When the Church Shines!

Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of the Church doing what it was created for.

Any impression or expectation that the Church was – or ever will be – perfect this side of heaven is mistaken. There is plenty of evidence of that in the letters of the Apostle Paul to the early churches. I see it daily in the ministry of pastoral renewal and restoration that brings me into contact with how “less than perfect” we can treat each other – especially our pastors. Instead of shining like a beacon, our representation of Jesus and the Gospel sometimes looks more like a light stuffed tightly under a bushel, duct-taped to the floor, and sat on.

But, the very same ministry also provides the chance to see the Church shine like the city on a hill it was meant to be. In the midst of the disappointment and outright anger – from outside as well as from within – the Church does get it right innumerable times and in ways that rarely get noticed.

These are the times when the Church shines!

There are countless prescriptions offered these days for pastors to help themselves: read this book, go to this conference, try this method. I wonder if it doesn’t buy into and reinforce our American propensity for individualism. Yes, we need to take personal responsibility and grow. But when it comes down to it, you can’t fix yourself! Especially when you are mired in a sense of discouragement, failure or uncertainty.

It isn’t unusual for us, as human beings, to want to retreat into personal isolation when we have been hurt; to lick our wounds in private, and protect ourselves from further harm. However, for real healing to come – especially when the wounds have been inflicted by the very community we have been called to serve – it must come within the context of community.

In these times, I have seen the Church be the hands and feet of Jesus in the lives of pastoral families that have been wounded and forced out of leadership. I’ve watched as pastors and their families have moved from despair to hope, from second-guessing their worth and calling to having their sense of purpose renewed. When a body of believers signs up to become a Refuge Church, they have the opportunity to live out the Gospel and grace of Jesus Christ in front of everyone.

Churches that become Refuge Churches, surrounding a pastoral family in need, enter into what someone has called the “healing partnership.” It is a partnership between God, the exited pastoral family, and the church. It is a partnership that I have seen restore faith in God AND the Church, through love and grace expressed in hospitality, listening, prayer, encouragement and honest relationships. It is a partnership that has helped hundreds of pastoral families regain their footing. It is a partnership that lets the Church shine!

Cultural battles will continue, imperfect people will continue to be unkind and hurtful, and our brokenness will always be visible. But the last 20 years of my own personal experience – and specifically the last 5 years in this ministry – have provided me with a different perspective.

In one church at a time, with one pastor and his family at a time, we at PIR Ministries are honored to be a part of encouraging that partnership; and helping to change the image of the Church. And not just for pastors and church people. It could be that there are those watching – with broken lives and who don’t know this Jesus we serve – who might find a glimmer of hope for themselves as they watch a church become a place of refuge for a wounded or fallen leader. Perhaps, when the Church shines in offering grace and kindness to one of its own, those looking on might be able to sense there is a place for them.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:35)

Let the Church shine!

If you or your church would like to explore becoming a Refuge Church, please visit our website at www.pirministries.org. You can also email us at info@pirministries.org

The Grounded Pastor – Patterns for a Healthy Pastoral Life, Part 3

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – 1 Timothy 4:15

 One of the highest compliments I hear being given to a pastor or ministry leader is that they are “well grounded” in their teaching. It implies that they have committed themselves to the study of Scripture and the formation of good theology. Very important! However, rarely (if ever) have I heard a pastor’s life acknowledged as well grounded. This is very curious to me, especially considering how careful the Apostle Paul is to highlight the importance of being grounded in life as well as teaching in his letter to pastor Timothy.

It seems that Paul refuses to let Timothy compartmentalize his faith. Life and doctrine are joined at the hip in pastoral leadership. In the same way that good theology must inform our teaching, there are foundational theological issues that need to inform the live our lives as ministers.

When a candidate for ordination steps forward, I wonder if asking questions like,

“What will your life in ministry actually look like?” “How will you create a framework for ministry life that is grounded in the biblical and theological truths of WHO and WHAT you really are?”

These are probably good questions for any ministry leader, no matter what stage they’re at.

