In the Meantime…

clockIt’s been a busy couple of weeks. (I hate ever saying how busy I am, even if it’s the truth.) So I am catching up on my posting and thought I would share a couple of links to some other bloggers that have challenged me over the last few days.

The first one comes from a friend of mine who is speaking powerfully into the lives of pastors who have experienced a moral fall. His blog is full of insights gained through a great deal of pain and the grace of God. Check out his latest: http://fallenpastor.com/2013/02/25/what-i-would-change-about-the-way-i-pastored/

The second one comes from a blog I follow, written by Brad Lomenick. I appreciate the younger viewpoint that he brings to ministry discussions. In this post, however, he hits on a theme that is timeless. For those of us who struggle with the white space on the pages of our lives, take a look at what Brad has to offer: http://www.bradlomenick.com/2013/02/25/make-time-for-margin/

I will see you back here in a couple of days with a new post of my own.

Roy

Sursum Corda

sursum corda

Finding Hope in the Midst of Conflict – Part 3

I have mentioned this very impressive TED talk before, but it bears repeating here due to its direct impact on how we look at conflict. It opens the door to the final step in finding hope in the middle of strained relationships and sticky situations.

Management expert Margaret Heffernan, in a thought-provoking talk given at TED Global 2012, offered a counterintuitive lesson learned during her years running businesses and organizations: that conflict and opposition are essential for good thinking (“Dare to Disagree,” August 2012). Heffernan shared the story of Dr. Alice Stewart, who in the 1950’s dared to challenge a key component of prenatal care – the use of x-rays on pregnant women. Her research, which linked childhood cancers to this procedure, was not easily accepted.

Alice Stewart“…for 25 years Alice Stewart had a very big fight on her hands. So, how did she know that she was right? Well, she had a fantastic model for thinking. She worked with a statistician named George Kneale, and George was pretty much everything that Alice wasn’t. … But he said this fantastic thing about their working relationship. He said, “My job is to prove Dr. Stewart wrong.” He actively sought disconfirmation – different ways of looking at her models, at her statistics, different ways of crunching the data in order to disprove her. He saw his job as creating conflict around her theories. Because it was only by not being able to prove that she was wrong, that George could give Alice the confidence she needed to know that she was right.
It’s a fantastic model of collaboration — thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers. I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators? Alice and George were very good at conflict. They saw it as thinking. So what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all, it requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves.”

To effectively deal with conflict, we need to:

Embrace new behaviors and methods that will help move conflict toward resolution.

The ability to make conflict work FOR us and not against us is one of the most important skills we can learn. The problem is that many of our default methods for handling conflict work directly against this. As pastors and ministry leaders, our tendency can be to believe that simply introducing biblical data into situations of conflict will win the day. And when it doesn’t, we bring more! The likely result is not a healthy resolution to the issue. Scripture needs to inform the process, but a “warriors” approach to its use in conflict will never bring the unity we hope for.

A better approach to conflict may be found in advance preparation. Ken Sande, President of Peacemaker Ministries, offered this insight when asked about putting structures in place to help us navigate difficult situations:

“Right! Do it when everybody’s getting along. Say to your team, “Listen, we may have a falling out some day. If that happens, what will we do? How do we ensure accountability and fairness?” If you wait until you’re in conflict, then anything you suggest will be met with suspicion. Failure to have accountability structures in place before a conflict is the single most frequent issue we deal with in conflicts between leaders—pastors, elders, deacons, people at every level. So put structures in place before a conflict happens.” (Leadership Magazine, 2011)

Rather than avoiding or merely reacting to conflict, we may do well to invite it in.

So where does conflict exist? In the space between people. If we can close that gap in godly ways, then conflict can become the means to new understanding and a more confident ministry. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Jesus and conflictJesus used every conflict as an opportunity to advance the kingdom and deepen his disciples’ understanding of their relationship with Him and each other. Not every godly insight or nugget of wisdom I have received has come as the result of light and easy fellowship. Quite a few have risen out of the ashes of very heated conflicts.

