“Healer” Author Confesses His Real Need For Healing

August 29, 2008

In no way do I mean for this post to be a judgment or condemnation, nor a condoning, of the sorrowful circumstances that surround the story of Michael Guglielmucci.

He is the author of a song very recently released on the latest Hillsong Worship DVD album, “Hillsong Live: This Is Our God”. There is apparently a documentary on the DVD of how Michael wrote this song right after a diagnosis of aggressive cancer. A popular video on YouTube has now been removed that showed him telling the story at a worship concert just before he would lead the song with an oxygen tank by his side and the tube on his face.

Turns out that he confessed just a couple weeks ago that he was never diagnosed with cancer. He was able to deceive his wife and family as he was apparently suffering physical manifestations of his inner battle with pornography. His father is a Pastor in Australia. You can read his initial statement here.

I do not pretend to know Michael’s torment or make claims of superiority. While my heart is very sad for him and his family, and for the Church at large, I do not pretend to know his torment or make any claims of superiority. But for the grace of God, his story is ours … ALL of ours.

This is another in a long line of stories of lives torn apart by the temptation to live one life in private and another in public. This is not the first and it will not be the last.

There are a couple of keys here about what it takes to be a Pastor For Life.

One is the deep need for safe places to be able to be truly who you are, including the inner battles and struggles we all face. The sooner we get out into the light, the less the damage and the stronger the ability to resist temptation.

Another is the need for us to live in brokenness and vulnerability. The foundation of this relies on us. We must allow for the transparency and consistency in how we live.

Many we lead cannot handle an ounce of weakness we may show as leaders. That’s part of what keeps us from vulnerability. But somewhere, somehow, those who cannot handle our weakness will have to find their strength in Jesus. They may find it in our transparency, but our fear is that they may not. We must become OK with that.

I commit myself, and encourage you, to pray for Michael. While his confession shocks many, it’s actually the first painful step of real freedom for him, and for his family. While the road to recovery will be long and grinding, he is in the best place he can be, or maybe even has ever been.

What Else Would YOU Do?

August 28, 2008

I enjoyed a lunch appointment today, catching up with a Pastor friend who has just come off of his first Sabbatical that lasted about three months. We got to talking about an aspect of vocational ministry that I have come to believe over time can be unhealthy and disruptive to the full life God intends for even Pastors to live.

The concept is this …. if you were NOT in vocational ministry, what would you do for a living?

There was a time that I couldn’t think of anything else I could do. I didn’t believe I had any transferable or marketable skills. Vocational ministry can become a “trap” in a sense, leaving you to feel as though there is literally nothing else you can do to make a living.

Honestly, not only was there a time I COULDN’T think of something else I could do for a living, but I WOULDN’T. If I talked about it, people would be nervous, wondering how serious I was. If I spoke it out loud, God would hear it, and He would NOT be happy. I am, after all, following HIS call on my life. To talk about doing something else would be an insult to Him, wouldn’t it?

Um, folks ….. that kind of thinking was actually a piece of my burnout experience. Both leading up to it AND recovering from it.

Leading up to burnout, I didn’t realize the importance of being free to talk to someone about how I felt about this. I didn’t need to, and still don’t, talk to anyone and everyone. But you gotta talk to SOMEone. Find a person who is not going to condemn you, judge you, doubt you or rebuke you for thinking that there may actually be other things you could do with your life.

Recovering from burnout, I came face to face with the reality that I just might HAVE TO do something else to make a living. If I didn’t have the courageous leaders around me at our church, who stood beside me and allowed me to recover and get well, I would not be writing this blog to Pastors today! I happen to know that my story of recovery is the minority. MOST Pastors who experience burnout lose their “jobs”.

It was during the long journey back to stability and greater emotional and spiritual health that I began to learn that God’s call on my life is irrevocable, REGARDLESS of what my vocation is! It took a while, but today I can actually talk pretty freely about a handful of jobs I think I would enjoy trying.

I’m too old for my first choice these days. I’d be out patrolling the streets and fighting crime with the finest!

