Pastors And Pain

March 23, 2010

We are rapidly moving toward the celebration of Jesus’ death, and Lent is on our minds for those who observe it. A time in which we make sacrifices to in some way thank God for and identify with the sacrifice Jesus made for us. A time to draw more and more close to Jesus.

For Pastors, it can be a challenge to experience seasons like this along with those we lead, especially if we tend to disconnect our personal life from our pastoral role. We all do it in one way or another, whether it’s because of the mundane routine of ministry life to the over-exaggeration some place upon our role in their life, or numbness from too many painful relationship encounters we’ve endured in “the ministry”. Our challenge lies in knowing why we do it, when we do it, and where its resulting costs need to be reversed in our own lives through the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for US, for YOU, as a person.

Over at Crosswalk.com, Ron Walters has written a thought provoking article on how we manuever through the mine fields of life and ministry. Drink it deep!

Pastors and Pain

by Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations, Salem Communications

It may be the most cruel childhood disease of all. A real kid killer. Familial Dysautonomia attacks only one of 400,000 children, yet this genetic disorder does so in the most sinister way. It short-circuits the autonomic nervous system so its victims feel no pain. On the surface that would appear beneficial. No discomfort? No suffering? No crying? That’s great. But that only proves the subtlety of this heartless killer.

Because an afflicted child feels no pain, there is no way to know if a bone is broken, an ear is infected, or a tooth is rotten. The eyes become dry and insensitive to foreign objects. Burns don’t register. Cuts go unnoticed. For those who reach adolescence, 95% have spinal curvature, pneumonia, depression and constant hypothermia. All for the lack of pain.

Pain can be a good thing. It serves as nature’s warning signal. An anatomical flashing yellow light. A human body with the complete absence of pain makes as much sense as giving a wristwatch to Venus De Milo. It’s a nice thought but it serves no useful purpose.

Pastors are no strangers to pain. It’s as familiar as a church bulletin, as common as a potluck. But I’m not talking about the pain of those you pray for in hospital rooms. There’s plenty of that, to be sure. The pain I’m referring to is the Pastor’s pain.

What pulpiteer hasn’t felt intense pain from critiques of certain pew-sitting dragons? Name a pastor who hasn’t hurt over unrepented sin, feuds, or heresy within the congregation. Who among us hasn’t chaffed over unsigned letters. We vow we’ll never read them. But we always do. We even memorize some of the lines.

Some pastors claim they’ve developed thick skin – but that’s a crock. In most cases a pastor’s skin is thinner, more sensitive than the average. That’s why you’re in this work. It was that tender heart that wanted to serve others. It was your soft soul that jumped when God came calling for volunteers. No, this is not an industry of thick skins. Hard work? You bet. High expectations? Yep. Larger than average egos? Probably. But thick skin? Not-a-one. The pain you feel is real and it serves an important purpose. God intended it to.

The New Testament’s most common word for pain is Basanos, an Oriental word meaning a touchstone. A touchstone was a fine-textured velvety black variety of quartz. This very dense stone was used in ancient days to assay gold ore. It’s still one of the most reliable methods. A strong-armed goldsmith would rub pure gold firmly against the flat touchstone leaving a golden colored steak. Then the suspect alloy would be struck repeatedly beside the golden mark. After rinsing away the broken debris, the two colors would be compared and the alloy would be determined to be authentic or fake. Being shattered against the touchstone was harsh but effective in finding true gold.

Some of us are, no doubt, going through that process now. Repeated blows on a touchstone tend to discourage even the best of pastors. The enduring pain may seem unfair and needless. But God’s methods have always included pain. The cross and the grave served as Jesus’ touchstone. His pain was undeserved and harsh, but it revealed pure gold. Paul’s touchstone was a prison cell. The result? Gold. David’s touchstone was a cave. Job’s was an ash-heap. Daniel felt his in captivity. Abraham’s was Mount Moriah. Joseph’s was a pit. Each was a personal touchstone; each meant pain, but each produced gold.

Is it possible to pastor a church without experiencing pain? No. Is it possible to show your true worth without being pounded on a touchstone? Evidently not. Is it possible to turn that pain into gold?

What do you think?

Blessings,

Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations

REWORK … I Gotta Read It! You Do Too!

March 12, 2010

I haven’t read this book yet, but after reading this post at TimSchraeder.com, I will be soon! Thanks for concisely boiling this down for us Tim!

10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church

I’m nearing the 10-year mark of being a church employee. That practically makes me a veteran. Ten years, four churches and millions of cups of Starbucks later [I’m convinced that’s the drug of choice for church workers] I’ve had a first hand-look at how the church works [by work I mean how it functions day-to-day in the church office] and after reading REWORK I’m convinced we’ve got some things that drive me crazy that need to change.

Before I continue, let me say this: I love what I do. Every single day [except meeting days] I’m excited to be a part of the life of the Church. It’s an immense privilege to be able to do what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything…  well, most of the time.

With that… here’s 10 Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working for a Church

1. We are really good at burning people out.

For some reason we feel like working long hours against ridiculous timelines and neglecting our personal lives, health, or families is a good idea… as long as it’s for God.

Not so much.

The average church employee stays at a church for about 2 years before they peace out.

“It doesn’t pay to be a workaholic. Instead of getting more done and being on top of your game, you actually start a chain reaction that results in decreased productivity, poor morale, and lazy decisions. And don’t forget the inevitable crash that’ll hit you soon enough.”

We all need to learn one simple word: NO. Even though something may be for a great cause, it’s not worth losing your soul to make it happen.

2. We focus way too much on what we don’t have.

One of the most common complaints I hear from church staff members has something to do with what they don’t have.

