Faithful HR

Practicing HR from an Anabaptist faith perspective


Let It Go

There is a story of a congregation in New York that stopped all of its church programs just before 9/11.  After some discernment, they felt that the Holy Spirit was calling them to let go of their programs and stockpile blankets, toothbrushes and candles. They felt a little crazy, but did it anyway.  By the time 9/11 came, they were well prepared to meet the needs of their community.

Letting go is hard, because that thing, relationship, program or project is so enjoyable, and to let it go truly is a loss.  But if we do not let go of the old, we cannot make room for the new.

November 29th marks the end of the church calendar year.  It is a time when we say goodbye to the dear ones who have left us.  I think it is also a good time to take stock of our lives and determine what we need to let go of.

Sometimes we see that something is working very well for a period and we institutionalize it.  “Things should always be done this way from now on.”  The problem is, this institutionalization can outlive the goodness of the program.  Then we become complacent, and even rigid, in how we do things.

Many of us have a hard time with endings.  But a faith group should regularly assess what needs to be discontinued and mourned.  Leaders should program this into their regular cycles.  Is it time to say goodbye to a dear program, even though it still has some good left in it, because it is time to do something new?

So I too am letting go to make room for the new.  This is my last blog post on Faithful HR.  It has been an awesome three years.  I have learned so much, and am very grateful to my colleagues Elsie Rempel and Deborah Froese, both great writers who helped me learn and grow through their advice and editing services.  And I am thankful to you for reading this and for your encouragement over the years.  I will miss connecting with you in this way.


1 Comment


The Mennonite faith emphasizes the importance of community.  And so today I am sharing a few favourite quotes about the community that we call church.

We have given too much attention to church as the passing on of an inheritance of the past and too little to church as an anticipation of God’s future – Bishop Graham Cray

The church works perfectly…until people show up – Scott McKnight

God puts the pieces of our brokenness together with the pieces of other broken lives. We shatter alone, but we are restored in community – Jamie Arpin-Ricci



I got to work and realized I didn’t have my office keys.  A small thing for many, but for me it was a wake-up call.  I never forget my keys.  When I do it is a sure sign of stress, and that something has to change.

We all experience times when we have to “put the pedal to the metal” and get things done.  But sometimes what should belong to a period of our lives becomes a way of living, and we find ourselves stressed with no end in sight.  Unchecked, stress and anxiety can lead to a sensory overload that will eventually drain our emotional, physical and mental stamina.  We become depleted and disengaged – better known as burnout.

We don’t always realize what is happening, but there are common signs that accompany the road from stress to total burnout.  For me, it is prolonged forgetfulness.

Burnout sneaks up on you, so it is important to recognize your stress indicators.  Check out for a helpful list of common signposts of stress.

Once you recognize your signs, take action, no matter how small, to change your situation.  Nourish your body with sleep, good food and exercise.  Do something you enjoy.  Talk to someone.  Intervention now will prevent a more serious problem in the long run.

Difficult Conversations

Our emotions are good and useful, but sometimes they can overwhelm us and hijack conversations. This leads to difficult conversations.

Somehow we need to identify our emotions and separate them from the topic of discussion.  How do we do this?  Paradoxically, by connecting to the other person emotionally.

Joseph Grenny calls these crucial conversations.  He says that the first 30 seconds of your conversation will set the tone for the rest of the exchange.  If you can first help the other person know that you care about their problem and that you care about them, you have a 97% chance of a positive outcome.

See his video at for an excellent lesson on how this works.

Peace and grace to you and Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers!


Feeling Safe?

I was drafting a crisis procedures manual for work and came across this statement:  “Safety is not a feeling”.

Yet many people I know enter high-risk situations without too much precaution because they “feel safe”.  Others almost never feel safe and become overly-cautious, afraid of statistically improbable risks.

In fact, many of us base our decisions on how safe we feel and not on objective facts.

We can attribute this to how our brains are wired.  We may adopt a prevention- or a promotion-based focus in our decision making.

If we have a prevention focus, we will strive to maintain what has been already gained.  We will be careful and diligent, aiming to preserve the status quo, minimize loss and prevent anything bad from happening.  If we have a promotion focus, we will attempt to win a new gain by keeping our eyes focused on the prize.  We will be creative and visionary, ignoring the risks along the way because the reward will be worth it.  (for more see

Both ways of focusing have advantages and disadvantages – one can seem too stick-in-the-mud conservative, and one can seem too bleeding-heart liberal.   Or one can seem wise and prudent, and one can seem ingenious and innovative.

Faith groups contain both perspectives, but most of us lean heavily towards prevention because it “feels safe”.  Yet in order to learn we have to engage in risk-taking, because moving towards something new is a risk and requires courage.  The good news is, we can train ourselves to focus on positive outcomes and invite more reward into our lives.

Which way do you lean in the important areas of your life?  When would risking more be a good choice?  Can we strike up a balance between the two outlooks within our faith communities?


Seven Tips for a Successful Orientation

Staff turnover is measured as the amount of people who voluntarily quit their jobs in a given year.  HR wisdom says that low staff turnover is a good measure of staff cohesiveness, happiness and productivity.

One way to promote low staff turnover is to provide a good orientation to the job and the workplace.  Research shows that a good orientation significantly impacts a worker’s longevity on the job by reducing their anxiety, introducing them to the staff culture, and getting them up to speed on their work.

Don’t know where to start?  Here are a seven tips to keep in mind when you are orienting new members to your group:

  1. Before the person starts, you should provide them with the following:
    1. Job description (this really should be provided when you advertise the job – if you didn’t then, give them one now)
    2. Salary and benefits outline (details can be discussed when you meet)
    3. Where to park, and any associated costs
    4. Hours of operation, break times
  2. A person should begin on a day when their supervisor will be present and able to spend some time with them – preferably first thing.  It can be a welcome chat, or a more in-depth discussion, depending on your needs.
  3. Start with a tour, and start the tour with where the bathrooms are! Anxiety can go sky-high when we don’t get our basic physical needs met.  The second thing to show them is where to put their lunch and coat.
  4. Introduce them to everybody, and then make arrangements to celebrate their first day with the group – a coffee time is a great way to introduce them to the people in the office.
  5. Arrange for computer access and any passwords required, show them how the photocopier works, and issue them keys.
  6. Provide them with organizational details – flow charts, phone lists, and anything else that will help them to understand the structure of the group they are working with.
  7. Alternate periods of instruction with more physical activities and office time so that the person can better absorb the information. For example, follow a tour with a more in-depth orientation to the job responsibilities, followed by a period of desk time.


Pain and Forgiveness

If you do not transform you pain, you will transmit it – Richard Rohr

Forgiveness.  How can we do it?

According to Rob Voyle, the problem is that most people don’t know how to do it (

As he points out, forgiveness is not about reconciliation with another person (although that may eventually happen too).  Forgiveness is an internal process that takes place in the individual.  It requires us to refuse to go back and insist that another person should have behaved in a certain way.

Rob believes that it is important for faith leaders to help teach people how to forgive.  A few days ago I received this excellent prayer from Richard Rohr’s daily meditation (  It offers one way to practice forgiveness.

The Welcoming Prayer

Earlier this week, I wrote about how [St.] Francis entered pain and suffering rather than trying to avoid it. This wasn’t an act of moral achievement or heroic obedience. It didn’t feel like winning, but more like losing, dying, and letting go. The religious word for letting go is forgiveness. Forgiveness is giving up your investment in and identification with your own painful story. This comes from a deep place of inner freedom and awareness of goodness–God’s, your own, and the goodness of the person you choose to forgive.

I’d like to offer you a form of prayer–a practice of letting go and forgiving–called The Welcoming Prayer.

First, identify a hurt or an offense in your life. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt and feel them the way you first felt them. Notice how this shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into the mind and its dualistic games of good-guy/bad-guy, win/lose, either/or.

After you can identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop splitting and blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard to do, but for some reason, when we name it, feel it, and welcome it, transformation can begin.

Don’t lose presence to the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into attachment to your ego self. The reason a bird sitting on a hot wire is not electrocuted is quite simply because it does not touch the ground to give the electricity a pathway. Hold the creative tension, but don’t ground it by thinking about it, critiquing it, or analyzing it.

When you’re able to welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human–and also what it means to be divine. You can hold this immense pain because you too are being held by the very One who went through this process on the Cross. Jesus was holding all the pain of the world, at least symbolically or archetypally; though the world had come to hate him, he refused to hate it back.

Now hand all of this pain–yours and the world’s–over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness of the person who hurt you, of the event that offended you, of the reality of suffering in each life.

I can’t promise the pain will leave easily or quickly. To forgive is not to forget. But letting go frees up a great amount of soul-energy that liberates a level of life you didn’t know existed. It leads you to your True Self.