How about you? If you were NOT in vocational ministry, what would YOU do?

Integrity Is ALWAYS An Issue

August 22, 2008

This week, we’ve been inundated with a couple of Christian Leader Integrity issues that seemingly are undermining the plans and purposes of God.

No doubt you’ve heard the story of Todd Bentley, who has ministered in Lakeland, Florida the last several months. Last week, right after announcing the end of his time of ministry there, news broke of the separation he and his wife are experiencing.

Then, just in the last couple of days, news came out about Michael Guglielmucci, the Pastor from Australia who wrote the hit worship song, “Healer”. The story was that he had written the song on deep inspiration from a just diagnosed case of cancer. Turns out there is no cancer.

I am not writing this post to point out what should or shouldn’t have happened in the Lakeland Revival, nor do I write to claim anything less than a great worship song in “Healer.” I am writing to simply declare that integrity – being the same person on the outside as you are on the inside – is ALWAYS an issue.

Your relationship with family, your marriage, your co-workers, your church, your neighbors. Integrity is ALWAYS an issue.

I appreciate The People of the Second Chance! I am glad to be one. But folks, any of us who desire to see God build Pastor For Life material in us have got to realize that transparency, honesty, vulnerability, submission to one another and plain old “doing the right thing”, all of those individual pieces of integrity. It’s ALWAYS an issue. That will ALWAYS remain true.

Thoughts?

When Ministry Is Killing You

August 18, 2008

Who said it? What was meant by it? Did they really even know what they were saying?

Somewhere, somehow, we ‘ve lost sight of the things that truly matter and set our sights on some things that don’t. As a result, the very thing we got into this line of “work” for is the very thing that is sucking the life out of us ….. “reaching people”.

At least that’s what we want to believe. That we are in it to reach people. Somewhere, deep down inside, it really is true. But somewhere, even deeper down inside, it’s also true that the definition of whether or not people are being reached (“How’s the Church? Is it growing? Are people getting saved? Are you building? What’s your budget?”) has side tracked us. It’s putting us in danger of losing who God really has made and is making us to BE for the sake of how much we can DO for Him.

I don’t know about you, but my heart resonates with this article from Out of Ur….

Great is Thy Effectiveness?

There’s danger in rooting our identity in ministry rather than in Christ.

Something’s wrong. We pastors are the stewards, the spokespeople, the advocates of a message of hope, life, and peace. And yet so few of us seem to be experiencing these qualities in our own lives. Something’s wrong. In a world saturated with fear, insecurity, and stress, we are to show a different way. And yet those at the center of the church are burning out and leaving ministry at a rate of 1,500 per month. If that’s what’s occurring at the heart of the church, why would anyone on the fringe want to move in closer?

I’ve just read an article by two Christian counselors about the soul-killing impact of church ministry on leaders. (The statistic above comes from them.) They note that the pressure to grow the church is a significant factor leading to pastoral burn out. And some pastors “admitted they promoted growth models that were incongruent with their values because of a desperate need to validate their pastoral leadership.” It seems too many of us have our identities wrapped up in the measurable outcomes of our work rather than in the life-giving love of the Christ we proclaim. Something’s wrong.

I spent last week in western Iowa and met many wonderful pastors and church leaders. These men and women don’t lead megachurches. They’re not in chic urban or suburban communities where new cultural trends are born. In other words, they’re not the people you’re likely to see on the platform at a ministry conference. More than one church leader approached me during the week holding back tears. Each confessed he was on the verge of mental/spiritual/emotional collapse. The cause sited by all: the pressure to perform.

Some might say these leaders have failed to nurture their souls sufficiently. We usually want to blame leaders for their own burn out, but when I see the pervasiveness of this problem I wonder if there isn’t also a systemic factor. Could contemporary church ministry itself be the problem?

When I peruse ministry books, websites, magazines, and attend conferences I’m bombarded with one overwhelming message: great ministry results are the product of great ministry leadership. If a church is growing, if lives are changing, if budgets are burgeoning—it must be because the leader is doing something right. Conversely, if the church is shrinking, if lives are struggling, if budgets are busting—it must be because the leader is inept. As a result, a pastor’s success and self-worth is inexorably linked to his/her measurable performance. Stewing in this toxic brew is it any wonder why pastors’ souls are shriveling. Something’s wrong.

