Governor Mark Sanford Could Be You or Me

June 30, 2009

It has been stated throughout the unfolding of the circumstance for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford that he often would retreat after legislative sessions because they would wear him out. Retreating and refreshing is good, but at some point, Mark made some dangerous decisions about his integrity. Most likely, those decisions came in weariness and fatigue. They almost always do.

Pastor Gary Lamb recently said that in the couple of weeks after his resignation as a result of his affair, he had received over 30 anonymous emails from Pastors who admitted in those emails they were currently in the middle of an adulterous affair.

As stated in this post, there are a number of politicians who have admitted their moral failings recently. Is it just me, or does it seem like this is happening left and right?

We could list (and it would be LONG) Pastors who have shipwrecked their families and ministries because of sexual indiscretions as well. In the last post on this issue, I stated that we too often make our public figures more than human.

I don’t mean for this post to communicate that we should do that, but I also can’t help but wonder if God is not cleaning house among us. I’m talking about Pastors, not Politicians. It’s very interesting to me that this is happening with Politicians as well, but my primary focus here is Pastors.

The focus of this particular post comes back to self-care. It sounds like Mark Sanford had somewhat of a good sense and rhythm of self-care, though not knowing him it’s hard to really say. But it’s notable that he knew himself enough that when he was tired, he would get away to refresh.

Obviously, his trip to Argentina wasn’t about refreshing himself. But Argentina didn’t happen overnight, and affairs never do. They start slowly and grow in a process of decisions that lack integrity and honesty with important people.

How are you doing in this area? Are you taking care of you? Have you gotten away lately to be restored in energy, passion and vision? Are you taking your Sabbath and spending honest time with your family and friends?

Erwin McManus & Dave Gibbons on Burnout

June 27, 2009

There’s an interesting conversation posted over here between Erwin McManus and Dave Gibbons. In it, they share the following on pastoral burnout:
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How to avoid burnout?

  • Erwin: Not the bible that helps someone live a moral life (it’s when people are truly connected to Jesus)
  • There are lots of lost people that live honorable lives
  • It’s about escape (that’s why someone kills their wife instead of divorcing); pastors want to get out so they self-destruct
  • Burnout is about doing something you don’t love way too much
  • When you do something you love, you become “addicted” (like athletes who get addicted to pain and practice)
  • Listen to your soul (it’s ok to change; take ownership); I once was this person but now I’m not; we don’t give each other an out
  • Don’t do things b/c you like the outcome idea, but b/c the process is rewarding
  • Primary movement of life is from illusion to reality (figure out a way to penetrate the illusions, and then you found something that’s a treasure; then it’ll help you live a fruitful life)
  • Create space for people and activity that energizes you (ministry isn’t supposed to just be “our cross that we must bear” but what are you doing that energizes you in realm of God’s will)
  • 1. Find out who and what energizes you
  • 2. Be intentional about having people speak into your life (what can I change about myself? What do you see in me?)
  • 3. What did you hear God say?

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Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? What would you add?

Summer Days Got You In A Daze?

June 23, 2009

Summer brings with it all of its splendor and, hopefully, the anticipation of some down time with family and friends. How are you facing it this year? Are you excited about, ready for some time to refresh relationships, maybe see some friends or family you haven’t seen in a while? Or are you feeling like closing the door on your bedroom, ready for somebody to wake you up when it’s time to go back to work?

There are lots of great assessment tools available to help you gauge your burnout potential and current status. I want to suggest one here that can give you an idea of where you stand as you dive into Summer. This is a perfect time in ministry life to wind down, ease back, relax a little more and let the rest rejuvenate and restore. Sometimes it can be helpful to know where you’re at in your own body, mind and soul, and what your level of need is to be refreshed.

Maybe it will help you plan what kind of vacation you really need this year. Go ahead, try it out.

Healthy Follow-Up to Gary Lamb Post

June 18, 2009

After last week’s post about the resignation of Pastor Gary Lamb due to an affair with his assistant, a good friend of mine, who is also a Pastor, suggested I look at a video teaching by Pastor Wayne Cordeiro, called “The Heart of a Champion”.

Friends, this video is worth your time and note-taking. It is filled with rich wisdom on checking our own hearts in days like these. Situations like Gary’s are an unfortunate “dime a dozen”. It was Gary last week, who will it be next week? Not trying to be morbid or hopeless, just truthful.

