Facing the epidemic of suicide

suicide_imageToday there are growing numbers of suicides — especially among military veterans. I just came across a great article from Jennifer Michael Hecht in The American Scholar about suicide. It’s written from a secular, scholarly, but wise perspective. It’s so well-written that I’m doing to quote some sections at length. Here are some excerpts:

Today’s military faces a tremendous crisis. We are losing more soldiers to suicide than to combat. Some of this is attributable to PTSD—posttraumatic stress disorder—but a recent Pentagon study covering the years 2008 through 2011 showed that some 52 percent of those who committed suicide had never been deployed to a combat zone. Last year, military personnel killed themselves at a rate of about one a day. Veterans are killing themselves at a rate of almost one every hour, about 22 a day. Recently the rise in military suicide was so extreme that it made the front page of The New York Times and the cover of Time magazine. The rate is higher this year than it was at this point last year.

The suicide rate is also escalating in the U.S. population at large: 10 years ago it shocked observers by reaching 30,000 a year. Now it is almost 40,000. Around the world and in the United States there are more suicides than murders. For those under 40 years of age, it is one of the top three killers. For older people it is one of the top 10, though their rate of suicide is the highest (other diseases begin to compete for numbers). Women attempt suicide more, but men succeed more often—probably because they have greater access to guns, which is one of the surest methods.

In the civilian population matching the demographics of the military (considering age, sex, and race), between 2002 and 2009 (the latest year for which we have reliable numbers) the suicide rate increased by 15 percent. According to Pentagon numbers, the military suicide rate in the same period increased by 80 percent. Even this disparity may understate the problem, since the Pentagon counts as active duty people who were active for only a few days in a given year, making the rate far lower than it would be if officials counted people who were active for at least six months, for instance.

Why this rash of suicides?

Many soldier suicides come in response to a bad situation: a broken marriage, a financial crisis, legal trouble,  or some other reversal. A recent Pentagon study showed that about half of military suicides had experienced a failed marriage, frequently just months before the victims killed themselves. Another report showed that most suicides occurred in people under the age of 25. Family and friends who have lost someone to suicide often report that the person had legal or financial troubles, or both; that they were struggling with drugs or alcohol; that they came back from the war deeply changed; or that they were frustrated at not being deployed.

By and large, people kill themselves today for the same reasons Ajax (a figure in Greek Mythology that she references earlier in the article) does: because life can be disappointing, unfair, and painful, and we often respond by doing things that make us feel ashamed in the morning. The extent of the misery Ajax experiences is in large part because, as a great hero, he expects so much of himself. These days we expect a lot. We live in a culture that makes us all want to be special, and the math on that will never add up. We all feel terribly let down sometimes.

What to do about this rash of suicide?

If someone is besieged by suicidal thoughts, it is important that he get help from a mental health professional. Talk therapy can work, bringing real insight. Antidepressants can take the edge off the pain as a person figures out her life. But we can also draw on the inner resolve of the individual, and on the history of ideas.

To save our future selves from suicide, we have to do some work now. Boot camp and additional training get a soldier ready for war. In situations where most people would freeze and give up or run away, soldiers are trained to fight the fight and try to get out alive. People do not often speak of it, but the inner life of soldiers and civilians alike can be so brutal that it too requires training in advance of a crisis. We need a boot camp of the heart and of the psyche.

Beyond the moment of crisis, people do not want to die of suicide any more than the person who freezes up in a firefight wants to die in battle—they are both just overwhelmed and undertrained. The German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote that suicide is always a matter of taking oneself by surprise, a rushing of one’s own defenses. Like other defenses, those against suicide can be strengthened. Abundant data show us that the suicidal impulse can be of remarkably short duration. The mood passes. One study followed up on 515 people saved from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge more than 20 years earlier and found that only between five and seven percent actually went on to end their own lives. Other studies have shown that an overwhelming number of people who have attempted suicide are unambiguously glad they did not die.

An untrained person experiencing profound disappointment or depression may let the part of him that wants to die win the day. Any of us might get to a place where the sliver of ourselves that wants to die is in control for a while. Don’t let it happen. Inculcate into your very being the idea that killing yourself is not an option. This is work everyone should do. Those who have never felt intense inner pain should not scoff at its power. As the 17th-century doctor Robert Burton wrote in The Anatomy of Melancholy: “Hope, ye miserable. Ye happy, take heed.” Everyone suffers; no one escapes. When the bad time comes, it will feel like it is never going to end. But it will. We must think it through now so that the training against suicide kicks in and saves our life and the lives of our fellows.

People considering suicide should keep in mind how it will affect others

As Hecht points out, suicide not only really hurts the people around us by causing them grief and guilt, it also creates a situation where the people we leave behind are much more likely themselves to commit suicide:

The reason I say “the lives of our fellows” is that one of the principal predictors of suicide is knowing someone who has committed suicide. We influence each other to an extraordinary degree. Parents who kill themselves leave behind children who are three times as likely to kill themselves as children who make it to age 18 with living parents. It’s not just parents. According to sociological studies, one suicide in a community very often leads to a rise in suicides by people who knew the deceased, or knew of him, or felt themselves like him in some way, especially with regard to age, sex, and occupation. In my new book, Stay, I compile a large number of studies showing that suicidal contagion is real. It shouldn’t surprise us, because studies have shown that with weight, smoking, recycling, and other choices, people do what they think the people around them are doing. Even with choices as permanent as getting tattoos or having a third child, people follow each other. After one suicide, the suicide rate in a given area increases. It happens at schools; it happens within professions; it happens after a celebrity suicide; and it is happening in the military right now.