Consider a chapter titled “Bigger is Better” from a popular ministry book. The authors write, “A church should always be bigger than it was. It should be constantly growing.” Talk about pressure. The problem is this standard doesn’t hold water when applied to Jesus himself. John 6 describes the scene where “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” After teaching some weird stuff about drinking his blood and eating his flesh, the crowds who were drawn by Jesus’ miracles decided they had had enough. Did Jesus’ shrinking ministry mean he was an ineffective leader? Why do we hold ourselves to a standard that Jesus’ doesn’t apply to himself?

Or consider one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament. In Numbers 20, Moses performs a miracle by drawing water from a rock to nourish the Israelites. By any human measure Moses’ ministry was a success. It was God-empowered (he performed a miracle), and it was relevant (the people were thirsty). If Moses lived today, we’d all be reading his ministry book titled, “How to Draw Water from Rocks: Effective Strategies to Refresh Arid Churches.” There was just one problem—Moses’ effective ministry was rejected by God. Moses had disobeyed the Lord’s command by striking the rock rather than speaking to it. For this sin he was forbidden from entering the Promised Land. It turns out God performed a miracle in spite of Moses, not because of him.

Might God be doing the same thing today? Is God allowing some powerful, effective, and relevant ministries to grow in spite of leaders rather than because of them? If Scripture shows that faithful and godly leaders can have shrinking ministries (Jesus in John 6), and sinful leaders can have successful ministries (Moses in Numbers 20), then why do we persist in measuring our success simply on the measurable outcomes of our work?

Brothers and sisters, you are more than the measurable outcomes of your work. I’ve come back from my time in Iowa with a renewed commitment to help us all understand the mysterious calling we have in Christ. I want to be at least one voice countering the soul-killing noise surrounding church leaders today—noise that tries to convince us to ground our identities in effectiveness rather than faithfulness. Yes, we need to work diligently and serve Christ with our very best—this is our worship to God. But how we define success should look very different in the economy of God’s kingdom from the tangible stats the world celebrates.

I hope this is what distinguishes Leadership as a resource for you. Leadership is about skill, but it’s also about the soul. Some of us are called to plant, some of us are called to water. At Leadership we want to help pastors become better planters and better irrigators; but in the end, we also want to help you release the outcomes to God who causes the growth. Unlike contemporary business, ministry involves the baffling interplay of the human and the divine, the spiritual and the material. There is a mystery to what we are called to do. Embracing this mystery and releasing the outcomes of our work to God is what we must do if our lives, and not just our ministries, are to be filled with his grace.

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Skye Jethani is the managing editor of Leadership and a teaching pastor at Blanchard Alliance Church in Wheaton, Illinois.

The Road To POP

August 15, 2008

Mike Foster …. can you make it any more clear than this? I mean, come on, I’m not quite sure I get what you’re saying 😉 . Maybe you (reading this) can help me understand. Then again, maybe Mike’s made this CLEAR ENOUGH!!!

I am hardcore about taking personal responsibility for managing our emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational health. Why? Because I believe every passion, mission, job, or ministry has a road leading to POP.

What’s POP? It’s where you have depleted everything in your life and you simply breakdown. Your job, company, organization, and leadership role has sucked you dry. Btw, the worst culprits: churches and ministries. You give EVERYTHING and then you have left yourself bare, vulnerable, and in a toxic place. And then you POP!

Sometimes POP looks like destructive escapism like alcohol, drugs, or porn.

Sometimes POP means running off with a hot young thing you met on the internet 2 weeks ago.

Sometimes it means going into a maniacal rage in some company meeting, jumping on top of the table, taking your clothes off, and getting jiggy with it.

Tragically, sometimes POP means suicide or a massive heart attack that kills you.

POP means bailing on your spouse and your kids so you can go “find” yourself…with some other guy/gal.

