Practicing Acceptance

Recovery has provided me with many lessons about leadership. One principle of recovery challenges the focus of leadership in many church settings: namely … it teaches us to look at ourselves instead of trying to fix others. We can’t waste time trying to change other people, we can only change ourselves.

I find that really refreshing. I am trying to let go of my need to fix everybody … I am just trying to love them.

But if we can’t fix the people around us, how can we live with them? By practicing acceptance.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes that we cannot find serenity until we accept things and people as they are. This is hard for many of us, for many reasons.

As Christians, we often struggle to accept people who disagree with us, or who have different standards of behavior. We worry that if we accept someone just as they are, then we are endorsing their moral and spiritual choices. If we want to help them grow or change, we feel we need to withhold acceptance. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When we withhold acceptance – from others or from ourselves – we create conflict and lose the opportunity to stimulate positive change.

Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

We can accept someone without approving or agreeing with what they do. The reality is that we can’t change them – or control their behavior – anyway. All we can control is our own responses to them.

Our lack of acceptance creates stress and tension in relationships. It also cuts us off from many blessings.

I had a friend from one of the 12 Step programs who was needing more support. I recommended a certain group to him. When he attended the group, he was dismayed because some of the members had a different approach to sobriety than he did. Rather than adopt a “live and let live” approach, and seek to learn from this other program and find the help he needed, he chose to go into a critical, judgmental mode, and refused to participate in the group any longer. He couldn’t get over his disagreement with how they approached recovery – and so lost the opportunity to get support and help he really needed.

Serenity comes when we concentrate on the attitudes we need to change instead of how the world around us needs to change. When we focus on another person’s negative qualities, those qualities grow larger. So why not focus instead on the good qualities?

Our serenity will grow as we develop reasonable, appropriate expectations of others. Remember that everyone is a work in progress. No one is perfect.  Can we accept them – and ourselves – even in the midst of that imperfection?

Why accountability partners don’t work

Most of the men I work with who are battling sexual temptation have a long history of failed attempts at overcoming their struggles. One of the most common strategies people in churches use is having an accountability partner. I have nothing against accountability partners … they just don’t work.

Listen to this recording – a short excerpt from an audio program called “The Spiritual Questions and Challenges of Recovery” – to find out why:

Show me a pornography or other type of sex addict who has an accountability partner – and is doing little else for his recovery – and I will show you someone who is struggling. Either acting out with whatever behaviors he’s dealing with, or hanging onto his sobriety with his fingernails and really struggling. Church leaders, spouses of strugglers, parents … please hear me on this … accountability is over-rated! It’s only part of the solution.

If you want to hear more about this and other subjects related to dealing with sexual struggle, check out this audio program

New study suggests that loneliness may be contagious

Loneliness is an important issue – and personal challenge – for many leaders and the people they are leading. For this reason, I was especially interested in the results of a recent study on the topic. What follows are highlights from a recent article about the study.

A new study suggests that feelings of loneliness can spread through social networks like the common cold.

“People on the edge of the network spread their loneliness to others and then cut their ties,” says Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School in Boston, a coauthor of the new study in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “It’s like the edge of a sweater: You start pulling at it and it unravels the network.”

This study is the latest in a series that Christakis and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego have conducted to see how habits and feelings move through social networks. Their earlier studies suggested that obesity, smoking and happiness are contagious. The new study, led by John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, found that loneliness is catching as well, possibly because lonely people don’t trust their connections and foster that mistrust in others.

Christakis and Fowler examined data from a long-term health study based in Framingham, Mass., a small town where many of the study’s participants knew each other. The Framingham study followed thousands of people over 60 years, keeping track of physical and mental heath, habits and diet.

From this information, Christakis and Fowler reconstructed the social network of Framingham, including more than 12,000 ties between 5,124 people (see diagram below). The researchers plotted how reported loneliness, measured via a diagnostic test for depression, changed over time.

Feeling lonely doesn’t mean you have no connections, Cacioppo says. It only means those connections aren’t satisfying enough. Loneliness can start as a sense that the world is hostile, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Loneliness causes people to be alert for social threats,” Cacioppo says. “You engage in more self-protective behavior, which is paradoxically self-defeating.” Lonely people can become standoffish and eventually withdraw from their social networks, leaving their former friends less well-connected and more likely to mistrust the world themselves.