Adapted from The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 6 (CD)

I will be taking a summer break from blogging and be back in fall.

Until then, have a wonderful summer, and thanks for reading!  Kirsten


Just Stop

Three days of enforced sitting last weekend – a graduation, a funeral, a 2 day symposium and a lot of driving in and out of town – took its toll.  Pleased with myself that I had stood up frequently at the conference and had no muscle fatigue, I woke up Sunday morning feeling different.  By Monday it was clear that I had a pinched nerve.  By Wednesday my work colleagues were mentioning the look of strain in my face.  I finally broke down and made a physiotherapy appointment.  A great inconvenience, taking time and energy, but it was clear I was not going to get better if I didn’t change what I was doing.

Stress tends to sneak up on us in the same way.  Taught to push through obstacles, it can be difficult for us to see that anything is wrong.  Especially when we are engaged in doing good things.  But stress, both positive and negative, can accumulate if we do not pay attention.  My body was reminding me that I couldn’t sustain one position for an unlimited amount of time, even if the reasons for doing so were good ones.  My colleagues were helping me to acknowledge that there was something wrong and that it was time to attend to it.  I am grateful to both my body and my community for helping me to identify that there was a problem.  Left to my own devices, I would probably have ignored the signs and done more damage.

Sometimes we need to be reminded by others to stop and change our position.  From an HR perspective it is important to check in with staff routinely to identify stressors and see if they are accumulating in an unhealthy way.  If you are a member of a board or council responsible for staff oversight, make plans to check in with your workers regularly.  Help them to name the issues and make any necessary adjustments.

Because sometimes we just can’t do it on our own.

Faith, Hope & Love

It feels like a good day for a quote or two.  Here are three on faith, hope and love.  Enjoy your day!  Kirsten


“Some things have to be believed to be seen.”
― Madeleine L’Engle


“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
G.K. Chesterton


“Many years ago a friend of mine, Kevin O’Niel made a very profound comment …

The difference between the love of God and the love of man is that man loves people or things because they are precious: but God simply loves us – and by loving us makes us precious.”
― Kevin KingTransformed by Love: The Story of the Song of Solomon

Facebook and Faith

I was forced to sign up for Facebook.  We were sending young adults to the Radical Journey mission program, and the only way to keep up with what the participants were doing was to follow them on Facebook.

Always a little reluctant to include more media in my life, I signed up and told everybody that I didn’t want any friends.  After a while, I asked two work colleagues to be my friends so that I could learn how to be a friend.  Then I bought an IPad.  Now I am an active participant, using it almost daily.

What is it that led me down this media road and keeps me plugged in?  Several things:

  • In the past, I relied on my elders to pass family news by phone to all of the cousins. Now, I must be on Facebook to find out if someone is having a baby or getting married or preparing for a funeral.
  • I’ve reconnected with cousins and reunited with a long-lost friend through a news report.
  • I am able to share a laugh or a concern with my old friends, and
  • I have made new friends and connections.

I am also very aware of the perils of social media.  We know it has an impact on emotional health, but we are not sure to what extent yet.  Especially for young people living in this virtual time world, the pressures are enormous.  There is no way around it; whatever you post projects an image, so by necessity users are all engaging in image control.  Some people have told me that when they are on for too long they think that other people are having a better life than they are, and it becomes discouraging.  Being a social media user can trigger negative emotions, lower self-esteem and incite feelings of depression.  It has even led to suicides.

If faith groups are to understand the cultural climate and social pressures that people are facing today, we must not only explore, but experience, what it is like to participate in social media.  Faith leaders need to be online to comprehend today’s culture and what our members are experiencing.  There is no way around it; if you want to be able to connect with your people, you need to engage in this new reality.

So don’t be reluctant like I was. Pick something, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and get involved.  Take a slow journey if you need to, but do connect.


Thank You?

This weekend I got thanked by my family for doing a job that I consider to be mine.  It was nice to be thanked, but it took me aback. As I wondered about why I should or should not have been thanked it got me thinking about faith families and how they view their work.

Are members of our faith family volunteers?  Or, are they responding to needs in their faith family as a matter of course, as we do with our biological families?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.  When we join a faith group we commit to serving in it. Hopefully we use our gifts to contribute to the life and work of the group.

In both kinds of families it is easy to feel taken for granted if we go too long without a thank you of some kind. Everyone can afford to encourage others with a thank you.

April is Volunteer Appreciation month, a good time to say thank you to all of the people who make our lives better by being in it with contributions of all kinds.

So thank you to all of my readers.  When I feel that I should stop blogging, your support, likes and notes to me keep me going.  You are greatly appreciated!

Blessings, Kirsten

Sexual Shame & the Church – Part 2

Faith groups are not immune to sexual abuse.  In fact, they often create situations which invite abuse – situations that promote unquestioning trust and power imbalances in the guise of leadership. They may also be reluctant to admit that the group is made up of imperfect people, for fear that it will affect their witness.
Abuse can happen between staff, volunteers, and in the homes of congregational members who are vulnerable.  How do we reconcile the spiritual integrity of a faith community with these horrendous abuses of the vulnerable?

Silence about these issues in the life of a congregation or church institution can create a culture where sexual shame and abuse can thrive.  Discussion of these issues can break through these barriers and ultimately lead to healthier faith groups.  In my own faith group we have a blog from the U.S. called Our Stories Untold , a “website created as a safe and open space to discuss sexualized violence within spiritual communities (more specifically, the Mennonite Church)”.  Barbra Graber, an editor of the blog, outlines what faith groups can do to work to break the cycle of abuse in our faith congregations (see  for the full list).

Barbra has three suggestions that faith groups can follow immediately.
  • Men should learn more about sexual violence against women and take steps to address it in their own communities.
  • Peace and justice educators should make clear that sexual violence is an issue of equal concern as war and public violence.
  • Church leaders should speak out on sexual violence in sermons and in their congregational life, to enable public conversation to address private violence.

Is your faith group discussing this?  If so, how are they doing it?

Sexual Shame & the Church – Part 1

Two weeks ago our denomination’s seminary held a special day of lament and apology around the sexual abuse perpetrated by one of its leaders (see  It was conducted in a manner similar to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (, which had survivors tell their stories to the leaders of the system that abused and shamed them.

Many of us look back on the situations that led to such events and think, “Why didn’t they – do something?  -know that it was wrong? –stop the abuse?”  We can be quite clear on how things should have happened, but our response to current-day events can be just as blind, even wilfully so, when we feel threatened.

Our instinct is to look away from things that disturb us, especially when there is a sexual element.  It can trigger anxiety, embarrassment and a defensive stance.  It may uncover our own sexual shame.  For most of us, it takes training and practice to be able to speak about such things calmly and non-defensively.

Why do faith leaders need to talk about this?  If we don’t, we inadvertently create conditions that allow the violence and the shame to grow.  Down the road, we too may be faced with legal and moral battles, trying to apologize for acts of omission in our duty.

The good news is that we can do a lot to dismantle these unhealthy structures and help people to heal just by talkingSexual Shame: An Urgent Call to Healing by Karen A. McClintock (available for loan from CommonWord ) is an excellent resource for faith leaders looking to do this. Because when faith leaders help their congregants break the silence and talk about sexual shame and abuse, we are one step closer to creating healthy congregations.




Vocation.  That sense of deep calling to pursue a particular life path.  For some it may be a choice to embark on a particular career, for others it may be to marry that particular person.  Have you ever felt called to something?  Last year I had a strong and persistent sense that I should return to school to study counseling.  Now in the middle of my second course, I find myself reflecting back on that time.  Here are some quotes about vocation for your own reflection.

“Let us not forget that every person has a vocation.  All vocations need to be fostered, for each person has something unique to contribute in God’s plan.”        Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

“You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.” ― W. H. Auden

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” ― Parker J. Palmer

“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” ― Thomas Merton

“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” ― Frederick Buechner

Aligning Gifts & Roles

It always fascinates me how somebody can absolutely love a part of their job that makes others moan.  At the office we have a position that requires the scheduling of church speaking engagements for mission workers returning to Canada.  This entails booking all travel details and coordinating schedules so that the mission workers travel in a smooth flow across the country.  Often scheduling conflicts erupt, once the myriad of details are in place, which leads to reviewing and altering the entire travel schedule.  Most see this as a scheduling nightmare.

But not my coworker.  She was born to do this job.  She sees the scheduling conundrums as an exciting challenge, a never-ending puzzle to be solved.  She loves her job!

You may know of somebody like this, who seems particularly gifted to fulfill a role in your organization that makes you groan; someone who is gifted at filing, writing, customer service, vision-casting or at some other task that seems odious to you.

