Emotional Budgets

In the space of nine months or so, I had a pastor in one of my centers leave his wife, daughter and newborn son and cross over to the dark side. He moved in with a woman to whom he was giving marriage counseling, started taking recreational drugs, smoking and drinking. He blew out big time. I had to try and sort out the aftermath. Later that year I had to fire another of my pastors in another center as he was simply undermining me and our organization and was failing in his duties.

Then to cap it off, my youth pastor decided he no longer wanted to be under my leadership after I challenged him on his relationship with his PA. I fired him and he left, taking his PA with him, my childrens pastor, his family, and my youth music director and his wife to allegedly plant a church 250 miles away. Within months he had an affair with his PA and left his wife. Never a dull moment in church life!

As leaders we are looking at budgets all the time making sure we stay in the black – not in the red. Problem is, we only look at it from the money angle.

The way I understand what happened to me is that we all have an emotional budget. There is emotional energy in, and emotional energy out. If you live at zero or in the red for an extended period, you’ll go bankrupt and anyone who’s bankrupt knows it’s a long journey out of bankruptcy. That’s how I understand burnout.

I’m getting better all the time at knowing what my emotional budget is looking like. I know when I’m starting to deplete. I understand better what depletes me and the “cost” of various tasks, responsibilities, relationships or events. I also know what feeds my bank account so I can make deposits.

To recover from depression, means making sure there’s more emotional strength in than out over an extended period (about the same length of time that it took you to erode your balance into the red).

For pastors who are trained to push through, persevere, ignore their emotions (because only faith counts), never say die, we are just a burnout waiting to happen.

Ignore emotions at your own peril

Time magazine recently discussed dealing with the risk of swine flu and the writer (sept 22 ’09) made an interesting aside as to how the mind deals with risk and decision making; “Over the past 50 years, researchers who study human judgment have realized that we rely on emotions to make decisions about risk. We can’t possibly mull over every new piece of data our brains collect, so our emotions give us shortcuts, helping us make split-second judgments about that information. The more uncertainty, the more shortcuts we use. This is a good thing. People who have suffered brain damage that removes emotions from their calculations cannot function. They can’t make decisions, even simple ones.

Unfortunately in the church, we have dismissed emotions like one’s appendix. We all have them, but they don’t really do anything. Preachers concede that we must acknowledge our emotions but then in the next breath encourage us to ignore them dismissing them with throw-away lines like “we walk by faith not feeling”. The reality is we have created a generation of christians who really have no idea how to manage their emotional health because of the disconnect.

If researchers are right (and I suspect they are in this case) that emotions are significant in decision making, christian leaders will need to get their head around it and deal with it, rather than viewing emotions as a side effect and inconsequential. As analytical and introverted as I am, I’ve come to realize I’m far more emotional than I would like to think. The problem is, I have no idea how to understand, acknowledge and manage my emotions, because I’ve always been taught they are more of a hindrance than a help.

Public Figures Come Clean

I googled “depression” in today’s news. Here’s what I found:
Judge reveals battle with depression ( Sydney Morning Herald)
In 1977 when I was still aged 25 I was diagnosed with depression. It came as something of a relief because it put a name to what had been going on in my …
The judiciary too fearful to admit its battles with depression (The Age)

Depression took Robb ‘to hell and back’ ( ABC Online)
Senior Coalition MP Andrew Robb says he has been humbled by the support he has received from both sides …
Robb opens up about depression battle (The Age)
Andrew Robb: my struggle to deal with depression (WA today)
Praise for MP taking leave to treat depression (The Canberra Times)

The judge in question was giving a speech at an international judges conference and was diagnosed 30 years ago at age 25 and has been medicated and received therapy during that time. Great to see him coming clean. It might help a few others.

Front bench minister in Australia Andrew Robb has taken a few months off after finding relief at finally being able to name the condition that he has suffered since childhood. I applaud him for going public. How many more politicians and ministers are suffering depression and not being treated?

Happy Pill

I thought I’d write something about medication for depression and anxiety. I take the active Paroxetine, marketed as Paxtine, Paxil, which is a class SSRI drug which means it tries to increase the body’s uptake of seratonin (happy hormones).

It’s used to treat major depression, obsessive-compulsive, panic, social anxiety, and generalised anxiety disorders in adults. Oddly, in teenagers it can cause depression. Just goes to show how much of a black art treatment options are for this illness.

For me, I wasn’t so much struggling with sadness, it was more social anxiety. I didn’t want another meeting, another phone call or another email to deal with. I didn’t want to see my family or friends. I just wanted to hibernate. I hibernated in my office, in my bedroom or in the lakes country a couple of hours drive away. Sometimes I hibernated in my car.