A good question we should always ask, especially when faced with opposition from those who see things differently than us, is, “Why shouldn’t we do it this way?”

 

Finding Hope in the Midst of Conflict – Part 2

In part one of this short series, I talked about the need to be aware that conflict is inevitable in ministry. Another component in finding hope in the midst of conflict is the matter of self-awareness.

baggage claimWe all enter into our walk with Jesus and into our ministry with a baggage claim in hand. Though our guilt and shame is washed away, we still bring with us all of our experiences, character issues, bents in style and behavior – and how we handle conflict is often a result of the baggage we carry. Some of us have learned to resolve conflict in a healthy way, but most of us have not. Conducting some routine self-examination will help us recognize the less than productive ways we approach situations where conflict exists. So, the second key idea to navigating conflict is:

Examine your own styles and the baggage you bring to ministry!

When I sit across the table from a fellow leader in the church, and the dialogue escalates in intensity, when disagreements become deeply entrenched animosities and we are caught in what Eugene Peterson calls the “crosshairs of pastoral expectations,” we often retreat into methods of dealing with conflict that can prove disastrous to finding godly resolution. Here are a few that sound way too familiar to me:

Taking Things Personally (The Defender)

Steven James offers the following advice – dripping with sarcasm –

“If people criticize your work, they are, in essence, attacking you. Criticism of a project you have worked on is a direct assault on your intelligence, personality, and character. As a matter of self-respect, it’s important that you don’t let them get away with that. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you might come across as a pushover. So, show your strength and conviction by defending every idea you have. Rather than “choosing your battles,” remember that if someone criticizes your decisions, actions, or suggestions, they’ve already chosen to attack your personal self-worth. Don’t let them get away with that.” – From Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders – Time-tested practices to ensure complete and utter failure.

PIR uses an assessment tool called PRO-D. The potential for taking things personally is one of the most consistent themes identified by that tool as an area of concern for pastors and exited pastors. It is the dark side of our desire to care deeply about people: the extreme sensitivity to criticism and the tendency to make agreement a matter of personal acceptance.

Avoidance of Conflict (The Peacekeeper)

In his book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry, David Rohrer identifies the temptations we face when we try to avoid conflict. We default to either “fight or flight.” Fear (flight) can lead us to become the “fixer upper,” the redeemer of all things negative. We can easily confuse peacekeeping with peace making! People pleasing, which is another way to express this, rarely leads to the place where God wants His church to be.

“If avoidance of controversy and maintenance of the appearance of stability are your highest aim then you will never go far in leading people into the truth.”– David Rohrer, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry (IVP), p.117

Passive-Aggressive Behavior (The Controller)

Pastors sometimes feel themselves at the mercy of church boards, key leaders, or influential groups in the church. A desire to feel in control of something, or anything, especially when you feel powerless, can lead to passive-aggressive behaviors.

“Passive Aggressive behavior is the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way (such as through procrastination and stubbornness).” http://www.outofthefog.net

Resentment and anger, like so many other strong emotions, will eventually leak out no matter how hard we try to bury them. They may find their way out through Withdrawal (deliberate procrastination or unwillingness to contribute), the Silent Treatment (making yourself generally “unavailable”), Off-line Criticism (trying to influence opinion through gossip), Sarcasm (targeted humor), and even through Indirect Violence (slamming of doors and kicking the dog).

Winning At All Costs (Narcissism)

According to Rohrer, the “fight” side of avoiding conflict takes on the face of the “warrior.” This requires us to win and establish that we are right. As a result, there can be a slow creep into narcissism – where it’s all about me. Researchers are beginning to see a growing trend in our culture toward narcissism and pastors are not exempt.

