Reentry – A Pandemic Renewal Plan Part 2

Every aspect of our lives has been tested – the landscape of our lives has undergone a radical upheaval. Living in Michigan, there have been a few times when I have experienced a “white out” while driving in a winter storm. It is completely disorienting. All the familiar points of reference disappear. This season we are in feels a lot like that – a blizzard. The best you can do, sometimes, is to slow down and find the yellow line on the side of the road.

We aren’t sure what the “new “normal will look like, which makes it all the more important to lean into (or begin for the first time) the basic habits and rhythms of a healthy life; slowing down and finding the yellow line. Continuing our exploration of how to navigate our reentry…

Step Three: Rebuilding weekly rhythms. Along with our daily rhythms, weekly rhythms can be the yellow lines we can follow when life is disorienting.

  • Embrace Sabbath. Sabbath (a 24-hour day of rest) is a way of ordering our lives. It allows us to create boundaries in time where we can breathe deeply, sit without any other purpose than to observe, delight and center ourselves in God’s goodness. Where we can reconnect with ourselves, letting our souls catch up to our bodies, and tell our families we love them with our whole-hearted presence.

Questions of who will “cover the bases” have to take a back seat to the overarching importance of setting into place healthy patterns that will allow you to be a healthy pastor for many years          to come. I found this quote from Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath – Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness            becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.”  Add to that burnout and exit from ministry.

How can you make the pattern of Sabbath a reality in your life and ministry as you reenter?

  • Lean into relationships. Our lives seem to have been a never-ending series of online meetings, webinars and podcasts. Stepping back and redefining our actual sphere of influence, and those relationships that build us up, is critical. At the top of the list is our marriage. Beyond all the really good reasons that having a healthy marriage serves our ministry purposes, the bottom line is this relationship is all about becoming whole. God created us for this deep connection. It corresponds (is “fit”) to our need to be known and not alone. One of the best questions my wife ever started asking me was “How is your heart?” – and she wasn’t inquiring about the state of the physical pump in my chest. Whether you are married or not we need each other to find the yellow lines.
  • Figure out how to have fun. This remains a huge challenge for me. I have dabbled in some hobbies, played sports, and attended a lot of movies. Yet, enjoying (from the Middle English “to receive with joy”) eludes me. (Although a great piece of cherry pie with vanilla ice cream comes close.) We need non-task related opportunities to recreate – be re-created – and take joy in life. I decided the other day that tending my yard is a source of joy, even fun, for me. Fun is an act of faith, stepping away from the decisions and the daunting tasks to simply be in a time of enjoyment.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God. (2:24)

Part Three coming up… Seek out resources to help.

The Answer for Isolation & Loneliness in Ministry Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLITUDE AND COMMUNITY

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

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

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

Solitude

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

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

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

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

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

Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Reasons Pastors Don’t Ask for Help…(and what can happen when you do!)

desert bench1

 

 

I hate asking for help. I think most people find it difficult, especially when it comes to the kinds of challenges that are more personal or relational.

A number of years ago, a famous rock and roll star wrote a song during a time in his life that he self-described as his “fat Elvis period.” In a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, the artist said this is one of his favorite records, because, “I meant it – it’s real.” He added, “The lyric is as good now as it was then. It is no different, and it makes me feel secure to know that I was that aware of myself then. It was just me singing ‘Help’ and I meant it.” Here are the lyrics of the song he was referring to, which highlight a remarkable moment of humility:

 

Help, I need somebody

Help, not just anybody

Help, you know I need someone, help

 

When I was younger so much younger than today

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

But now these days are gone I’m not so self-assured

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

 

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being ’round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please, please help me

 

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways

My independence seems to vanish in the haze

But every now and then I feel so insecure

I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

 

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being ’round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please, please help me

 

The artist? John Lennon, of the Beatles. Interestingly, Paul McCartney helped Lennon write the song, but didn’t realize it was an actual call for help until years later.

Truth be told, I hate asking for help.

I have struggled with asking for help most of my life. From simple geographical directions to the deeper, more persistent emotional and spiritual needs of my heart, asking for help doesn’t come easy. It might be a “guy” thing, but I am suspicious that my reluctance to ask for help runs significantly deeper. And I know for a fact that most pastors and ministry leaders resist asking for help until they hit the wall – the wall of a spouse who has had enough of untamed boundaries, or a board that sees patterns of behavior that create unrest, or the wall of physical and emotional fatigue.

Why don’t we ask for help?

I want to explore with you what I think are the top five reasons pastors (and maybe some of the rest of us) don’t ask for help. My hope is that by naming them we can take a bit of the sting out of the stigma of being in need of help. Perhaps, we can identify some strategies that might make it easier for us to let our guard down – to risk asking – and move on from never needing “anybody’s help in any way.”

