Saturday, May 11, 2013
Pastors Coping with Stress
Over the past 35 years of my involvement in pastoral ministry I have found stress to be the one constant factor that I have had to deal with. I realize that some church members feel that stress should not be a factor in a pastor’s life. However, when you work with people and address their life issues, stress will enter the conversation.
I was recently asked: In your personal life, what have you seen as the key factors leading to stress in pastoral ministry? I have attempted to answer that question by compiling my list of top five stressors (not in any particular order).
When we address the stress we fill in our lives, we need to understand that there are two contributing factors:
The FACT - these are things that are really happening and causing anxiety and stress and,
The PERCEPTION - things that I believe are happening that create stress for me.
Member’s expectation: The expectations that I accomplish or do certain things in the church, either spoken or unspoken. A great example is the requirement
s to be at the
hospital to see a member or member’s family , when I was not informed the
individual was in the hospital.
Financial issues: When the finances of the church are in trouble or their does not seem to be enough money to cover the bills. Especially when many churches have concluded that cutting the pastor’s salary is more important than cutting programing at the church.
Family and Children: For most pastors, the balance between family time and pastoral responsibilities is one that creates a great deal of stress. There is an expectation that pastors will be at meetings, do weddings, and provide for the needs of the church members. However, at the same time there is an expectation that the pastor will be at the children’s school functions, attend the sports game, etc.
Limited time to prepare for Teaching & Preaching: From the other pastor’s I have discussed about ministry, this comes up as a top issue for them.
Pastoral expectation that the individuals will do things in the church: Every pastor has his own personal expectation of what people will do in the church, from helping visit the sick, singing in the choir, helping teach a Sunday school class, and so on. When these expectations are not met, the pastor often feels stress.
Tools for coping with these and other stressors in the church:
Establish a support system of individuals to talk with when feeling the stress: I have developed a group of three men from various walks of like, a pastor, social worker, and college instructor that I attempt to touch base with at least twice a week and talk about how I am feeling and any stress I am feeling. I allow them to ask the tough questions and search if the stress is fact or perception, and then look at solutions to resolve it.
Set priorities and state each priority from the pulpit clearly. This means discussing and defining the priorities within the family, and coming up with a plan to accomplish them in a safe and appropriate way. I have been blessed with a great wife
, and have two kids in
college. I have learned the hard way , that before I accept any speaking
engagement or plan to attend a conference, I check with all three to see if
they have something on the calendar that they would be upset with if I missed.
This is also essential in the church, that folks know what your priority is ,
and that you do certain things first for the church members.
Plan your personal devotional time and prayer: To me the apostles set the ground work for this very thing
, when they appointed deacons so they could focus on the
word. Having been an Associate Pastor
for many years, this is the one major stressor I see pastors’ having that is
self-created. Find men in your church
that can do what you need them to do, and be willing to use them. I recently talked with a pastor that was
extremely stressed and asked him if he allowed the men in his church to help.
He made excuses and said they didn’t know how. My question to him was, “did you
ask?” and then my follow up question was “did you offer to teach them.” If we
want help as a pastor we have to help people learn to minister, and give them
to tools and opportunity to do so.
I have noticed for many pastors that having more than one service on a Sunday Morning or the weekend is a very stressful time. My experience is that this can be eliminated if we are willing to plan ahead and work the plan. Finding volunteers, training them, and encouraging them to accomplish their task relieves a lot of the stress during the service.
Pastor’s, it is important to understand stress can be avoided and overcome if we are willing to work at it
, and take
precautions. My prayer is that you will find peace within your relationship
with Christ to help you accomplish the goals HE has set before you and be stress
Since elementary school I have loved to read and study history, especially biographies of famous people. Understanding the circumstances in which they lived and the events that formed their life, and how they became an individual that someone would want to write about is amazing to me.
I have especially enjoyed reading the biographies of some of the great spiritual leaders of the past. The encouragement to me to remain faithful despite the challenges I face, how they were able to remain true to the word of God despite the possibility of being exiled or even killed, and how their personal relationship with Christ has changed history.
I need an understanding that these individuals have coped with all the same struggles that I face today, and some of their struggles make mine look like a cake walk. The challenge in reading a great biography is realizing that it is about learning from the past, applying it to the present, and seeking to remember it in the future. These men and women of the past did not start out wanting to be famous, they simply wanted to survive in a world that was in turmoil just like it is today. The reason I gravitate towards Christian biographies is simple, to strength my faith through their testimony.
