Who’s Standing With You?

Ministry can be very lonely. The isolation of rural ministry adds to that loneliness. This is why I really appreciate the friends I have in ministry. They get it. They understand that some things just cannot be shared with other members of your church or friends in the community. And sometimes even if you did, they wouldn’t really get it. But the friend who is also a pastor with a few years under his belt gets it because he has been there too.

friendsA friend of mine who is a pastor in our church plant in a neighboring town just stopped by. He came specifically to check up on me. He knows that I have been going through some difficult times and wanted to just come and talk and listen and to pray for me. I love it when a pastor-friend stands with me in life and in ministry.

I also have some friends in the church who lift me up with their friendship – and often their humor. There are some times where the friend who stands with me doesn’t have to be someone who understands ministry, just someone who knows me and cares about my mental and emotional health.

And I love the boards and leadership teams I have worked with where they aren’t just all about the business of getting the job done. I have had some of these who really cared about how I was doing as well. It’s good to work alongside people who care about you as much or more than the task at hand.

Who’s standing with you?

Do you have someone who will come and encourage you when you need it? Do you have people in your life who are connected enough with you that they will even know when you need some encouragement. Some of the isolation and loneliness in ministry is our own fault. We don’t trust others enough to allow them to get to know us. If they don’t know us they will not be able to stand with us in a meaningful way.

Who’s standing with you?

And…who are you standing with?

As much as I need encouragement and support from time to time, so do others. Are we so caught up in our concerns that we miss when someone needs a phone call or a visit.

We are looking at the “one another” statements from the Bible for our summer sermons series. God has created the church as a place where we should be walking through life together with other believers. If you are living and ministering in loneliness and isolation, make sure that its not your own fault. Take time to reach out to someone so you can encourage them and so they might be there for you when you need it.

Who’s standing with you?

I Need A Retreat

To retreat is to back up. Sometimes it is to regroup, re-energize, to plan a new attack. I need a retreat regularly, and when I don’t get it often enough my work suffers.

I am not talking aboutCalendar_0 a holiday, though everyone needs a vacation. You need some time to get away from everything with your spouse, with your family – sometimes without your children.

I am not talking about a holiday, but a day or more to get away from phones and from people and from your messy office. We all need to find a place where we can look at how things are going and take some time to look ahead.

This past week I had one day like that. I’m not too far away from the city of Calgary and Ambrose University College. I went to the Ambrose Library and hid there all day in a quiet cubicle surrounded by books. I took a calendar with me. I took my laptop. I took a binder
that is a “collect-all” for articles and plans and dreams I have had over the years. _1 Old Binder

My retreat is usually about what is going on in the church. While I take some time to set some personal goals, my main goal is to come away with a plan for my preaching for the next half a year or more. I want to know when I’m scheduling in a communion celebration. It’s usually the 4th Sunday of the month, but not always. I want to know where I’m planning special prayer times. I check what Sunday Advent starts so I’m ready. I even sometimes figure out what kind of testimony I would like on a certain Sunday. I plan in our Special Days like our Annual Open House & Chili Cook off in September.

I need a retreat because it is too hard for me to get that kind of planning in when I’m sitting in my office surrounded by the mess and a thousand other things to do.

I hope you get some time to retreat this summer – for a vacation, yes – but also for some planning and dreaming about what God might have happen in your area of ministry and influence.

I need a retreat. So do you.

I hate the word “busy”.

busyIt’s been a while since I blogged again. It’s been one of those “busy” times. I don’t even like the word. Yes, I have had a full schedule. I have worked with my church to plan and put on a wonderful Easter Eggstraganza that reaches out to many community people. I have been part of planning our next round of Rural Church Pastors Network events that are starting this next week. I have just attended a great Biblical Exposition Workshop. I have had a number of medical appointments in the last while again. I have had ongoing issues with my computer and finally just got it to print last week after not being able to do so for about a month or so. I have had meetings with people in the church and in the community. I have had car issues to fight with. And on and on.