Because of this phenomenon, suicide is also homicide—you take somebody with you. When you take your own life, you normalize suicide for people who liked you and who are like you. Once the numbers reach a critical mass, as they have in the military today, it is a massacre. We have to take better care of each other by insisting on sparing ourselves in periods of emotional agony. What I want to tell our soldiers and veterans is this: If you want your buddies to live, you have to find a way to live, too. Living through your misery is a colossal gift to the community. You may now or someday feel as if you are useless, as if the world would be better off without you. But that is wrong. You may have made some mistakes, even some terrible mistakes, but you would do even more damage—immeasurable damage—if you were to kill yourself. It is not an option.

True, someone cannot simply decide not to feel miserable, or just choose not to have suicidal thoughts, but people can choose not to go through with it. Consider, for example, that the powerful cultural taboo against suicide for women with small children corresponds to a low suicide rate for such women. They are no less depressed—50 to 80 percent of women experience some postpartum “blues,” and between 10 and 15 percent suffer from postpartum depression. Nothing suggests that they have fewer suicidal thoughts, but they resist them. If women can do this for their children, then soldiers can do it for their comrades, their families, and their own future selves.

It takes courage to live through feelings of despair

Many great minds in history have spoken of the courage required to stay alive. It may seem like a very different kind of courage than what war requires, but similarities exist. In some cases, courage on the battlefield is observed by many others and can lead to a medal, but even on the battlefield the greatest courage is often witnessed by only a few other people. An act of heroism can nevertheless be deeply satisfying. The courage to live through suicidal feelings and stay alive will not earn a medal, but it will bring the respect of those close to you and may well bring tremendous satisfaction.

And beyond satisfaction, it can bring wisdom. Most people feel at times that they have dug themselves into a hole out of which they cannot climb. No one wants to be humbled in this way, but it is an essential ripening. From military heroes, leaders we admire, and deep thinkers of all kinds, we hear over and over that real knowledge comes from pain. Living through inner pain is how we lose our arrogance, our selfishness, and our ignorance. It is how we acquire gentleness and a sense of responsibility, maturity, and the capacity for leadership.

Our view of suicide is skewed today because of our tendency to expect that life should always be easy and happy

The way we talk about suicide today is off balance. We are so caught up in the language of illness that we end up stigmatizing misery, when in fact misery is a part of everyone’s life. As a nation, we take millions of pills to deal with our sadness, yet we strive to seem fine all the time, such that everyone ends up alone with his or her struggles. We read and write about all sorts of weakness and heartache, but the stories are almost all recovery tales. We are willing to talk about it when it’s over, but while people are at their lowest points they are often isolated by shame about their troubles. We need at least to know that inner pain is common and always has been.

Closing thoughts:

We need to think these issues through and take a stand now so that when we are feeling anguish, we have a commitment to avoid taking our own lives. We need to know that suicide is wrong. We need to read it, and hear it, and speak it, one-on-one and in gatherings.

Ideas are never the whole story: people face biological depression, cataclysmic financial loss, maddening drug addiction, and awful luck in love. To fix the national problem of suicide, among soldiers and civilians, we need better access to mental health care and a better economy. But ideas do matter.

History and philosophy indicate that people can gain strength from knowing of the suffering of heroes, historical and mythical. When we are miserable, it is hard to remember anything positive, so we have to memorize some things before those moments come. Life is meaningful, and it is meaningful for reasons to which we do not always have access, because of our youth or because of our mood. Trust the wisdom of the ages and wait for greater knowledge and better times. Life will raise us up again. Practice having some faith in it.

Working with our natural rhythms instead of against them

four_seasons_by_nalmesLife has seasons and rhythms. Trying to go through life — through a year, a month, a week, or even a day — in a steady-state of energy expense and activity doesn’t work. There are times we are ON and times we are OFF. Times of expansion, and times of contraction. Times to push, and times to regroup.

In a garden, there are times of planting, growth, harvest … and also time for the ground to lie fallow.

Trying to fight these rhythms is foolish. It is like trying to surf between waves, instead of waiting to ride the waves. By the end of the day you’ve worn yourself out, and you wouldn’t have ridden the board much either.

Ignoring rhythms

Sometimes as leaders we create problems for ourselves, because we ignore rhythms, and try to push at the wrong times. The classic example — ignored by too many pastors — is that of Sabbath. We work for six days, and devote one to rest and spiritual renewal. At least most of us do, most of the time. Ignoring this rhythm has put many leaders in a bad place.

I recently read an article by Douglas Rushkoff about the tendency today for people to ignore rhythms in fields of work like technology and media, where there is relentless pressure to keep producing and not let up. He points out that, while our bodies are tuned to a natural rhythm, many ignore this today and try to match our human rhythms to machines which have no rhythm. A computer can do any task at any time, and it’s processing ability never changes. But humans aren’t like that, we have cycles and seasons. Listen to several paragraphs drawn from the article:

“While our technologies may be evolving as fast as we can imagine new ones, we humans and our culture evolved over millennia and are slower to adapt. The body is based on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different clocks, syncing to everything from the sun and moon to levels of violence and available water. We can’t simply declare noon to be midnight and expect our body to conform to the new scheme as if it were a Google Calendar resetting to a new time zone. Neither can we force our businesses to conform to an always-on ethos when the people we work with and for are still obeying a more deeply embedded temporal scheme.”

