Taken a Look at Your Work Hours Lately?

January 29, 2014

NBC News did a short piece tonight on the price we’re paying because of overwork. It doesn’t mention those in ministry, but it might as well. Pastors are as susceptible, if not even more so, than non-Pastors, especially given that most of us work through the weekend.

Watch and be challenged:

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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!

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?

A Prayer For Leaders in light of MLK Day

January 22, 2013

In an email from Ruth Haley Barton‘s Transforming Center, this piece resonated deeply with me.

As yesterday’s US Presidential Inauguration fell on the observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, I thought I would share it here:

This journey to the mountaintop is the ultimate antidote to our grandiosity, if we will let be. It helps us find our place in the scheme of things lest we become overly inflated in our view of ourselves and our role in kingdom work. It puts everything in perspective and it is a perspective we need. A prayer written in memory of Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred for his outspoken advocacy for the poor, articulates the power of this perspective:

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace
to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”

For a leader, the promised land is something you see and know that can’t be beaten out of you even when other people don’t see it yet—even when they say it is impossible, unrealistic, idealistic. It is the phoenix that keeps rising out of the ashes of every failure. It can never fully die.

But paradoxically, by the time a leader gets to this promised land, it has usually been stripped down to its barest essence. By the time you get there, maybe you can still see it—as Moses did and as Martin Luther King, Jr. did—but it doesn’t matter nearly as much. What matters is the presence of God right there with you on the mountainside and being able to say yes to God in the deepest way because you are not clinging to or grasping at anything.

Read full article here…

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!

What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There, Part 4

February 16, 2012

In an occasional series, we’ve been addressing the issue of insecurity in leadership. Perry Noble came out today with a great list of ways you can determine whether or not you are a leader who struggles with insecurity.

Quick disclaimers: We ALL struggle with insecurity when it comes right down to it. There is only ONE perfect person. His name was Jesus. “I know Jesus. And you are not Jesus.” Don’t mean to put you off with that, just speaking to myself and anyone else who wants to be honest. Check your Superman cape at the door please!

Perry’s GREAT list is here.

7 Ways to Deal with “Worcations”

August 23, 2011

Can you say “worcation”? Apparently, President Obama can! In this article from Fox News, President Obama’s current vacation to Martha’s Vineyard is referred to as a “worcation”.

The word is not new to our culture. UrbanDictionary.com has it in their list.

I didn’t need to look it up. My hunch is that you didn’t either. As Pastors, we are all too familiar with what a “worcation” is. Some of us disdain it, while others of us thrive on them.

Maybe it’s our need to feel like we’re not “wasting” time. Maybe it’s an effort to make a vacation financially feasible. We will sometimes even look for opportunities to preach at a friend’s church while the time is actually meant to be spent recharging with our family.

Some worcations are understandable. Denominational gatherings are often held in family-friendly cities where we would actually want to bring our spouse and kids and have them enjoy the locale. There is the occasional true emergency that takes place that may call you home from vacation for a day or two in order to deal with it.

But when your kids can’t remember the last vacation they’ve had that has not included time with you gone for whatever ministry-related reason, there’s a problem. When you haven’t taken your spouse away for a weekend (an actual weekend … you know, that Friday – Sunday string of days?) in “who knows how long”, you may be dealing with some self-expectations and potential insecurity issues.

I have two teenage boys whose schedules are “normal” (ie. their “weekend” is Friday – Sunday). I try to give them 2-3 of their weekends a year (outside of vacation time) where I am not preaching, so they have a “regular Dad” for a weekend.

Pastor, let me give you a few tips to help you keep from “worcations” becoming the norm instead of an exception:

  1. Think back to the last time you intentionally stayed away from work/ministry in order to really spend extended time with your spouse and kids
  2. Look at your current calendar … when is the next time you have already planned where that will happen? If the answer to that question is what I think it is, set a goal to get it planned with your spouse by one week from today.
  3. If your heart is feeling that tug to schedule it close to a friends church, resist the urge and plan for it to be as far away from a friends church as you can!
  4. If you’re concerned about who will take care of things when you’re gone, find someone you can begin addressing this with as soon as possible. A close friend who seems to have a handle on this or a therapist would be a good start. I have a list of some here that work with pastors.
  5. When you pack to leave for your vacation, leave the ministry-related reading behind. Bring some good novels or whatever reading you find fun. I know, I know … your ministry-related reading is fun to you. Trust me, leave it behind and bring some other fun.
  6. When you leave for your time away, turn off the email, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and any other alerts that are activated on your phone. Give one or two other people you trust the phone number of the place you’re staying. Remember the days when you actually had to be found when you were away? Enjoy some of them again.
  7. When you return, resist the urge to “hit the ground running”. Ease back in slowly. Do a half day your first day or two back in. Your kids will thank you for it, and believe me, so will the people who work with you.

Anything else you would add to the mix?

What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There, Part 3

July 11, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this issue of insecurity in pastor and leaders. Recently, I read something that Mark Batterson (pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC) wrote about the topic:

He wrote:

I think influence and insecurity are opposites.  Insecure leaders don’t hire high competence people thereby limiting their influence.  Their insecurity manifests itself by surrounding themselves with people that will prop up their ego instead of taking things to the next level. It’s the Saul complex. David was his greatest asset, but Saul perceived him as his greatest threat.  If you’re insecure, assets are perceived as threats.

