The importance of rest

Attorney and church mediator Blake Coffee (great name) recently blogged

“Nobody wants a surgeon operating on them when that surgeon is in a state of exhaustion.  Nobody wants a pilot flying their airplane when that pilot is sleep deprived.  Nobody wants truck drivers operating 18-wheelers on our highways when they are falling asleep at the wheel.  When none of us in our right minds would trust our physical well-being to an exhausted person, why do we trust our Spiritual well-being in the hands of an exhausted minister?  More importantly, why, when we are the minister, would we think we can minister effectively when we are at the end of our rope physically?”

He advises that we listen to the words of Jesus to the disciples to come away and rest and warns against the dangers of not doing it. Obviously I was stupid enough not to heed the words of Jesus because I overworked, burned myself and others, developed severe depression and anxiety and finally as I became suicidal stepped down to seek treatment. Knowing that R&R is important isn’t enough. As I responded to Blake, there are some really good reasons why we don’t rest and they run very deep.

Part of it is due to the our “philosophy of ministry” and part of it is to do with the kinds of churches we run, some is due to congregations expectations and some is what we put on ourselves.

For example, we demand extremely high volunteer commitment and attendance levels, so some pastor’s I know of, continued to attend their church even while they were on leave. Stupid I know – but we’ve got to walk the talk right?

Others take little of their leave because they feel like God is promising them a “breakthrough” and that they’re in a season of sowing etc. and to take a break would somehow be unfaithful, or faithless and result in not getting the “miracle” they’re expecting. In other words they “spiritualize” their over-work and thus deceive themselves. Self deception is really difficult to self diagnose!!

Our business-styled contemporary churches run off the CEO charismatic pastor model. The senior pastor is the Steve Jobs of his little patch. Everything revolves around him. He is the vision caster, the primary voice – the lynch pin if you like. We don’t like to admit it but it’s true (we like to teach that Jesus is the center). But when the pastor’s out of the picture the church is just in a holding pattern. No-one likes to work hard to build, then take time off and see things possibly decline. It’s a function of the model we’ve chosen.

Another reason I didn’t take enough time out was because I knew work would be piled up when I got back. There are just some things you can’t delegate. Things were piled up enough as it was so my mindset was one of “work hard to get the monkey off my back then rest”. Unfortunately, I never cleared my inbox before becoming too ill to do it despite some nights sleeping under my desk.

So I guess I’m saying, it’s good to know that we need time off, but there are very deep reasons why pastor’s are expiring at a rate of 1500 each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure according to New York Times (August 2010) and it’s not for a lack of knowledge about rest.

Everyone Loves Raymond but Producer Hates Business

Phil Rosenthal is the creator, writer and producer of the hit show based on the down-to-earth Ray Romano. The show is epic in its popularity, so much so, that Phil was asked to export it to Russia, using local actors to recreate the series. In the painful process that ensued he discovered that Russians like their comedy over the top and in locking horns with the powers that be, he maintained that the secret to “Everyone Loves Raymond” was that it was a “down to earth – kitchen sink” type of comedy. In this article, he says

”There’s lovely people wherever you go – and then there’s executives. They seem to be the same no matter where you go. I love every aspect of the business except the business. The money part of it, I don’t enjoy. I love writing, acting, directing, producing. I just don’t like the business part of it.”

His words jumped off the touchscreen at me in bed this morning. He could have been me three years ago! My “executives” were super spiritual flaky fundamentalist mafiosa seizing on every word that was out of place that I uttered from the pulpit. One of them criticised me for using the word “fantastic” because the root of the word was fantasy, and there was no fantasy in Christianity. You get the idea.

Over time, I distanced myself from the flakes. I put minders in the way and barriers everywhere to stop them getting through. I opened no mail – my PA did all that. Anything unsigned hit the bin without me knowing. Emails went to her before proceeding to me. Lower level pastors would “vet” people who wanted to see me in an effort to stop the crazies from getting into my head.

But the business, I couldn’t stop.

