Getting unstuck from the molasses swamp of life (or church work)
I have a confession. I've been stuck. I am not sure whether you call it writer's block, being just to darn busy, overwhelmed with the Christmas season or just plain in a funk. The bottom-line is that I have been stuck. No posts. No creative works in the process. Still have a new church website to do. Nuthin. Absolutely nuthin'
I could reflect on my surroundings and say "It's not my fault." I don't work for a church. I work for Corporate America. I am too busy to mess with my blog. I could blame the busyness of Christmas. I could blame my travel schedule. There are lots of things I COULD BLAME, but would they really be the root cause of it all.
Probably not. Yes, I admit it. I'm stuck. Knee-deep in mental molasses without a spoon to dig my way out.
A path to getting unstuck…
There is a wonderful book that I have just pulled off the shelf called "Unstuck" by Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro. It is a book that can help you diagnosis why you are stuck, what is systemically going on and a how list of exercises to work through it. It is focused on organizations and helping them get unstuck and start to move in a positive direction. I used it a lot in my consulting practice and thought it could provide a little guidance now.
Step #1: Ask why you are stuck.
Unstuck starts by asking why you are stuck. How long have you been stuck? Are you stuck on something? With something? In something? With someone? They ask for you to write down (in its full glory what you are felling, why you are stuck, and why it seems you can't forge ahead.
For me, it is a mix of having a jumble of seemingly unrelated tasks to do and wondering if they make a difference at all. I spend time writing on the blog and I am not sure if it really making an impact. Would people really care if I stopped writing? Why should I spend time on this vs. something else?
In other words…it is a mixture of feeling like I am screaming in the wilderness (isolated) and too many things to do (overwhelmed).
Step #2: What are you trying to achieve?
Unstuck then asks questions focusing on what you are trying to achieve. They want you to focus on both the end goal and your values. What is really important here? Why do anything? What is holding you back? For organizations, it is just you or your whole team?
The goal is to switch your focus from "being stuck" to "where do you want to go and why." It helps change your perspective from a "pity party" to a "moving party." We often get caught up in our own world, focusing on our own pain or lack of results or sense of inadequacy. Then we start getting stuck.
For me, I've always felt I had something to offer to the church world. A sense of clarity that tends to get lost when church folk get together. A way to cut through the baggage we carry and start focusing on what really matters. I have been a little discouraged (OK, a lot), by the amount of bureaucracy, finger-pointing and the "I'm right/you're wrong" sense I feel when I think about the general church today.
BIG DISCLAIMER: 1. I don't feel this way about our local church. They rock! and 2. My opinions are my own and do not relfect my wife (she is a UM pastor), her church, or any living soul other than my own opinion.
Sometimes, I feel like the main of the mainline denominations are a series of "Titanics" and we are either a half-mile from the iceberg or already hit it. People are in denial. They believe the ship could never sink. They are too busy arguing with themselves to be able to see the real problem or they are so fixed on an issue (we ran our of ice for our drinks) that they cannot see the iceberg coming.
Instead, the denominations are blaming their slow, steady decline on a number of issues that are either out of their control or pet agenda they want to forward that is more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic versus steering clear of the iceberg itself.
Net…does it even matter? Or are we as the mainline denominations getting ready to sink into a cold, watery grave of history? Should we focus on getting people in the lifeboats or can the ship still be saved?
I know that I am not responsible for this. I just want to prevent it. Sounds a little Don Quixote, doesn't it?
Step #3: Now go forward by addressing the system.
Stone and Spataro ask individuals to diagnose why they are stuck and think about it as a "system." A system is the sum of the parts of an organization or individual. It is like thinking about it as a living organism with the different components and systems that act together to allow it to live and grow. It needs fed, protected, inspired, and nourished. The different components of the system need to work together vs. pull away from one another.
The thing I like about this book is that it helps you translate the symptoms you see into one of the "serious seven" causes for being stuck (overwhelmed, exhausted, directionless, hopeless, battle-torn, worthless, alone). It then helps you take very specific to overcome it.
It shows how the different parts of the system either support or detract from the overall goal of the organization and thus…the cause of being stuck.
For me personally, I think it may be a matter of being overstressed and overwhelmed. We had a lot of life changing events this year and our stress meter is pegged as a family. My work does fit a bit of the "overwhelmed" template since we have a lot to get done but the path to get there is not very clear. The same can apply for my "Don Quixote" vision of the mainline denominations. There are many who care, but are not connected in a way to be able to create an effective movement.
So…for me…the question would be…what savagely pragmatic steps can I take to get unstuck? We could create a "network of the willing" or I could just focus on work for a while or whatever. The point is to recognize your stuck and start doing something about it.
Is your church stuck?
Many churches are stuck too. They are in slow decline and look to blame other circumstances for their issues. It is the mega-church down the street or people just don't come to church anymore. They look at external factors outside their control because to deeply reflect on why we are stuck may lead to needing to change.
Churches need to be able to fearlessly ask:
- Are we stuck?
- Why are we stuck?
- What do we hope to achieve? (i.e. why are we here?)
- How can we change our "system" in practical ways to move forward?
This takes a lot of courage and soul searching as a church (whether it is a local church or an entire denomination). Maybe there is not a central purpose pulling the church in a central direction. Maybe there is a very divisive issue splitting the denomination. Maybe you need to overhaul how you serve your community to reflect the demographic or socio-graphic changes of the neighborhood.
The point is that these issues need addressed if you want to get unstuck. It may be that you need to try a new "pilot" outreach project (like a school fair) to reach out to the community in a new way. The denomination may need to take a sabbatical from the divisive issue and work on things we can agree on (like feeding the poor) so we can work together vs. tear each other apart at annual meetings.
My point is this. You can remain stuck or get unstuck. You can die in the molasses swamp or dig your way out. The choice is yours. Are you willing to do something about it?