I think this is so true, or at least it’s been my experience. Sometimes the largest barriers to moving to further levels in your leadership have to do with how much you’re willing to release others to THEIR fullest potential, even if it outmeasures YOURS.

Thoughts?

What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There, Part 2

May 31, 2011

In my last post (too long ago), I mentioned I would be writing more on the issue of insecurity, especially within pastors and leaders. Today, I introduce you to Scott Couchenour. You can get to know him here. I encourage you to get to know him better by following him at his blog, Twitter, and wherever else you can. He’s got some really good ministry leadership stuff going!

I’ve asked Scott to give us some of his thoughts on insecurity….enjoy! Then again, maybe that’s the wrong word? Or is that my insecurity talking? Whatever. Here you go!


Insecure. That’s me. I bet it’s you too. I bet all God’s children are insecure. I trip on the sidewalk and look back to see what to blame it on. I look around to see if anyone saw me stumble. Why do I do this? Why do I care? We were born for community and yet that very community makes me… well, insecure.

I believe the human condition of insecurity is a blessing. Insecurity. Any dictionary will tell you it’s synonymous with fear, doubt, lack of confidence, lack of assurance. “How can this be a blessing?”, you ask. Here’s what I’m thinking. If I wake up confident, assured, full of “bring-it-on” mentality, I run the eventual risk of becoming just like Adam as he bit into the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I run the risk of becoming my own god. No fear. No doubt. Confident in my abilities. Assured of my planned outcomes. Living under the influence of the intoxication of success. I develop my plan and, to “sanctify” it, ask God to bless my efforts.

I believe insecurity grows out of failure. We can all point to a failure in our past. We remember it. For some, this failure haunts like an illusive thorn in the flesh. But here’s the good news. Failure-to-insecurity. Insecurity-to-rock-bottom. Rock-bottom-to-ready. Ready for what? Ready for being used by God to bring about Kingdom business. King Jehoshaphat knew what it was like to be insecure in his army’s ability when he said, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” (2 Chronicles 20.12, bold mine). “But”. Now that’s a big but!

God leads me best when I stop leading myself. When I reach the bottom where I have no more confidence in me and my abilities, I become a well-tilled plot of rich soil for God to work His plan. I have no agenda. I have no conditions. I have no proviso’s. Just me. Ready for God to use as He sees appropriate. And God says, “Yes! NOW, here we go…”

Are you insecure?

How are you turning your insecurity into your greatest asset for God?


Scott Couchenour

Life Coach at ServingStrong.com

VP Operations at Cogun.com

Resources and coaching for the ministry leader to avoid burnout.

What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There

March 22, 2011

A few recent conversations with a pastor friend of mine have raised an issue that I’ve found true for my life. Maybe you can relate to it as well.

My friend has been in full-time ministry as a Senior Pastor for over 30 years. He’s served in his current assignment for about 25 of those years. He faithfully served this congregation and city for the first 13 years whittling away with a few handfuls of people that quickly became dozens of families.

Over the past 12 years, he’s been privileged to see numerical breakthrough happen, so that now the Church he serves is averaging almost 1,000 people every weekend.

Not that numbers are everything. They aren’t. Matter of fact, this friend of mine will gladly tell you that numbers come with their own burdens.

Anyway, he’s been conversing with a few other pastors of similar size churches and larger. These guys are coming to a painful, but truthful, conclusion. They’ve been honest enough with each other to admit that much of their pursuit to this point of their lives has been rooted in validating their own insecurities.

Imagine that! Pastors being honest with each other! Go figure!

It’s NOT that everything they’ve done has been selfish or egocentric or for their own personal gain. It hasn’t. I know these men. They follow hard after God and want the best for people and for God’s Kingdom.

It IS that as they are growing personally and maturing as men, they are learning that everyone is insecure! Did you hear that? We are ALL insecure.

We are all humans who battle with our insecurities on a daily basis, whether we recognize it or not. The only difference between these guys and others is that they are starting to recognize it while others aren’t.

Those unaware busily go about their lives spinning their wheels for one supposed reason, when all the while, the truth is that the wheels spin to make them feel better about themselves and what they are doing (whatever it is they are doing, ministry or not). And the numbers validate their worth and busy-ness.

What is also true for my friend and the group he is talking with is that they are fatigued and spent. They’re not burned out, just uncertain that what they’ve “achieved” to this point has been worth the cost and energy. They know that they must change the way they do life and ministry in order to get where God wants them to go from here. So, their learnings don’t stop here.

They are boiling down their lesson to this: what got us here won’t get us there!

Here is this current place of recognized achievement and supposed success shown in an ever-increased followership. There is the future place that they know God is calling them to go that is beyond the current place they now find themselves in.

They know without a doubt that what got us here (insecurity) won’t get us there (God’s intended future). So, what are they doing about it? That’s for another post.

For now, your thoughts on what they’re learning?

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