Burning Out

I have avoided blogging for quite some time.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not great at blogging, nor was I great at keeping a diary when I was younger, but I have intentionally refrained from blogging, tweeting and facebooking about church.

I burned out.

It started last May, when after dropping out of school to pursue church-work I approached my supervisor to discuss my employment situation. I was part time (15-20 hours, depending on the time of the year), and was solely responsible for the majority of communication at the largest Lutheran church in Austin, Texas. At that time, I was on fire for ministry, and I had a deep seeded passion to communicate the Gospel in the most creative ways possible. As it happened, budget season had rolled around, and my supervisor was in favor of transitioning me to full-time (with the understanding I would still work towards a degree).

After the last of the important budget meetings, I asked my supervisor what the decision was. I was told, “we couldn’t make room in the budget for you this time around. While we all agreed we would be sad to see you go, we understand if you can’t stay.” The conversation was much longer, of course, but the gist was “no.”

I was numb for quite a few months. In retrospect I can see where I was developing a bitterness in response to the hurt I felt from the rejection, but I still felt deep inside that I was where I was supposed to be, and doing what I was supposed to do.

I found quite a bit of comfort at the Echo Conference. There’s something therapeutic about being surrounded by people with similar thoughts and ideas about the Church. Even more, the Conclave Sessions were a fantastic experience that provided invaluable amounts of encouragement and ideas to bring back to my church. During the first night of Conclave, Gary Molander told his story of burning out, and I sat there in silent shock as I realized what he was talking about was eerily similar to where I was emotionally and spiritually. That night I pushed down my feelings and pretended I wasn’t feeling hurt or resentment, and allowed myself to take in the rest of my week (the last day of Conclave and the entirety of Echo).

By the end of the conferences, I was excited. I had ideas pouring out of me, and I even stayed up until the wee hours of the night working on different concepts to take back to my church. Upon presenting the ideas to my supervisor, I was told “this is great, Lauren, but remember you only work 20 hours!” That’s when everything inside of me broke. I began to feel under-appreciated, unmotivated, and inadequate to perform my job duties. I was lucky to have a mentor who poured into me during this period of time and was supportive of whatever decision I intended to make.

I carried around my resignation letter for 2 weeks in my purse, hoping there would be some magical moment telling me to stay, but it never came. I cried the entire time I sat in my supervisor’s office as he tried to comprehend what I was doing. The next two weeks were filled with coworkers consoling me and telling me not to leave. Most blamed other staff members, and others expected I’d change my mind before I left. I posted my job description knowing that half of what I did wasn’t on it, and knowing even then that no one with the talent necessary would take the job knowing it was part-time.

The entire month following my last day, I worked hard trying to find a new position. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you’re emotionally dead and your self-confidence was thrown out the window months prior. I did odd-jobs here and there, but nothing that replaced my previous position.

I hated graphic design, I hated communication, but mainly I hated myself. I had allowed myself to succumb to feeling inadequate for so long that I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life. I questioned God’s intentions with everything, and I didn’t trust that I was going to be taken care of, because I didn’t feel I deserved to be taken care of. I felt guilty for losing the passion that had moved me just months before, and I thought God wouldn’t love me as much because I wasn’t as passionate as I once was for Him. There was a place in my heart that was dead, and as much as I tried to revive it, I couldn’t.

One month after leaving my church, they called me back and offered a full-time position. I should have been ecstatic, over-the-moon with happiness, but I wasn’t. I took the job because it felt like the right thing to do, and it was financially responsible, but there was still a part of me that was dead. I was still hurting.

How do you cure a complete burnout?

1. TALK. I cannot be more serious than I am right now. You need someone in your life that you can talk to. This person should (for obvious reasons) be unbiased in the situation. Finding a counselor or a mentor with your best interests at heart would be the best option, but you have to talk out your feelings. Bottling things inside doesn’t do anything but add pressure which leads to an explosion later.

