest.
To truly take a break.

Even though the research proves that as people work longer hours, they become less productive and less creative.
Even though we stand in pulpits and classrooms and teach people about the importance of Sabbath.

But in January, the weather left many of us with no choice. We had to take a break. And in those days I was reminded – I am a better pastor, preacher, and leader when I am well rested. I am more able to be the leader God has called me to be when there is time for prayer, contemplation, and rest as a part of my day.

Rediscovering Rest

For those of us who follow the liturgical calendar, Lent is here – a time that is traditionally devoted to spiritual practices and renewing our faith.

What if this Lent is a time not just to preach and teach about the importance of renewal, but a time to lead by example?

What if we – as leaders – took this season of Lent to become more intentional about rest and prayer?

You – beloved child of God – are deserving of rest. And not only are you deserving of it, taking the time for rest and prayer will help you to be a better leader to those whom you serve.

This Lent, listen to God’s call for leaders.

Take out your calendar for the season, and schedule time for rest – write it on your calendar.

Rediscover the powerful work of rest, prayer, and renewal.


LEAD offers free print-ready resources for Lent.

Fly Through the Crash

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

The night before I was about to launch the biggest project of my life, I got some of the best leadership advice ever from Sally Ahrens, my partner in ministry. She looked me in the eye and said with all seriousness:

“No matter what happens, fly through the crash.”

At this point in our preparation, I knew she wasn’t kidding, but I also had no idea what she was talking about, so I just gave her the “huh?” look.

“Fly through the crash. You just might land the plane,” was her response.

This was only a few weeks after the plane had landed in the Hudson River. I got it.

I am sharing this with you today because I have come to realize that the language of “being in survival- mode” that people use regarding their congregation does not fit at all. Every story I know about survival-mode has a high level of “fighting for life” that includes a willingness to fly through the crash.

Survival behavior is hopeful because it brings an instinct for living that overcomes a willingness to die.

We hear it when POWs tell horrific stories of pain and suffering, always aware that death is very real yet always hanging on to a glimmer of hope that life may come tomorrow. You can see it in the eyes of people who have survived the devastation of hurricanes, fires, or tornados.

Survival has a do-what-it-takes-to-live kind of courage.

I honestly wish I saw more of this in congregational leadership.

More often I see stubbornness wrapped in nostalgia. That digging-in-our-heels posture is not survival, it is (you won’t like this) death.

Once we become closed to new ideas, even about our faith, we start to die.

This is true for people and for organizations.

The great news is that we can change our mindset.

We have a choice about how we will react to things we don’t like, things that are thrust upon us, or even things we choose that have unexpected outcomes.

We have the power to survive.

Theologically, I think that God has wired this into our humanity. It is the Holy Spirit wrestling with our ego and offering us a glimpse of hope, if we can let go of our stubbornness to grasp it.

My prayer for leaders is that they get in touch with their survival instincts, let go of their stubborn egos, and fly through the crash.

In this time of re-generation of the world, the church as we know it is in a metamorphosis not a death. What looks like death are places where people stop surviving.

Take Sally’s advice (trust me, I always did!) and fly through the crash.

Thanks to her encouragement, we created together a way for 36,000 people to serve in New Orleans in 2009. This was the largest servant event in the world. From the air traffic control tower, there were countless opportunities to crash, including a few minor collisions. Yet we landed the plane with a city blessed by our church, young people engaged in a faith that made a difference, and a church with a new way of doing a youth gathering. Not bad for a four-day gig.

Imagine what leaders who serve every day in a particular neighborhood could do if they started to survive?

Read More in 2018

by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD

How many books do you read in an average year? Not sure? Me either… until now because I plan to keep track for the first time ever.

One of my personal goals this year is to start a book log, capturing the books I read along with a few personal notes on each book. I’m thinking of this as an annual bibliography. Usually I send out book recommendations from my favorites, but honestly, I am curious about yours! What are you reading and loving?

I have become a huge fan of audiobooks that let me “read” while I walk or drive. Occasionally I love a book so much I have to have the paper copy too. I’m still a bigger fan of paper books and, as it turns out, I am not alone in this. According to Pew Research, more people in the U.S. prefer paper books, even with all the digital alternatives. There is also interesting research that says you remember more of what you read on paper than digitally.

As we are only a few weeks into a new year, I am looking forward to starting my new habit. I am going to utilize a few of these tips that came into my inbox from Daniel Pink to turbo-charge my reading.

In case you are wondering, here is my January list so far. I would LOVE an email or a Facebook post about your book list. The only thing better to me than a book recommendation is a restaurant referral!

Books I have read so far in 2018: (with my * ratings)

It’s been a pretty great reading year so far. How about you? What do you recommend?

Faithful Metrics ~ Pre-order Now!

$10 for 10, because we love God and God’s church

LEAD exists for you – we are in it together. Friends, we have a heartfelt request for each of you to invest $10 in LEAD this month to help us grow and expand the resources and services we offer leaders and faith communities in 2018.

Leaders are launching community gardens, initiating new faith practices, partnering with local schools, asking hard questions, responding to needs in their neighborhoods, creating strategic plans, identifying shared core values and a clear purpose, and so much more with YOUR support through LEAD. Their stories are pouring in and inspiring new resources for a new year. This is where you come in.

We are asking you to donate $10 by January 31 in honor of the 10,000+ volunteer hours our team has given to provide you with these top 10 resources. Please show your love by donating today.

Here are the Top 10 ways LEAD has supported leaders in 2017. Together we can make an even bigger impact in 2018!

  1. Created free print-ready Advent and Lent resources used by nearly 1,000 congregation around the world in 2017. Get a sneak peek at our 2018 Lenten resources now!
  2. Sent free monthly newsletters filled with leadership tips, tools, and challenges to over 4,000 people each week. Check out the 10 most-read articles from 2017.
  3. Equipped leaders with 40+ free 10 Minute Toolbox videos.
  4. Encouraged individuals and congregations to engage in new spiritual practices through newsletters articles, seasonal resources, and more.
  5. Improved the user experience for accessing resources through the LEAD Partner
  6. Opened the door to travelers on our pilgrimage to Turkey and Greece by providing scholarships to new leaders.
  7. Empowered 70+ congregations in six different synods to reach out to their neighborhoods through LEAD Journeys.
  8. Published a new book, Work Out Guide, and prepared to launch Faithful Metrics(with accompanying resources) on February 1, 2018.
  9. Provided financial gifts to 53 leaders impacted by Hurricane Harvey, through The Courageous Community.
  10. Supported individual leaders and congregations with coaching and peer cohorts. Take advantage of our January special for coaching!

This is just 10 of the many ways our LEAD team, made of a small paid staff and many volunteers, serve you. We are excited about reaching even more individuals and congregations with new resources and services in 2018. With YOUR gift of $10 (or more) by January 31, we can make it happen!

Thanks – with all our heart – for your partnership. We exist to serve you. Let us know your leadership needs… we are listening!

Top 10 of 2017

Wondering what caught people’s attention in 2017? Here’s a list of LEAD’s most-read blogposts from 2017. Revisit your favorites or catch up on those you may have missed.

There are 250+ blogposts available on the website, so if you don’t see what you’re looking for in this list (or if you get excited and want more), check them out!

10. Rules that Matter Most – to YOU! by Peggy Hahn

9. Chicken and Eggs: A Tale of Mindfulness by Lynn Willis

8. Dying Church? by Pastor David Hansen

7. From Insider Community to Inclusive Church by Peggy Hahn

6. Developing a Statement of Theology by Rozella White

5. A New Thing… by Peggy Hahn

4. Summer Reading Recommendations by Peggy Hahn (these are good winter reads too!)

3. The Best Advice My Dad Has Given Me (so far) by Peggy Hahn

2. Leaders Helping Leaders by Peggy Hahn

And the most read article of 2017…

1. Owning My White Privilege by Peggy Hahn

Do you have a favorite that wasn’t included? Share it on Facebook.

