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

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.

The Surprising Grace of Disappointment – Book Review

Surprising GraceI just finished reading this extremely thought provoking book by Dr. John Koessler, and I highly recommend it for everyone – but especially for the exited pastors among us. The title was what first drew me to purchase the book. It was a mind grabber. However, Dr. Koessler’s ability to be both pastor and theologian while unpacking this important topic made it deeply practical while stimulating my thinking.

Many of us who follow Jesus and are in ministry leadership struggle with disappointment. Beyond trying to comfort others who are in the crisis of wondering why God “didn’t show up,” we ourselves are deeply disappointed in Him. We find it difficult to reconcile the Jesus we have learned in church and school with the Jesus we have to live with each day.

What do we do when our experience of life collides with our expectations of the same – and of God?

“The point of this book is that you can expect to meet Jesus in the most unlikely place – at the intersection of Expectation and Disappointment. The Jesus you meet there is not the Jesus of your dreams. Nor is He the airbrushed Christ of popular Christianity. He is the enigmatic and unpredictable Jesus of the Bible. You will not forget Him.” – from the introduction to The Surprising Grace of Disappointment.

Dr. Koessler asserts that our good theology regarding the reliability of God has taken a left turn and become the bad practice of expecting Him to be predictable.

The subtitle of the book is “Finding Hope When God Seems to Fail Us,” and there is hope to be found in these pages. Let me suggest that you pick up a copy for yourself and discover the grace that is born out of disappointment – the grace of a deeper understanding of His faithfulness.

Dr. John Koessler is the Chair of the Pastoral Theology department at Moody Bible Institute, and pastor in the Chicago area.

The Restoration Tree – a Parable for Exited Pastors

Finally, brothers,rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” – 2 Corinthians 13:11 (ESV)

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” – George Washington Carver

I have found that God occasionally uses His creation to speak into my life. This has happened twice over the past year. The first time was when I was trying to discern if God was really opening the door for me to re-enter ministry after more than 20 years away, as a staff member with PIR Ministries. While on a men’s retreat last spring, I was out walking and praying, asking God to make His call plain. Rightfully so, there was a great deal of fear and trepidation associated with making this decision. Several years before, God had already made it clear that He wouldn’t be mad at me if I entered into certain ministry roles in the church where we were attending. But a return to full-time ministry, of ANY kind, was never a given. I had been restored to God and to the Body, but I needed to know that it was His call that would allow me to be restored to a leadership role again. My prayer was basically, “OK, God, I need to know if this is the real deal. I am afraid and excited. It’s a BIG step and I want to make it in the right direction. Is this what you want me to do?”

And so, He provided a symbol of confirmation. I wasn’t looking for a physical sign, but He couldn’t have made it any plainer when I turned around to walk back to the lodge. What I saw amazed me.

PIR3 image

I wrote about this in my first newsletter to friends and supporters, but the similarities between the tree God put in my path and the logo of PIR Ministries were not lost on me – new life springing from what had been dealt a devastating blow. With a joy I had not known in years, I stepped into this new chapter of my life in Christ.

new logo 4 resize

Fast-forward to a week ago. I’ve been with PIR for a year now, and the uncertainty about “if” and “how” this was going to work out is a distant memory. I have the privilege of serving God’s servants, offering hope, encouragement and help to those exited or “at-risk.” The opportunities to connect with pastors and churches have been God-directed. Laying the groundwork for this vital ministry has started to bear fruit. And so, He steps in again with a symbol of confirmation. Looking out our dining room window, my wife and I noticed some unusual “protrusions” on the redbud tree we have in our front yard.

redbud 2013 3

This tree has always been a favorite for us, for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is that, at one point about a decade ago, it was dead. It had withered and died; all that was left was a stump. We left the stump in the ground over the winter, and were surprised to see a tiny sprout appearing the next spring. Today, it is a healthy tree that delights our hearts every spring with bright red blossoms and heart shaped leaves. What is beyond remarkable is that the protrusions we observed are actually seedpods – the fruit of the redbud tree. It had never done this before and the symbolism was not lost on us. It has been a year, and there are signs that God is at work making my work through PIR fruitful, for His glory. He is the God who restores!