Truth be known, we are ALL susceptible to failure, because we are human. Nothing more, nothing less. You might be living in the proverbial phone booth, thinking that your Superman cape and superpowers keep you from walking a road like Gary’s, but the bottom line is, you are only fooling yourself.

It takes intentionality and truth-telling that is hard and uneasy and awkward. Take the time to go through this video. Bring it to your Staff, Church Council, or whatever group of leaders you see fit. Whatever you do, do something intentional today to affair-proof your own marriage.

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?

Study & Planning Break

February 4, 2009

One of the practices I learned about through my burnout experience several years ago is the importance of getting away regularly for the purpose of clearing my head and heart, being with God, and hearing His voice. It’s not as intense as it may sound by the title I give it, but I call it a Study & Planning Break.

I try to do at least two of them each year, though the one I write from now is long overdue. It’s been about a year and a half since my last one. Sometimes, the personal pace of life, family, both spouses working, kids school schedules, let alone church life and schedules, just get in the way.

Matter of fact, doing these is like leaving home for vacation ONLY in the sense that trying to get out of town and away from home can be a big hassle. All kids of things to arrange, tasks you want completed before you leave so your mind can be free, and the like. This one was certainly that way when I left on Monday (today is Wednesday).

You can do these almost anywhere that they work for you. This one happens to be at a friends place in at Lake Tahoe, about 400 miles north of my home. Since I love to drive,and that’s one way that really helps me clear my head, the drive is part of what I need and enjoy very much. It may not be that way for you, so maybe that wouldn’t work.

I try to schedule them so that I can have AT LEAST 3-4 days of time. So, for this one, I drove on Monday and will drive home on Saturday. That gives me four full days, Tuesday – Friday.

I always plan for the first day (yesterday, Tuesday) to be a day of decompression:

  • Lots of sleep
  • Lots of quiet (I read this week that it’s good for preachers to remember that God’s first language is silence! It takes time to get acquainted with it. You have to do it on purpose.)
  • Moving slowly
  • “Mind Dump” (writing down tasks coming to mind that haven’t made it to my to-do list yet)
  • Light reading (usually something NON-ministry related – you can see a review of the book I just finished here)
  • Taking a long walk
  • Seeing a movie

Then, on the 2nd – 4th days, I’ll focus on mapping out my message direction for the next few months. This week, I am preaching Sunday, so I’ll use some time to write this weekend’s message. I’ll calendar, read (usually something related to an upcoming series or two, as well as reading larger chunks of Scripture than I normally do when  at home), write, take walks.

On these breaks, I follow my body clock. I’m a night owl, so I enjoy working late and sleeping in, which doesn’t happen at home very naturally. That means I’ll take naps when I feel them coming on.

I use Time and Newsweek magazines for some research, so I’ll let them collect for weeks and then fly through them, tearing out what I want to use and file. I’ve got a box of them to go through while I am here.

I do a lot of relfection on these breaks, and enjoy long periods of time just talking to the Lord and listening for what He wants to say as well. Sometimes I go home with a strong word and other times not. Either way, He and I have had some good, long periods of time just being together.

That’s kind of what the Study & Planning Break looks like. I’ve done them alone, but they’re always safer and more fun to do with a friend. On this one, a friend who I haven’t connected with in a long time was able to come with me.

It’s important in selecting your “break-mate” that you both understand and are not awkward about the need to give each other a lot of silence and solitude. I always look for someone who I know I won’t be a distraction to and he won’t be to me either.

I also purposely look for someone who I know I’m going to have fun with. I am too reflective and not very funny naturally, so it helps me to have someone who I know is going to get me laughing!

Any habits you’ve developed along these lines that you can share? I’ve had a number of Pastor-friends who have made mention that they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves on a retreat like this. Maybe sometime, if enough interest is generated, we’ll do a small group “Pastor For Life” Study & Planning Break. Would you be interested?

Post-Holiday Intense Life Patterns

January 25, 2009

Is it just me, or do you find that your counseling requests increase right after the holidays with INTENSE situations? Over the first three weeks of the New Year, I’ve had a handful of REALLy intense life situations for people and couples in the church.

Looking back, I am finding this to be common at the first part of the year. Maybe due to the holiday stress and steam letting out, maybe due to the financial stress of the holiday season and credit cards being stretched.

The symptoms don’t present themselves that way, but the proverbial cork is definitely popping off the top of some relationships and lives right now.

