Another Pastor Down

June 9, 2009

The news has sadly been circulating the internet over the last couple days regarding the confession of Pastor Gary Lamb at his blog of an affair with his assistant. There’s already enough opinion flying around about who is for who, who hasn’t said what and what ought to have been said, and more. I don’t have anything to add to that. Don’t really want to even be a part of all that.

I will only mention that probably the healthiest two places I have read response to Gary’s situation have been from Geoff Surratt and Ron Edmonson. They are certainly not the only two who are speaking painfully well of the circumstance, but they’re at the top.

Since the launch of Pastor For Life last Summer, I have endeavored to keep any commentary or review of stories like Gary’s to a minimum, just trying to bring about anything factual and pointing out what we can learn to keep such stories from becoming mine or yours. Frankly, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.

I’ll never forget being at Mountain Learning Center in June Lake, CA in May of 2001. I was 3-1/2 years into a Senior Pastorate at a church I had served for 12 years before being appointed as the Sernior Pastor. In those first 12 years, I had worked with the three previous Senior Pastors. All three pastoral transitions were painful for the previous Pastor’s family and the congregation. The last two had pains of immorality and both Pastor’s marriages ended in divorce.

When I became the Senior Pastor, I was sure of two things:

  1. I was nothing like my predecessors (watch out for that pride, folks!)
  2. The one thing that would never happen to me was “burnout”.

Yet there I was, deep in burnout, wondering how in the world I got there. My wife was with me, there had been no immorality or “sinful” mess that had been made of my marriage or ministry. But my foundation of inner life was in shambles and I was depressed and spent.

What I will never forget is my counselor at MLC, Dr. Russ Veenker, having no idea of my two certainties above, hearing my story and saying to me:

“Paul, you are just like your predecessors. I can guarantee you that before they messed up their marriage and ministry, they were in burnout. The only difference between you and them is that you sought help before doing something stupid.”

The advice to Pastors that I’ve scanned today on all the blogs in response to Gary’s situation has been good stuff for the most part.

  • “Don’t counsel alone with the opposite sex.”
  • “Have an accountability structure in place.”
  • “Don’t spend time at the church office with staff of the opposite sex.”

All of it is good advice. It’s good stuff to have in place. Bottom line, however, is that most people close to me were able to see my slow descent into burnout way before I ever saw it coming. And they were saying things. And I was giving blank stares. And before I knew it, when the pressure became too much, my inner life crumbled.

Thing is, at some point, we ALL crumble. Um, yes, ALL of us. I’ve seen it happen time after time, and so have you. If you can’t say that, you haven’t been around ministry long enough. Just wait.

So, what does it take to last? My belief …. do whatever it takes to monitor your heart regularly and keep it at Jesus’ feet. This requires that you adjust your pace to your current life and ministry circumstance, and “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” (from John Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”).

Most of us Pastors, I find, are unwilling to do that. I was. That’s how I ended up where I was. I am convinced I was headed for a major life adjustment no matter what, even because of age. But it could have been experienced much differently had I been less “Superman” and more hu-man.

I realize, too, that for many Pastors, you serve in a system (church body) that doesn’t allow for much adjustment in these areas for you. That’s a whole other story of change and transformation that must take place for real health to occur, both for you and your congregation.

How about you? Your thoughts?

Leadership In Its Right Place

December 13, 2008

With this post, I want to introduce you to Dr. Russ Veenker and his wife, Kandy. You can read more below the article on the stuff they do. Essentially, this is one of the the guys that God used to save my hide when I was in the depths of burnout and depression. We will feature one of his articles here on a regular basis. I think you’ll get as much out of Russ’ wisdom as I do.

For the past 25-30 years our culture has been engaging in a crisis of leadership. Whether in government, business, or church, the topic of leadership has been the mainstay of reading, study, seminars, and academia. It is a multi-billion dollar industry. One doesn’t have to look very far to grasp this: my internet search engine listed over 35 million items/topics/references/books/seminars when I typed “leadership into the little search engine box – lots of good stuff for sale. My library bookshelf is filled with books on the topic of leadership. A recent issue of Leadership Journal had sixteen new books on te topic of leadership advertised; five of the furteen Bible Colleges and Seminaries who advertised had something to say about preparing church leaders. We are consumed and obsessed with leadership theories, models and practices.

In the not-so-distant past when I was an “Operations Leader” in Search and Rescue, I had a baseball cap with two bills sewed on to each side of the hat. For comic relief I would wear the cap to the monthly team meetings that I presided over as president. On the front of the cap it said, “I’m their leader…which way did they go?”

The humor releases a certain underlying anxiety that comes with the role of being a leader. And all the talk about “leadership” does reveal certain anxiety – particularly in the church. Sometimes I get the feeling there’s a mythical ghost in the shadows of our churches whispering weird messages when it comes to all this leadership stuff. It goes something like this: if we get our leadership RIGHT (whatever THAT means), the church will be “right” …. or “OK” …. or “fixed” …. or “on track” …. or __________________ (you fill in the blank). Leadership is often touted (or blamed) as the answer to what lacks in the church today. And yes, leaders have been and are the easy targets – they’re easily spotted on our radars!

I believe the anxiety with regard to leadership issues runs very deep into the fabric of our souls. The church (along with government and family) for many centuries in western civilization was a central pillar to our modern society (1500-2000 A.D.). However, we are leaving modernity and its philosophical presuppositions behind, and as a consequence, the church has been displaced and marginalized. Simply put, for most of the populace in our culture, nobody cares about who the church is and what it does. For those of us in the church, particularly those of us in leadership, that experience of being marginalized by culture at large creates a lot of anxiety. Why? Because we are no longer significant (as a central or important and valued part of culture). So perhaps all the hub-bub about leadership is really about us attempting to move back into the mainstream of culture – to have value and significance, to re-capture our special place we’ve had in the past. And we all know that repeating the past usually doesn’t work too well in living out the future.

Now I realize I’ve made some sweeping generalizations with the above assertions. However, if you are, or have been in a leadership role in the last twenty years of the church, what I’ve written will make a great deal amount of sense. And that prompts an old, modern question: So what do we do now? Well, because I’m a romantic, modern, “old-fashioned” kind of guy, I think the ancient writings of God are a great place for wisdom. And a great verse to deal with anxiety is Philippians 4:6-7:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe leadership in the Church is more about praying for healthy anxiety management than technique. Perhaps it’s more about humility before God than knowing the right direction to take. May prayer be the central hallmark of leadership in Jesus’ Church.

© 2008 Dr. Russ Veenker

Dr. Russ Veenker has over thirty years of formal ministry experience having served as a youth minister, interim pastor, church-planting pastor, chaplain, church and para-church consultant, and conference speaker. Some of these ministry positions have been concurrent with his work at the Mountain Learning Center.

He is a graduate of both Dallas Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary where the special emphasis of his doctoral studies has been the care of clergy. Russ’s academic and clinical expertise is comprehensive to theological anthropology: balancing the human condition midst the stresses and hazards of vocational ministry is his passon. He is a frequent speaker at clergy gatherings and is known for his competency discussing and equipping ministry leaders in addressing areas of personal health with such topics as stress and burnout; depression; anxiety; sexuality; psycho-social developmental transitions; marriage/family development; and ministering to troubled individuals with personality disorders.

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