WHY DO WE DO IT?

For nine long years I watched a dear friend practically killed himself- and I mean that literally- trying to pastor a church. During that period of time, the church more than doubled in size to an average attendance of about a 1000 (in a town of less than 10,000), the budget tripled, and more baptisms took place in that nine year span than had happened in the previous fifty. The reason he practically killed himself was not so much because of all the hard work, but because there was a dysfunctional group of longstanding “influencers” who were constantly at odds with him. Finally, that small group made it impossible to continue on and my friend was faced with a decision to either split the church and go start a new one- which he could have easily done with several hundred folks; or, simply walk away. Mercifully he walked away. I mean mercifully for him and his family- not the church. It was a wise decision.

The good news that resulted is that within a few short months, my friend moved to another state to pursue his Ph.D. Shortly after enrolling in school, he was called to be the interim pastor of a small, struggling church. Today, he is still the pastor. And God has blessed as that small struggling church has been the fastest growing church in the city for the 16 years he’s been there.

The bad news? The church he left, the church to which he gave his life’s blood for nine years before having to leave, quickly shriveled to a small group of families who struggled to keep the doors open.

Let me ask you a question. What if you knew that the church or ministry you are currently killing yourself to build and grow was going to end up in the tank?

Toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 31, God reveals something to Moses that almost takes your breath away. Moses has just given his life’s blood for forty years to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land and they are about to enter in. Then, the startling revelation:

Deut. 31:20-21; “ For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. 21And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.”

God’s saying, “Moses, after all you’ve done these past forty years to get them here, let me tell you what is going to happen to these people from here. They’re going to take this land of promise. But, after they fatten up a little, they’re going to forget me. They’re going to follow other gods and turn their backs on me- completely desert the faith. Then, disasters are going to come their way as a result. I even want you to write a song about it.”

The Bible doesn’t say how Moses responded to God’s announcement. On the one hand, it could not have been a complete surprise, given the track record of the Israelites for the previous forty years. But, on the other hand, I wonder how those prophetic words made him feel after all he had done to finally get them to the Promised Land? “For nine years you’re going to practically kill yourself building and growing this church, but shortly after you leave, disasters are coming and there’s not going to be much left to show for it.”

So, how would that make you feel? How do you resist the temptation to become an angry cynic? Why do we do what we do?

I think the commentary on Moses’ life in Hebrews 11:26 is the best answer. “He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” For Moses, the ultimate prize was never the Promised Land or the people. It was the reward of Christ.

Why do we do it? Is fulfillment in ministry finally found in the butts, buildings, baptisms, and budgets? All of which are at risk of being here today and gone tomorrow? Ultimately, like Moses, it comes down to one thing- the faithful pursuit of the reward of Christ. That requires eternal perspective. And, no doubt, that’s why the writer of Hebrews goes on to say in ch. 12, “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”

Ministerial Meltdown

A friend called my attention this week to a good article from Leadership Journal entitled, “Ministry Meltdown,”by a pastor named, Bob Merritt. Pastor Merritt describes his downward spiral into burnout as a result of being overextended beyond his capacity. He then goes on to explain his rescue by a member of his church board who introduced him to a life coach. God worked through the life coach to change his life and ministry. That’s an extraordinarily valuable process. In fact, it’s life-changing for those, as Merritt states, who have enough humility to receive the coaching and act upon the counsel given. However, as my friend pointed out, how many pastors can afford a life coach to lead you back to health and sanity?

That’s where CPR can come to the rescue instead! Or, I should say, the Holy Spirit at work in and through a CPR group experience. Try CPR- the price is right- it’s FREE!

Here’s a link to the article. It’s worth the time to read. And, again, remember, there’s another option for help!