As a pastor, minister, college professor, men’s minister leader, and Sunday school teacher I have found reading biographies have provided me some of my greatest illustrations. It allows me to remain fresh in my preaching and teaching, and add some clear insight into the word of God by showing people that they are not the only ones living for Christ.
Pastors/friends I would like to challenge you read a biography, better yet not one, but let’s make it a real challenge. How about reading 12 biographies this coming year (one a month), and lets see if our preaching, teaching, and witnessing is not enhanced.
Monday, April 22, 2013
The recent announcement that the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) will be available in May of this year (2013) has led to a renewal of the debate of how Christians Counselors and pastors use resources such as the DSM-5. The original DSM was published in 1952, and there have been a number of revisions until we have reached the point of having the 5th edition coming this year.
I’m generally amazed at the number of pastors that criticize the DSM-5 (or its previous editions), and have a very negative view of the book. However, what even amazes me more is how many of these same pastors that criticize it, have never read it (or even read a single page out of it). I have been involved as a Pastoral Counselor & Alcohol Drug Counselor for over 23 years, and have read the DSM-III, DSM-IV, and the DSM-IV TR, and I’m looking forward to reading the DSM-5, to see how that I can better help the individuals I counsel not only with my professional practice, but within my church as well. Let me be clear that I don’t agree with everything in the DSM-IV TR, and I’m pretty sure I won’t agree with everything in the DSM-5. However, I am convinced that we have to have a starting point in order to have a conversation about Mental Illness within churches today.
I have begun to see articles appear on some of the more common websites of pastors and Christian ministers, and refer to anything that is not straight from the Bible as “Psycho-babble,” I’m not sure what they are referring to when they use that term “Psycho-babble” and yes I have had several try to explain their use of the term to me, and even with all my education in both Theology, Bible, and Christian Psychology it sounds like an attempt to dismiss the use of a very practical tool to help see someone recover from a very serious illness. Over the years we have seen pastors, churches, and Christian colleges sued because they thought a person didn’t need a particular treatment and counseled against it, such as cancer treatment, heart disease, or even something like diabetes. Yet I have heard pastors counsel and brag about how they would never send a person to a psychiatrist or psychologist (even a Christian on), because God doesn’t say to in the Bible.
Pastor this post is not intended to be a criticism of your beliefs, even though I would disagree with you its purpose is to challenge your thinking. Sadly there is going to be a time that an individual is going to come in your office that is suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic Stress, Bi-polar, Schizophrenia and all of your best efforts, prayer, counsel from scripture, and wisdom is not going to see the results that relieve these symptoms. Just as with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses, it is going to take a medical intervention to help these folks. That is where the DSM-5 comes in, the symptoms of various mental illnesses are listed, and described.
As a pastor if you don’t understand the symptoms of mental illness, and are unwilling to understand how the mental illness is destroying the individuals life, his/her family, friends, and even possibility your own church you are providing un-ethical counsel and I believe ungodly. My challenge to pastors and Christian leaders is simple:
1) At least take time to read the DSM-5 before you dismiss it as “psycho-babble”
2) When you read it look within your congregation and see how understanding the symptoms described in the DSM-5 would help you better minister and refer individuals within your congregation for help.
3) Prayerfully, use it as a reference tool to assist you in better ministering to the Body of Christ.
Many of you will dismiss this article as the writing of a Clinically Trained counselor that has been brainwashed by the Freudian, Jung and others anti-God teaching. However, you would be wrong; yes I do hold a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor-Clinical Supervision in the state of Ohio, but I also hold a PhD in Psychology and Christian Counseling from Louisiana Baptist University and have been involved in pastoral ministry for over 35 years. But brainwashed no, I have over the past 35 years of ministry and 23 years of counseling ministry made and informed search of the Scripture and the material in the field of counseling (and even though I don’t agree with all the material that psychology has produced), I have seen the benefit of the material. It like the old adage “Don’t though the baby out with the bath water” … I simply ask before you throw the DSM-5 under the bus, that you read it and see how God leads you to apply some of the writing to help your congregation.
Monday, April 8, 2013
This past weekend brought the sad news for from one of the great preachers/pastor of our era. It was announced that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church, one Americas largest churches, son Matthew committed Suicide this past week. As with anytime we receive news like this our heart breaks for the family and friends.
There are no words that can be used to help the family and friends to grasp the since the loss they are feeling, It is through the loving spirit of Christ and the support of family and friends that we can. The ability to move forward and the tender embraces of Christ love gives us solace in the thoughts of knowing we will see this loved one again sitting with Christ. With the joy unspeakable, that they struggled to obtain here on earth.