In the Christian church, one of the tasks leaders are charged with is to equip the members of the body to serve.  A healthy body seeks to match people’s gifts with roles in the organization.  It is true that we sometimes have to do tasks we are not passionate about (in my gift discernment course we used to say that “everybody has to take a turn cleaning the toilets”), but by and large, matching gifts and roles is an important part of healthy organizational functioning.  A mismatch on too many elements won’t be productive.

So if any of your workers (both employees and volunteers) are dissatisfied with their work, check the alignment between their gifts and roles.  A few adjustments may be all you need to create a more productive and happily functioning body.


Prejudice and our Frames of Reference

We met at an AA meeting.

Alcoholics Anonymous was sponsoring an educational lunch for school officials, and we were placed at the same table with a few other principals and an AA representative to learn more about the program.

The first time I met him I thought he was a bit of a jerk.  He thought I was uptight.  We conversed politely and the situation got no better.  Oh well, I thought, I will never have to see him again.

Eight months later I found out that he was going to be my new principal; my boss.

It ended up that we became effective team members and fast friends well beyond our days of working together, up until his death this summer.

So how was this possible, when my first impression was so negative?

We managed not to stick each other into assigned categories of good and bad.  I had heard that he had a great sense of humour.  That didn’t fit my initial impression of him, and it egged me on to find out more.  I am glad that I did.

Human beings tend to categorize things to make it easier to deal with people and situations.  One of the things we are often tempted to do is to put people we meet into categories; to create a frame of reference for them.  This can be helpful to relieve the amount of information we have to process, but it can also lead to very poor judgements.

The problem is, once we have created our frame of reference, we start to fit all evidence into the category that supports our initial diagnosis.  If we receive information to the contrary, we discard it.  In this way, we do not recognize the good and bad aspects of each person and situation, but merely reinforce our initial assumptions.  This is how prejudice grows.

So how do we overcome this tendency towards painting everything with the same color?  By not letting our initial impressions determine the course of our interactions.  By seeking more information through communication.  By not being satisfied with face value when something appears to be negative, or by resisting the urge to accumulate all the negatives into a bundle to support your prejudice.  When we open ourselves up to asking questions of the other – we may find that in the end we disagree, but that is not the same as holding a false negative view of the other.

It is not easy, but it is very rewarding in the end.  I would never have found such a great friend, and might not even have kept my job, if we hadn’t both committed to communicating and rejecting stereotypes.


Beating the Winter Blues

Winter in Winnipeg, where I live, can be pretty harsh.  If you live in a northern climate, it gets dark early, and you may get the winter blues.

In the midst of this cold season I was excited to receive an email to a special event at work.

One of our leaders, Dave Bergen, called on us to “…reconstitute that noble Canadian institution called The Order of Good Cheer (L’Ordre de Bon Temps”).

He wrote:  “Of course, as good students of Canadian history, you will immediately recognize The Order of Good Cheer as that Order established by Samuel de Champlain in the winter of 1606-07, to brighten the atmosphere and foster esprit de corps among his rather despondent cadre of  some 50 souls enduring a long, rather harsh winter in Port Royal, Nova Scotia. Throughout that winter, to counter the blues suffered by men who were battling scurvy and coping badly with life away from family and their beloved homes in France, Champlain instituted times of feasting, singing and dancing to lift the spirits and health of his company.”

As part of the festivities we were invited to wear blue jeans, a white top or t-shirt and our ‘coolest’ sunglasses.  Yes, we were the Blues Brothers, beating the winter blues with good cheer.  We gathered at the front desk of our offices and paraded to our new indoor coffee spot and book/resource centre

We had a lot of fun, lifted our spirits and made others smile.

Every once in a while faith communities need to intentionally get together and celebrate.  It is especially important when we are wrapped up in non-stop work demands or the winter blues.  So try sharing a meal or organizing a mini event like the one above to reconnect with others.

I am already preparing for February’s mini-event, our annual chocolate heart hunt.  What have you tried?



Noel Moules and Healthy Church – Interview Part 2

We are back today with Noel Moules, a leading Anabaptist thinker in the UK and author of the book ‘Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace’.  We continue discussing what the Peacemeal is and what a healthy church looks like.

You say that the ‘Peacemeal’ is explosive.  How so?

If we begin to get the possibilities of the ‘Peacemeal’ right and really learn what it means to be ‘Subversive Celebrants’ the consequences can only ever be explosive for the following reasons:

  • It creates the space for the person and power of the Spirit to move in unique and unexpected ways, enabling surprising and life-changing divine encounters to take place.
  • It makes us look at the very roots of what we understand it means to be church.
  • It provokes society to re-think their preconceptions of church.
  • It challenges society over its attitude to the poor and marginalized in creating a space where they are welcomed and included and their needs can be met.
  • It empowers the powerless and creates a space where the voiceless can be heard.
  • It offers a new vision of community and society, challenging the old order.

In your book you mention that our search for identity is “never found in individuality, only in community”.  How do you see the meal table advancing this search?

One of the deep human challenges of our time is individuals searching for their identity. So many feel it requires some solitary quest, when in fact the reverse is true. Identity is only fully found in community.  It is beautifully expressed in the Xhosa word ubuntu, from southern Africa.   Ubuntu describes an approach to life that can be translated as, ‘a person is a person only through other people’, or that ‘I am because we are’. Ubuntu also recognizes the worth of all others and acts for their benefit.  Relationships are priority.

Are there other things you see people around you doing that contributes to church health?

I will just mention two areas that are seeing wide growth in the UK:

The first are ‘spiritual disciplines’. Individuals and groups will approach them in different ways, but they seem to have great value to those who choose to explore them:

The second is in the area of what I would call ‘liturgical rhythms’. There are daily rhythms that take the form of patterns of prayer throughout the day, perhaps prayer morning, midday and evening.  Then there are seasonal rhythms: a couple of years ago a movement called ‘Forest Church’ began in the UK. They see themselves as a ‘fresh expression’ of church, meeting out in woods and countryside connecting with wild nature. They are writing beautiful Christ-centered songs and liturgies.

Have you ever been surprised by something you thought would improve church health, but didn’t?

Decades ago the idea of having ‘cell groups’ swept the church. How could they not improve church health? Of course I was excited about them. However, groups have often been very much left to their own devices and not helped to see the possibilities and opportunities of the ‘cell’ structure and become inspired by them. Groups are also unsure of the appropriate relationship between the authority of the small group and the main church authority. Finally, being asked to take on responsibility, even for a relatively small group, makes demands and expectations that many are not prepared for.

Is there is anything I haven’t asked about that might be important for readers to know?

Yes Kirsten, on the subject of a healthy church there are four points I would like to make:

First and foremost, a truly healthy church is one that breathes and exudes freedom. Period.  The reason Jesus was crucified was simply because he was too free – we fail to recognize just how shocking and disturbing he really was!

Second. The place and presence of children within a local church is a major marker as to the true health of that community. I am not talking about a thriving children’s work, nor am I suggesting large numbers of children particularly. I am talking about the role they play in the main life of the church and how they are integrated into the whole life of the community. They must be seen and heard at its very heart.

Third. The nature of leadership and its healthy expression in church is a very subtle thing.  Authentic leadership can never be hierarchical; the priesthood of all believers must be our foundational premise. Leadership must always be about empowering others and nurturing their gifts.

Finally, always remember that there is no one model for doing church that we somehow have to find and then keep trying to replicate.  One of the vital hallmarks of healthy churches is that each one should truly be a one-off.

My personal test for a truly healthy church is walking through the door and finding two things happen for me. First: I hear myself saying, “Wow, so this is how you do things here!” – that joyful sense of surprise. Second: I just really feel at home!


Noel Moules and Healthy Church – Interview Part 1

I had the pleasure of meeting Noel Moules last year at a barbecue held in his honour.  Noel was born in India, where his parents were missionaries, and spent his formative childhood years in the foothills and forests of the Himalaya.  Among many things, he is a leading thinker, founding member and trustee of the Anabaptist Network in the UK. In his book ‘Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace: a spiritual manifesto from a Jesus perspective’, Noel talks about shalom and the peacemeal. I asked Noel a few questions about shalom, the peacemeal and what a healthy church looks like.

Noel, what in your opinion is a healthy church?

Church is ‘the community of the gospel’, incarnating and exampling the good news of Jesus. So only by clearly identifying the true nature of the gospel can we begin to answer your question about what a healthy church might look like.

I believe the totality of the gospel, in all its many aspects, is distilled into the single Hebrew word shalom from a Jesus perspective. Usually translated ‘peace’, it is better understood as ‘wholeness’, completeness’, and ‘integratedness’. Shalom is first and foremost about relationships:

Shalom is only truly present to the extent that all-three of these dimensions are in place:

  • Physical wellbeingshalom requires all physical, emotional and material needs to be met: everything that makes for life, health and dignity.
  • Justice in relationshipsshalom demands all earth’s relationships to be right and just.
  • Personal integrityshalom insists all people have integrity in character: being upright within themselves and displaying godliness in thought and action.