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/winter/ministrymeltdown.html

CPR Pastors In The News

The Rev. Hess Hester, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church, started a Celebrate Recovery chapter for pastors and church leaders where they could be honest about their problems and work through them in the privacy and safety of a small group of colleagues. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World

CPR for pastors: 12-Step Program Helps Ministers

TULSA WORLD

BY BILL SHERMAN
World Religion Writer
Saturday, March 03, 2012
3/3/2012 5:22:39 AM

Ten years ago, the Rev. Hess Hester was thrilled with the impact a new 12-step program was having at Southern Hills Baptist Church.

Then he realized that he himself needed to go through the program.

“After Celebrate Recovery got started in our church, it was a joy to watch,” Hester said.

“But something happened as I began to hear the testimonies of so many who were experiencing God’s healing of their hurts, habits and hang-ups. … I began to yearn for the same.”

Hester found himself in a situation familiar to many pastors: struggling with personal and congregational issues, but unable to address those issues openly in churches where, as the spiritual leaders, they are expected to be paragons of virtue.

And so about six years ago, Hester started a Celebrate Recovery chapter specifically for pastors and church leaders, where they could be honest about their problems and work through them in the privacy and safety of a small group of colleagues.

“I was personally going through what I call my own perfect storm – one of the most difficult ministry periods in my life. It was a series of both personal and ministry situations that were sucking the life out of me mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically,” he said.

“My pastors’ 12-step group became a lifeline for me.”

That first group – five United Methodist pastors, four Baptist pastors and a Bible Church pastor – took 14 months to go through the 12-step program, identifying and owning their personal issues, surrendering them to God and making amends as needed.

Since then, 125 pastors in 14 groups have gone through the program in Oklahoma.

Among them was the Rev. Brent Kellogg, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Sand Springs.

“I grew up in a great family, with a mom and dad that loved me, but we didn’t talk about our issues,” Kellogg said.

“Here I was pastoring a church, and I had these issues running in the background … a failed marriage, Internet porn. I had never unpacked all that.”

He joined a Celebrate Recovery pastors’ group that met almost weekly for a year.

“When I was finished, I felt like 1,000 pounds had been lifted off my back,” he said.

Tulsa’s pastors program has become a model for the rest of the nation and has been given a formal name: Celebrate Pastors Recovery, or CPR.

Hester was invited to speak about his pastors recovery program at the annual Celebrate Recovery conference at Saddleback Church in California. Celebrate Recovery has chapters in 19,000 churches reaching 1 million people in 20 languages.

Why a separate 12-step recovery group for pastors?

Pastors deal with the same range of issues as everyone else, but their position in the church often makes it more difficult for them to be transparent enough to get the help they need, Hester said.

“Pastors are put on a pedestal. They’re not supposed to have any problems.”

They can be carrying baggage from their family of origin, from sexual abuse as a child, from a sense of perfectionism from an overly strict father.

They can suffer from anger, depression, drug, alcohol or pornography addiction, marital infidelity.

In many churches, it can be unsafe for a pastor to be honest about his own struggles, Hester said.

“Vulnerability in a dysfunctional church can be very dangerous. It could definitely cost him his job,” he said.

Pastors can be left feeling friendless, isolated and alienated, with no place to turn, he said.

“So, a CPR group serves as a safe, 100 percent confidential context for a pastor to deal with and experience healing … to deal not only with current struggles, but with any anger, pain, or lingering bitterness from the past as well as the fears or anxieties about the future.”

Hester said CPR can help remedy issues that lead to pastor burnout and to pastors dropping out of the ministry altogether.

The Rev. Bob Pierson, retired pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Tulsa, who is now a church leadership consultant nationwide, said burnout is a major problem among pastors.

“When you’re asked to be God’s representative, which is what ordination is, that in itself creates a unique kind of isolation,” he said.

He said his Tulsa-based Leadership Nexus Foundation is planning training events to equip clergy to handle conflict in congregations, a major cause of frustration and burnout.

The Rev. Randy Kanipe, executive director of the Stressed Clergy Association in Georgia, called clergy dropout a huge problem.

