When Preachers Suffer Self-Inflicted Wounds

Serving as a minister can be hard – very hard.  Yes, there are many situations where preachers and their families have been mistreated by their own congregation.  These are real situations and deserve our thought, attention, and prayer.

Yet, I don’t want to overlook another reality for many who preach.  This reality is the self-inflicted wound.  Some of us misbehave and do not model what it means to be a healthy or a Christ-like minister.  For example:

*One particular preacher would not respond to the elders of his congregation.  Their requests, regardless of how small, were generally met with pushback.  He said openly that he does not like dealing with elders or anyone who might have authority.  He has only been with the congregation for three years. (He was at his prior congregation two years.)  It appears that unless something changes, he will be asked to move on.

*Another preacher was known to have a volatile temper, particularly when he did not get his way.  He became incensed one night in an elders’ meeting and spoke sharply to two elders who had raised a few questions about an initiative that he proposed.

*In one congregation, a long-time minister attempted to manipulate several elders so that he might get what he wanted from the elder group.  Often, he would pay one or two elders a lot of attention outside their meetings, leading them to think they were “best friends” with this minister.  Whenever this minister had a complaint or a request, he would use these two to push his agenda in the elder group.  Eventually, these two elders differed with him on a particular matter and the “friendship” was over.  It took some of the elders years to see how they were being used.

*In still another congregation, a minister was known as being very difficult for the other ministers on staff to work with.  Volunteers at the church also found him difficult.  He was once asked about his stubbornness.  His response was “That’s just the way I am.”

These self-inflicted wounds damage marriages, friendships, and one’s ministry with the congregation.  They often reflect emotional immaturity instead of displaying emotional maturity.  Such wounds may cause a ministry at a congregation to end abruptly or prematurely.  The bottom line, however, is that this does not have to be this way.

Ministry is hard enough.  However, self-inflicted wounds sometimes defeat a ministry that would otherwise contribute to the spread of the kingdom in that city.

“I Was Just Kidding”

(Refuse to let a critical spirit spoil your marriage)

A regular stream of critical words has a way of taking the joy out of a marriage.  A marriage in which a husband and wife regularly criticizes one another can feel like you are being nibbled to death by a duck.

Sometimes we will level a criticism toward our spouse followed by the words, “I was just kidding.”  Often this is a passive aggressive way of not taking responsibility for what was just said.  Slowly but surely, such criticisms have a way of poisoning the atmosphere of a marriage.

Consider:

A husband has been working very hard in the yard during much of a hot summer day.  Finally, he comes inside, pleased with the improvement in the yard.  Meanwhile, his spouse goes outside to look at the front yard.  The very first thing she says in response to his work is, “Well aren’t you going to clean up the flower bed on the side of the house?  It looks awful!  It’s embarrassing!”  Wow.  No affirmation or appreciation for what has been done.  Instead, the first word is a critical remark that basically says, “I see what you’ve done but it doesn’t measure up.”

Now of course there is a time in which this spouse could express her desire that he address the flower bed on the side of the house.  Yet, when we immediately choose criticism over appreciation and gratitude, this probably isn’t going to be received well.

That Saturday evening, this couple eats a nice meal at home. She has prepared a roast that has cooked much of the day.  She has also prepared several vegetable dishes and a nice salad.  At the conclusion of the dinner, he asks about desert.  After learning there is no desert, he makes a big deal about never having desert.  Instead of expressing appreciation and affirmation for what she has done, he immediately begins complaining.  No thank you.  No words of appreciation.  Just complaining.  This kind of response gets old, very quickly.

Three Important Behaviors for Any Church Leader

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and felt totally overwhelmed?

I certainly have.  Years ago, I thought the answer was to just work harder.  I soon learned that I was missing certain priorities.

If you are church leader (or businessperson), you may have had a similar experience.  Yet, in all of the things you might have on your list, there are three behaviors which are especially important.  These three originated (for me) with Dr. Edwin Friedman who wrote Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve.

Be a calm presence.  

There is often much anxiety in congregations.  Various people want this or that.  Some may threaten to leave.  Others make demands and ultimatums.  Often a group of elders will want a new minister to carry the anxiety that is already in their group.  “If we just had a great minister. . .” They may want this person to fix the congregation or make up for their own dysfunction. Sometimes, it is the minister who is very anxious and carries into the elder group the anxiousness he feels over what various church members are saying.  It might be nice if this person was a non-anxious presence.   Perhaps it might be good if this person could at least be a less-anxious presence in the congregation.

Far too often, church leaders contribute to the anxiety in the church.  Perhaps several families leave the congregation in one month with each family saying they are leaving because  of their small children.  In some congregations, there would immediately be hand-wringing in the next elders’ meeting with someone declaring that “we must do something immediately.”  A quick, rash decision is made and a hurried announcement is made on a Sunday morning about a change in the congregation.  Often, there will then be considerable push-back from the congregation.  Quick, rash decisions are not usually the way to deal with anxiety in a church.

Stay connected.

