Get Serious about Socializing

IMG_1666By Beth Davis, D. Min

Last week, in a Latin American country, Nathan and I taught a seminar on how to retain resilience. When we came to the section on the importance of socialization, I wondered if it was even worthwhile to discuss this topic in a country that is so highly relational. I began to ask questions to the participants, all of whom were involved in full-time ministry. Unanimously, they agreed that this was an area in which they struggled. All cultures are changing as daily life becomes more driven by technology. After full days of working with people, it is normal to crave some down-time, alone. Yet, building and maintaining a network of friends represents the single most important factor in promoting vitality and personal well-being.

For women, socialization is even more important than sleep or exercise. This is because when gals get together socially, and communicate at a deep level, their brains actually produce chemicals that promote emotional health. Historically, women shared activities such as gardening, gathering, canning, and quilting. Over the years modern conveniences along with the opportunity to work outside of the home has re-placed this sense of community for many women.

Transition has become a way of life for most of us. After multiple relocations, it is tempting to pull back from making new friends in order to avoid the hurt of eventually having to say “good-bye.” Too often, this behavior leads to isolation and depression. Maintaining friendships requires intentionality. The following list suggests some tips for keeping socially connected:

  • Learn to listen. Show an interest in other people. Dale Carnegie made the statement, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  • Start a small group. Bible and prayer groups are always meaningful. For people in ministry, however, it might be helpful to organize a group that helps you escape your everyday church-focused life. For instance, I have always enjoyed English literature, but have never had an opportunity to formally study. A few years ago I asked my friend, an English professor, to help me launch a monthly reading group. Between my hectic schedule of overseas travel, these women, a group ranging from college students to retired grandmothers, have become dear and trusted friends.
  • Guard confidentiality. Nothing will kill a relationship faster than failed confidences. Certainly if you are worried about a friend’s mental, emotional or spiritual stability, it is appropriate to address the issue. However, ask permission before sharing these confidences with a third individual.
  • Invest in positive friendships. Seek friendship with individuals who give you energy. Avoid seeking the friendship of people with whom you only share negative emotions and common issues of conflict. These kinds of friendships fail to provide encouragement and strength during times of distress. Remember that “a friend is someone who is delighted to see you and does not have any immediate plans for your improvement.” (author unknown).
  • Make a date. Everyone appears to have limited amounts of free time. The only way to have time for friends is to schedule ahead. Pick up the phone, make the connection, and write down a time in your weekly planner. Be creative and flexible. Make time for a cup of coffee; a brown-bag lunch at the park; or a walk through the neighborhood. Recently I shared a lunch with my friend and her toddler son. After picking up “drive-through” sandwiches, I accompanied her for an hour of errands, chatting along the way. The important thing was that we were together and able to share in person. This friend energizes me and I always leave her presence feeling better than I when I arrived. Another friend and I take “destination walks.” We walk a mile or two to a cafe, talking as we go. The walk provides exercise, sunshine, and a wonderful dose of socialization.
  • Initiate the invitation. When you move to a new place, don’t wait for others to include you in their established circle of friends. Make the effort to seek new friendships. Consider inviting people to your home for a simple meal. Restaurants and coffee shops are a great place for catching up with friends or grabbing a quick bite to eat after church. But for deeper conversations, there is no better place than in the privacy of your kitchen or dining room. And the food does not need to be elaborate or labor-intensive. When Nathan and I moved to a new city, a couple often invited us to join them for lunch or dinner. Away from the hustle and bustle of a noisy restaurant, we enjoyed many Chinese take-out dinners around their table. These folks became some of our best friends and we continue to practice what they modeled: Invite people into your home for meals, and make it simple.
  • Hang on (to the phone or computer) during tough times. When you find yourself isolated and without friends, write e-mails, texts, and telephone (or skype) as much as possible. These tools are not as effective as “in person” friends, but they will enable you to stay connected even in times of necessary isolation.

 

Lessons from My Father

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My father contracted Parkinson’s disease and struggled with it for the last eleven years of his life. The disease progressively attacked his short-term memory. So sometime in the fourth year of his struggle, he found himself unable to preach or teach because he couldn’t focus on any thought for more than a few minutes. He felt distraught beyond words. He loved to preach and teach so much that he happily flew thousands of miles to teach a class of only five or six students. But after four years of Parkinson’s disease, he exclaimed, “I am now useless. If I cannot preach or teach anymore, what good am I to the Kingdom of God? I cannot do ministry.”