Like many who deeply desire to serve God in a vocational ministry role, I forgot that God was more interested in WHO I was than WHAT I did for Him. The result was a major crash and burn that did violence to relationships that I cherished, the church I served and to my own soul. The framework on which I hung my ministry life was far from what I now see shining through the Scriptures. My work as a part of PIR Ministries now brings me into contact, every day, with pastors who also seem to lack this vital framework – busy, overwhelmed and living on adrenalin, they attempt to exceed the limits of what their actual life in Christ can sustain.

“Your wife and your body don’t lie” – A pastor who suffered severe burnout.

This goes beyond the practical do’s and don’ts of preventing burnout. As Gretchen Ziegenhals recently said,

“… how can we think differently about the work itself and what we can physically manage? It is not simply about having that little    plastic gizmo on our desks — the “NO” button — that says “No!” in three different ways when we push it. Or repeating to ourselves, “I’m not on that committee” when we try to control too much.” (Alban Institute)

We need to think deeply and differently about our work and our role.

May I invite you to consider with me a framework for ministry that will ground us in a healthy way of life? One that may provide for the flourishing of our own souls and, in turn, the souls of those we shepherd? This framework consists of understanding:

 You are Human – Do I live conscious of being a created being – a HUMAN being; “crowned with glory and honor” but limited, broken, redeemed and Christ-dependent every day? If we will let it, the present sense of our humanity roots us in this truth – there is a God, and I am not Him! This simple realization can transform us from human doings – with an unrealistic belief in our unlimited capacity – into people who live and work in a very human way. We will daily bump up against the sinful defaults of our hearts, our inability to fix things and people and the limits of our own bodies. And that will be OK.

“I am a real person who occupies an office.” – David Rohrer

 You are a Disciple – Prior to any call to serve there is the call to follow. The call to follow Jesus, to know and love Him above all else, grounds us in the Gospel. Sometimes we minister types can forget that the Gospel we preach is the Gospel for US as well.  A recent survey found that 70% of pastors only spent time studying the Word when they are preparing their sermons. The daily, intentional personal relationship with Jesus is where we are leading people. We probably should get there first! Jesus has always been after our heart, not our performance.

You are a Pastor/Minister/Shepherd – This vocational piece is what most pastors and ministers focus on exclusively once we experience a “call” to ministry. But ministry is more than the sermons we preach, the service we give, or the leading we do. We are called to give voice to God’s work in our own life -the whole of it. The Apostle Paul admonished the Philippians to follow not only his words but the things they had seen in him. Vocation is the voice of my life – human, disciple, servant.

“As pastors, we must be in God for the world, not in the world for God.”

 Do you see how we often flip these – maybe even ignore one or two? It is vital to see how they build on one another and need to be in order. I like to think of this as the Ordo pastorium – the order of being a pastor – that forms a framework for a grounded and healthier ministry life.

The Answer for Isolation & Loneliness in Ministry Life

Proverbs 4:23 – “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (ESV)

                               “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.” MSG

1 Timothy 4:16 – “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (ESV)

“Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.” MSG

Good soul care for pastors includes both appropriate self-awareness – watching over our hearts, and good rhythms – watching over the patterns of our lives that reflect our true values. Healthy hearts and healthy souls mean healthy lives and ministry.

I have deliberately chosen the word “rhythm” rather than discipline because of the organic nature that the word represents. In music, rhythm is “an ordered alternation of contrasting elements.” Good rhythms in ministry allow us to account for the realities we all face, and keep us from a rigid approach to our discipleship that can far too often create shame rather than joy and freedom.  Rhythms reflect the ebb and flow of life under grace.

In order to address the issues of isolation and loneliness in ministry, we must consider the rhythm between solitude and community.

SOLITUDE AND COMMUNITY

I can be alone in a group. I jokingly refer to my “people quotient.” I am energized by being alone. But when being alone becomes isolation – both externally and internally –  we are in the danger zone. My own story is a clear example of how self-isolation can lead to disaster and an exit from ministry. Reasons and rationalizations abound to keep us from pursuing authentic relationships; creating the opportunity for discouragement and sin to grow.