“Instead of offloading time-intensive tasks to our machines, we attempt to match the speed of our network connections. Thanks to the Internet, we travel more on business not less, we work at all hours on demand, and spend our free time answering email or tending to our social networks. Staring into screens, we are less attuned to light of day and the physiological rhythms of our housemates and co-workers. We are more likely to accept the digital clock’s illusion that all time is equivalent and interchangeable. But it isn’t.”

“This is the digital trap: Instead of teaching our technologies to conform to our own innate rhythms, we strive to become more compatible with our machines’ timeless nature.”

“Imagine, instead of trying to ride roughshod over these cycles, actually using or even exploiting recent discoveries about our common neurochemical responses to [them].”

Good stuff to think about. What do you think?

What leaders can learn from Diana Nyad

DianaNyadOver the weekend, when you and I were eating hamburgers from the grill and watching TV, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage. What makes this even more impressive is that she is 64 years old, and this was her fifth try (her first attempt was in 1978). She swam 110 miles in 53 hours, through the Florida Straits, notorious for its strong currents, sharks and swarms of stinging jellyfish. Amazing!

You can read the NY Times article about her trip here. Also, I’ve included a video at the end of this article of her super-inspiring TED talk — from a few years ago (after an unsuccessful attempt … and prior to another unsuccessful attempt) — that talks about her motivation, and some of the personal struggles that such an undertaking involves.

When she completed her swim on Monday, here’s what she said:

“I have three messages…

One is we should never, ever give up.

Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams.

Three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”

Never Give Up

Each of these three lessons is worth reflecting on, but I’d like to emphasize the first, especially as it relates to leadership. Never, ever give up. Anything worth doing is hard. Anything worth doing will take more time, effort, and money than you expect. Anything worth doing will likely involve setbacks and times of discouragement.

I read an interesting book on this subject last year called “The 10x Rule: The only difference between success and failure“. Essentially, the message of the book is that when we embark on some project or important task, we should assume that it will take ten times as long, ten times as much money, and ten times as much work as we expect. The author was an entrepreneur, so he focused on starting new companies and other business projects. It applies to leadership in any setting.

As a church planter who’s started two churches, and now pastors a new church started three years before I came here, I can testify that this truth applies in the spiritual world as well … it’s always way harder than you think.

I’m not sure if I would say it’s ten times as much work, time, etc … but certainly three or four times as much. More than double, for sure. Most of us tend to be optimists, and most of us are naive about all the things that can go wrong. When engaging in challenging tasks, we are often surprised and dismayed by the resistance and obstacles that need to be overcome. Keep going. Don’t give up.

Learning instead of quitting

Diana Nyad tried – and failed – four times to complete this quest. Each time she was discouraged, and wondered if it was time to give up. Especially as she was getting older, I’m sure it must have been tempting to let go of the dream. But instead she learned from each of her attempts, and kept trying.

On one of her attempts, she was derailed by jellyfish stinging her face. She was eventually taken out of the water with swelling that raised serious concerns for her health. Instead of giving up, she developed a special mask to protect her face on subsequent trips. One time she was derailed by the currents pulling her off course. She adjusted to that in future trips as well, by having the lead boat establish the direction for her.

I love that tenacity, and want to see it more in my own life, and in the settings where I work (mostly in churches, and mostly with pastors). Let’s be honest: it’s not always there. In fact, in some settings we see just the opposite … people using their spiritual ideas as a reason (excuse?) to give up when things get hard.

This is simply spiritualizing laziness. Some people assume that “if God is in it” … then it’s going to be easy. If some project encounters setbacks, they rush to second guess the project, trying to read the circumstances like people trying read tea leaves in a cup, to discern if they are “doing God’s will” or “running ahead of God.”

Just shut up and do what you are called on to do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. And if, in the end, it turns out that it wasn’t what God wanted you to do, then that will become clear as time goes on. In other words, don’t take difficulties and challenges as spiritual signs that you’re off-track. Difficulties and challenges are just part of life … and part of leadership in any endeavor. “God’s blessing” doesn’t function like an umbrella to keep you from getting wet.

How I’m putting this into practice

Right now I’m in the process of writing a book, and establishing a network of Leadership Communities. I am hoping to make peer support and coaching groups available to a wide variety of pastors, and help them grow their leadership. It’s not always easy. People wonder “Is this going to work?” “Will pastors actually take the time to participate in these groups?” I think they will. I’m going to keep going, excited by the good response I have from pastors, and looking forward to these groups starting up.

Diana Nyad has a lot to teach all of us. Make adjustments as needed. Take setbacks as feedback to learn from, and alter your course accordingly. But keep going.

 

Here’s Nyad giving a TED talk about extreme swimming. Like everything else about her, it’s inspiring (especially when you realize that this talk was given prior to one of her failed attempts.

 

Bullying – on the playground and in the pew

bullyWe’re paying more attention these days to the subject of bullying. Maybe we’re just more sensitive these days, but more likely it’s because the problem is getting worse. Kids’ participation in social media means that they are exposed to more of their peers, and therefore more bullies. Not only that, but the dynamics of electronic communication lend themselves to bullying. (If you don’t believe me, just observe the “discussions” that happen in blogs and message boards for a while … notice how the level of discourse quickly devolves into name calling and snarky comments.)

Bullying doesn’t just happen among kids … adults do it too. In fact, some would argue that kids are doing it more these days because it’s being modeled more these days by people like us. This is really sad when you think about it … especially when you think about it happening in church.