2. Pray. Duh. Jesus knows what’s up.

3. Temporarily re-direct your focus (AKA the “hobby”). This one was actually pretty difficult for me. When people ask what I like to do for fun, I tell them “graphic design in my spare time”, because my spare time is usually spent on side projects (freelance). I know I’m young, but it was difficult for me to intentionally set aside time to do things other than work, or think about work. Luckily, I have a fantastic support group that I live with who also happen to LOVE to paint canvases. Therapy for my creative soul.

4. Assess your situation often. One of the most important things I did upon returning was to stop and look at where I was. Stress causes us to become focused solely on the task at hand. Good for productivity, bad for mental and emotional health. I take short, frequent mental breaks to assess myself and my workload. If adjustment is needed, I take care of it. Becoming overwhelmed is a sure sign you’re not assessing your situation and evaluating your workload.

5. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Multiple blogs, books, and tweets have been written about the art of setting boundaries.  I, myself, am no master of setting reasonable boundaries. I’m an unmarried college-age student with a demanding full-time job. I’m hardwired to stay up until 3am for no good reason, what else am I supposed to do with my time? Plus, thinking that “no” in church-work limits Jesus is crazy. It’s crazy. Jesus is bigger than your ability to design a business card specifically for the “Frail Ol’ Church Ladies” group. What needs to get done WILL get done, even if you’re not the one to do it.

It gets easier, but even now I’m not sure if burnout is totally reversible. Know your limits, and know there are people who love and support you no matter what.

Creating Community

I was speaking with a close friend and colleague the other day about his recent trip to a small town in Kenya, where he and a group of people had an opportunity to engage with a small community of native Kenyans and embrace them in Christian love. He spoke fervidly about the local pastor of the area, who was determined to be an active part of his parishioner’s lives, not only spiritually, but took an active role in the local government, and was a leader in his church’s community. This passion for his church made a large impact in the village, and was a key component to the strong sense of community that was undeniably felt by Jon and his group.

Listening to him tell the stories of how Christ moved through not only the village but through the lives of his fellow missionaries filled my heart with wonder and amazement. How did this small church millions of miles away get it? What are we as a Church missing that they didn’t? How do we take the Kenyan model and put it into place within our own congregations?

There’s something we need to understand. At the end of the day, having thousands of people with lukewarm faith will mean nothing compared to the handful of people that dedicate themselves to actively seeking to create community among those they interact with. This concept isn’t new, it’s just something we find ourselves increasingly distancing ourselves from.

So here’s what we do, Church.
Live a life that actively involves the bystanders, Jesus did.
Stop concerning yourselves with the things you cannot change. Just trust that what needs to happen will, because it will.
Love unrelentingly.  Even when it’s hard, because it will be, but anything that’s worth something isn’t worth it because it’s easy.

These things are easy to say, but how many of us fail at these principles on a daily basis? I KNOW I do.

Be the example in your churches, it only takes a handful of faithful people to start a movement. In our church, we’ve taken the initiative by launching a quarterly campaign to share the lives of our church staff with our congregation, while encouraging the congregation to share more about each other with the people they interact with. It’s received an overwhelming response and our parishioners are excited about learning about more than the side we show on Sunday.

Foster community, Church.

We Need You

The very nature of the work of creatives is dangerous. We’re constantly challenged to find ways of telling the Story, while at the same time fighting the resistance that comes with doing something new in a seemingly unchanging “market”. Therefore, it’s easy to find yourself wondering why you continue in the business and becoming discouraged.

What we do is special. It’s only just getting started. We’re called to be the voice of this generation, past generations, and the generations to come, and that’s not easy.

Art… Storytelling…. It’s not easy, and this isn’t some 9-5 job that you can wipe your hands clean of when you punch out.

You’re always learning, always working, always creating, always progressing, and if you’re not, you know it and you’re fighting to get back on track. This isn’t a ministry that can afford to stagnate, and we certainly can’t afford to lose momentum.

It’s going to be a long, tiring and gruesome job, but it’s a necessary battle to better serve the Kingdom and you–your creativity– is a necessity. It’s not a luxury, it’s not a hindrance, it’s needed. You have been brought exactly where you are for a very specific purpose and it’s not time to quit, now is just the time to get started.

