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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

New Ideas to Head into the New Decade

I'm still in a bit of a turkey-and-pie-and-too-much-food-in-general coma from Thanksgiving, but as I slowly ease back into some sort of work rhythm, I'm excited to share a few things I came across in the last month. I hope these might give you some ideas and energy as you approach... 2020!

Godspeed. If you want to be totally refreshed and encouraged at a new (which is actually quite ancient) idea for "doing church," set aside 45 minutes or so to watch this. Then watch it with a church staff, or small group, or fellow pilgrims. I LOVED IT. I don't want to say much more. Just watch it.

Wanna Form a Band?! I played in pep and orchestral band in high school (picture me and my flute tooting "Ease On Down the Road" -- or don't...); my brother often plays in cover bands; my mom used to be in a ukulele band.... but sorry, I'm not talking about that kind of band. Good ol' John Wesley, his brother Charles, and George Whitefield started a little accountability and prayer group at Oxford that their friends mockingly called "the Holy Club." But out of that little group eventually emerged massive revival and transformation across England and eventually the US. A core aspect of the movement revolved around these tight little groups, which they called "bands." This link provides a 21st Century approach to forming such a group. Check it.

Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent by Walter Brueggemann. I try to find a poignant, challenging, not-cheesy devotional every year for Advent, and folks, I found a WINNER this year. It's not too late, if you're still looking! Here's a quote that rang my bell:
In Advent, however, we receive the power of God that lies beyond us. This power is the antidote to our fatigue and cynicism. It is the gospel resolution to our spent self-sufficiency, when we are at the edge of our coping. It is the good news that will overmatch our cynicism that imagines there is no new thing that can enter our world. (my underlining) 
Let me know if you get a copy and we can exchange favorite quotes over and over... Brueggemann is such a gift.

Lectionary Poetry. This seems like a gold mine. Take a peek. It certainly tugs at my English major heart.

Final thoughts...
If I'm being honest, I'm a little ambivalent about December... for 11 years, Decembers were spent feverishly preparing for ski or winter camp that happened the week between Christmas and New Year's, and at the same time doing year-end fundraising to end the year in the black, however small that might be. I was always sick and exhausted by the end of the trip. And then for 15 years of working with the church, many preparations were needed for multiple celebrations and services. Often I was in charge of really big stuff like the candles at Christmas Eve (and scraping the spilled wax off the carpet afterward...) and turning off the lights at just the right moment for Silent Night.

What am I getting at? That the Christmas season has not always been easy street for some of us, not the warm, cozy time of Hallmark specials. I don't say that to feel sorry for myself, but to give myself permission (and perhaps a few of you) to not feel pressure to make this the. most. magical. time. of. the. year.

But I still do want to look for beauty and hope in unexpected places. I'll be gentle with myself (and hopefully others!) and keep Brueggemann's words from today's reading in mind:
But let me tell you the news that is proclaimed in Christ’s coming, about which we are reminded at every Communion service: Jesus has turned the world into abundance. God is the gift who keeps on giving, and the people around Jesus are empowered to receive abundance and therefore to act generously... We are recipients of enough and enough and more than enough, enough and enough and more than enough to share.
Have a lovely month of abundance. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

November 2019 News: Healing, Hard Conversations, Handouts and Healthy Spirituality

My work this month introduced me to some excellent resources that I really want to pass along to you. Please let me know if any of them are helpful.

I’m not praying for healing. This one was written by one of my dearest friends. I cannot recommend it enough. Please pass it along to anyone suffering from long-term illness or deep struggle. I think they will find it giving words to something that has been indescribable for them.

How to Handle Difficult Conversations. Both in my decades of ministry and in my current life of consulting in the private sector, I find this topic comes up so many times. This is a valuable one to keep handy. And while you're at it, bookmark the Psychology Today website. There are often surprisingly good resources there, written in accessible, non-threatening terms.

Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) Free Library. I am ALL about free goodies and there is some great stuff here. I know the folks at FYI and this website is solid gold.

Healthy Spirituality. OK, this is actually more of a topic than one resource because I found so many good articles this month. Check these out!

  • Leaving (My) Church. SO MANY conversations rolled around in my head as I read this one. You may find yourself nodding your head at times as you read it.
  • Is American Christianity Really In Free Fall? I especially appreciate this one because it is written by one of the great scholars of world Christianity, Philip Jenkins. He offers some excellent reflections on methodology in terms of the research coming out and also on how we are to understand how we measure our faith identity in the 21st-century. For example: "Here is an interesting question: if someone believes in God, prays frequently, reads the Bible, and regards themselves as Christian, but rejects a denominational affiliation – even something as broad as Protestant or Catholic – should they properly be counted as Christian? I would say so, unequivocally."
  • The (Successful) Pursuit of God: Family, Work, Ministry, and the Ghost of A.W. Tozer. Holy cow, this one is a humdinger. Take some time to read this once, then again. It is worth a discussion with staff and colleagues. And it is so beautifully written, to boot.
I'll finish with these wise words from one of my heroes, Walter Brueggemann:
“Humanness depends on being faithfully heard. And being faithfully heard depends on risky speech of self-disclosure uttered in freedom before a faithful listener.” 