“Imagine a person who does what he wants, regardless of how it affects other people. He refuses to take responsibility for his own mistakes, and he believes he’s unbeatable at anything he undertakes, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Sounds like a textbook narcissist, right? Well, these days, it also sounds a lot like the United States. Narcissism is on the rise in the U.S. It’s likely to get worse before it gets better…” –United States of Narcissism Newsweek (7/17/2011)

feedbackIt may be time to take stock, and get some good, honest feedback about how you engage with conflict. Is your style of handling conflict an obstacle to finding godly resolution? Is it putting you at risk for an exit? Being aware of the way you deal with conflict is not just helpful – it’s a vital examination for anyone wanting to have a healthy ministry.

Finding Hope in the Midst of Conflict – Part 1

If I were to ask you for the most common reason pastors are exited from their churches, what would be your guess? Lousy theology? Bad work habits? Lack of concern for the members?

fired2 Drawing from numerous studies conducted over the last 4 decades, the experts agree that conflict – “the ugly pastor/pew rift over how the life and work of a particular church is to be understood and acted upon” (Chuck Wickman, “Pastors at Risk, p 39) – is the top reason.

Last Fall, I was invited to Grand Rapids Theological Seminary to speak to a class of seminary students studying “Moral Issues in Christian Life and Ministry.” The topic I was asked to comment on was this very one – conflict. Over the next few weeks, I would like to share with you what I shared with them regarding this key issue that divides churches and crushes pastors. Let me begin where I began with them…

We are not sufficiently aware of conditions – In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard observes how the story of early polar exploration can mimic our experience of the church and ministry. She describes, in detail, one of the more memorable failures in attempting to navigate the Artic:

 “In 1845, Sir John Franklin and 138 officers and men embarked from England to find the Northwest Passage across the high Canadian Artic to the Pacific Ocean. They sailed in two three-masted barques. Each sailing vessel carried an auxiliary steam engine and a twelve-day supply of coal for the projected two or three years’ voyage. Instead of additional coal…each ship made room for a 1,200-volume library, “a hand organ, playing fifty tunes,” china place settings for officers and men, cut glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware. The officers’ sterling silver knives, forks, and spoons were particularly interesting. The silver was of ornate Victorian design, very heavy at the handles and richly patterned. Engraved on the handles were the individual officers’ initials and family crests. The expedition carried no special clothing for the Artic, only the uniforms of Her Majesty’s Navy.” The last sighting of the expedition was two months after it had set sail.”

sir john Dillard notes that over the next 20 years search parties discovered remains of the expedition – “…life boats dragged across the frozen wilderness containing chocolate, tea and a great deal of table silver. Skeletons were found, silently gripping settings of sterling silver engraved with officers initials and family crests.

Reflecting on the early attempts of polar exploration, Dillard makes this insightful comment, “In the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.”

(Not) sensible of conditions…unfortunately, this oft-repeated approach to ministry can lead to similar outcomes. Idealistically, many pastors – especially those new to ministry –  believe that conflict will either never happen to them, or will be easily navigated. Here is the first key idea in dealing with conflict –

 EXPECT IT!

For countless generations, the idea of conflict as a part of all of life was the norm. But somehow, we have lost this understanding and replaced it with the drive to keep the peace at all costs. More on this later.

If you were to describe conflict in the terms of physics, it is two or more objects trying to occupy the same space – usually you and me! The reasons are multi-faceted, from churches with unresolved issues where factions and power politics are at play, to pastors with personalities and leadership styles that elicit confrontational responses or are unable to navigate troubled waters.

We need to expect conflict because we live in a broken world with broken people, and WE are broken.