Why am I sharing this? Because there are many exited pastors who struggle to believe that God even remembers their name, let alone has a next chapter for them. I share it with my brothers and sisters who have been wounded, who have fallen, who find it difficult to trust God and His people. I share it for the spouses and families of pastors who have crashed and burned and who wonder if life will ever feel OK again. I want them to know that the God they have served is not done with them yet! The path may be long and painful; the stump may look blasted and dead. The next chapter may not look like the first, but God owns the book. He is the soil in which we are planted, and His grace really never fails.

The Exited Pastor’s Golden Opportunity

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”– 1 Timothy 4:16

studyingAs part of my duties as a ruling elder in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, I regularly witness ordination exams. We gather at our presbytery meetings and grill the new candidates for ordination, asking questions about deep theological and doctrinal issues. Having studied hard in seminary and in preparation for the exam, the nervous future pastors work their way through the answers – mostly to the glad approval of all in attendance. Yet what doesn’t normally come up is how these “soon to be” pastors have studied for the care of their own souls. We seem to read past the first couple of words in the verse above in our ever-vigilant pursuit of right doctrine, never considering that a broken life can be the surer end to a promising ministry.

So, when damage has been done and we find ourselves on the sidelines, God sees an opportunity to help us grow. In transition, we have the chance to examine the more substantial issues of the “life” Paul advises us to watch as closely as we do our theological systems. We can look at who we really are – and where our hearts need to be healed. What do exited pastors have the opportunity to address?

Who are you?

 The question asked by the famous rock band The Who, popularized as the theme song for the long running TV show C.S.I., is the most important one an exited pastor – or any pastor for that matter – should ask. The big question is “Who am I?”

Far too many of us find our identity in the ministry role to which God calls us. We forget that God’s first call on our lives – and the one that matters most – is to an eternal relationship with Himself. I have become very fond of saying (and so I will say it again) God is more interested in WHO you are than anything you will ever do FOR Him.

who The exited pastor is given the rare occasion to discover that his identity does not equal “the call.” He (or she) can move from being a workaholic to someone with realistic personal boundaries. My friend, Ray Carroll (www.FallenPastors.com), has rightly noted “The church is the pastor’s first mistress,” which is a dangerous liaison. Our life is in Christ – remembering our first love is the first step to recovering our sense of self.

I have been inspired, in a counterintuitive way, by the ordination prayer offered over Henri Nouwen by his good friend Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Communities.

“May all your expectations be frustrated;

May all your plans be thwarted;

May all your desires be withered to nothingness;

That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child

and sing and dance in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit.”

What is your calling?

Being exited provides a wonderful chance to rethink the role God might want you to fill in His Body, the Church. Sometimes we can feel stuck on a path with no other options – I must be a pastor! This notion is unfortunately reinforced constantly, from seminary days through every conference we attend and book we read. We are never encouraged to consider that the shape of the call can, and may need to, change.

I was struck by the statement made by David Rohrer in his book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry, when he said, “Ministry has a shelf life.” Taking his cue from the life and ministry of John the Baptist, Rohrer presents a window through which to look at our calling to serve in a different way. It may be time to change it up.

Are you sufficiently self-aware?

self examThe onset of an exit from ministry will often result in coming face-to-face with our humanity. Being aware that he is also in-process can escape the pastor who is knee deep in the daily work of ministry. A time to look at some of the following can be a liberating experience.

 Have I tried to be more than I really am? Am I comfortable in my own skin? Can I learn to be transparent and ruthlessly honest about the areas of weakness in my life? Am I clear on the fact that I cannot walk this path alone, in isolation? Is there a growing freedom to express anger, sadness and pain?