And then after a month of us “doing the crazy” we come back to our life with huge regrets and a big mess to start cleaning up. Sometimes and sadly, we are never the same.

The story isn’t rare. It’s actually pretty common.

I’ve realized hard wirings in me that would lead me to the POP scenario. If I didn’t manage my life well I could find my self blowing up and breaking down…and quite quickly. In a matter of months or a few bad weeks and…..POP!

Let me be clear here. I’m not alone on this road. You’re on it too. Some of you are aware of it and are working on it in your life. Others are completely blind to the forces that are working against you. And if I ever meet you, and I see you heading towards POP, I’m going to call you out on it.

I’m going to smack you down and warn you. And I don’t want to hear your excuses and valid reasons of why you HAVE to lead your life sucked dry. Pure crap! You just don’t have the balls to make the hard decisions in your personal life. And if I was in a POP scenario in my life, I would expect the same from you.

Every person is on the road leading to POP. I just hope all of us figure out how to live our lives so we never arrive at that final destination.

Thoughts?

Disconnecting Can Be A Good Thing!

August 14, 2008

Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington, DC, adds to the conversation regarding my concept of “regular guy” weekends. Thoughts?

I just wrote an article for Sermon Central titled The Adventurous Pastor.

Here’s an excerpt:

A few years ago I played hooky from church. Instead of going to our Saturday night services, my son and I hit the ski slopes. It was the last weekend of the ski season so it was our last chance to go after one of the life goals we share in common: learn to snowboard.

We were awfully sore at the end of the day. Especially my backside! But it was one of those unforgettable days. And there is one moment in particular that is frozen in my mind. Literally. We were riding up the chairlift as the blizzard-like snow was coming down. And I heard the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. I realized, in that moment on that chair lift, that my life had completely revolved around National Community Church for the better part of a decade. On one level, when you plant a church, you’ve got to pour your heart and soul into it. Sacrifices are par for the course. But I came to the convicting realization that I didn’t really have much of a life outside of church. It was as if the Holy Spirit said: Get a life!

I’m afraid that many pastors, if we were completely honest, would have to admit that we have no life outside of church–no hobbies, no relationships, no interests, no goals, no margins. And we wonder why we’re bored with ministry. So let me share a few ways to adventurize your life

You can read the entire article here.

The Secret of Your WHAT?

August 13, 2008

There is a seedy little enemy that has set itself against the soul of every single leader in the Church. It has rung the bell of leaders from the deepest parts of history and the oldest parcels of the Old Testament. It has chased away the courage of the bravest of warriors and eaten the lunches of the strongest and most well-educated diplomats. It has forced the most articulate of preachers and speakers to the floor to grovel and beg for the food from its table.

It’s something we’re all looking for and chasing after. We want it, sometimes too much, and at times at too large a cost.

The enemy? It’s no secret. It’s “success”. Blogger and Leader Rhett Smith has a tremendous post that helps us to be forthright and frank about its elusiveness. I believe it’s something that is the most vague, and yet most crisp, enemy we face in Church leadership.

Read on, and let’s chat …..

Parker Palmer is the author of one of my favorite books, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

If you have not read it, then you need to stop what you are doing and get in your car and go pick it up. Or stop what you are doing and order it online. I either suggested it or handed it to a lot of my college students and recommend it to everyone.

All that to say, I came across this interview with him at The High Calling (by the way, they have an amazing assortment of great interviews).

And he just says some powerful things about vocation, work, identity, failure, ego, etc. that we all need to hear. I think that not only do we all need to read it and reflect upon it.

But, I’m concerned for those of us in ministry (we who are supposed to be teachers, leaders, modelers, mentors, etc.) who have our identity so tied up in our vocation and have it validated by success and driven by ego.

Interviewer: You’ve said, “The sense of self is very closely tied to what people do.” How does one bring identity into a profession, without losing oneself to that profession?

Parker Palmer: You’re asking, “How do we live open-heartedly in the world without having our hearts broken?” At 68, I have come to a simple conclusion: I have a choice to make.