Your job is to fight every single day to put the passion burning inside of you to art, to life. Your ideas come directly from God and the motivation you feel to scream to the entire world and let them see why you’re so passionate about Him should be directly reflected in everything you create.

Don’t give up, it’s going to be difficult. Your voice has to be heard, and the only way to be heard is to speak, so speak loudly in the things you do, know that God is supporting you, and know that people care about the ideas in your head.

Passion in Ministry

I’ve been thinking quite a bit on a conversation I had with a worship director on the importance of creativity in worship, and it really got me thinking on a few issues that I hope to get around to blogging about in the next couple of weeks.

Breaking Traditions
He made several comments about how difficult it’s become to break away from the normal routine of worship, and at least in the Lutheran Church, I know even I’ve found it easier to please our large audience by playing it safe and not taking the risks necessary to innovate, and in return I’ve found myself displeased by the results. If you have found yourself on like situations, know this:

You were not created to play it safe.

You are not in a position to lack risk-taking.

The thoughts you have in your head about where you should be taking you and your church– they’re what you need to start doing.

We are each called to our creative positions, and God doesn’t call us to maintain the status quo. You’re an essential part of the Great Commission and it is your duty to tell the Story in the greatest way possible in your church, so do it. Innovate. Bring God the glory by breaking the chains of safety and pushing your creative limits. He isn’t going to put you or your team into a situation that you can’t handle, so take every new project or idea and take it to the fullest possible capability. People are going to hate you, but if people hate you, someone will love you, and the worst thing you can do as a creative or a church leader is to become invisible or to become bland. Kill any sort of comfort in maintaining your routines, because with every routine you create in your ministry, you remove the excitement and buzz surrounding it. Break it! Shake things up on a consistent basis, and you’re going to find consistent excitement with what you do.

Inadequacy in the Creative Department

“Your work sucks.”

Now, likely, you’ve never had this said to you, but if you’re anything like me, that little phrase has gotten stuck in your head at one time or another. You feel inadequate, like the work you’re doing is under par of what should be considered under par.

Don’t ever believe that phrase.

If you have found yourself to be a creative, or you’ve been put in a position that requires your creativity, then God has put you there for a specific reason. The way you see the world and show others is going to change the way others see the world. You need to be confident in yourself to create what God’s imparted on your heart, otherwise you won’t see it. The times where I was having the most problems coming up with creative material were the times I was majorly comparing myself to someone at another church who can do it better, faster or more creatively. You can’t get caught up in that–If you do, you’ll never grow, you’ll stay just as stagnate as the moment you started feeling the creative jealousy.

Here are a couple of things I found that really remedy the creative jealousy:

Look to your members | In the end, they’re going to support you the most. Church is like a family to most people, so when you succeed (i.e. make a new poster, change up something in the bulletin, make a set switch, etc.) they’re likely to notice. Get feedback. I’m the kind of person who HATES criticism, but I take it knowing I’m 100% more likely to act on it and fix it than if they had smiled and said, “Sure! Looks great.” Take a creative risk. You need to, or you’ll never receive feedback(good or bad).

Go to your boss | I am truly blessed to have a direct supervisor who genuinely cares about the work I produce, and lucky enough, in the Church, that’s going to be the majority of creatives. Whether you report directly to the pastor or to the business administrator(such as in my case), chances are, they care just as much about what you do as you. Seek advice from them, get their two-cents. Before our quarterly publication goes out, my boss and I sit in his office and discuss the pros and cons of last quarter’s publication (as hindsight is always important) and how to improve/change the way we do things this quarter. This is definitely easier for our quarterly publication than our weekly bulletin, but the same can happen week-to-week.