He cited Barna Group research that 80 percent of seminary graduates leave the ministry within five years of serving the church.

“Seminarians are not prepared for reality. The reality is, it’s a war zone,” Kanipe said.

“Our society is highly anxious, and that anxiety finds its way into churches.”

He said three decades ago, insurance companies rated the ministry as a healthy profession. Now it outpaces law enforcement for stress-related health problems such as depression, cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.

He said the top three reasons are unrealistic expectations placed on pastors; toxic conflicts aimed at pastors, usually by a small group in the church; and lack of denominational support.


Pastor burnout

  • 50 percent of pastors reported being so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could. (June 2000)
  • 70 percent of pastors report constantly fighting depression.
  • 80 percent of seminary graduates who enter the ministry will leave in five years.
  • 80 percent of pastors’ wives wish their spouses would choose another profession.

Source: Various studies assembled by Michael Hurdman, The Ministry Application Project, Southwestern Christian University

Original Print Headline: CPR For Pastors
Copyright © 2012, World Publishing Co. All rights reserved .  Used by permission.

IS CPR WIMPING OUT???

One of the questions Im often asked in one form or another is the following: Why do pastors need to have their own special group, why cant they be courageous enough to be transparent with the church they pastor?

The answer to that question is easy for most pastors to understand but its a challenge to communicate to someone whos never been a pastor before. If youre a pastor, you already know the answer: most pastors do not feel safe enough in their churches to be as transparent as they need to be in order to experience the healing they seek. I wish that were not the case. If every church were what a church should be, then more pastors than not would feel safe. But, unfortunately thats not reality.

For example, one of my dearest friends from college days was pastor of a church in the Midwest. At one point during their ministry in that church he and his wife were having some struggles. Divorce was never discussed, but they were struggling. His wife, feeling very isolated in the situation, took into confidence the one woman in the church she felt she could trust 100%. She shared with this woman a little of the nature of the problems they were having in their marriage- which, by the way, had nothing to do with anything immoral. Turned out, the one woman she felt she could truly trust was not trustworthy at all. The end result was a lot of gossip which ultimately led to the resignation of my friends.

Tragically, I could tell many similar stories and those are just the ones I know about. And, I hear new ones every day. Bottom line: far too many churches are not safe and a pastor has to be very discerning as to how transparent to be regarding his own personal struggles. And, that not only goes for pastors, but too many churches are not a safe place even for laity to share their issues without being made to feel like one of those people.

Why are so many churches not safe? Ironically, its because the church itself is in need of recovery- corporate recovery! Such churches become a major contributing source of why many pastors ultimately seek recovery themselves. Thats the role of CPR- to provide a safe environment in which pastors can recover in Christ and find the support they need along the way.

I cant conclude this post without saying how grateful I am to be in a safe church. What a privilege! Believe me, I realize how fortunate I am, not only because of what I hear and observe, but also because Ive been a pastor or on staff in my own share of unsafe churches in the past. If youre interested in CPR, look under CONNECT on the right hand side of this page, click on, Tell me more…, complete the survey form and well be in touch!

Still Too Much Silence?

Photo by nicmcphee via FlickrThis morning, we received a comment on the “Too Much Silence” post, which has already generated its fair share of comments and reactions.  I’m bumping this response to the top because I think it prompts the kind of honest dialogue that we desperately need.  The comment as written:

My parents went to Hunter’s Glenn Church. I went once in the late 80s. It was a typical “Plano” church. They were a 501c business, in a very well to do town, with a reasonably client base. Look, I’ve been burned by “Christians” too many times. My bet is his gay lover was about to “out ” him, or he was molesting a child or something was about to be brought into the open.  At least he didn’t kill his family.  - Steve

I’ll lead with my response, but I invite everyone into the dialogue.  It’s an important one.  How will you respond?

