The Charmer, the Bully, and the Church

woody-selfieSome secrets need to be exposed.

One of those secrets exists in families where the husband/father is a narcissistic man. During thirty six years of congregational ministry, I noticed that occasionally a certain kind of man would emerge who could be quite a problem for others.  This person had a view of himself that was completely self-absorbed.

Sometimes the issue was marriage related. At other times the issue centered on the problems that adult children had with a certain man in the family.  Today, this particular pattern in a man is often referred to as narcissism.  This husband/father is a narcissistic man in terms of the way he sees himself and consequently the way he relates to others.

For example:

One Sunday morning, a husband flies into a rage toward his wife.  He calls her several demeaning names and then tells her she is crazy.  Yet, a few hours later, he leads the opening prayer at their church.  Others comment to her regarding how “lucky” she is to have such a husband.  She wonders for a moment if she is not making a big deal out of nothing.  After all, these people at the church think he is such a good man.  She concludes that maybe she just needs to try harder.

Resources You May Find Helpful

links-resources-iconResilience

Don’t miss Eric Barker’s post “This Is How To Boost Emotional Resilience: 10 Research Backed Secrets.”  This was helpful to me.

Burnout

Be sure to read Margaret Marcuson’s fine post “The minimalist guide to clergy burnout.”  I find Margaret’s posts very helpful.  (Some years ago, she and I both studied under Dr. Edwin Friedman in Bethesda, Maryland about the same time.  Her website is full of good resources.)

Audiobooks

I just listened to Dana Perino’s book And the Good News Is.  This was a good book with some very interesting behind the scenes stories of her time as the White House Press Secretary.  I am also listening to Krista Tippet’s newest book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living.

What I am reading:

  1.  What God You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.  A fine book about work habits that may be defeating and others that may cause one to be more effective.
  2. You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith.  The importance and power of spiritual habits.  Smith discusses what we should love and how we can learn to love the things that are important.

Besides books, I also do a lot of skimming.  I skim the print editions of Books and Culture, The New York Review of BooksChristianity Today, Comment, and Fast Company.  I also skim the online editions each day of selected American and International news sites.  More than anything, I have found that cultivating the habit of skimming these sites has helped me stay current.

Ministers, Finances, and the Danger of Ignoring This Subject

Man Sitting In ValleyThe interview with the prospective minister was over.  The elders felt very good about this young man and his family.  He was a good preacher and also seemed to have some good social skills.  Several of his former professors and an older minister gave high recommendations.  The elders were ready to make this young man an offer.

Upon agreeing to begin his ministry with this congregation, this new minister agreed to the financial considerations that were offered for his role there.

Unfortunately, this might be the last time this subject would ever be brought up with this minister in this congregation.

In fact, such financial matters may not be talked about again by the congregation’s leaders until this minister eventually leaves and they discuss how to financially compensate the next minister.

Some ministers receive a very adequate salary (as well as health care and retirement), but many do not.

Far too many ministers and their families are barely getting by financially.  They moved their family to serve a congregation and a community.  Now, however, they are drowning in debt.  Yes, ministry is service but at the same time, these families must pay bills, feed children, and keep up with a mortgage.

We All Need a Do-Over

(Both the Prodigal Son and the Elder Brother Need God's Grace)

prodigal-son-by-charlie-mackesyDo you ever wish you could have a do-over?

As a teenager, I used to play golf frequently at the Tenison Golf Course in Dallas.  One of the first times I played, I hit a terrible drive off the tee.   Someone said, “Take a mulligan.”  I learned that “mulligan” was just another word for “do-over.”

There is nothing like a do-over.  Grace through Jesus is the ultimate do-over.  

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

A do-over is what so many of us want and desperately need from God.  

We would like to be forgiven. We would like to be washed clean of our sins and failures. Many of us look back at the last decade, the last year, or even yesterday and realize how we have strayed from the desires of God.  Maybe, you know all too well that you desperately need the grace of God.

The sins that are mentioned in I Corinthians 6 are all too familiar.  Consider some of them: Those who are dishonest, those who are sexually immoral, those who swindle others and the list goes on. Paul tells these people that this is what some them were (6:11).  “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and By the Spirit of our God.”  Today, as in Paul’s day, Jesus gives each one of us the opportunity to experience the ultimate redemptive d0-over.

