How’s Your Sleep Hygiene?

January 30, 2014

We all hear of the importance and benefits of good sleep each night, yet it seems few of us get it. Here are some helpful thoughts toward improving this vital area of health:

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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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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.

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 Pastors Should Know Before Their Sabbatical

September 13, 2011

Note from Paul: I’m pleased to introduce you to guest bloggers Martin Sanders and Warren Bird, who published this article elsewhere. They have graciously agreed to allow us to run it here as it so well pertains to “resourcing pastors for a lifetime of life-giving “.

by Warren Bird and Martin Sanders
Most don’t take it soon enough, so here’s how to know when you need one.

Editor’s note: This article is by Martin Sanders, Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY. and founder of Global Leadership, Inc.  Warren Bird oversees the research division of Leadership Network, has co-authored 24 books, and is a frequent contributor to Outreach magazine.

The good news is that 35% of Protestant congregations say they provide their pastors with opportunity for a sabbatical leave. They affirm the value of a carefully planned period of time in which a pastor is granted space apart from normal ministerial responsibilities in order to spend an extended period of time in study, learning, and reflection.

 

The bad news is that not all pastors ask for or take a sabbatical, even when they qualify – most commonly, it’s available at the end of five or seven years of service. In Scripture, the Sabbath (from which the word sabbatical comes) was not a suggestion. Moses included it in his top 10, and Jesus challenged the ways it had become a chore instead of a blessing. Pastors need a rhythm of rest.

The worse news is that those pastors who do take a sabbatical too often come back reporting that they weren’t prepared and didn’t get the value out of it.

Over the years, I (Martin) have heard too many pastors say, upon returning from their sabbatical, “I didn’t take it soon enough” or “I was not prepared for the emotional roller coaster that I experienced.” I was getting phone calls from friends and former students in ministry asking, as they try to take a sabbatical, “Why am I so angry?” The most surprising piece was phone calls from spouses, “Will you call my husband or wife? We thought it would be a great time of relaxation and laughter, but we’re not enjoying each other. In fact, my spouse is no fun right now.”

In response, I started writing people I knew after their sabbatical and asking for their reflections on what happened. Here are some representative comments from 84 different reports:

– “I tried to accomplish too much; I stayed too much into the mode of doing.”

– “I didn’t spend enough time structuring it in advance.”

– “I regret that I didn’t spend more time just reading my Bible.”

– “I wish it had gone longer. I thought the available 3-4 months felt extravagant so I took less, but now wish I had done the full 3 or 4.”

– “I needed a good friend to process thoughts of the sabbatical, both during and after it.”

– “I wish I would have rested more and thought less, not working on projects or planning the future.”

– “I’m sorry I didn’t give more of myself to my family. It hurt to hear them say things like, ‘When you were home, you came home physically but your mind was somewhere else’ and ‘You didn’t look at me as we talked; your body was there, but not all of you.’”

– “I wasn’t prepared for the feelings that surfaced, such as frustration and anger.”

We believe it’s possible to sidestep or overcome each of those concerns. Here’s what to do:

1. Decide the Focus

Is this sabbatical for relaxation only? (That’s not a very popular option with most church boards.) However, do start with rest, sleeping a lot.

Is it an extended study leave? Many large-church pastors take short study sabbaticals in early January or summer.

Remember that the overall impact of a sabbatical, by definition, is to be a “sabbath” rest. If it’s more than a short vacation or study break, create a chart with a specific working plan while allowing flexibility. Without some level of structure, you’ll be frustrated as also will those sending you on the sabbatical. One model is to envision your time away in fourths: Rest, Read/study, Reflection, and Re-entry with assimilation.

2. Set the Length

The timing of your sabbatical often depends on where you are in life, from your mental health to the needs of your family. It’s better to have shorter sabbaticals at intervals than to wait too long to have a longer one.

3. Prepare Well

Preparation is as important as the sabbatical itself. Too many people spend the first few weeks of the sabbatical “working” to finish up outstanding tasks, using up a big slice of the sabbatical itself just getting ready for the sabbatical.

