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:

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.

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.

Training event for church leaders about how to help sexually struggling people

Helping the Sexual Strugglers

A training event for pastors, church staff, and lay ministry leaders

June 4, 2009

Changes in society and the advent of the Internet have led to an epidemic of sexual struggle around the world. All are vulnerable, huge numbers of people are struggling, and for many the struggle has developed into a full-blown addiction. Church leaders are looking for ways of helping people caught in the web of compulsive sexual behavior. Our vision at Recovery Remixed is to provide teaching and guidance not only to sexual strugglers, but also to the ministry leaders who seek to help them. So we are jointly sponsoring this training event with Faithful and True Ministries for pastors, church staff, and ministry leaders.

Many people needlessly suffer because the church leaders providing teaching and care to them have limited knowledge about sex addiction /compulsive behavior and inadequate approaches to dealing with it. We want to present the findings from the latest research and our experience in working with strugglers, in the hope that more can be done to stem the tide of this growing problem.

Register today for this important training event for pastors and church leaders.

What is it?
Helping the Sexual Strugglers is a one-day training event for pastors, church staff, and small group leaders. The primary facilitator of this workshop is Rev. Mark Brouwer, director of training for Faithful and True Ministries, and writer of the blog Dr. Mark Laaser will also teach for part of the day, presenting his learnings from over 20 years experience of helping addicts find recovery in hospitals, treatment facilities, and private practice.

When and where will it take place?
Date: June 4 (Thursday)
Time: 9am to 4pm
Location: Faithful and True Counseling Center, Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

How much will it cost?
Cost for event is $59.

Who should come?

  • Senior Pastors who want to find ways of building church ministries to help a growing number of parishoners struggling with their sexual behaviors
  • Staff pastors who oversee men’s and women’s and recovery ministries
  • Shepherding pastors who oversee counseling, marriage ministries, or pastoral care in their churches
  • Youth pastors who want to learn more about this growing youth ministry trend
  • LIFE Group leaders, or Celebrate Recovery Leaders who want to learn more about addiction and how to lead others in recovery
  • Parachurch leaders and denominational executives who want to learn how to protect and care for leaders who struggle with addiction

What will I learn?

  • How to understand the nature of sexual struggle, and how it manifests itself in compulsive behaviors and addiction
  • Understanding the three different kinds of people in your church who are impacted by sexual challenges (sexually vulnerable, sexual strugglers, and sexually dependent), and how to minister to them
  • Why it’s so hard for churches to deal openly and honestly about sexual struggle … and what to do about it
  • Strategies for churches to protect themselves from predators and the moral failure of leaders, while at the same time dealing openly and gracefully with sexual struggle
  • Strategies for church leaders to protect themselves from getting sucked into compulsive sexual behavior, and how to go about recovery if they already are
  • Best practices for ministries and effective groups that deal with sexual struggle

For any questions, or information about registering for this event, contact Mark Brouwer at 952-746-3885, or email him at: mark(at)markbrouwer(dot)com.

Too many interruptions: more serious than it sounds

Just read a fascinating post in the wiredscience blog with the provocative title: Digital overload is frying our brains. It’s worth a look, in spite of the creepy photo-shopped picture they lead with. Let me start with en extended quote:

“Paying attention isn’t a simple act of self-discipline, but a cognitive ability with deep neurobiological roots — and these roots, says Maggie Jackson, are in danger of dying.

“In Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, Jackson explores the effects of “our high-speed, overloaded, split-focus and even cybercentric society” on attention. It’s not a pretty picture: a never-ending stream of phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, text messages and tweets is part of an institutionalized culture of interruption, and makes it hard to concentrate and think creatively.”

So begins the blog post, which is mostly an interview with Jackson. The question of attention and focus has become increasingly important, as technologies proliferate that allow us to be interrupted. Jackson says that information workers now switch tasks an average of three minutes throughout the day. This is a problem for pastors … it’s hard to write a sermon in three minute chunks!

Another fascinating connection here: continual interruption is correlated with stress, which is an epidemic today. Jackson again:

“This degree of interruption is correlated with stress and frustration and lowered creativity. That makes sense. When you’re scattered and diffuse, you’re less creative. When your times of reflection are always punctured, it’s hard to go deeply into problem-solving, into relating, into thinking….Interruptions are correlated with stress, and a cascade of stress hormones accompany that state of being. Stress, frustration and lowered creativity are pretty toxic.”

Give the article a quick read. If you don’t get interrupted first.