When a congregation (or any other group) experiences anxiety, church leaders might be tempted to disconnect emotionally from those with whom they are having the greatest conflict.  In other words, if I have conflict with a particular elder or minister, I may begin to look for ways to disconnect with him physically and emotionally.  The temptation to disconnect may occur when a church announces a new project or initiative and then receives push-back by the church members. The minister might even become embroiled in an anxious dispute with the elders in an us-versus-them conflict.  He may disconnect from them emotionally and then wonder why things are getting even worse.

It is so important to stay connected (emotionally) as much as possible with the people in your church, even those who don’t necessarily agree with you on very much.  This doesn’t mean you have to be “close” or great friends.  However, one can take the initiative to prevent cut-offs and complete disconnections.

Have a position.

Staying connected with others does not mean that you do not have a “self.”  Some ministers/elders try to ride the fence on most everything.  If cutting myself off from those with whom I disagree with is on one end of a continuum, the other end might be those church leaders who attempt to lead by trying to be whatever any group in the church wants me to be.  In other words, this particular leader loses his identity in whatever group he happens to be with.

Perhaps some attempt to do this in an effort to be a peacemaker.  However, peacemaking is usually not the end result of such efforts.  These efforts basically reflect that the church leader is willing to abandon any sense of leading in order to avoid conflict.  In other words, he is willing to sacrifice progress over peace.  Ironically, true peace is really not the result of such efforts.

It is far better to state where you are in your thinking while valuing everyone else in the congregation whether they hold your position or not.

Leadership is hard work.  It begins with learning to manage yourself.  These three behaviors are very important if a congregation is going to be able to make any progress.

 

On Refusing to Live a Hurried Life

I was a young minister.  I had a few appointments and a few calls to return.  I had a lunch meeting scheduled that day.  For some reason, in those years, I thought that the busier I was, the more I was accomplishing.  Decades later, as I think about my motives for this pace of ministry, this was partially a desire to be effective.  I suspect there were also some dark motives related to my ego.

In his fine book, An Unhurried Life (p. 8), Alan Fadling writes:

As I’ve traveled this journey, a few words of counsel have guided me.  I remember reading what John Ortberg was told during a season of ministry transition in his life: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, p. 81).  Connecting ruthlessness and unhurry has always been a fruitful piece of spiritual direction for me.  In the Life You’ve Always Wanted (p. 84), Ortberg suggests that “hurry is not just a disordered schedule.  Hurry is a disordered heart.”  And I agree.  When I’m talking about hurried and unhurried, I’m not just talking about miles per hour, I’m talking about the anxious, driven frantic heart.

What I Learned About Anxiety that Has Helped Me Greatly

(Especially for parents, married people, leaders)

Years ago, I was preaching on a Sunday evening.  I was upset about something and it came through in the message.  (I think I had just read a book and was battling some concern as I prepared this message.) That evening, my in-laws were present.  After church was over, my father-in-law who had preached for many years asked me if he could make a comment about the message.  He said, “You know, I agree with most everything you said. However, you seemed very anxious and worried as you were preaching.  As people listening to you, when you seem anxious and worried, we begin to become anxious and worried.  We take our cues from you.”

A few years later, our family was preparing to move to a new location to begin a new ministry.  I was worried about our young children.  Would they be ok?  They would be leaving their friends and starting a new school.  Again, my in-laws said, “They will take their cues from you.  If you will smile and talk to them about the adventure you all are about to undertake, they will listen.  If you will relax and be excited about all of the new experiences you will have, it will impact them.  They watch you.”

Some years later, I would spend three years studying under Dr. Edwin Friedman, author of Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve.  This meant three trips a year to be with him and a small group near his home in Bethesda, Maryland.  Each trip was so valuable.  I learned so much during these years.  Maybe the most crucial practical lesson was learning how to manage myself as a husband, a father, and a leader.

Consider how we are regularly drawn to become anxious and reactive.  Part of the challenge is learning to manage oneself in such an environment.

When You Are Disappointed

disappointments-e1422507719551

They are in their late 40s.  They don’t like talking with other families about their adult children.  It is just too painful. Besides they really don’t think anyone else would understand.

Many, many people know disappointment.

Do you know disappointment?

  • Your children haven’t been to church in years.  You are disappointed.
  • Your adult son was indicted for fraud and found guilty.  You are disappointed.
  • Your college age son is living with his girl friend.  You had hoped for more.  You are disappointed.
  • You were just fired from the church where you have served for two years.  You are disappointed.
  • You have a new boss.  She has made it very clear that she has no interest in keeping you in your current position after having worked in this role for two years.  You are disappointed.
  • Your daughter is pregnant.  She has no job and says she isn’t sure who the father is.  You are disappointed.
  • Your husband received a DUI after rear ending a car on the freeway.  You are disappointed.

As an adult, I have learned that disappointment seems to be a part of life.  I do not know how to escape it.  A disloyal friend.  An immoral church leader.  A person who lied about you.  Are any of these familiar?

Ten Street Smarts for Men and Women

streetsmartsThe following are ten “street smarts” that may be very valuable to you.  They cost you nothing but have great value. Consider what you might add to this list.

