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.

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.

 

“We Are Certainly Not Lacking Any Confidence Are We”

Some years ago, a friend of mine said to me after a certain young minister preached, “Well, we are certainly not lacking any confidence are we?”

I understand what my friend meant.  This young minister certainly did not appear uneasy.  In fact, his manner, his body language, and his words indicated that if anything, he was quite self-assured.  He had a certain cockiness that some thought was funny.  He spoke way beyond his experiences and his years.  It was awkward and almost embarrassing.  There was a certainty and self-assuredness that communicated that he really had not experienced much of life.

Fortunately, I can point to a number of young ministers with a very different spirit.  I know young ministers who love Scripture, are passionate for the Lord, and who exude humility as they talk about the human condition.  These young ministers are likely to ask others for their counsel and input regarding situations and chapters in life they have never experienced.

They do not have an unhealthy self-consciousness which seems to be preoccupied with appearance, image, style, etc.  Rather, these ministers seem to have a very healthy God-consciousness that goes way beyond referring to Jesus, talking about spiritual formation, etc.

When they preach, they call attention to Jesus instead of themselves.

May their tribe increase.

When a Minister Helps to Kill a Ministry

(How to end your ministry prematurely)

Does your congregation have a good minister?  Hopefully so.  A congregation really ought to encourage and value such a person.

Unfortunately, many other ministers start out well but then make one of three fatal errors which often brings a ministry to an end.  In this case, the problem wasn’t a cantankerous elder or harassment from a segment of the congregation.  Rather, in this case, this minister made three mistakes which are often fatal to to a ministry.

Three fatal mistakes a minister can make:

When a minister fails to be trustworthy.  When a minister lies, plagiarizes sermons, or pushes a hidden agenda with the congregation, the elders, or both, this could be a short ministry.

After all, good ministers are trustworthy.  They tell the truth and live trustworthy lives.  You don’t have to wonder what they are up to.  They are authentic (no hidden agendas) and take seriously their own transformation into the image of Jesus.  This transformation includes their ethics (which impacts how they work with a congregation) and their morals (which impacts their decision making).

When a minister continually shows poor judgement.  When a minister continues to use poor judgement with his choice of words, sermons, relationships, behavior in the community, behavior in elders’ meeting, etc., this can cause a ministry to end prematurely.  Poor judgement can get a minister into trouble quickly.

Meanwhile, good ministers consistently demonstrate good judgement.  They don’t cause others to cringe when they preach.  They are not regularly pulling surprises on a church like a magician who might suddenly pull a surprise out of his hat.  You can depend on them to handle various situations in a way that is mature.  This congregation knows their minister will handle difficult situations with wisdom and grace.  Their manner reflects they are trying to work with the congregation.

When a minister is constantly looking out for himself instead of serving the congregation. Such a minister is always trying to figure out an advantage for himself.  Many years ago, I knew a minister who approached businesses in the small town where he lived and asked for a discount solely because he was a minister.  I cringed at the thought of going in a store and asking for some sort of favor simply because I preached.  While many of us would never think of of doing this, there are some who expect to be treated as extra special and not subject to the rules because this person is a minister.  When a minister takes certain liberties with the truth, with a church credit card, with an expense account, or with someone else’s wife, he is on dangerous ground.

Meanwhile, the really good ministers serve instead of looking for what they can get from someone. They choose to give to others instead of using others.

There are many good ministers working with congregations.  Many of these people are servants who use good judgment and are trustworthy.  Unfortunately, there are others who may see a ministry come to an end prematurely because they have violated trust, consistently used poor judgement, and were focused on themselves instead of serving.

 

Random Thoughts for Ministers

1. What you are doing within your congregation is good, important, and a significant way to spend your life.  What a gift you have been given!

2. Stop trying so hard to be cool, liked, valued, etc.  When you do this, it is painful for some in the congregation to watch.  It can seem like a desperate way to get validation.  Just live authentically before these people.

3. Ok, no one is perfect.  However, you don’t have to go out of your way to prove this just so that you can relate.  Seek to be a Christ-like person.  You are most valuable to a group of people when you simply take your own spiritual transformation seriously.