Thanks for reading. You can find more of my leadership development resources at my other blog, https://www.ksleadershipdevelop.me, and on my resource drive, KSLD Resources. Contact me with questions, comments and feedback at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.me

Sunday, October 6, 2019

October 2019 Update: Millennials, Middle Schoolers and Milestones

Two different conversations with pastors this week have got me thinking about all the different ways those in vocational ministry walk through the multiple stages of life with people. One pastor asked me for my thoughts on how to recruit interns (and let me tell you, I have a LOT of opinions about that!) and the other reflected with me on the challenges of shepherding elderly members well.

With those conversations in mind, here are some resources that proved useful in my work with clients in the past month...

The Millennial Existential Experience. I know, I know, there have been So. Many. Articles. About. Millennials. How could there possibly be one more?! Well, I feel like this one provides a different take. I started following this blogger after his reading his book The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church (which I recommend highly, PS). This particular blog post lists some pertinent stuff regarding the profound anxiety that younger generations are experiencing. For the sake of confidentiality I will be spare in my details, but in recent conversations with college students, I was truly shaken by the prevalence of struggles they faced with mental health, family pressures and a general sense of being overwhelmed by their futures. Take a few minutes and reflect on this one.

Turning 60. Now we swing to another ring further along the monkey bars of life...  This sentence in the first paragraph grabbed my attention: "here are a few things turning 60 in 2019—the Barbie doll, Etch a Sketch, the commercial copier, the microchip, transpacific flights, Alaska and Hawaii as states." YIKES. That hits a bit close to home! The author provides three really helpful, thought-provoking suggestions for navigating the big 6-0 and more importantly, how to age intentionally. This will provide some good conversation fodder, I promise.

Tell Me More. As a graduate of Fuller Seminary and former youthworker, I am impressed by these resources that I came upon recently.  I HIGHLY recommend that you pass them along to parents, teachers, and youth ministry leaders:

Each of them come with a nifty, concise PDF download of the questions from the articles. PS I would pass these along to parents of pre-teens (tweens? I don't know the right term...) as well. Preparing parents of adolescents when their students are actually adolescents is pretty much too late! Let's get crackin'!

This says it all.
“Those who are weak have great difficulty finding their place in our society. The image of the ideal human as powerful and capable disenfranchises the old, the sick, the less-abled. For me, society must, by definition, be inclusive of the needs and gifts of all its members. How can we lay claim to making an open and friendly society where human rights are respected and fostered when, by the values we teach and foster, we systematically exclude segments of our population? I believe that those we most often exclude from the normal life of society, people with disabilities, have profound lessons to teach us. When we do include them, they add richly to our lives and add immensely to our world.”
―Jean Vanier, Becoming Human
Thanks for reading... feel free to pass this along to others. Contact me with feedback and questions at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.me. And check out my other blog while you're at it, devoted to leadership development in the marketplace, at https://www.ksleadershipdevelop.me/

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Sept 2019 Update: Pastors in the 21st Century, Prosperity and Pursuit of the Good Life

I heard an argument on a podcast today between a woman who claimed that September 1 signals the end of summer, while someone else insisted on the Autumnal Equinox.  All I know is that #PSL is already available at Starbucks, so there you have it!

I had a GREAT August full of bike rides, travels, fresh produce and interesting work. As always, I came across many outstanding resources I want to share with you.

What is the Good Life? I went to a tremendous conference at Pepperdine University hosted by the Yale Center for Faith & Culture titled "Pedagogy of the Good Life." (Here's an article about the Center from the Huffington Post.) 