Over the weekend I was amazed at the comment’s I read, most were supportive and encouraging, and individuals shared their condolences. However, I will say a few were inappropriate at the time like this. These inappropriate comments and questions did raise a concern for me as a pastoral counselor and minister, what does the church really understands about Mental Illness or in some cases what are they willing to learn about it? This summer the American Psychiatric Association will release the updated and much debated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-5. It discusses the signs and symptoms of Mental Illness. I have also been amazed at the number of pastors, Christian counselors, and laymen in the church that have dismissed the use of this resource. And how many will not read it.
One of the key topics with DSM-5 and yes even with in scripture itself is the discussion of depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression may include the following: Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions, Fatigue and decreased energy, Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness, Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism, Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping , Irritability, restlessness, Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex, Overeating or appetite loss, Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment, Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings, Addiction, Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts. Some reports state that as many 15% of those suffer from depression will attempt and many they are successful at suicide.
Too often we think of someone with a mental illness as having a shameful diagnosis when in fact if it is simply a brain disorder, not different from a heart disorder. There are underlying biological reasons for these brain disorder and they are usually not caused by other people or the individual.
Throughout scripture we find many examples of individuals that suffered from depression, including some of the greats such as David, Jonah, Daniel, and many more. We can even say that Christ suffered from some anxiety and depression as HE kneeled in the garden, before going to cross.
My back ground has brought me in contact with individuals that suffer with depression every day, as well as my experiences as my work as a pastor. And I believe that the greatest need in the church today is an open and caring heart for the hurting. The stigmatize attitude needs to leave the morning worship service. Sitting in church and hearing prayer request after prayer request for individuals that have cancer, heart issues, in-grown toe nail, and upcoming test are all find and good (and do no misunderstand we need to hear these and pray for them). However, sitting there knowing a family that is struggling with a family member suffering from depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, and yes even Alzheimer’s disease. I sit there in the pew feeling their fear to say anything, because they will be judged differently than those with physical illness. It is time for a NEW DISCUSSION OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN THE CHURCH.
In my opinion the following needs to occur. Believe me, I’m not out to win a popularity contest. However, I believe that someone needs to take a look at Mental Illness and give it, the place in the church that will allow the world to know that we care as much about the mentally ill as the physically sick.
1) The church needs understand what mental illness is, and begin talking about it. This is includes our pastors, don’t sweep it under the table but encourage individuals to be honest about their struggles. When they mention as a prayer request don’t judge it, give it the same attention as any other request. If you don’t understand what they said, in private ask them to explain and then seek a professional opinion, so that you know how and for what to pray if you need to.
2) Encourage the individual to continue in treatment, all too often as pastor s or laymen we think that we know best about what is going on with mental illness. There are individuals that will need to be on mediation for the remainder of their lives, to tell them differently is irresponsible.
3) Support the family, I have meet dozen if not hundreds of pastors that will drop everything to run to the bed side of a church member who family member is hospitalize, from cancer or other physical disease. However, won’t even pick up the phone to see how a family member is doing that is depressed. Encourage the family to seek help a great resources is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in my opinion every pastor should have their local chapter on speed dial.
As we close let’s be clear, I’m convinced that mental illness and if that is true it is treatable. However, I believe that God is a sovereign God, who will heal as he sees fit, and until that miracle healing comes for the individual weather it is mental illness or physical illness. However, we as the Body of Christ need to treat each with the same type of prayer.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
This post was orginally published in Feb of 2011 on this blog site. However, I feel it is as relevant today as then and have reposted it for you today ....
Every sermon should be running for the Cross!
Every sermon should be running for the Cross!
Having been involved with Pastoral Ministry for over 30 years it is hard to imagine doing anything else with the same intensity and compassion. Over the years I have worked a Substance Abuse Counselor with various agency in order to subsidies my income, but the compassion and love that I have for ministry over shadows my thinking of which I love more.
When God called me with a very clear heart felt call at the age of 13 years old, I never looked back preaching and ministry was all I could focus on. My pastor as I grew up was Dr. Don Lougheed at the Flint Baptist Temple, in Burton, Michigan: His statement to all us preacher’s boys was: “No matter where you start in the Bible in Genesis 11:1, Psalm 23, or Luke 10 your only priority is to run for the Cross!” Dr. Don said it with such compassion and he believed that the Cross was the central point of every conversation, every sermon, and every thought he had.
