Category Archives: Burnout

The danger of pedestals

Someone just forwarded me a meditation from Today, a family-oriented recovery meditation book from Hazelden. It contains great reminders about the importance of letting people be who they are, and not putting them on pedestals. Read on, as I’ll quote the meditation:

Because you’re not what I would have you be, I blind myself to who, in truth, you are.
–Madeleine L’Engle

Sometimes we expect far too much of the people around us, and because no one can ever live up to those expectations, we are almost always disappointed. But wouldn’t it be better if we just let go, and let people be who they are? Then we’d be able to see them as they are – with all their beauty and goodness in which we take joy, and with all their faults, which we can also see in ourselves.

When we have put someone up on a pedestal, sculpturing them to fit our needs and desires by smoothing out the rough edges and creating new curves here and there, we cannot see the real person underneath our work. All we see is the illusion we have created. That is denying the person’s real identity and is disrespectful. It’s much better for our friends and for ourselves if we drop our expectations and illusions, and accept them all just the way they are.

What unfair expectations do I have of others?

One of the greatest challenges for leaders – especially pastors – is that people bring into their relationships with us a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be. They want to see us in a good light, because this affirms their faith … the leader of their spiritual community can serve to validate the power of that faith.

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Facing Times of Stress and Change

Times of stress and change can present great opportunities for ministry, but also create great challenges. And what else can you say about the tough times we’re living in now, with our economic woes and fears of job losses? With every news headline sounding more alarming than the last, and doomsayers coming out of the woodwork, I was encouraged by a letter forwarded to me by consultant and speaker Alan Zimmerman. I’m going to quote him at length here, as there are some good reminders for all of us here.

I’ve been speaking on change for a long time…but there’s a new twist to the program. A lot of you are asking me how you can survive this brutal, unfair economic change that has been thrust upon us by other people’s stupidity. You are asking me to emphasize those resiliency strategies in my programs. So let me give you a few of those tips right now.

1. Doubt the doomsayers

And there are a lot of them out there. Perhaps you’ve seen the e-mail floating around the Internet that says little has changed for the better since 1980. It reported that 80% of the world’s people still live in substandard housing; 70% are unable to read, and 50% suffer from malnutrition.

Well that e-mail intrigued author Philip Yancey who wrote “Fearfully And Wonderfully Made.” He spent a great deal of time tracking down the statistics from authoritative sources … only to find out that e-mail is downright wrong. In fact, the world has made major strides in the last 30 years.

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Stressed Out? Four questions to see if your life is in balance

It’s a good idea to pause every now and again to take your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pulse. Recovery and long term health are built on the foundation of a life that is balanced and sane. Take a look at the questions below, and make the changes you need to make.

Take a minute to reflect upon your previous week, and ask yourself:

1. Am I honoring my body?

  • Have I listened to its aches and tensions?
  • Did I take time to rest?
  • Did I get exercise?
  • Have I been eating balanced meals?

2. Am I honoring my mind?

  • Have I taken time to read a good book or attend an interesting class?
  • Was I able to exchange ideas with a friend?

3. Am I honoring my emotions?

  • Was I able to express my feelings in my journal or to others?
  • Have I spent quality time with someone this week?
  • Did I take time to play and laugh?

4. Am I honoring my soul?

  • Have I spent time in prayer, meditation, or solitary thought?
  • Have I gathered with others for worship and spiritual encouragement?
  • Have I read something inspirational or listened to beautiful music?

These questions are taken from a short article by the Hazelden Foundation.

Top 10 things you should know about anti-depressants

Want a brief overview of anti-depressant drugs? There’s a brief article on the HALT Recovery web site, called “Top 10 Things You Should Know About Antidepressants.” Inexplicably, the points in the article are not enumerated, but I’m guessing there are ten there! Many people I work with — both recovering addicts and leaders working on self-care issues — still deal with an aversion to using drugs to deal with depression. It’s time to let that go.

People sometimes ask: “Why do we think everyone needs anti-depressants today? Our ancestors didn’t have those drugs, and they got along fine.” My answer is always the same: First of all, I’m not so sure our ancestors ‘got along fine.’ Take a look at the picture here … somebody get these people some Prozac! Second, and more important – because we could argue all day about the mental health of people from the past – we have to remember that life is different now. The fast pace, alienation, and media saturation that characterizes life in the 21st century world creates unique and overwhelming pressure on people. If we don’t recognize this, we won’t appreciate the challenges we face, and we won’t take the steps we need to care for ourselves. And we’ll wind up looking like these people, just without the pitchforks and bad haircuts.

Reason for clergy shortage? Just ask why pastors leave churches

A growing challenge in many denominations is finding enough pastors to serve the churches that are vacant. More people are leaving the ministry ranks (through resignation or retirement) than are joining them. In my own denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, plans to start new churches are repeatedly scaled back because we can’t find enough qualified pastors to start these new churches. Our denomination is having a hard enough time finding enough pastors to fill vacant churches, let alone finding pastors to start new ones. Why the shortage of ministers?

Several years ago, consultants Alan and Cheryl Klaas were hired by the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) to investigate this issue. They were tasked to find the root causes of the clergy shortage that many denominations are facing. The problem they uncovered was unexpected (to them) and troubling. The reason for the drop-off of new ministry recruits matched the reason for an increase in people leaving ministry: the conflict, criticism, and ill-treatment that has become an all-too-common aspect of ministry life. What follows is an excerpt of an article in the Baptist standard:

“[This research study] was intended to be a traditional recruitment and retention study,” Klaas said. For example, he thought he’d be recommending changes on issues like seminary communication with potential students.

“We wondered if students got good services, if seminaries were recruiting the right people,” he explained. But in the end, the Klaases concluded the problems are 20 percent institutional and 80 percent behavioral.

“The fundamental finding is that people beating on each other is the main issue,” Klaas said.

One telling statistic from the Klaas study is the decrease in the numbers of pastors’ kids who become pastors themselves. Klaas estimates that pastors’ children made up about 40 percent of seminarians in the 1950s and ’60s. It’s a much different picture now at the two seminaries in the denomination Klaas was working with. Last year, pastors’ children made up only 5 percent of seminarians at one and 17 percent at the other.

The bottom line is that churches need to do a better job at caring for and supporting their pastors. Another way of looking at it — from the vantage point of the pastors themselves — is to say that pastors need to do a better job of caring for and supporting themselves (through training, taking time off, participating in support groups, etc.). Instead of sitting back and hoping that the church will do it for you, create a plan and insist on the church’s support for you to take the steps you need to care for your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened in my case, had I done this. I tried to do it, but was not clear enough about what I needed, or insistent about getting the funding to get help. To be honest, I don’t think I really understood what I needed or how badly I needed it until it was too late. Don’t make that mistake.