It may seem obvious that some need a d0-over.  After all, they did something really bad. We know we have sins but theirs seem so much worse.  Yet, even the best people need Jesus. The truth is that we make a big mistake when we focus on those who have committed certain sins while minimizing our own.

Every single one of us desperately needs Jesus.  In the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15), both the rebellious younger brother and the self-righteous older brother need Jesus.

Consider two kinds of people:

The “Younger Brother or Sister”  This person lives a lifestyle of sin and may be in complete rebellion to God.  As a woman told me on one occasion, “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.” She was involved in a lifestyle that tore apart her family and seriously hurt her children.  Yet, she was determined to do what she wanted to do.  She didn’t care what anyone thought and more importantly, didn’t seem to care what God thought about the choices she was making.  Fortunately, she eventually returned to her senses.  She surrendered to the will and the desires of Jesus and her life was changed.

The “Older Brother or Sister”  This person wrestles with sin as well.  Yet, in her mind, her sins are not near as bad as the sins of the prodigal son or daughter.  She would quickly acknowledge that “we all sin” and yet, she treats others as if their sins are far worse than her own.  Like the older brother in Luke 15, she may resent that some who have changed their lives for God are getting so much attention and affirmation.  In fact, she may even resent that the prodigal son was forgiven.  In her mind, the prodigal son might be better off if God would occasionally remind him of his past sins.

The good news of the Gospel is that in the cross, God’s love is big enough to forgive the unrighteous and the self-righteous.  Now that is good news!

 

 

 

 

Marriage: Maybe It Was Meant to Kill You

Cross-and-marriageIf you’ve been married for any length of time, you may have occasionally thought, “This marriage is going to kill me yet!” After all, marriage certainly isn’t easy.  In fact, there may be seasons when the joy is scarce and the energy required is huge.

One thing is for certain.  Marriage is for grown-ups.  It can be both challenging and difficult.  It can also be immensely rewarding and satisfying.

Sometimes when our marriage is difficult, we tend to focus on the flaws of our spouse.  Yes, there are some marriages where one person begins to inflict emotional or physical abuse upon his spouse.  Or, a married person may practice continual infidelity. These behaviors are often a way of expressing contempt toward his or her spouse.  These behaviors can reduce a marriage to a crisis.

Even in healthy marriages, we can focus on the flaws and shortcomings of our spouse.  Of course anyone in a marriage gets a front row seat to the virtue and the flaws of one’s spouse.

Perhaps marriage is sometimes difficult because we begin to see our flaws and sins.  For the person who is serious about being shaped and formed into the image of Jesus, focusing totally on the flaws of one’s spouse can waste an opportunity to grow.

Maybe marriage was meant to kill you.  Maybe marriage was meant to reveal parts of you that are un-Christlike, immature, and self-absorbed so that by his grace these might be put to death.

How Jesus Can Use a Family Just Like Yours

pottery-2 (1)

My dad grew up in a modest home, a son in a family who just got by.  His family didn’t have much but neither did anyone else.

Their family went to the Church of Christ in Granite, Oklahoma.  W.D. Hockaday (1855 – 1944), one of the elders of their church, was very influential in his life.  His son, Don Hockaday Jr., preached at the church.  W.D. Hockaday owned a hardware store and he was also an encourager of good works.  He helped found Cordell Christian College in 1907, with its first President being, J.N. Armstrong.  Hockaday’s sister was Sally Hockaday Benson, the wife of George S. Benson (later President of Harding University).  My dad knew none of this as a boy.  What he knew is that Hockaday was known in their community as a good and generous man.

My dad enjoyed telling a story about Christmas in Granite during the Great Depression years.  Each year, Hockaday would pass out Christmas presents to all the children in town.  Children would line up in front of Hockaday’s store and wait their turn.  Inside the store, Hockaday sat by a potbellied stove as each child would pass by.  He would give them a paper sack with a few nuts, fruit, and a piece of candy.  For many of these children, including my dad, that would be the only Christmas present they would receive.