Instead, plan to slow down beforehand; start the wind-down process a few weeks before it starts. Then the day the sabbatical starts, walk away and start it, no matter what is still left undone.

4. Find a Buddy

Pre-arrange to check in with a key friend, counselor, or mentor who will help you process your feelings, issues, and experiences. The biggest surprise most sabbatical takers report are the deep emotions that come up when they push their “pause” button and begin their sabbatical.

5. Avoid Big Tasks

Guard against establishing big projects to accomplish while on sabbatical, such as writing a book, a leadership manual, or a reworked organizational chart. We know of one person who spent 4 months on his sabbatical building a study in which he could learn and grow. It was a definite change of pace, but the sabbatical ended before he experienced any rest or intellectual stimulation!

6. Make Space for Jesus

It’s important during the sabbatical to feed your emotional side just as much as your intellect. Avoid focusing exclusively on materials that will give you new ideas and stretch your mind. Recharge your spirit and heart as well.

Jesus found life in the Sabbath, and you too can find new life in Christ through your sabbatical. In fact, one of the best activities you can do on sabbatical is to renew your love for Jesus. So whatever you plan for your sabbatical, include a generous time to read the Gospels, perhaps looking especially at Jesus’ times away and especially how he handled interruptions. Most of Jesus’ miracles came as an interruption, as he responded to a need. If after a sabbatical you’re more able to turn interruptions into welcome ministry opportunities, then you too will have learned the secrets of a successful sabbatical.

Pre-arrange to check in with a key friend, counselor, or mentor who will help you process your feelings, issues, and experiences. The biggest surprise most sabbatical takers report are the deep emotions that come up when they push their “pause” button and begin their sabbatical.

Rx for Churches Creating a Sabbatical Policy

– Qualifications: Specify what roles this covers (lead pastor only?), when it can happen (after X years of service at that church), and for how long (X months).

– Budget: Be clear about who pays for travel, education or other expenses, when, and what documentation is necessary.

– Goals: Set measurable written objectives or expectations for the sabbatical period.

– Communication: How will the sabbatical be announced to the congregation, and what report is expected after the sabbatical concludes, and to whom?

– Ethics: Have an honest quiet conversation about the pastor’s future and fit in the church. Some pastors take a sabbatical in order to secretly look for another church position, resigning as soon as they return.


Martin Sanders oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY. A published author, he is also founder of Global Leadership, Inc.
Warren Bird oversees the research division of Leadership Network, has co-authored 24 books, and is a frequent contributor to Outreach magazine.

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?

Looking For Your Next Place Of Ministry?

April 20, 2010

DJ Chuang has an awesome list of ministries that re helping pastors match churches they can serve and churches find their right pastor as well. While I copy the entire post here for convenience, I encourage you to check out DJ’s blog for other awesome material!

Churches are searching for pastors. Pastors are looking for churches. Making the connection can be quite challenging for many on both sides of the equation. Sure there’s a spiritual dimension to all of this– being a pastor is a “calling,” (whatever that might mean in a particular faith tradition) layered with much prayer for discernment and provision. Yet in the real-world concrete and tangible reality, there is that job component, when a church pastor is a paid religious professional.

There are a bunch of search engines / directories/ listings working to make this connection, for pastors looking for a ministry opportunity, and for churches looking for a pastor to fill a staff position, along with other church staff jobs. I’ll update this list as I find ‘em — (note: listing does not connote endorsement) ::

And, there are professional services that help make the connection for churches and staff. HelpStaff.me is run by Justin Lathrop (one of my pastor friends), who can put together a professional nationwide search for church staff positions. Another one is MinisterSearch.com, a full-service consulting firm for church staffing.

Aside: this ehow.com article, How to Work for a MegaChurch, gives sobering advice about working in a church setting. Set your idealism aside — “If you think working for a church will be peaceful and idyllic, you’re deluding yourself. Pastors and church staff members are as inherently flawed as the rest of the world. If your desire to work for a MegaChurch stems from the belief that you’ll be in a conflict free office environment, think again.

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

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