You have identified the meal table as the foundation of being church.  Why do you believe that the meal table is the cornerstone of an authentic and healthy church?

Jesus only leaves us with three things: the memory of his life and teaching, the power and person of the Spirit, and a table with food on. The meal table is the only physical thing that Jesus leaves us with which to build church. He takes the daily Palestinian peasant meal, gives it focus in terms of himself and his message of shalom, and then places it as the centerpiece of the new community. It is an act of creative genius.  This is because food is one of the few absolute basic requirements for life. Further, the shared meal is the basis for every human community and society across the globe.  Every single aspect of shalom, with which we began our conversation, can find expression within the meal.

In your book, ‘Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace’ you talk about the ‘Peacemeal’. What is a ‘Peacemeal’?

First, I took the word, ‘piecemeal’, which has the sense of ‘broken’, ‘fractured’, ‘scattered’ or ‘fragmented. I replaced and juxtaposed one letter, forming a word that emphasises ‘wholeness’, ‘healing’, ‘harmony’ and ‘integration’. Secondly, it brings the ideas of the ‘gospel’ (peace) and ‘church’ (meal = community) together into a single word.

The word ‘Peacemeal’ also reminds us that what we are talking about is a full shared meal. A full community meal is what the early Christians always shared when they met together up until the end of the 3rd Century CE.

I am often asked, “Is the ‘Peacemeal’ the same as Communion, Breaking Bread, the Agape, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist or the Mass?” My answer is, “Yes, on every count, the meanings of each of these terms are all included in my understanding of the ‘Peacemeal’, plus a whole lot more”.

North American Mennonites have the most wonderfully inclusive regular church meals, but almost always see the sharing of Communion (or whatever name they use) as something quite separate. The ‘Peacemeal’ draws all these elements together, with a great deal added, to form a single all-embracing concept and practice.

Each expression of the ‘Peacemeal’ will be unique every time it is shared.  However, each expression will be ‘eucharistic’ (‘giving thanks’) in its ethos, celebrating the risen Jesus in ways that are appropriate to the occasion.

You talk about being a ‘Subversive Celebrant’. What is a ‘Subversive Celebrant’?

A ‘Subversive Celebrant’ is someone who sees the ‘Peacemeal’ as a gift from God with which to see the world transformed. First, they embrace the meal personally, finding it a place in which to nurture godliness within themselves. Then they work to create eucharistic spaces within which to enable transformed and transforming communities to emerge.

Kirsten, the word ‘subversive’ literally means ‘to turn from underneath’.  We have seen that the family and community meal is culturally both natural and universal. Who would ever believe it could change the world? But it can! ‘Subversive Celebrants’ recognise this and work to this end.


True Evangelical Faith

He introduced himself to me and asked my name.  Then he said, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?”

Quite the conversation killer.  Yet I’ve been asked this more than once by strangers sincerely concerned about witnessing their faith to others.

Figuring out how and what to say about our faith to others is a struggle for many.  It is something we ask ourselves constantly at work – how do we witness well and effectively about the good news?

Here are a few quotes I’d like to share about faith and witness:

“True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, binds up that which is wounded.” Menno Simons

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” Cardinal Sudhard

“Telling other people they should dance is a bad way of getting them to dance.  Dancing is a good way of getting other people to dance.”  Excerpt from “Everything You Need to Know About “Missional”, I Learned at an Outdoor Rave” by Keith Bryan

Merry Christmas everyone!  I will be taking a break from posting over Christmas, and then back in the New Year.


The Pastor’s Spouse

I was at a retirement party for a beloved church leader.  The speaker, Richard Bage, said something that hit me like a thunderbolt.

His comments referred to the church leader’s wisdom for asking, “Who ministers to the pastor’s spouse?”, and to commend him for willingly fulfilling that role.

It got me wondering – who does minister to the pastor’s spouse, especially when she or he faces major life shifts?  Who even thinks about it?  Not many, I expect.

We think about ministering to faith groups, and on occasion even to the leaders. We may talk about the impact of certain events on the leader’s family, but do we ever stop and think of ministering to the leader’s partner?  Many churches have formed some kind of support group for the pastor, but have they ever considered offering real, tangible support for the pastor’s spouse?

In Human Resources, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to support employees during major life transitions and events.  We often ask “how will you tell your spouse?”, and “is there someone you can talk to or who can minister to you in this situation?” Usually our focus does not extend to questions of support for their significant other.  If the partners of our ministering leaders are so often forgotten, I think it would be an excellent idea for us to include our concern for them in these conversations.

Have you asked this question in your faith group?  If you have, how have you answered it?


When I was a little girl I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore show.  I remember very well that when Mary got stressed, she would clean.  At the time I thought “what a useful thing”, a little mournfully, because even at that young age I knew that I did not cope with stress in this way.   Currently I work with a couple of colleagues who are self-declared “stress-bakers”, providing the staff with delectable treats at coffee.

Unfortunately, most of us do not react to stress in ways that benefit us or others.  Rather, our stress often contributes to the stress levels of our groups.

What do you do when you’re stressed out?  Do you talk to colleagues and friends, or do you withdraw?  Do you get sick?  Or, do you try to retake control of the situation by paying excessive attention to detail?  Or, perhaps you pay no attention to the details and lose focus.  Perhaps stress tempts you to turn to things that are addictive.

If you are one of many who have had a busy autumn, filled with frenetic activity, it can be good and important to check your stress levels and take steps to lower them.  It is important for us to identify how we react to stress and to find healthy ways to cope with it.  Research has shown that two of the best ways are to engage in exercise and religious practices (i.e., meditation, congregational worship services).  For a list of 23 scientifically-proven stress-busting tips, see .

What are your best practices for dealing with stress?


Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy that embraces imperfection in beauty.  It is an interesting contrast to Western standards of beauty anchored in classical Greece, which hold perfection and symmetry as the goal.  Examples of wabi-sabi would be that of the beauty in a chipped tea cup, a weather-beaten garden rake, or an aging face.

Some artists have taken to introducing a flaw in their work to elicit thought about this concept.  Contemplating the imperfection, wabi-sabi leads us to recognize the bittersweet reality that nothing produced by humans is perfect:  it is transient, it is flawed, and yet it is still beautiful.

Much of our western standards of beauty influence how we see life – things should be perfect, and if they are less than perfect, somehow we believe that we have failed.  When a faith community functions with this attitude, it is bound to fail and to be miserable in the process.

What if faith communities would shift to a wabi-sabi view of life?  Recognizing that we may (and must) fall short of perfection, but that does not render our work meaningless nor ugly.  It seems to me that if we adopted this attitude towards others, we would be less prone to criticism and more aware of our gratitude for the gifts that others bring.  It could even lead to forgiveness of others and ultimately, of ourselves.

So don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.  In fact, there is great beauty in the imperfect, if we will only see it.

Four Tips for Good Policy Writing

I enjoy writing policies.  When I tell others this, they usually moan.  But with a little research, anyone can write good policy.

Policies provide a normative way to deal with work situations.  They offer a path for how to proceed when circumstances feel a little out of control.  The following is my list of four considerations to keep in mind when drafting a policy.

  1. I review legislative requirements across Canada (we are a Canadian, and not a provincial office, so I have to check each provincial jurisdiction to make sure we are legally compliant). I also check human rights legislation and the policies of other sister organizations, such as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the Mennonite Brethren Church, and others as available.
  2. I am guided by the philosophy statements of the group I am working for. This includes mission and vision statements, and any other policies or statements of intent particular to the organization.
  3. Each workplace has a particular culture which requires policies tailored to its needs.  This is why policy templates can be a good starting point, but they cannot be used without adapting them to fit the needs of the particular group. You can’t just introduce a new policy that is foreign to the group – consider the way they operate now and try to incorporate current operations into the new policy.
  4. Policy for faith-based groups should provide a balanced model of compassionate faith response and good stewardship of resources.


That’s my list.  What is yours?  Do you have any tips?

I’m in the Wrong Job!

My face betrayed my confusion.  I was two weeks into the job, and my supervisor was explaining my duties to me and the procedures I was to follow.  She broke off mid-sentence, laughed and asked “you didn’t know that this was part of the job, did you?”  She said it as more of a statement than a question.  “No” I said.  She laugh-grimaced and said that the people who had interviewed me didn’t really know the job I was being hired for, and she suspected that I had been promised a completely different job.  “Yes” I admitted.

This is not as uncommon an occurrence as you might think.  In fact, it happens to a significant number of lead pastors in congregations.  According to one study, Clergy Well-Being: Seeking Wholeness with Integrity, coming out of the Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health, lead pastors are trained in spirituality and pastoral care, and they end up in jobs where the congregation expects them to be active administrators and CEOs.