In the Gospel account of the feeding of the 5,000 all they had to start with was 5 loves and 2 fish, but in the end, there was more than enough.

“Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.”

Celebrate simplicity. Remember God can take nothing and make it into something.

3. We are afraid of change.

I guarantee we’ve all been a meeting where the phrase, “well we heard people say _____________ about _____________….”

Fill in the blanks… the music was too loud, they didn’t like that message, they don’t like this, they don’t like that…

These conversations usually center on a sensitive topic in the church: change.

And how do we respond? We quickly turn down the volume, change our minds, or reverse a decision.

“Sometimes you need to go ahead with a decision you believe in, even if it’s unpopular… remember negative reactions are almost always louder and more passionate than positive ones… so when people complain… let them know you’re listening. Show them you’re aware of what they’re saying. But explain that you’re going to let it go for awhile and see what happens.”

Give change time and be more concerned with what the voice of God is saying to you and let that influence you more than the voices of other people.

4. We use “let me pray about it” as an excuse to get out of making decisions.

I absolutely believe it’s important to pray about major decisions that impact the life of the Church – we shouldn’t move unless we feel God leading us. But all too often we use the “let me pray about that” card to delay simple decisions.

“Whenever you can, swap “Let’s [pray] about it” for “Let’s decide on it.” Commit to making decisions. You’re as likely to make a great call today as you are tomorrow. Don’t make things worse by overanalyzing and delaying before you even get going.”

Pray about what’s important but don’t sweat the small stuff… just make the call and ask for forgiveness later if need be.

5. We LOVE meetings.

For some reason we love meetings. Planning meetings, prayer meetings, planning meetings for prayer meetings. I feel like we have entirely too many and lose valuable time we could be devoting to things that matter. 

“Meetings are toxic. If it only takes seven minutes to meet a meeting’s goal, then that’s all the time you should spend. Don’t stretch seven into thirty. Think about the time you’re actually losing and ask yourself if it’s really worth it.”

What’s one meeting you could condense or remove from your schedule? DO IT!

6. We try to do way too much.

Most churches are hyperactive and never sleep. We thrive on activity. The whole “less is more” thing hasn’t sunk in yet.

What if we focused on doing a few things REALLY well l instead of doing a million things half-aced? << that’s my PG version

“Cut your ambition in half. Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.”

What are some good things you’re doing that could be sacrificed for great things that will make a greater impact?

7. We try to be something we’re not.

If I see one more 40somethings pastor dressed in Abercrombie so help me…

Ok, but for real… not just pastors but churches in general tend to have a problem of trying to be something they’re not.

“Don’t be afraid to show your flaws. Imperfections are real and people respond to real. There’s a beauty to imperfection. So talk like you really talk. Reveal things that others are unwilling to discuss. Be upfront about your shortcomings. It’s OK if it’s not perfect. You might not seem professional, but you will seem a lot more genuine.”

BE YOU!

8. We spend too much time looking at other churches.

We spend way too much time looking at what other churches are doing, be it a church across the country or the church across town. It’s great to watch and learn from others’ successes, but if you look at other churches as you competition your focus is waaaay off.

“Focus on competitors too much and you will wind up diluting your own vision. Your chances of coming up with something fresh go way down when you keep feeding your brain other people’s ideas. You become reactionary instead of visionary.”

Your church has a unique and specific role it’s meant to play in the life of your community. If your church ceased to exist, what would people miss? Whatever that is should be where you focus your time and energy.

9. We worry about people leaving.

We’re quick to cater to the needs [or demands] of people who have been around for a while instead of focusing the needs of people who are new.

We should spend more time figuring out how to create a wider front door instead of focusing on how we can “close the back door”… even if that means losing people who give us a lot of money [there, I said it].

“Scaring away new [people] is worse than losing old [ones]. Make sure you make it easy for [new] people to get on board. That’s where your continued growth potential lies. People and situations change. You can’t be everything to everyone. [Churches] need to be true to a type of [person] than a specific [person] with changing needs.”

10. We don’t feel trusted.

For whatever reason churches tend thrive in a weird culture of mistrust. It’s not or conducive to a positive working environment. Some churches have crazy rules, policies and procedures that create layers of red tape that, while probably well-intentioned, communicate a lack of trust.

“When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies treat their employees. When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers. You create a boss-versus-worker relationship that screams, ‘I don’t trust you.’”

This is one I don’t have a quick answer to but know it’s something I’ve experienced and something I hear about consistently from others who are in the trenches. BUT, I will say working in a church that has a trusting environment, I’ve never felt so empowered to do my job and that has fueled my productivity exponentially.

Final Thoughts…

Church work is tricky but I will say the blessings have far outweighed the frustrations.

The challenge of being on staff at a church lies in the fact that we don’t have the option to leave our work at the end of the day.  Our work is deeply connected to what we believe and to our faith community. It’s easy to get passionate about what we do because we do is attached to something that’s incredibly personal to us.  We’ve got to learn the discipline of drawing boundaries.

While the Church has endured throughout the ages, each generation has had its unique challenges and opportunities. I believe the challenge and opportunity facing next generation leaders lies in how we manage and steward the resources we’ve been blessed with.

We’ve never been more resourced than we are today… which is why things like REWORK are important for us to latch on to. We don’t need to change what we do [connecting people to Christ], we need to change how we work.

My prayer is that we can REWORK and do the work God has called us to do, not simply by applying business ideas, but by seeking God, being led by His Spirit and serving the Church with excellence and humility.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…” – Colossians 3:23

This post was inspired by reading REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals. It’s an important book that I think should be required reading for any next generation church leader.

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