After burning out, would I ever lead again?

I’ve been in church leadership since 1990, and full time staff from 2000 to 2009 when I was forced to resign due to depression and anxiety. Would I lead again? Up until now, I would have refused to even contemplate the idea. But my wife just came home after attending church – my former church, fuming about things like hypocrisy, in-authenticity, and PR bullshit (we’ve been made a scapegoat for anything that was bad about church) and we had a great discussion about what church could be like if we could start with a blank slate.

If this burned out, back-from-the-brink pastor could dream a little dream, it would go something like this:

If a pastor didn’t have a budget to meet, rosters to fill, attendance wasn’t measured, and behavior modification wasn’t on the radar, then I reckon it would be a ball. We would be free to do what we’re gifted for.

One caveat would be that I would not be paid – and therefore not full time and not on staff. I don’t think I would even have anyone “reporting” to me in any official capacity, and I definitely wouldn’t have a job description. I would do what I am gifted and led to do and what I’m passionate about. That beautiful little sector where the circles of gifts, strengths and passion overlap is where I’d live.

I’d think more about following Jesus than leading others. I would let Him lead them and remain only a catalyst.

I’d think more about two-way conversations than preaching messages at or to people.

I’d focus more on relationships, than productivity and efficiency.

I would hasten slowly.

I would concern myself more with journeys than destinations.

I would be brutally honest and leave PR spin to politicians, salesmen and con artists.

The life of the church would not revolve around me. I would not be the primary vision caster or motivator. I would allow people to get their own vision from God.

The church wouldn’t be exclusive. It would be a place for followers or non-followers alike.

Relationships with God and others, underpinned by love and acceptance would be the highlight.

Being would take priority over doing.

We wouldn’t own buildings or take on any debt.

The Sunday Service would not be the peak spiritual experience of the believers week.

The arts would have equal place with the spoken word.

Busyness would be a swear word.

I would not burn people out volunteering.

People would be more important than things, issues, ideas, structures, programs, productions, goals or causes.

I would tell stories. God’s story. My stories and others’ stories.

Yes it’s just a fantasy and no I don’t think this will ever happen, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming is there? Some like Small Boat Big Sea are at least heading in the right direction. A transcript of an interview with them really gives me hope.

Advertisements

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.

My warped thinking and a little ray of lucidity

Here’s an example of how warped depression can make one’s thinking. I mean suicide is the obvious example, and for me, suicidal thoughts was the thing that actually triggered help seeking. At that point, I realized I couldn’t be ok and started to get help. But the example of crazy thinking that I want to relate today, was a little more subtle, but possibly as deadly.

I remember I used to wish I could get cancer.

See I was stuck in this position that was literally killing me. My ability to get the job done was slipping through my fingers in front of my eyes. The less work I got done, the more behind I got and the pressure ratcheted up. I was stuck in the position because my vocation was my calling, which in my mind was my destiny, therefore there was no plan B. This was it! Being in full time ministry, leading a large church that would grow and impact the region was my life goal. I had no thought of resigning and doing anything else.

In my mind, the only way out was to be too sick to do the job. Ironically, I was already too sick to do the job, I just didn’t know it. So I wished I could contract cancer. The way my messed up mind reasoned it, was that if I had cancer, I could bow out, and go to bed. My wife would stop nagging and criticizing me. The church would leave me alone, except for the well-wishers of course. I could get some sympathy. But best of all, I could stay in bed all day and never come out. Then in a few months I’d be dead and everyone could just move on.

You might think that’s a naive thought. No-one who knows anything about cancer, would want to contract it. But I did. During the time I was ill, a close friend of mine in the church suffered the loss of his wife to cancer. I was the first to arrive minutes after she died. She was emaciated beyond recognition. I had watched her die over the months she had fought the melanoma. Yeah I knew what it was like alright, but I still wanted it. That’s how badly I needed to get out of my situation. The mind really does do some crazy things when depression takes hold.

But in a lucid moment, self doubt crept in and I realized this wasn’t normal. I typed into my browser www.beyondblue.org.au and looked at the checklist and mentally ticked off almost all the signs and symptoms of depression. This was the beginning and the end. The beginning of help seeking and the beginning of the end of my career as I knew it.

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.

A dirty obsession – with the notion of leadership

One of my facebook friends just posted this question: ” Dan wonders why Christians are so obsessed with ‘leadership’?

Craig Davidson posted:
because of the weak social construct of the church. What we have created doesn’t naturally default to or promote true unity nor community – hence the one-up-manship.

Also, leadership and influence sounds very kitch. ‘I’m a leader…’ it kinda sounds sexy to the masses.

Studying this very topic at the moment Dan – you’re an insightful little happysnapper.

Jade posted:
I wonder if part of it comes from a narrow view of being a “shepherd” – ie. that he’s the cool dude that leads his posse of sheep around everywhere rather than the dude who goes and lives outside in the cold and rain with the sheep, makes sure they all get fed, are safe from wolves and are always accounted for.

Jack posted:
I don’t think christian leaders are obsessed with leadership because it’s sexy or one-upmanship Craig, although I do agree about the weak social construct and what we’ve built does tend to revolve around the leader in a fairly sick way.

And in saying the obsession is because leadership is sexy, or glorious, or cool, probably takes away a bit from the genuine heartfelt sense of call and responsibility and sacrifice christian leaders make.

I think it comes from more like what Jade is saying… a narrow view of leadership from many sources. The corporate world, a steady fiber-free diet of John Maxwell, contemporary leadership theory and our hugely charismatic “heroes” of the faith that we compare ourselves to….

There’s nothing wrong with developing a gift, it’s when we become obsessed with techniques, skill sets, knowledge, methodology etc. that it becomes an issue. Then it’s no longer about “being” but “doing” and the best advice that Paul said to Timothy was “let your growth be evident to all” – in other words, “let people watch how you grow through difficulties, pain, hardship, good times and bad. Follow Christ and that will be the most powerful leadership you can give.”

Dan, contemporary Christianity is obsessed with leadership because that’s what you get pounded into you, and it’s pounded in because it’s one of the hallmarks of pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. It’s one of the aspects of church growth we “discovered” and “implemented”. Basically it works – to an extent (but has a massive downside) and I think the bubble is going to burst on this one and the next “reformation” of the church is going to restore leadership to what Jade just said.

About Jack!

I’m writing under a pseudonym from somewhere in the western world. I don’t want anyone to get hurt by what we say, because we’re not targeting anyone, so for now, like The Stig, we’ll remain anonymous.

I’ve been a christian 20 years, and 19 of those I have been in leadership. For the last 8 years I have been full-time as a pastor/leader of a large church (ten times large than the average western church). This year however, due to burnout and depression and almost failed marriage I resigned. Now i’m on the scrapheap.

I have three kids, still attend the church I resigned from, and now I’m working in a factory and on dairy farms.

This is my attempt to explore the scrapheap. How did we get here? Why are we here? What can we learn?

I say we, because other scrapheap pastors will be contributing so we get various perspectives. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, about ministry and leadership, about church, christianity, religion and God. We want to share our journeys to the scrapheap and beyond to help other pastors who are heading down this road, and because we love God and His church and know deep down in our hearts that something’s gotta change.

We want to say the stuff that other pastors know, but won’t admit, because we haven’t anything to lose. We also hope you can be part of the conversation. Very little will be censored unless we start talking AT each other or yelling which is pretty unproductive, at least it has for the last couple thousands years in the life of the church.

If you’d like to join our team, contact me.