Turns out there are several amazing courses being taught around the country that explore the question, "What is the Good Life?" I believe this is our most pressing task for the church (creating dialogue and discipleship around this question). So many young adults I know are asking some form of this question. Will the Church be brave enough to truly engage this sort of dialogue? That's what I wanted to explore at this conference, and I was not disappointed. I found the discussions and presentations throughout the week utterly riveting. Here are just a smidgen of the resources I found:

  • Life Worth Living curriculum. The faculty generously make their syllabus available publicly. Truly, I find their approach really intriguing. And it is the MOST popular class at Yale; so many students want to take this class that they have to actually require applications for taking the course! Here is the 7-week course they've created for adults as well. 
  • God and the Good Life. An equally amazing course (and just as popular) is being taught at Notre Dame. First of all, the tech design of this syllabus is breathtaking! Think about adapting this and using it with a small group or perhaps even (gasp!) as a sermon series. I love the home page of this course as well.
  • Let Me Ask You a Question. This book was written by Matthew Croasmun, one of the creators of the Life Worth Living course at Yale. Bottom line: I BELIEVE in this book as a truly outstanding discipleship tool. Just buy it and try it out.

The Challenge of Being a Pastor in a Secular Age. The third sentence of this article caught my attention: "'I’ve been a pastor for 15 years, and most days I have no idea what I’m doing. It makes me nauseous,' he continued." I have had that conversation with so. many. pastors. The article continues: "He’s not alone. I find myself talking with more and more pastors stricken with uneasy nausea and fatigue that they can’t name. It’s as though their calling has been stripped of meaning... We now live in a time where the very idea that God is real and present in our lives is no longer accepted. Indeed, it’s widely contested. Belief has been made fragile -- for the pastor as much as for those in the pews." This article won't solve our existential questions, but I find great encouragement in seeing them put into words.

A New Kind of Prosperity Gospel. I am fascinated by how our world is seeking to scratch our need for meaning and purpose. Recently I came across two articles that examine this in very interesting ways. Check this quote from Relevant Magazine: "The Prosperity Gospel is no longer houses, cars, money and health. The New Prosperity Gospel is a hip city and a follower count that ends with a K." The other article was in the New York Times: The New Spiritual Consumerism. We MUST stay attuned to our culture. These articles are helpful roadmaps.

Books I'm Reading. Other than seeing some BEAUTIFUL places (this was the view from the AirB&B I stayed at in Maine with my best friend!) and eating some great food (hello lobster and Whoopie Pies!), my favorite vacation activity is the freedom to read to my heart's content. Here are some of the things I've been reading:
Final thoughts. These words are remaining with me still despite reading them several days ago. Let them sink in:
What is in ruins? The invisible church, composed of all Spirit-baptized persons, is indefectible, it cannot be ruined; against it "the gates of Hades shall not prevail." The local assembly may indeed be sadly ruined; but it can be restored, as, by the grace of God, has been seen times without number--at Corinth, for example. The only other institution in question is that agglomeration of sects that is called "Christendom." But that is unrecognized by the New Testament--it is not of God at all: and that it is "in ruins" is no matter for our regret.
    ... G. H. Lang (1874-1958)
Feel free to pass this along to friends, and reach out to me with questions or feedback at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.meHappy end of Summer 2019 ~ may your fall be a lovely one!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

August 2019 Resources: Attendance, Academia, Apps & Addiction to Power

Hope your summer has offered respites from work in some new and surprising ways. I got home late last night from the Rose Bowl, where a bunch of us reveled in the victory tour of the US Women's National Soccer Team. It was a hoot, and I celebrated halfway through with a bacon-wrapped hot dog! #noshame

In the midst of fun has been plenty of work too, and here are some great resources I've stumbled upon during those times.

How to attend a conference without feeling overwhelmed. In mid-July I participated in an international, quadrennial conference for my denomination in Orlando, Florida. The heat was oppressive and the air conditioning cranked on overload, but what was most challenging was the multi-tasking! Between the "how-are-you's" and meetings and over-stimulation of twice-daily worship times, I felt flooded as I tried to also serve as a delegate for important discussions around racism, poverty and injustice AND run a 3-day focus group on leadership development.  Some of the suggestions in this article didn't apply to my experience (I couldn't NOT stay at the conference hotel), but I give a giant YES and HALLELUJAH to the third suggestion of planning for downtime. This is a gamechanger. I repeat, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO NOT GO TO EVERYTHING. I have another conference this week (in Malibu, CA, thankyouverymuch) and I've already mapped out my breaks. #justdoit.

Jesus, Judaism & Christianity. I am always on the hunt for more academic input to keep those intellectual, theological and spiritual juices flowing. This is a fascinating interview from a Jewish NT scholar who teaches at a seminary, on interpreting the Jewishness of Jesus. And while you're in learning mode, listen as well to this informative podcast from Harvard Business Review on the history of US involvement in Central America titled The Controversial History of United Fruit. It helps to explain the massive instability now existing in Central America and explains some of the reasons for the migrant crisis south of our border. It is crucial that we understand and educate others about the context around this huge and divisive issue.