Many of us in ministry are dangerously isolated – perhaps not because of a lack of proximity to others, but because we lack the commitment to those significant, authentic relationships. This is the loneliness and isolation of many pastors and spouses.

We need the rhythm of both solitude and community to combat isolation and loneliness.

Solitude

Solitude is different from isolation. It is an intentional “coming apart” as Jesus advised, in order to hear God. Jesus planned times of intentional aloneness with the Father. (Mt 14:23, Mk 1:35)

Solitude is that time and place where we find, as John Ortberg has said, that ” …your existence is larger than your job at church.”

Being alone with God in solitude is a Place and Time to remember who I am and to confront the real issues of my heart. One of the clearest examples of this in my own life occurred when I was on a personal retreat at a local Jesuit retreat center. Walking through the “stations of the cross” in the outside gardens, I came to the one where Jesus asked the Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment of solitude, God was able to speak into my own feelings of abandonment carried with me from when I was a child – feelings that affected a good deal of how I treated others. In the cry of Jesus, I knew that He understood my pain. Without the time alone, I never would have experienced God’s healing touch in my heart.

Solitude can be a time when we fast from things, people, and all the outer props of our lives; including technology. (R. Foster)

But we must be careful here. We do not live only in those internal moments. There is a reason Jesus created the Church, the physical expression of His Body here on earth. As pastors, we live much of our lives between our ears. The contrasting element to solitude is community – the other element necessary for overcoming isolation and loneliness. Being alone needs to prepare us to be with others.

Community

Pastors and pastor families need genuine community. We may preach it to our congregations. But we can avoid it for ourselves. Ministry happens in community and we need it for our souls to be healthy.

Jesus desired that Peter, James and John share with Him in His times of glory (on the mountain) and in His deep sorrow (in the Garden)

Paul longed for the company of his companions while in prison.

Community is a word that is very popular right now. With it has come a greater willingness of some pastors to be more open about their own challenges from the pulpit. While I am grateful for that, the deeper issue is: are there those who really know us? Do we avoid real and authentic relationships for ourselves out of fear or pride?

Are there people we can be unfettered with? Are there those who can advocate God’s presence and grace to us?

Pastors need others to remind them who they really are – because we can forget that we are human beings first, disciples second and ministers third. All of us need people who can speak God’s truth and grace into our lives and take us back to the Gospel for US!

I am used to being a lone ranger. But understanding that I need others in my life caused me to create an Advisory Team when I returned to ministry life. This small group of men know me, and I can be transparent with them. One of the greatest joy’s in my life is that, where once I had none, now I have friends.

Where is that place, and who are the people with whom you can be fully known without secrets? Who can you sit with and confess, “Here is what I am most ashamed of…” and experience grace, forgiveness and healing! I believe that James 5:16 is the most avoided passage of Scripture I know. Yet the work of confession – of bringing our faults and sins into the light – is vital for the health of our souls. Personal confession is good. But real healing takes place in that community activity of speaking and hearing in the presence of others. Being authentic at this level will allow us to be authentic in other relationships both inside and outside of our congregations.

It is important that we nurture this kind of community with our spouses. They are a “help” fit for you (Gen. 2:18). They are on this journey with you. Then you must find those folks – within and outside your congregation that can be your friends. Before you leave today, I challenge you to reach out and find one other person to begin with.

In the rhythm of Solitude and Community, we can find a lasting answer to the problems of isolation and loneliness in ministry.

For more information on pastoral renewal and restoration, please visit our website at http://www.pirministries.org, or contact us at info@pirministries.org.

Uncovering the Trauma of Forced Ministry Exits

We see it time and again.

Whether you have been blindsided by a leadership decision or experienced a slow “death spiral” in a ministry role, the spiritual and emotional toll of a forced exit is great. Trauma is not too drastic of a word to use to describe what ministers and their families encounter when they are fired, forced to resign or find themselves at the mercy of a leadership coup.

By definition, trauma is a deeply distressing experience or event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. It is often accompanied by a constant reliving of the event, anger, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and fatigue. These are the very symptoms we observe when we sit down to talk with those who have been exited.