The survey of clergy in six major protestant denominations found that:

  • 77% strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel more like a CEO than a pastor.”
  • 83% agreed with the statement, “My church wants a CEO rather than a pastor.”
  • 91% agreed with the statement, “Being ‘minister’ is more like a job than a calling.”

“In the North American context especially, the role of the minister has become that of an activist busy with such matters as budgets, buildings, membership size and growth. These are the measures of success imposed by the culture. The spiritual nature of the profession, that which fosters meditation, contemplation, contemplative prayer and those things which nurture the inner being, although espoused in theory, is rarely rewarded in practice.” (p. 21)

Our current churches are often designed to systematically keep pastors and congregants in this unhealthy dynamic.  We think that the job of lead pastors is to be spiritually attuned and provide pastoral leadership, but we often require a long work week primarily consisting of administration.

As congregations we need to think about our systems and test whether our perceptions of the pastor’s work is based in reality.  Then, we can start to think about what we need as a community of believers, understand what we are asking of our leaders and start building a future based on this.

September Quote

Back to school.  Back to work.  Back to church.  Many of us in North America have lives regulated by the school calendar year.  As we give up our summer activities for those of a busy fall, I want to share a quote from Lesslie Newbigin about the church.

How can this strange story of God made flesh, of a crucified Savior, of resurrection and new creation become credible for those whose entire mental training has conditioned them to believe that the real world is the world which can be satisfactorily explained and managed without the hypothesis of God?  I know of only one clue to the answering of that question, only one real hermeneutic of the gospel:


                   A congregation which believes it.                                                                                                                        


Blessings to you as you gather.

What is an Administration Minister? Part 2

Today I am posting the second part of my interview with Len Andres about what an Administration Minister is.  A member of Mount Royal Mennonite Church, Len currently serves in his congregation as the Administration Minister in a voluntary capacity.


Len, what do you think are the challenges most churches and faith-based organizations face today regarding administration?

Interaction with governments, both local and national has become more complex.  Also, dealing with unusual staff issues such as long term illness, harassment and gender biases.  We all hope that we never need to deal with these things, but it is very good to have a policy in place if/when something happens.


What practice or activity do you appreciate that others have brought in to the workplace?

We all need to understand that we are not merely caretakers of a brick and mortar building, and not simply ensuring that paperwork gets done, but that we are facilitators of a people who have committed themselves to a mission and a purpose.  I appreciate that most of the time, the staff with whom I work is aware of that and has worked to that end.


What assets did you have to begin with?  Any liabilities or obstacles to overcome?

Assets:  About 45 years of active membership in the congregation, having held almost every possible position in congregational leadership over that time, including 13 years as congregational chair.  Also about 35 years in supervisory and management positions in my work life.

Obstacles / Liabilities:  This was an entirely new position in the church.  It interacts not only with staff, but also directly with the pastors and Council, particularly the congregational chair and the treasurer.  We therefore needed to find our way in terms of where the boundaries were between our responsibilities.  Fortunately, we were able to have the necessary dialogues and patience with each other to make it work.  Staff already in position before the Administration Minister position was implemented cooperated with the change and by now appreciate the support and leadership I am able to provide.


Who or what has inspired you?

Over the years many people have had an influence – former pastors and lay leaders in the congregation.  However, I guess much of my inspiration comes from the values that my parents fostered in me.


How has your take on Anabaptism shaped your administrative practices?

In terms of a Mennonite Church being a congregational entity, it has been an interesting process.  Some of the approaches and tactics that are effective in the business world cannot be applied in a congregation where much of the work is done by volunteers, and where everyone in the congregation has an interest in how things are done.  It is necessary to understand those dynamics and take them into consideration.


Thank you Len.

What is an Administration Minister? Part 1

I had the good fortune to meet up with Len Andres at this year’s Mennonite Church Canada Assembly, Wild Hope:  Faith for an Unknown Season.  A member of Mount Royal Mennonite Church, Len currently serves in his congregation as the Administration Minister.  Len and I talked about what an Administration Officer of a church does, and why it is important.


Len, what is an Administration Minister?  

An Administration Minister is a person who has the experience and is willing to deal with operational and administrative things that come up in a church.  However it is not limited to that.  In our case the person is also called on to provide to the pastoral leadership a historical perspective on how the congregation has dealt with things in the past.


Why did your church decide to designate you as a Minister, and not just an Administrator?  

The concept of Administration Minister was actually the brain child of Bill Kruger, who served as our interim pastor for almost two years.  His concept was that the position should not just concern itself with operational and administrative issues, but that the position should also be available to the Ministry team as a resource to enhance church life.  We were, at the same time, revising our constitution and bylaws and changing the names of committees to ministries.  We also had a history of lay ministry positions working alongside of the pastor, so it seemed natural that this position should also be a ministry position.


How does your job contribute to the overall ministry of your church?  

This kind of goes into the job description:

  • Lead, supervise and support non-pastoral staff (janitorial, maintenance, secretarial):  This removes those tasks from the job of the lead pastor freeing that time for more pastoral tasks.
  • Ensure that policies and procedures are documented and kept up to date by working with the Pastors and the various Ministries and Committees.  Written policies and procedures make it easier for new people on committees to understand expectations and ensure that important policies are followed.
  • Provide insight to the Ministerial Team on areas of congregational practice and the management of change.  Change is a way of life in any organization, and when change is contemplated, it is important for the agents of change to have a perspective on how the change might affect people in the congregation.
  • Assist the Ministerial Team in working with inactive membership.
  • Assist the treasurer in providing ongoing financial status updates to Operations Ministry, the Ministerial Team and to Council.
  • Gather input to the annual budget from Council and work with the treasurer and Operations Chair to prepare a proposed budget.  Having a historical perspective is helpful when preparing a budget.
  • Participate in Council as an ex-officio non-voting member.


Come back next time to read Part 2 of this interview.

Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation and Faith Groups

Hello everybody!  I’m back from holidays, and this week I am writing about some uniquely Canadian legislation introduced on July 1st called Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation, or CASL.  CASL regulates CEMs, or Commercial Electronic Messages.   If you are a church or faith group who sends electronic messages to electronic addresses, you should be aware of this legislation and consider whether it applies to any messages you are sending out.

What is a Commercial Electronic Message?

A Commercial Electronic Message (CEM) is a message whose purpose is to encourage participation in a commercial activity.

CASL does not apply to:

  • non-commercial activity
  • voice, facsimiles or auto-recorded voice calls (robo-calls)
  • broadcast messaging including tweets and posts


How is CASL different for churches and other faith groups?  CASL does not apply to legitimate messages sent by registered charities for the primary purpose of raising funds.   However, it may apply to other messages that registered charities send out ( ).

If I determine that my faith group is sending CEMs, what do I need to do?  The Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) states that “There are three general requirements for sending the CEM to an electronic address. You need (1) consent, (2) identification information and (3) an unsubscribe mechanism.”

At the offices we have found the following summary list from the Ontario NonProfit Network and Techsoup to be a very helpful  guide (

Top 9 Things Nonprofits Need To Know About CASL:

  1. Legislation covers commercial electronic messages (CEMs), which includes day-to-day communications.
  2. Only fundraising emails sent for the primary purpose of raising funds for the charity are exempt.
  3. Other revenue-generating activities by nonprofits and charities are not exempt.
  4. Legislation will be in force on July 1, 2014 (for commercial messages), January 15th 2015 (for computer program requirements) and July 1st 2017 is the end of the transition period.
  5. CEMs must have an unsubscribe function.
  6. CEMs must clearly identify the organization.
  7. If people signed up for your newsletter directly, it’s ok to continue communicating with them.
  8. You’ll need written or oral permission before you can add people to other lists (like adding program graduates to your general newsletter list).
  9. CEMs may only be sent if the recipient expressed or implied consent.


For more information, check out the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission FAQ page at


Resign as General Manager of the Universe

We were standing in the parking lot at work. I and a colleague were reflecting on her recent experience with illness. A collapsed lung had taken her out of the picture for about a month, and she had just returned to work.

An excellent, competent manager who was crucial to the smooth running of our department, she said to me, “I realized that the world would continue revolving without me”. This was a revelation to both of us.

Sometimes we get so invested in what we are doing to make things run that we forget that the universe is bigger than us. In our denomination, we capture this idea in the term “missional church”. The missional church believes that God is actively at work in the world, and invites us to join in. That means we aren’t in charge. It is helpful to stop our struggle to control and to reflect that we, and the church, are to align ourselves with God’s purpose in the world. So we can all resign as ‘General Manager of the Universe’ and listen for how we are to play our parts alongside of the real One.

