How God Healed One Youth Minister's Heart, Part III

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Part III

Note: This is the third and final installment of a story shared with us by a former youth pastor (now serving at another church in a different kind of staff position). We have changed the names and some details for the privacy of all involved.

Brad had moved his family out of state to take a position as youth pastor. After a couple of years there, he found himself let go from his position overnight. Brad and his wife Andrea, deeply wounded by events, moved back to his home church.

As time passed, Brad realized he had learned some things about himself. Still, there was more healing to come and we pick up the story there.

Dr. Jeannie

 

At some point, a young lady attending Bible School had approached the Senior Pastor of Brad’s home church about a school project requiring her to interview someone who had been hurt in ministry. He referred her to Brad and Andrea.

Answering her questions actually started them on their healing journey.

(Note from Dr. Jeannie – I mention this because I believe that reflection and prayer help us overcome hurts from the past. In Brad and Andrea’s case, the interview became a springboard to reflection. For other people, journaling could serve a similar purpose.)

However, one further major test lay ahead for Brad and Andrea before they could complete their healing journey.

Brad relates that just recently, one of his former youth group members reached out to him. Her father, a man who had supported Brad’s ministry, unexpectedly and suddenly passed way. She wanted to know if they would come to be part of the funeral. Of course, the leaders by whom Brad and Andrea felt so hurt would be there, too.

Prior to this, Brad had written a letter to his former leaders at that church, releasing all the bitterness. In fact, it took him six months to get to the point that he could send it because he wanted to make sure that when he dropped it in the mailbox the forgiveness was real and permanent. He wanted release!

They did go back to the funeral. They saw the former leaders there. Brad says, “We felt perfectly at ease there and for me, that’s proof that God had healed my heart.”

I asked Brad what he had learned from this whole situation. There was somewhat of a long silence. Then he said, “That's a loaded question!”

His response, though: “God is faithful. He still uses us in spite of us and in spite of other people. God was faithful to provide jobs for us immediately when we left. All our needs were met. We never went without a roof over our heads even though our world had been turned completely upside down.”

I also asked Brad this: if you were sitting face-to-face with the young ministerial couple who had just been through something similar to your experience, what would you say to them?

He said, “Well, I know it's a totally Sunday school answer but I would say ‘Keep your eyes on Jesus’.

Brad and Andrea say those were the darkest moments of their lives and ministries. However, today they are now in a healthier place than ever. They minister in a growing church. They're seeing people's lives radically change. And their current leadership stands behind them and supports them.

Brad told us to share his story because "If it helps just one person, it will have been worth it."

If Brad and Andrea’s story has helped or encouraged you in some way, please email us or leave a comment below. We will pass it along to them.

How God Healed One Youth Minister's Heart, Part II

Part II

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Note: A former youth pastor (now serving at another church in a different kind of staff position) shared this story with us. We have changed the names and some details for the privacy of all involved. We published Part I last week.

Brad had moved his family out of state to take a new position. After a couple of years there, he found himself let go from his position overnight. Brad and his wife Andrea, deeply wounded by events, moved back to his home church. We pick up the story there.

Dr. Jeannie


Brad says, “Fast-forward about a year after us getting plugged back into our home church. I was trying to work through some of the bitterness toward my former leader as well as another staff member that was part of this decision of us being let go.”

He continues, “One night over dinner, a friend asked me if I had a passion for youth ministry. I responded ‘Yes, of course’.”

He said, “Well, Brad, I honestly don’t think you are called to do youth ministry.”

Since this was a friend, Brad listened, even though the question reminded him of his former church leaders telling him he was not called to youth ministry.

The friend continued, “If you had a choice between a room full of teens doing those crazy games you like to play with youth groups or be in a room full of adult folks who are getting close to taking a step of faith in Christ, which would you prefer?”

Brad says, “I began to cry as we were eating our wings. I wanted to be in the room full of those adult ‘baby Christians’.”

“This conversation impacted me deeply. I began to reflect and eventually realized that, in the past, I assumed for various reasons that I was called to youth ministry. Now I am blessed to serve in a church that is growing and full of adult baby Christians and ‘almost there’ folks. I love it!”

This is one of the reasons I love Brad’s story. Though he was not treated fairly and the disappointment hurt deeply, yet he still had the willingness to learn something about himself from the bad experience.

Brad says, “I now realizes that the church had wanted me to focus on the students already in the church. However, my focus at the time had been on students outside the church.”

In his words, “Somehow I just never picked up on that during the interviewing process or any time during my work there.”

By the way, let me make this clear. I am not saying that Brad’s former leaders handled his situation well at all. It seems their decision to simply dump Brad was based more on church politics than true concern for his calling.

Here’s the point: rejection, disappointment, betrayal or simple lack of support from those we love and respect hurts very deeply. It can take time to heal. Still, one aspect of our healing and God’s redemptive work through those circumstances resides in our ability to learn some things about ourselves – maybe even uncomfortable things – through reflection.

In the end, God redeems all suffering by making something good come out of it. One of the good things can be greater personal insight.

There’s more to Brad’s story and the healing he and Andrea have experienced. I will share the remainder of it next week.