The business of running church was overwhelming. Managing staff, job descriptions, preparing and running meetings, budget review meetings, board meetings, finance meetings, restructuring, weekly offerings, monthly averages, loan repayments, cost cutting, property valuations, blowouts, and wondering how to make ends meet were simply all consuming. These were the things I lay in bed agonising over.

Just as Rosenthal loved the writing, creating and producing , I actually loved leading – the visionary, creative part. I love to dream. I love to galvanise people toward a cause that is greater than their singular life. I love to build and work in teams. I love thinking outside the box. I love to motivate and encourage. I love to communicate and inspire. I love to experiment and try new things. I love being a catalyst.

But the business killed me. It got me in the end. As interesting as making a sitcom in Russia would be, Rosenthal is not eager to repeat it, claiming ”Poland has called and I’m not going!” Similarly, I can safely say, I’ll never lead in the church again as it currently operates. It’s an insatiable beast that eats pastors alive.

Confession: I Manipulated and Controlled People

I’m pretty ashamed to say it, but it’s true. And I regret it. If it was for freedom that Christ set us free, pastors don’t have any right to take away that freedom, and yet we so often do. Very subtly of course, and mostly unintentionally (our motives are usually pretty good). I mean we don’t actually see it as manipulation and control, it’s just what it ends up being in the cold light of day.

When it comes to outcomes (taking the church where God wants it to go – as if we have this nailed down) pastors don’t really have to many levers, but the ones we do have, are very powerful. We can’t pay people to do what we want, so therefore we can fire them. Of course some churches opt for firing people anyway under the guise of church discipline, but in larger churches this is very rare. And we can’t make people think or believe what we think or believe. Nor can we make people turn up or volunteer or give when we want them to. This kills us of course and we spend a lot of time thinking about this dilemma. We have this amazing (overrated word, please stop using it pastors) vision from God, we have incredible (also a word beaten to death) “God-given” strategies and plans and of course we know time is short, Jesus’ return is imminent and souls need to be saved – yesterday. So mobilising people to get our goals achieved (ahem, I mean God’s goals of course) without the levers we would like is tough.

But the one lever I did swing off quite a bit was to control people’s words and actions, by forming a culture which defines what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s not dissimilar to the army where if one soldier or recruit screwed up, all would be punished, such that in the future, the platoon or section would monitor and control their own to save from being disciplined. Saves the brass from doing it and they don’t have to have eyes and ears everywhere, all the time! The goal is to build a culture of control. Great solution.

Why are we trying to control people? Well we need them to attend (remember we’re going for numbers, because numbers matter, because Jesus counted the sheep and realised one was missing, so therefore the more the better), we need them to give, we need them to find somewhere to serve, we need them to bring their friends (so they can add to the numbers), we need them to be on board with the building fund and missions giving (all separate from tithing of course) and we need them to do all this enthusiastically with a cheerful spirit and an attitude of servant hood. That’s a tough ask without any control! This is why Bill Hybels said to George Bush, that it’s easier to be the president of the USA than a pastor, because at least Bush could fire someone’s ass and if push came to shove, he had the world’s biggest firepower at his disposal. That’s a pretty good lever right there!

How does it happen? (remember it’s usually inadvertent, otherwise I would have said “How do we do it?”). It happens through our words and actions. I’ll try and unpack this in a future post, but here it is in brief.

