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

 

A Good Word on Pastoral Health from Ken Sande

In light of my current series on “5 Reasons Pastors Don’t Ask for Help…and what can happen if you do!” these observations by Ken Sande, founder of Peacmakers and RW 360, are quite appropriate.

Do You Know a Bruised Reed?

Bruised ReedIt takes a great deal of humility, wisdom and courage for a popular pastor to admit that he is a “bruised reed” in desperate need of physical rest, spiritual renewal and relational retooling.

Do You Know a Bruised Reed?

 

 

I Can Manage on My Own… Part 2 of “5 Reasons Pastors Don’t Ask for Help – and what can happen if you do!”

In my last blog, I began to explore what I think are the top five reasons pastors (and probably quite a few of the rest of us) don’t ask for help. I know that in my own life, I am constantly amazed at how often these tendencies crop up. The daily challenge is to lean into a different way of living, one where the surprises come from what happens when I DO ask for help.

My spiritual director (who’s in addition to my therapist!) said that “ask and you will receive” is a marker of spiritual maturity. I’ve never really considered asking for help as a strength or sign of maturity. In fact, I think our culture promotes the opposite.” – April Diaz

Number 1: Help requires others… but self-sufficiency is our motto.

No matter how many times we may publiclyimages (1) declare the Scriptural truth of our neediness and dependence, we believe that we are more than enough for what we face. We can manage all by ourselves. This management approach dominates in our culture, and pastors are not immune. I know I battle with my inner cowboy – the rough and ready, independent character, self-sufficient in every way. It shows up in simple things, like projects around the house (I have a long list of my own making!), where it never occurs to me to ask others to help. And it extends to the deep and lasting spiritual battles I fight. Regardless of the situation, my inner monologue is, “I can manage it, my thinking is the best, my strength of will can see me through!”

Only humans, this side of the fall, have the audacity to attempt self-sufficiency. Everything in nature is interdependent.

 I watch the barley my son-in-law is growing in our backyard and it shouts this truth. The seed cannot go it alone. Sun, water, soil and the watchful tending of another all play a part. But we are taught early and long that the only one we can really depend on is ourselves. This runs strong in us. I have watched the elderly struggle with being dependent, or interdependent, on others even when it is clear that they cannot care for themselves.

For pastors, this tendency is often reinforced by the expectations that come with the role – both internal and external. Internally, our training, skills and personal need to succeed can lead us to believe that we are sufficient for anything the job can throw at us, if we just manage it better. In our actions, we quite simply say to Jesus, “I’ve got this!” Sometimes the disappointment of having others not follow through can reinforce the feeling that it is just better to go it alone. Externally, pastors are expected to be the one with all the answers to life’s deepest questions. They obviously have their act together; their degree says so… and the illusion of self-sufficiency grows stronger.

We don’t ask for help because asking for help will shatter the illusion and will require that we invite others into our lives and ministries.

“So when you have forgotten who you are, when you assign to yourself more maturity than you actually have, and when you think you are more capable than you really are, you leave yourself little reason to seek the ongoing help of your Savior” – Paul Tripp from Dangerous Calling

What if we were less “…so self-assured,” as the song goes?

In an interview published by the Alban Institute, Eugene Peterson reflected on his own efforts to avoid the trap of self-sufficiency. In seeking to develop a culture of mutuality in life and ministry, he made this bold statement to his congregation:

“Help me. I have needs. I can’t function well without help from you. We’re in this together, we’re doing the same thing, we’re worshiping together, we’re living the Christian life together. You’ve asked me to do certain things to help you do it—to lead you in worship on Sunday, to visit you when you’re sick, to help administer the church. But I need help in all of this.”

If all we have is ourselves, it robs us of intimacy and closes the door on getting the help we desperately need. I find that, in always encouraging others, pastors rarely share their own needs. They challenge their congregations to build community, yet are often sorely lacking in the communal aspect of their own journey.

But if we can step away from our do-it-yourself tendencies for a moment we might find:

  • That we have peace instead of anxiety. Keeping all the plates spinning, being the sole fixer for people’s lives takes a lot of energy; and usually leaves me grouchy and far from the peace that Jesus offered. Taking the risk and asking for help has a mysterious way of renewing my spirit – I don’t have to do it all by myself.
  • That we remember who we really are (because we can forget). Pastors need to find their place among the rest of the human race. We need others who can speak God’s truth and grace into our lives and take us back to the Gospel FOR US! There is a grace that can only flow to us through others – a grace that reminds us that we still need a Savior, as well as the rest of His Body.
  •  That we are healed. James 5:16 is a powerful antidote to the poison of our self-sufficiency, yet we rarely apply it. When we confess our faults to each other and allow ourselves to be prayed for regarding our true needs, we are admitting that we cannot manage on our own – we need help. It does a lot to ruin our sense of being capable for all things. And the healing that comes may be the healing from our own deep independence.

What happens when you do ask for help? You find yourself actually living in the “community” that we all talk about, program for, and so desperately need.

Next week: “There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” – Andre Gide