Steve,

I’ve posted your comment in its entirety, without redaction, for a number of reasons.  First off, you’re not the only person who feels this disenfranchised with the church and church leadership.  Without taking too many liberties, I can safely say that many of us who are a part of the CR movement and the CPRpastors movement in particular have been a part of the problem before trying to be part of the solution.  For my own duplicity and hypocrisy while serving as a leader of churches, I offer you a most sincere amend (an apology plus a declaration of having examined my ways and chosen to be transparent, living in accountability).

Secondly, the Celebrate Recovery movement and its sibling, the Celebrating Pastors in Recovery movement, are unfortunately a rarity amongst typical pastoral communities in that I have found them to be a safe place to be real, to be broken, to drop the facade, and to heal in community.  There is a phrase floating around CR: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” – it succinctly captures why your comment needs to be read, examined, and responded to by those who are in the community of church leadership.

Though I have no particular knowledge of the Hunter’s Glenn situation other than what has been reported by the media, I can offer much less dramatic, yet nonetheless salient, pieces of my own experience as a leader in the church.  You may (or may not – I make no assumptions out of respect for the wounds you have sustained by those who are “Christians,” as you have written) be surprised to learn that many church cultures of which I (and my colleagues over the years) have been a part actually preferred the facade of being “fine” worn upon their pastoral leadership rather than the authentic patina of human, fallible leaders called to serve.  The church culture placed both unrealistic and wholly unhealthy expectations upon leaders.  Let me be absolutely clear: such a climate of expectation and denial in NO way excuses the behavioral atrocities that have made the headlines, nor especially the behavior of leaders that continue to exist in protected obscurity.

The responsibility to address this corporate and cultural denial is twofold: the churches must reexamine the notion of authentic, Biblical servant-leadership; and leaders finding themselves in such cultures of denial and duplicity must no longer ignore the responsibility to seek a healing community where transparency and rigorous self-examination exists in the company of leaders seeking to live out the truthful ways and means of Jesus.

In my experience and observations, sick cultures breed isolation, which in turn skews sensitivities and quickly leads to an uncalibrated life.  We, the church, have a sound Biblical model for living in community, but it must be one that transcends an hour on Sunday morning and that doesn’t vilify discussion of the human condition.  Celebrate Recovery makes a viable attempt to drop the pretense, to create a safe venue where Jesus can meet us where we are, and to draw us in and through community to a place of greater honesty, humility, self-examination, and service, just as Jesus models.  Rome wasn’t built in a day – it has taken decades and even centuries for some of these cultures of denial to calcify and to cement their ways as normative with a distorted yet powerful coefficient of “God” – an unfortunate phenomenon.

Hope is rising – communities like Celebrate Recovery and Celebrating Pastors in Recovery (CPRpastors) are opening their doors to the wounded and the wounded leaders.  In some church communities (I’ve been spent a lot of time in Richardson and Plano, Steve), it might mean an expansion of the ecclesial lexicon to include the utterance of words like pornography, binging and purging, alcohol, emotional abuse, rape, incarceration, control issues, anger, and many more.  We know these issues to be prevalent in our communities.  If we are not explicitly addressing genuine issues in the gathering of the church, what, then, are we left to address?  Has our dance of avoidance become so sophisticated that we are no longer in sync with the music we must face?

Steve, and others who have been “burned” or wounded by the church, I can only hope that you see a genuineness in the likes of CR and CPRpastors to embrace the wounded as Christ would, but to also catalyze a movement of grateful followers of Jesus Christ who may struggle, but continue to grow in community, living examined lives, and inviting others into this way of living.  I don’t pretend to think that a few words in response to your genuine declaration of hurt, disenchantment, and eventual dismissal of the church on a blog could even begin to be enough.  I do write with sincerity, Steve – I am truly sorry that you got burned.  If it means anything, I did too.  Thank you for taking the time to post your experience.  My first hope: that you would give us another chance to show our sincerity through our actions and our words.  My second hope: your honesty will open some dialogue. – Cavett

Have you been hurt?  Have you been a part of a church culture that hurt people?