  • We use ideas of unity and oneness to get everyone to conform. Unity brings God’s blessing. You wouldn’t want to stand in the way of that would you?
  • We somehow hold up an ideal of the Christian life so that everyone knows what to aim for, but also so everyone can see if someone else is failing and “help” them
  • We use “spiritual” religious language to describe what’s “in” and what’s “out”. The spiritual language makes it sound like God’s saying it.
  • We talk about having a positive attitude versus a “negative spirit”. We prime people not to listen to anyone who is “negative” i.e. anyone who disagrees with leadership. Sprinkle a dose of stuff about a root of bitterness here too.
  • We teach about the importance of leadership and following leadership and vision and following vision – incessantly
  • We teach about rebellion, having “another kind” of spirit, about the perils of “division” and “divisive” people.
  • We teach about servanthood (man I’ve seen some abuses of this one) and show people that Jesus was a servant, therefore they must serve….us… I mean the church
  • We drop huge hints from the pulpit and get people to draw the conclusions they want us to draw and we might even use jokes or joke about real issues or problems in order to make the group laugh at them, so the people with the real problems or issues won’t be able to raise them for fear of not being taken seriously.
  • We tend to isolate people who disagree. We talk about them in a negative light. We warn people not to listen to them. We take them off rosters and we make them unwelcome. We might even covertly preach AT them in sermons (they know who they are). Basically we want to freeze them out.
  • We can make a big deal and reward people who are getting it right. We can applaud them and lionize them.
  • The most extreme case of manipulation is reserved for the most insecure pastors and that is where they warn “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed”

Well, I’ve bared my soul, but I don’t feel any better. I’m not proud of the fact I’ve done this even if I didn’t make it to the last one.

It doesn’t mean church is bad and it doesn’t mean pastors are bad. It means that if we push the envelope on the way we’re doing church and what we’re trying to achieve, these are the kinds of levers we will pull on when we get desperate. It’s not just a matter of naming this up and asking pastors not to do it. It’s a matter of looking deeper at what the pastor is trying to do in his role as a pastor and they way we run our churches and asking “should we be doing this, the way it’s being done?”

Control works to a great extent, but the collateral is huge. See how it worked in Elizabeth’s life and see if you can pick the dot points above in operation:

My church taught me that church and school were very different worlds, and that I should not associate with Non-christians at my school because they might influence me to do wrong and destructive things. Most of my friends at school did not go to church, but I kept this fact well hidden, living two very different lives. I was so involved at church that some of the pastors on staff there called me “the Calvary Chapel princess” but at the same time, I was getting into trouble at school with my friends, mostly by ditching classes.

When I was in high school, I had a Christian boyfriend. I tried to confide in my mom one day by telling her that I wanted to do more than just kiss him and hold his hand. My mom began to panic when she found out that we had kissed each other, and she told me that I needed to break up with him if I wanted to be a Christian. Since we were so in love, I argued with her about it. So she set up an appointment for me with the pastor of our church, who told me that I needed to obey my mom if I wanted to be a Christian. I cried for days and I finally broke up with my boyfriend, shattering his heart too. I thought that God had required me to make some very difficult and unhappy decisions.

After graduating from high school, I became a youth group counselor at my church. One night I went out with some of my friends from high school to a dance club. A “back-slidden” youth group student saw me there and the next day, she happened to mention it to another youth group counselor, who mentioned it to the youth pastor. He called me into his church office and explained that I could not be a Christian and go out dancing. I told him that I wanted to be a Christian but that dancing is fun and he became angry with me and told me I had an inferiority complex. I left his church office in tears. Finally, I made the decision to stop being friends with anyone who did not go to church so that I could be a Christian and also be a youth group counselor at my church. I think that this hurt my Non-christian friends very deeply.

After a while, I couldn’t stand the pressure of living up to the high standards of being a Christian so I moved away from home to go to college

Read Elizabeth’s Full Story here

A Rant

I suppose I’ve beaten up on what I call the Attractional model for doing church a bit. Probably because it beat me up fairly badly, and being a biblical person, I believe in revenge. I must say, the attractional model does work in a small percentage of cases. I’ve been to worship services with fifteen to twenty thousand people indoors and one numbering around 50,000 outdoors, and I have to say, I light up. It’s inspiring, it’s exciting and can be life changing. I was in the nose-bleed seats at Hillsong when Joseph Prince talked about grace and it impacted me so hard I could have been in the front row and being hit by a baseball bat wielded by Prince himself. The issue is, that it only works in a tiny percentage of cases – the ones we know about. Saddleback, Willow, Dream Center, Potters House… The list of greats seems long, but the unpublished list of tiny churches struggling to put a half-decent band together and get enough children’s workers to run the Sunday morning program is longer than a pastor’s offering talk who’s struggling to pay the mortgage.