This is personal


Most of us live two lives: The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Overcoming the resistance between the two is what deep, bold, consequential faith is all about.

Hold that thought for a minute.

First, answer this question honestly: How are you right now? Tell yourself the truth.

Admittedly, there are days when leadership and life in general wear me down. I fight the urge to embrace the introvert within me that yearns for the deserted island, while my calendar, filled with meaningful commitments, looms over me. In my deepest heart, I know that this feeling is the holiday hangover that will soon pass, but, in this very moment, I’m tired. That’s just true. And, I said it to you, out loud.

Yes, at this very moment, I feel like escaping from the whirlwind of my life by going on a long walk with my dog (no people), getting a cup of coffee (alone), and reading a romance novel all day (learning nothing).

Even Jesus went away from the crowds from time to time.

What is stopping us from planning an occasional escape?

This feeling and these questions have led me to seriously wonder: How do we “go away” from the crowds in a 360-degree world? Someone is always waiting for a response. Always. The Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/WhatsApp/Slack/email/text/calls/face-to-face conversations/you-name-it communication explosion offers a true leadership management opportunity.

Most of us live two lives: The life we live, and the unlived life within us. It takes time outside of the whirlwind to break through the barrier between the two. We must do this.

I know that to be my best self, I need space to pray, worship, exercise, read, write, learn, and sleep. My commitment to you is that I am sitting down THIS WEEK to schedule each of these into my calendar. (That is truly the only way they will happen.)

Please join me in making a commitment to a healthy new year by carving out and protecting time for these seven life-giving habits.

To support you in these practices, LEAD is offering a huge sale on coaching. Why? Because we know firsthand how hard it is to keep our commitments to ourselves. I need accountability for myself, don’t you?

Our leadership abilities are compromised when we don’t make personal care part of our daily, weekly and monthly life. Making personal time a priority is especially hard for caregivers who are raising young children or caring for someone who is sick; for single people; and for people who have just moved to a new neighborhood or congregation.

Coaching can provide you with the accountability and support you need to move forward. Our promise to you:

If coaching feels like just one more thing on your to-do list after your first three coaching conversations, we will refund your money.

Most of us live two lives: The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Overcoming the resistance between the two is what deep, bold, consequential faith is all about. What do you need to stay centered? This is personal—and it is really important if we are going to be in ministry for the long haul.

A Vibrant Church

Christmas Blessing

May God give us

The strength and determination of a woman
laboring to deliver new life

The encouragement and wisdom of a midwife
helping another to bring forth new life

The care and nurture of a shepherd
fiercely protecting new life

The wonder and curiosity of a baby
discovering the happiness and work of life

The joy and thanksgiving of Angels
delighting in new life

And grace in receiving
even the most humble of gifts.

May we keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts.

Nativity used with permission of the artist, Carol Aust
Blessing by Lynn Willis

 

 

A Gift of the Holy Spirit


by David Hansen, Pastor at Spirit of Joy! and LEAD Director of Communication & Innovation

“I believe that by my own power or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith.”

Martin Luther, Small Catechism

Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit – something which we cannot earn or achieve through our own effort. Along the way, the Spirit places in our path people who help us toward faith and discipleship. People whose presence in our lives calls us to faith, or to deeper, more mature faith.

These people go by lots of different names: guides, mentors, confessors, influencers, advisors. As the LEAD team has shared our stories with one another, we call them “faith givers” – faithful people empowered by God to share the gift of faith with us.

I am a pastor’s kid, and so I was raised by the church and in the church. Sitting in the church fellowship hall, my feet swinging from the metal folding chair while Dad was teaching and Mom was in choir rehearsal. And there, the saints of the church saw me and began to gift me with faithfulness.

I always cringe at this sort of list because I am likely to forget people – but that is no reason to not start giving thanks. Here is the beginning of my list of faith givers as I give thanks to God for them and the faith they have shared with me:

  • My Godparents: Kathy and Joe, Cec and Johnny
  • Lawrence and Florence, who sat with me in the pew every Sunday, and the rest of the Bethany crew
  • Youth leaders like Bob and Cathy and Shawn
  • Pastors (because even PKs need a pastor!) like Pastor Kirsten and Pastor Kelly
  • Mentors along the way like Richard, Gerry, Dennis, Mike, and Charles
  • Friends whose lives and love are gifts of faith: Derrick, Aaron, Deb, Carol, Jason, Andrea, Kathi, Scott, Joelle, Keith, Kristin, Lance, and too many more to name
  • Megan, my spouse
  • My daughter, parents, brothers, niece and nephews, and in laws

I bet you have a list like this too.

The LEAD team would like to help you to say THANK YOU to the faith givers of your life.

How? Go to Faith Givers.

  1. Click on Give Now to make a donation online with a credit card or by mailing a check to LEAD.
  2. Include the names and email addresses of the people or congregations you want to honor (up to 5 per donation). There is no minimum gift.

Emails will pour into inboxes and the people you choose to recognize will know that when they share their faith, it really matters!

Shaping lives-community, prayer & service

by Kristen Krueger, PhD – LEAD Consultant

I was eight years old when my family moved from Denver to Houston. I vividly remember crying in the arms of Miss Lila, my Sunday school teacher at All Saints Lutheran Church on my last Sunday there. Miss Lila reassured me that I would find friends and life would be good in Texas but I didn’t really believe her. For the next six months I wrote her regular letters telling her about my new school and eventually about the new Sunday school class at New Hope Lutheran in Missouri City, TX. When we returned to Denver at Christmas to visit family, Miss Lila was there waiting. She gathered all the children from my Sunday School class for a special holiday party planned around my family’s schedule so I could be included. It’s my first memory of a faith community caring for me.

Miss Lila understood the value of community.

I was eighteen years old when my mom left me at Texas Lutheran University as a freshman with anxious, hopeful tears stinging my eyes. Surrounded by peers, I felt alone. Until I received an anonymous greeting card with a simple prayer in my mailbox the following week. And every week after that until the Christmas break. When I went to worship at Faith Lutheran Church in Bellaire for Christmas Eve, Miss Betty Jean gave me a big hug and whispered “I hope you got all my notes” as she walked away.

Miss Betty Jean understood the value of prayer.

I was twenty-eight when I discovered I was expecting my first child. When she was born three months too soon, I received an email asking me to leave a cooler on our front porch for as long as she was in the hospital. Twice a week we would arrive home from long days of sitting next to my two-pound baby’s bed watching for every rise and fall of her chest to find a warm dinner waiting inside that cooler. Each meal came with a note of encouragement and the overwhelming feeling that we were not alone in our journey. The people of Faith Lutheran provided meals for my family for 73 long days until we brought our daughter home.

Faith Lutheran understood the value of service.

Faith givers have shaped every season of my life in ways I could never have predicted. I doubt Miss Lila, Miss Betty Jean, or some of the people who provided our family’s dinner will ever know how their actions planted seeds of faith. Their gifts went far beyond a party, a letter, or a meal by showing me what faith looks like as community, prayer, and acts of service. Who has shaped your life with these gifts of faith? How can you honor their stories this Advent season?

We invite you to consider making a gift to LEAD in their names. We will send them a personal email thanking them for sharing their faith with you.

The Power of God Moments

“I need to bless you,” interrupted my two-year-old granddaughter as we gathered for dinner this weekend.

Wow. A God moment named and claimed by a baby.

How does she know that God is with us? How does she know she has agency to bless us?

