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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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!

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?

Some Truth About Burnout, And Some Antidotes

August 3, 2010

The New York Times had an excellent article about Clergy Burnout this week. I encourage you to clikc the link and read it. It’s got some good information.

However, packed full of antidotes to burnout is a blog post from Perry Noble. I’d encourage youeven more to click that link and soak in the truth it may painfully bring to bear!

If you are so inclined to do so, leave your thoughts about the articles before you leave here.

Stewarding The Easter “Anointing”

April 1, 2010

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

2 Kings 2:9-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Kings 19:1-9

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

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

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

Pastors And Pain

March 23, 2010

We are rapidly moving toward the celebration of Jesus’ death, and Lent is on our minds for those who observe it. A time in which we make sacrifices to in some way thank God for and identify with the sacrifice Jesus made for us. A time to draw more and more close to Jesus.

For Pastors, it can be a challenge to experience seasons like this along with those we lead, especially if we tend to disconnect our personal life from our pastoral role. We all do it in one way or another, whether it’s because of the mundane routine of ministry life to the over-exaggeration some place upon our role in their life, or numbness from too many painful relationship encounters we’ve endured in “the ministry”. Our challenge lies in knowing why we do it, when we do it, and where its resulting costs need to be reversed in our own lives through the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for US, for YOU, as a person.

Over at Crosswalk.com, Ron Walters has written a thought provoking article on how we manuever through the mine fields of life and ministry. Drink it deep!

Pastors and Pain

by Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations, Salem Communications

It may be the most cruel childhood disease of all. A real kid killer. Familial Dysautonomia attacks only one of 400,000 children, yet this genetic disorder does so in the most sinister way. It short-circuits the autonomic nervous system so its victims feel no pain. On the surface that would appear beneficial. No discomfort? No suffering? No crying? That’s great. But that only proves the subtlety of this heartless killer.

Because an afflicted child feels no pain, there is no way to know if a bone is broken, an ear is infected, or a tooth is rotten. The eyes become dry and insensitive to foreign objects. Burns don’t register. Cuts go unnoticed. For those who reach adolescence, 95% have spinal curvature, pneumonia, depression and constant hypothermia. All for the lack of pain.

Pain can be a good thing. It serves as nature’s warning signal. An anatomical flashing yellow light. A human body with the complete absence of pain makes as much sense as giving a wristwatch to Venus De Milo. It’s a nice thought but it serves no useful purpose.

Pastors are no strangers to pain. It’s as familiar as a church bulletin, as common as a potluck. But I’m not talking about the pain of those you pray for in hospital rooms. There’s plenty of that, to be sure. The pain I’m referring to is the Pastor’s pain.

What pulpiteer hasn’t felt intense pain from critiques of certain pew-sitting dragons? Name a pastor who hasn’t hurt over unrepented sin, feuds, or heresy within the congregation. Who among us hasn’t chaffed over unsigned letters. We vow we’ll never read them. But we always do. We even memorize some of the lines.

Some pastors claim they’ve developed thick skin – but that’s a crock. In most cases a pastor’s skin is thinner, more sensitive than the average. That’s why you’re in this work. It was that tender heart that wanted to serve others. It was your soft soul that jumped when God came calling for volunteers. No, this is not an industry of thick skins. Hard work? You bet. High expectations? Yep. Larger than average egos? Probably. But thick skin? Not-a-one. The pain you feel is real and it serves an important purpose. God intended it to.

The New Testament’s most common word for pain is Basanos, an Oriental word meaning a touchstone. A touchstone was a fine-textured velvety black variety of quartz. This very dense stone was used in ancient days to assay gold ore. It’s still one of the most reliable methods. A strong-armed goldsmith would rub pure gold firmly against the flat touchstone leaving a golden colored steak. Then the suspect alloy would be struck repeatedly beside the golden mark. After rinsing away the broken debris, the two colors would be compared and the alloy would be determined to be authentic or fake. Being shattered against the touchstone was harsh but effective in finding true gold.

Some of us are, no doubt, going through that process now. Repeated blows on a touchstone tend to discourage even the best of pastors. The enduring pain may seem unfair and needless. But God’s methods have always included pain. The cross and the grave served as Jesus’ touchstone. His pain was undeserved and harsh, but it revealed pure gold. Paul’s touchstone was a prison cell. The result? Gold. David’s touchstone was a cave. Job’s was an ash-heap. Daniel felt his in captivity. Abraham’s was Mount Moriah. Joseph’s was a pit. Each was a personal touchstone; each meant pain, but each produced gold.

Is it possible to pastor a church without experiencing pain? No. Is it possible to show your true worth without being pounded on a touchstone? Evidently not. Is it possible to turn that pain into gold?

What do you think?

Blessings,

Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations

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

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Help When You Hurt

Who ministers to the Minister when you're hurting? Many do, and they can be found on this listing. Please find a friend in your area and seek the help you need today.
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A Place For You

Many Pastors are not aware that all over the country are a number of places you can retreat to for a number of given reasons or purposes. Find some of them here, get there, and find your pace!
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