I was getting out of control too. I was extremely irritable which could be triggered into a rage at home. Press the right buttons and bingo, I was wild. It all seemed logical though at the time – a righteous anger if you like. I didn’t feel like I was losing my mind, but the reactions were definitely disproportional to the perceived provocation.

The medication worked a miracle. The physician said to take a half dose for the first week as it may have side effects. Then after a week to go on a full dose, but not expect any change for 4-6 weeks until it stabilizes in my system.

After two days, I was totally changed. I felt calm inside. An unshakeable peace had permeated my core, deep in my emotions. But it was more than peace, it was almost like a non-emotion. In other words, it seemed to dull or remove emotion rather than soothe. I had swung the other way. I was so calm, there really wasn’t much you could do to provoke me.

I remember hopping on a mates powerful trail bike and doing some dangerous stuff and realising I felt no fear but logically, I should have. I can no longer cry and whilst on medication I have no libido. But that doesn’t bother me though, because I have no libido, therefore no desire!

My wife noticed an instant change. It didn’t give me motivation or “strength” to do my work or face my issues, it just levelled me out and calmed me down.

Others are far less fortunate than I in trying to get the right medication. There are several classes of drugs that have differing mechanisms and it’s a matter of trying different actives at different dose rates and watching side effects. It’s a long protracted process for some because physicians don’t expect a change for a couple of months minimum. The side effects can be hard to deal with too, so there is compromise for many people.

I notice that if I go off my medication for two days, my sex drive comes back, but so does my temper and aggression, so that’s a trade off too. I don’t think my wife particularly wants to have sex with an irritable, cranky husband!

Sometimes I forget to take my meds. I feel fine for a few days as it works out of my system but eventually I become anxious, nervous, foreboding and tense.

I have noticed that my meds don’t do anything for sadness though. I’ve only had a couple of bouts of sadness lasting a couple of weeks at a time, but this stuff doesn’t really seem to make much difference.

What’s your experience?

How did you get over the stigma of having to take antidepressants?

How long have you been, or were on them for?

How did you get off them?

Living by Principles

I’m a college graduate, graduating with honors in a four year technical degree. Further to that I completed a post grad diploma in my discipline and am halfway through a masters degree. I’m a technical, analytical person and love research and information. When it comes to leadership, I voraciously digested leadership and “christian” principles as if they would make or break me.

RS recently spawned another topic by riasing his beef with John Maxwell’s teachings becoming a rod for his back. But it’s not personal, nothing at all to do with John Maxwell per se. It’s all about being ruled by principles. There is a well known public speaker and author who travels the world commanding huge payments who makes a living delivering principles biblical principles that “wow” christians everywhere. I tried to get him to our state and contacted his office in this country and was faxed the form to fill out. Everything from the number of seats in our auditorium, to business class tickets for the speaker and his two aides, the layout plan for his products table and specifying what kind of food would be in his hotel room. But I digress.

The problem comes when we see the bible as a manual for living life. It is, but on it’s most fundamental level it isn’t. If it is just a manual for living, we can study it, derive principles from it and live by them. But actually what happens when we take this approach is that we end up living by principles, that is …. rules…. that is ummm laws, which is religion. Think about it.

Which brings us back to the garden doesn’t it. Two trees. One is knowing what’s right and what’s wrong (information and principles, rules, should do’s and must do’s) and the other the tree of LIFE. Principles look good, seem right, are pleasing to the “eye” but they’re deadly.

God wanted us not to live by principles, but to live by a person, the person of Jesus. Now there’s nothing wrong with the principles, as long as they came from the person of Jesus. Don’t ask people what principles work for them. Ask them how they got those principles and they will probably share a story about a time in their life that God showed them something powerful and caused them to grow. They fail us when they only share the information and not the journey. Their story helps us when it inspires us to go to the same person and walk with them on our journey and learn.

I absolutely love what Jesus said to Scrapheap Pastors: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In other words, forget about principles, let’s just take a walk for a bit, hang out with me and we’ll get through with each other.

The bible is much more than a manual of “how-to’s”. It’s primarily a story about a God who wanted so much to just be with us because of love, not for what he could get out of us, or for what we could do for Him.

Worked over by John Maxwell

One of our co-contributers, a fellow Scraphead Pastor recently posted a comment about “hating” John Maxwell. Thanks for the candid comment! The postulations of Maxwell, far from being helpful became a rod for his back.

I went and saw Maxwell speak at a hugely popular conference a couple years back and he was riveting. Far better in person than in print, so our blog doesn’t seek to defame him whatsoever. But I know what our contributer is talking about.

Interestingly I am halfway through a Masters of Arts degree with a leadership major at a national bible college. Maxwell is never mentioned at all.