Now doesn’t that take a load off of your shoulders? It sure does for me.




Summer is coming, and so I will be taking a break from blogging for the month of July.  I will return in August with new posts.  Until then, thank you for reading!


Inefficiency. A bad word in the world of work. Something to be avoided. And yet, another Anabaptist blogger, Joanna Harader, pastor at Peace Mennonite Church of Lawrence, KS wrote a stunning piece in praise of inefficiency. I invite you to read her excellent blog on the topic at . I think it has a lot to say to faith groups about how we need to balance the tension between serving God and waiting for God.

Happy Pentecost!

Why We Don’t Pay for Performance

In our cover letter to churches about our pastors’ salary guidelines, the denomination has maintained the philosophy that ‘Salary discussions are not related to the decision about continuing a call, nor should they be tied into the evaluative process in any way’ (please note that we do encourage paying pastors justly and sufficiently for their needs; see our guidelines at ). Why do we maintain such a statement in light of businesses who champion tying performance to pay?

The answer is based in good science.

For decades, social science research has shown that pay for performance doesn’t work. The idea that people will perform better if paid more is intuitively pleasing, but it appears our motivations are more complex than that.

Two of the most aggressive problems that prevent pay for performance from working are:

1. Temporary productivity increases in getting paid for “piecework” usually lead to exhaustion and a shutdown of the worker. Research shows that you will always hit a performance ceiling, where you can do no more without harming the organism. Applied to our jobs, we call that “burn-out”. Last time I checked, the church was against this.

2. Good workplaces seek to increase rather than decrease internal motivation because it is more effective and long lasting. Paying for performance replaces internal or intrinsic motivation to do a job well for its own satisfaction with outside, or extrinsic, motivators. If you have intrinsic motivation, it is counterproductive to replace it with extrinsic motivation.

Thoughtful business researchers at Harvard and other places have confirmed this in their own studies – pay for performance never works as you intended it ( and ).


Non-dual thinking

I’m a big fan of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who writes a lot of books about spiritual contemplation and the spiritual journey. His insights about the human search for truth have inspired me so much that I’ve signed up for his daily meditations through the Centre of Action and Contemplation (

Rohr talks extensively about non-dual thinking. He writes that “Non-dual thinking is a way of seeing that refuses to eliminate the negative, the problematic, and the threatening parts of everything… Non-polarity thinking (if you prefer that phrase) teaches you how to hold creative tensions, how to live with paradox and contradictions, how not to run from mystery, and therefore how to practice what all religions teach as necessary: compassion, mercy, loving kindness, patience, forgiveness, and humility (Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 131, 132).

Much of Western thought has been based on the philosopher Plato’s either/or thinking; the idea that there is one right way and that all other ways are wrong. I think this has moved us away from being able to incorporate various views into our perspective, reducing the complex to black and white, right and wrong. How would a move to non-dual thinking impact us? Transform our workplaces? Open us up to other cultures and world views that are not anchored in this either/or dichotomy?

I suspect that non-dual thinking is life giving. I think it is a way of encountering truth and mystery that faith groups should move towards and reclaim. What do you think?



I was standing in my driveway with my friend. You know – the kind of friend you can call at a moment’s notice to do just about anything – go out, hang out – and don’t have to dress up for. The kind of friend who understands if you take them for granted because you are so close. We were bemoaning the fact that we hadn’t gotten together very much over winter, and committed to doing this more.

After she left, I wondered how our almost weekly get-togethers trickled down to less than once a month.

Not so mysterious, as it turns out. It had been a long, cold winter in my neck of the woods ( ). I was also working on a mega-project at work that took four months of complete focus to implement. With this combination, it was easy to slip into a routine of working, sleeping and staying warm in isolation, vs. connecting and seeing each other.

In order to feed our souls, it is important for human beings to foster and celebrate community. The world idealizes work and productivity as the central value of existence, downplaying our need for refreshment through connection, community and celebration. As Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline (p. 191), “The carefree spirit of joyous festivity is absent in contemporary society. Apathy, even melancholy, dominates the times. ..Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong. Scripture tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). We cannot continue long in anything without it.”

When we get into this pattern of neglect, it is good to recognize it for what it is, and make plans to celebrate. Faith communities need to be intentional about creating spaces for joyous festivity. In the Christian tradition, we’ve just celebrated Easter (hooray!). Take a look at your community today – do you need to create a space for joy?

Twelve Tips on Conflict Management and a Free Poster!

A few weeks ago a friend interviewed me for a class paper on conflict. As we chatted, we agreed that conflict was normal and inevitable when people come together, because we all want different things. Conflict is not a bad thing, but a necessary by-product of interacting with others.

Faith groups should view conflict as normal; evidence that we are engaging with each other in relationship. By acknowledging conflict as normal we prevent it from “going underground,” from where it directs our thoughts, actions, and relationships in ways we did not intend.

In fact, conflict can be beneficial, stirring us to look at issues in a new light, drawing us out of our preconceived notions and closer to truth and love. The risk that keeps us from engaging in it more freely is that it can be perceived as threatening our relationships. As Sara Wenger Shenk, President of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, says, “…how might we open our hands and hearts at this moment to discover the gifts of God’s grace within our irreconcilable differences? Rather than threatening, accusing, and demeaning each other—how might we receive this conflict as God’s invitation to meet at the foot of the cross? (

Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA have published twelve tips to guiding discourse when conflict arises. For a copy of the full commitment statement, go to

I keep the poster on my office wall. For your free copy download it at

Peace and grace to you all this Lenten season.

Omitting the Violent

I was reading Psalm 139 to a friend. I hesitated at verse 19, where the psalm moves from assurance of safety and security to hatred for enemies, calls for retribution and talk of anxiety. Like my peace-seeking Anabaptist ancestors, I recoiled from the passage instinctively, fearing its message of anger would disrupt the message of peace.

I read it anyway.

My friend thanked me for reading the psalm, especially the parts about anger and anxiety. That was what she needed to hear! Along with all of the other parts of the psalm.

As members of the historic peace churches we are often tempted to omit the violent verses of Psalm 139 from the reading of scripture. The psalms reflect all of our human emotions for very good reasons. All of us need to hear that feelings of anger, retribution and anxiety are parts of the human makeup of God’s people. This includes peacemakers. After all, people striving for peace are as human as anyone else.

It is what we do with these normal feelings that can lead to discord or a lasting peace in our work and faith communities. So don’t disown these elements as foreign, but acknowledge them so they don’t go underground and become hidden drivers of behavior.

Next post I will share some free resources outlining 12 commitments Mennonites in Canada and the US have made in times of disagreement.

What is the Church?

I love quotes.  My friend Norm obliges me in this love by posting a variety of quotes on his office door.  Today I share some of his collected quotes about the church as community.

Isn’t this one of the insurmountable conundrums of our faith:  to yield ourselves enthusiastically to a belief system that requires participation in a community, a church, a fellowship of believers, often rotten, nasty people, woefully misled…gossipy, condescending, weird, wild, culturally inane people – and I am one of them.  But there you are, worshipping beside each other regardless of whether or not you like each other.   Sufjan Stevens

The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.   Bishop William Temple

The work of Jesus is not a new set of ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing society, but the establishment of a new community, a people that embodies forgiveness, sharing, and self-sacrificing love in its rituals and discipline.  In that sense, the visible church is not to be the bearer of Christ’s message, it is be the message.   John Howard Yoder

Mental Health – A Faith Community Response

Last week I wrote about mental illness and alluded to the difficult relationship the church has sometimes had with it.

Some Christian experience has led us to interpret mental illness as a sign of God’s judgement, or as a sign of a lack of faith.  This was primarily based on former cultural attitudes rather than Biblical teaching.  Many of us now look back with regret and realize the hurtful error of this condemnation.

If you are part of a faith community that is trying to shape a more compassionate response to mental health concerns, you might find these ideas and resources helpful:

1.  Plan a sermon or series focusing on mental health using the worship resources at and

2.  Explore Living Room, a Christian support group for people with mood disorders, at .

3.  Every leader in a faith community should understand how to help their members access the mental health care system in their area.  Clergy are often the first to be approached, but may not have the resources, time, or expertise to deal with mood disorders in an ongoing therapeutic manner.  In Canada, the first step is often for an individual to get a referral from their Doctor/General Practitioner.  If you check the web for “Mental Health” for your region, it should yield results for your local Mental Health Association.

4.  Check out the other mental heath resources in our Resource Centre at .

Shaping a more compassionate response to mental illness is one of the areas where the church needs to be good news, but learning how remains a challenge. Let’s encourage each other in this vital aspect of faithfulness.

Feeling Depressed?