The faith givers in her life, especially her mom and dad, have passed their love for Jesus to this baby through the rituals of their lives. They use the Faith5 practice as a family and it works. People of all ages can be blessed by this ritual.

God is always with us, but sometimes it takes a baby to be the faith giver in the family. God coming to us as a baby says it all.

With the feelings of gratitude still warm in our hearts from Thanksgiving, please join me in thanking those who have passed the faith to you.

Give a gift of any amount to LEAD and we will send a personal thank you note for you.

The holidays are rich with traditions we can build on to name the God moments all around us. Do the people in your life know the story of the Christmas Tree or the symbolism of the poinsettia or the Advent candles?

This is a great time to trade up on our traditions to strengthen our own faith language.

Thanksgiving Prayer 2017

This year
may our Thanksgiving not be small and rote.

This year
may our thanks giving be broad and deep.

May it fill to overflowing
every cell in our bodies,

So that each exhaled breath
may be carried by the Holy Spirit

And laid gently upon all things and all persons.

This year
may all things and all persons
feel loved
by God and by our Thanks Given.

by Lynn Willis, LEAD Spiritual Director

Gratitude as Soul Care

by: Rozella Haydée White

How is it with your soul?

When was the last time you stopped, asked yourself this question and listened for the answer?

When was the last time you reflected on the thoughts and feelings that emerged when you intentionally tuned into your soul?*

Our souls have so much to share with us and oftentimes, we are too busy to listen. Your soul can be thought of as your spirit, your gut or your heart center. Its holds the essence of who you are and is one of the most profound teachers in our life. Yet, so many of us go day in and day out with little time or attention paid to soul care.

Even if I’m not asking this question of my soul daily, I can’t help but ask this question during the holiday season. The holidays bring up a lot of feelings and our soul is often a place that can guide us towards clarity and healing. Some experience elation as they think about spending time with family and friends, while others feel anxiety at the thought of attending holiday parties or family gatherings. I am one who has struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder, so the holidays hold both anticipation and anxiety as I struggle to remain present and not be overcome with sadness.

There are as many responses to the holiday season as there are people in the world.

Leaders aren’t immune to the emotional roller coaster that the holidays bring. I believe that leaders experience emotions on a deeper level because they tend to carry their personal feelings and the emotions of those they serve. If you are not attending to your soul health and well-being on “normal” days, holiday wellness might be a challenge.

There are many practices for attending to our souls but I have found one practice to be particularly helpful. It is not difficult nor does it require a lot of time. However, this practice can literally change lives.

Gratitude. Practice gratitude. That’s it.

One way that leaders can pay attention is by slowing down and practicing gratitude; by turning their focus from all that has to be done or has been left undone to the people, experiences, leanings and opportunities that are present in their lives.

When I practice gratitude as a form of soul care, I am more in touch with what I’m feeling and I become aware of all the good in my life and in the lives of those I care for. The holiday season is a perfect time to start a Gratitude Jar, Journal or some other form of daily, intentional practice that invites you to be attentive to your thoughts and feelings.

Another way to practice gratitude this year is to participate in LEAD’s Faith Givers Campaign. We are launching an annual fund campaign that has two goals – to share stories of the people who have passed on faith to us and to raise funds so that LEAD can continue in the work of empowering Christian leaders, transforming faith communities and influencing the world. LEAD is dedicated to forming leaders with deep, bold, consequential faith and we know that this cannot happen apart from uplifting those who have passed on the faith to us. We believe that leaders with bold, deep, consequential faith in Jesus are also leaders who practice soul care and gratitude on a daily basis. Consider joining us in any way that you can and by sharing this with others.

*This Advent Season, LEAD has produced FREE resources to help you slow down and reflect. LEAD also provides a wonderful resource that helps individuals and communities listen deeply and listen well to how God is speaking in your life through Scripture, through your relationships and in your community. Check out our Tune In Process.

Who are the Faith Givers in Your Life?

Faith is a free gift of the Holy Spirit.
People love God and they love you enough to pass it on.

These are the faith givers.

Maybe you had faithful parents or grandparents. Maybe you went to camp as a kid, campus ministry as a student, or had a youth minister, pastor or a caring adult who invested in you. Faith is passed person to person, usually by caring adults to children and youth. Sometimes it works the other way around with children and adults passing their faith to the adults in their lives.

LEAD grows leaders with a deep, bold, consequential faith – like you! Show your gratitude to those who have influenced your faith this holiday season by making a gift in any amount to LEAD in their names. If you provide their email addresses, we will send them a special email thanking them for sharing their faith with you. We can also include their names on our website with other faith givers from around the world. Learn more about Faith Givers.

I am already thinking about people I would like to honor. I am wondering how many will be surprised when they get this gift from me this holiday season. Most of these are people who aren’t on my Christmas card list and many haven’t heard from me in years, yet when I reflect on my life, I am so deeply grateful that I want them to know their investment in me really matters in my life.

Here are the people I’m giving thanks to God for (and this is just the start!):

  • Pastors Arno Martin, Steve Quill, Liz Stein, Paul Schairer, Herb Palmer, Paul Blom, Rob Moore, Roland Martinson, Bill and Carolyn Keys, Julio Chaves, Walter and Betty Baires, and Tim Barr
  • My youth group at Faith Lutheran years ago
  • All five of my children and their spouses
  • My husband
  • My parents, my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles
  • My dear friends, including some in El Salvador and Peru

If I can find their email addresses, they will be surprised with a thank you note from me and LEAD!

And those you choose to remember will be surprised with thank you notes too! Imagine how many people will be blessed by this gift of gratitude!

Please pass this invitation along to everyone you know. Let’s use #GivingTuesday to say thanks for the gift that changes everything – the gift of faith givers.

Or do it now – you don’t have to wait for #Giving Tuesday!

How? Go to waytolead.org/faith-givers.

  1. Click on Give Now to make a donation online with a credit card online or by mailing a check to LEAD.
  2. Include the names and email addresses of the people or congregations you want to honor (up to 5 per donation). There is no minimum gift.

Emails will pour into inboxes and the people you chose to recognize will know that when they share their faith, it really matters!

With deep gratitude,

The LEAD Team

From Insider Community to Inclusive Church

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Yes, a church is a community, but is a community a church?

In an interview, this week with Pastor Mike Louia of First Lutheran Church in Ellicott City, MD, a congregation on the LEAD Journey, truth was named.

Pastor Mike said:

I will know we are truly being church when people introduce themselves as ‘My name is ____ and I saw God do ____ today’ rather than the usual ‘My name is ____ and I’ve been a member here for ____ years.’ 

When we wear our years of membership as a badge of honor, something happens to the new people around the table. They are unintentionally pushed out. They have less power in the system and a smaller voice in the conversation. Authority is ranked and they are not at the top.

But imagine if the authority in the group was given to God instead. Every time we gather.

Insider communities are focused on themselves whereas an inclusive church is focused on deep hospitality for all people. The way a congregation acts can either open up space for people to name God in their midst or make it clear that the power in the congregation resides in certain people.

So, what if we use this fall as a time to shift behavior?

What if instead of focusing on the community’s preference for “the way we’ve always done it,” we ask the inclusive question, “how does this welcome new people into the conversation?”

Here are a few ideas you might consider. I invite you to add to the list.

  • What if…introductions start by naming God’s presence in our daily life instead of membership status or any other kind of status. The spotlight is on God.
  • What if…prayers at congregational meals are no longer the work of the expert (pastor or staff) and instead, everyone is invited to pray. Even children, youth, and visitors. (Be sure to invite them in advance so they aren’t put on the spot.)
  • What if…decisions at the council or leadership tables are made after a time of prayer and serious discussion around some or all of these questions:
    • What does this mean for the newest, youngest, or oldest person in our midst?
    • How does this pull in or push out people who are newly divorced or speak a different language or have a sexual orientation other than the majority or have just moved here or have lost their job or have had a recent death in their family?