 

 

The Daily Grind

clean upAs pastors, laboring among broken people (and being broken ourselves!) there’s a lot of mess.

Sometimes it feels like all you do is clean up the mess: “Clean-up on aisle 10!” So much work and effort, and it is most often unnoticed and unrewarding.

I recently concluded teaching a class called “When God Hands You the Impossible.” It was a study of the book of Nehemiah, and we were trying to learn from Nehemiah’s example as we face our own impossible tasks. During a session a few weeks ago, one of the class members brought up a detail that I had completely overlooked in our study. He pointed out that those who were rebuilding the wall had to spend time and energy hauling the debris away, cleaning up the rubble; and at the end of the day, tidying up the work site. Huh…hadn’t thought about that! (Being an electrician, and spending a lot of years on construction sites, it seemed pretty obvious to him!)

It’s one of those little details in Scripture that can end up speaking volumes into our lives.

I was immediately reminded of the times when, trying to supplement my income with part-time work, I took on the task of cleaning up worksites for my Dad – who was involved in commercial construction, installing acoustical ceilings in new office buildings. There were a lot of hours spent picking up the junk left behind the installers. It was dusty, dirty work. But somebody had to do it!

Somebody has to clean up the mess.
It matters.
It’s inglorious.
It’s sweaty, hard work.

This got me to thinking about how much of life is actually the daily grind – simple, direct, repetitive and ordinary tasks without which it would be impossible to build the good things we envision. Cleaning up the messiness around us is dull and often thankless work – certainly not what we signed up for in ministry. It is made even more difficult when the cultural noise around us literally shouts that life is all about the exciting, the evident, the big results.

I must have missed the conferences that were titled “I Want to Pastor an Ordinary Small Church with Consistent Clean-Up Required.”

wall rebuildThe need for cleanup was not the only thing that emerged from our discussion of this lost detail in the story of how the Israelites rebuilt their city. We discovered that one of the keys to the success of rebuilding the wall was the “next to each other” principle. As each person worked on their section of the mess, they had the opportunity to look over and see that everyone else was doing similar work. Side by side, they could shout encouragement, laugh together and share tips over a coffee break. And, it allowed them to be ready to defend each other.

They had each other’s back, sharing the load if necessary – jumping in rather than sniping or criticizing each other’s work. The main point was the main point: rebuild the wall.

Their hearts were all in, at least in part because they were all in together.

The sense and experience of isolation kills! The daily grind of cleaning up the mess can grind a heart to dust without the knowledge that it matters. It’s important. It is an experience shared by everyone else. And that someone takes note.

One other neat idea that jumped out at me from looking more closely at the experience of rebuilding the wall occurred to me as a question: “Why all the names?”

Why bother with mentioning all the people who were showing up every day for 50 days, hauling broken stones away, dressing the usable ones and then repairing one broken section after another?

It mattered. They mattered, and the record of their names is God’s “Thank you!”

thank you 2The writer to Hebrews encourages us with these words, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)

So when you are mopping up yet another spilled cup of hurt feelings or repairing yet another hole of misunderstanding, or just setting another table of weekly worship, remember that there were plenty of “in between” days in Jesus’ earthly ministry; it’s quite likely that Jesus learned to clean his room and sweep the stable. If you find yourself in the midst of working on the wall, remember that we are working alongside you – with Him – to build His church, His kingdom. Take heart in that you are not alone, and that God remembers His people!

Do You Know Where Your Pastor Is?

looking for“Do you know where your pastor is?” I am not asking about where he is physically; that would be weird. (Besides, if he has a smartphone the GPS will handle that.) What I am asking is, do you know the emotional and spiritual state of the one who shepherds the flock you are a part of? In a report published in 2007, Dr. Richard Krejcir of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development stated that, based on their survey of over 1,000 pastors

  • 90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis
  • 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.

It is an unfortunate fact that many of our most significant relationships suffer from a common malady – the tendency to take things for granted. Pastors, and their families, can go months and even years without having someone go beyond the “That was a nice sermon, pastor” at the end of the service.

thumbs upI am not always a fan of mandated holidays.(We all generally suspect that there is a conspiracy between the card, candy and flower companies!) But I think Pastor Appreciation Month is an exception worth making. Because of the ministry I am now in, and remembering back to the years I was a pastor, I can vouch for the need to express some well-deserved appreciation for those whom God has called to lead us.

There are a lot of forms that this can take – and a little creativity can take it to a new level. However you chose to do it, let your pastor and his family know how much you appreciate them; not only the work they do but also for who they are: human beings, fellow believers and friends.