4. You and I both know how difficult your work is.  I did congregational ministry for many years.  I know some of the unique challenges.  However, many other men and women in your church also work very, very hard.  Some may have two jobs.  Rather than talk about how hard you work and how much you are in demand, just serve and let your life speak for itself.

5. Remember that behaviors which seem like no big deal may turn out to be costly.  Failing to return phone calls and ignoring texts or e-mails can become the very irritants that could eventually undermine one’s ministry.  Neglecting to respond to people over a period of time really can hurt a minister’s credibility.

Remembering People Who Deserve Much Credit

post-it-noteThese people deserve much credit. I suspect that in many congregations, administrative assistants do not receive near the credit they deserve.

Today, I am thinking about how grateful I am for a couple of people who I served with in Waco, Texas.  For 20 years, I preached at the Crestview Church of Christ.  Ministering anywhere for 20 years says much about the church.  Many wonderful people make up this fine congregation.  I am grateful for the men and women who encouraged me, and in so many ways, helped me in my ministry in the Waco community.  These include grandparents, parents, singles, elders, deacons, other ministers, etc.  I even received much encouragement from people outside the congregation that helped me greatly.

I am especially thankful for two people in particular.  These are the administrative assistants who I worked with for 20 years.  During the early years, I worked with Rita Johnson.  Rita served the Crestview Church for many years.  She was gracious, kind, and loves the Crestview people.  She was invaluable when I first came to that congregation years ago.  She knew the people and was in touch with them.  When I had only been there for a short time, he helped me figure out how to best serve and how to best respond to particular situations.  She seemed to know who was discouraged, who needed a little attention, and who probably just needed to be heard.  She had good instincts, was trustworthy, and could relate to people of various ages.  (Charles Siburt would occasionally refer to her as “Saint Rita.”)

In the later part of my time in Waco, I worked with Joy Weldon.  Joy brought a heightened professionalism to our church office and had very good organizational skills.  These organizational skills were helpful to me as I began to juggle more and more ministry opportunities and responsibilities. She was thorough and paid keen attention to detail.  She was an English major who helped me immensely with my writing.  She was incredibly dependable.  I could count on her to come through with any project she worked on.  She, too, had good instincts and was trustworthy.

What Ministers Can Learn from the Ministry of Joe Baisden

JoeBaisden1Joe Baisden of Belton, Texas passed away after battling cancer.  He was 79 years old.  For 33 years, he served the Belton Church of Christ as their preacher.  His funeral was in Belton on Saturday (August 20, 2016).

I am thankful to have known Joe and Janelle.  For 20 years, I served the Crestview Church, maybe 45 minutes from the Belton Church.  During those years, I had the privilege of being with Joe on numerous occasions.  I  listened and watched this fine man as he served the Belton Church.

There is much that ministers who serve churches can learn from Joe Baisden’s life and ministry.

