Looking for LESS of This to Be News!

April 6, 2014

In case you haven’t heard already, Bob Coy, pastor of one of the US’s largest megachurches, resigned this weekend due to a moral failure. We don’t know the details, and honestly don’t need to. However, It’s another day to say that we at Pastor For Life are STILL believing for the day when LESS of this will be news!

If you’re a Pastor in a difficult place. let us know, and let us get you to a place where you can get help!

Reducing the Rate of Pastoral Suicides

December 17, 2013

Suicide is not a new issue by any means. When a family member of a pastor commits suicide, we’re certainly sad and feel for the pastor and other family members. When a pastor commits suicide, now THAT we don’t expect. It’s a bit more deeply disturbing to most I’ve talked with about it.

We were all shocked and saddened when Rick & Kay Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide last April. I’ve been encouraged by the way the Warren’s held on to their faith AND how they’ve admitted to struggling honestly and even publicly. Even though they took a good amount of time out of the spotlight, they revealed themselves from time to time through social media as they processed their pain and loss.

However, the last few months have seen an increase of pastors themselves committing suicide. The most recent to hit the news is last Tuesday’s suicide of Isaac Hunter in Florida. He’s the son of Pastor Joel Hunter of Northland, A Church Distributed. Isaac resigned a year ago as Pastor of Summit Church, a church that had grown to over 5,000 people since he founded it in 2002. The year has been tumultuous and public. His resignation revolved around revelation of an affair and as the ensuing months unfolded, so did more news of domestic violence charges and assertions of his suicidal struggles.

There have been others in the last several weeks: Pastor Teddy Parker Jr. and Pastor Ed Montgomery

Every story has its own nuances and details. It seems likely that there were some significant mental health issues Isaac ( and Teddy & Ed) was struggling with. I’m not claiming that I know the history or circumstances for any of these dear men, nor am I diagnosing them. I don’t think any of us would question that something was happening for anyone’s mental health when despair reaches the point of suicidal thoughts or attempts.

There are lots of reasons anyone gets to this place. Not the least of which has to do with the ongoing and unmanaged issue of prolonged stress. You can read more about this regarding pastors here.

Ultimately, we have to ask: what can we do reduce the rate of pastoral suicides?

This is NOT a simple question, but I want to offer a couple of ideas:

1. Allow ourselves to be people first, before we are “pastor”.

I’ve heard it said in many places that “Pastors don’t get into trouble because they forget that they’re pastors. They get into trouble because they forget that they’re people.”

Remove the invisible Superman cape from your personas. Jesus already died for the Church. Why are you giving your life for it all over again? Let Him be the Shepherd and serve as His assistant. He can take care of things when you’re resting. He really can! Sabbath is good for your soul

Allow others to preach and lessen the expectation of yourself to be “the man (or woman)” every weekend. Slowly scale back your preaching schedule and ask the Lord to give you the right people to develop into this role.

Use your vacation time as it is intended, as down time. Too many of us “invest” our vacations preaching for our friends because “it energizes me.” That’s drawing on false energy for one’s soul. Your family wants you and needs you.

Identify the unrealistic, unspoken expectations that all pastors tend to labor underneath unnecessarily. Accept yourself as a person who struggles with the same issues that your congregants do. You need the same, if not more, support to overcome those struggles. Seek it and submit to it.

2. Address mental and emotional health as a discipleship issue

This is an area of life that the “C”hurch originally was seen as the primary caretaker of. Before we had “asylums” and “mental institutions”, the Church was the caretaker of what were seen as disturbed souls. Now we’re learning so much more about neuroscience, the brain and mental health.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the Church is behind the curve, taking the easy road of brushing off mental illness as a “spiritual issue”. Instead, let’s get up to speed with the times, and the gifts of brilliant minds that God has created to help us get here and be able to resource the people we meet who struggle.

As a Pastor, I highly encourage you to read The Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero. The thesis is “you cannot be spiritually mature and emotionally immature; you cannot separate your spiritual maturity from your emotional maturity”. This speaks directly to much of what we are seeing happen with Christians as well as pastors.

At the church I pastor, we now teach Emotionally Healthy Spirituality in our discipleship process. We consider it a core piece of how we help people grow spiritually.

An organization called Mental Health First Aid USA has launched a certification program in many cities that is often offered for free. The class is called “Mental Health First Aid”. You can see their website to check for classes near you. In my city, our local Park District hosts the class every month. Recently, I church engaged them and we are now hosting the class for our city once every 3-4 months. We provide the room, they provide the instructors.