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

Thanksgiving is this week. Let me pause right here and give thanks to the many of you who have responded to the previous posting by completing the survey here on our site and also taking the time to make your own comments. Your response has served to reinforce the enormity of the need for CPR.
Ive had many conversations in the past three weeks via email and phone with pastors in many places around the US and around the world. Ive communicated with pastors from upstate NY, New Jersey, Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Colorado, Arizona, California and more. Ive exchanged emails with pastors in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Germany, France, England, and Canada.
Here is what I have learned that pastors from all around the world have in common: they ALL need a safe place to share their hurts, habits, and hang-ups! They need it and they yearn for it and many are desperate for it. They need a safe place to share common struggles without fear of condemnation. They need a group of fellow-strugglers who can walk with them on a journey toward healing. They need support that fellow pastors can provide. I have also continued to learn that it is not only the pastor who needs it, but the pastors spouse. Many spouses carry even greater burdens as well as a sense of alienation and loneliness.
If you are reading this, will you continue to pass the word that CPR is a means of help. Its not the only means, but its one of the best. Encourage your network of fellow ministers to complete the survey you find at this site- its simple and only takes about a minute.
I am thankful for YOU!

Too Much Silence

It’s been a very sad week.

I received word earlier this week that Kim Hall, who for 20 years served as Sr. Pastor of Hunter’s Glen Baptist Church in Plano, TX, committed suicide last weekend. I am somewhat removed from news in the Dallas area but am on Twitter and follow many pastors and a few other Christian-specific news agencies. Frankly, I’ve been a bit astonished at the lack of any kind of conversation or expressions of sympathy that I’ve seen. Surely there are communities of pastoral leadership out there where there have been. I just haven’t seen it.

Regardless of whatever the circumstances were which led to Pastor Hall taking his life, a comrade has fallen, a fellow warrior has gone down, and it has been too quiet. We should be talking about it. I don’t mean talk of speculation about why he may have pulled the trigger, but why life had to arrive at such a painful place that the desire to end his private pain was greater than his desire to continue living and ministering.

There’s just too much silence. It’s the same silence that continues to persist regarding most any pastor who is wounded- whether the wounds are of his own making or not. After all these years of high rates of burnout and ministerial turnover- in other words, ministerial pain- why do denominations still not offer much real help? In my own denomination, our state organization has an entire department dedicated to pastoral leadership and yet offers nothing more than a list of “counselors in your area?”

As a pastor, when you hear of such news, what does it make you feel like inside your heart? Do you grieve? Do you hurt for his family and his church? Do you wonder what could have been done to prevent it from ever happening? I wonder, do you remain silent because of your own fear? Does it remind you of a time or two when you may have had your own fleeting thoughts of suicide? To the point that when you hear such news you privately think to yourself, “I understand how he might have gotten to that terrible place…”?

We sure don’t want to talk about THAT. Yet, pastors need to talk. We must talk. We must have a safe place with safe people where we can share our hurts and struggles and know that we will be loved, supported, and encouraged. We need a place where we know we have friends we can trust. We need our own relationships through which Christ’s healing can flow into one another’s hearts.

I know we’re all busy, but we’re probably too busy when it comes to taking steps to guard our emotional health. Just as you do for your physical health, consider investing time in your emotional health. Commit to participate with a group of fellow pastors that gathers just for that purpose. Pledge your confidentiality to one another. Talk, share, grieve, laugh, and pray together. Experience God’s healing together.

There are many ways to do that but one way is in a CPR group- Celebrate Pastors in Recovery. A CPR group utilizes the Step Study curriculum of Celebrate Recovery to make it a sort of “hybrid”- half Step Study group, half support group. Go to cprpastors.com and let us know you’re interested by completing the brief survey.