I don’t really rant on this blog because I’m a generally positive person, and I don’t see why anyone should have to be subjected to anyone else’s rants unless they’re very humorous, but I’ve had my hand forced, I can’t take it anymore.  The thing that I’m ranting about today, is the Facebook updates of pastors. When I have a pastor as a facebook friend, I expect updates about church, but I also expect to see updates about their personal life, and the general banal ramblings of your average newsfeed. But many pastors are notoriously one-dimensional and beige. Usually the updates only relate to the most amazing, signficant, exciting and not to be missed meetings that they’re holding, or a re-post of a John Maxwell tweet.

I know, I did it too. Facebook it could be argued, is simply another communication tool that can be harnessed by any pastor to get their message out. Granted. But why not just set up a Facebook page for the church as a fan page, and post awesome, amazing church news there? The problem is that if the pastor runs his own page only as a megaphone for exciting, supernatural, moving events at church, he’s hijacking his own shot at being viewed as a normal person that others could relate to that has any semblance to a normal human life. I’ve resorted to “hiding” some pastors from my newsfeed. I mean seriously, how many meetings can’t be missed? Will the meeting really be amazing? Will it be life changing as promised? And whatever happened to that age-old “under sell, over deliver” ethos? I find it as annoying as the spruiking of politicians at election time, or the man with the microphone in the mall yelling about why this once-in-a-lifetime sale will never be seen again and is not to be missed.

Not convinced? I decided to unhide the pastors, and collect a few of their updates, so you can make your own mind up. Maybe it’s just me going mad, but I doubt it.

WORSHIP SERVICE this Sunday …. going to be S.I.G.N.I.F.I.C.A.N.T!!! Don’t miss it people….

MIRACLE OFFERING SUNDAY – Be part of the MIRACLE. PRAYFULLY and FAITHFULLY consider your part in this MIRACLE see you in church!

So much is happening so fast…. 1 thing I know, Sunday is gonna be so wonderful. Can’t wait to see all my Church Family. I love ’em.

New songs tonight. They r AMAZING. Something HUGE is gonna happen tonight. 7pm

Miracle offering today at Church. Lets be part of bringing justice to our world!

We’re going for a World Record for the Biggest Bonfire. Talking to Fire Brigade soon to see how HUGE we can go. Gotta beat 40m high.

Just finished my message for Vision Sunday. I was so excited that I did a HUGE air punch. Get ready for some air punching on Sunday 9&11.

This Weekend at church an amazing new series starts.  you dont want to miss this, invite ur friends to church. S’gonnabetops

Huge news 4 Church 2b announced at KI lunch nxt wk. Also this Sunday is Vision Sunday, an exciting look @ our future.

It’s only been a week but I miss my Church Family. I have something very special for tomoz. Can’t wait to share it.

Youth Planning meeting tonight…. great things ahead – so excited and encouraged by those who wanna be involved in reaching the next gen !!!!!

church rocked the city yesterday – love it!

Love our Yth Pastor Timothy: so excited for our youth ministry. What an honour to be a part of what God is doing at Church!

Hey Church you’re gonna love church on Sunday. Make sure u invite and bring someone. This could be their weekend.

An EPIC w/e & week ahead…tomorrow Church “Message” continue to be unveiled & my Leadership Intensive next wk…bothnot2bmissed!

“Message” launch Sunday …so anticipating “new series” God outcomes…Also Parachute Band 9.30am / Holy Spirit night 6pm!

Puting the finishing touches on my msge for Ldrs Vision Summit 2night. So looking forward 2 catchin up w/ all our ldrs. U guys r amazing.

Huge day2day @church – final msg in the series this morning & then amazing Watoto choir 2night – who r u going to invite?

Just finished preparing for Team Meeting – Tonight 7:15. Going to be so good! Love doing life together!