Any pastor has learned and knows that we can lead the proverbial horse to water, but we can’t make them drink. Well, just so happens, the same is true for us! Again, we are people before we are pastors.

What else can be done to reduce the rate of pastoral suicides? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Rick Warren’s Youngest Son Commits Suicide

April 6, 2013

News has broken this morning of the suicide of the youngest son of Rick & Kay Warren. Rick is the Pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling “The Purpose Driven Life.”

His wording from an email sent to their congregation at about 10:00 am Pacific time says:

To my dear Saddleback Family,

            Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.

             No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.

             You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a beeline to that person to engage and encourage them.

             But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.

             Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, “Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” but he kept going for another decade.

             Thank you for your love and prayers.  We love you back.

Pastor Rick

My heart, as I’m sure yours as well, just aches for the Warren’s. Our prayers for comfort and peace as they navigate these difficult days are without end.

Rick & Kay are not the first pastor’s family that has endured the stress of a family member with mental illness. They are high profile, and have done a stellar job raising their family under pressure most of us will never endure. They have walked this journey with grace, fortitude and deep commitment to the health of their family.

Someone once said….(I think it was Rick Warren!)….that “God never wastes a hurt.” Experience tells me that part of what will happen in the next days, weeks, months and more will be the heightened awareness of the issue of mental illness.

As a pastor myself who struggles with mental illness (I wrote about that a few weeks ago on my personal blog and will likely do so more on this blog) and who is raising a young man who struggles with mental illness (wrote about that too on my personal blog), I have become a firm believer that the Church can do more and Pastors can do more to help the people we lead who wrestle too silently. They struggle in shame, believing that their illness somehow correlates to their weak faith or some sin in their life.

For that reason, I’m a believer in the “Stand Up For Mental Health” Campaign. I hope more Pastors will join this cause and allow the Lord to use their experience to bring greater health and wholeness to so many who suffer in the shadows.

Can You Keep a Secret?

January 25, 2013

Can you keep a secret? When you’re in a conversation with someone in your church in your office, or chatting over coffee at Starbucks, or just passing by others after a church service, what’s your policy on confidentiality? Do you have one?

Having recently completed a counseling degree, I’ve become familiar with “Informed Consent“. You know, those papers that doctors and counselors have you sign that you barely look over. Part of the Informed Consent process is meant to explain to those with whom you work what you will and will not do when it comes to keeping secrets.

I recently came across a good blog by Tom Ascol, who pastors Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. He writes about why and how he has started using an actual written document for people in his church to sign before they start a counseling conversation. You can see it and read it here.

Do you use a written document? I currently do not, though as an almost Board Certified Pastoral Counselor, I am considering using one. I do let people know at the start of our first session together what I will and won’t do, what the counseling relationship looks like and what my stand on confidentiality is, but I don’t have a written document as of yet.

How do you handle this?

What Bill Hybels Wants Every Pastor To Know

June 24, 2012

…. how he got into counseling. Yes, you read that right! Bill Hybels really wants you to know that he’s in counseling, and he believes you should be too. I happen to agree with Bill.

Did you know they actually require counselors to be in therapy in order to become a counselor, because you can’t give away what you don’t have? Seems to make sense.

How much more important for pastors! We’re dealing with people’s eternity! And often the way we get there is helping them deal emotionally in healthy ways. Yet, most of us don’t know how either, and need just as much help as our people do.

I encourage you to watch, listen, pray, discern. Enjoy!

Is There Such A Thing As Christian Pornography?

February 21, 2011

I admit the title of this post is extreme. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

I think there is such a thing as Christian pornography.

I could probably have thought of a better term for what I am thinking, but I suspect that many pastors will relate to what I’m saying. I would appreciate your feedback, but let’s make it honest, not just “you could’ve thought of a better term”. I’ve already admitted that.

In my opinion (not saying it’s yours, or that it has to be yours), and in my personal and pastoral experience, many conferences, especially our obsession for them, border on being “Christian pornography”. For years, I went to conferences to learn what others were doing that I could do better. To see how other churches were reaching their communities in ways that ours wasn’t and “should be”.

Somewhere in the journey, something gradually changed. I started going to conferences to see what others were producing that I wasn’t, or we weren’t. I noticed things that were done to their facilities that weren’t done at mine. I allowed a subtle envy to creep into my heart about what others had that I didn’t.

