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)

Hope Behind the Headlines

Starting up the blog again in this new year has been a bit of a challenge. As we all know, life can get in the way of our best laid plans. Anyway, I wanted to begin the new year on a positive note. I hope this little installment gives you hope!

 ***

I really miss Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.” I used to listen to it daily on the radio, and loved the backstory he would slowly unravel. Behind what we all thought we knew were the details that surprised us. I often found myself wanting to dig deeper into those stories after listening to his broadcasts.

“…we evangelicals now talk about brothers and sisters and our own stories with an eye roll or quick dismissal. We have come to believe that the experiences of exclusion and infighting that dominate the American religious landscape are the norm, rather than the exception, in our faith. Evangelicals have long been painted with a broad brush: moralistic, right-wing, uneducated, and unable to appreciate the earth or beauty, fearful and not a little bit strange. That picture is not accurate or full;” – Laura Turner (Christianity Today, 12/2013)

Laura Turner’s quote above suggests that there is a “Rest of the Story” to the condition of the evangelical church in America – that the ugly truth is not the whole truth.

newspaper I read the headlines, and I meet with pastors who share heartbreaking stories of being wounded by the church. I hear about the “clergy-killer” churches, and the clergy who, being human, add to the mess. All of this exists. It’s real. But it’s not all there is.

Just as real are the stories of deep grace, mercy and courage among churches today. There are believers who are writing the rest of the story. Behind the headlines, churches are becoming “Refuge Churches,” places of healing for wounded pastors and their families. I am working with 7 of these courageous congregations right now. They are the ones who, when a hard working pastor of a small congregation desperately needed a vacation for his family, pitched in generously and made that happen. These are the churches that understand that these are our brothers and sisters in Christ, broken human beings on the same journey of grace and are willing to open their hearts and lives to them.

Recently, I met with a pastor who has been repeatedly run over. At this stage, he is pretty convinced that there are no loving, gracious Christians or churches. All is bad and lost. Unfortunately, the statistics about pastoral exits would be in his favor. I was so grateful that I could fill in the rest of the story for him and assure him that there is hope! It exists as surely as the shortcomings and failures we constantly hear about. The opportunity to point him in the direction of one of those gracious, loving churches of refuge was another line in the rest of his story.

return of prodigal 1There is no question that we have our work cut out for us, and that the stories being told most loudly about the Church are the ones that paint a less-than-flattering picture. But for each headline that makes us shake our heads and groan, we need to hear the “Rest of the Story!” Thought it may never make the 11 o’clock news, in small but real ways, quietly and deliberately, there is evidence that there are disciples of Jesus in this world (John 13:35). Behind the scenes, His grace is writing new headlines.

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

Facing our Humanity

“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.” Peter said, “Master, I’m ready for anything with you. I’d go to jail for you. I’d die for you!”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.” (Luke 22:31-34, The Message)

Some time ago, I was introduced to an insightful TED talk by Kathryn Schultz, entitled “On Being Wrong.” In the course of her talk, Schultz offers this quote by St. Augustine: “Fallor Ergo Sum,” meaning “I err, therefore I am.” I had never seen that quote before, but it reminded me of a key idea that is often overlooked in all our discussions of the Christian life, especially as it relates to pastoral work. Being wrong – failing – is part of being human! Forgetting we are human can be the source of so many troubles. We want to run from it, hide it, compensate for it any way we can; yet it remains a nagging truth: we are human beings. The surprising aspect is that our humanness is ok.

There are several things about this encounter between Peter and Jesus that cause me to pause and look a little deeper. If I understand how the conversation played out…

  • Peter was about to be overwhelmed by the depths of what it meant to be human and sinful and wrong, yet Jesus was not surprised. The impending revelation of his humanity would threaten to sweep Peter away, to shipwreck his faith, and cause him to “give in or give out.” But Jesus anticipated the struggle that was about to take place in Peter’s life. It is the acknowledgment of our humanity in this story that often eludes me.
  • It would be a lesson hard learned, through great failure and shame. Peter says what we all say: “It will never happen to me!”
  • The beauty of what Jesus tells Peter is that He intends for this event to be an asset, not a liability. Certainly, Jesus did not tell Peter to go out and deny Him, just so that some good could come from it. What he did do was express the concurrent realities of our humanness and God’s grace. God’s grace runs rampant through this whole story – as it does throughout the Word.
  • Jesus prayed for Peter and all the disciples (John 17), and His prayer would carry them through their time of testing. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t fail and somehow avoid the mess. Rather, Peter would survive the onslaught and come through learning that he was loved without strings.
  • This experience would ultimately become the foundation of one of Peter’s greatest accomplishments – helping to restore his brothers. This was actually the first task that Jesus gave to Peter, and it came long before Peter became the beacon of gospel-preaching in the early days of the church.