And it does happen in church, doesn’t it? Does it ever! I see it a lot. Sometimes people lash out because of insecurity, sometimes because of fear, sometimes simply because of pride and a desire for power. Sometimes people use bullying tactics under the guise of exercising spiritual authority.

You’ve maybe heard the story of kids who are playing outside, while their moms is working in the house with a window open. She hears them yelling and name calling, and decides she has to intervene. She calls out the window: “What are you kids doing?” One of them responds: “It’s okay mom, we’re just playing church.”

Ouch!

Dr. Louise Hart on Bullying

There’s a great article in a recent Hazelden newsletter about bullying, which is an excerpt from Dr Hart’s new book on the subject. I’m going to quote it at length here, because she does such a great job at describing the characteristics of bullies and their victims. As you read this, see if you can identify any of this in behaviors you see in your church:

Characteristics of Bullies
Bullying refers to words or actions expressed to gain power over another person, as in the saying “Might makes right.” This urge to dominate, to be superior, underlies child abuse, date rape, domestic violence, workplace violence, and hate crimes. The need to dominate contributes to the imbalance of power.

Bullies can be characterized in a number of ways:

  • aggressive bullies who are hot-tempered, strong, impulsive, and confident
  • passive bullies who are insecure and have personal problems; they tend to follow the lead of aggressive bullies
  • bully-victims who have been bullied, then bully others
  • pure bullies who are well adjusted but just enjoy dominating others

Some bullies are children who themselves have been bullied, although that’s not true for all. For some, bullying might be a way of dealing with situations at home that they’re having trouble coping with. For others, they may have poor social skills or learning disabilities, making it hard to fit in with other kids; for these children, bullying provides a sense of control to satisfy their own sense of powerlessness.

Characteristics of Targets
Any child can be bullied, but there are often some common characteristics of targets:

  • passive victims who are anxious, fearful, and socially withdrawn (sometimes with good reason), making them appear vulnerable.
  • Experts have named many types of passive victims, such as: –vicarious victims who feel vulnerable, sympathetic, and guilty when there is bullying around them –false victims who feel they are being bullied, even when they are not –perpetual victims who have been bullied so much that it becomes part of their psyche
  • provocative victims who arouse negative responses from those
  • around them
  • bully-victims (see above)

 

School Principle Ron DeBoer writing about bullying

Another great article on bullying just came out in The Banner, written by school principle Ron DeBoer. Listen to his recommendation for  how schools need to deal with this:

Schools need to develop deliberate strategies to both prevent and respond to bullying. Schools need to communicate clearly to parents that no forms of bullying will be tolerated; they need policies and processes with escalating consequences for bullies. That may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how often adults in a position to respond to bullying don’t acknowledge it as anything other than a teenage rite of passage.

Good stuff. I agree completely. But it also makes me think: WHAT ABOUT CHURCHES?

Read DeBoer’s paragraph again … and this time substitute “churches” for schools. Do you agree? Do you think that churches need to take more of a stand against bullying in all its forms? I do.

Stepping up our commitment to fight bullying

I’m working on a book right now about Overloaded Leaders. One of the reason for pastors being overloaded is that they get burdened by dealing with conflict … including conflict that is directed at them. One of the important — but often overlooked — tasks of church leaders is to protect the community of the church. The church needs to be a place that is safe and loving. When people violate standards of love by gossiping, criticizing, name-calling, and general intimidation … it’s time to step in.

We can talk more about “How” and “When” to step in later. But right now the most important issue is this: do we agree that it’s an important issue? Do we agree that it is our job to protect community health? Are we willing to make that an important part of our task as leaders?

If pastors agree to this, then the next step is to ensure that they are not alone in that conviction. This needs the ownership and commitment of boards and councils (which are, unfortunately, often the places where we see bullying behaviors in churches!). Deal with that by teaching, intelligent confrontation (when necessary), and sometimes just holding on until some destructive “leaders” end their terms on the board. Then, when the church leadership can be united in its commitment to healthy relationships — and no tolerance for bullying in the church — then the community can be much stronger, more united, and more fruitful in ministry.

 

The sociology of friendship, groups, and church size

Small groups (like home Bible studies, Care Groups, and the like) have an upper size limit of 10-15, depending on the people involved. The reason is obvious, and it’s pure sociology. We can only relate meaningfully to a small group of people. Beyond that size, relational dynamics get too complex and we naturally sub-divide into smaller “groups within the group”.

Churches without associate program staff rarely grown beyond 200. The reasons are more complex, but sociology also plays a big role.

Listen to what John Agno has to say about the sociology of groups, and think about what this means for churches:

According to “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, to be someone’s best friend requires a minimum investment of time. More than that, it takes emotional energy. Caring about someone deeply is exhausting. At a certain point, at somewhere between 10 to 15 people, we begin to overload. Mostly, it’s a question of our available time and energy.

For example, if you belong to a group of twenty people, there are 190 two-way relationships to keep track of: 19 involving yourself and 171 involving the rest of the group. That’s a twentyfold increase in the amount of information processing needed to ‘know’ the other members of the group. Even a relatively small increase in the size of a group, creates a significant additional social and intellectual burden.

The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. To have more than 150 people in a group reduces the ability of each member to be sufficiently familiar with each other that they can work together as a functional unit.

Above 150, you have to impose complicated hierarchies and rules to command loyalty and cohesion. Below 150, it is possible to achieve these same goals informally based upon personal loyalties and direct person-to-person contacts.

When things get larger than 150, people become strangers to one another. When your group gets bigger than 150, you begin to get two or three sub-groups or clans within the larger group. Above 150 people, there begins to be structural impediments to the ability of the group to agree and act with one voice.

