Culture Trend: The Move Away From Church Viewed From Political Perspective

I just read a fascinating article about the GOP’s connection — and lack thereof — with American voters regarding spiritual issues. While probably not ground-breaking, the article is a good summary of where we are spiritually in our society, and why churches are having such a hard time making inroads into reaching the unchurched.

The article points out the huge shift away from church in our culture. Here’s a quote:

“Studies suggest the number of unchurched has doubled in the past two decades and shot up by 25 percent in the last four years. The shift has taken place across the country and across economic classes, most notably among the young; one fifth of adults and one third of Americans under thirty now declare themselves religiously unaffiliated.”

The author makes the point that the GOP is having a hard time trying to rally its voter base with a “let’s get back to traditional values” kind of message. Here’s another quote:

“Young evangelicals don’t look at the country as a battlefield, but rather a mission field. They’re are less scared than their forbearers: They see the ‘War on Religion’ narrative as nonsense; they see churches thriving, the outlets they have, and the extent of religious pluralism in this country. The new generation sees community activism, rather than electoral politics, as the means for their faith to shape the world.”

 

Fighting Fatigue in Leadership

fatigueNapoleon said it best: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”*  When we get worn down, we are less optimistic, less creative, less willing to take risks and do hard things — all of which are required for good leadership. For years I have been thinking about – in my own life and for the people I coach – sustainable leadership.

How can I live my life as a leader in a way that is sustainable? How can I expand my influence without shrinking my soul?

Tony Schwartz has a great article on the Harvard Business review on this theme. It’s written for CEO’s and other business leaders, but the points he makes are applicable to non-profit and church settings as well. He starts out by Continue reading Fighting Fatigue in Leadership

Guarding Against Emotional Affairs

An emotional affair happens when a person invests too much emotional energy with someone outside their marriage, and in turn receives too much emotional support and companionship from that relationship. How much is “too much?” There aren’t black and white rules for when a relationship moves from innocent friendship to an emotional affair … but there are patterns, and signs to watch for. In an emotional affair, people often feel closer to each other than their spouses, and often experience increasing sexual tension.

In fact, emotional affairs are often the gateway leading to Continue reading Guarding Against Emotional Affairs

On the danger of pedestals – Part 2

Recently I wrote about the danger of people in churches projecting idealized images onto their pastors. This is not only unhelpful for the people, it’s dangerous and damaging for the leader. (See part 1 of this series here). So now the question is, what can we do about it? What is the answer?

Humanity. Let the leader be human.

Continue reading On the danger of pedestals – Part 2

On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

As an ordained minister and the senior pastor of two churches, I know from experience that pedestals are dangerous. People often come into the church with a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be. They may assume the pastor will embody that. This is a problem when we let them down – when they see how we fall short of the ideal that they created in their minds.

But it’s maybe an even bigger problem when they don’t see our flaws, because they don’t want to see our flaws, and we get too good at hiding them. Most of the people in our churches want to see us in a good light, because this reinforces their faith … the leader of their spiritual community can serve to validate the power of that faith. I think it is rare that anyone Continue reading On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

Relating without manipulating: overcoming codependence

There’s a new article on our companion site sexualsanity.com about the topic of manipulation-free relationships. It starts out by saying:

Without understanding our motives, we can easily lapse into behavior aimed at manipulating others. We can do this by passive-aggressively punishing them, or doing things that seem kind and sweet as a way of getting them to respond to us in a certain way.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win our approval.
  • Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose.
  • Withholding deserved praise is a means of putting others down, something we’re likely to do because of our jealousy.

Read the full article here

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

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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.'”

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