[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”]T[/dropcap]his past spring many of you joined us as we had a wonderful time at our Shepherd’s Blessing Dinner. Our speaker was Marshall Shelley, vice-president of Christianity Today and editor in chief of CT’s Leadership Media Group, which develops resources for church leaders, including Leadership Journal, PreachingToday.com, ChurchLawAndTax.com, and BuildingChurchLeaders.com. With his years of experience writing to and for pastors and other Christian leaders, Marshall is highly qualified to address issues related to Christian leadership. The title of his presentation was, “The Air Leaders Breathe”. In his presentation he addressed topics such as an “inescapable calling”, church politics, constant comparisons and others.
Loneliness is such a common struggle and it even intrudes unexpectedly into quality relationships and supportive Christian community. Unfortunately, feelings of loneliness are often misinterpreted as an ungodly or unnecessary nuisance to be avoided at all costs, rather than being understood as an inevitable reality to be embraced for spiritual growth. In fact, the choice to embrace our loneliness can be a privileged invitation to echo the larger purposes of God.
Few people have ever heard of the book The Trauma of Transparency. The graphics in it are dated, and some of the language is archaic, but it is a great read. Most people understand that communication is good, but not all communication is equal. Some communication is downright painful (especially when it comes from someone close). The author writes: “When someone has wounded us with words, our natural tendency is to fire a semantic salve right back at them. The response of a wounded ego is retaliation. Get even… Once we get even — we get out of range.” I call that style of communication: HIT AND RUN. People who attend the same church, sit on the same row and serve in the same committee aren’t even immune to toxic communication. Many pastors grieve over the differences between church members. Settling disputes and healing wounds (sometimes decades old) is not easy for many pastors. In reality, many pastors are not trained in conflict resolution. The author suggests three ways to reframe conflict… and it all centers around a relationship. We all need these three things to be an effective communicator:
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.
Only one person meets all those criteria… God. How are you doing with your communication with Him? How can you encourage those whom you serve to strengthen their communication with Him?
If you have ever served as a pastor in a church, you have probably heard this phrase, “Pastor, I love you in the Lord, but…” Nothing good ever follows that phrase. Ever. The truth is… the people in your church are not more mean spirited than the people in the church down the street. Every church leader (and church) has its share of scars, wounds and horror stories. Conflict – especially over change — is normal. Norman Shawchuck (https://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/) writes about the main reasons churches experience conflict:
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.
Shawchuck provides several solutions to conflict. One of his most helpful remedies is to find the real source of the conflictand deal with it right away. He writes:
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.
By Dave Ragsdale, Vice President of Counseling & Team Training Self Care is any discipline that nurtures your physical, emotional, spiritual, relational health and well being. Self Care is the proactive behavior that supports your resiliency and enables you to serve others even more effectively. It must be a top priority or it just won’t happen. Think of Self Care as “missional”. As biblical! Often when I say “You must be a top priority” “You are that important” I often see good Christian leaders start to get defensive. I hear them ask, “isn’t all this focus on the Self going to lead to selfishness?”. We often have negative associations to this…especially in a narcissistic society where the focus on Self Help is splashed on so many magazine covers. We see the “Self” and have many negative associations, like self absorbed people that stand in front of the mirror at the gym and check themselves out. Many of us have a theology that can lead us downgrade our own importance. God first, family second, ministry 3rd, me last… if I am even on the list. We take “dying to self” out of context and think that we are called to sacrifice even the good things God has blessed us with. I have heard a hundred versions of this shame based theology…it does not lead to life but death. Here are a few: Self=Flesh. A focus on self=selfish, the middle letter of SIN is I, there is no I in team.. I propose to you, you must have a life in order to sacrifice it well…you must have an authentic sense of self to serve God or others well. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” said Iraneus, but so many burned out used up leaders are serving God with half a heart. Self Care is never a selfish act if it is done with the right spirit…it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have…my self.
By: Dave Ragsdale, Vice President of Counseling & Team Training Every Christian leader can practice healthy self care with 3 simple strategies that involve: A Priority, A Plan and People. 1. Make Self Care a top Priority 2. Create a Good Self Care Plan 3. Enlist the People that will support your plan. I am not going to give you 10 steps to practice self care. This is not a “How To” workshop because most self care is plain common sense. You need to exercise, see your doctor, spend quiet time with your family and friends, set better boundaries with work, plan that vacation, take that Sabbatical, have some fun on a regular basis, there’s a 1001 ways to do self care. What I want to do is inspire you to do self care if you’re not. You might be practicing self care, but maybe you need to be more intentional. Take some time to think about how you can apply the three principles I listed to your own context. Do you have a good suggestion for other leaders? Maybe, the best question is to ask how you are getting intentional about planning self care… and then actually following through… post some good suggestions or resources you would point other Christian leaders to use. Stay tuned to learn more about principle #1 (make self care a priority) in the next post.
by: Dave Ragsdale, Vice President of Counseling and Team Training People often ask me why leaders are so vulnerable to burn out and do not practice self care. It is no surprise that throughout the world Christian leaders are suffering from symptoms that are a result of self care neglect. They are overworked and overextended. They are over exposed to stress and underdeveloped as leaders. While ministry organizations are often culpable in reinforcing these patterns, it is often the leaders “over-functioning” and heroic tendencies that drive them into their own symptoms of burnout. Stretched to the breaking point and lacking a theology of self care, many end up with a complete loss of resiliency. It becomes a really bad witness. Along with burning out many are acting out with addictive behavior, sometimes destroying themselves, their relationships and their ministry. An addiction is a failure to care well for self. An affair is a failure to care for yourself in marriage… a failure to guard your heart. For men, it is a failure to form close trusting relationships with other men. Burning out at work is a failure to protect you and set boundaries, then work just becomes the Mistress. Being a leader means you are “at risk”to some of these patterns. Leadership is an at risk occupation! But when leaders wise up and learn to guard themselves /care for themselves they will minister with joy out of a full heart, they will go the distance, not burn out, they will set a life giving tone in their organizations they serve. And so, how can leaders start to practice self care? How do you practice it? Send us some of your best suggestions for good self care to [email protected] Watch for some of my suggestions on self care in the next blog post.
The May 2012 QuietWaters Compass contained an article by David L. Ragsdale entitled “Compassion Fatigue.” In Ragsdale’s sixth strategy for self-protection—“create your self-care plan”—he states: “Plan that overdue sabbatical,” a recommendation I heartily endorse. I have done it, twice! But even two sabbaticals in nearly 40 years of ministry are not enough. Many denominations now believe that pastors should be given a sabbatical every seven years.
To me that feels just about right. Sadly, most pastors never get one sabbatical, let alone two. And we wonder why compassion fatigue prevails.
A sabbatical needs to be a change of pace, a Sabbath, a time out. Even God rested from His work of Creation on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). As you read of God’s creation in Genesis, the Hebrew idea of what a day should be is put forth. Although it is strange to us, the Hebrew day begins at sundown. “Evening and morning in day one . . .” is how the Bible puts creation. This sequence should condition us to God’s rhythm of grace. We go to sleep, and God does His re-creating work in our bodies and minds. We awaken and are called out to participate in God’s creative action. We respond, after being renewed in faith and work. In the two passages of scripture where the Sabbath commandment appears, the commands are the same, but the reasons behind them are different.