New program for people struggling with compulsive sexual behavior

Leaders are human, and they struggle with sexual issues just like everyone else. The only difference is that for leaders of faith communities, a sexual misstep can be a career-ender. In fact, even rumors of sexual struggle can damage a leader’s credibility. The result is that most church leaders who struggle are hesitant to get the help they need. So they suffer in secret, and the monster in the closet gets ever more powerful.

Our companion site,, has an article about a new program we’re starting up to help people face and overcome their struggles with compulsive sexual behavior. It’s called “90 Days to Sexual Sanity,” and it’s a great program for pastors and other church staff who want to get help, but don’t know where to turn. The program consists of daily instruction, devotional material, and tasks to do, combined with a weekly telephone conference call for support and coaching. As the title suggests, it lasts for 90 Days, and is intended to help people get a new start in facing this challenge. It starts Tuesday, January 6. Check it out.

The danger of pedestals

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

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

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

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

What unfair expectations do I have of others?

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

Continue reading The danger of pedestals

Facing Times of Stress and Change

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

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

1. Doubt the doomsayers

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

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

Continue reading Facing Times of Stress and Change

Recently published “Click” has interesting insights about web porn use

Everyone knows that church leaders are not immune to sexual temptation, especially the pornography that’s readily available on the Internet. I just read an interesting book on Internet trends that has implications for pastors — for the health of their own souls, and for their awareness of what people in their organizations are struggling with.

Bill Tancer, who leads global research at Hitwise (an online market research company), has written a book about Internet use trends called “Click.” It’s an interesting read, and has some information specifically related to online pornography use. I’ll share a couple of statistics, and then add some of my thoughts.

In the massive database of websites that it tracks and analyzes, Hitwise follows the usage logs of just over 40,000 adult sites. Tancer offers some insight based on the analysis of these sites.

Overall porn use

  • In August 2005, 16% of all web traffic was on these 40,000 adult web sites. In other words, 16% of all web use was focused on 40,000 porn web sites.
  • In August 2007, 10% of all web traffic was on these 40,000 sites. That represents a decrease in porn use, relative to other web traffic. (There are a couple caveats I would throw out, however. See below.)

Time spent on individual porn sites

  • in August 2005, the average time a given user spent on a given adult web site was 5 minutes, 38 seconds.
  • In August 2007, that time had increased to 6 minutes, 29 seconds (an increase of 15%). Tancer suggests that the reason for the increase of time on each site has to do with the increased availability of video on adult web sites.

Percentage of women and men accessing porn sites

  • Of the 40,000 adult web sites Hitwise tracks, 73% of the visitors were male, and 27% were female.
  • Tancer doesn’t relate these figures to specific months of his study, and instead implies that this gender breakdown has remained fairly constant over the last couple years.
  • Some people might be surprised at how high the percentage of female visitors is to adult sites, because of the gender stereotype that women are not as attracted to visual pornography as are men (again see my comments below). But Tancer reminds readers that the adult sites also include erotic story sites, which have a higher percentage of female readers than male.

Continue reading Recently published “Click” has interesting insights about web porn use

What leaders must do if they want to last

You don’t have to look very far to find scary stats and gloomy pronouncements about the health of church leaders today. In fact, just look at some of the articles on this site! I want to be honest about the concerns I have, which are based on my experiences working with pastors, and my own experience in ministry. But more than that, I want to offer solutions!

Here are three bottom line “must do’s” for church leaders:

1. End denial. Pastors need to be honest about their vulnerability to discouragement, sexual temptation, and burnout. Many pastors are trying so hard to project an air of “having it together” that they manage to convince themselves. At least until they face a crisis and realize how stressed-out, unhappy, and unbalanced they really were. This is what happened to me. I would never had admitted the depth of my internal struggle, even though people around me could sense it and were worried about me.

2. End isolation. Pastors need to be extremely intentional about creating safe relationships where they can have fun, be real, and get honest feedback. This won’t happen in their churches, it has to come from outside. That’s why I am a coach … I want to provide that kind of relationship to pastors, and help them establish other safe friendships.

3. Start taking ownership. People don’t like hearing this, but it’s the truth: pastors have to take ownership of their own self-care, because nobody else will. Pastors who believe that their parishoners will provide the right kind of care for them will always be disappointed. People who haven’t lived the 24/7 life of a pastor don’t understand what it’s like, and the lay-leaders in any given church will always have the church’s interests in the back of their minds, even when they want to help you.

Remember that when Jesus took time to be away from the crowds, people (including the disciples) were often confused and even upset with him. “Where have you been?” they would ask, with an undisguised air of exasperation. Just like those unhappy church people who seem frustrated because it’s so hard to reach you on your day off.

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