Why are we still surprised that we bump up against our humanity? We don’t like it, don’t account for it and readily dismiss our limitations and finiteness. Our sense of living in a broken world remains a theological abstraction – except when it happens to someone else! However, there are no exceptions to this rule; we are all human. It is a lesson learned slowly and quietly by some; loudly and publicly by others.

Think of Satan’s purpose: “…to separate all of you from me….” And then think of those who have forgotten that they are human and end up burned out, forced out or fallen. A sense of unrelenting failure seeps into their bones. Doubt of any good coming to them or through them ever again clouds their minds. Close to half of pastors who are leave ministry in this condition never return. But that doesn’t have to be the final word.

The end result of Peter’s adventure into his own humanity was an opportunity to take what he experienced of the grace of God and make it available to his fellow disciples. “Strengthen your brothers.” “Turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” Confirm – make firm again – those who are vacillating because they, like you, suddenly realize they are human and bent toward self-preservation. How was Peter to do this? I think there are at least a couple of things he might have done immediately:

  • Having been deeply changed, he would have shared his own story of how God’s grace was never absent from his experience. It was, and is, as close as the Savior’s breath on our hearts as He prays for us.
  • He would have told them that they didn’t need to be afraid of their brokenness, that grace refuses to be surprised by our humanity. It is a grace that was changing him from Peter, the “super” man, to Peter, the one who could identify with and offer hope and help to his brothers. He could firm up their faith in a God who loves them even when they run.

Like many others, I have lived this part of the story of Peter’s life. In fact, this passage forms the core of my personal mission statement. Having come through a time of severe testing, I want to be able to “confirm” or strengthen those who have seen their expectations of life in ministry shot down, crushed or dealt a lethal blow by their own hand. That is why I started this blog and why I am involved in a ministry of hope and restoration.

When Henry Nouwen was being ordained, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche Communities, prayed the following prayer over him:

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.

Could it be that the very things that make up so much of our humanity – our frustrated expectations, thwarted plans, and withered desires – are the very things God uses to restore hope and offer grace?

“On Being Wrong”- TED talk by Kathryn Schultz

Three bears and a ladder – a parable of grace

This video recently appeared on Facebook, and while I rarely click on any of the hundreds of video links posted, this one caught my attention. So, I clicked, and was rewarded with a 1 minute visual parable.

Let me start by saying that, just like with any parable or metaphor, the part of your brain that wants to dissect every detail needs to take a coffee break. The story here speaks loudly to one big idea: grace! Grace is a term we regularly toss around church settings and conversations, but like many of the terms we use, it is sometimes a difficult concept to wrap our hearts and minds around. God’s grace is magnificent, powerful, overwhelming, vast…but, left in the abstract, its power in our lives is minimized. Not until grace takes shape in the physical world and is demonstrated right in front of us does it have its intended effect.

In the video, the little bears are in desperate need. Without intervention, there is no hope of rescue from what appeared to be a fine lunch, but turned out to be a death trap (sound familiar?) So here it is…The Cross is a ladder and God is a couple of people in a pickup truck. And sometimes in our lives, that is EXACTLY what we see and experience. Our rescue from the garbage dumpster we have made of our lives comes from someone in a pickup, with a ladder, who represents the living extension of that grace that first appeared on Calvary. Pastors, Christian workers, staff members at churches, and missionaries are not immune to the dumpster’s allure. Like anyone else, our appetites may overcome our ability to weigh the consequences and we dive in for that tasty morsel that we think we cannot live without. Lives are ruined, our shiny coats are covered in last week’s rancid potato salad and hope vanishes. For some, a ladder appears: people – who themselves have caught a glimpse of God’s grace – back their truck up and extend a hand, a place at the table, a warm and knowing smile  (Colossians 3:12-14).

Sometimes we get caught up in trying to figure out how the little bears got into the mess in the first place, or why the momma bear didn’t take more care. None of that speculation matters when the only outcome without grace is death. There will be time to learn a different way. Some fear that extending grace and forgiveness condones what the offender has done, thinking “They should have known better than to go climbing in after nasty leftovers!” If that was God’s perspective, we would all be rotting at the bottom of the dumpster with the bananas. As my wife is often fond of saying, forgiveness is precisely for things that never should have happened. It doesn’t mean that it never happened… it did.

The little bears were in real trouble, and someone brought a ladder. Is there someone in your life who could use a ladder today?