Thirty-one days of frigid temperatures and severely reduced hours of sunlight takes its toll, making January in Manitoba a trial for most people.  By February most people notice they are feeling a little “off”.  The prolonged lack of sunlight in the midst of winter has done its damage, and many people are starting to experience the February blues, “seasonal affective disorder” or SADs, one form of depression.

February blues remind me of the prevalence of depression in our society.   Although most people try to fight it or cover it up, we know that one out of 5 people will experience depression or some other mental health crisis in their lifetime.  All of us come into contact with mental illness and its effects, either directly or through a family member, friend or coworker (see for fast facts about mental illness in Canada).

Faith communities have had a long and often uncomfortable relationship with mental illness.  One of the first steps we can take is to inform ourselves so we can understand it a bit better.  This can be challenging, especially if we have not experienced it ourselves.

Today I invite you to watch this short video about depression.  For some of you it will ring true, and for others it will be an introduction to the topic.  May watching it help you to develop compassion – both for yourself and for others.


How to Stay Positive When Things Look Bleak

After I posted my last blog on 7 steps to become a better emotional manager, I received a few comments from seasoned managers who found step #5 to be particularly challenging.

The point in question was “Transmit positive vibes for your staff. It is infectious! The view from the top is not always easy or pleasant, but the best leaders hold and transmit the vision, the optimism and the enthusiasm for the group. If this does not come naturally to you, practice.”

How do we transmit positive energy when we are feeling down and even depressed by the obstacles we see facing us?

An answer followed in my mailbox.

On Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the States) I received my Appreciative Way Newsletter from Rob Voyle (see for more about Appreciative Inquiry).  He talked about leading a group of 80 planners in an Appreciative Way workshop.  He could see that as the planning commenced, the participants started to become bogged down in the realties and the magnitude of the change they were trying to effect in the foster care system they were responsible for.

Good and important work, but the energy and enthusiasm was getting trumped by the oppressiveness of the sheer magnitude of the task.  Then, Rob writes, he remembered Martin Luther King’s speech – “I had a dream”.  Not I had a plan, but I had a dream.  He then asked all the leaders in the room to envision their dream.  Rob says “I invited the groups of people to restate their work, beginning with; ‘We have a dream,’ and then ‘We have a plan to make the dream a reality.’”

Rob says the energy and enthusiasm shot up from there.

As a leader, I can use this wisdom to help me to “practice my enthusiasm”.  Clearly, leaders will see things that can be discouraging a lot of the time.  But if we think in terms of having a dream, the dream can sustain and buoy us up.  And that is infectious optimism that you can spread. 

So dream, and share the dream!


7 Steps to Becoming a Better Emotional Manager

A friend recently asked me a fascinating question – what advice is there to help managers better meet the emotional needs of staff? He already knows the literature about how to manage for success and productivity, but wants to dig deeper. In response I generated a list of items I have found helpful. As I did so I noticed a considerable overlap between managing for success and productivity, and meeting emotional needs.

Although not exhaustive, from the silly to the sublime, here is my list. I hope it will help you, too.

1. Think about the question. The first step in becoming a better manager is becoming aware. Simply contemplating an idea can lead to positive change.

2. Communicate. Have meetings frequently enough with staff to meet their information needs. Try check-ins at the beginning of meetings to touch base with how people are feeling, i.e., on a scale of one-to-ten, how is your energy level today? Give staff as much information as standards of confidentiality allow.

3. Listen. Easy to say but not always easy to do. Try to expand your own comfort level for hearing other people’s emotions. Listening shows respect. Be available to sit with people and their joys and sorrows. Don’t respond with solutions unless asked –people often just need to share to move toward their own solutions. Your presence and attention is what is immediately desired (disconnect the phone).

Check out this video with Virginia Satir for more about the congruence between words, emotions and body language at . If you want to read an excellent step by step communication analysis in one workplace, go to .

4. Create space for celebration and mourning. Richard J. Foster in Streams of Faith ( ) talks about the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration as important to bringing us closer to each other and with God. A healthy group makes time and space for these disciplines. If your workplace is faith based, scheduling times of worship offer a great opportunity for building emotional health.

Whether your organization is faith based or not, eat together. Anabaptists in the UK emphasize the centrality of breaking bread together – check out The Naked Anabaptist ( ) for more on this.

5. Transmit positive vibes for your staff. It is infectious! The view from the top is not always easy or pleasant, but the best leaders hold and transmit the vision, the optimism and the enthusiasm for the group. If this does not come naturally to you, practice.

6. Try some fun stuff.
-Be happy to see them and let it show. They will hear your enthusiasm in your voice and demeanour.
-Take a break and do something silly or fun. We like to have an occasional special dress-up day (hat day anyone?), plan a quick scavenger hunt in the offices for Valentine chocolates, and participate in hula hoop practice.
-Try to find out one simple, but unique thing that your employee likes and gift them with it. Food items, dollar store treats or a poem or song can powerfully lift spirits because it shows that you care.

7. Stay rooted in God. You can only sustain and meet the needs of others if your own spirit is being nurtured and sustained. I highly recommend the philosophy and practice of Centering Prayer as outlined by Thomas Merton ( ), and the writings of Richard Rohr ( ) to help you on your journey. Balancing corporate worship with private practices of spirituality helps leaders grow the strong roots they need for the challenges of leadership. Staying rooted is not a quick fix but a lifetime journey that will yield riches beyond belief.

Yes, emotional management really is all about relationship-building, which doesn’t happen overnight.

I’d like to know if you have tips to add to this list. What do you think can help managers to meet the emotional needs of staff?

1 Comment

The Social Brain

Mennonites, among others, have emphasized the importance of community in the practice of their spirituality.

I love the following video, because once again, scientific evidence confirms what people of faith have been striving to put into practice. This link takes you to a very interesting TED talk by neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman about the “social brain and its superpowers”.

A very Happy New Year to you and yours, Kirsten

Space to Mourn

Last Sunday my sister-in-law gave me a picture of Mom and me. It was taken in the hospital two years ago on Christmas Day after Mom had suffered a bad fall at the age of 94. Four days after that fall, we almost lost her.

I remember sitting with Mom in the hospital on Christmas Eve, followed by a late-night trip to MacDonald’s for Christmas dinner alone in my car. Certainly not the usual festive Christmas.

The support, time and space provided by friends, family and my coworkers was invaluable. They helped me mourn the loss of her life as we knew it and to get through that difficult time.

Practicing good human resources—and modelling strong faith communities—means making space for celebration and mourning. Although traditional church ceremonies like funerals and weddings are beginning to fade from modern society, current research tells us that people need space together to grieve and to celebrate. We are communal beings.

So make time and space during this Christmas season to remember losses in your community – losses of health, abilities, loved ones and relationships. Be sensitive to the reality that not everyone will feel holiday season joy.

This year, two of my work colleagues lost young adult loved ones; one a niece, the other a nephew. In tribute to them and to all who mourn I am sharing a video made at one of the funerals. To me, it conveys the power of community to love and support those who grieve.

Wishing you a season filled with love and grace, Kirsten

What to Include in a Performance Review

Last week I wrote about the underlying philosophy of performance reviews. This week, some lists about what to include.

In the office we review annually, and ask both the employee and the supervisor to reflect on and provide feedback about the past year. This is a list of what we include in our reviews:

-A review of last year’s goals

-A review of performance in areas defined in the job description, including:
i) areas of strength,
ii) obstacles to performance of duties
iii) educational upgrading completed
iv) review and updating of job description

-We plan for the future, including:
i) identification of next year’s work goals
ii) future training needs related to accomplishing those goals
iii) identification of the employee’s personal career development goals and any training needs associated with these

After review and planning, updated goals and strategies are developed mutually by the employer and the employee. A review form is signed indicating that the review has taken place and filed in the employee’s personnel file.

For reviews of congregational pastors, you will need to consider the review in light additional influences. Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA have developed a helpful resource at .

Review or Evaluate? That is the Question

It is performance review time at the offices.

We decided to go with a review system, and not an evaluation system.

In a review, you do not bring up new information for evaluation. Rather, you and your supervisor evaluate the work and its progress as it happens throughout the year. Immediate feedback about a situation helps to improve ways of working and allows you to make mid-course corrections. In the annual performance review, you revisit the year’s activities and feedback, which have all been previously discussed. If you have not previously discussed it, it does not go in the annual review.

A lot of companies use a performance evaluation or appraisal system, which can unintentionally encourage supervisors to save feedback for the once a year meeting. Saving evaluative feedback for a formal time once a year often sabotages the possible learning which could have been gained. The help from such an approach is limited, as the immediate feedback perceived was “nobody said anything, so what I’m doing must be ok”.

As a faith body, we have to think about what purpose a review serves and how to make it serve us well. At the offices the following philosophy guides our performance reviews.