Why “running for the Cross” clearly the cross is the foundation point of all Christianity, and the pivotal point of our relationship with God. I once heard the illustration and don’t know who gave it. “Before the foundation of the earth the Triune Godhead was talking abut the creation of earth, mankind, and what this man should be like. Should he have a free-will, be a robot, or just someone that is a yes man? The agreement was reached he would have a Free Will to choose how he worshipped God, so the Godhead agreed that God the Father would create the world and mankind, the Son of God said since we know that a man with free will would ultimately make some bad choices HE agreed to pay the price for those bad choices (sin), and clearly the only way to do this was through the Shedding of Blood (thus have the Cross), and the Holy Spirit agreed he would lead them in the righteous path if they would listen.”
Because of these decisions so long ago we now understand the need for the Cross, Moses, Jacob, David, and all the other Patriarchs of the Old Testament, where looking for the blessed event to happen when there sins would be forgiven by the perfect lamb as discussed in Isaiah 53, the looking for the Cross to happen. As Peter, Paul, James and others of the New Testament writes sit to pen their great words of wisdom, encouragement and the message of a redeeming, loving, caring, saving Lord they are looking back at the Cross. They realize that it is through this one event, one place, and one person that all mankind can come to a perfect salvation experience.
The scripture are full of great examples of people coming to a place of believing in the personal relationship with Christ. They sought a understanding of the Cross, its importance, and the personal sacrifice by Christ that it brought for each of us.
On a note found under his pillow, in prison, after his death, Watchman Nee had written “Christ is the Son of God. He died to atone for men's sin, and after three days rose again. This is the most important fact in the universe. I die believing in Christ.” He had a understanding of the importance of the Cross, for his own personal salvation experience.
Monday, March 18, 2013
My heart went out to the families and friends in a neighboring community this past weekend which was dealing with the loss of three teenagers in a tragic car accident. The crash is still under investigation and all the details are not known. However, the devastation for the family and friends of this small community is going to be felt for years to come.
As I thought about this small town crisis, my heart broke for the man of God within our denomination that would minister to these families. At least of one the children killed was a member of his church, and the others were friends of the teenager so he may even have known them as well. He will be called upon to provide emotional support, pastoral care, and answers to all the theological questions of the families in a time of crisis, mainly “WHY”
The pastor will be challenged to work with family members at different points in the stages of grief, and keep it all straight in his mind. Family will go through the stages ranging from denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. He will not only deal with these emotions and stages of grief with the immediate family (mom, dad, sisters, and brothers) but he will also face the emotions of the grandparents, aunt, uncles, and dozens of other relationships.
As a pastor, associate pastor, and counselor I have never had to address the issues this pastor is facing. The funerals that I have been called on to do were of older men and women that had lived a full life, and the end was messaged in time, know that it was coming.
As a pastor, anytime we address an unplanned death it is hard: car wreck, complication from surgery, suicide, and shooting. These are all hard and for us as pastors/ministers, to think that we are above the emotional struggles that our members face is crazy.
However, over the years in my role as an associate pastor and counselor I have worked with several pastors that have faced similar challenges. As I talked with them and encouraged them I shared six foundational points that I believe are essentials for “Pastoral Self Care in a time of crisis”
1. As a pastor we must not be afraid to cry over the loss of a member of our church or a dear friend that has died; we are human and need to address our own emotions.
2. As a pastor we must be willing to take care of our own personal physical needs, including getting enough rest, eating healthy, and getting some exercise (getting up and moving around). On a personal note several years ago, I did a funeral about three hours from home for a family member and missed this part of the Self-care. We drove in late that night, got very little sleep, did not eat breakfast, and went through the whole day with no rest. On the trip home that afternoon (real late) I was in the back seat with a migraine, and sick to my stomach from not eating.
3. As a pastor we have to be willing to talk with a minister friend or counselor about our own personal emotions and feeling, especially in situation like this one where you know that individual and the family that you are dealing with.
4. As a pastor we need to find time to continue in our personal prayer and devotional time. This is essential in keeping us grounded in the word of God, and addressing our own spiritual relationship with Christ.
5. As a pastor we need to spend time with our own family throughout the process. This is not only for you, but for them as well. This is even more important if for example in this case (and I don’t know this for sure) the pastor has a teenage son/daughter that knew the kids that died, they may have questions that they need there pastor/father to answer as well.
6. Lastly, as a pastor, (and sadly this is something that as pastors we are really bad about because it takes planning for the future.) every pastor should have a group of pastors/ministers that he meets with at least monthly, if not weekly to provide support and encouragement, in the great blessing a that God provides; and wise counseling, a shoulder to cry on, and prayers that you will need as you address the challenges of death or crisis in your church.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Can we do drug education in
Children’s Church and still be Biblical?