  • Trust is deeply wounded – “Why would people do this?” “Where was God?”
  • Doubt colors the sense of calling, giftedness and worth. Pastors begin to see themselves as “damaged goods.”
  • Anger and fear begin to dominate relationships; and show up in unexpected ways.

And the ministers spouse and children? Many consider walking back through the doors of a church unthinkable.

In many ways, a forced exit from a ministry role may not seem much different from any other job loss. But the differences are real and can be dramatic. There is a deep spiritual and emotional connection that exists between pastors and their calling. There is also a deep connection that can, and should, grow between ministers and the fellowship of people they serve. This is, perhaps, one of the most significant differences. When a minister is forced out of their role it goes beyond merely losing a job. The typical support relationships that would help someone through any job transition are suddenly and traumatically ended for ministers and their families. Where can ministry leaders go, and who can they talk with to process the loss and grief when an exit occurs?

It is vital that we acknowledge the reality of spiritual and emotional trauma in cases of forced ministry exit. Otherwise, we can be tempted to minimize or even deny the long-term effects this kind of experience creates. In the introduction to her book Moving On – Surviving the Grief of Forced Termination, Deanna Harrison recounts her own experience with this kind of trauma.

“For reasons beyond our comprehension, our 30+ years of pastoral ministry came to an abrupt halt. I was still married to the same godly man of integrity but he was no longer a pastor. I was no longer a pastor’s wife. Within days of learning anything was wrong, it was all over. We had been terminated. Our lives shattered as we plunged into a grief so deep I wondered if we would survive.”

For the pastoral family, a particularly traumatic exit can create an emotional and spiritual “toxicity” that is carried into the next role if left unattended. Churches begin to see themselves as “employers,” making arm’s length business decisions without understanding how such exits not only change the life of a pastoral family, but also the very fabric of the church culture. Every time a pastor or ministry leader leaves or is let go, there is a measure of grief and loss for all involved. Forced exits come packed with a level of trauma that can feel like a tsunami.

Studies have shown that most ministers who experience a forced exit take a minimum of 18 months to return to an active role – and 40% never return. In every case, the first step in healing hearts wounded by an exit is accepting the reality of the spiritual and emotional trauma. The next step is to connect with those who have the tools and processes to help ministry families navigate through the dark waters after an exit. These people and ministries exist, and are equipped to offer hope when all seems lost.

If you, or someone you know, is in the midst of a season of grief following a forced termination, it is important to take these two steps as soon as possible. The trauma is real. But so is Hope. You can begin by contacting us at info@pirministries.org.

News Release from PIR Ministries

 

WE ARE GROWING!

PIR(Pastor-in-Residence) Ministries welcomes new staff
One of the significant prayer requests that has been running in the background of our ministry for some time has been that God would bring new staff our way. He has answered in abundance. Since January, we have welcomed on board two new Regional Directors – Rev. Mark Yurich (Michigan) and Dr. Daniel Borg (California) These are folks who share the same passion and vision for bringing grace and hope to pastors “at-risk” and in transition as the rest of the PIR team. We are deeply grateful for both, as well as the whole new set of skills and network of ministry leaders that come with them. Check out their full bios at www.pirministries.org.

Thanks be to God – and thanks to all who pray for and support us in this work!

PIR Ministries is a faith mission. Support for this ministry comes in many forms: prayer, encouragement and financial contribution. Each of these is so important to making it possible for the work to grow. 

For more information about the work of PIR Ministries or how you might become a partner with us, contact us at:

PIR Ministries Inc.

PO Box 64934

Virginia Beach VA 23467

(757) 853-7889

info@PIRMinistries.org

PIR Ministries is a 501 (C)3 Organization

Another Reason Pastors don’t ask for help – Fear!

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” –  C.S. Lewis

It’s been a long week since my last posting. (I think I have to give up on putting myself in a “time” box.) Before we take a look at the next reason why pastors are reluctant to ask for help, it might be good to ask “When IS a pastor in need of help?”