 John Piper recently wrote about his own experience in trying to become more self-aware: “Everyone should do this for his own soul. Pastors, you will know your people’s souls best by knowing your own. So try to be ruthlessly honest with yourself. The key here is not professionalism.”

Will you risk trust again?

Since many pastors who are exited sense a deep loss of trust, it is vital that, before resuming ministry, the issue of trust is addressed. The first step of restoration for an exited pastor needs to be a deep restoration to God. Can I trust Him and reframe the past in a new confidence in His faithfulness and sovereignty? The seeming wilderness of an exit can become a place where God shows up in the mundane, and trust in His heart is restored.

 The next step of personal restoration, long before there is restoration to a ministry role, is the rebuilding of trust in the church – the people of God. PIR Ministries believes that churches, acting as refuges to exited pastors, are the place where healing and restored hope must to be found. But the exited pastor has to come to grips with the broken trust that is felt when the church isn’t that kind of place.

If an exited pastor can use this time of being out of the ministry to take a new look at the life God has given them – to rediscover Jesus and themselves – then the return to ministry will be filled with joy and an authenticity not known before.

return thru door

Exited Pastors: The Ruined Landscape

HurricaneI have lived through hurricanes. When I was much younger, growing up in Florida, there were several times when my family huddled together in our boarded-up home, lighting candles when the power went out and listening to the fury of the passing storm. Once the “all clear” was given, we would step outside to survey the damage done to the landscape – tree branches strewn about, water everywhere and the usual debris left behind by the battering winds.

Sometimes, the effects were more serious and long lasting; the residents of the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard will be living with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy for years to come.

When a pastor is exited from ministry, it can feel like they have been hit by an emotional and spiritual hurricane. Emerging from the storm, the ruined landscape of life that greets them can be overwhelming – and the impact can last long into the future. Exits occur for many reasons, and regardless of why, the devastation to a pastor and his family is real.

Working on his doctoral dissertation at Covenant Seminary, Dr. Art Hunt studied the occurrence of forced exits among pastors in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. His conclusions are insightful:

“Three significant themes also surfaced: (1) the ongoing, unresolved conflict that often swirls like an unending storm around pastors who experience a forced pastoral exit; (2) the personal, multifaceted impact or “cost” of such a forced exit for the pastor, his wife, his children, and his current/future ministry practice; and (3) what might best be described as the “post-traumatic care” that is desperately needed but often sorely lacking after the pastor is forced to leave the church he once served.” – Dr. Art Hunt (Cornerstone EPC), Doctoral Dissertation, “I Never Expected This Would Happen To Me.”

Exits affect every area of the life of a pastor and his family: physical, social, emotional and spiritual.

When asked, many describe the experience with words like pain, emotional stress, and depression.

From the March 2012 issue of the Review of Religious Research, an online study found 28% of ministers said they had at one time been forced to leave their jobs due to personal attacks and criticism from a small faction of their congregations. The researchers from Texas Tech University and Virginia Tech University also found that the clergy who had been forced out were more likely to report lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression, stress and physical health problems. Months of suffering traumatic and demeaning psychological and emotional abuse as they are slowly being forced out of their pulpits due to congregational conflict, Tanner said, “is a really, really horrible process.” A separate survey by Texas Tech and Virginia Tech researchers of 55 ministers who were forced out of a pastoral position found a significant link with self-reported measures of post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

debris

 

What debris is left behind after a pastor has been exited? Damage shows up most often in these three areas:

 

MISTRUST

A pastoral exit means more than the loss of a job. It is also the loss of significant relationships. Those of us who lose a secular job have our church family to turn to for encouragement and support. Not so, for a pastor and his family. Mistrust of the church sets in and many become ambivalent toward and distant from the church. The house has been leveled – we can’t go back and we wouldn’t want to go back even if we could. The place of healing becomes the pit of hurting and trust has been compromised.