Mennonite Church Canada Performance Planning and Review Philosophy
In alignment with the purposes underlying ministerial reviews, we conduct performance planning and reviews primarily “…to facilitate growth toward more effective…[service]. Such growth is more related to affirmation and support than to critique and negative evaluations; it is also more oriented to the future than to the past. While identifying weaknesses and problem areas and taking them seriously, the assumption should be that the…[employee] will also build upon existing strengths rather than focusing entirely upon correcting weaknesses.” (A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership, 1996, p. 97).

We engage in performance planning and reviews in order to see where we have been and where we are going, and to assist employees in expanding their learning and performance capabilities in an environment of ongoing change and adaptation. Annual planning ensures that the supervisor and employee are working from the same starting point to accomplish the same goals.

Performance planning and reviews are not tied to salary adjustments. They are, rather, a summary review of the past year and a part of the ongoing planning process for staff in the coming year.
In a review, there should be no new information presented regarding past performance – only a summary review of previously received feedback. Regular and immediate feedback should be a continual process in staff relationships, and should be exchanged by all employers and employees on a regular basis to identify:

1. the positives of particular systems and performance
2. the obstacles encountered, and
3. how to reinforce or redesign processes.

Does your faith group have a philosophy of performance review?

What Are You Modeling?

I was fast-walking down the hall. As I passed a colleague, she said “Manager’s bladder”? I said yes, and we laughed.

Manager’s bladder, for the uninitiated, was code for a manager who had no time to go to the washroom. Too busy! A manager’s bladder was trained to be tough and not look after its own needs. It was required in order to do the jobs necessary of a manager. We knew we were “worthy” if we had not been to the bathroom that day.

I look back now and think about how the work culture promoted this as a badge of pride. But really, it is unhealthy, if not harmful, for people to excel at this dubious skill. And it reflected the cultural attitude that successful people had to ignore their own physical needs.

There are times when we need to work very hard for a season. Sometimes a new program demands extra attention in its implementation stage. But we must take care as leaders not to model seasonal needs as permanent ones if we want a healthy workplace culture.

The way leaders pace themselves either gives or denies their staff permission to practice a healthy level of self-care, no matter what they say or write in policies. This is one of those areas where actions speak louder than words. A healthy workplace needs a team that can work hard together through busy seasons, but can also laugh and relax together often enough for employees to look forward to coming to work.

What are you modeling in your culture?

Busyness Quotes

September is always busy. Over the years October has become very busy. And right now at the office we are rolling out a new National Health Benefits plan for our churches. It entails a lot of work, and it is easy to get caught up in the urgency of the many tasks to do. So today I am sharing some favourite quotes on busyness that help me to reflect and stay grounded in this busy season.

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength. – Corrie Ten Boom

Let us never forget that what we are is more important than what we do. – James Hudson Taylor

Do not yield to the temptation of looking at everything at once, as if everything would happen at once, and all the events of the day be crowded into an hour. Do not thus forecast, but take each thing as it comes to you, and look upon it as the present expression of the will of God concerning you; then regard the next in the same way, and thus receive your day piece by piece from Him who will remember always when He gives you work to do, that you need strength to do it. Often, when you have almost fainted in spirit, the thought comes, “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, what shalt thou do with the horsemen?” Put it from you, it is a faithless thought; if you need more strength, you will have it, be sure of that; or the call to greater exertion may never come to you. Your business is with the present; leave the future in His hands who will be sure to do the best, the very best for you. – Priscilla Maurice

Blessings to you all as you work through your own busy season.


Understanding Others Starts with Self-Knowledge – EQ

To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person – Bruce Lee

Do you make an effort to understand others around you? Daniel Goleman, a leader in the study of Emotional intelligence, or EQ (Emotional Quotient) proposes that to understand others, we must start by understanding ourselves. He says Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to manage and moderate our emotions effectively and not only to be aware of and able to express them.

In our quickly changing church and societal context, it is important for individuals to understand themselves and their emotional reactions to change. This self-awareness and self-insight helps us attend to the messages our feelings point toward, which increases our empathy and openness to others. Acknowledging our emotions as real and legitimate, without letting them “run away with us” and dictate our actions, also helps us deal with change.

The amygdala, a part of the brain that can be thought of as a reaction center, is prewired to overreact to a lot of stimuli. It serves us well in situations where a fight or flight response helps us survive, but can lead us into problems in more nuanced situations. As we become more emotionally intelligent, according to Goleman’s theory, we are less likely to succumb to this knee-jerk reaction of the amygdala.

How do we increase our emotional intelligence and calm our amygdala? According to EQ, the first step is rather simple. Become aware of and name our emotions.

Simply naming feelings begins to sooth the amygdala, and reduces our emotional reactivity. The eight basic emotions can be combined to create different expressions, but the key elements are: Fear, Anger, Joy, Sadness, Acceptance, Disgust, Anticipation, and Surprise.

Psychologist Robert Plutchick’s model of the 8 basic emotions is an excellent tool to help us name our emotions (see for the full model).

Working together in community, our ability to name and accept our emotions will help us develop our ability to sense and respond appropriately to the emotions of others as we deal with the challenges of our changing context. It will help us “walk the mile and bear the load”, as the hymn, Will you let me be your servant (#307, Hymnal: A Worship Book) says so well. I know that when I am more in tune with my feelings, it helps me to tune in to the feelings of others, which in turn helps me to be more understanding and accepting. What have you experienced?

Respecting Different Languages

I was at a congregational workshop, discussing the implications of the session with another member.

He believed we had to become more traditional; I believed we had to become more radical. We went back and forth using these two terms, until we took some time to hear from each other what it was, exactly, that we meant with these words. When he used the term traditional, he was referring back to our roots and the early church. When I used the term radical, I was referring back to our roots and the early church. Hmmm.

Words, and sometimes actions, often have different meanings for different people. We see and anticipate it in our offices when we prepare workers to go out on cross-cultural missions. When a person who isn’t a native of the culture bumps into things and unintentionally gives offense, we call it culture shock. Even when one expects it, it’s hard to prepare for it, and hard to know how to respond in a culturally appropriate way. Overcoming it requires a lot of careful listening and learning about the host culture.

When we are interacting with people that we think are “just like us” – in my case North Americans who all speak English and worship in a Christian Church, we often ignore the need to listen carefully, and run into problems like the experience described above.

We can easily get thrown off when someone uses a different language to describe their personal and corporate experiences of God. For Anabaptists who believe that to follow Jesus means being a pacifist unto death, it might be uncomfortable to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”, because the image seems to grate against that belief.

However, when one looks more closely at the lyrics, one notices that the Christian “soldiers” are marching as to war. This hymn touches on a reality that many people in the world face today – war and combat. Although the language may not appeal to Anabaptist beliefs, it connects with the beliefs of most Christians. Yet the underlying message of the song, that we follow Jesus, is dear to all Christians.

So, the next time you hear “Christian language” that makes you bristle, take some time to find out what that person really means. You just may find out that you are in agreement.

An interesting Soujourners article that touches on this is posted at .

Change and the Church

Why do we need to change?

This is a compelling question. If you’re like me, you’re thinking “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

But things are changing. Especially for the church. Some say it’s going broke, and others say it’s broken. If so, can we fix it? Should we? I believe Willard Metzger, executive director for Mennonite Church Canada, said it well in his address to the Mennonite Church USA delegates this July:

This is an interesting time to be church in North America. Our Post Christendom context has had a great impact on the church. In Christendom, society gave the church a place of respect, influence and authority. But in the increasingly secular Post Christendom context society has relegated the church to a place of disrespect, disregard, and discount. We have lost our position of power.

But this is not all bad. Post Christendom helps disengage us, and disentangle us from the political systems of this earth. Not to oppose them but so that we can better portray kingdom of God values. Values of radical embrace and love, where the stranger is welcomed, the persecuted are given refuge, the powerless are given voice, and the forgotten are intentionally remembered. When we no longer are trying to defend what we have we are able to re-embrace what we have given up, let go, and forgotten.

Places and positions of power can distort. It can cause us to lose sight of who we are, who we represent, who we worship. Sometimes I wonder if in our places of respect and influence, we have said things that God has not wanted us to say. Sometimes I wonder if we have bound things on earth that God did not want us to bind.

It is an interesting time to be the church in a time of shrinking economies, declining church participation, and the waning influence of our faith. But the Church of Jesus Christ will not die. It does not need the position of power. It may look as though it withers. It may appear faltering. It may feel at risk.

But this is the kingdom of God. This is the church of Jesus Christ – where even death is simply the context for resurrection.

Our purpose is not yet completed. There are things I think God still wants us to say. And maybe once we have lost enough power and influence we will be bold enough to say it. Once we have nothing to lose then God has everything to gain. Once we stop defending and protecting God from the impure, God’s redemptive and restoring passion can be released through us.

For the full address see