What Are You Thinking About?

Thanks to LeaderWise’s Cindy Halvorson, MDiv., DMin, for planting the seeds of this Great Idea in our brains!

Halvorson asserts that, ‘What we think about influences us’. And encourages us to spend time, ‘thinking about our thinking, noticing what our thoughts are, and whether or not those thoughts are hindering or helping’.

(This is at the heart of mindfulness; we’ve got helpful resources here!)

Because, she says (and this is science!!): ‘Our thinking influences our ability to lead during these anxious times. It also impacts our emotional health.’

Read Cindy Halvorson’s full post here.

As Halvorson suggests, LeaderWise is a worthwhile organization full of ways to support leaders and congregations.

But here are some things you can do within your congregation for individuals, the congregation, and your whole community’s mental and spiritual well-being.

A) Tend to your own heart, soul, mind, and body with regular care:

    1. Get plenty of physical exercise: outside, as often as possible; inside when necessary; solo can be contemplative; with someone else or a group can be uplifting!
    2. Practice What You Preach; i.e., care for your mind and spirit at least as well as you care for your body: Just as you seek out a doctor or clinic when in bodily distress or disease, find additional support if/when you feel sad or anxious; overwhelmed or confused; or if you are wondering where God is. LeaderWise is one place to start. Find additional personal support, including books, podcasts, articles, websites, curricula, cohorts and support groups in our list here.

B) From a healthier position, invite congregation members into the wondering:

  1. Provide a truly safe space for processing by ensuring the presence of trained and experienced mental health and spiritual care providers – enough to support the size of your group.
  2. Start in small study groups, confirmation/youth gatherings, leadership groups, etc.: ask: What are you thinking about?
  3. Create space for individual reflection through art, crafting, journaling, poetry writing, etc.
  4. Invite discussion: share what’s been written or created with at least one other person.
  5. Wonder where these thoughts might lead:
    1. Intentions of self-harm or harming others require immediate intervention by law. Be prepared for these types of revelations (i.e., do not be the only care provider in the space!): someone may be waiting for this kind of permission to get those thoughts out and you might be their best/most immediate first line of help. [Wouldn’t it be wonderful to provide a space where someone could relieve themselves of this burden and in that moment discover the help they need to move through it in a healthy way?]
    2. Fears, anxieties, griefs and other shadow emotions, might lead to deepening pastoral care, small support groups, intergenerational care giving, or other interventions. What a gift to those who are struggling!
    3. Hopes, dreams, goals, joys – these might lead to accountability/mutual support groups, new study groups, sermon series, a new vision (or two) for the whole congregation (or community), and numerous new relationships around mutual interests and/or goals.

Providing a safe space will obviously take some doing: be sure you have qualified care providers sufficient to your group. There are grants available through some of our judicatories and others to help make this happen.

Extending the invitation to such intimate sharing may seem daunting. Prepare the congregation with a short sermon series, several preparatory discussions in small groups, youth gatherings, etc.; offer a preview or teaser on media platforms.

The New Year and Epiphany lend themselves well to this type of introduction and follow-through, especially considering that outcomes may shape your Lenten journey.

Allow folx an opportunity to process their thoughts: the immediate relief may be essential to individual and congregational well-being; the outcomes will create a healthier congregation; follow-up may include repeating the exercise with the broader community to create (perhaps) a cycle of such processing that will invariably be healing for all.

I’m not sure how long this post will last, but as of this post, you can find an example of this type of event here.