Do a couple of online Photoshop tutorials | Yeah, this one may be a little specific, but it can be metaphorical for other creative positions. The times I was most fired up for creativity were the times I learned something new (Yes, I do recognize college will be a liiiittle bit different than that). Everything I know is either self-taught or from online tutorials (Which in a sense is like self-teaching I suppose….), and because my major is a little different than what I intend to use it for, it’s imperative that I’m keeping myself fresh with the tools I use in the workforce because there isn’t a class for it. Now, I don’t know, you may have a formal college education and have been in the workforce for many years, but you still need to do this, too. When you create, you’re spiritually connecting yourself to God with that piece, and when you replicate someone else, you’re learning the skills they used to do that same process. I don’t agree in claiming someone else’s thought to be your own, but I do agree that in order to hone in on your creative skills, there has to be a certain level of the ability to replicate. You’ll feel better about yourself afterwards, too. I like to use Abduzeedo for my tutorials, just because his are a little more detailed and allow for originality.

Pray | When you lack in the communication department with God, you’ll find your communication department in the Church lacking as well. You NEED God, and just like He longs for you, you should do the same. There’s nothing worse than unrequited love, and what’s the most important thing in a relationship? Communication. You’ve got to communicate regularly with God to find out what He wants you to do. Iit would be like if you never talked with your mom, but wanted her to give you $50. Unless you communicate that to her, you’ll be short $50. Do you really expect God’s going to strike you with a brilliant idea out of the blue for absolutely no reason if you haven’t been at least talking to Him?

And as the great Jon Acuff said so beautifully, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” I have the biggest problem when surfing other church’s websites and seeing how well they’re designed and being jealous (Now, if they’re outsourcing their design, I typically laugh and go to the next site, outsourcing your design, especially when you have competent people on staff is not only lazy, it’s cheating.), but I’ve learned that I’m only 18, and I should be proud I’ve got something that even competes with the 30-somethings. While my situation probably isn’t the same as yours, think on this carefully: Why should you be jealous of something someone else in the Kingdom has done? Use it as inspiration and improve your work, that’s the great thing about creativity; always room for improvement.

Media in the Church

I figured I’d post about something I’m really, truly passionate about, and get my thoughts and feelings out there. This subject is also the reason I blog, so referencing it at least once would probably be a good idea. 😉

We live in a culture that is thriving on social media. Our thoughts are on Facebook, our ideas on Twitter, and somewhere in the mix, we’re meant to find church. How can we do that if so many in the Church are failing to recognize the true importance of media? Our congregants are tech-hungry, they’re socially hungry too. So how do we implement media into the Church? I’ll tell you, it really is more than a couple of projectors and a different color of paper for your 16-page bulletins(shudder).

Have you ever thought closely on the word, “media”? What’s a word that sounds similar to it? Medium. Media is but another medium to tell the Story. We shouldn’t be frightened or stubborn about finding other means to tell the story, because if you only tell it one way, you’ll only get the group of people that understand the way you’re telling it. On my Pre AP Algebra 2 teacher’s wall my Junior year, there was a typical motivational poster, the only thing different about this particular poster is the moment I read it, I understood immediately that this was applicable to the Church in today’s society. It read: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” If we as the Church continued without trying to use media to reach out to this society, how can we ever say that we’ve done everything in our power to do the one task given to us by God?

The youth minister at our church recently gave me Shane Hipps’ “The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture”, and so far, I’ve found it to be one of the most thought-provoking and unbiased church media books I’ve read (Now, I’d like to point out that I have Blaine Hogan’s UNTITLED and Gary Molander’s Pursuing Christ Creating Art in my book cue, both of which I heard trump every book I’ve ever read in existence, so this is bound to be updated in the next couple of weeks.) There are very few people that have been able to accurately pinpoint the pros and cons of media in the Church, and he is at the top of the list. In my opinion, everything has the ability to be both good and evil, everything can be taken out of context, and so I find it pointless to feel this way about church media when the exact same things can be said about cooking, driving and the Bible.