And somewhere, it became Christian pornography.

An obscene thing was happening in my heart for the “things of others” over the “things of God”.

A fellow pastor would call and report to me what he saw and experienced at a conference he just came home from. As he spoke about the venue and the materials and the programs (uh ….. I mean, ministries) and on and on, I could feel my heart rate increase, and I noticed I was starting to mildly hyperventilate.

In crept the thoughts: where is my “success”? What do I have to show off? When do I get a chance to show everyone what we can do and how we do it?

Christian pornography.

Obscene thoughts about what is and isn’t “success” in ministry. Crude mind pictures about “what would Jesus build” and what colors and shapes it would be. Thinking about how to make that happen instead of praying about what God wants to see happen. Trying to word things just right so that it’s worded more sharply than the last church status update someone read (or that I read) on Facebook.

Please understand. I still go to conferences. I want to be a better leader and shepherd. My heart longs to increase our effectiveness in reaching our community. So I am not saying ministry conferences are bad or wrong.

I am not trying to discourage any pastor or leader from participating in conference life. I’m just saying a number of ministry conferences I’ve attended brought out the truth in me ….. that I am an insecure person that too often carried my insecurities into my leadership.

More and more, I am finding that as I deal with my own insecurities as a person, my effectiveness as a person, pastor and leader increases. I’m going to write more about the issue of insecurity in the near future, so watch for those upcoming posts.

In the mean time, your thoughts?

By the way, if you look hard enough, it won’t take much to find comprehensive lists of “must attend” church conferences out there. But, here are two that are NOT on those lists, but really should be:

Emotionally Healthy Leadership Conference

Epic Fail Pastor’s Conference

Check them out, and if you can make either one, or even both, they’ll be really worth it!

Stewarding The Easter “Anointing”

April 1, 2010

Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

2 Kings 2:9-10

The heart cry of every Pastor, that God would give us at least as much, if not more, anointing than those who have gone before us.

Interesting that Elijah tells the young prophet that what he is asking for is hard. I think most of us ignore that part. I did! I still do!!

Anointing_of_fresh_oil
The “anointing” seems to be on others around me, and amazing things are happening through them. It doesn’t look that hard from the outside.

Better yet, I think it not really ours to get the anointing. We ask and Jesus gives.

Some hard lessons of pastoral and public ministry have honed in me the belief that what is ours is to steward the anointing.

Some seem good at seeking and getting, but not so good at stewarding it once received. Think of any outwardly successful pastor who eventually flames out in one way, shape or form.

Earlier in Elijah’s life, he learned the hard way too that what Elisha was asking for was not easy!

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

1 Kings 19:1-9

The lessons Elijah learned about stewarding the anointing were far more simple than we imagine, mostly. Check your own anointing stewardship against them in this way-too-busy-Easter season:

  • What’s your internal thought life like right now?
  • How much sleep have you given yourself this week?
  • How much time have you invested away from the church or your office?
  • Do your spouse, kids, family, friends, know where you are and when and what you’re doing other than “working” or “at the church”?
  • What has your diet been like this week?

All just part of stewarding the anointing friends! What would you add?

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

What Does Tiger Woods’ Apology Say To Pastors?

February 19, 2010

tiger

You’ve probably heard enough about Tiger Woods’ sordid lifestyle. I have too. And I have no interest in exploiting any of it.

However, I have a lot of interest, for myself and any other Pastor, in learning from it. I have no interest in analyzing Tiger’s actions or apology to the nth degree.

Regardless of what any of us think about Tiger’s words or motives, there remain a number of analogous issues between the persona of a famous person and the persona of a Pastor. As Pastors, we are tempted to live two lives, one in public and another in private.

It’s interesting that Tiger mentioned in his statement that he felt “entitled” to “enjoy the temptations around” him because he had worked so hard all his life.

Often, Pastors struggle with that same temptation. We work so hard and for so long that we can be tempted to feel that we are entitled to stretch the boundaries of our behavior, be it in the area of sexuality, financial indiscretions, or anything else.

What did you hear Tiger say that could be helpful for Pastors as well?

Click here for video.

Click hear for transcript.

The Dark Side of Ministry

November 11, 2009

Milfred Minitrea of the Missional Church Center, wrote a powerful post on his blog that I think deals with the dark side of ministry and how Pastors are constantly dealing with the issue of congregational change management and ministry effectiveness.

