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!

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.

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.

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?

Is There Such A Thing As Christian Pornography?

February 21, 2011

I admit the title of this post is extreme. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

I think there is such a thing as Christian pornography.

I could probably have thought of a better term for what I am thinking, but I suspect that many pastors will relate to what I’m saying. I would appreciate your feedback, but let’s make it honest, not just “you could’ve thought of a better term”. I’ve already admitted that.

In my opinion (not saying it’s yours, or that it has to be yours), and in my personal and pastoral experience, many conferences, especially our obsession for them, border on being “Christian pornography”. For years, I went to conferences to learn what others were doing that I could do better. To see how other churches were reaching their communities in ways that ours wasn’t and “should be”.

Somewhere in the journey, something gradually changed. I started going to conferences to see what others were producing that I wasn’t, or we weren’t. I noticed things that were done to their facilities that weren’t done at mine. I allowed a subtle envy to creep into my heart about what others had that I didn’t.

And somewhere, it became Christian pornography.

An obscene thing was happening in my heart for the “things of others” over the “things of God”.

A fellow pastor would call and report to me what he saw and experienced at a conference he just came home from. As he spoke about the venue and the materials and the programs (uh ….. I mean, ministries) and on and on, I could feel my heart rate increase, and I noticed I was starting to mildly hyperventilate.

In crept the thoughts: where is my “success”? What do I have to show off? When do I get a chance to show everyone what we can do and how we do it?

Christian pornography.

Obscene thoughts about what is and isn’t “success” in ministry. Crude mind pictures about “what would Jesus build” and what colors and shapes it would be. Thinking about how to make that happen instead of praying about what God wants to see happen. Trying to word things just right so that it’s worded more sharply than the last church status update someone read (or that I read) on Facebook.

Please understand. I still go to conferences. I want to be a better leader and shepherd. My heart longs to increase our effectiveness in reaching our community. So I am not saying ministry conferences are bad or wrong.

I am not trying to discourage any pastor or leader from participating in conference life. I’m just saying a number of ministry conferences I’ve attended brought out the truth in me ….. that I am an insecure person that too often carried my insecurities into my leadership.

More and more, I am finding that as I deal with my own insecurities as a person, my effectiveness as a person, pastor and leader increases. I’m going to write more about the issue of insecurity in the near future, so watch for those upcoming posts.

In the mean time, your thoughts?

By the way, if you look hard enough, it won’t take much to find comprehensive lists of “must attend” church conferences out there. But, here are two that are NOT on those lists, but really should be:

Emotionally Healthy Leadership Conference

Epic Fail Pastor’s Conference

Check them out, and if you can make either one, or even both, they’ll be really worth it!

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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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