These 5 free apps make it easy to improve your writing. I finished teaching a class in June at Westmont College and was reminded once again that the majority of people do not know how to write coherent sentences. (Yes, I'm a snobby former-and-eternal English major.) But being a good writer is a commitment, and there are some great resources available here.

Power & Wise Boundaries. I just listened to this yesterday from Pete Scazzero. Apparently there is a worksheet available with it (he explains that at the beginning). I would HIGHLY recommend this for a staff meeting or mentoring.

Quotes that moved me this month.
“The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless. In contemplation we catch a vision of not only what is, but what can be. Contrary to what we have thought, contemplatives are the great doers." 
--Gordon Cosby, Founder of Church of the Saviour
"In his spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote that the single most important concern of the soul is to seek and accept the present moment." 
--Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits 
"Our union with God--his presence with us, in which our aloneness is banished and the meaning and full purpose of human existence is realized -- consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are each consistently and deeply engaged as his friend and co-laborer in the affairs of the kingdom of the heavens." 
--Dallas Willard 
Blessings to you! Feel free to pass this along to others. Contact me at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.me with questions or comments. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

I'm Back! Resources for July 2019

I have allowed this website to go dormant for a while as I have been developing resources in leadership development for my marketplace consulting clients. You can find that website at KS Leadership Development.

Nevertheless, I am still working with some churches and want to share some great stuff I've been reading and using. Here goes!

The Benefits of BrokennessA dear friend and colleague of mine turned me on to this author's website quite a while ago. I really value his reflections and often uses resources with my marketplace clients as well. He has a great understanding of holistic, healthy, humble leadership. I especially liked his references to "leadership with a limp" in this post.

Centering Prayer with Cynthia BorgeaultI listen to podcasts like it's my job. Seriously, I probably listen to at least three a day. I can be brushing my teeth, exercising, or making dinner, and I will be listening to a podcast. This one comes from one of my favorites and I will confess that I might like it just because the hosts are British and I'm a sucker for accents. But this particular interview has stayed with me for quite a while.

Embracing a Post-Christian AmericaWhen I am not listening to podcasts I can often be thinking about what it means to work with younger generations. If you know me at all you know that I have spent my entire career working with young people directly, first as a youth pastor and then as a college instructor. I really feel like the American church is missing the boat with this generation and it breaks my heart. This particular blog is one that I follow to help stir the pot in terms of my thinking. He wrote an intriguing book a few years ago titled The New Copernicans.  I think it does a good job of exploring the mindset of younger adults and cultural trends globally.

What am I reading? Like my podcasts, I tend to work on more than one book at a time. Here is what is cooking:

Thanks for reading. Send me your thoughts, feedback and questions at kelly.soifer@ksleadershipdevelop.me.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Art of Mentoring, Part One

I have been asked to provide a workshop on mentoring in the 21st century for an upcoming conference in March, so in I decided to post two simple questions on Facebook in preparation:
Have you been mentored well? 
What were some of the qualities of that mentoring relationship that were most effective?
Frankly, I am surprised that I did this because in the past, I have posted questions on Facebook, and despite having 1,800+ "friends," have received minimal response. (Then again, I get the most likes and commentary for an occasional photo of my cat, so...)  

Nevertheless, I have been greatly encouraged by the depth and quality of feedback these latest questions have prompted. The variety has been wonderful: both men and women responded in equal measure, from fresh college grads to septuagenarians.

Some pithy quotes:
 The person thought me capable of more than I thought I was.

They lived and let me watch them do it.

Vulnerability and authenticity for sure. The ability to be myself. Both encouragement and critique -- always refining what can be better while affirming what I'm doing well. Sometimes I need to be pushed!

Regular quantity and quality time—holistic in nature: we discussed everything (faith, theology, marriage, work, plumbing, gardening, etc).

In this stage of life for me (young kids and plenty of chaos at home) I have seen the “walk along side of me” way become really meaningful.

I enjoyed each and every response, but my greatest takeaway was simple: clearly I had touched a chord. The earnest and beautiful replies demonstrated a great thankfulness and affection for their mentors. It was obvious that the mentoring had met and deep and tangible needs:

  • to be loved unconditionally; 
  • to be known;
  • to be noticed; 
  • to be believed in; 
  • to be challenged;
  • to have mutual vulnerability and exchange;
  • to have a consistent presence.

Having been mentored well myself, and then having had the privilege of mentoring others over three decades, my most pressing questions relate to what is needed now in mentoring (especially with young adults), and what truths remain constant. All too often I see leaders tend to lean on methods and approaches that worked effectively in the past without examining whether current dynamics and contexts require new pathways.

I will save that for another post, as I keep mining the wisdom of others and reflect more on my own experience. Feel free to post your thoughts.