You get the picture. Having clear values will help you make your own list.

  • What if…the website is used to preach the Gospel and invite people (including especially visitors) into a spiritual journey of deepening faith. Websites that look like photo albums filled with pictures of empty buildings aren’t welcoming, they don’t speak to visitors (and that should be its primary focus). And telling people where the pastor went to seminary, but not what the congregation believes, is not helpful.
  • What if…announcements at worship assume people in the room don’t know how what we are doing connects to our faith life so there is intentional clarity when sharing opportunities. The same is true for printed material.

For example: Everyone is welcome at our Advent dinners. This is time we set aside to deepen our relationships with each other as we share our day and a meal much like the early church did when they gathered together in homes.”

  • What if…all the learning and worship of God that takes place in the sanctuary is linked to the learning and worship of God that happens at home, in the car, at work, or at bedtime. When you consider how much time people spend outside the church, the importance of resources for ministry in the home becomes clear.
  • What if…ministry for young families teaches parents how to talk about God and faith at home, and offers them rituals, blessings, and God stories to use.

What else can you think of?

This is a valuable leadership conversation that will shift results. Pick two or three you want to try for the remainder of the year.

Remember, it takes three weeks to form a new habit. Given the inertia of church life, those three weeks may be more like three months, so stick with it. The shift from being an insider community to being an inclusive church is worth it.

Advent 2017 Reflection

by Vonda Drees, creator of the 2017 Advent art and Director of Grunewald Guild
This post was originally published in Vonda’s blog
.

It all began with a question: What if during Advent, we began with four lit candles and each week lit one less, quieting/stilling our way toward the center Christ candle? How could a question like that be imaged?

IMG_4622.JPG

One person said it’s like a countdown… Yes, indeed! I’ve also suggested that it mirrors our physical experience (in the Northern Hemisphere) with light.

The image breaks into five vertical panels, from right to left: four lit candles, three, two, one, and the Christ candle with the Madonna and Child.

One of the things that delights me is that in the tradition of reading left to right, the image begins with Christ. God is with us all along. Becoming quieter can help us discern that. I had a conversation early on about my desire to have people move through the image from right to left, like coming back to the beginning. The person I was talking with told me about the “O, Antiphons.” Really, really interesting stuff… “O, Antiphons.” Really, really interesting stuff… And although it can’t be proven, I choose to leave room for the mystery.

Download (free) this image in black and white using the link below. Add your own color this Advent!

Check out the liturgies that accompany the images… it’s all free here from LEAD.

#metoo@church?

By Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD

Sometimes the truth hits a little too close to home. What happens when the sanctuary isn’t a safe place?

Don’t live in la-la land.

Sexual assault is not just a scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

It is not a Facebook gimmick.

Sexual assault is real and has happened at your church too.

One in four women and one in ten men have been sexually assaulted and that is just the number of people willing to admit it.

This is a leadership conversation that may make you squirm. You can start by asking yourself, “why does this make me uncomfortable?” Your answer to that is reason enough to have the conversation.

To truly make your sacred space a sanctuary, we need to talk about this.

Why are we uncomfortable talking about creating a space where women don’t have to fear being squeezed too hard or children don’t have to feel afraid when they go to the bathroom?

Telling off-color jokes, stereotyping people by race, gender, sexuality or ethnicity – these things are not okay. The “boys will be boys” phrase we use to excuse our children, youth or men from bad behavior is unacceptable.

Here are a few things to help you start this conversation – don’t shy away from taking steps to make your congregation a safe place.

First, resist asking the women in your congregation if this is true. If women want to talk with you about this they will.

People may be retraumatized by pushing them into conversations they are not ready to make public. Their assaulters may be standing next to you. Instead, let it be known that this kind of behavior is not tolerated and if people want to share their stories you would be willing to listen and support the conversation.

Set boundaries and policies that protect children, even if your congregation does not have a children or youth ministry.

There are children in the neighborhood or in the family and this conversation may be what is needed to free someone to get help, to speak out, or to call out a high-risk situation. Every church should have safe haven guidelines of some kind, do background checks if there are any children on the campus, and have a no-adult-alone-with-a-child policy. People new to the church should NOT be allowed to work with children or youth unsupervised until they a have been there for over a year. Sexual predators can’t wait a year before targeting a victim.

Call out the subtle practices for what they are – dehumanizing to women.

Stop asking the man in the family for the stewardship commitment card as though women do not contribute to the household or have a brain in their head. Stop expecting the women to be “in the kitchen” while the men hang out in decision-making conversations.

Women stop making excuses for your husband, father, brother, or son.

You are not helping yourself or the world when you apologize to others for the bad behavior of the men in your life. If you are in a violent situation, we urge you to find a safe person to help you.

Men stop participating in the machismo culture.

Passing around pictures of women as if they are objects, feeling empowered to comment on someone’s breasts or a million other ways men undermine women are not acceptable. This behavior hurts everyone including their own mothers, wives, daughters, and granddaughters.

If you think a #metoo@church? conversation is hard, that is a good indication that you need to have one. Use this article to prompt a conversation at your church council table.

How will you create a culture of respect and safety for all people?

Book Pantry

By Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

It’s only been a few weeks since the flood waters wiped out the neighborhood including Faith Lutheran Church in Dickinson, Texas.

While the church building is not yet open for worship, Pastor Deb Grant and her congregation aren’t waiting to respond to the needs in their community.* They have a vision, a vision that will help parents put books into their children’s hands this year at Christmas.

I met with Pastor Deb a week after hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Over dinner she told me the two things that were most tugging at her heart during this time:

  1. Her prayer for the people of Faith to know that God was holding them close during this life-wrenching experience
  2. The fact that all the books that had been donated for the community had been lost in the storm.

The Ark Book Pantry is proof that the Holy Spirit is blowing through her congregation even as they wait for the city to get rid of the mountains of debris (this is what we call our furniture, drywall, and insulation after its been flooded) waiting on the front lawn for garbage pick-up.

Yes, in the midst of the devastation, Faith’s leaders are already looking ahead to the holidays. They want to see books in the hands for their neighborhood children, and more than that, they are making it happen!

Born out of the flood but showing signs of hope and life”, Faith is creating a book pantry, a place where new books will be given away to children, but that’s not all. It’s also a place to build trust in their neighborhood and support parents who are facing a host of challenges in the wake of the hurricane.

The psychological toll of a natural disaster is predictable. There is a formula for forecasting the lowest point in the recovery process and in the emotional health of the community. For victims of Harvey, this coincides with the holidays. This is the time we can anticipate a rise in family violence, addiction, depression, suicide, and divorce. What helps is for people to feel supported, to get the resources they need, and to be reminded that God has them when everything else feels like it is falling apart.

A book might not seem like much, but a neighborhood congregation that cares is life-giving.

Two ways you can help:

  1. Buy books from the book list requested by the flooded schools in Dickinson.
  2. Build a book pantry in your own neighborhood.

Increasing literacy is the #1 way to move people out of poverty. Parents who are not strong readers themselves can benefit from reading with their children. Books can change a child’s life as they expand their vocabulary, confidence, and vision for a world bigger than their own.

On a side note, the ELCA Youth Gathering has invited everyone to bring books to Houston next summer. Stay tuned for more on that in a few months.

Why not make this holiday a book-giving experience by partnering with Faith or another book distribution center, or by building one of your own? This is a great way to be a good neighbor.

*Faith Lutheran Church in Dickinson is worshiping with Holy Trinity Episcopal Church each week, another neighboring opportunity.