A pastor, or any ministry leader, is likely to need help when

  • They are leading on empty. (compassion fatigue has set in)
  •  The fit isn’t right between who they are, their strengths, and the role they are in.
  •  They are struggling with unresolved issues – patterns of behavior that could put them “at risk”.
  •  A conflict among staff or in the congregation is beyond them to resolve.
  •  They are isolated, and without significant friendships.
  •  Their own expectations exceed their grasp.
  •  Their family is in turmoil – over ministry boundaries and schedule, or just life.
  •  Self-care is lacking – there is no time for their own souls.
  • Their strengths do not cover all the bases.
  •  They feel they are not doing anything significant.
  • Depression has overwhelmed them.

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One of the big reasons that keeps pastors from asking for help when these situations arise is fear!

 

I have been doing a lot of thinking about this; since this reason and I are good friends. If you are a Bloom County fan, then you will recall the “Snorkelwacker.” This is the monster in Binkley’s “closet of anxiety”, and is the representative of all his fears. I am convinced that each of us have a closet of anxiety where all our fears live and breed. It would be nice if they just remained there. But as Binkley learns, they will often reach out of the closet and “grab you” – unbidden and unwanted.

This is a partial list of the fears that may be familiar to some of us. (Names withheld to protect the author) When the closet door opens, these can keep us from asking for help.

What if they don’t need me?

What if someone does it better than me?

I might lose my job.

I will be a disappointment to others and myself and the shame will be too much.

It will all fall apart.

What will people think?

I might be found out that I struggle with the same issues that others do…and I should be above it.

I will look inadequate and weak.

Others will question my faith…even while I question my own.

Fear causes us to do things that keep the help we need distant from us – to cover and spin and control. From the time of our first parents we have been hiding from God and each other. There are pastors I have spent time with whose fear of the loss of prestige and significance they envision will happen cannot be overcome. They are paralyzed, and so unable to humbly ask for help.

Now, not all fears are unreasonable. Some are very good and very healthy. Even in the Garden, I doubt that Adam and Eve were doing un-netted trapeze work or experimenting with sharp objects. What is most troubling is that today, in the Church, it may not be unreasonable to fear that there will be those who will pounce on any sign of weakness, default to maintaining appearances rather than extending grace, and generally make it difficult to ask for help. At this point we may have to work through the risk/reward equation. Is the risk of suffering at the hands of my fears, whether reasonable or not, greater than the reward of authenticity?

I think there is a simple way to start cleaning out the closet of our anxieties that may allow us the joy of asking (and receiving!) the help we need.

Own them! Denying our fears uses up a lot of energy that could be saved for the real challenges of ministry life. Self-awareness is our friend. Naming our fears, and acknowledging that they are a part of us, is another step toward integrity.

Speak them to another! In the light of day, many of our fears tend to assume their proper proportions – or disappear completely. I think James 5:13-19 covers the struggles we have with fears as well. One of the biggest lies we are led to believe is the if people really knew us, they wouldn’t like us; and would probably run away. It just isn’t true! God knows; and He doesn’t. Others can know; and they won’t. Friends will extend grace and understanding. Not all church members are out to get us. They can be amazingly kind if we help them understand what it can mean to be a human being who is also a ministry leader.

Trust God with the outcomes! When Joshua took over the leadership of God’s people, I am certain there was a whole lot of fear happening in his heart. I know this because of how many times God tells him to have courage. But God wasn’t asking Joshua to face his fears on his own and simply “man up.” God’s final word to Joshua is a true word for those of us who battle great fears that can keep us from asking for the help we need.

 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Burnout isn’t Just a Pastor Thing…

Last week I reposted an article by Ken Sande regarding his first hand experience with a pastor friend who burned out. This week, we hear the story of how easy it is for the spouse of a pastor to get caught in the whirlwind of ministry life and end up toasted as well.  I want to encourage all pastors to read this – and work to protect their spouse. But to the church at large – let’s do a better job of caring for both our pastor AND spouse.

Read here

Pastors’ Wives Can Burn Out Too