  1. Start.  John Acuff was right in his book, Start.  Sometimes you just need to begin.  Start doing what you have put off.  Start doing what you know you need to do.  Start doing before you have it all figured out.
  2. Beware of toxic, mean people in your life.  Some people are mean!  These toxic people want to hurt you.  This may be your ex-husband, a former neighbor, or a total stranger.  This meanness is evidence that you are dealing with a person who will stoop to most any level of behavior in order to get his ego stroked.  This calls for wisdom and care in dealing with such people.
  3. Pray.  Listen to children pray.  Listen to how they pray without being self-conscious.  Prayer is a reminder that all of life is larger than yourself and that each one of us desperately needs live in dependence on God.
  4. Show up.  Think about those people in your life who are important to you.  Is there an event in their lives that calls for your presence?  Simply showing up and being fully present at funerals, weddings, showers, receptions, is huge! Being present in body while staring at your screen isn’t exactly what it means to be fully present.
  5. Remember names.   You might say, “Oh I’m bad with names.”  Ok.  Most people I know have to make an effort at remembering names.  At least they are making the effort. Remember that we all love to hear our name.
  6. Get over yourself.  Growing in knowledge does not mean that you get to depend on God less while you control others more (Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 113).  Too some, competency seems to suggest that simple trusting faith is no longer necessary.  Is your perception of your competency so important that you are almost offended when others go to someone else for counsel or advice.
  7. Don’t quit the first time you hit a wall.  Yes, marriage is hard.  Raising children is hard. Work can be hard. Ministry can be hard.  Yet, hitting a wall does not mean that something is wrong.  Some of the most valuable things that we are doing are hard!  Anything that is important is bound to be hard at times.  Instead, pray for the grace you need to persevere.
  8. Get focused.  I saw a sign in Memphis the other day that warned drivers about getting distracted while on the road.  That same day I saw a car racing across the freeway while the driver was texting.  Some of us don’t text while driving, but we are nevertheless distracted, while we dart about from one distraction to the next.  People who are focused put a value on the discipline it takes to pay attention.
  9. Learn.  “…you were never meant to repent because you don’t know it all.  You are made to repent because you’ve tried”  (Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor, p. 104).  Smug and self-assured?  Not exactly a learning posture.  Yet, when I begin to sound very sure and certain about a situation I am in, my attitude may simply be an effort to mask my fear and shame.
  10. Laugh.  Enjoy the laughter of children.  Laugh with them!  One little boy said to his mother not long ago when they were playing, “Mom, I just love to hear you laugh!”  Laugh at yourself (most of us have plenty of material to work with).  However, stay away from the mocking, evil laugh.  You’ve met that person.  He says something snide, hurtful, and condescending and then mockingly laughs.  Such laughter is designed to hurt.  Its intent is to demean and destroy the confidence and the strength of another.  This is beneath the dignity of a child of God.

Will You Make the First Move?

start (1)We had been seated in an outdoor area.  The restaurant was very busy.  We were waiting on our pizza.  The people at the next table were inches away.  They spoke no English (apparently).  We certainly spoke no Italian (their language).

Yet, it did not take an understanding of their language to know that they were angry with one another.  They glared at one another.  Occasionally they spoke.  We could not understand what they said but it certainly didn’t seem pleasant.

I wonder how long it took them to work out their problems.  I wonder how long it took them to get beyond this quarrel.

What does it take for men and women to step up to the plate?  Far too many of us are waiting for someone else to make the first move.  We say, “If only she would do this or that, then things would be good.”

Don’t Stop Living Before You Die!

Man relaxing in a reclining chair

I knew a man who was alive and vibrant in his church in his 30s.  He seemed to grow and connect with others in a meaningful way.  However, something happened in his 40s.

He found his recliner.  That became his location for much of his life.  Sitting and mindlessly watching hour after hour of television.

Then there are others who seem to live vibrant meaningful lives until the day they die.  Don’t misunderstand.  For many of these people, life is anything but easy. They might have family struggles and health challenges.  Yet, these people are fully alive.

So what can a person do to stay fresh all of her life?

  1. Build rhythm into your life (Luke 4:40-43; 5:15-16; 6:12-13).  Many have no rhythm at all.  Rather, they respond to every distraction (Facebook, Twitter, texts, e-mail, for example) that might come their way.  People with rhythm understand that they must determine the priorities in their lives and manage their energy, or the distractions will consume them.
  2. Practice some of the spiritual disciplines to help with your formation.  There are numerous spiritual disciplines available and various resources that might be helpful getting a better handle on this.  However, two very important disciplines are prayer and Scripture reading.
  3. Invest in your family – even if they are grown.  There is something life-giving about serving one’s family.
  4. Be aware of your own emotional maturity.  Some of us carry baggage from the past into our marriages and the church.  Many people have sought professional counseling and have received tremendous help.  Grappling with these issues can take time, but will ultimately bless your relationship with your spouse and children.
  5. Be a good steward of your body.  My entire being is impacted by exhaustion, and a lack of sleep.  This, coupled with little exercise, is a recipe for fatigue and lethargy.  Ignoring my physical body impacts the rest of my being.

We don’t all live forever, of course.  However, I would like to stay vibrant as long as I am alive physically.  So much of this has to do with intentional decisions that you make today.

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.