Selah


SELAH…

A word found over 71 times in 39 of the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk 3. It is the last word of Psalms 3, 24, and 46, and in most other cases, it comes at the end of a verse (the exceptions being Psalms 55:19, 57:3, and Hab. 3:3, 9, 13).

SELAH…

A word not fully understood, yet surely meant to remind us to pause, to say amen – let it be so.

SELAH…

A word that faithful leaders need to breathe in and out on a regular basis.

All together now…

SELAH

In the midst of hurricane recovery, of fall programing, of family life, of health issues, of whatever, we all need to relish the moments of calm when they come. We all need to be intentional about making these moments happen.

Margin.

Space.

Breathe.

Remember you are loved.

That is enough.

SELAH

Leaders Helping Leaders

Rules that Matter Most – to YOU!

By Peggy Hahn

Everything cannot be of equal value – or nothing would have meaning, right?

So, what rules matter most in your life?

Make a Top 10 list of the Rules that Matter Most to You.

The rules will change from time to time and that’s okay. But making this list helps bring into focus what matters most to you right now.

Here are the rules that are holding me right now – not necessarily in priority order:

  1. Pray first and last every day. In between too.
  2. Make space to create, read, write, and walk every week. No exceptions.
  3. Stay close to my family and even closer to my husband.
  4. Experiment as often as possible. Risks are good.
  5. Drive the calendar so it doesn’t drive me.
  6. Pick up after myself. Clean up my own mess.
  7. Listen to people deeply. Beyond words.
  8. Forget the hurt, anger, and wrong as quickly as possible.
  9. Practice gratitude even when (especially when) it’s hard.
  10. Make the effort to get to know the new people in the room.

My rules keep me right-side-up. I break them once in a while but the point is that I am trying to live by the values that really matter to me. What are yours?

Check out this article about the ‘2-hour rule’ based on Einstein’s habits. Then come up with your own rules. You will may be surprised at what is shaping your day, week, month, and life.

God has given us a life to live – enjoy it!

Deepening Faith

By Pastor Mindy Roll – Campus Pastor for Treehouse, the Lutheran Campus Ministry (ELCA) at Texas A&M and the Blinn Colleges

—For all those longing for a deeper faith, or just feeling “stuck,” or even just wanting to build deeper friendships – check out this new 8-week small group study.

As our synod began a process of intentional listening related to our strategic plan, one conversation haunted me. I had had it many times, with many folks, in many churches, but this time, the response startled me.

When asked to identify a period or moment or group that had deepened each person’s faith, one woman gave me a steady look. What do you mean? she finally asked. 

It could be anything, I responded – a Bible study, or women’s group, or retreat, or the weekly experience of worship – anything that has challenged or deepened or grown your faith over the years.

I don’t understand your question, she responded. I’ve served on Council nearly my whole adult life, but I’ve never had an experience where I felt like my faith was deepened. 

Her response, and many like it, was a wake-up call for those on our team. We began to grapple with the question – what does it mean to deepen faith? What does it mean to have a maturing faith? What does it look like for faith to be nuanced and complex, while also prayerful and sustaining? Lutherans are good about teaching faith to children, but what next?

Is deepening faith not a lifelong process? And if not, why on earth not?

All the leading research tells us that faith grows best in small communities built on trust, sharing, and feeling known. As we began to explore a small group process that might work in our churches, Deepening Faith was born.

The process is fairly simple – over eight weeks, each participant is invited to hear the stories of each member in the group. The participant’s book serves as a guide for learning how to listen and share. After the first eight weeks, groups choose which direction they want to go next (for example, Prayer & Spirituality, Theology & Study, The Language of Faith, Service & Justice, Faith in the Home, etc.). Our team is working to develop curriculum in each of these areas, as well as others that may come from your feedback.

So, if you find yourself longing for a deeper faith, or just feeling “stuck,” or even just wanting to build deeper friendships, gather a small group and get sharing! We’re eager to grow alongside you.

Holding a Gathering – Post Natural Disaster

Gathering – Post Hurricane Harvey or other Natural Disaster

The impact of a natural disaster varies from person to person in a group, family or congregation. There are many variables that can paralyze leaders and keep them from facilitating a shared conversation about communal pain – just when the community needs it most. Courageous leaders will stop regular programing or practices to pay attention to current events in order to deepen the faith, trust, and overall health of the community. People need space to reflect and notice how God is with them during a disaster.

This resource is a guide to building resiliency following Hurricane Harvey that could easily be modified for other natural disasters. Please feel free to use this and share this to create a safe space for people to talk about their feelings.

There are five parts to this one-hour session.

Part I. Share your feelings: Begin by creating a brave space, inviting people to share their feelings as they are ready. Remind people that they can reveal as much or as little about their feelings as they choose. Invite people to opt out if that is their brave response to the invitation. Feelings will be shared first by inviting people to walk to the part of the room that most reflects their perspective.

Set Up: Designate the four corners of the room as A, B, C, and D. People will gather in the corner that corresponds to their answer to each question below. After the question is read, people can move to the place that most reflects how they are feeling. As noted above, people may opt out of moving and stay in the middle.

Share your feelings (Activity): Invite people to walk to the corner of the room designated for their response. This should be done without a lot of talking. The leader may make a few observations about where people are or are not standing in relationship to the statement as long as it does not shame or blame anyone. For example, after the first question, if no one in the room is standing in the “D” corner, the leader might offer a prayer for the families and friends of those who have died during the storm, even if they are not in the room.

  1. My personal loss due to Hurricane Harvey is:
    A.Friends or family had flooding or other impact from the storm.
    B. I had some flooding or other impact from the storm at my home.
    C. I lost my home or am still waiting to hear about my home.
    D. People I care about or know have had a death related to this storm.
  2. My personal experience with other natural disasters:
    A. This is my first experience.
    B. I have been through several hurricanes or other natural disasters.
    C. I have worked on recovery teams, heard stories, and felt the impact of disaster many times.
    D. I have been flooded, lost my home or had a death in my family in the past due to a natural disaster.
  3. In the past week, I have:
    A. been able to move into a normal routine.
    B. felt unable to concentrate, felt moved to tears or generally been overwhelmed.
    C. been in a deep fog, unable to make decisions or carry out daily activities much at all.
    D. been paralyzed by my feelings.

Part II. Write: Following the sharing above, give each person a piece of paper. Invite them to take two minutes to reflect on their feelings. Encourage them to journal for 15 minutes a day for four days. This is a proven method for helping people build resilience. Write anything that comes to mind.

Part III. Small Group Conversation: Invite people to get into small groups of 2 or 3 people to share their answers to the questions below.

  • What surfaced for you in the sharing exercise?
  • What bothered you?
  • What did you value most?
  • What do you need?

Debrief: Invite a few people to share their feelings with the whole group, if they are ready.

Follow this activity with a short debrief and definitions of these words. Keep in mind there are much fuller descriptions of each response to a disaster. These are only briefly named here.

  • Acute Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome: Characterized by the development of severe anxiety, dissociation, and other symptoms that occur within one month after exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome: Ongoing (chronic) or even short-term (acute) symptoms that interfere with relationships or work following a traumatic event.
  • Secondary Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome: A set of symptoms that mimic post-traumatic stress disorder, but is acquired through exposure to persons suffering the effects of trauma.
  • Survivor Guilt: Symptoms that occur when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving or avoiding a traumatic event when others did not.
  • Compassion Fatigue: Caring too much can hurt when caregivers focus on others without practicing self-care. Destructive behaviors, apathy, isolation or bottled up emotions can occur.
  • Children: As children have fewer coping skills and less life-experience, they can be extremely vulnerable or show remarkable resilience. Special care should be given to children experiencing loss.