How the 150 number applies to churches gets complicated, because church size is also heavily affected by facility space, the nature of the church programs and organizational structure, and the leadership and communication skills of the pastor. If nothing else, it’s helpful to keep in mind that people gravitate to a medium sized “communities” (ranging from 40-75) in churches, regardless of the worship attendance of the church. This is because people probably have 50 to 100 people outside the church who already play a key role in their lives … and if the social limit of most people is about 150, that leaves space for 40-75.

Interesting.

Mental Illness in the Church: Making Sense of why Some People and Situations are so Perplexing

mental illnessI served for 15 years as a pastor in several church settings, then spent five years in the counseling world, and now I’m back in the church / pastoring world again. One thing I’ve taken back into the church world from my counseling experience is an understanding that undiagnosed mental illness plays a big role in all-too-many “problem situations” and “problem people” in churches today.

I’ve seen people get by with outrageously manipulative behavior in churches, because pastors and fellow church members are trying to be “nice.” At the same time, I’ve also seen an amazing lack of compassion for people who struggle with things like depression or ADHD, because people expect them to “snap out of it.”

I believe that many pastors struggle to know how to deal with certain difficult situations, and more training and understanding of mental illness could help them. They are trying to be godly and compassionate, but they may actually be making problems worse by the way they give attention to — and therefore reinforce — dysfunctional patterns. Or else they might ignore people altogether because they don’t know how to deal with them.

In learning about mental disorders and how to help people move past them, we can learn excellent ways of communicating, interpreting, and relating with others. This is not just about helping people who have a mental illness; this is about helping people with emotional struggles as a whole, something which we can all benefit from. The steps needed to help someone who has been clinically diagnosed with Narcisstic Personality Disorder, for instance, are steps that would greatly assist anyone with strong insecurities in general.

Real “church” happens when people come together, without barriers amongst one another, to grow with God. When there are “problem people” who cause strife and anxiety, this interrupts the cohesion needed for a healthy church to function. Asking these people to leave the church, before making a serious effort to help them, is not what God calls us to do. Ignoring these people and their needs means the problem persists and the church is not able to do what it is supposed to. Learning the characteristics of these mental disorders and using this knowledge to help others is what we must do to create and preserve a good church.

Here is a quick primer with an overview of some of the mental disorders that show up in churches. The descriptions of these disorders have been created by mixing and blending the language from a variety of sources (identified at the end of this article).

Relatively Common Mental Disorders in Churches

ADHD or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – is a condition characterized by serious difficulties with attention and hyperactivity. The challenges brought on by ADHD vary from difficulty focusing on simple conversations to excessively losing track of details at work. Symptoms according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health include:

– Being easily distracted, missing details, forgetting things, and frequently switching from one activity to another
– Having difficulty maintaining focus on one task
– Becoming bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable
– Having difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task, learning something new, or trouble completing and turning in homework assignments

The vast majority of people exhibit these behaviors to some extent. Some medical professionals are concerned this disorder is being overdiagnosed because of how common the symptoms are. The key distinction is that people with ADHD experience these issues to such a degree that it seriously and consistently hinders their ability to engage in day-to-day life.

Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder – Also known as manic–depressive disorder or manic depression – bipolar disorder is a condition in which common emotions are magnified to an unhealthy and destructive level. Those with bipolar disorder go in and out of a state known as “mania”- periods of frenzied high energy- and will typically experience depression as well.

At the lowest degree, people with bipolar disorder can be energetic and excitable, and may sometimes be highly productive. In more severe cases, individuals are erratic and impulsive, often making bad decisions because of unrealistic ideas about themselves and the world around them. At the highest level, individuals can experience psychosis, in which they hold very distorted beliefs about the world.

A common symptom of bipolar disorder is to wildly swing between periods of mania and depression, with these phases lasting anywhere from days to months. In some cases, both of these states are experienced at the same time, hence the term “manic depression”.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) – a condition characterized by instability, recklessness and impulsiveness in relationships, behavior, self-image, and moods. People with BPD typically can’t stand being alone, but their relationships with others are very dramatic and stressful. They behave recklessly and can tend to: abuse drugs, have unsafe sex, go on manic shopping sprees, etc. Sometimes people with BPD will hurt themselves, or attempt suicide.

People with BPD have extreme mood swings, feeling very confident or positive one day and then very negative the next. Despite these mood swings, people with this disorder usually feel consistently empty and angry.

BPD usually develops during adolescence and early adulthood, often in response to early life trauma or deprivation. This can make it difficult to spot early on, because of how tumultuous that phase of life can be in the first place.

Depression / major depressive disorder (MDD) – People with clinical depression feel bad, in every way. They lose confidence, feel “trapped” or hopeless, lack direction in day to day activities and overall life decisions, and feel consistently drained and tired. They lose interest in activities they used to find very enjoyable, and stop acquiring new skills or hobbies.

The term “depression” is imprecise and sometimes used to describe a low mood, or general unhappiness. Diagnosable depression runs deeper, and therapists distinguish problematic depression in two categories:

Major Depressive Disorder is not simply “feeling bad”. It is a mental condition tied directly to a neurological dysfunction. When affected with clinical depression, the brain has significantly less neurotransmitter activity. This means the brain’s neurons aren’t communicating with each other as much as they typically should. This is why depression affects so many aspects of a person’s life; the entire brain is slowed down. Clinical depression can last anywhere from months to years.

Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) – This disorder is characterized by an excessive and inappropriate need for approval. People with HPD are highly emotional and constantly seek attention from others. This tends to result in overly dramatic, energetic, and/or flirtatious behavior that ends up hurting them and the people around them.

People with HPD often are initially perceived as happy and enthusiastic. But they are, in fact, deeply troubled, with an extreme need for attention and validation from others. In the majority of cases, this disorder is found in people with above-average appearance, and it affects four times more women than men. People with HPD have strong feelings of dependency, are apt to make inappropriate scenes, and exaggerate their feelings and actions.

(Of the disorders mentioned so far, HPD is probably the least common in churches. I mention it, however, because it seems to show up in pastors of large churches more often than you’d think.)

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) – This is a disorder in which a person is constantly grappling with insecurities related to vanity, personal self-worth, and power. Because of these insecurities, the person puts on a false – and excessive – display of arrogance, disrespect and/or superiority over others.

People with NPD often act in ways that are similar to those who are very confident and secure with themselves. The difference between the two is the underlying root of these behaviors. A healthy, confident person acts the way she does because she truly believes in herself; a narcissist will act overly confident because she does not believe in herself at all. Narcissists have a low self-esteem, and since they compensate for this by belittling or demonstrating superiority over others, they are unable to handle even the slightest criticism.

Less common Mental Disorders in Churches

Paranoid personality disorder (PPD) – Paranoia is characterized by a long-standing and all-encompassing distrust of other people. Those affected will habitually interpret the intentions of others as insulting, malicious, or otherwise threatening. This applies to serious life choices made by others, and to things as small as off-handed comments and remarks.

People with PPD have an unusual way of relating to the world. On the one hand they never acknowledge the irrationality of their unjustified suspicions, but at the same time they do not lose touch with reality completely. Instead, they have a warped view of the world, as they constantly go through life searching for any validation for their fears and distrust. They do not open up and confide with others for fear of rejection or betrayal, even if they have someone who has proven to be very trustworthy. They are simply unable to not be suspicious. If left untreated, these individuals will build up unwarranted resentments and anger for an excessive length of time.

Schizophrenia – This disorder is characterized by a breakdown of thought processes into incoherence and irrationality. Schizophrenics often have hallucinations. These typically manifest themselves as imaginary voices, but visual hallucinations have been observed as well. More common is delusional thinking and perceptions about the world. These delusions frequently concern the person’s safety and imagined threats.

Over a long enough time-span, schizophrenics will experience disorganized thinking and speech. This breakdown ranges from losing one’s train of thought, to the extreme cases of “word salad,” in which a person will simply blurt out random words with no connection of meaning or structure. It is common to see social withdrawl, decreased motivation and ambitions, degradation of hygiene, and impaired judgment in schizophrenics. Emotional capacity starts to waver as well. The individual might have unusual or inappropriate emotional responses to events and developments in life, or have difficulty processing and feeling emotions altogether.

________________

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association (psychiatry.org)
American Psychological Association (apa.org)
Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.com)
Psychology Today (psychologytoday.org)
Wikipedia

Teleseminar interview with Jim Herrington on leadership, church systems, and spiritual vitality

Date: Tuesday, July 23

Time:  2pm Central

Like any gathering of people, a church is a complex system with many elements connected in interdependent relationships. Without seeing the way this system is built, spiritual leaders are left in the dark when it comes to effectively organizing and moving their church in a positive direction.

Jim-Herrington

Jim Herrington has been a pastor since he was 19, serving congregations in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a Masters in Education. He is the Founding Executive of Mission Houston, a non-profit that seeks to revitalize the spiritual health of greater Houston. He does quite of bit of church consulting and training of leaders, including working on the “Ridder Process” — a church consultation process. Jim is also the author of the excellent leadership book “The Leader’s Journey”.

We will be discussing the lessons Jim has learned in the many years he has spent working as a pastor, and his knowledge of how churches work well and succeed. Jim will elaborate on church systems, and how understanding these systems is key to leading a church effectively.  We will talk about how we can preserve our own emotional well-being in the stressful role as a pastor. Jim has also developed a process called Faith Walking, which is a way of approaching your relationship with God with integrity, obedience, and realistic intentions.

 

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Jim Herrington on church systems, effective leadership, and maintaining spiritual vitality

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Lead but remember that the world doesn’t revolve around you

biggerleaderBeware of of the “great man / great woman” image of leadership. Leaders don’t lead because they are better / stronger / wiser / more spiritual than others in the organization. Leaders lead because they accept a certain role and exhibit certain skills.

I just read an interesting article by Jurgen Apolo about what he calls “Egocentric Leadership.” I’m going to quote it at length here, because it’s really helpful. (Note that he uses “leading” and “managing” interchangeably.)

******************

I just finished reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and I didn’t like it. Yes, the message about team formation was quite good, and the model was interesting. But I hated the story. It describes a management team of immature managers, who all seem to be behaving like children. But behold… there is a new and wise CEO who is able to herd them all in the right direction, with a gentle but firm hand. Install a smart and experienced CEO, et voilá… Problem solved…

It’s the same with Good to Great, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, The One Minute Manager, and many others. They all assume that the organization is a ship full of lemmings, who are all in desperate need to be led. And that leadership is to be executed by the top lemming, of course.

It’s no wonder such books sell like cupcakes among everyone who enjoys feeling superior to other workers. It satisfies their needs for status and power. Another name would be egocentric leadership.

