In January 2020, shortly before COVID obliterated our sense of normalcy, I received a fresh reminder of why QuietWaters Ministries exists. The Wall Street Journal had published an article about pastors who struggle with mental health and how admission of these struggles can often have negative repercussions, such as termination. It’s interesting to revisit this topic now, after so much has changed in the world. The unique challenges grappled with by pastors and other Christian leaders have not disappeared, and in fact have only been exacerbated by COVID and the other crises and conflicts of this season.
–87 in a 75–Have you ever had that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? That quick shot of adrenaline when you first see that light bar blink red and blue on the highway patrol car as it pulls in behind you? I recently had the pleasure of enjoying this experience. I was on the way to pick up my daughter, son-in-law, and grandbaby from the airport. I was driving their car because it had the car seat for the baby. It was about 9:00 PM; I wasn’t even late. I was just cruising along on the toll way. As soon as he pulled out from the median, I knew he was coming after me. I looked down at my speedometer and quickly came to the realization that this was not going to be pretty. I pulled over and waited for him to saunter up to the door. Here is a brief synopsis of our conversation.
It started out as a typical Thursday morning here at the QuietWaters Ministries HQ. I began the morning looking for the devotion book that we have been using for our weekly Staff Infection (a/k/a staff meeting). The morning continued with me contracting a severe case of conviction.
We have been using a book written by a local pastor friend of mine, Jason Lohse, for our weekly study. The book is titled Expresso – Devotional Readings to Energize Your Faith.
Pushing the Rock – Author Unknown
There was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told the man He had a work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain. Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture placing thoughts into the man’s mind such as; “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it, etc.”
Thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure.
These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man even more. “Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.” And that he planned to do until one day he decided to make it a matter of Prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.
“Lord” he said, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock a half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”
To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back brown, your hands are calloused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard.
Through opposition you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock.
BUT YOUR CALLING WAS TO BE OBEDIENT, TO PUSH AND TO EXERCISE YOUR FAITH AND TRUST IN MY WISDOM, this you have done. I, my friend, I will now move the rock.”
We find leaders in all walks of life. These include pastors, missionaries, business people, stay-at-home parents, educators, politicians, and the list goes on and on. Many will argue that leadership is a learned skill. Others will say that leaders are born. While leadership can be extremely rewarding and satisfying, few will argue with the fact that leadership can be extremely difficult at times. For many, like a soldier, or an assassinated President, or a first responder, leadership has come at the expense of their life. For many, leadership does not come at the cost of a physical life but it does, however, come at a very high emotional cost or physical cost. Are you experiencing any of these symptoms?
- Moral Failure
- Distance from God
- Distance from your spouse or family
- Addictive Behavior
- Burn Out
- Post-Traumatic Stress
- Wounded Relationships
- Physical Ailments
- Loss (or significant reduction) of Empathy or Compassion
- Low Self Image
- Trouble Sleeping
- Excessive Discouragement
- Erratic Behavior
- Suicidal Thoughts
These symptoms are just some of the “costs” that we might incur on our respective leadership journeys.
I had a great opportunity to travel to the Midwest this week. I sat in on a couple of seminary classes, I met with lecturers, denominational leaders, and educators, and I brought home two significant takeaways. The first one is that we are nearing the perfect storm in terms of the level of ministry anxiety. While we still have millions and millions of people to reach with the Gospel, technology is shrinking our world. As Christian leaders, we are reaching more people. Leaders are seeing people, broken people, at higher rates than ever before. Managing the stresses of ministry is necessitating adjustments in how we deal with these changes. My second takeaway is rooted in the anxiety arena. The question was asked, why is it that the “costs” seem to be higher today than they were ten or twenty years ago? A lecturer’s answer was very insightful. Today, many Christian leaders seem to operate in the yellow zone or caution zone. They are walking the ragged edge and very close to the red zone or danger zone. It may not take much to put a leader over the proverbial edge. Ten or twenty years ago the typical Christian leader might have been walking in the safe zone most of the time. If you are operating in the safe zone, it takes a lot longer and a lot more stressors to get to the danger zone.
If you are a Christian leader and having a difficult time covering the cost of servant leadership or you are operating too close to the danger zone, contact us here at QuietWaters Ministries. We can help!
The March issue of Compass Online will be titled Covering the Cost of Servant Leadership. I hope you will join me then!
- I need a relationship with a Person From Whom I Cannot Hide.
- I need a Person At Whom I can [holler at] but Who Gives Me No Cause To and Won’t Be Offended if I Do.
- I need a relationship with a Person Who Will Always Tell Me the Truth.
- Problems in an organizational structure: To lessen organizational conflict, each church ministry needs job descriptions and clear guidelines for people who want to become involved. If the church and its ministries do not provide guidelines, people may create opportunities that are not orientated to the church’s vision and goals.
- Pastoral Issues: Two extremes exist concerning pastoral issues: If a pastor has served well for many years in a congregation and is replaced, displaced, or retires, it is like a father has been taken away. During these times of transition, people often cannot distinguish what is happening in the organization from what is happening in their lives.
- Different Seasons in a Church: Pastors need to understand that certain times of the year and different events are more prone to conflict than others. Christmas and Easter are often times of conflict.
- Environmental Stressors: A church is not isolated from the problems or stressful situations in the community. If the community is in a period of economic downturn or community disaster, the congregation will also be affected.
- Numerical Decline or Growth: Numerical growth is as stressful to a congregation as numerical decline. Numerical growth should cause celebration, but significant numerical growth causes some people to lose their influence. New people bring new and different ideas, and old members find themselves smothered by them.
Pastors need to find the real source and deal with it. The real source can be found by using our God-given senses. What do I see? What do I hear? What are my senses telling me? These allow us to tune in to the dynamics of the congregation even though we have no hard data. A church that is in trouble has a feeling about it. The Holy Spirit can also reveal things to us that provide insight into conflict. The Holy Spirit will use our five senses. He also provides the gifts of the Spirit, including the discerning of the Spirit.Do you have a plan to manage conflict? Do you have a Biblical theology for conflict? When was the last time you taught and modeled conflict management at your church? Post your best remedy for conflict resolution here… it may save the ministry and health of another pastor and church.