First Suday back after operation. So looking forward to church & preaching tomorrow – going to be so good. Also MIRACLE SUNDAY OFFERING!!!

PS Wilson preaching brilliant this morning. Tonight Connect Time 5:15 – Pizza -PS Wilson preaching & encountering JESUS. Love it!

Amazing Mother’s Day Services – AMAZING MOTHERS.

Exciting new launch coming soon… Put June 1 on your calendar & stay tuned!!

Opening of new Centre in our building yesterday! Vision happens. Great community partnership. Will feature on TV tonight 7.30

Sack the Pastor III

So, I’ve been talking about sacking the pastor, and hopefully I’ve made a good albeit brief stab at convincing you of the reasons. I haven’t offered any solutions as yet, and if you’re anything like me, you will have probably gotten an inkling of some solutions already, but possibly a little cynically thinking “alright then smarty pants, what’s the answer?”

I believe I was called and gifted by God to lead his people. I’ve done it for a long time, and done it really well – until I burned out. I could have done it better, but I have more wisdom now, and I can’t afford to court regret, she’s too tough a mistress. The point is, I love leading, and I want to follow God in what He created me for. Leading is something I’d do whether paid or not. I would definitely be happy to work 3-4 days a week in paid vocation and volunteer a day a week serving in the church with my giftings. I’d be crazy not to. When we do what we’re created to do, the buzz, the joy, and the rewards are more than worth what we’d lose in income. After all, how much more money is it going to take to make us happy, satisfied and significant?

Now it so happens that I’ve got some really good brothers that I’m very close to. Macca, Scotty, Andrew M, Andrew H, Tony, Mick and Andrew K. I know, that’s a lot of Andrew’s isn’t it. Scott, Macca, Andrew H, and Andrew K, all worked for me as credentialed pastors at one time or another on staff, and now, none of them do for various reasons. Andrew M’s brother and uncle are both pastors and come from a long line of faithful believers. Tony is relatively young but wise, gifted and feels called to pastor even though he’s never had that title, he ran my life groups for years. Mick has pastored very successfully on staff at a large church before burning out in a worse way than me, and is still on the longhaul of recovery. I know for a fact, that every one of these men, all but one of whom are working full time, would cut their hours and give one day a week to voluntarily pastor my former church. That’s eight of us. If I had stood down (or been sacked by a big-thinking board who read this blog), I know beyond a shadow of doubt that had I gone to them and said “I’ve been fired. We’re no longer staffing this church, so I’m going to volunteer one day a week and work four in a paid capacity elsewhere” and asked them to join me in this new and exciting venture, that every single one of them would do it. That’s eight people – eight man days per week, for the price of five, actually for free.

Now you’ve got eight talented men of God involved at a greater level than they are now, all with unique gifts, strengths, experiences, passions and talents who complement one another, who all have a great relationship, who love and respect one another replacing one man. Really, it should be a no brainer.

I know you’re going to be wondering about who does what, who leads whom, who has ultimate responsibility and accountability for what that team would do and I haven’t gotten there yet either. But the thought of all these men replacing one and saving a full-time wage taking the pressure off the budget and decreasing the crushing load on one is too juicy a thought to resist. And we haven’t even considered what effect that might have on destroying the crippling effects on the laity mindset holding the congregation captive.

You might be asking, “why wouldn’t you just stay on staff and recruit the seven others and then have 12 man days per week?” It’s because inevitably as I explained in Sack the Pastor II, our actions speak louder than words. People do what they see, not what you say. You can’t with any authority or conviction ask someone to give up a day a week and serve in the church if you’re not prepared to lead by example. It’s all for one, and one for all, or not at all. Leadership 101.

Sack the pastor, and get seven more in return.

Sack the Pastor II

I’m continuing on the same theme as Sack the Pastor original post, with some more ideas as to why the pastor should be fired.