Thus, he needed to refute what I call the secular “Lie of Productivity.” This lie states that our value results from what we can produce. One day, however, I asked him if a newborn child has value even though he cannot produce anything — I pointed out that a newborn child produces little else than poop. But the parents and grandparents will argue to their death about the value of that child, especially to the Kingdom of God. Like my father, I find that some retirement age ministers also struggle with the same secular lie of productivity.

Many ministers believe the secular lie that productivity produces meaningfulness. In their search to increase their productivity, these ministers focus on more teaching, more preaching, bigger and newer churches, winning more lost souls, and raising more money. Like my father found, everyone eventually reaches a point when they can no longer keep producing more and more. Sometimes a physical illness gets in the way and sometimes a simple administrative change gets in the way. Regardless, productivity is fleeting. Evangelical ministers in particular can easily spend their entire lives chasing the secular lie that their value is based on their productivity. A focus on productivity produces more productivity. When we mistakenly believe that it also produces meaningfulness, we base our identity on a secular lie. Indeed, productivity produces meaningfulness, but only to secular humans and only temporarily. As Christians, we base our identity and meaningfulness on something much more permanent than productivity.

When ministers base their identity on productivity, they grow co-dependent and sometimes even abusive. Co-dependence happens when our self-value (our identity) depends on being able to accomplish a task. Unlike secular people, a minister may pursue tasks that help someone else. But when that minister bases his/her self-worth on accomplishing those tasks, he/she grows co-dependent on positive feedback from his/her efforts. As we adopt this lie, we let others determine our self-worth, not God. Almost every minister understands that his/her self-worth is determined by God’s sacrifice, not manmade efforts. Yet we sometimes let a secular lie determine our worth. So the secular culture can sometimes insidiously distort how we value the self.

Consider this self-assessment for co-dependency: when rejected, do you feel emotionally hurt or do you feel grief? Those who feel hurt may suffer from co-dependency. That is, they sometimes feel hurt because their self-value is based on positive feedback from others. Jesus was rejected, but expressed grief, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37). So His self-value was based on The Father, not on positive feedback from others.

In search for more productivity, some people can even justify trashing a relationship if it will help them to teach more, preach more, build a church, get a ministry position, build more status, or raise more money. In contrast, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-40 NIV).  So for Christians in particular, relationships with God, self, and others form the basis for all meaningfulness—not productivity. And our value is determined by His sacrifice—not our productivity.

Try this exercise:

  1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world in 1950.
  2. Name the last five winners of the Miss Universe pageant.
  3. Name the Academy Award winner for best producer in 1950, 1960, 1970, etc.

Although everyone on the above lists succeeded with productivity, at some point their value by others probably faded. Regardless, their productivity had value in the secular world, even if only temporarily. However, their productivity never affected their value to God, and so it never produces true self-worth or meaningfulness.

When asked what makes their lives most meaningful, most people first refer to their interpersonal relationships (Fehr, 4), not their productivity. Relationships represent the only earthly possession that we can take with us to heaven. Sadly, some ministers may arrive at heaven with lots of church buildings to their credit but few souls who know them personally. When I get to heaven, my first priority after meeting Jesus is to reconnect with my father and grand-parents. How about you? What is your priority?

Reference—Fehr, Beverley. Friendship Processes. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996.

For those wanting to sharpen their relationship skills, we recommend Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers, available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1475231350/. This book helps ministers learn:

  • How to prevent and eliminate relationship obstacles
  • How to cultivate research-proven relationship skills
  • How to adapt each relationship skill to their ministry
  • How to develop interdependence instead of co-dependence

Church Conflict: Will it sink your boat?

sinkingboat1In a way, church conflict is similar to what sinks a ship. When we arrive as a new minister, we sometimes arrive to find the ship (the local congregation) with 5 or 10 holes (relationship problems) in the bottom. And sometimes we arrive at a new assignment and puncture additional holes (relationship problems) with our own inadequacies. Initially, we do our best to repair the holes. When we lack the training required to repair certain types of holes in the ship, we eventually find our relationship listing and slowly sinking.

Some books discuss skills to repair three or four relationship holes, and some even give skills to repair a few more. In chapters 3 through 18 of Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers, we discuss 15 potential holes in a relationship. Some books address only three or four skills. However, plugging only three or four holes out of 15 guarantees that the ship will still sink. It may float a little while longer, but even one hole can sink a relationship.

We hope our book (Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers) equips you with tangible skills to guide your relationships confidently, knowing that your ship will not sink from unnoticed holes. We invite you to practice each skill diligently, knowing that any single hole is sufficient in itself to sink a relationship. Please click on the book photo below to order your copy.

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