Part IV. Adapt: The practice of adaptive leadership requires time moving away from the action to observe, interpret, and create helpful interventions. A time of disaster allows for many adaptive moments on any given day as recovery begins. Adaptive leadership means experimenting with new ideas, new solutions to existing problems, and returning to the balcony to observe, interpret, and intervene over and over.

Invite the group to talk as a whole about the adaptive leadership they have experienced during or since the disaster. Note the creative innovative thinking, repurposing of resources, and new ways of thinking that have emerged.

Wonder with the group:

  • What part of these adaptive practices do we want to make normal as we move into a new way of life following the disaster?
  • What do we want to let go of?

Part V: Close with scripture reading and prayer:

Read and reflect on this scripture from Isaiah 43:1-2:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.                      

Ask: Are there other scripture passages or Bible stories that you find sustaining during this time?

Pray together, remembering that God is always with us.

PPT Presentation to accompany the Gathering

Is Caring Wearing You Out?

Responding to a Natural Disaster

HOPE for Children after a Storm

by Kristen Krueger, PhD

On the first night of the storm, my family of four (and one dog) huddled inside the laundry room for yet another tornado warning. Flood alerts came across my phone and pictures of disaster filled my Facebook feed. I looked at my six year old daughter who was sleeping at my feet and began to wonder “how will I explain this to her? How can I find the words to help her understand the nightmare happening around her and help her find hope?”

Honest answer: for three days, I told her nothing. It took me that long to find the words and because we had the unique privilege of living in a neighborhood that emerged from the storm unscathed, I was able to avoid the conversation. I know most families in our city were not as lucky. When we did talk, these are the resources I found helpful.

Children have specific needs when dealing with disaster. Start with an honest evaluation of what your family has experienced, move on to a story of a friend or neighbor with a different experience, and end by helping your child think about ways they can engage in recovery. Keep the conversation age-appropriate but don’t sugar-coat stories. Turn off the constant stream of media filled with scary images and words. Be aware of your own stress levels and practice self-care. Constantly point out the places that you see hope in response to the storm. Assure your child that God does not send storms to punish but instead sends people to act out of love as the city recovers.

We believe in a God of love. A God who walks with us in the storm and uses us to share that love with others. God is in Houston, and in disasters around the world, in every act of hope that we see.

Some key things to remember as you focus on HOPE:

HELP: As you talk, look for opportunities to help your child identify the “helpers.” First responders, neighbors, pastors, friends, strangers who are helping one another. These people are acting out God’s love in their communities.

OPEN: Be open to questions your child has about the storm. Answer them as accurately as you can and if you don’t know the answer look for it together. Invite your child to ask more questions as they come up and keep that line open.

PLAY: Make time for play, it is how children process. Watch your child’s imaginary play. Notice when their anxieties and questions are interpreted in imaginary worlds. Use this as a jumping off point for further conversation or join in their imaginary world.

ENGAGE: Find a way for your child to contribute to the recovery. Make food for first responders, collect supplies for shelters or those who are cleaning out houses, or donate books to schools that have been flooded. Tangible action items help children (and adults) become God’s hands in the world and see that they can be part of healing. If your house was flooded, help your child engage by providing routines as much as possible. Something as simple as a nightly bedtime prayer, book, or song will provide comfort in an uncertain time.

Finally, pray together. Invite your child to name their feelings and their heroes. Thank God for the gift of hope and the knowledge that Jesus calms storms.

Additional resources on talking with children:

 

Responding to a Natural Disaster

A message from Executive Director Peggy Hahn

The Best Advice My Dad Has Given Me (so far)

By Peggy Hahn, Executive Director – LEAD

These seven words cause my heart to bleed:

“There is a hurricane in the gulf.”

People’s lives have been forever altered by the monster named Harvey through hurricane winds, tornadoes, and flooding. No doubt about it.

Keeping the faith during a hurricane or flooding, and especially during the hours, days, weeks, and months that follow, is the only way to keep from going crazy, yet it is far easier said than done.

Every time since 2005 in moments like this, or frankly any other heart wrenching time, I find myself leaning into the best advice my dad has given me so far. I can hear his voice over the telephone like it was yesterday. I had called to see if he and my family were on their way to my house, evacuating due to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf, when he reminded me that my grandpa was in the hospital, unable to travel. Of course, he wouldn’t leave New Orleans.

But then, the next morning, he called me back.

“We are on our way. Meet us at the airport.”  (My dad is a pilot.)

I had to ask, “But what about…” and before I could finish he said what I can only imagine was God speaking through him to all of us:

“I am making a decision for life.”

There it was. Seven words, spoken through a lump in his throat, teaching his daughter, and really everyone, what it means to trust God with your whole heart.

When it comes down to it, our houses can flood, our cars can be washed away, ending up on someone’s roof or worse, but that is never the essence of life. Our life is more than what we own. Our security is not in our stuff. Our hope is stronger than anything we mucked out after a flood.

My grandpa died in the storm. My dad’s decision for life saved many people’s lives as he supported our family and the rescue and recovery efforts of so many people over the next few years.

A time of crisis can recalibrate our ability to distinguish what matters most by leaning into the promise that God is always with us. Always. With. Us. Make your decision for life.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul… Hebrews 6:19a

 

Responding to a Natural Disaster

A message from Executive Director Peggy Hahn

Storm Update

As you know, many of our LEAD Team have their homes and offices in the Houston area.

We are heartbroken watching the images of Hurricane Harvey and the devastation around our city. In addition, many of us on staff are dealing with the care of our own families and property, and other communities of which we are a part, during the storm.

For this reason, many of the usual ways to contact our LEAD team are less effective this week. If you need to reach us, please use the email lead@waytolead.org  and we will do our best to respond to you as quickly as possible.

Disaster response efforts will not get underway until the rain stops and the water recedes. In the meantime we urge you to generously support Lutheran Disaster Response and the Gulf Coast Synod disaster fund.

Please join us in praying for Corpus Christi and those on the coast who were hit by landfall, the Houston area, and all those affected by Harvey.

Together in Christ,

Peggy Hahn and the LEAD Team

 

Responding to a Natural Disaster

A message from Executive Director Peggy Hahn

Is it hot enough for you?

by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director, LEAD

As leaders, we have our hands on the thermostat when it comes to leading change in our circles of influence and managing the heat may be our number one work.

The perfect temperature is right before the pot starts to boil! (That sweet spot between simmering and boiling over.)

Managing the heat is the practice of adaptive leadership.
And to do this, you need to check the temperature sooner than later.

If your congregation feels complacent or apathetic, chances are there’s not enough heat in the system. A lack of urgency, energy or commitment is a good indicator that it is time to set a stretch goal that engages the heart, encouraging new questions and faith imagination. Congregational systems will always prefer stability but too much stability is more dangerous than too much disequilibrium. In these cases, it is the role of the staff and the council to turn up the heat. A comfortable leadership system is a sign of decline.

If your congregation is racing around and reacting in every direction, it could be time to turn down the heat. Leaders who dig in their heels and insist on their own way, regardless of the cost, usually get burned.

When it gets too hot, leaders forget that people don’t resist change, they resist loss. If the loss is too great or happening too fast, the grief will show up in all kinds of negative ways. This is a pretty good indicator that it is time to cool things off for a while – but not so long that passions grow completely cold (and turn inward).

There is an art to managing the heat and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifiz, Grashow and Linsky can be a really helpful field guide. LEAD coaches are skilled at helping congregational staff discover the best temperature for their congregations, and great at helping them get things warmed up after a cold spell.

The worst thing we can do as leaders is to do nothing at all. Don’t do this alone. Gather a team. Ask for outside support.

Build a coalition of the willing and incrementally crank up the heat. Another resource that may be helpful to you: Leading Through Change: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Rev. Sue Phillips.