BibleConflict runs throughout Scripture: Nehemiah faced it with the exiles who had returned to the land, Jesus had to deal with conflict among his disciples, Paul experienced conflict with both Peter and Barnabus, and the early Church had its encounters with it as well. Gordon MacDonald remarked that, “Adam blamed Eve for his problems, thinking he could wiggle out of conflict. Abraham and Lot split their joint venture because of growing contentiousness among their servants. Brothers Jacob and Esau reached a point of resentment so great that one of them simply skipped town. Joseph had a legitimate case against his brothers but chose to end it in forgiveness. The Israelites constantly drained the spirit of Moses with their complaining. They may have left Egypt, but Egypt never left them. There is Saul angrily chasing David through the wilderness, Ahab expressing antipathy toward the prophet Micaiah, Nehemiah fending off the efforts of saboteurs. In the New Testament, there is frequent squabbling among the disciples, the debates among the early Christians, and the messiness of life in the divisive church in Corinth. Each of these conflicts was different. Many ended badly (David and Absalom). Others ended with great grace, none better than the morning when Jesus made breakfast for the failed disciples and offers them another shot at being on the point of his mission to the world.” – Gordon MacDonald, “When Bad Things Happen to Good Relationships” (Leadership, Winter 2011)

Even the famed colonial pastor Jonathan Edwards ran headlong into conflict – with a less than optimal outcome for him. In 1728, he succeeded his maternal grandfather as pastor at Northampton, Massachusetts, where his preaching brought remarkable religious revivals. But he alienated many of his congregation in 1748 by his proposal to depart from his grandfather’s policy of encouraging all baptized persons to partake of Communion and instead to admit to this sacrament only those who gave satisfactory evidence of being truly converted. He was dismissed in 1750. More recently, in 2009, Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham, succeeded the late James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tchividjian’s church plant, New City, merged with the larger Coral Ridge, but the honeymoon was short-lived. Seven months later a group of church members, headed by Kennedy’s daughter, circulated a petition calling for his removal. On September 20, 2009, Tchividjian survived a vote to remove him from leadership.

So, rather than packing our proverbial pastor’s suitcase with fancy silverware and flip-flops, we need to be aware of the conditions we will likely encounter, and prepare sensibly. The weather in many churches can change from balmy to blizzard in a hurry, and pastors need to expect that snowshoes and winter survival gear may be necessary. The expectation of conflict is the first key to surviving it.polar gear

Healing Our Own!

What a beautiful thing it is when the Church – perceived by many to be a place where we shoot our wounded – becomes the means of healing and restoration for its own! This last weekend I had the privilege of observing, firsthand, how a small suburban church has welcomed a burned-out pastor and his family into their midst and walked with them through the PIR process, finding the hope they so desperately needed. Pastor B had been trying to plant an inner city church for 7½ years. Early last year, he and his family came to the place where they were discouraged and ready to quit – burned out in every way. A call to PIR Ministries resulted in a story with a much happier ending.

Pastor B is in the final stages of completing the Pastor in Residence (PIR) program. It was a delight to meet with him and his wife, as well as the pastor and members of the congregation who make up his support team. Even as a part of this great ministry, I often wonder if the Body of Christ will ever catch on to the importance of offering grace to pastors who have exited the ministry. My hope was renewed as our staff had the opportunity to interact with this couple and the church. Here were a pastor and wife who had gone from feeling like they were dropping into an abyss, to being at a place of growing spiritually and emotionally healthy. Here was an example of how God’s grace, extended in simple but meaningful ways can restore a fellow believer and servant to a renewed relationship to Jesus, the church, and ministry.

Some things that I took away:

The Senior Pastor leads the way – The pastor of the Refuge Church exuded a spirit of compassion and encouragement. There was a total lack of territorialism. Rather, there was an open invitation to the exited pastor to enter into the life and ministries of the church. It was evident that this same spirit was a way of living that, naturally expressed in daily ministry, had become the ethos of the church. The process of healing starts on a solid foundation when this kind of attitude is extended to a wounded fellow pastor.

people make the diffThe people make a difference – As we interviewed the members of the support team, they were actually surprised about the extent of the impact they had on this couple. But their willingness to show up – to be real and present with this hurting couple – made all the difference. Mel Lawrenz, in his new book Spiritual Influence, says “We must put out of our minds any feeling that ‘being there’ is pitifully inadequate. If you have ever been in a crisis, you understand how important the presence of others is.” The process didn’t require a theological education on their part, just the willingness to love and walk alongside a brother in need. Meeting with these folks on a regular basis allowed Pastor B and his wife to be real again: dropping the “pastoral persona” and re-engaging with life.