Other insights about loneliness from the study:

  • It appears to be easier to catch from friends than from family
  • It appears to spread more among women than men
  • It is most contagious among neighbors who live within a mile of each other.
  • It can spread to three degrees of separation, as in the studies of obesity, smoking and happiness.
  • One lonely friend makes you 40 to 65 percent more likely to be lonely, but a lonely friend-of-a-friend increases your chances of loneliness by 14 to 36 percent
  • A friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend adds between 6 and 26 percent

_________________________________

The image at left is a graphical representation of the social network of Framingham, Mass. It shows lonely people clustering at the periphery of the network. Each point represents a person (greater loneliness from yellow to green to blue) and lines between points indicate types of relationships (red for siblings and black for friends and spouses).

New study shows abuse rates of Catholic priests even higher than expected

As if the reports and suspicions weren’t bad enough, the reality points to a  problem even more pervasive than people thought. I’m going to quote from the childprotectionguide.org website, with some added thoughts of my own in italics along the way. (The article I’m linking to here has the source information for this study.)

“About 4 percent of Catholic priests have been accused of sexually abusing minors over the past half-century, according to a draft of the first comprehensive study of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in the United States. The percentage is higher than many people, including church officials, had anticipated.

“The draft of the study, done by John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that 4,450 of the 110,000 priests who served between 1950 and 2002 were accused of sexual abuse of minors, according to CNN, which reported that it had reviewed the draft.

“The number of alleged perpetrators given in the draft study is higher than the tallies by news media outlets, including the Associated Press and The New York Times, which have tried to count reported allegations nationwide.

“The number is also higher than that projected by church officials. Pope Benedict XVI, who at the time was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said in 2002, according to the Catholic News Service: “In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type.”

“The annual accusation rate against Catholic priests peaked at nearly 9 per 1,000 in 1980. However, since the reports, Table 1.1, are generally made after the victims become adults, with most of the reports coming after 1990, this could mean that abuse that occurred in the late eighties and in the nineties has just not yet been reported.”  (In other words, we may not be hearing the last of this … we may be coming up to another rash of abuse reports and lawsuits — a second wave.)

“Roughly 1/4 of the pedophile priests abused girls, although they have gotten less attention. In fact, both SAVE and SNAP were founded by women who were sexually abused by Catholic priests as young girls.”

“It’s not just Catholic priests. There have been offenders who were spiritual leaders of many various groups, as diverse as Buddhist monks and Jewish rabbis. According to reformation.com 838 ministers from major Protestant denominations have sexually assaulted children. The website quotes the Right Reverend William Persell, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago as saying “We would be naïve and dishonest were we to say this is a Roman Catholic problem and has nothing to do with us because we have married and female priests in our church. Sin and abusive behavior know no ecclesial or other boundaries.'”

Facing our love / hate experience with God

I am increasingly convinced that spiritual inauthenticity is a major roadblock for many Christians in general, and especially Christian leaders. When we try to convince ourselves to believe something we don’t really believe, or when we struggle with thoughts and feelings about God that we “shouldn’t have,” we get stuck. There are no easy answers here, but I believe it is essential to face our questions, doubts, and jumble of feelings about God in an honest way if our leadership is going to be sustainable. I see this as an important issue for Christians in recovery, and have posted this on the sexual-sanity.com blog as well … but I want to include it here too. In my work I’m seeing too many pastors who are unwilling to face their questions, doubts, and frustrations.

To that end, I want to share an article written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder of Committed to Freedom, an organization that helps “provide people with spiritual tools to move beyond abuse.” People who are dealing with the aftermath of abuse face many deep spiritual challenges. This article will hopefully help leaders identify with them. But I don’t think that the spiritual challenges Sally talks about are limited to abuse survivors.

This article was sent in a newsletter, and I’m quoting it in its entirety, because I don’t know where I can link to. It’s worth reading.

This is an article about honesty . . . and honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with God. I’ve been on the up and down roller coaster of belief and doubt, righteousness and debauchery, faithfulness and apostasy. I know that’s disturbing to a lot of people, but God gets that completely . . . gets me completely. Gets you completely too.

Let me be the first to admit that I don’t have many answers, especially when it comes to God. Honestly, the ministry of Committed to Freedom began because of my own spiritual search for answers to questions that really have no good answers. The dilemma for anyone who has experienced trauma or suffering is to have co-existing contradictions. God is love. Suffering is real. God has the capacity to create. Trauma has the capacity to destroy. The idea of God being powerful and one who intervenes in the circumstances of our lives held up in contrast to unanswered prayer, vulnerable people being abused and exploited, or diseases that progress, ravage, and destroy. Like I said: love/hate.

