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).”

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.

Pastoral Ponderings – A Sound Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CareGivers Forum 2012 – Gathering Together Those Who Serve God’s Shepherds

While the task of ministering to pastors can be daunting for those of us involved, it is encouraging to know that we are not alone. When I began the process of coming on board with PIR Ministries, I shared what God was doing in my life with a friend, Charles Shepson. Dr. Shepson entered my life as a counselor and encourager during a time in my pastoral ministry years ago when the depth of my own personal issues was just beginning to emerge. He is the founder of Fairhaven Ministries in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. Charles and I corresponded with some frequency over the years, and when he heard about the new direction of my life, he immediately said, “You need to go to CareGivers in November!” I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. But, on his recommendation, Deb and I signed up. Afterwards, we discovered that PIR Ministries has been an active part of CareGivers for a number of years.

The 2012 CareGivers Forum was held last week, November 4-8, at the WinShape Retreat Center on the campus of Berry College in Rome, Georgia. Deb and I had the privilege of attending, along with Ed Lochmoeller, the National Director of PIR Ministries. We met with 164 others, representing over 65 different ministries that share in the mission of caring for God’s shepherds. It is an annual gathering of people from across the United States, and “provides opportunity for personal relationships, professional networking and shared learning.” This year’s speaker was H.B. London, formerly the director of Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Care division.

I have been to my fair share of conferences and denominational meetings, where pastors and Christian workers meet together for a variety of purposes. And while there are times at those conferences where true connections are made, it was deeply refreshing to be a part of a gathering where the usual posturing and one-upmanship was completely absent. The willingness to share personal stories, resources and strategies for caring for pastors was remarkable. The work of helping and restoring those in full-time ministry can seem (and really is!) quite overwhelming. Yet we were reminded, through the teaching of H.B. London and the interactions with those who attended, that our ability to serve those who need care begins with our own personal rootedness in Christ. How fitting, since we often advise pastors that taking care of their own soul is the chief component in staying healthy in ministry.

A number of workshops were conducted by several of the members of the Forum, and will prove to be quite helpful as we chart a course through the waters of pastoral care. Deb and I particularly appreciated hearing from other couples who were working together in their ministries, as husband and wife.

Some significant new relationships developed for PIR Ministries during this year’s conference. Among those, we enjoyed getting to know Matthew Parker of the Summit Group in Detroit, and gaining a clearer picture of how to bring the resources of ministries like PIR to the pastors of the inner city. In a clear “God moment,” Deb and I were able to reconnect with a couple we had known and worked with during the years of our ministry in the pastorate. Ken and his wife Bonnie are working in a pastoral care ministry in Grand Rapids; we hope to partner with them and several other ministries in the West Michigan area in the coming months. We recently found out that Ken’s brother, is a pastor that has been in touch with us at PIR, taken the PRO-D, and has found help in dealing with some significant burnout issues.

All of this took place against the backdrop of the amazing hospitality and 5-star facilities of WinShape Retreat, where we were treated royally! This time of refreshment and encouragement is unparalleled in our experience. The fact that this was the largest gathering of attendees the Forum has ever seen is due largely to the generosity of the Cathy family (of Chick-Fil-A), who underwrote the bulk of the cost. We are very grateful for that generosity, and it seems to highlight for us that this ministry we have to ministers is taken seriously by many.

You will continue hear about some of the new ministry partners we met over the coming months. There are rich resources available to bring hope and help to God’s shepherds, and our hearts are joined with others who share the same burden. It is good to know you are not alone!

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” and on his own website at

 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

Setting a Good Pace – Guest Blog

Welcome to Bob Groves, pastor (of GENISiS in Chesapeake, Va.) and friend. This is a re-post (with permission) from his blog “Journey”.  I found this to be a helpful reminder about setting a good pace.

“Slow Down and Increase Your Significance!” by Bob Groves

Life is busy…we all know that.

However, if we don’t create space to slow down, we will find that in most, if not all, areas we are simply skimming the surface; i.e.  living a shallow life.  Or saying it another way, a life that has little, to no significance.

By shallow, I mean not really connecting in deep meaningful ways.  Shallow meaning not having the deep conversations you were created for.  Shallow as in running from immediate to immediate, never living for the important.

By significance I mean doing the things that really matter in life with those that matter the very most.  By significance I mean living a life of purpose in your world.

How do you change this?  How do you slow down & live a life with more significance in it?