The program works if you work it – I am borrowing from AA here, but it is the truth. Having been trained and prepared, the pastor and support team followed the PIR process laid out for them, adapting it here and there as needed. In the end, Pastor B and his family avoided the risk of remaining in unhealthy patterns of life and ministry and potentially drifting far from God and the church. The safety net that Pastor B and his family experienced, though far too often lacking in the church world, is what PIR Ministries is all about.

I am greatly encouraged today. Tomorrow, I may see another example of the carnage and pain that results from a pastor exiting ministry. But today I have hope – a hope I can confidently declare – that the church can truly heal its own.

If you know pastors like Pastor B, burned out and on the verge of abandoning their calling, let them know there is hope. To the ones who have been forced out, the fallen, the wounded and discouraged, let them know that the church really does care. Put them in touch with us. Our calling is to do all we can to create the same opportunity that Pastor B had: to experience the grace of God through the lives of His people.

Pastor B is on a path that will likely see him move into a different aspect of ministry – and that’s OK. That option may not even have existed apart from a faithful and loving band of believers who took up the call of Jesus to love one another, and applied that to a hurting pastor and his family. We can truly heal our own!Hope

The Illusion of Control

“From life’s first cry, to final breath

Jesus commands my destiny…

Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”

– from,” In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend

It is good to be back after taking a bit of a break for the holidays. Spending time with family and a few friends, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas, is a joyful experience. Making the celebrations particularly special this year has been sharing with our daughter and son-in-law in the preparations for the birth of our very first grandchild. Needless to say this is a huge life transition for us all. All our anticipation was realized last Saturday with the arrival of a beautiful baby girl (who looks like she might share her grandpa’s red hair)!

While sitting at the hospital, as our daughter was beginning the process of bringing this new life into the world, a line from one of my favorite worship songs suddenly popped into my head. “In Christ Alone” is a song that powerfully communicates the truths of the Gospel. At its core, it exalts the Son of God, as both sovereign Lord and our one true hope. As the lines played across my heart I was reminded that, at all times – whether at birth or death, in peace or in pain, in times of effectiveness or times when plans and dreams are turning to dust – Jesus alone commands the course of our lives. I like the term “commands”, because it creates the image of one who is at the helm-on deck and involved as the ship navigates the seas.

World in Gods hand I have lived much of life with the sense that I am “in control.”  But it is clearly an illusion; albeit, a powerful one. Every day, I believe it is my plans, my strategy, and my savvy that moves my life forward. Even ministry, baptized with the required prayer, can ultimately be viewed from the standpoint of what I am able to pull off. Not until we have the opportunity to be immersed in something as powerful as the birth of a human life does the illusion become crystal clear. There are forces at work every moment of every day that I have little consciousness of – let alone control over – that shape the world and our lives. God has graciously been teaching me through the years that even when I thought control had slipped from my grasp, it was never really mine in the first place. His strong hands guide my destiny.

There is great hope and encouragement in this, I think. To give up the illusion is a scary thing, for it is what I have known and become familiar with. The reward of exchanging that illusion for the truth, however, is a freedom that sets my life at ease, and makes each day a true adventure. A large part of the process is learning to trust His heart, that He is really FOR me. I am trading the self-limiting constraints of being in charge, for the joy of standing with Him as He guides the journey we are on together.