Owning My White Privilege
walk with me to the balcony for a minute, please


Sunday night, members of the LEAD team gathered with people in Houston to grieve, pray, reflect and plan for a new future post #Charlottesville. As an organization, we are committed to living our values out loud. We recently shared LEAD’s theological statement, which serves as a foundation for our actions. May leaders of faith around the globe live their values in ways that speak out against injustice and stand up for equality.

By Peggy Hahn, Executive Director – LEAD

What are the odds that I was born in the city of New Orleans with white skin? I don’t need to search the data to know that not only was I in the minority of babies born in the city that year, but that my life’s journey has been shockingly different due to something I had no control over. The skin color we are born with is not a choice, but the way we live in our skin is.

It is sobering to realize that the access I had to a privileged childhood is owed both to my amazing, hard-working, loving parents AND to the color of my skin. The history I was taught in a Lutheran elementary school reflected this privilege. Growing up white in New Orleans made Jackson Square and Robert E. Lee Circle part of a heritage that felt as nostalgic as singing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” cooking gumbo, and going out for beignets. All of this was wrapped up in my family’s love for me, without me ever taking a step onto the balcony to see how this same warm nostalgic experience was oppressive and pain-producing for others.

Over 50 years later, I have gained perspective. I can recognize that the history I was taught was from one point of view and that most of the world has a different view. When I get perspective, it isn’t hard for me to admit that Andrew Jackson and Robert E. Lee are icons of an oppressive culture.

The problem with being in the ethnic majority in our country is that you can get away with ignoring, dismissing, and unintentionally participating in the oppression of others. For many, it is hard to imagine how a statue has the capacity to remind people of the pain they live every day. This does not make that pain invalid or untrue. Coming to terms with this is a heartbreaking and crucial part of being a white leader in the church today.

I didn’t learn about institutional racism until 30 years ago and today I am confessing to you that I am a racist. Maybe you are ready to confess that with me.

I don’t have to worry that when my children are pulled over for speeding they will be harassed, raped or deported. Or even lose their life. Just writing this makes me feel sick because I can’t bear knowing I am part of a system that means other mothers live with this fear every day. But it is true.

Being a female leader brings challenges of its own, but I would be blind if I didn’t see the incredible, and seemingly endless, stereotypes and biases my Latina, Black, Asian, Native American (and this is only naming a few) sisters have to endure.

The recent events in Charlottesville are sickening not only because I reject white supremacy but because I know that I too am complicit by virtue of being white.

It is time for the white church to show up. Why aren’t we a counter movement? We must stand against racism of all kinds. We need to say out loud “God actually made ALL people in God’s image.” God embodies diversity.

Rozella Haydée White, a LEAD consultant, calls us to return to scripture and read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) carefully. LEAD stands with her as she writes:

We will not let the light be overtaken by those who seek to use it to intimidate. We must let the light be what it was meant to be – an illuminator, a guide, a source of comfort…turn to the first sermon of my Lord; the one that turned every system and relationship on its head. Now is the time to embrace and enliven these words. Now is the time to turn everything upside down so that we may be right side up.

Please join me in stepping into the conversation about racism that we have avoided so elegantly. LEAD is committed to the work of ending white supremacy and challenging racism. We are overdue for a heart-to-heart conversation about what it means to be a white Christian. We all need to confess our complicity and grow out of our relational comfort zone. Here is a short list of what you can do now:

  1. Stop permitting racial jokes. Make your life an unsafe space for this kind of profanity.
  2. Stop discounting others because of their skin color, language education, income level, gender or sexuality. Add this to the “off limits” list in every zone of your life, leading by example.
  3. Use this litany from the PCUSA with your leaders. Pray about this together.
  4. Start a small group movement with LEAD’s Work Out resources or a focus on Jesus’s ministry of inclusivity. Create momentum starting with those most open to growth.
  5. Show up at prayer vigils or better yet, lead one in your own congregation.
  6. Build a relationship with someone outside of your ethnic group. Add them to your prayer life.
  7. Worship with people from a different culture.
  8. Introduce yourself to your own neighbors. Keep them in your prayers.
  9. Vote
  10. Teach your children to do the same.

I didn’t choose my skin color.

I can choose how I live in my skin. We all can.

Dying Church?

by Pastor David Hansen,
LEAD’s Director of Communication and Innovation
This blogpost was originally published on David’s blog:
digitalpastor.org

I am always looking for a new book to read – something that will help me to grow both in my own faith and as the pastor of a faith community.

Sometimes when I ask for recommendations, the same book will pop up again and again. I tend to pay attention when the same book gets recommended by friends of very different backgrounds.

Thom Ranier’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church is one of those books. For the last year, it has repeatedly come up in conversation as a highly recommended book. Ranier’s blog also often shows up in my newsfeed, with helpful articles about church leadership. So I am paying attention.

To be clear: I have not read this book yet. It’s on my to-read pile – which is especially tall this year. This is not a review of the substance of this book. 

But I do want to talk about the attitude that seems to underlie the title and promotional materials. Fear.

“12 Ways to Keep Yours [Church] Alive” is the subtitle. “No one wants to see a church die” reads the back cover.

I hear this attitude any time that church leaders gather.

Fear. Worry. Anxiety.

“Our church is dying, how can we keep that from happening?”
“How can we survive?”
“What are the best tools to keep our church from dying?”

This fear is pervasive in many congregations, across geographic and denominational divides. After all, no one wants to see a church die.

To put it bluntly: Fear and the instinct to survive are often the driving emotion behind much congregation leadership.

Fear of Death in the Gospel

Thankfully, we have a lot of advice in Scripture about this sort of thing. Turns out, death has always been a concern for mortals.

Jesus himself began to talk about his death before it happened. Walking along with the disciples, he began to talk about the suffering that he would have to endure.

And Peter has the perfect logical, human response. “God forbid it!” After all, no one wants to see a friend die.

And Jesus said, “Yes! Here are twelve steps to prevent the death of a messiah.”

Or maybe not.

Instead, in the face of Peter’s fear of death, in response to Peter’s survival instinct, Jesus replies “Get behind me, Satan!

What do we imagine Jesus says to the church as we pour energy, enthusiasm, and resources into the work of surviving – the work of avoiding death?

What do we imagine Jesus says to the church as we are wracked with fear and anxiety about avoiding death?

As we fight to keep death away from our churches, are we also keeping away God’s power of resurrection?

From Autopsy to Birth Story

I think it is time for us to change the narrative.

Resurrection people are not afraid of death.

Easter people do not fear the grave.

We know, deep in our bones, that the God whom we worship is the one who brings life out of the grave – in fact, the act of transforming death into life is the defining belief of our faith.

Death does not surprise us. We are not scared of death. We expect death.

Because death is exactly how God brings about new life.

We need fewer autopsies of deceased churches. We need less hand-wringing about dying churches.

What we need are birth stories of resurrected churches. 

We need stories of ministries that have prayed in the garden and seen the darkness of the tomb, and been raised on the other side.

We need to share birth announcements for congregations that have embraced death only to be surprised by meeting the God of resurrection.

I serve a congregation that has seen resurrection, and I know there are others.

Let’s start to tell these stories.
Stories of hope in middle of hopelessness.
Stories of mourning transformed into dancing.
Stories of communities where the joy of Easter is lived, because death and resurrection are a part of the community story.

If we are to be the Body of Christ, we must be a resurrected church!

I’d love to hear your story of a resurrected church. Connect with me on twitter or Facebook.

Joy in Stopping


by Pastor David Hansen, LEAD’s Director of Communication and Innovation

The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “for everything there is a season …”

From time to time, one of the gifts of ministry is healthy stretching. Trying new things. Achieving more than we thought possible. Exploring different ways of doing ministry together.