We all find things to fill our life. We call it being “busy”. I would rather call it “having a full schedule”. When I hear the word busy it sounds negative. I don’t want people in my church to ever think I’m too “busy” to spend time with them. I don’t mind telling people I have a full schedule, because I do – and I should. While we were meant to have sabbath rests, we were meant to be living our lives in connection with people and the world around us. We weren’t meant to be doing nothing with our life.

A full schedule is good. The main thing is to make sure that we are in control of our schedules and are not just running at a fast pace because of the expectations of others. We need to realize that WE decide what we do with our day. As a small church pastor I have a lot of flexibility with my schedule. There are certain expectations that the church has of me, and rightly so. I need to be ready for the service on Sunday. I need to make sure my sermon is ready and well prepared. I need to make sure that I am looking after the general affairs of the church and encouraging people. Yet I have a lot of freedom in what I do when and with whom I meet where. I need to be in charge of my schedule.

My problem is that I love to be involved in many things. I like serving my church. I enjoy serving in my community. I am privileged to be part of the leadership team for the Rural Church Pastors Network. And I have access to wonderful courses and workshops that I believe will be enjoyable for me and contribute to me being a better me and doing a better job with all that is expected of me.

But I would never want people to think that I’m too busy for them or too busy to lead the church well. A full schedule that we are purposefullly and prayerfully filling is good, but let’s make sure we are never too “busy” to meet with the people we care about the most.

What a way to Start the New Year!

My wife and I had the most wonderful opportunity as we entered the New Year. My niece got married in Mexico, and someone paid for our trip to go. Wow! An all inclusive paid for Mexico photoholiday in Mexico! After a fairly hectic December, we sure appreciated this wonderful break.

For the first 3 or 4 days we did absolutely nothing besides lounge at the pool and read a book. Drinks were served right to us. Occasionally we got up to enjoy one of the great buffets. What a break! I read 5 books. Three of them were “fluff” books, but two were ones that got my ministry heart going.

It was a time of relaxing and refreshing and re-energizing.

I also had the honor of officiating at the wedding and it was great. A beach wedding with the ocean behind me. I even got in a little bartering as I wanted to buy a few things. I enjoy that.

I hope you are blessed with a vacation like this at some point. Maybe you have the funds to pay for it, or maybe God will use someone else to bless you with a vacation. What a great way to start the new year!

 

How Can You Walk Away from Your Ordination?

I just had the privilege of meeting the pastor I will be mentoring in his ordination over the next 2 years. I enjoyed meeting him and am excited to walk with him in his journey. In the process I looked through our denominational paperwork regarding the whole issue of ordination and the requirements pastors have to complete.

As I was going through this material, I began to think of the many pastors I know, who were ordained and now are doing anything but pastoring a church or working in a specific mission or ministry. And I wondered: “How do you walk away from your ordination?”

I understand Ordination to be a recognition by a local congregation and the denomination they are part of, that the person being ordained has been called and gifted by God to serve as a spiritual leader – a pastor. This is a process determined over some time and affirmed through the person’s ministry over that period. God has called you and gifted you for this role. You have acquired the necessary skills and developed spiritually. Your congregation and Elders agree that you are called by God to be a pastor. You have passed the rigorous testing and requirements of the ordination process.ordination

And so I know of pastors who served one church, two churches, or even more. And then they decide to drive a bus or become a carpenter. How do you walk away from God’s calling? How do you walk away from who God called you to be and what He called you to do? Isn’t that what is happening? Maybe I’m seeing this incorrectly?

While ordination is a “human process”, I really believe that God has put a special calling on those who are ordained as pastors. How do we walk away?

Snowy Owls and Flocks of Pigeons – Which Pastor Are You?