There are times in our lives when the world seems to be coming apart, and moments when we think we are on top of it all. As we battle with all of the emotions – both the pain and the pride-one thing remains. He always commands our destiny.Jesus commands

Christ, Our Hope!

hopelessnessWe are once again coming into the final days of Advent – a time when cards are filled with wishes for hope and good cheer – a time when our anticipation of celebrating goodwill should be at its peak. Yet the events of the past few weeks seem to have cast a pall over these days. A collective hopelessness has rolled over us like a giant, crushing stone. There is great pain; and questions fill our minds. In light of this, I have been driven back to what the Bible has to say about hope. When we experience pain, loss and trauma, the need for hope is critical. But is this “hope” a wish, a dream, and merely our desperate attempt to make sense of painful and chaotic circumstances? In a curious adaptation of one of my favorite lines from the movie “The Princess Bride,” life appears to have issued a challenge, desiring to battle us – not to death, but “to the pain!” The crushed spirits that many exited pastors and their families experience when the Exit sign hangs over their heads cry out for an answer. Daily, I am challenged to find any real hope in what I see and hear around me in this world.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope…” Lamentations 3:21

Our message, as followers of Christ, is one of hope, and so any ministry that grows out of our relationship to Christ is a message of hope. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the hope we offer is not something that resides in us, to be mustered up or dusted off. Our hope is not a positive attitude or wishful thinking. It is Christ Himself: a God who has refused to stay distant from our pain.

incarnationAs I have tried to write for the encouragement and strengthening of my brothers in ministry, I have been reluctant to approach things from a “Five Steps to a Healthier Ministry” point of view. My hesitation comes from the suspicion that this can lead to just another way to manage our sin in its various forms. Without minimizing our responsibilities, what is looming larger for me these days is the true hope that is Christ alone. The Gospel reveals to us that God is in Christ, “…reconciling the world to Himself.” It announces that, through the cross and resurrection of Christ, God is remaking what was broken. “Christ in us” is “the hope of glory”- His very presence in the midst of our mess. We are reminded repeatedly in Scripture that our hope does not come from human manipulation, whether of circumstances, principles, or people. Our hope is in the Lord. Moreover, that hope is not simply in what God might do for us. In His very being, HE IS our hope.

jesus invitingRestoring hope to exited and “at-risk” pastors – or anyone for that matter – is not about creating our own “plan” for patching up hurting people. Any process or method we may use is merely a vehicle by which Christ can reach into lives and become the hope that is needed. Sharing the hope we ourselves experience because of Jesus means pointing our struggling brothers and sisters to the extended arms of a God who has never moved away – even when they are asking, “Where is He?” We can be the nearest evidence someone sees of a God who redeems, remakes and restores. I want to live in hope – to borrow each day from that future reality of “all things new” that Christ has guaranteed by what He has done for us – and radiate that hope to others around me. My only choice in being able to do that is to look away from my clever attempts to remain upbeat, and turn to Jesus – looking “full in His wonderful face,” as the old hymn goes.

EmmanuelFor all who are hoping for some hope in this Christmas season, to all the lonely, hurting pastors and their families, I pray for a renewal of hope through a renewed experience of Emmanuel, ”God WITH us!”

“In him was life, and that life was the light of men” – John 1:4

Sursam Corda!

The Slow Track – a pattern of restoration for exited pastors

rushI am a product of the first generation to be immersed in television and television advertising. I cannot even imagine trying to count the number of ads that have passed before my eyes – from the sublime to the ridiculous to the downright annoying. Some are disturbing only after you think about the messages they have communicated without our awareness. Many of us have watched as an elderly man in a retirement home discards the menu provided by the home and places a call for fast food to be delivered. Before he can even speak his order, there is a knock on the door, and his order has arrived. His response? “What took you so long?” The bar has been set to a new level of expectation regarding delivery. But the subtle message is how it describes the world around us – a world of speed, rapid response, and adrenaline rushes.

It would be nice to believe that those of us in the Church, and in leadership roles specifically, are immune to the pull of the culture. Yet such is not the case. Our ‘need for speed’ extends even into those times when a pastor and his family encounter the heart-wrenching experience of being exited from ministry. Often, the immediate response is to want to get back in the saddle as quickly as possible, to put this behind us, or to sweep it under the rug. It is an understandable response in some ways, since there are significant losses that come when an exit occurs: loss of income, loss of dignity, and loss of significant relationships.