Now, don’t get me wrong! There are plenty of good ideas and good intentions among the authors of these books. That’s why I call it management 2.0: Nice ideas, bad implementation

Most “superiors” have no idea how to do the jobs of their “subordinates”. Peter Drucker already wrote this ages ago:

Knowledge workers are not subordinates; they are “associates.” For, once beyond the apprentice stage, knowledge workers must know more about their job than their boss does—or else they are no good at all. In fact, that they know more about their job than anybody else in the organization is part of the definition of knowledge workers.

– Peter F. Drucker, Management

[Great management] is the understanding that an organization is a social complex system of knowledge workers. Taking care of the system is just another specialization, just like development, testing, and marketing. Someone has to do it. But nobody is anyone else’s superior. We’re all in it together.

Why People Get So Mad at Pastors

angry-kidby Wayne Cordiero and Francis Chan

A friend of mine recently changed careers after being in pastoral ministry for nearly a decade. I asked him how his new job was going. “Really well,” he said. “These days, people get mad at me only once or twice a year. When I was in pastoral ministry, it seemed like someone was mad at me every other day.”

I understood. I can still see the parents of a teenager, in my office crying because their son was walking down the wrong path. They were desperate for help, expecting and even demanding that I intervene in their son’s life. “Why doesn’t this church offer a better youth group?” they screamed.

I remember an angry keyboardist, frustrated that our church’s worship team was not using him “to his full potential.” He expected a prominent role in the worship service, and his expectations were not being met. “I really think the worship here should better utilize people,” he said.

I can picture a man offering to donate computer equipment to the church “but only if it was going to be well used.” Another man gave $65,000 to the church but kept pulling on invisible strings, demanding that it be used as he directed. Three weeks later, after sleepless nights of wrestling with his demands and threats, I had our accountant write a check for $65,000, and I gave it back to the demanding donor.

These frontline stories of pastoral work are endless. How do we handle people’s expectations, learn to get over them or live with them, or even learn from them? There are times when we even sense that these expectations come from God. What do we do then?

The key is to learn to listen to God and to let our vision flow from there. This often involves developing some thick skin, while still keeping our sensitivity to the real pain and needs of people. Every effective leader must learn to live with the very people who frustrate them until they no longer do. When you become a leader, you can never again get angry in public. The challenge is to stay balanced when criticized, to avoid taking the criticism personally yet to avoid becoming calloused or cynical. We are called to a paradox of personalities: sensitive but not easily offended, empathetic but not weak, flexible and yet filled with convictions.

(Editor [Mark Brouwer] comment: this is a strongly worded paragraph — especially the statement that “when you become a leader, you can never again get angry in public.” I’m not sure I agree with the “never again” part. Jesus got angry publicly.  Let’s agree that we need to be careful, especially about displaying anger in a defensive way … in other words, when we are angry about how we are being treated.)

You’re not making me happy

The common theme running through all of the stories I related can be summed up best in a single word—disappointment. That’s the root of all these unwarranted expectations, criticisms, and crises. Someone wants help and is not getting the help they want; someone needs a problem solved and the problem is not going away; someone is hurting and not getting any relief. It can all be summed up by the feeling of disappointment.

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. We live in a fallen world, and it makes sense that if life is not working as it is supposed to work, people would turn to the church to relieve that sense of disappointment, to get help. Yet the reality is that neither a church nor a pastor can satisfy every person’s disappointment.

I have known pastors who fall into this trap all too often. They wrongly believe that it is their job to make people happy. So they run themselves ragged trying to cater to the needs of people, or they push their staff to do this. It may sound strange, but there is a sense in which I can truthfully say that the church does not exist to help people. Our job is not to solve their problems or alleviate their disappointments. The primary reason the church exists is to worship God and to point people to Christ, the ultimate solution to their problems. Our work should draw attention to the one who has saved us, the one who has given us hope in place of our disappointment.

We do ourselves a disservice any time we position ourselves as the ultimate answer to people’s problems.

In our well-meaning attempts to promote Christianity as the answer to everything, we sometimes overpromise when we present the gospel. We want churches to be happy places, so we end each service on a high note, giving the impression that happy feelings always come from church. Or we want to help everybody we meet, so we have churches filled with broad spectrums of ministries for every conceivable need, but we end up doing many things poorly rather than fewer things well. The answer to all of this is to strip down the gospel to its essence: mankind getting right with a holy God.

With that in mind, we may need to help people understand the following truths if we want to help them develop realistic, healthy expectations about the church and the role and abilities of those in leadership:

  • Church will not always make you feel comfortable.
  • Church will not be the answer to your every need.
  • You will sometimes not like what happens at church.
  • You might leave a service unhappy once in a while, particularly if you are seeing yourself in light of God’s righteousness.
  • If you are a single person, going to church will not guarantee you a spouse.
  • Going to church will not guarantee that your children will not rebel.
  • Going to church is not the answer to all your financial problems.
  • You might not get along with everybody you meet at church.

Disappointment with God

If the ultimate solution to the disappointments our people experience is pointing them to Christ, letting him be the Great Physician in their lives, then once we have done this, disappointment takes on a different nuance. Now, if people are disappointed, they are ultimately disappointed with God.

For the teenager’s parents crying in my office, so sad that their son is walking the wrong path, so desperate for help from the church, so expectant and even demanding that I intervene, the one who has really disappointed them is God. They prayed about the situation. They begged God to intervene. So where is God? He is the one they are upset with.

When people come to us with their frustration, sharing their pain and disappointment with us, we need to dig beneath the layer of the immediate concern. When those parents are crying in my office (and I am crying with them), what they are ultimately expressing is that they are frustrated that God allows people to make bad choices—in this case, their son.