We are regularly seeing Snowy Owls this winter. This is unusual for us. The other day I saw 3 or 4 of them in my drive home from a meeting. But they weren’t together. It seemed like they had each spaced themselves out evenly about every mile or two, sitting on the power poles along the road.

We also have pigeons in our community. They may have been drawn to our community by the elevators that used to line the railroad on the edge of town, but those are long gone. Pigeons actually are pretty birds. They have all kinds of variety in coloring. But they are more like pests. And where there is one there are quite possibly 20. They usually travel in flocks.

I see that rural pastors are often like the Snowy Owls while the large city church pastors are like pigeons. Not that large church pastors are a pest … but that they travel in staffs of 3 or 8 or 17. Rural pastors are often flying solo, evenly spaced at a distance from the next pastor.

While the reality is that we need others around us to support us and work with us. The denomination I pastor with has been promoting Strategic Peer Networks for some time now. They want us connecting regularly and closely with a few other pastors. I’ve been in such a group, but my group dissolved some time ago. I miss it. We need that.

I work hard to attend the local monthly ministerial. I may not agree with the doctrine and practices with others in the group, but there is something valuable in connecting with people who are facing the same schedules and struggles and discouragements as I face. And there is something exhilarating about rejoicing together when we see God at work.

I also have a monthly Task Force I’m in which is overseeing a nearby church plant our church is sponsoring. I appreciate meeting with these pastors -for support and common service.

I’m also involved in the Rural Church Pastors Network. This gives an opportunity to meet other pastors in similar church settings. We learn together and encourage each other. And I’m dreaming of many small networks forming naturally between pastors who connect at one of our regional gatherings.

I also have a friend in the church. I know that some of us have been told in the past that we shouldn’t have a close friend in the church. I hope that is changing. I know I benefit greatly with have a friendship and accountability relationship with Rob. He and I can ask each other how we are doing and can honestly share our hearts. That is so valuable.

You may be feeling like that Snowy Owl who seems to be so alone. I would encourage you to find some creative means of connecting with other pastors and other leaders for support and encouragement.

Does January Depress You?

It was the first day after the Christmas Holidays, January 2, and I was back at work. As I looked around my office and thought about all the things that needed to get done, I got depressed. I had a good holiday with some time off and good times with family, but somehow, coming back to work overwhelmed me. I mentioned it to my wife. She said that I often feel like this in January. I hadn’t clued in to that.

The next day I was having a meeting with 4 other pastors regarding a church plant we are all involved in. In our prayer time I mentioned how discouraged and depressed I was. Another guy mentioned that he had been feeling the same way. One pastor said that he thought he had heard that there are more suicides in January than the rest of the year.

This all sounds depressing, but I’m wondering if you can relate?

And then I went to my chiropractor for a treatment on my back. In the conversation he mentioned that he knew of two people who had just committed suicide in the last week.

If this doesn’t ring true with you, then great. But if this is what you have been feeling, then make sure you find some way to deal with how you are feeling. I’m doing much better. The prayers of my fellow pastors helped. But so did taking time to organize my month of January commitments and responsibilities. I also made an effort to get back to reading my Bible devotionally as I had been letting that slide for a bit.

I hope your January is going well and that God is filling you with an excitement for the New Year!

Longevity #4: Remember the Sabbath

I just received the following in an email from Nelson Searcy at churchleaderinsights.com.

 

I recently read a New York Times article that really disturbed me…

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.

In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.

Many would change jobs if they could.”

Now, I read a lot of untruths about churches and pastors in “secular” news, but this one bothered me tremendously because, well, I KNOW it’s true!

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a room large enough to seat all of the pastors I’ve talked to in the last few years who shared a similarly negative experience.

Here are a few statistics I found online at Pastor Burnout (just the fact that there’s a website about this should be a red flag):

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

How can this be?

As church leaders, you and I have the unique opportunity to cooperate with God to transform people’s lives and make a difference for eternity…

So why are you so tired, stressed and unfulfilled?