Commit to Slow Down

Unless you are co-dependent, which you may be, you don’t like hurrying all the time, everywhere.  (NOTE – If you are co-dependent (need to be needed) actually the fast pace gives you a false sense of importance & identity…this is a completely different issue than simply being too busy).  To slow down though – you have to commit to it 1st.  You already know there is always something to do & somewhere to go…someone needing you..etc.  You have to commit to slowing down.

Commit to Living a More Organized Life

Plan & calendar the important things.  Plan dates with your spouse…plan dinners with family & friends…plan events you want to go to…games you want to watch or attend…Start making the more important parts of your life the things that get on the calendar 1st.  Then, when someone or something “needs you”, check the calendar.  Rather than all those that matter most being last, start putting them at the front of the line.  Not only will you feel better , they will hear what you are saying by making them 1st.  Just like the hear what you are saying when you don’t.

Schedule Creative Time

Another person that should get into your schedule is YOU!  I’m not talking about meaningless time…x box mess & laziness.  I’m talking about creating space to recapture the dreams you’ve lost to your current pace of life.  I’m talking about slowing down long enough to hear the inner voice that has been lost to the noise around you.  There are 2 meetings you need to have with yourself on at least a quarterly basis.

1st Creative meetings.  Where you create the dream again.  Imaging the vision for your life…marriage…ministry…career…family…etc.  Lay down some plans…talks you need to have…people you need to meet with…etc.

2nd Buffer meetings.  These are simply self meetings where you defrag.  It’s a time to deal with distractions…a time to identify all the clutter in your life that is sucking the life out of you or some area of your life.  Then it’s not enough to identify the life suckers, you have to then commit to dealing with them.  Each of them.  Put a plan together…set S.M.A.R.T. (specific…measurable…achievable…realistic & time bound) goals.  Then get them done.  You’ll find that each one completed gives you more energy to accomplish the next.


These few steps alone can have a radical impact on your life, greatly increasing your significance.

slow down long enough to share this with other busy people…


The Joyful Pastor- Guest Blog

From time to time, it will be my pleasure to introduce you to some friends who have agreed to share their insights and perspective around the topics we deal with here. I hope you will offer them the same hospitality as guests that you have given to me, as I have invaded your cyber-space.

 Doug Walker is pastor of Grace Chapel in Farmington Hills, Michigan; and he is MY pastor and good friend. Doug has held pastoral roles in several churches in addition to Grace Chapel, and also is the current chairman of the Candidates Care committee of the Midwest District of the EPC; where he works closely with new pastoral candidates.

Finding Joy in Pastoral Work – By Doug Walker

When I was in seminary, I had a professor who would often tell his students, “If you can do anything else, do it. Pastoral ministry is the most difficult thing you’ll ever attempt.”

At the time I was working 30 hours a week at a software firm, taking 12 hours of classes in seminary, leading a small group and serving on the building committee at church, and trying to be a decent father and husband. I thought to myself, “There’s no way pastoral ministry could be harder than what I’m doing right now!”

Turns out, I was wrong. It is harder – by a longshot – but it’s not as intimidating as my professor made it sound either.

The truth is, there are scores of tough assignments in pastoral ministry: Navigating a complicated change in mission and vision, counseling a couple on the brink of divorce, dealing with a disagreeable leader – these all demand huge amounts of emotional energy, and require weeks, months or even years of slogging uphill. Yet somehow God gives me joy in all this toil.

Not happiness, but joy. You’ve likely heard the difference between the two, but it bears repeating. Happiness is dependent in large part upon your circumstances, while joy is based upon an internal reality. If you’re looking for joy in attendance figures, offerings, or a competent, friendly staff, then you’re chasing the wind. You’ve got to dig a lot deeper, and be willing to admit some all-too-human tendencies before you uncover true joy.

Here’s a few signposts I heed to help ensure joy and not just happiness in my pastoral work:

First, am I believing the gospel of Jesus Christ? Strange as it seems, it is possible to preach the gospel without actually experiencing it in your own life. If you’ve done it, then you know how empty and fraudulent you feel when you descend from the pulpit. The forgiveness, freedom, and everlasting life offered by Jesus has to be more than a message on Sunday; it has to get under your skin and penetrate your heart every minute of every day. I often tell my congregation that the mark of a Christian isn’t being a good person – it’s about constant repentance and trusting in Christ by faith. It’s no different for pastors.

