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:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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?

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?

What Seminary Never Taught Us

February 18, 2011

If you are not a subscriber to “The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing” delivered from the Focus On The Family Pastoral Ministries Department, I would encourage you to get signed up here.

Each edition features a letter from HB London, who heads the Department. This week, he wrote something I thought would be very poignant to consider for any Pastor who desires to be a “Pastor For Life”. I include it here for your consideration and meditation.

Anything you would add or expand on? If so, please converse with a comment below.

What Seminary Never Taught Me

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking in the chapel service at Dallas Theological Seminary. I had been there before. It is a fine institution. Their President, Dr. Mark Bailey, is a dedicated and competent leader. Later, I would be honored to meet at lunch with a group of students preparing for pastoral ministry.

One of the initiatives of our outreach to the clergy at Focus on the Family is a commitment to the future leaders of the church who are presently in preparation at Seminaries and Bible Colleges around the country. We have learned so much from these talented men and women. They will be facing challenges in their assignments that I did not face. I pray they are ready for those challenges and committed for the long haul. The truth is, many begin the pastoral ministry journey, but a lot of them never finish.

As I reflect on my visit to DTS, I could not help but think about all of the things that my Seminary training did not prepare me for. For instance:

  1. They did not teach me how to love. That came through experience.
  2. I did not really understand how complicated the lives of people really were. Some of them were too broken to mend.
  3. I was surprised at how judgmental and cruel Christian people could be. Graduate school did not warn me, or at least if they did I didn’t listen.
  4. I probably needed more specific training in problem solving, and crisis management.
  5. In my day there was not much attention being given to financial management. Even though my first assignment was small, I was still a 23 year old CEO. Scary.
  6. I do not recall much attention being given to family matters. In fact, I remember some well-meaning leader saying to me, “You just go out and serve the church. God will take care of your family.” It didn’t happen that way.
  7. There is no way you can prepare for loneliness. But the importance of friendship with colleagues should have been reinforced.
  8. Another problem I would have to deal with, and had to learn on the fly, was that the church was God’s church … not mine. I was an under-shepherd.
  9. I had to learn how to be myself and build on my own strength. Seminary had made me into a kind of cookie-cutter presenter.
  10. Pastoring was not for the faint of heart. Probably, if they had told me everything I would never have completed my training. I am so glad they didn’t, and I am so glad I did. What advice would you give to the institution that invested in you?

Click here to access Facebook

We never stop learning, do we? Be blessed and be a blessing. HBL

John Piper Taking Leave

April 5, 2010

John PiperYou may or may not have heard that John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is taking an extended 7 month long leave of absence, starting on May 1.

You can read his statement here.

You can read the Bethlehem Elder’s response here.

I commend John for taking this step to care for himself, his marriage, his family, his church family, and the wider Body of Christ.

If you’re a regular here at Pastor For Life, you know that I strongly believe in the Biblical pattern of sabbaticals and the entire concept of self-care. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself.

Thoughts?

Next Page »

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.
Continue reading »

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!
Continue reading »