See the problem with Maxwell and other similar pseudo-christian leadership guru’s is that what they spouse, are truisms. A truism is a statement which is so obviously true that it is almost not worth saying, like “when it comes to health, prevention is better than cure”. Truisms are a bit like platitudes or cliche’s, but if it’s the first time you heard it you think “wow, that’s so true!”

So Maxwell kicks off with a riveting true story and then comes out with stuff like “if you’re a true leader, you must be far enough out front to lead, but not too far out to stay connected”. It makes sense. It’s truistic. The masses will get it. Makes for good reading and to be honest some of the stuff he comes up with can be useful particularly for secular management.

But there are big problems. Most of what Maxwell serves up is stuff like “true leaders do ABC or XYZ.” So you end up wondering “am I a true leader? I’m not sure I’m doing ABC like he says”. And if you’re sure you’re a leader (like me), then you end up pondering over the above truism and wondering “exactly how far in front am I?” “Am I in front?” Am I too far in front?”

Unfortunately that’s about as deep as Maxwell takes things. There is no diagnostic tools, reflection tools it’s just truism after truism and great story after great story. It’s easy reading. Basically Leadership for Dummies. If you get into any serious leadership research, you’ll find it nothing like the stuff that Maxwell churns out for the popular masses of wannabe leaders who want to grab something they can read quickly and head out to the coal face and do something.

To be fair to Maxwell, he is committed to taking biblical ideas and packaging them for the secular management market (which is massive) and I’m sure he has his place there. I’m also sure he is a genuine committed christian doing what he does best.

Here’s the kicker. Forget about what Maxwell says. Figure out how Maxwell learns the stuff he learns. I’m not suggesting you figure out some new truisms (or dress up old ones as is sometimes the case), I’m suggesting that the power of ideas comes from where those ideas are coming from. And if good ideas are coming from God, then it’s the connection TO God that gives our life momentum and abundance, not the information FROM God alone (which is what Maxwell is doing). Simple… sort of.

Sometimes I feel like Moses.

Moses was a born leader. Much like me, although I’d have to say Moses would whip me in the leadership stakes on pretty much any day of the week. But I can relate to him.

I bashed a guy up for beating on his people. I like that. He’s tough, aggressive, and gets the job done. But for all his training, education, status, power and charisma, he ends up on the scrapheap. After the deed Moses skipped town and headed to the wild west. He ended up in the back side of the desert.

I wonder how he felt. Having grown up in the kings castle, I think he would have felt pretty low. He was basically a prince, and now he was herding sheep. Pretty much the only job going around in the back side of the desert. And he did it for 40 years. He was a nobody, who lived nowhere, who was going nowhere, who only had memories.

I’m not sure how long he would have been angry for. Or sad. How long did he grieve? Did he become bitter? We don’t know. But I can imagine. I feel like him. Out here on the scrap heap. I felt destined to do great things for God. I had all the training. I’ve got all the smarts. I’m tall, good looking, got a mind like a steel trap, have the aggression, the charisma, the strategic thinking, big picture, visionary mind. And yet here I am on the scrapheap.

Yesterday I was picking tomatoes. Tomorrow I’ll be repairing and building cattle fences in the rain. Sometimes I feel like Moses.

The Train-Spotting Pastor

I’ll never forget the joke I heard one day about the pastor who used to take his lunch breaks at the train station. He would watch them come in and leave for the whole time and then head back to his office. When asked why he did this every day, he replied “i just like to see something that moves without me pushing it.”

There’s something tiring about the endless pushing that a pastor has to do to keep the church running. We’re afraid of losing momentum, because momentum is priceless. Once a church loses momentum it seems to cannibalize itself.

We pass of pushing stuff as creating “buzz”, communication, mobilizing the troops, keeping everyone focused and good leadership but after awhile it smacks of spruiking and shameless promotion.

The problem is we know that if an event, program, meeting, worship service or conference falls flat because people didn’t show up, because there was no “wow! God is Great!” factor, it has a knock on effect. Word of mouth, long memories, people won’t come next time, the event dies and yet we so believed in it.

Yes, we should have more faith, but “shoulds” and spiritual and emotional health have an unhappy marriage. We should just “let go and let God”, but at the end of the day we have Maxwell’s truisms haunting us “everything rises and falls on leadership”. The buck stops with us.

The answer? My answer is only a dream. Or is it a memory that has been handed down through the ages? The bible records a time shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, that the church had momentum generated by God’s spirit walking amongst his people. The best that the early leaders could do is simply direct the traffic. It was basically organised chaos. The buzz was generated by a love for God that nothing could quench and the x-factor was the tangible presence of God in people’s lives.

They really knew what it was to walk with Him and yet none were perfect. There were not many who were talented, intelligent or strong. They were just average Joe’s who walked with God… and I have no idea how to build a community like that, except that maybe if I can learn to walk with Him, then maybe I can help others.