Second, do I understand my role is that of a co-laborer? Contrary to popular belief, I don’t run the church. Which means the congregation and I need each other to carry out the mission God has given us. My role is that of teacher and shepherd, not president.  In leadership terms, I am first among equals. Not only does this understanding cultivate joy in my work, it also reminds me there’s only one Messiah.

Finally, am I confident in my calling? It sounds cliché, but I know that this is what God made me for. I’ve tried other careers – other callings – and even though I experienced some success, I knew deep down they just weren’t for me. I was operating outside my sweet spot, and until I became a pastor, I never even knew what it felt like to experience joy in my work.

This list could certainly be more expansive, but it’s a start. You can’t eke out joy by trying harder or avoiding trouble; remember, it’s based on an internal reality. For the Christian Pastor, that reality is found in John 16 where Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The “Dream” in the Dream Cruise – thoughts on restoring the broken among us.

I am not a “gear head”!  But you can’t live in Detroit and not be impacted by the car industry – especially in mid-August when, in what has become a yearly pilgrimage for many, the “Dream Cruise” descends on the 21 mile route down Woodward Avenue from Pontiac to Detroit. It is the largest one-day automotive event in the world, “…drawing 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars each year from around the globe—from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the former Soviet Union.” For those of us who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the event, it is a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, there are the detours, too many people and too much noise. On the other – oh, those magnificent cars! Many people begin setting up lawn chairs up and down Woodward weeks in advance as the wonderfully restored muscle cars and vintage automobiles begin to appear in advance of the big day. These cars are beautifully rebuilt, with enormous amounts of time, energy and money poured lovingly into bringing them back to life. Which got me to thinking – why do they do it?

In what many have described as a “throwaway society,” why are people so drawn to fixing up and restoring items from the past? The 1970 Nova SS (my favorite) that roars past us in pristine condition, and takes our breath away, was once like the beat up, rusted out shell that lived in my dad’s garage for years. (He never actually got around to fixing his up, though he wanted to). A table, found at a local garage sale, yellowed and cracked with age, becomes the eye-catching centerpiece in a new living room. What empowers the latest move to “re-purpose” in our culture; and why did the ancient Egyptians bother to become the first people to create prosthetics? What is the real “dream” in the Dream Cruise? Let me offer an idea.

There is a deep, inner desire in us for wholeness. We long for broken things to be restored, even though many times we feel powerless in the face of that brokenness. When we can, there is a passion to re-build. In a world where things, people and relationships are constantly breaking down, investing in restoration expresses a hope that most of us cannot typically put into words. It is the echo of Eden; the gravitational pull of a new heaven and earth to come. It is the promise held out in the resurrection of Christ.

Restoration requires a huge investment. There are always obstacles. But the joy of seeing something – or someone – returned to beauty and usefulness is priceless. I think the Apostle Paul might have experienced this joy when he told Timothy to find Mark and ask him to rejoin Paul, because he had become “useful” to him in the ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). This same Mark caused the falling out between Barnabas and Paul because he bailed out on them on one of their missionary journeys. Mark was a washout, a failure. Yet, after years of tutelage under the gracious and watchful care of Barnabas, Mark reappears – fully restored and ready to serve.

Barnabas is the patron saint of restoration. Paul was a former Pharisee, changed by the grace of God but still held in suspicion by a fledgling church that had experienced his misguided zeal. Yet Barnabas stood with him, as Paul became the great apostle to the Gentiles. We have to wonder how many others Barnabas picked up, dusted off and set back on their feet again. He is the shining example of what the church is meant to be – a workshop of reconciliation and restoration. The dream that calls to us in the garage and the studio, the rehab center and the renovation site is fanned into flame by the grace we find in the Gospel. Jesus is the Great Restorer, and we have the opportunity to apprentice in His business.

It is not just the “sinner outside the doors” that needs us. There are sinners among us – the church –  broken and marred by the consequences of bad choices, lustful desires and hurtful relationships, and they need to be restored as well. Pastors and leaders who were once beautiful and useful servants of God, are chipped and bent, the color washed out and the engine dead. We seem so hesitant, even reluctant to walk through the process of restoration with them. We are content to push these men and women to the back of the garage and cover them with a tarp, never to be thought of again.

However, God has a “dream.” It is the dream that, one day, the sign on our church will read “… Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12). It is a dream that should resonant deeply within each of us as His children. Does it?