  1.  Joe loved the the congregation he served.  Did he ever!  He spoke about the people in the church with such love and affection. The Belton congregation was precious to him. He would speak of a sick child, someone who had just lost a spouse, or someone who experienced job loss with care and affection.  It was obvious to those who knew him that he loved the church he served.
  2. Joe loved the community where he served.  He deeply cared about the city of Belton.  He spoke of the city with great pride and affection.  He invested himself in the community and sought to make a positive difference.  He didn’t just publicly speak of the city with affection but privately, when he was simply talking one on one.
  3. Joe had an infectious enthusiasm for life.  He was a person of tremendous energy and stamina.  He brought energy to most any room.  Yet, his focus was not on himself but other people.  He loved people.  He communicated this love when he preached but he also communicated this love in his relationships.
  4. Joe felt deeply.  When he spoke about a family who was grieving over the death of a family member, he felt that grief deeply.  You could see the pain on his face as he described what a particular family was going through with a family member who had experienced a tragedy. When someone was hurt, he hurt deeply.  Likewise, when someone was joyful in the Belton church, Joe felt a sense of deep joy for that person.
  5. Joe enjoyed the ordinary moments of life.  Joe might speak of a favorite breakfast place with the same enthusiasm that he would talk about their annual family beach vacation. Some years ago, we were both in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar (Austin Graduate School of Theology).  Joe asked me if I had ever been to a particular place for breakfast.  I told him I had not.  “What!  We have to go there! Tomorrow!” Early the next morning, we met at a little place for breakfast, not far from the University of Texas campus.  After we ordered, Joe talked about the qualities of this restaurant that made it one of his favorites in Austin.  This occasion was his treat and he wanted me to experience the best this restaurant had to offer.
  6. Joe was gracious.  For years, I watched him interact with young ministers at this annual Sermon Seminar.  He would look a young person in the eye, introduce himself, and then listen to the name of the young preacher.  So often, during the conversation, he would make a connection.  “I knew your preacher!” or “Did your dad go to ACU?” or “I once preached at the church where you grew.”  He had a way of putting others at ease and listened with genuine interest.
  7. Joe looked for the best in people.  One one occasion, I met him for lunch.  As he talked, he referred to several people in the Belton church.  With a genuine affection, he spoke about another minister on staff as well as well as other members of the Belton congregation.  He spoke of their extraordinary gifts and personal qualities.  I remember thinking at one point, “Wow, that Belton church really has such amazing people!”  Yet, this was the way Joe saw these people.  He saw the very best in others and highlighted this to others.

Many of us who serve as ministers can learn from Joe.  He poured himself into the lives of the people in his congregation and city.  He understood that ministry was a calling, not a career.  I am glad to have known him.

What Shame Can Do to a Minister

Wall-of-Shame

Brene Brown is a best selling author whom I have found helpful.  In particular, I have found her work regarding shame and vulnerability to be helpful.  Basically, she distinguishes shame and guilt like this:

“I did something bad.” — Guilt (focus on behavior)

“I am a bad.”  — Shame (focus on self)

Shame tells us that we are never good enough.  Shame basically says, “Who do you think you are?”

I can’t begin to tell you the number of ministers whom I’ve met who are full of shame.  These ministers believe they are just not good enough.  They live with the constant internal message that in some way, they just don’t measure up to what a Christian minister should be.  They believe they are lacking in so many areas that they are not the “real deal.”  In fact, they may feel like frauds. Listen to shame speak:

  • Something is wrong with me.  My congregation has never grown.  (Meanwhile, some of the popular preachers seem to be serving larger congregations that are growing.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I experienced sexual temptation.  (Not only should I not sin, I shouldn’t even be tempted by sin. Really?)
  • Something is wrong with me.  My wife and I don’t have the marriage we should have.  (I just don’t measure up to what my spouse needs.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  My preaching isn’t good enough.  (I’ve seen people yawn and even go to sleep.  I know I’m not as good as other preachers.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  Very few people talk to me about their problems.  (Surely if was a better person and a better preacher, they would come to me for counsel.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I don’t pray enough or read my Bible enough.  (Surely if I was really godly, I would be reading my Bible more.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  Others are invited to speak at lectureships but not me.  (I’m probably just not good enough.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  People in the church seem to prefer to listen to other preachers’ podcasts rather than my sermons.  (I’m sure I must be a real disappointment to all of these people.)
  • Something is wrong with me.  I have only preached for very small congregations.  (I have friends who have been invited to serve as the preach for large congregations.  What’s wrong with me?)

Such ministers may feel inept, inadequate, and “less than”.  They may feel as if they have lost all joy in their ministry. Some actually expect very little from their own ministries.  They just don’t feel like they are good enough.

Such ministers may feel very alone and isolated.  They may even resort to most any means that might make them feel good even if it is temporary.  For some, pornography, an affair, alcohol/drugs, or a combination of these may seem like a way to “medicate” the pain.  Others continue to withdraw inward and may experience depression.

Some feel as if they are losing any sense of connection with either God and others.

Getting unstuck may not be easy.  A good Christian counselor can be very helpful.  Many ministers who live with such shame were living with this long before they began to serve a congregation. Having the right person to help you unpack the baggage of the past can be extraordinarily helpful. God never meant for us to live with the burden of shame.

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.

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.