However, the damage suffered in these times can be deep – and the effects unclear – to the one who has been exited. We must also be aware of the danger of repeating the same mistakes or continuing the same behaviors that may have contributed to the exit. At the very least, unresolved anger and fear will follow us into the next ministry opportunity, if not carefully addressed.

Counter to the tendency of our times, more thought needs to be given to the big picture. I have become an advocate of “time” when it comes to any process of restoration to ministry after an exit or fall. Instead of rushing on to the next call, or desperately trying to cobble together a quick way back, perhaps a different approach is needed. A time for healing and reassessment, to get our heads and hearts in the right place again, may be a better way. With time, and the right environment, the pastor and his family can experience the kind of restoration that leads to wholeness and healthy ministry for the future.

Jesus is the one who has, and is, restoring all things in Himself. He has called us to a ministry of restoration where, through us, His grace flows to others, bringing healing and hope. For the exited or fallen pastor, and his family, three key relationships must be restored. These follow a pattern and they take time!

 The primary relationships: God and family. Those who are exited from ministry can feel betrayed by God while at the same time feeling that they have failed Him miserably. In many cases, the pastor has spent more time preparing sermons and for business meetings than attending to his own relationship with Christ. Spouses and families are often more angry and hurt than the pastor, as they have had to watch the downward spiral toward termination. These are the relationships that must be restored before all else.

Learning to be human, to be a follower of Christ, to be a healthy spouse and parent with healthy boundaries and margins, is of critical importance. As I have become fond of saying lately, “God is far more concerned with WHO you are, than WHAT you will ever do for Him!”

Community relationships: the church and community at large. Exited pastors and their families are often mad at the church! The sense of betrayal by the Body is keen, and trust has been broken. The isolation that many pastors experience while in ministry is intensified once they find themselves on the outside looking in; many pastors cannot name five friends, and only a handful might list anyone outside of the pastoral ranks. The discovery that people really do care, and that the church can heal its own wounded, is a monumental one for the exited pastor. Experiencing life in the Body of Christ, outside of the official role of leadership, can renew an exited pastor’s confidence, trust, and appreciation of the grace of God. The opportunity to see the church for what it really is – not as an identity, but as God’s own flock that He ultimately shepherds – can be life changing. Finding friendships, both in and outside of the walls of the church, moves us from a place of isolation to an engagement with life and all it offers.

Leadership relationships: ministry roles. The last relationship needing restoration is the one we often want to put first. It is last because, deep down, we know that this relationships stands or falls on the shoulders of the previous two, by God’s grace. When a pastor is exited, there can be a great deal of confusion about the sense of call. With time and encouragement, some important questions can be asked and answered honestly. Do I belong in full time ministry or a lead role in the church? Is it healthy for me? Why did I enter ministry? Are there other ways to express God’s call on my life? By taking time to assess truthfully, that call may take on a new shape – one that is better suited for particular gifts, passions and styles. If returning to full-time ministry or leadership, exited pastors need a better understanding of a pastor’s true role in the church, including the expectations and boundaries that contribute to healthy, fruitful, and long-term ministries.

Most importantly, we cannot continue to sacrifice the best for the expedient. Fear and panic will never produce the results we hope for – we must give God the time to make us whole.

track I have also felt the pull to rush God. Although my exit from ministry 21 years ago was due to personal failure, the intervening years of restoration have followed the same pattern outlined above. Those years were not wasted, and God has proven His grace time and again, as I have walked the slow track. This is why serving His Church through a ministry of hope and grace like PIR Ministries is such a great role for me now.

There may be those who are unaware that PIR’s primary purpose is to help pastors walk through the pain of transition, to the hope and healing available in Christ. Send them our way, so that we can start them on the steady and sure track to restoration.

Pastoral Ponderings – A Sound Heart

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” – Titus 2:7-8

A while ago, when I was fresh into PIR’s work of caring for pastors, I decided it would be a good idea to read back through the Pastoral Epistles. I wanted to refresh my memory regarding Paul’s directives to Timothy and Titus, who were new to the role of leadership in the church. It was important to me to remember what the core principles of pastoral work looked like as I began to talk with, and minister to, pastors. It had been a while since I had sat in while Paul shared his own heart about serving the Church as a leader.

