Getting Our Arms Around Rick Warren’s Story

April 11, 2013

I am daily amazed and inspired at how Rick Warren is being real and yet still faith-full amidst his grief over the suicide of his 27 year old son, Matthew Warren. He could run and hide, but that’s not Rick. He could shut the world off and remain private. Nobody would blame him.

Instead, he’s chosen to remain vulnerable and honest about the back story of Matthew’s lifelong struggle with mental illness. I can appreciate his recent tweet and Facebook post that said:

Pastor Rick Warren FB comment

It was Matthew’s story to tell. For me, as my own son has battled mental illness, I’ve been public about it. Many have questioned and criticized. I’ve never published anything without my son’s permission. I would never criticize anyone who has taken the direction the Warren’s took with Matthew’s story.

I’ve gone public because I believe that of all places that should be safe for us to talk about anything, it should be the Church. The unfortunate truth is that we are NOT a safe place to talk about anything, mental illness being one of them.

For some reason, we shun them. We call them crazy, wacko, nuts, weak, off their rocker, _____________, …..

Because we don’t know what to do with them. We don’t take the time to understand. We’ve been taught to believe that it’s all a spiritual issue, not a physical one. Maybe all of the above.

There are a few things any Pastor or church leader can do to help the cause:

1. Be open to learn.

If you’re unfamiliar with the reality of mental illness, admit it. Then educate yourself. More and more, there are some excellent ways to easily learn some basic issues that surround those who struggle with mental illness.

One of the best that I’ve found is a 12 hour class that certifies people who take it in Mental Health First Aid. You can peruse the website for more information and find out about classes in your area.

2. Be open to share.

Many of us actually struggle with mental illness ourselves, but the vast majority of us haven’t told anyone. We’re afraid of the very stigma that we contribute too. We don’t want to be seen as weak or vulnerable or less than.

What would happen if we as leaders began to actually be real about our struggle? You don’t have to broadcast it to the world. Maybe you can start slow. Find a safe place outside the church, maybe with some others pastors you trust, or a counselor you have confidence in. Maybe there’s a support group nearby you.

If you feel that it’s possible for you to do so, share your struggle with your leaders, maybe even your congregation. I know from experience that it’s a huge step. Over time, I’ve found more understanding and appreciation for sharing my struggle. To be clear, there has been some condemnation, rejection and loss of some relationships, but the healing I’ve found, been able to lead in and lead others to, has far outweighed the negative that I’ve waded through.

3. Be open to stand.

Join the conversation. Too many have been critical of the Warren’s for too many reasons. One person and one reason are one too many. People in the Warren’s shoes don’t need pointy fingers. They need loving arms, support, people who will stand with them.

Those who are suffering with mental illness themselves or in their families need people to stand WITH them instead of against them. One way you can stand up is to speak out. I addressed a piece of that in the above Point 2. However, another way you can stand with them is to be a proponent of those who struggle.

The Washington Post published an article highlighting how Matthew’s suicide is raising awareness of the need of the mentally ill in the Church. The Newtown shootings and other mass shootings have raised awareness, but not in the Church. Matthew’s story will bring further redemption to this cause in the Church. But how many people have to die in order for issues like these to get the attention they need?

Ultimately, the Church is the hope of the world. But this can only be true as we minister in wholeness, integrity, honesty, compassion and mission. May we be found embracing the Warren’s and all who represent them in greater ways than we ever have.

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.

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

Reducing Stress Proving To Prolong Life

January 6, 2010

FoxNews.com is carrying a story on the effects of stress reduction being proven to add years to one’s life. Honestly, none of us know how long we’ll live, only God does. However, we’re called also to be good stewards of our resources.

NOBODY can live WITHOUT stress. That’s not good either. At the same time, lack of stress is not what most Pastors face, and reduction of it can be a good thing, but it has to be intentionally sought.

Read on for more of this story and feel free to share your thoughts on it below!

Reduce Stress, Extend Your Life, Thanks to DNA’s ‘Life-Expectancy’ Gene

By Anita Vogel

– FOXNews.com

We’ve heard for years about the benefits of reducing stress. Now scientific evidence suggests that one of those benefits may actually be a longer life.

Chromosomes (stained blue) end in protective caps called telomeres (stained yellow), which are shorter in those suffering chronic stress.

We’ve heard for years about the benefits of reducing stress, and how we should make time for activities like meditation, yoga, and plain old relaxation. Now scientific evidence suggests that one of those benefits may actually be a longer life.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have discovered an enzyme that plays a key role in normal cell function, as well as in cell aging and most cancers. It’s called telomerase, and it produces tiny units of DNA that seal off the ends of chromosomes, which contain the body’s genes.

The DNA units are called telomeres, and among other things they work to protect the quality of the gene, and how often a cell divides which determines the lifespan of the cells. What’s exciting about this discovery is the notion that telomeres can be lengthened to prolong cell life — and along the way treat age-related diseases like blindness, cardiovascular problems and neurodegenerative disorders.

So how can telomeres be lengthened?

The answer could be easier said than done depending upon who you are and your lifestyle. Stress reduction in this era is almost an oxymoron, but if your life depends on it, you might start to prioritize things differently.

To get the best example, UCSF researches chose to study women caring for gravely ill children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. They found that women who were the most traumatized by their situation had significantly shorter telomeres. They reached that conclusion by comparing that group to women with decidedly more normal levels of stress.