If you are a pastor reading this, I am sure there are those in your life who have pastored you. When was the last time you told them how much their lives have meant to you?

It has been a slow process, but I am learning (and re-learning) just how big a return on investment gratitude can bring. It builds bridges and mends fences. It flies in the face of our self-centeredness and a culture of  “me.” And it affirms the eternal value God has placed on each of our lives. That includes those that labor everyday on our behalf, praying, teaching and leading us into the places of growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Do you know where your pastor is? Take the time to find out, and make it a better place today!

Tell them “Thanks!”thank you

 

October is Pastor Appreciation Month

Isolation and Loneliness – the Danger Zone for Pastors

“It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

question-friendsWe are all familiar with the typical questions pastors get asked – “How big is your church? What’s your annual budget? How many services do you have?” But there is one question that pastors rarely get asked: “How many true friends do you have?”

Do I hear crickets?

In a culture that encourages a very individualistic approach to life, many people feel a general sense of loneliness every day. That general sense of loneliness is exponentially heightened in the life of the ministry family. In Chapter 5 of his book Pastors at Risk, Dr. Chuck Wickman talks about the impact of isolation and loneliness on the pastor and his family. Pastors often feel a deep sense of isolation from others – an inability to connect in significant relationships that bring balance and health. This is due, at least in part, to the distance between pastor and parishioner that often defines the role. Add to that the care-giving functions of pastoral ministry, and the pastor can be left depleted and unavailable emotionally.

There are times when the isolation that we experience is of our own doing. We allow the pastoral persona to become all that people see of us. We fear that connecting too much or being too real will lead to hurt or doubt. Unfortunately, this can, and does, take its toll. The path of isolation and loneliness winds its way to dark places, where health, spiritual vitality and emotional integrity can be compromised. It is also true that some of us will use this as an opportunity to be “on our own” and unaccountable for our time. This is a dangerous place to be.

Recently, I came across some research linking social isolation with poor health outcomes including depression, heart disease, sleep problems and other disorders. But it has never been clear what it is exactly about being alone that may be so harmful. In a study published by Dr. Carla Perissinotto, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers reported that “…it’s not just living alone, but having actual feelings of loneliness and isolation that matters.” (How Feeling Lonely Can Shorten Your Life, TIME, 6/19/12)

Pastors, and their spouses, often deal with:

  • feelings of abandonment, rejection and the deep sense that no one understands them, or the expectations placed on them
  • the sense of “overload” that can make having significant relationships a chore and therefore easy to avoid
  • difficulty with transparency – you might blow your cover and you will be shown the door
  • feelings of martyrdom – the sense that you alone carry the burden of ministry

lonelinessThere is another component to this as well. Most pastors do not have a pastor that THEY can call on, adding additional stress to the growing list of dangers (Pastors at Risk, p 51)

My own story of crashing and burning is one where, in a deep sense of isolation, I could not risk sharing my guilt, shame and fears – which eventually led to a very public and disgraceful exit from ministry.

What can be done? 

First, pastors need to be reminded that, in addition to being a leader, they are human. They are also a part of the Body of Christ, and need to be connected in significant relationships to others. Having the title of pastor doesn’t come with its own supply of “anti-loneliness” pills. Like any other person in your congregation, you need others in the journey of following Christ. So, it is vital that you:

Acknowledge the need -“It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Why? Wasn’t God enough? If you will let me wax theological for a moment – God Himself is not solitary, but is in eternal relationship. Love, which the Scriptures tell us God is, can only happen in relationship. We were built for relationships. While there are some things that only a relationship with God Himself can supply, He has determined that there are things that He wants us to experience in connection with others like us. We need to “flesh out” the love that we have in relationship with God. You need friends!    

Don’t hide! If nothing else, reach out to other pastors who share the same need. It will take effort, but the benefits are worth it. Find those pastor or ministry leader friends who won’t posture, but are genuinely interested in being there for you – and you for them. And, contrary to popular opinion, it is OK to connect with people in your congregation and build friendships. Accept invitations to ball games and dinner parties. Putting yourself in those situations will give the Holy Spirit opportunity to lead you to those who can become a “Jonathan” to you (1 Samuel 18:1).

Share your heart, not just your head One of the most significant shifts in the way I relate to my wife, that has carried over to other relationships, has been to talk about how I am feeling at any given moment – not just what I am thinking. This is an issue for men who are pastors and leaders. We are far too often in our heads: ideas, visions, concepts, principles, etc. Remember that it is the “feelings” of isolation, identified in the research above, that have the negative impact on our lives. In addition to asking, ”What are you thinking right now,” my wife will ask me what I am feeling. This gives me permission to connect to the current state of my heart. In those significant relationships, sharing our hearts – including the loneliness and weakness we feel – can open the door to spiritual health.