Staying Out of the Statistics

A few weeks back, I wrote about the startling statistics that highlight the trends occurring in pastoral ministry today – trends that are resulting in pastors self-ejecting from, or being forced out of, their churches. In the turbulent world of church leadership, many pastors are “at-risk.”

Below are four of the top factors that put pastors in serious jeopardy, as well as a few suggestions on how to stay out of the “statistics.” I shared these at my recent presentation to the Midwest Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and they reflect not only sound research but also personal experience.

1. Isolation (and loneliness). Many pastors have no real friends! The lack of significant relationships – living inside our own bubbles, with the sound of our own voice as the predominant one –  can lead to self-doubt and self-delusion. If you’re not connected to anyone, you’re not accountable to anyone.

2. Not Understanding our Limitations. We are afraid of our own humanity. We believe that by acknowledging our humanness, we will somehow deny the power of God at work in us. Most pastors enter ministry with high expectations to change, if not the world, then at least their corner of it. Yet our grasp of how that might happen exceeds our reach, and as a result, we turn inward in a dangerously negative way. We end up evaluating ourselves against ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that come from ourselves, not Jesus.

3. Lack of Good Boundaries. The best example I can give of this is the inability to say “No!” Dorothy Parker, American poet and satirist, once remarked, “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.” With a sigh, pastors will often admit to this (as will their spouses). Our desire to care for others and work hard in our ministry is hijacked by the desperate need to please. As a result, our internal eye becomes fixed on how we are affirmed by the congregations we serve, rather than finding our affirmation in Christ.

4. Inattention to Self-Care. In spite of the warning to watch over ourselves first (Acts 20:28), most people in church leadership refuse to pay attention to their own needs, both spiritual and physical. The pastor’s relationship to Jesus and the Scriptures can become purely “professional,” with studies showing that 70% of pastors only spend time studying the Word when they are preparing sermons. Our significant relationships, as well as our personal health and well-being, suffer. We forget that we, too, are “in-process!”

Left unattended, these conditions begin to erode the soul, sour the attitude, and corrupt the behavior of those in church leadership. Narcissism takes over, and we begin to believe that it all depends on us. We begin to experience anger, cynicism, bitterness, emotional fatigue and the desire to control everything. The outcomes are catastrophic and almost inevitable: burnout, termination, moral failure.

The question we all want answered is, how do we stay out of the statistics? How do we minimize the conditions within our control and reduce the probability of being “at-risk”?

1. Recognize that you cannot solve it alone! Pastors need to model and practice the advice we would give anyone who is a part of the churches we serve: seek out community! I have become very fond of James 5:16, where it talks about confessing our sins/faults to one another. It is a practice we avoid like the plague in the evangelical church, yet true community cannot exist without it. Do you have a spiritual director, a mentor, or a friend who can fill this role for you? Where is a safe place for you to be totally transparent?

2. Be conscious of the fact that all ministry has a “shelf life.” I found this concept surprisingly refreshing when I came across it in David Rohrer’s book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry. Taking his cue from the ministry of John the Baptist, Rohrer believes that seeing our ministry in this finite light can keep us from trying to be the center of the universe, while at the same time knowing that we have a significant role to play.

3. Be human! This is a difficult idea to keep in mind. Our inability to live within the limits of our nature is the poison that flowed to us when our first parents bought the lie. Living within those limits requires humility, but pays off big in reducing our sense of frustration. God is more interested in WHO you are, than WHAT you do!

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. As people trained in public speaking, we are often poor personal communicators. Pastors are expected to fill an increasing amount of roles in our culture, and therefore need to enter into dialogue with our churches, fellow leaders and our spouses regarding our needs, roles and expectations.

5. Build a Rhythm. Although it should go without saying, I will say it anyway: your relationship with Jesus is the bedrock for all you are, will be and will do. Building spiritual, emotional, and physical rhythms into your life and ministry, such as the Sabbath, silence and solitude, family, and play, is one of the surest ways to stay out of the statistics. I love the “Pastoral Rule” that Peter Scazzero and the staff at New Life Fellowship implemented for building these rhythms into their life and work. Check it out at

There is always hope for coming back if we find ourselves “at-risk,” or even “risked” and failed. It is an encouragement, however, to know that we can take a good, hard look at the conditions that currently surround us and ask, “How can I stay out of the statistics?”