Even more deeply felt is the damage done to a pastor’s trust in God. The loving counsel so easily dispensed to others regarding God’s faithfulness and sovereignty is difficult to recall for the exited pastor.

LOSS OF SELF ESTEEM

The idea that exited, burned out or fallen pastors are “damaged goods” runs deep on both sides of the pew. When a pastor begins to see himself as a failure, shame hangs over every aspect of his life. It is hard to see the difference between I have failed (which we all do, and hopefully learn from) and I am a failure. It doesn’t take long until doubts about one’s call creep in, like rot at the core of the heart.

As a result, there is a growing sense of isolation for the exited pastor and his family – former colleagues move on with life and ministry while the exited pastor feels left behind.

ANGER

No matter how stoically a pastor may try to move through the ruins of an exit, anger bubbles under the surface. This is especially true if the pastor is “blindsided” by church members or leaders when the exit occurs. “How could God’s people do this?” “How could GOD do this to me?” These questions are the seeds of anger that can eventually grow into a life filled with negativity, bitterness and frustration.

The pastor’s spouse and children can be collateral damage in the wake of the storm of an exit. They often hurt the most. They bear not only the pain and disappointment of their loved one, but are often subjected to their own wounding in the process. Add to this the pastor’s desire to protect his family, and an already significant amount of anger can easily be doubled. It is no wonder that 40% of those exited never return to ministry again. It is too hard to rebuild.

THE NEGATIVE IMPACT ON CHURCHES

One additional piece of wreckage that is often overlooked is the impact that forced exits have on the Church.

A great deal of time and effort is spent trying to clean up after the storm of an exit. The resources that might normally be expended in effective ministry and communication of the Gospel are instead spent sorting through the mess left behind. Unfortunately, many churches opt to try to gloss over the issues rather than deal with them – creating a toxicity that builds over time.

“Leaders urge the congregation to ‘put this behind us and move on.’ Emotions and feelings resulting from difficult, significant, painful experiences in the life of the fellowship may be submerged for a while, but these emotions will appear in future events in the church. A suspicious attitude may become characteristic of the congregation. Percentages are high that having once terminated a minister, the congregation will repeat unhealthy methods of dealing with conflict or disagreement.” – David A. Myers, D.Min. (Ministering to Ministers Foundation, 2012)

THE GOD OF HOPE

The ruined landscape that appears after storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy is overwhelming. Pictures take our breath away. The stories of deaths and injury, of the breadth of destruction left behind, of the sheer magnitude of lives changed forever, weigh on our hearts. Yet alongside of these there come evidences of hope.

rebuilding

Though some people just walked away, many didn’t following Hurricane Katrina, and 8 years later, they are still working to reclaim the city from the brink of utter ruin.

Even as the 2013 Super Bowl was ramping up in New Orleans, the rebuilding and restoration of that city continued. I can’t think of a better metaphor for the God who can suddenly appear in the middle of the mess and bring hope, peace and restoration to the broken lives of exited pastors and their families.

Peter’s Story – an encouragment to pastors

burdenIn the course of keeping up with all the blogs, articles and postings on Facebook regarding the state of today’s pastors, I am noticing a trend. Most of what I am reading lately can be summed up into two groups: the “here’s the list of things that a pastor should do (or not do) to be better, faster, smarter” group, and the “here’s everything that’s wrong with pastors today” group. (The latter being primarily a litany of pastors that have fallen, misused their leadership or gone AWOL.) While I think that many of the issues raised are valid and worthy of discussion, I am left feeling that something is missing. I am more weighed down than built up, and I have to think that the same is true for many of those pastors who have been exited or are simply doing their best to fulfill their call.

Reflecting on this, I was drawn back to the very Scripture that capped the process leading me to join the ministry of restoration for pastors. It is the story of Jesus and Peter, on the occasion when Peter announced his untested loyalty to Jesus –  and Jesus’ prophetic response. The passage is in Luke chapter 22:31-34. I like it best in The Message:

31-32 “Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.”