Either I live with my heart open, investing in my work and taking the risks that come when the expression of my own truth might get me crosswise with people. Or I exist in my work and in the world in a closed-hearted way. To me this choice is a no brainer, because to be in the world in a closed-hearted way is to risk a kind of spiritual death, a death of integrity really. As Thomas Merton said, most of us live lives of self-impersonation. To be in the world as an impersonator of yourself, when selfhood is your birthright gift from God, is an insult to your Creator and certainly a diminishment of yourself. I have learned to choose to be in the world in an open-hearted way, because pain itself is a sign that I’m alive. Being open-hearted is my only chance at the joy that life can bring.

Interviewer: When we start connecting and bringing our identity to work, suddenly there’s a tremendous pressure to avoid failure, because our egos may be tied to our performance. How do we reconcile that?

Parker Palmer: I think ego is strongest when we are not in touch with our own identity as children of God. My ego, or false identity, is the piece that tells me that I’m something special, that I’m not anybody’s child, that I’m the leader of the pack. That’s the piece of me that doesn’t want to fail. The failures I’ve experienced and the pain brought as a result were because I was working heavily out of ego. When one works out of ego, the aim is not to serve your patients or your children. Instead it becomes about winning, looking good, and not being deprived of one’s perks. Identity and integrity rightly understood are the antidote to ego.

It’s baffling and troubling to me that there is this Christian cult of success that I actually think is very ego driven. So many Christians have embraced this cult of success.

You can find the first part of the whole interview here.

Your Personal Pace, Part 4

August 7, 2008

I don’t want to do this. I really don’t. But I must. It’s where the Lord has me right now, so I must address this part of anyone’s personal pace.

What do you do with your grief and loss? How does that impact your personal pace of life?

It used to be that when I experienced grief and loss, I did my best to “weep with those who” wept, but wouldn’t grieve much because we “don’t grieve as those who have no hope.” Both of those biblical quotes true and poignant …. and so easily misunderstood.

You see, like many of you, I’m a Pastor. Loss and grief is something my people face every day. Over the years, when you don’t have any grasp on what it means to be “blessed” to be someone who “mourns”, you tend to just pull up your boot straps and just move on.

Until, that is, you end up suffering a loss, or a spattering of losses that cause you to emotionally come to a grinding halt. A painful, yet powerful, lesson I’ve learned is that loss and grief must impact your personal pace. If it doesn’t, something’s wrong.

I don’t mean to sound brash or harsh, but having been one who thought others grieving should get over it and move on, I had to learn that if God grieves, so do I grieve. I can grieve now, as the losses occur, or I will grieve them later, more painfully, and maybe at greater cost to my own health.

I mentioned a few sentences back that this is where the Lord has me.

  • Two church member funerals in two weeks
  • Three funerals in a month
  • A case of cancer gone wrong for one lady I pastor (after four surgical procedure in two months to remove masses, now they will do a full mastectomy)
  • A staff member’s uncle who died suddenly this week
  • My son, whose leg is fine and will be stronger, but who is missing much of his 13th Summer
  • A Pastor in my city who hangs on the brink of life in an ICU after a massive brain hemorrhage 10 days ago
  • A man I pastor who survived a quadruple bypass a few months back and was ready to go back to work right when the need for a pacemaker came into his picture.

I now realize that when I face loss and walk through it with the people I lead, it impacts my personal pace. If I don’t allow room for it, I pay for it later. What does it mean to “make room for it”? A few things:

  • I cry when I feel like it.
  • I slow down my schedule to account for the time spent with grieving friends and relatives.
  • I admit to others that I don’t have all the answers.
  • I do my best to give myself grace to not feel “on top of it” all the time.

This is a piece of personal pace that I don’t like, but I believe it’s a really important one. Is there anything you would add to the list of “make room” allowances?

Help When You Hurt

Who ministers to the Minister when you're hurting? Many do, and they can be found on this listing. Please find a friend in your area and seek the help you need today.
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A Place For You

Many Pastors are not aware that all over the country are a number of places you can retreat to for a number of given reasons or purposes. Find some of them here, get there, and find your pace!
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