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.

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!

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?

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?

Summer Days Got You In A Daze?

June 23, 2009

Summer brings with it all of its splendor and, hopefully, the anticipation of some down time with family and friends. How are you facing it this year? Are you excited about, ready for some time to refresh relationships, maybe see some friends or family you haven’t seen in a while? Or are you feeling like closing the door on your bedroom, ready for somebody to wake you up when it’s time to go back to work?

There are lots of great assessment tools available to help you gauge your burnout potential and current status. I want to suggest one here that can give you an idea of where you stand as you dive into Summer. This is a perfect time in ministry life to wind down, ease back, relax a little more and let the rest rejuvenate and restore. Sometimes it can be helpful to know where you’re at in your own body, mind and soul, and what your level of need is to be refreshed.

Maybe it will help you plan what kind of vacation you really need this year. Go ahead, try it out.

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!

Dispelling Some Myths About Depression

November 21, 2008

Anne Jackson, author of the soon-to-be-released Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic, and blogger-extraordinaire at Flowerdust.net, wrote about depression in words that are more than adequate.

I REALLY encourage you to go there and read it.

Leading On Empty

November 12, 2008

If you’re following Pastor For Life, you know we’ve been somewhat chronicling the story of Pastor Wayne Cordeiro through his recent heart surgery and his return to the pulpit following this encounter. I am a regular reader of his blog …. MentoringLeaders.com.

I was quite surprised and blessed when my original article here was used in its entirety to report Wayne’s surgery to the MentoringLeaders.com family. In the process, I’ve been able to contact Wayne, and he has agreed to do an interview with PastorForLife.org regarding his recent crisis and return to ministry.

However, I am very excited to also lead you to a couple of recent posts at MentoringLeaders.com that give a sneak peek of his soon-to-be-released book titled, “Leading On Empty”. He writes it out of his personal experience with burnout a few years ago.

Having survived burnout myself as a Pastor, it’s not often that we who go through this crisis end up with the privilege of continuing to serve the same congregation. Often, that’s because the burnout ended up leading to a moral failure of some sort that disqualified a Pastor’s ministry.

I have come to learn that there are MANY of us whose burnout does not lead to any kind of moral failure. Yet still, church leaders often assume that if the Pastor is experiencing burnout, there must be SOMEthing that’s not right that would damage the trust of the leaders or congregation in that Pastor to regain health and lead again. Most often, nothing could be further from the truth.

Wayne is one of the few who is opening his life and his story so that other Pastors might find help and wholeness on the road to healing. I encourage you to check out the Sneak Peek 1 and Sneak Peek 2 of “Leading On Empty”.

AND, stay tuned here at PastorForLife.org for our upcoming interview to learn more from Wayne’s story.

Adrenal Letdown

October 27, 2008

I’ve heard it said that preaching for an hour can equal the energy output of 3-4 hours worth of work. Multiply that for Pastors who preach at multiple services by the number of services they preach at each weekend.

Arch Hart, in his book, “Adrenaline & Stress”, lays out his study on the impact of adrenaline on a person’s body. He emphasizes the impact it has on Pastors in the book, as well as in many of his talks to groups of Pastors.

Over the last few years, with Arch’s help, I’ve grown to identify much of the awful after-effects of preaching as adrenal letdown. Preaching demands the use of adrenaline and I find that many Pastors either have no idea, or they completely deny, its impact. You know, we’re Superman/women/people, right? What might impact others negatively, God will protect us from! (In case you’re wondering, yes, my tongue is in my cheek as I write that!)

Arch contends that when you expend an inordinate amount of adrenaline, like we Pastors do when we preach, you are bound to experience a letdown of the adrenaline so that the system, the body, can recover and restore itself back to a normal state. There are various brain chemicals involved in the cycle, including serotonin, which can drop low as adrenaline restores, resulting in a feeling of depression at different levels.

How much time it takes to recover and what the symptoms of the recovery are can be different for everyone. For me, I find that on Monday, it’s common for me to develop a low grade headache right behind my eyes. I call it my “serotonin-low” headache. And there’s a general malaise that I often experience.

Have you identified the impact of adrenaline recovery after you preach? What are your common signs?

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