 33 Peter said, “Master, I’m ready for anything with you. I’d go to jail for you. I’d die for you!”

 34 Jesus said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me.”

 peter encouragingThis story gave me the inspiration for the name of this blog – and its purpose. It seemed fitting, in this season leading up to the glorious celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, to revisit this turning point in Peter’s life. To consider it again and wonder, after he experienced both the depths of shame and the heights of restoration, what he might have done to encourage his brothers – to “strengthen” them. What could Peter have said to the other disciples, to the early followers, that would have been a source of strength to them as their own journeys unfolded amid the trials of ministry? Perhaps, from his own story, he would have reminded them:

 “Jesus loves YOU, this I know!”

 This is a message I will never get tired of trying to get across. It is a message that pastors in every generation need to hear again and again: God loves you and wants you, more than anything you will ever do for him. By all accounts, Peter would have failed a performance review. Yet Jesus prayed for Peter, even knowing he would fail. And when Jesus rose from the dead, Peter’s name was prominent among the people that were to be told about His victory over death. Then, on the beach after He had appeared to them, Jesus took the time to confirm His love for Peter in the process of his restoration. Never lose sight of this fact in the middle of the mess of ministry: You are God’s special possession. (1 Peter 2:11)

 “No matter how long or short the path, there is always a way back to Jesus”

 Can’t you imagine Peter, on an early morning many years later, recalling what Jesus said to him –  “WHEN you have turned back…” In that moment, he might have thought of a brother shepherd he knew who felt burned out, washed out or ruined, and needed to hear that there was hope in Christ. In perspective, Peter’s sin was every bit as horrific as any in the Bible – or any in our own experience. Jesus was not surprised by his sin and in fact wove it into the promise of his restoration. The door is always open with Jesus. That is not always apparent to those pastors who fail or fall today. For some it may take a long time to return, but it’s a journey that ends well.

 “There is value in the pain”

 The shame Peter experienced was deep and bitter. His heart was broken, his image of himself as the “mover and shaker” of the twelve was blasted to dust. Peter surely must have felt like Jesus was being cruel when he asked him three times, “Do you love me more than these?” – reminding him of his boasting before his crash and burn. And yet there was great worth in the pain Peter passed through. Later, he would write about the value of the trials we all are called to face as we live out our faith. He came to a clearer understanding of who he really was, his limits and his strengths, through the pain. If encountered today, Peter would likely be saddened by our desire to avoid pain at all cost. He would, no doubt, tell us that in our brokenness and pain we can find our true selves – and a Friend who walks with us.

 “Don’t forget – you are called to this by a Living Savior”

 risen jesus and peterWhen he had turned back, Jesus reaffirmed Peter’s call. In a very direct way, Peter was learning not to trust in himself but in the One who has been raised from the dead. Jesus reminds him at that beachside breakfast that his life was not something he can control anymore. But regardless of how it would look, it would be lived in the presence of the One who was dead, is alive and lives forever more. When doubts would arise, and regret for past mistakes would claw at his heart, Peter could rest in the fact that Jesus’ Call would define him – a daily reality and a sure hope (1 Peter 1:2). I can almost hear Peter reminding us that Jesus has said, “This is MY work for you. This is not your career choice – this is My path for you. And I am with you if you follow Me.”

There were probably many other things Peter could have said to his fellow apostles and disciples to give them the strength they needed to continue on in their faith and work. And I trust I haven’t taken too many liberties with Peter’s words – I am sure he will one day tell me!

It seems to me that Peter’s words can still speak to us as we are bombarded almost daily with everything negative about the Church and those who lead her. I want to believe that in the middle of the stresses and disappointments of ministry, or in the aftermath of an exit or fall, Jesus’ work in Peter’s life can be an anchor and a light. There is hope, and it still resides in the same place today that it did for Peter generations ago.

He is Risen, indeed!

Sursum Corda!

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 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