Continue reading Facing our love / hate experience with God

How to create a leadership development strategy

For the past three and half years I have been in a new role – conducting workshops and coaching pastors and men in recovery – and outside of the senior pastor leadership role, I’ve found myself reflecting on some of the challenges pastors face. One of the most striking things I notice is that churches have huge needs for competent – and usually volunteer – leaders to carry projects forward. Therefore, healthy, growing churches need to be leadership development machines.

I just ran across an article on this subject by Dan McCarthy, a business consultant. I found it interesting, and it brought up a few thoughts and ideas for what churches need to do. I’m going to insert some of its content here, with comments by me in [brackets and italics]. Hope you find something helpful here.

1. Identify the organization’s challenges and goals.

The difference between strategic leadership development and managing a bunch of programs and processes is the extent to which everything is tightly linked to the organization’s mission and strategy. It’s a connect-the-dots exercise.

[The article is focused on what an outside consultant can do, rather than what you as the leader can do. It suggests meeting with the CEO and key leaders to find out more about the organization’s needs. In some ways, this is something you already have in your head as a pastor, but it may also help – if you’re establishing a specific, written out “Leadership Development Strategy” to make this a formal part of the process, involving other key leaders in the church.] Here are some good questions to ask:

– What’s the biggest challenge facing this company in the next 3-5 years?

– What keeps you up at night? (although this question is starting to get a bit overused)

– Given these challenges, what new leadership & management competencies do you see as becoming more important? How would you assess our incumbent managers against these competencies?

2. Identify the implications for leadership development.

There’s a lot of ways to get at this, but the fundamental question is – “How does business objective “A” influence how we need to go about developing our leaders? What new skills are required?” A simple example would be a company that is expected to double it’s growth in the next five years by expanding product line “B” globally. Obvious implications for leadership development include the need to develop and implement global leadership development processes and develop new global leadership competencies for product line B’s general managers. It’s not always that easy, so that’s where some healthy discussion and debate can help tease out the implications.

[Of course one of the greatest challenges for leadership development in church settings is the limitations of time and the fact that we’re working with volunteers who have many other priorities. I also think that an essential skill for leaders at all levels in church settings is conflict management. Churches often get bogged down in petty conflicts, and it would be helpful for all churches to have regular teaching about how to deal with conflict constructively.]

3. Create a leadership development vision and mission.

A vision statement is an aspirational description of what the team would like to achieve or accomplish in the future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. Having a clear vision can give a team direction and inspiration, and be the foundation for goal setting and action planning.

A mission statement describes what you do, for who, and how. It puts a boundary around your team’s activities and helps guide their day-to-day direction.

Here’s an example: “Our vision is to have a leadership pipeline that is stuffed with “A” caliber leaders at every level of the organization. Our mission is to develop great leaders.”

[If you are a pastor today, and have gone through any kind of training about leadership, you are likely VERY familiar with the mechanics of establishing mission and vision statements. The key insight here is that you have an agreed-upon and written-out mission and vision for leadership development within your church.]

4. Create a list of 3-5 year leadership development goals.

This short, focused list of long term goals address the implications and goals identified in steps 1&2, and support the team’s vision and mission. An example of a 3-5 year goal would be “Create a process to identify and develop global competencies in our product line B division’s general managers”.

5. Develop measures and action plans for each goal.

The creation and tracking of a handful of critical metrics is one of the most important and often neglected components of a leadership development strategy. It’s hard, but not impossible.

[This is a key component that separates churches and non-profits from for profit businesses. Businesses are much more rigorous about establishing measures and tracking them.]

6. Create a leadership competency model.

The same process used to identity implications and goals can be used to create a strategic leadership competency model. This model can be used as a way to align all of your leadership development processes and programs.

[I must confess that I’m not sure about this point. McCarthy has a link to another article about developing leadership competency models. It seems to me that this creates an unneccessary level of complexity to the process, but maybe that’s just me.]

7. Review with key stakeholders to verify and modify.

[Once again, this step is based on the assumption that you are coming in as an outside consultant. If you are the leader of the organization, you would replace this step with ongoing evaluation of the implementation of the program.]

The Spiritual Questions and Challenges of Recovery – free teleseminar July 23

We’re hosting a free teleseminar on Thursday night, July 23. This teleseminar is open to anyone who’d like to learn more about recovery from sexual struggle, either for themselves or someone they know. The theme will be: The spiritual questions and challenges of recovery.