Let me wncourage you to manage your focus and health well. Keep up (or for some, begin now) the habits of doing things just for you, rather than getting caught in the cycle of doing for everyone else.

When life and relationships are leaning on us hard, it’s important to be sure we’re standing on the right Rock! I’ve been “working” to be sure my life has some non-church/non-work margin to it.

For instance:

  • I spent some extra time this week with Colleen, going to bed when she does (I’m a night owl by nature).
  • I attended and celebrated Colleen’s first Certified Nurse’s Assistant Class Graduation. Her first 10 students couldn’t say enough about her and boy did she soar and shine handing out those certificates of completion!
  • I spent a chunk of time this week with some new friends in ministry that I don’t get to see very often, and it’s been refreshing and rewarding.
  • I took the time (even though there wasn’t much) to keep my quarterly appointment with my psychiatrist. The drive there and back is always relaxing for me, and the time in the appointment well worth it.

What are you doing for you to keep your margins well-attended?

I’ll Be Toast on Thursday! You?

December 22, 2008

Thursday is Christmas Day, and I am as excited about it as anyone gets. I remind our church all through the year how many days are left till Christmas.

One thing I’ve learned over the years though. When we do our Christmas Eve Celebrations on the actual night of Christmas Eve, I am almost worthless on Christmas Day.

You can deny it if you want, but it’s true for most of us in ministry leadership. It’s called Adrenal Letdown, and you can read a little more about it here. I’ve found it very freeing to be honest with myself and others about it. I fought it for too many years and wasted too much energy trying to figure out why I felt so funky the day after intense ministry and people time.

How do you deal with your adrenal letdown? What will you do with it on Christmas Day?

Congregational Grief at Crossroads Cincinnati

December 18, 2008

The topic of how a church body handles grief and loss is HUGE for a Pastor. How a Pastor and his/her leadership handle it makes all the difference in the world.

News comes from Cincinnati this morning about a tragic accident that occurred during a Christmas presentation at Crossroads Church. You can read their statement here.

What is of particular interest and, I believe speaks VOLUMES about how they are handling the circumstance is the connection they are helping their church family make to something called, “Critical Incident Stress Management” (CISM for short). As a Police Chaplain, I’ve received training in CISM, which is an intentional process to help people (in my Chaplain field, it would primarily be first responders, though the process is also extremely helpful to witnesses, such as in this case) work through their shock and grief.

As a pastor having led through tragic events that deeply impact a church family, it’s so critical not only that the Pastor care for the church family and community, but that the Pastor also practice adequate self-care. To lead through times like this is deeply draining!

Read what they placed on their website about CISM here.

You can look further into CISM here.

I commend Crossroads Cincinnati for taking BOLD steps toward helping their community recover from this event! They will go far in seeing healing and recovery take place with their proactivity

Strange Things We Do When God Moves

December 16, 2008

I was initially going to title this post “Lakeland Revival Learnings”, based on the recent revival/renewal/spiritual stirring that took place earlier this year in Lakeland, Florida. The meetings took place under the leadership of evangelist Todd Bentley. They ended when Bentley (who was the primary speaker at the revival meetings) left back in August and the meetings have since fizzled.

Just this week comes further revelation about why the revival meetings ended and what was happening behind the scenes. You can read the story here.

Sadly, stories like this are not limited to Lakeland’s Outpouring. All too often, sticky issues such as pride, arrogance, and self-aggrandization come into play for those leading such a move of God.

I write about this not for sensational purposes, but for educational reasons. As Pastors and Church Leaders, we have got to figure out how to set ourselves up for long term effectiveness even when the Spirit of God is moving in His power and force.

For some reason, when the supernatural occurs, we think it makes US supernatural too. In truth, the supernatural is ALWAYS about Jesus, not us. We do not all of a sudden have a life that is without its limits.

Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, had a famous phrase that as he traveled the world while his family was at home, he believed God would answer his prayer. That prayer was, “God, I’ll take care of your little ones around the world if You’ll take care of my little ones at home.”  Somewhere, Bob got his roles mixed up. He wasn’t God, and his kids needed him at home.

You can say all you want about the massive and great work that World Vision does today and I wouldn’t slight you one bit. But Bob’s kids missed their father, and one of his daughters ended up committing suicide.

If God used you for such a move of the supernatural, what would you do to make sure that self-care was a high standard for your life?

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