In His post called, “Depression: Pastors In Pain”, he writes:

David Treadway, pastor of Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina committed suicide in September. His tragic death is the fourth pastor suicide in the Carolinas during the past four years. Pastor Treadway was undergoing treatment for depression. In a USA Today article published October 29, 2009, Greg Warner addressed depression among pastors. He wrote, “Most depression does not lead to suicide, but almost all suicides begin with depression.”

The article identified impossible role expectations often placed upon pastors, together with their innate resistance to seek help when they become depressed. They fear, too often appropriately, that congregational leaders would understand their depression to be a failure of faith rather than an illness to be treated. So, pastors suffer alone while trying to care for others.

Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas said “The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed.” Further, “Anxiety and depression in the pulpit are “markedly higher” in the last five years…The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression.”

The author clearly cited the economic environment as a primary cause. Then he added, “Besides the recession’s strain on church budgets, depressed pastors increasingly report frustration over their congregations’ resistance to cultural change. When I read those words, a passing comment on a secondary cause of depression in the article, my heart leaped. For that is precisely what I repeatedly hear from pastors across North America.

“My congregation wants to return to the way things used to be. They are unwilling to accept the reality of cultural changes in our world. Further, they perceive culture, “the way we do things” as sacred. Even when those things are no longer working, they say we should just try to do them better. And when those old methods are not successful, the failure is perceived as being the fault of the pastoral staff. They are unwilling to allow our congregational culture to change so that we can be more relevant among a changing population.” This resistance to change is sometimes public. At other times it skims just beneath the surface like a private torpedo locked on target, ready to do massive destruction.

As pastors understand the marginalization of Christianity in contemporary culture, consequently perceiving the requisite adaptation of the church toward an incarnational missionary posture, their passion to lead toward such culture shifts is often met with resistance. Leading a conventional congregation to perceive the need for change is a massive undertaking, a challenge that will often result in things getting worse before they get better. Those who cannot accept the need for internal congregational change will voice opposition. Those who support internal change will then find themselves defending the need for change. Repeatedly I have seen the dialogue move from the issue of “changing the way we do things” to challenges of personal loyalty within the congregation. Instead of conflict about process, the conflict becomes personal.

In those moments, pastors are caught in the untenable position of loving, serving, and leading a flock that has become divided. I can recall the deep pain of having a man whom I loved dearly, but who did not agree with new directions in ministry, unleash a barrage of vindictive verbal assaults. He was mad. Plain and simple. And his words were not filled with grace in that instance. His words were fiery darts. I felt the darts tear through my heart, a heart that had given eight years of pastoral care to our flock. In my own immaturity I tried to reason with him while he was still angry. I so wanted to please. To make it all right. And when I could not, I walked away wounded. When I was alone, I wept bitterly. Over the next weeks, I was too bruised and weak to continue to lead toward the kind of changes that needed to be made in order for effective ministry to continue. And I walked into a dark night that lasted for months.

Ultimately I found solace through the counsel of Ken Sharp, the tallest Christian counselor I have ever known, who became a dear friend in ministry. Further, I warmed to my own condition as I read Don Baker and Emery Nester’s, Depression: Finding Hope and Meaning in Life’s Darkest Shadow, a wonderful treatment published by Multnomah Press. Not nearly every pastor is blessed with an understanding friend and counselor. Many do not find voices to accompany them through their pain.

As North American churches struggle in a changed and changing culture, the role of pastoral leadership is challenging. We constantly encounter brothers and sisters in ministry who are walking a tightrope as they lead. It is highly improbable that they will be able to walk the tightrope, lead toward a new way of being church in a changing culture, and keep everybody happy in the process. I pray that we can be fellow pilgrims on their journey offering support and encouragement where we can. And sometimes, our greatest help may be simply to walk with them through the darkness.

One thing I know. We must not let those who are suffering walk the path alone.

Having been diagnosed myself with clinical depression myself, and continuing to struggle through its seasonal ups and downs, I know some of what Milfred speaks. I particularly appreciate his perspective on how Pastors are impacted by leading a congregation toward effective ministry in cultural seas change.

Change is an interesting animal, and when a Pastor sees it occurring and senses God-given vision to lead the church to be more effective in it, the opposition that sometimes comes from the most well-meaning people can be overwhelming. Thus, our need to be in continual fellowship and receiving encouragement from fellow Pastors walking through change as well.

Thoughts? Whether about depression, leading through change, or both?

Next Page »

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.
Continue reading »

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!
Continue reading »