But at other times, that stretching can be unhealthy. We can become stretched too thin – with too much on the calendar, pulled in too many directions.

During those times when we are stretched too thin, it is good to discover the joy of stopping.

Stopping or pausing a ministry can be a real gift – both to the leaders and to the community. Stopping can be a way to free us up for other opportunities by putting our energy elsewhere. Stopping can also allow us to have healthy boundaries and better energy for the projects that we continue to work on.

This month’s Toolbox invites us to reflect on what it looks like to come to a stopping point.

At LEAD, we also are a growing and learning organization – just like yours! The ideas that we explore for leaders are also how we work in our ministry. With that in mind, we are also exploring the joy of stopping – this will be the last of the monthly Toolbox videos as we focus our energy on some other new and continuing projects.

You can find our archive of over 40 Toolbox videos here.

And make sure to follow our Facebook page to be the first to hear about our new projects.

LEAD Intern Reflection

by Cassandra Nagle, LEAD Intern

My goal as I pursue seminary is to be able to develop as a leader who understands the breadth and depth of Christian ministry. The LEAD Intern program allowed me the opportunity to interact with a church whose ministry partners and congregational leaders taught me about, guided me within, and led me through the beautiful realm that is the Lutheran faith.

Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas is a physically magnificent church. The nave resembles an inverted wooden ship, flanked by a beautiful Bach organ to the north, which serves as a foundation for worship, and by a newly dedicated columbarium to the south, which honors congregational members who have died and emphasizes the declaration that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

The deepest beauty, however, is nestled within the minds of the children at Christ the King, whose knowledge of and excitement about the Gospel struck me to my core. A program called Godly Play is implemented at Christ the King in its Sunday school classes for kids ranging from preschool age to sixth grade. Godly Play leaders present Bible stories to the children in ways which allow them to wonder; they process stories, analyze what is important, question what should or shouldn’t be included, and search for how the story can apply in their own lives. I spent several weeks with kindergarteners and first graders, all of whom not only understand complex Biblical metaphors but also can interpret those metaphors with a contemporary perspective.

Like those six and seven year olds, I would like to take my newfound knowledge of the Gospel, illustrated through Godly Play stories, into the world as I continue my life journey in seminary. It is my hope to be able to keep the Godly Play program in my mind as I continue my studies, learning more about it and seeking ways to apply it to programs for children of all ages as well as for hospitalized or homebound congregational members.

Serving as a LEAD Intern allowed me to view the church from the perspective of a leader rather than as simply a member. I observed much of the work that happens “behind the scenes” in church life – pastoral meetings and visits, planning for Bible studies and youth group, and preparation for worship and special events. As I move forward in my discernment process and prepare to apply to seminary, I pray that I can serve future congregations with the same compassion and grace that was shown to me at Christ the King Lutheran Church.

Developing a Statement of Theology

 

Who We Are, What We Value, and How We Show Up in the World
By Rozella H. White, LEAD Consultant

This past June, LEAD held a three-day retreat that gathered staff from around the country. The LEAD staff is made up of part time, full time, contract, and volunteer staff representing five states and a plethora of experiences. This marked the first time that the staff in its newest configuration gathered. The hope was that the staff would not only spend time getting to know each other but that it would also be a time of discernment, visioning, and planning.

It became abundantly clear leading up to this retreat that LEAD is beginning a new chapter. This new time is marked by a need to be more focused on what LEAD offers and to articulate with clarity what LEAD values, believes, and practices. The staff set out to work on developing a theological statement that reflects who LEAD is, what LEAD values, and why this is important.

LEAD is an organization that practices what it preaches. We never ask clients – individuals, congregations or communities – to do anything we haven’t done or aren’t willing to do ourselves. We are clear that aligning our values and our beliefs is foundational to any work that we undertake. We also believe that keeping these values and beliefs at the forefront guides our practices – our way of being in the world.

LEAD is a faith-based non-profit organization that works with a diverse population of clientele. We value each and every relationship even as we know that differences of opinions exist. As we take the steps to clarify who we are, it is our hope that everyone we partner with also reflects on their values, beliefs, and practices.

LEAD believes that adaptive, spiritual leadership is needed for such a time as this. In order to become leaders with a deep, bold, consequential faith in Jesus that leads us to make a difference in the world, we have to be clear about who we are and what we value. LEAD also believes that our values inform any public statements, stances, or decisions made on the side of justice.

Who we say we are and who we actually are have to be in alignment if we are to fulfill our mission of empowering Christian leaders, transforming faith communities, and influencing the world. Won’t you join us in uncovering your deepest values, beliefs, and practices? The following LEAD Resources can help:

Click here to read our Theological Statement.

The Year in Review – or at least the first half


Did you know that LEAD has been sending out a newsletter every week for over 4 years? It’s true!

And each week, the feature article (200+ at last count) is posted to the LEAD website where you can access them any time.

Here are 2017’s articles to-date. We invite you to revisit your favorites or catch up on ones you may have missed.

We hope you find this helpful!

Christian Leadership articles by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD

Excerpts from LEAD books:

10 Minute Toolbox videos by Pastor David Hansen, Director of Communication & Innovation – LEAD

Reflections

Chicken and Eggs: A Tale of Mindfulness


By Lynn Willis, Spiritual Director – LEAD

A while back, I listened to Chris Markert who is a Lutheran Franciscan – a modern monastic. I asked him about his vow of poverty. What does that look like? Do you, for example, buy the 99 cents per dozen eggs so that you live on the least amount of money? Or the $5 free-range eggs because they are more earth friendly?

His answer, which wasn’t very satisfying to me at the time, was, “Each person must make that decision for themselves.”

I listened to a Rabbi who said, “The kosher food laws are concerned with killing the animal in the least painful way. But modern observant young Jews frequently wish to know that the animal was treated well during its lifetime. So, they are more likely to buy a pasture-raised chicken than go to the kosher butcher.

And then there was the Imam who said that observant Muslims display Revelation mixed with Reason. (no chickens in this example). He said that we need to see the “text in context.”

All three of these people of God observe that God wishes us to be mindful in all our actions. We are called to make thoughtful choices. This is a lot harder than blindly following law or custom. This takes some thought, some prayer, some feelings. It takes an attitude of openness, of listening, of learning.

Jesus teaches us to practice the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law.

So how will I know if I am right? This is where faith, hope, and love take center stage.

Richard Rohr wrote:

I don’t need to be perfectly certain before I take the next step. Now I can trust that even my mistakes will be used in my favor, if I allow them to be. Love is the source and goal, faith is the slow process of getting there, and hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution or closure.

So how much water I use, which foods I choose to eat, which products I purchase, how I interact with other people – all of these and more can remind me of my relationship with God and how God has asked us to live in this world.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Grant me also Lord, the ability to learn and to make thoughtful choices.

In faith, in hope and in love with you, Lord. Amen

Joy in Finding the Right Resources


by Pastor David Hansen, LEAD’s Director of Communication and Innovation

Every ministry leader we know is looking.

Lay or ordained, professional or volunteer, they are all looking.

Looking for one resource or another to help them move to the next step in their ministry.

We know how hard and how frustrating that search can be.

For the last five years, the LEAD team has been talking with ministry leaders, learning from their lessons about ministry, and listening to what resources have helped them.

We know the joy of finding the right resource – the thing that inspires you to look at ministry in a new way, to better understand your context, or the piece of advice that calls you to deeper discipleship.

And we want to share that joy with you. (Check out the July Toolbox video.)

The LEAD team has curated the lessons we have learned – pointing toward existing helpful resources and creating many new ones – all to help you experience the joy of finding the right resource.