Fast forward many years later.  I remember leaving Bible class on a particular rainy Wednesday evening.  After Bible class at church, 0ur family drove to a house not far from the Pleasant Grove Church building in Dallas.  We knocked and stood on the front porch of the house.  A young family came to the door (the entire family!).  My parents had brought a sack of groceries.  My dad handed the father the key to what had been my mother’s car.  My parents were trying to help this family, giving them groceries and practically giving away this car.  As a young boy, I watched all of this closely.

On another occasion, when I was in elementary school, a little girl came to live with us.  I didn’t understand then but a mother at our church with a number of children could no longer care for them.  Now this little girl was staying with our family.  In fact, the whole congregation was involved in looking out for the children of this family.  Somehow, the willingness to serve and be helpful had caused them to take in this little child for a number of weeks.  My parents responded with graciousness and generosity toward this young girl.

I have thought about what my parents did on these occasions and how these moments impacted me.  I can’t help but wonder if these seeds of the good deeds were not first planted in my a in my dad’s heart through the generosity of W.D. Hockaday many, many years earlier.

Can God use a family like yours?  Absolutely.  Better yet, he may already be using your family to plant seeds of faith, love, and generosity into the hearts of your children.

Children pick up so much from their parents.

They hear how you talk about the church, both positively and negatively.

They hear how you talk to your own parents, the words as well as the tone of voice.

They hear and see how you respond to others, whether with grace or contempt.

One thing for sure, our children are being shaped into a certain kind of people.  The question is, “Are we intentional about shaping our children?”

 

Six Helpful Suggestions for Any Christian Leader

number6The following are six suggestions for leadership that I recently shared with a group of church leaders.  These six have helped me greatly.  If you are in any leadership role, these can be helpful.  (I am indebted to Edwin Friedman, Peter Scazzero, and Ruth Haley Barton for some of the seed thoughts in these statements.)

  1. The best thing you bring to a congregation’s leadership and life is your own transforming self. (Ruth Haley Barton)

 

  1. Mature leadership begins with the leader’s capacity and willingness to take seriously one’s own emotional behavior. How the leader deals with his emotional behavior is a reflection of his own spirituality.

 

  1. Differentiation in a leader means that this leader functions as a less anxious presence in the face of anxious people. He/she is able to take a stand in an intense emotional system.

 

  1. Generally speaking, followers will not rise above the emotional maturity level of their leaders. A leader may be highly intelligent and highly skilled. The congregation (as well as one’s own family) is impacted by the emotional behavior of that leader. This is a rich opportunity to live out one’s own spiritual transformation.

 

  1. Ministry which creates a constant state of frenzied activity for the congregation through the maintenance of our ministry systems and our programs can be a real detriment to our life with God, our marriages, and the health of the congregation.

 

  1. As an elder/minister I am not simply in a ministry to “do things for God.” Rather, as a human, I am worthy of rest, care, and good relationships.

4 Ways to Take Pressure Off Your Marriage

Happy-marriage-anniversary2

Marriage can be challenging.  Yet, sometimes we put additional pressure on ourselves by taking on responsibilities that are not ours.

For example:

You are not responsible for your spouse’s moods.

Some men and women are very emotionally immature.  Some are moody and emotionally manipulative.  These people may even blame their emotional moods on their spouse.  “I was in a great mood until you spoiled it!”  Yet, no one is responsible for another’s mood or attitude.  You cannot “fix” another’s moods.

You are not responsible for keeping your spouse from getting upset.

Some people attempt to punish their spouses when they become upset.  A spouse may learn that she has to be very careful or her husband will become upset and explode with rage.  As one woman said, “I have to be very careful about what I say to my husband.  He becomes angry and I know I am in trouble.”  As a result, the family tiptoes around this man’s feelings and immaturity.

You are not responsible for keeping your spouse from withdrawing emotionally.

One of the regrets I have in my own marriage (especially in the early years) are the times when I withdrew emotionally from my wife.  I would become angry or frustrated and instead of dealing with it in a mature, godly manner, at times I would withdraw.  Of course that behavior was frustrating to my wife.  My behavior was not mature nor was it right. Nevertheless, she could not be responsible for keeping me from this kind of behavior.

You are not responsible for making your spouse look good.

