Bishop Mike Rinehart
Churches can be anxious systems. In particular, small congregations with rising building maintenance and health care expenses feel the pinch. Desperation sets in. People stiffen up, becoming less flexible at a time when adaptability is absolutely necessary. Leaders are the immunity system of the organization. What we say can perpetuate the anxiety in the system or calm it. Here are some phrases that will calm them, and perhaps you too.
1. “Can we pray about this together?”
We are a praying people. Churches that pray together make better decisions. Be sure to leave some time for silent prayer. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
2. “I love you.”
It calms congregational leadership to know that the pastor and leaders care deeply about them and about the ministry of the congregation.
3. “Let’s take a five-minute break to think about this.”
When making decisions, sometimes people just need a time out. Go for a short walk.
4. “This is Christ’s church.”
Pope John XXIII is reputed to have prayed at night: “Lord, this is your church, not mine. I am tired. Good night.” Leaders need to know the Spirit is at work. It doesn’t all rest on their shoulders.
5. “Why do you think that is?”
Getting leaders to focus on why people say and do the things they do often leads to helpful insights.
6. “What are you afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Naming the fears often takes their power away. People sometimes discover their worst fears aren’t as bad as they thought. Quell the amygdala (the fight or flight center of the brain) by discussing the threats and fears that stand in the way. Discuss the likelihood of the worst scenario actually happening. “Being able to talk about our frustrations and worries openly, without fear of retribution, is the first step toward building and sustaining trust.” Judith Glaeser
7. “We are an unstoppable team.”
Reinforce for people they are not alone. If people feel part of a team, they feel empowered.
8. “Jesus had twelve, and apparently that was one too many.”
It’s easy for leaders to think they don’t have people (or money). Jesus changed the world with a small group. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
9. “Let’s dream together.”
Dreaming together pulls people up when they are stuck in trapped thinking. Vision is the antidote to hopelessness. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18
10. “I’m excited about…”
When people are focused on the worst, invite them to refocus on the best.
11. “Let’s bookmark this fear for a bit. We can come back to it later.”
Setting a worry aside for a moment doesn’t mean you’re neglecting it permanently. Letting go of it for a moment helps people think creatively.
12. “What would you like me to do with this information?”
Sometimes people just need to vent. Leaders assume they have to act; sometimes we get hooked by what we imagine is expected of us to do. Leaders can listen to concerns without getting caught up in the anxiety.
13. “Let’s find out what others have done.”
Rather than act on supposition, invite people to investigate. Knowledge and understanding can bring peace and confidence. Learning from others’ experiments can inspire new thinking.
14. “Let’s try it for 6-8 weeks.”
Groups reject innovative, potentially problem-solving ideas because they are afraid they will lose what was, forever. If they know something is just an experiment, and if it doesn’t work, things can go back, they’re more willing to be flexible and try things out.
15. “Let’s paint a picture of the church God is calling us to be.”
Give people paper. Let them draw or write. Imagination moves people out of a rut, and invites them to articulate their hopes and dreams.
16. “I worry about that too..”
Let people know you’re human. Let them know they are not alone in how they feel.
17. “Let’s sing.”
“The devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles, flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.” Martin Luther
Once you’ve imagined the worst possible outcome of the worry, talk about the likelihood of that worst possible situation happening. Next, ask about the best possible outcome. Finally, ask them about the most likely outcome. The goal of this exercise is to help them think more accurately during their anxious experience.
18. “What would Jesus do.”
Some make fun of this phrase, but it’s actually a helpful tool to bring us back to our identity in Christ. Invite people to consider Jesus and his ministry. How do you imagine Jesus would respond to this situation given your reading of the gospels?
19. “If we could accomplish one thing this year, what would it be?”
People can feel overwhelmed with the immensity of the various challenges. Help them focus on one thing where they can make a difference, when they see results that will generate excitement.
20.“Let’s list our strengths.”
We sometimes over focus on what is wrong. Asset mapping helps us see what is right. It allows us to use our greatest strengths to address our biggest challenges.
21. “You rock. I am proud of you.”
People need to know their leaders appreciate them. Catch them doing something right and praise them for it. Make sure your positive messages outweigh your negative ones 10:1.
22. “How can I help?”
This reminds people they are not in this alone and gives you important information. Ask what your people need from you.
23. “Others are facing this.”
Help them see their challenges are not unique. They are part of a larger shift in society.
24. “Let’s do something amazing together this year.”
Instead of focusing them on what isn’t working, create something that does work, that makes the problems irrelevant or less relevant.
25. ”Let’s stack the deck.”
Invite leaders to set up efforts to succeed by stacking events to create energy. (For example, first communion on Maundy Thursday may ensure a good turnout for First Communion, while also a good turnout for Maundy Thursday.)
26. “If Christ is for us, who can be against us?”
It never hurts to call upon scriptural promises from Romans 8.
27. “Let’s do something really fun this year.”
Laughter lightens the soul. People want to part of communities with joy. Find delight in each other and people will come to join in the fun.