Many people who come into recovery with a strong religious background find that their faith complicates things. The reverse is also the case: their addiction complicates their experience of faith. They struggle to figure out why the spiritual approaches they tried in the past didn’t work. I have come to believe that for some of us who come out of church backgrounds, recovery will involve unlearning as well as learning. As the saying goes in AA, “it was our own best thinking that got us into the mess that we’re in.” Let’s face it: for many Christians, struggle with addiction creates a crisis of faith as well as a crisis of life and relationships.

Some people are disappointed or even angry at God for not answering their prayers for healing from their addiction in the past. Some people struggle with heightened sense of shame around their behaviors (”Since I’m a Christian and have access to God’s power to change my life, why am I not getting this?”).  Some people deal with unspoken questions and doubts about their faith. Other people find that approaches to recovery that involve compassion for their past wounding are hard to reconcile with the stern moralistic tone of what they have been taught is “biblical” Christianity. They find it hard to balance the psychological insights they encounter in recovery with the black and white “just trust God and don’t do it” teaching that they’ve grown accustomed to from their church.

In this teleseminar, I will address these spiritual challenges, talking about my own experiences of recovery after 15 years as a pastor of two evangelical churches. I’ll address topics such as:

  • Why so many prayers for recovery go unanswered
  • How “faith” helps and hinders recovery
  • What is God’s part and what is my part in recovery
  • How to deal with it as a believer when important recovery insights come from non-believers

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this topic! Many men that I know and work with in recovery are facing profound struggles with this topic, and there are few places where we can talk honestly about them. I certainly don’t want to present myself as having “arrived” in any way, shape, or form with respect to this issue, but I do want to share what I am learning.

When will it take place?
· Date: July 23 (Thursday)
· Time: 7:00pm, central standard time

How much will it cost? free

How long will it last? 60 minutes

To register, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to:

mary@recoveryremixed.com

How vulnerable should leaders be?

How vulnerable should leaders be? Should we cover or reveal our weaknesses? Should we put on a brave and confident face, even if we aren’t brave or confident? Or should we be open about our struggles and doubts? Of course the answer isn’t found in one extreme or the other … it’s somewhere in the middle.

Leaders often feel the desire – and sometimes even pressure – to make themselves look better than they really are. Many leaders struggle to let their guard down, and in the process alienate people, and set themselves up for burnout or flameout when it comes to light that they are not living congruently.

Don Miller has a great article on his blog about this topic. Here are a few excerpts:

Christian leaders who can’t admit their mistakes place a wall between their congregation and God, rather than a window. They paint an image of Christ on themselves, as they feel this is their job. People like the painting of Jesus they see on the wall, but in the end, the painting isn’t the real thing, and so Jesus just gets distorted.

A person who cannot admit their faults is afraid, is insecure, and leads from the belief that if they make a mistake, nobody will follow them. A confident person would admit mistakes freely, because they really don’t need you or I to approve, they would get that from Jesus, and they’d teach us to get it from Jesus too. Instead, they teach us that they do not make mistakes, and so they are selfish.

Nobody in scripture is perfect, save Christ. And God has no trouble airing the dirty laundry of his followers. Peter denies Christ, but God leaves the incident in the text, Moses is a murderer, but God leaves the story in the text, David cheats on his wife, Lot offers his daughters, Thomas won’t believe his friends who saw Christ alive, and so on and so on. There are few good marriages in the Bible, and fewer good fathers. Throughout the ages, Christians have been more than comfortable admitting their humanity, almost as a reference to God’s goodness. Until, that is, western civilization and, perhaps, the commercialization of our culture. Now Jesus is a product, and we sell him, and if we are selling a product, the product better work, so we just make things up about how great we are.

I’ve noticed healthy children often have parents who sit down with them and explain their short-comings. A parents admission that they weren’t perfect frees the child to learn from their parents mistakes rather than cover up or react to family issues. But parents who, in neediness and selfishness, will not admit fault, in an effort to control their children, often have children who feel they cannot be safe with their parents, and sometimes react. Authenticity works in all forms of leadership, I think.

What pastors need to know about sexual struggle – free teleseminar on May 6

We’re hosting a free teleseminar for Christian leaders on Wednesday, May 6. This teleseminar is open to any pastor, church staff member, or Christian leader who’d like to learn more about how to help people recover from sexual struggle. The focus of the teleseminar will be “What pastors need to know to help others – and themselves – deal with the growing epidemic of sexual addiction in the church today.”