Some people are far more concerned about projecting a particular image than they are in becoming a person of maturity and high character.  Instead of behaving in a way that would please God, they focus more on looking good in front of particular people.  How they appear to others on Facebook may matter more than how they are really living before the Lord God when they are at home.

Marriage can be challenging.  As men and women, we do have responsibilities when we marry. However, we cannot bear responsibilities that belong to our wives or husbands.  Doing so only adds unnecessary pressure to a marriage.

5 Essentials for Ministers Who Wish to Stay Ahead

w-Giant-Coffee-Cup75917Serving a church in a ministry role can be very challenging.  Yet, there are some things you can do to get out in front of some of the challenges.  For example:

Y0u are far ahead if you are committed to maturing in Christ.  Pay attention to your own spiritual formation. Whatever spiritual disciplines you practice should in some way help you to mature and become more Christ-like.   Christian ministers are not perfect.  However, church members ought to be able to see their ministers taking the call to Christ-likeness seriously.  Include spiritual disciplines in your daily and weekly schedule. Growing and maturing in Christ is a never-ending process.

You are far ahead if you are dealing with the pain from your past.  The problem for many of us is that we have pain and emotional baggage that we bring into a church but fail to acknowledge this burden even to ourselves.  We stuff it or bury it deep within. However, this only contributes to the aching loneliness that we feel as individuals.  Such aching loneliness can prompt us to seek relief through pornography, alcohol, an affair, etc.  In moments of anger or fear, the pain may be expressed negatively, damaging relationships and our reputation.  Seek healing for any unresolved issues of hurt or pain so that you can be available to serve and minister to others.

You are far ahead if you are maturing emotionally.  Many ministers experience a limited influence because they often behave immaturely.  Perhaps the elders witness this behavior.  The other ministers at this church may be all too aware of this person’s immaturity.  Perhaps other church members have even witnessed this minister’s immature conduct.  Immature ministers have a way of wearing a congregation out.  They are often high maintenance and unpredictable. Self-examine your behavior and strive to react maturely in your interactions with others.

You are far ahead if you nurture your friendships.  Many ministers have hundreds of acquaintances and very few friends.   Often, ministers feel alone and isolated in their leadership role.  They may find that it is challenging to have friends within their congregation. Godly friendships can add much value and support to your role as a minister.

You are far ahead if you have a passionate commitment to Christ, the gospel, and the church.  A minister can read the right books, have a social media presence, and be in demand as a speaker. However, when a minister has lost any sense of a passionate commitment to Christ, the gospel, and the church, the minister and the congregation have lost something very valuable.  Sermons cannot be tweaked enough to compensate for such a loss. Commit to an intentional, passionate daily walk with the Lord and you will reap spiritual renewal that will no doubt bless your church community as well.

How to Avoid Destroying Your Marriage

MarriageMany men and women sabotage their own marriages.

At its best, marriage can be challenging.  Yet some people harm their marriages through their own behavior.   The following are some ways in which you can do damage to your own marriage:

1.  Whisper words of criticism and put downs in your spouse’s ear.  Doing this will eventually destroy his or her confidence.  You might think that if you whisper these words, you can save face with your friends.  After all, you know if they were to hear what you whispered they might think you were rude, immature, and perhaps even a jerk.  This way, you can quietly tear down your spouse while pretending to be supportive and loving before friends and family.  If she objects, then you can say, “I was just joking.”  The idea seems to be that if one claims to be joking, responsibility for any hurt can be denied.

2.  Focus your attention on other women/men instead of your spouse.  If you are caught flirting with another, be sure to blame your spouse.  “Well, what am I supposed to do?  It’s nice to get some attention!   Maybe if you would be a better husband (or wife), I wouldn’t find this person so attractive.”

Some focus on others by using pornography.  This will allow you to live in a fantasy world where you can stare at a computer screen or lose yourself in an erotic novel instead of having to grow up and commit to tender loving marital intimacy with your spouse.

3.  Ignore your spouse.  You can destroy your marriage over time by just doing nothing.  Basically, you can live in the same house and totally ignore one another.  You can ignore his/her desires, needs, and longings.  There are homes where night after night married people do nothing but stare at their phones or the television.  A marriage can be destroyed over time by doing absolutely nothing.