The real work of a pastor is not to try to solve their problems, particularly when pathways to immediate solutions have already been suggested and are not being heeded. The answer is not to ratchet up the youth program, or to drop everything and help chase a rebellious teenage son, or to lock him in his room until he turns 30.

Rather, the real work of a pastor is to help give the parents a clearer sense of who God is, that God is good no matter what they are experiencing right now, that he desperately loves their son even to the point of allowing him to make poor choices. The real work of a pastor is to help people come to grips with God’s goodness, even though we often do not understand his ways.

Picture the angry keyboardist, so frustrated that our church’s worship team was not using him to his full potential, so hurt his expectations are not being met—his real disappointment is with God. Did the keyboardist not ask God to give him a greater ministry on the worship team? Why did God say no?

The wise church leader does not immediately cater to this man’s demands and promise that he will be used more regularly on the worship team if that is not the best option. The wise leader will help this man see a righteous God contrasted with the prideful heart of man. Again, the ultimate work of a pastor is not to assuage this man’s disappointment and solve his scheduling problem or his need to be in greater demand as a musician. It is to offer him a clearer sense of the character of God.

An Invitation to Lament

When you encounter people’s unreasonable expectations of you as a leader, one very practical and biblical response is something we find modeled in the Psalms and in the ministry of Jeremiah and throughout much of the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament.

This response to disappointment, to unanswered questions and unresolved tension, to the pain and suffering people bring to us is inviting them to lament.

This means that when a person comes to you, and the problem cannot be solved, you point them to Jesus and invite them to honestly pour out their heart to the Lord. We know that God is the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). When we lament, we acknowledge that God is good and sovereign, yet life is not as we would like it to be.

We find validation for our grieving in our lamentation. We learn that our emotions are permitted, that it is right to express them, even when those emotions include anger at injustice. The biblical form of lamenting allows people to feel and express the discomfort and disappointment they experience living in an imperfect world.

When you invite people to lament, you are acknowledging that you, as a church leader, are with them in their journey, and you empathize with what they are going through. You do not try to cheer them up. You do not try to fix all their problems. You allow them to feel the hard truth, the raw emotion of the problem or circumstance. And you point them to God.

David cried out to God. So did Jesus, who prayed with “loud cryings and tears to the one who was able to save him from distress.” God himself did this with Job. After Job had lost his family, his health, his housing, his reputation, and his livelihood, God did not wipe away every tear, at least not at first.

God did not try to make things all better. God did not offer Job any solutions to his problems. God did not crank up the ministries at the local church to help Job recover the things he had lost.

God simply pointed Job to the realities of the moment: that Job was a man, and that God was God. He allowed Job to lament, to call out in distress, and then God pointed him to facts that he could not fathom. It is perhaps the best example of pastoral ministry ever recorded.

Remember, seldom are your critics actually disappointed with you. They are usually disappointed with themselves, their lives, or God. You are simply a convenient target.

Wayne Cordeiro is founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii.

How Do You Get People to Love God?

It’s hard to be a church leader. We try so hard to get people to love Jesus. And when they don’t, we ask why—again and again. Why don’t people serve more? Why don’t they give more? Why don’t they share their faith? Why do they keep looking at pornography? Why don’t they get along with each other better?

When we see shortcomings, usually our response is to work harder. Or encourage them to work harder. Maybe we can craft the perfect sermon, or perhaps in this counseling session we can say the perfect thing. (And sometimes we do need to work harder, for sure.)

But usually we need to realize a simple and yet complex truth. The ultimate work of a pastor is God’s doing. We can’t make people do anything. Paul’s commitment in Ephesians 3:14-19 is to pray harder, and to pray for a specific thing: that people would know the fullness of God, so that people can understand Christ’s love for them.

That’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. No matter how hard we work as church leaders, we will never be able to get people to love God. That work comes from God by the power of his Spirit. It’s a supernatural exchange. God grants the love. If a person does not truly understand the depths of God’s love, you will not be able to talk the person into it. This granting is something only God can do.

Imagine it this way. When my wife, Lisa, and I lived in Simi Valley, we often had people sharing our house with us. For some time, a young woman named Rochelle lived with us. She was single, and, like people in the Christian community are apt to do, Lisa and I tried as hard as we could to get Rochelle married off. Seriously—we introduced her to every single guy we could find. Rochelle didn’t mind, and it proved fun for the whole family. Even our kids prayed that Rochelle would get married.

But no matter what we did, there was no way that we could “make” any two young people fall in love with each other. Eventually, Rochelle fell in love all by herself. She’s now married, and the couple is expecting a baby.

The same idea is at work here—you can’t make anyone fall in love with Jesus, either. When it comes to Jesus and people, you can only make the introduction.

I can only tell them that God, the Creator of the world, the only God that matters, loves them deeply. More than any other human being could. God loves you so much that he gave his son to die on a cross for you. It doesn’t matter how messed up you are, how much you’ve rebelled against him, or even how indifferent you might be to matters of the cross; God still loves you deeply. Who does this? Who chooses to die in place of someone else? What an amazing God this is!

Yes, I can make this introduction, but nothing will happen until the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives a person the ability to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. He enables people to know something they can’t know. You understand God’s love in your inner being. Oh, how God loves us! And for people to understand this love, it comes only through prayer.

Prayer is the first and greatest work that we do.

—Francis Chan Reprinted by permission from Sifted, by Wayne Cordeiro and Francis Chan (Cook, 2012).

What you do is important. I want to help you keep doing it.