It was in the course of that brief study that I came across an intriguing section in Paul’s encouragement to Titus. In chapter two, verses one through eight, Paul introduces the concept of “soundness,” as something Titus was to both have in himself and teach to others. My first question was: “How do you teach soundness?” It must be something one possesses first, obviously. But, if so, what IS it?

The word itself means to have the properties of being healthy, robust, in good condition, reliable and of substantial or enduring character. A good start – but not enough to be compelling and really flesh out what Paul was talking about.

Then, the idea of soundness rang a bell with me. I have had a passing fancy with boats over the course of my life. (My one claim to actually being a sailor was in a Sears JetWind on a shallow inland lake!) I remembered reading and hearing about the importance of soundness when it comes to a ship’s hull – especially those constructed of wood. Doing a little digging, I came across the following, which helped shed some light on what Paul was trying to communicate to Titus, and perhaps to pastors today:

“There is one example of aging wooden structures that I can give that nearly everyone is familiar and can relate to. That is driving through the countryside and seeing a very old barn that is starting to fall in upon itself – the kind with the swayback roof and bulging sides. If you would like to understand what happens to old boats, all you have to do is look at that old barn which is subject to nothing more than wind, rain and gravity.

Because boats are subject to much greater stresses, old boats rarely ever get to that point without breaking apart first. Even so, aging boats will reveal the same signs of age. The first sign is open seams that just won’t stay closed no matter how much caulking the owner does. As the wood weakens and the fasteners corrode, the entire hull structure just keeps getting looser and looser. Eventually it reaches the point where the whole thing is working every time it goes to sea and it then becomes just a question of time before something pops loose and an accident happens. Or if the owner is lucky, it just quietly sinks at the dock, as most do.“Surveying Wood Hulls by David H. Pascoe, Marine Surveyor

While this passage describes soundness in a negative way, it serves to illustrate that one cannot simply assume that all is well and ignore the means to preserve the soundness of the vessel. The author above goes on to point out that the only sure way to determine the true health of a boat’s hull was through an internal examination, not an external one! If a ship’s hull is given the care it needs – working from the inside out – it will remain sound and seaworthy. Without that intentional care, the character of the construction will begin to deteriorate.

How does this help us understand Paul’s admonishment to Titus? The key to a healthy life and ministry – one that is robust and of enduring character – is the intentional and constant care of our own heart and soul. One of the most significant contributors to pastors being ‘at-risk’ is the lack of their own personal soul care. If the interior places are not maintained by a living, breathing relationship with Christ, the hull will eventually pop and come loose. And no amount of external “caulk” can save it.

This is a theme I will likely come back to over and over again. In the busyness of a pastor’s life, it is far too easy to bypass the time and effort to care for one’s own heart. And yet, the consequences are there for all to see in the ghostly remains of lives and ministries that broke apart and sank.

Pastors: do we believe what we teach? Are we maintaining the interior? This goes beyond the “catch as catch can” approach of devotionals and prayers. Here are three suggestions that I have seen make a difference in my life:

Silence – the opportunity to press down through all the noise and the multitude of voices we are subjected to every day in order to hear the One Voice that matters.

Sharing– not “ministry” or superficial information, but the communication of our own true needs, frustrations, desires and hopes with one or two people who will listen with grace.

Sabbath – rest, the cessation of work, the pursuit of our humanness; where we can remember that God is quite sufficient to take care of His flock and we are not the center of the universe. It is a time to renew our own sense of being loved for who we are, not what we do.

I like the way The Message translates verses 7 and 8.

“But mostly, show them all this by doing it yourself, incorruptible in your teaching, your words solid and sane. Then anyone who is dead set against us, when he finds nothing weird or misguided, might eventually come around.”

A sound heart keeps us from presenting a misshaped Gospel and gives us a sure foundation from which to lead God’s people.