The hope is that these eliminating the stressors in these women’s daily lives may lengthen their telomeres and prolong their own overall lives.

Getting de-stressed takes work and determination, however. For some it will involve a change in lifestyle and they way they view stress and hardships — think yoga instead of sitting around worrying. The next time you have an extra ten minutes, consider stealing it for meditation … it could do wonders for your health and longevity.

The USCF Research is considered groundbreaking, and the team who discovered the telomere won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Hopefully they’re on to something

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?

Holding Fast

February 4, 2009

Holding FastOne of my practices while I am on a Study & Planning Break is to read at least one book that doesn’t have anything to do with ministry or leadership. I will read a few books while I am on this kind of retreat that are “work” oriented, but reading something “non-work” just stretches and renews me. I just finished this one today and wanted to post a review:

It’s not often a book grabs me by the collar and doesn’t let go until the very end. Nor does one often go past the collar to grab my heart, but Holding Fast by Karen James did just that!

In this true account of three very experienced mountain climbers who lost their lives on Mt. Hood in December of 2006, Karen starts by holding your hand through the beginning of her courtship with Kelly James, her husband, and one of those on that fateful trip.

From the time Karen and Kelly meet until the day she gets the call that Kelly is in trouble on the mountain, I felt like I had become friends with the James’. When that call came in, and when she recounts the last six minute call between she and Kelly (a miraculous connection in that Kelly is stuck injured in a snow cave over two miles in the sky on Mt. Hood), I felt like I was in the story!

What I loved about this book is that Karen is quite vulnerable about her grief over the loss of the love of her life. She takes you into her grief, but doesn’t just leave you there. She also recounts the many ways God met her and their family as they have processed this tragedy.

I highly recommend this book for anyone of any age!

Congregational Grief at Crossroads Cincinnati

December 18, 2008

The topic of how a church body handles grief and loss is HUGE for a Pastor. How a Pastor and his/her leadership handle it makes all the difference in the world.

News comes from Cincinnati this morning about a tragic accident that occurred during a Christmas presentation at Crossroads Church. You can read their statement here.

What is of particular interest and, I believe speaks VOLUMES about how they are handling the circumstance is the connection they are helping their church family make to something called, “Critical Incident Stress Management” (CISM for short). As a Police Chaplain, I’ve received training in CISM, which is an intentional process to help people (in my Chaplain field, it would primarily be first responders, though the process is also extremely helpful to witnesses, such as in this case) work through their shock and grief.

As a pastor having led through tragic events that deeply impact a church family, it’s so critical not only that the Pastor care for the church family and community, but that the Pastor also practice adequate self-care. To lead through times like this is deeply draining!

Read what they placed on their website about CISM here.

You can look further into CISM here.

I commend Crossroads Cincinnati for taking BOLD steps toward helping their community recover from this event! They will go far in seeing healing and recovery take place with their proactivity

A Video Tell-All On Us Pastors?

November 29, 2008

ht: Anne Jackson

When Crisis Comes Home

September 22, 2008

It’s good to be writing again. This is my first post since our city experienced the tragic Metrolink Train Crash back on Friday, September 12. While the crash itself happened right outside our city limits, of the 25 people killed in the wreck, 10 were residents of Simi Valley.

I honestly have mixed feelings about the fact that none of those killed or injured were a part of the congregation I serve as Pastor. I am so grateful that our Church Family can share stories of God’s hand being upon circumstances that would have had a number of them on that very train. For various reasons, they weren’t.

The mixed feelings come in for those that were not spared somehow. I don’t come anywhere near trying to have answers anymore. I used to. At one time, I felt the pressure of having to produce some kind of answer that would somehow save someone from the grief ahead of them in their uncertainty.

Somewhere along the way, I got honest. I started to finally just say, “I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I could take your pain for you. I have no answers.”

I do, however, point people to God. He may not give us our answer today, but someday, we will get it. I believe that beyond cliche or form answer. I believe it to the depths of my very soul. And that’s where I point people.

He’s the Savior, I am not. When I rest my heart in that truth, I am able to navigate crisis becomes a lot differently.

That doesn’t mean that crisis is any easier. When it comes home, everything else adjusts. (Thus, my absence from posting here for a number of days.)

Where the crisis did come home for me was as a friend to Pastors in town and as a Police Chaplain.

As a friend to Pastors, I have a couple of friends who DID lose people in their church and whose congregants were badly injured. I have offered a shoulder and an ear.

As a Police Chaplain, I was not at the scene of the accident, but did get called upon to represent our City in two public gatherings held to memorialize and offer opportunities for people to grieve and mourn. That is a true honor to me.

Being a Chaplain puts me in places behind the scenes that others rarely get to see and experience. Watching City officials grapple with the demands and responsibilities of their leadership while still allowing for their own grief is an interesting place. (Just a quick plug … I am very proud of how our City has responded to and handled this incident.)

Bottom line as it pertains to Pastor For Life …. when crisis comes home, everything else must adjust. You can’t give what you don’t have. Crisis situations demand a lot more giving than everyday life.

If you’re facing tragedy and crisis in your life, be sure to find the people God has placed in your path that YOU can lean on. Give yourself extra time and grace to allow your own mind and soul to wrap itself around what just happened and what continues to unravel over the next days and weeks. It is a process that takes time.

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.

skyeheadshot.jpg

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

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