Date: Wednesday, May 6

Time: 2pm, central standard time

Duration: 60 minutes

This teleseminar will be an “expert interview” call. I will be interviewing Dr. Mark Laaser, of Faithful and True Ministries. Dr. Laaser has been a leader in the field of sex addiction recovery for over 20 years, and has written a number of books on the subject, including “Healing the Wounds of Sex Addiction,” “Talking to your Kids about Sex” and “The Seven Desires of Every Heart.” He has also been a part of several ground-breaking studies of sexual struggle among Christian leaders, and has written three  books about this subject: “Before the Fall,” “The Pornography Trap,” and “Restoring the Soul of a Church.”

During this call, I will be interviewing Dr. Laaser about the extent of the challenge of sexual struggle in the church today, and what Christian leaders must do to: (1) protect themselves and find healing from their own sexual struggles, and (2) establish ministries and teaching that help people in their churches find healing. There will also be time for listeners to ask questions as well.

This free teleseminar is part of our ongoing efforts to equip Christian leaders to deal with this important area. We will let you know on this call about two resources we offer to that end: (1) a one day training event for Christian leaders called “Helping the sexual strugglers,” coming up on June 4, and (2) three-day intensive workshops for men dealing with sexual addiction that we offer monthly.

To register for this free teleseminar, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to:

mary@recoveryremixed.com

NOTE: Participating in the teleseminar live is free. A recording of the teleseminar will be available for purchase ($9.95) after the event is over.

How to take back your power in relationships – set deadlines

People who feel victimized or mistreated in relationships struggle to know when and how to draw the line. We want to give people second chances … but what about fifth or sixth chances? Fiftieth or sixtieth chances?

I know that Jesus said we should forgive people not just seven times, but “seventy times seven” times. But forgiving people multiple times does not imply remaining in the same kind of relationship. If my “friend” ignores or mistreats me again and again, I can forgive him, but that doesn’t mean I will continue to engage with him as if he’s still my friend. At some point, I have to acknowledge the reality that he: (a) doesn’t like or respect me, or (b) isn’t trustworthy … and decide to relate differently to him.

This is important for leaders, especially pastors, who feel pressure to be nice and friendly to stakeholders, often at the expense of their own emotional well-being. This is part of the price of leadership. Part of us wants to tell the other person to get lost (or worse), but we restrain ourselves for the sake of the mission and/or the organization. It’s okay to do that, as long as you know what you are doing, and why you’re doing it. But when it becomes a pattern (being the nice guy and pleasing people) it can come back to hurt you and the organization.

Melodie Beattie has a great meditation in her book “The Language of Letting Go” on this subject. She points out the wisdom in setting deadlines for ourselves. We don’t need to let other people know about these deadlines, and they don’t need to be set in stone. But deadlines can help us take back our power, and stop feeling like victims. This meditation is so good, I want to share the full version with you. Enjoy:

I don’t know whether I want in or out of this relationship. I’ve been struggling with it for months now. It’s not appropriate to let it hang indefinitely. I will give myself two months to make a decision.
—Anonymous

Sometimes, it helps to set a deadline.

This can be true when we face unsolved problems, are struggling with a tough decision, have been sitting on the fence for a while, or have been floundering in confusion about a particular issue for a time.

That does not mean a deadline is written in stone. It means that we are establishing a time frame to help ourselves not feel so helpless and to help bring a solution into focus. Setting deadlines can free our energy to set the problem or issue aside, to let go, and allow the universe, our Higher Power, and ourselves to begin to move toward a solution.

We don’t always need to tell people we’ve got a deadline. Sometimes, it’s better to be silent, or else they may feel we are trying to control them and may rebel against our deadline. Sometimes, it is appropriate to share our deadlines with others.

Deadlines are primarily a tool to help ourselves. They need to be reasonable and appropriate to each individual situation. Used properly, deadlines can be a beneficial tool to help us get through difficult problems and situations without feeling trapped and helpless. They can help us let go of worrying and obsessing, so we can focus our energies in more constructive directions. Setting a deadline can help move us out of that uncomfortable spot of feeling victimized by a person or a problem we can’t solve.

Deadlines can help us detach and move forward.

Today, I will consider whether a deadline might be helpful in some areas in my life. I claim Divine Wisdom and Guidance in setting appropriate deadlines for any problems or relationship issues that may be lingering.

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