Refuse the shallows Recently, Mike Foster wrote about a new way to view what we have called “accountability” groups. He uses the term “advocacy” to describe the role of key people in our lives who walk the path with us. They are advocates, on God’s behalf, of grace.

 Radical grace is the core engine for any healthy relationship. You cannot have true transparency or confession without it. I encourage people to make verbal commitments to each other and clearly state that they will stand by one another through the best AND the worst.

Most people live with the fear of rejection and allow this fear to dictate how honest they will be with others. In advocacy, we are constantly demonstrating that this relationship is a safe place. Through our response to one another’s failures, our own deep confession, and reminding each other that we are in this for the long haul, we implement radical grace. (ChurchLeaders.com)

friends In general, I am encouraged that the emerging generation of leaders seems to be able to embrace the need for connection to a greater degree than many in my generation. Having learned this lesson the hard way, I have found great joy, comfort and encouragement in the company of great friends who walk with me on this journey.

Who is walking with you?

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

Doing Church in a Facebook world – Guest Blog

The pastoral world today is different in many ways from when I was serving in that capacity. As a result, I thought it would be good to invite some of the younger guys to jump in and talk about some of the unique challenges they face in trying to live out the call of God as pastors in today’s church. Today, I want to welcome a guest post by Dan Rose, assistant pastor for several years at Grace Chapel, and now a church planter. You can see what he is up to at “The Antioch Movement” http://acts13.net and on his own website at http://danielmrose.com

 If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous country in the world. Did you actually read that? Yes. Facebook has changed the way that people live their lives. The word “Facebook” has transformed from simply being a noun, to being a verb. People say, “I will Facebook you” and you know exactly what that means.

People spend hours and hours on Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even Google+. Instagram and Foursquare allow us to document our lives in pictures and locations. Everything we do and everything our friends do is out there for us to interact with and engage.

We live in a world of immediacy with a constant flow of information. We are able to interact with one another more efficiently than ever before, and through the rise of social media we are able to take messages around the world to anyone we want.

Facebook has changed everything, including the church.

Here’s a dirty little secret: I don’t like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, what have you. I really don’t. But, I am convinced that they are critical tools for doing ministry in today’s landscape. Therefore, I use them. Gutenberg’s printing press required the people of that day to completely change the way that they thought about sending the message of the Gospel to those around them, and so has social media.

Social media is not a neutral tool. It demands that we change the way we communicate. We must communicate in brief, in summary. The problem is that the things that we are concerned about in the context of the Church demand time, space, and true community.

Time is lost when it comes to social media. Responses are immediate. We see a comment or receive an email and fire off a response without taking time to consider or pray. This is dangerous in the context of the Church because we are dealing with people’s lives. When we feel that we don’t have time to consider and think, we respond from our flesh. When our responses are from the flesh, they typically lead to problems and misunderstanding.

Space is lost. Everywhere I go my phone beeps with social media and email notifications. Text messages flood into the device. My phone will ring and ring with people who want to talk to me. Social media has driven the mobile communications sphere (yes, text messages and email are social media). With the advent of the “smart” phone, we have lost space because now we are able to carry our entire relational sphere in our pocket. This loss of space means that we think we have less relational capital to spend on real people in our domains, and actually makes it that much more difficult to build the kingdom of God.

True community is lost. Community is ultimately formed through conflict and resolution. When those two things occur, people have the choice to either move forward in light of forgiveness given or received, or end the relationship. With most of our “community” occurring in the social sphere, the communal process of conflict and resolution is short-circuited. When conflict occurs, responses come fast and furious (loss of time) and the conflict is ever present (loss of space) so that we cannot process and pray. Often the “conversation” ends without any resolution. True community is not developed.

Doing church in a Facebook world means that Christ followers, as the Story-telling representatives of Jesus, need to subvert the entire culture. It means that we must choose to engage in person. Face-to-Face, not FaceTime. It means that the Church needs to subvert the immediacy mindset and easy connect. In my opinion, the church growth model of the 80s and 90s simply feeds the beast. It embraces instead of subverts.

The reality is that social media is here to stay. The Church has to engage with it in such a way that subverts its individualism and immediacy. We cannot run away from social media, for if we do we are running away from the world with which we are called to engage. We must understand social media needs to be subverted in such a way that we move from the virtual to the real. From image to substance.

How do we do that? I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out. I am certain of one piece, though. That is, we must “move into the neighborhood,” just as Jesus did. In practice, I think we can simply open our homes and embrace again the biblical principle of hospitality. I am convinced we change the world one good meal at a time.

Dan Rose