This article (blog) was originally written back in 2007, and published on an old Blog I had. For over seven years my wife and I served as Children’s Pastor of Kids View Children’s Ministries, Milford Assembly of God, Milford Ohio. And because of background in Substance Abuse I was asked the question more than once, and I wrote this reply. Hope it helps.
Can we do drug education in Children’s Church and still be Biblical? This past week I was asked this question by a Children’s worker that has been teaching in a local church for several years. She shared that one of the children in Children’s Church had shared that some of her friends offered her drugs at school. And she asked the teacher what should I do?
The teacher shared how she felt inadequate to share on this subject. She said “I’m not sure if my pastor would approve of my teaching on the subject, and besides the Bible really doesn’t talk about it, does it?”
Unfortunately this is not new in our churches or any other denomination in
, we have grew accustom to others teaching for us outside of the thought “Jesus loves me” in our Children’s programs. Let’s take this teacher concerns and break them down. America
1. I’m not sure if my pastor would approve?
· You will not know until you ask him, and he is able to share his feelings. Keeping in mind he is the pastor, if he would prefer you not teaching on the subject of drugs and alcohol you must respect that. However, understanding why prior to leaving his office is very important. If he share’s that he supports the idea then get ready for a wonderful challenge. With the drug problem becoming the national epidemic as it has. I believe that you will find most Pastors’s and church members supportive of your sharing.
2. The question, dose the Bible really talk about drugs and alcohol is amazing to me.
· Most of us know that Alcohol is mentioned in the form of wine, and we teach our children not to drink. However, there are 229 verses in the Bible that makes reference to alcohol in some form or another. Some of the reference are good example’s like the Lord Supper, as a part of the sacrifice reference in Old Testament, However, other verses relate to such as things listed below.
In Proverbs 23: 29 - 35, we read the account of an individual involved in drinking alcohol and the effect it has on his life. In Galatians 5:21 the word drunkenness is used to describe the use of alcohol, and also listed as a sin of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19 the Apostle Paul uses the word “SORCERY”, (one translation uses witchcraft) as one of the works of the flesh. The word sorcery comes from the Greek word "Pharmakia" which we today translate "Pharmacy or Pharmaceutical" in others words this is the use of medication to alter one's state of mind.
Verses that relate to the use of Alcohol and Drugs, and the harm they bring.
· Violence (Pro. 4:14-17)
· Brawling - (Pro. 19:29-20:1)
· Rage - (Est. 7:6b-10)
· Anger (Isa. 5:11-12 and Hos. 7:3-7)
· Strife - (Prov. 23:29)
· Complaining - (Prov 23:29-35)
· Slandering - (I Cor. 5:11-13)
· Mocking others - Prov. 19:29-20:1)
These and other verse through out the Bible clearly shows that God understood the dangers of drugs and alcohol. It is very important with drugs being offered to our children in elementary schools, that we take a pro-active part in educating them. The saddest day we will have as children’s worker is with parents having to watch a child go through withdraws from drugs or alcohol. Maybe even sadder is doing the funeral; I’ve been blessed not to have to face these. I pray I don’t, However, I’m going to do everything I can to assure that my children understand the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
When preparing to teaching on Alcohol and Drugs I personally recommend you find a good lesson on the subject, or do some research about drugs and alcohol. One of the greatest fears I have as a Substance Abuse Counselor, Children’s Pastor and Parent is when individuals wing it from their personal experience 20 years ago. Back your lesson up with facts, and a solid Biblical principal. Remember we are dealing with intelligent children, that want to know what God said, and how it effect them.
· Two lessons that have really liked using in teaching on drugs and alcohol are.
· Daniel Chapter 1 … Where Daniel and his friends refuse take part in the eating of the king’s meat, and they would not defile themselves with the bad things of the world.
· I Corinthians 6:19 … Dose Jesus, want us to put bad things in his temple. Refer back with the children to when Moses and the child of
build the Tabernacle and what did God have them put in only Godly things? Are drugs and alcohol Godly and good? Israel
My prayer is simple, that as children’s worker we do not continue to be fearful of teaching about drugs and alcohol, for to many years we have placed this responsibility at the feet of the public schools, and programs like “Just Say No” We need to stand up and teach our children the harm of drugs and alcohol, However, we need to also teach the Biblical principal that our wonderful Body is the Temple of God