Modern contemporary churches proudly explain that we have done away with the idea of clergy and laity still embedded in fossilized movements like the Catholic and Anglican mainstream churches. We claim to have “liberated” the church from this erroneous theology proclaiming that we are the priesthood of all believers and that every believer is a minister. In some places this is explained with some degree of smugness.

I’ve done this little exercise many times. “Put up your hand, if you’re in full-time ministry”. Of course a few hands go up, but not many. Then, knowing I’d tricked everyone, I’d give them the low-down. “If you’re a believer, you’re in full time ministry. You’re gifted, called, commissioned and sent”. This is all good of course, and true, but sadly and unfortunately undermined unwittingly by our good selves.

As paid staff, we become the new clergy – despite what we say. We get paid to do ministry, others don’t. They have to do it for free. Credentialed pastors perform certain functions that others aren’t allowed to.

I used to argue that some roles like that of the pastor of a large church took more time and required a greater focus, so expecting a pastor to fulfill his complex role would be too great an ask while trying to work a secular job at the same time. It was unfair and would divide his focus and dilute his efforts. A worker was worth his wages, therefore he and his family (or she for that matter) should be supported and freed from what would inevitably be somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, our church members happily slot lethargically and comfortably into the age old role of laity and the majority become those who allow others to do ministry for and to them. We pastors now get frustrated because the 80/20 rule suddenly kicks in and we are left to wage war on the split, shedding tears, dripping sweat, and oozing blood trying to get it to 70/30, but deep down knowing it’s a losing battle and that 80/20 is as immutable as gravity. Is it any wonder we burnout?

It’s the old problem of monkey see, monkey do. They’re not doing what they’re told, they’re responding to what they see. And why am I talking about “we” and “they” anyway? We are our own worst enemies. We’ve set ourselves up to fail. On one hand with our words, we’re saying that there’s no clergy laity division, but our actions prove there is, and we are frustrated with what unfolds as a result. Go figure.

Obviously there will be staunch defenders of the status quo and will be able to give all the practical and theological reasons why the church should pay a pastor. I’ve been there, and heard most of them and used some to defend my own career choices. But you can’t argue with the results.

Sack the pastor.

What’s a Pastor to do?

I’ve explored through this blog the role of the Pastor from time to time because I know that what I experienced is not what it is. But then know what something isn’t doesn’t always lead to an understanding of what it is!

Magrey deVega author of the article “The Pastor as Docent” on the Out of Ur blog, describes the search to define the role of the pastor;

A friend told me that Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant should be required reading for every pastor who has served for at least five years. That was how long it had been since my ordination. I picked up a copy.

Peterson claims that there are two common types of unhealthy clergy. The first is the messiah. Messiahs seek out wounded, broken people, to make them healthy again. It is a noble task, except for its motivation: messiahs need to feel needed. They consider healed people to be numbers, accumulated to suggest pastoral effectiveness.

Then there are managers, who seek not the unhealthy but the healthy: talented, faithful, and prepared people. Managers plug them in, finding the right places for them to serve in an ever-expanding congregational machine. The bigger the church gets, the better managers feel effective and useful. Once again, people become numbers.

The author goes on to explain that the answer was found at the Louvre in the tour guide (docent) giving a beautiful picture of how tour guides illuminated the artists work, but never overshadowed them, or stole their limelight. Sometimes they would assist in the unfolding, other times were silent, so patrons could explore and learn and experience the beauty of the art and engage with the artist on their own terms. It was a wonderful picture of what a pastor could be. Worth a read.

I can definitely relate to Peterson’s example of the Manager. I’ve experienced that, and I was a really good one, until I burned out. Now, my idea of a pastor also follows the symbolic, but it may be slightly more agricultural. Mine is the traffic policeman. You know, the guy in the white gloves at a busy intersection who makes sure everything works, and flows and is safe and conducive to travel. The pastor doesn’t make the traffic happen. He just negotiates the flow. He doesn’t provide momentum, just directs it. He doesn’t dictate the direction any of the travelers should go, but just helps them on their way. But both pictures – the docent, and the cop, work fine for me.