Sure, God never promised that ministry would be easy, but you probably didn’t think it would be miserable either!

What if your obedience in one specific Biblical command holds the key to reduced stress, increased efficiency and renewed enjoyment of your life and ministry?

Over the years, working with thousands of pastors, I’ve uncovered one recurring sin issue in those who are on the brink of depression, burnout and/or ministry failure:

They are disobedient to God’s command to honor the Sabbath!

Whether it’s a prideful choice or by simple misunderstanding, the sin of breaking the Sabbath has painful consequences to you, your family, your church and your contribution to God’s Kingdom.

I don’t know what you think about honoring the Sabbath. Maybe like me you are convinced that the Sabbath is Saturday and as evangelicals, we don’t set a day to worship on Saturday anymore, it is Sunday that we worship.

But this is more about taking a time to “break” from everything else and to focus on slowing down, resting, and allowing time to recuperate. God set aside the seventh day of the week for a rest. “On the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2: 2) And if you are a pastor like me, you know that Sunday isn’t often much of a time to rest. It can be a very busy day. Saturday is often a day to finalize all preparations for Sunday.

I don’t know that taking a Sabbath will make it so that you will be able to continue long term as a pastor, or even long term in the same church. What I do know is that the less time you take to rest and slow down, the less chance there is that you will be able to serve long term. You will burn out and you will get depressed and you will get into trouble.

For me, I have done my best to have a day off most weeks. I try to limit my evening commitment to 2-3 evenings most weeks. I even often take a Tuesday off if Monday was a holiday. I do my best to get away for holidays for the number of weeks I’m allowed. And I try to make at least some of this time just my family doing something special together. I know it’s cheaper to go visit family, but that isn’t always restful either.

I want to be clear – I work hard. But I also protect my time. We need to learn to pace ourselves. Taking a Sabbath for rest, for a break, and for a time to refocus is not only valuable to you but to the church you serve as you come back refreshed and ready to go.

Remember to remember the Sabbath.

Burnout Doesn’t Have to be Your Reality

Just recently I received a question from a young person in ministry asking me how I prevent myself burning out and how I keep on going.

What a great question!

Burnout is a real possibility for anyone who doesn’t watch out. Small church pastors are at great risk in this for a number of reasons. Small and rural church pastors have many demands from them. They rarely have a second staff person to share the load with and yet are asked to do a wide variety of things. Some of the days just don’t have enough hours to accomplish all that is expected.

So why might someone face burnout? Sometimes it’s as simple as not having enough sleep or taking time for a sabbath rest. Sometimes it may be because you are not sure you are serving where God wants you. Or maybe you are doing things out of your gifting abilities or just doing way too much.

Are their solutions? Can we prevent burnout? Here are some things I have learned that have helped me.

One, get enough sleep. For me, I need 8 hours of sleep. That means I sometimes have to go to be earlier than I would like when I know I have early appointments.

Two, take a sabbath. Take a regular day off. Don’t plan anything else on that day. Take time to relax. Enjoy some recreation. Go on a date. Read a book just for fun.

Three, take time to reaffirm for yourself that you are serving as pastor where you should be serving. It’s good to occasionally take time with God on this question so you are serving with confidence that you are where you should be.

Four, know your gifts and abilities and evaluate if you are doing too many things that are not in your “sweet spot” of serving out of your best. Sometimes we have to do things that are not easy of comfortable for us. We just have to. And sometimes we can learn new skills. Other times we have to be honest and say “no” to certain expectations because these only drain us and tire us out. Say no where you can, delegate where you can.

We are not good at everything. And there are things we just don’t enjoy. In another church I was expected to do services at the Seniors Lodge. I always had to force myself to do it and it always turned out alright, but I am so glad that is not an expectation of me in my present church.

Just a caution: If you are getting close to burnout, ask for help. Ask for a break. Talk to an authority or to a pastor friend to find your way through.

May you find your way through, not burning out, but enjoying the journey!