The danger of pedestals

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

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

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

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

What unfair expectations do I have of others?

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

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Facing Times of Stress and Change

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

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

1. Doubt the doomsayers

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

1. Am I honoring my body?

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

2. Am I honoring my mind?

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

3. Am I honoring my emotions?

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

4. Am I honoring my soul?

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

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

Guess how many church leaders are struggling with pornography?

The latest in the series of alarming trends among church leaders … pornography use continues to escalate. I’m going to quote Tal Prince, from an article in the “Alabama Baptist” online newspaper:

In an anonymous survey conducted by Leadership magazine, seven out of 10 lay leaders in the church admitted to visiting adult Web sites at least once a week. When pastors were asked the same question, four out of 10 said they did the same. If that many of our leaders struggle, what do you think is happening in the pews? Also disturbing here is the fact that those addicted to pornography will lie in surveys such as these.

Dealing with depression

If you’re feeling blue, you’re not alone. A recent study by the World Health Organizations and the Harvard Medical School found that 9.6 percent of Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder – the highest rate of the 14 nations surveyed. This confirms the figures quoted by the National Institute of Mental Health, which states that “Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.” A study by the Australian Government (where depression rates are similar to that in the US) stated that everyone will at some time in their life be affected by depression – their own or someone else’s.

People are not seeking treatment for depression
Depression is especially problematic because many people refuse to seek treatment for it. It is estimated that 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment for it. Why? Because of the stigma attached to depression, and the fact that people think they should be able to snap themselves out of it. 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness, and 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help.

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Survey says – pastors “very satisfied” with their jobs

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago recently published results of their recent study, exploring “satisfaction and happiness among American workers.” They found that clergy scored highest on both counts: 87% said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs, and 67% said they were “very happy” with life in general. What?

If you look at the statistics from an earlier post, and from the page on my site about leadership, you find a very different picture. What’s going on here? Continue reading Survey says – pastors “very satisfied” with their jobs

Top 10 things you should know about anti-depressants

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

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

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