Yeah, you read my words. The Bible. In different religions, the Bible can be seen as false and unacceptable, teaching false ideologies and more. Also, there are specific “Christian” sects that have taken the Bible completely out of context in order to push themselves to the front of the line in God’s eyes, or so they think(Seriously, if you didn’t pick up on that, just Google “Westboro Baptist Church”). Churches using media can be seen in the same 2 viewpoints. Some may think that the Church is falling into secular stereotypes to copycat, and some think that the negative powers of social media outweigh the benefits of it, and if the Church starts using social media, it very well be the end of the Church altogether.

We can’t think that the above two thought-processes are the only solution. There can’t be simply black and white to this situation.  We have to realize that some of the technologies available to us today are applicable in the Church community and if we don’t utilize them we’ll end up being like the old man(or lady, depending on your thoughts on the gender of the Church) sitting on the front porch with a shotgun  and a glass of lemonade and anyone who enters his/her property with different beliefs is shot down immediately(I really hope you get that this is a metaphor and that the Church would never physically shoot someone…..).

The Church must constantly strive to tell it’s Story creatively, and if that involves using media to do it, why not? Why hold back? Even if it impacts only 1 person, why keep yourself from impacting that person? When I think about different ways to convey the message of a particular event, even if it’s not the greatest quantity of people to convey it to, I still find a way to get them involved. We are always on the cusp of something life changing, and as Creatives it’s our duty to take the Church to the next step. Your biggest fight won’t be budget, it’ll be getting the unwilling to accept newness and change in the way things are done in your church.

Take my grandmother, for instance. Love her to death, but she and I have completely different views on media in our church. Well, actually, we differ on any change in our church. Anyway…. Last night our contemporary service came up in conversation. I happen to have very intimate feelings about our contemporary service, it’s always on my mind, I’m always thinking of ways to make it better, and I care for it deeply. It’s not that I dislike the other services at our church, I’m just partial to this one. She, on the other hand, hates it. She calls it the “LaLa service” and thinks it should just disappear. Our contemporary service is the only thing I have gotten terse with her about and it’s probably one of the few things in her lifetime I’ll defend to the end. If you have people like this in your church, you totally know what I’m talking about. If you think you don’t, you do, and you just haven’t met them yet.  If we only ever had a liturgical service, we’d never reach the people who want contemporary worship and we’d have a much smaller congregation size. We would never progress, we’d remain in the liturgical era. We need to break the barrier between the lits and contemps, and I mentioned this in a previous post, but this isn’t just applicable to worship styles, it’s imperative that this happens in the way we do print, worship, graphic and web design. If we constantly have to tame our creativity to please the crowd who won’t appreciate it anyway, we’ve lost the point of creativity completely. Not that I’m complaining about taming my work, it’s just I’d rather have to tame my work for an audience that thinks creativity matters in some way. When I have to tame my work to please those who don’t find my job or my calling important, I think we’ve lost sense of why I was brought on board in the first place. If you’re feeling the same way, how have you overcome this? How do you push the limits?

And that, friends, is the only question of creativity.

Creativity in Worship

I referenced in one of my previous posts the importance of creativity in worship, that same night, I came up with a few creative ways to create some buzz with our “Do Something” campaign. A thought I had was to have congregational members offer their creativity as an offering, and since then, I’ve been thinking of ways to enhance that. It’s not enough that we’re offering up our ideas to God, we should be offering everything we have, talent-wise. So how do we do that? And how do we do that in worship?

Offering our ideas is a great start. By doing this, we’re requiring that congregational members don’t just go through the motions, as so many do. They have to think, and they can’t use the Jesus answer. We as creatives must do this to consistently provide a worship experience each week, so doing creative things like this doesn’t mean the same things as it might mean to the congregation, so it’s important to highlight this.

One problem I feel is conflicting the Church is that too many worship leaders are trying to entertain the guests to boost numbers, get bigger budgets, only to focus on entertaining the congregation again. While there are ethical issues wrapped up in this, Colossians 3:23 states “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, and do it for the Lord, not for man.” Creatives must strive to create for God, not for the entertainment or awe of man. When we create for God, the desired result with man will come naturally. For whatever is good and pleasing to the Lord is beautiful and lovely to mankind.

Another concept I’ve been thinking about is changing up the way we worship. What if instead of creating a set and having a rigid timetable of the worship service, we allow God to move through us in worship? This may not be all that foreign for some churches, but this is something I’ve found the majority of churches that I’ve seen doing. Here’s one quick idea– What if for one service, you try getting your members/guests to take off their shoes before entering the sanctuary? This ends the stuffy “we’re at church, we have to act perfect” attitude that I can guarantee at least one of your members feel. People used to take off their shoes before entering the temple as a sign of respect and to show that this is holy ground. You will face resistance, especially if you have older members in your congregation, and I know that in my congregation, elderly make up a rather large portion of our member-base, so this would be a concept that we would have to use in our contemporary service.

Here’s another idea– Turn off your house lights, light candles instead. Bring the retro liturgical service back. There WAS a time that electricity didn’t exist, and there were Christians long before that, so how else did the get together? They lit candles. Those societies were definitely closer-knit than ours. While I am one of the biggest fans of using social media, I do believe that too much of a good thing is dangerous, and today’s society, especially Americans, are used to becoming stuffed to the point of discomfort with most of anything. When you take away the technology, you make your congregants rely on each other during the service. Grab an acoustic guitar, a Bible, and you can lead one of the most impacting services you’ve ever had. The biggest moments I’ve had in my spiritual life were not when I was awed by the technology and the delivery of the service, it was youth retreats that required limited resources and community. Emulate this in your normal church service, you’ll be glad you did.

I challenge you to strive to find ways to break the structure of your service. Don’t let your church become routine, make it an experience that will challenge and grow your congregants each and every week.

Contemporary Worship

It’s been one of my greatest dreams that the Church would find a way to make the way we worship the most creative possible. Sure, there’s singing a few new Christian songs, maybe moving when we read the scripture, but what does it mean to be contemporary?

When we think of what it means to be contemporary, it’s imperative that we recognize and applaud the liturgical service. These were the pioneers in Contemporary worship, and without them, we wouldn’t be as progressive as we are now. We must recognize the flaws and beauties in both services, or we’ll never know how to progress.

Liturgical services by nature require a rigid formulaic strategy. If you’re like me, routines kinda bug me, and it’s not because I’m ADD or anything, it’s just I think switching it up a bit every now and then wouldn’t hurt. If I were an extremist contemp, I’d think that the liturgical service NEVER changes and it’s ridiculous to come to church every week if you know exactly what you’re going to do, however, I believe that the way lits can combat this belief is matins! Lits, use your matins! You switch things up every 6-ish months, you change a hymn every once in a while! 😉

It’s not about singing hymns, and I think most contemps(contemporary followers) get this crazy mindset that it’s all about the organ with the lits(liturgical followers), and that the louder the organ, the better the service, and the problem with this mindset lies in that there are a few contemps that don’t think this is a problem, and use this strategy with the typical worship band and then the lits just assume that the contemps are typical teenagers who want to “put the speakers on 11 and shake their bodies left and right”(Nerdy Kelly Clarkson reference…. ignore me!) However, it’s not about how loud you can get.

Those are just a couple of differences in the contemporary v. liturgical debate that I’m sure has been around for ages, and extends far beyond the guitar v. organ debate.

Something I’d like to touch on, and something I believe is one of the most important in contemporary worship, is creative means of worshiping. We are not all made equally, and everyone has different means of learning, of believing, and of thinking, so why isn’t the Church doing more to stimulate a larger audience? There are so many different ways to worship God, and I think so often we get caught up in the belief that you have to sing, and you have to give an offering of monetary value, and you have to give a 15 minute sermon. What if worshiping isn’t about that? Would God be angry if we praised him a little differently? I highly doubt that, and therefore, I challenge the Church, let’s find the craziest, most insane ways to worship God, because God loves the creative soul, and we’re capable of so much more than sitting in the pew and going through the motions every Sunday. Give everything to God, even your creativity, and He will bless you bountifully!