How God Healed One Youth Minister's Heart

Note: In our pursuit of understanding some of the pains that can come along with ministry, a former youth pastor (now serving at another church in a different kind of staff position) shared this story with us. We have changed the names and some details for the privacy of all involved. We will publish this story in two or three installments. The real “Brad” told us to publish this because “if it helps just one person, it will be worth it.” So, please, if you do find Brad’s story helpful, let us know and we will pass the message along to him.

Dr. Jeannie

 

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Brad, Andrea and the kids drove off on the long trip to Brad’s new call: youth pastor in another state.

Andrea felt anxious, upset: she really didn’t want to be a youth pastor’s wife; certainly not one of those clergy couples that moved every two years or so. They talked it through, though, and she agreed to go.

Still, Brad struggled with the decision to completely uproot his family, even selling his home to move far away and start in a new ministry position.

Somehow, though, he believed God would bless this step of obedience.

Two years later, things seemed to be going just fine. At Brad’s annual review, the Board told him, “You’re doing a great job. We love having you here.”

It’s funny sometimes how only a few weeks change things.

A leading family left the church and pulled their kids out of the youth group. They let it be known they weren’t happy with Brad’s ministry.

The senior pastor called Brad on his day off.

“Brad, I need to see you in my office. Today.”

Pastor made the talk short and sweet, “Brad, the church has realized you’re not really called to pastoring youth. We’ve decided to put you in charge of visitation and some other things instead. Unfortunately, though, it will not be a paid position.”

Just like that, with no warning, the senior pastor fired him with, as Brad viewed it, no adequate justification. Even more than that, though, it felt like an attack on his identity. He was not called to be a youth pastor? Brad loved the young people!

Brad and Andrea, devastated and crushed with disappointment, soon did the necessary to survive: they found jobs back where they came from and returned to their home church.

Several years later, Brad related his story to me (through an email and a phone interview with my husband, Bud).

Today, he and Andrea have worked through the anger and bitterness they once felt. Their marriage strong, they work together in a thriving ministry. Emotionally, they say, they are in the best place of their lives.

They see God’s hand both in the events that occurred and in the healing that followed.

We don’t have space here to complete the story of their journey. However, in next week’s blog, I will share details of how God worked in Brad and Andrea through this situation to guide them to a place of prosperous ministry and deeper joy.

You may be surprised by some of the things they learned.

For now, know that Brad says to any who are hurting as he once did, “God is faithful”.

The Sting of Betrayal

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I recently asked my readers – mainly clergy and pastors – to share with me any stories they may have about betrayal in ministry. I didn’t stipulate exactly what I meant by “betrayal”. In fact, here is my request verbatim:

If you have experienced some form of betrayal in your ministry - and I sincerely hope you have not - would you be willing to share a little of your story with me, possibly including lessons you have learned?

About 5% of those who read the email responded, so I have to assume that the people who have experienced some kind of betrayal would far exceed that number.

Here’s the first thing I learned:

Betrayal hurts.

I mean, really hurts. The wounds strike very deep into the heart and the pain can last a long time. Years, in fact. Maybe decades. Perhaps some never heal.

The damage often involves more than the emotional pain. Jobs have been lost, ministry has been hampered, career trajectories have been forever altered.

Relationships – personal relationships, professional relationships, denominational affiliations –  often damaged beyond repair.

Betrayal undermines the foundations of secure human relationships. Frankly, it’s hard to trust again after someone near you puts a knife in your back. Yet, we can’t be happy humans without trusting others we depend upon.

So, this is not a prescriptive article. I offer no glib nor even professional answers today about how to heal. Perhaps some other time.

Job’s comforters knew all about what Job should do, where he had gone wrong and why he suffered as he did.

I think I will skip that approach today.

Let me simply say this: if you have suffered betrayal by someone you trusted in ministry – or any other relationship, for that matter – I know it hurts. I know your psyche suffered injury. I know your life has changed in some ways because of it.

Yet I also know that Jesus, himself betrayed, found courage to go on, complete his mission, forgive his enemies and minister to those around Him even on the cross.

I pray you find solace in His example and sufficient grace to heal, restore and persevere.

Facing Criticism Without Losing Your Mind

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I don’t like to feel criticized and you probably don’t either!

Criticism catches us off-guard, feeling blind-sided, discouraged. Even well-meaning or constructive criticism, well – it just plain hurts.

Criticism presents an occupational hazard for the well-being of many clergy.  The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling several years ago reported on a focus group of randomly selected clergy members who assessed the impact of adverse interpersonal criticism. The study concluded:

“…interpersonal criticism can have deleterious vocational, psychological, and health consequence for those in the ministry… and can lead to stress, burnout, and early departure from the ministry.”[i]

So it can be a significant issue. However, one aspect of emotional intelligence is learning to manage criticism in ways that are:

  1. Best for you
  2. Best for the person providing the “feedback”
  3. Bes t for the growth of your congregation (or staff or organization)

What we don’t want is to react defensively or in such a way that escalates a simple incident into an all-out war. That does not help anyone!

Instead, I recommend three strategies to make the best out of the admittedly uncomfortable situation of receiving criticism.

First, the best thing for you is to mine the criticism, however well or ill intentioned, for any nuggets of truth. Fact is, I’m not perfect and neither or you. So try to listen with an open mind and admit any areas that could be potential opportunities for growth.

Second, the best thing for the person criticizing you, generally, is to feel that they have been heard. Regardless of motives, feeling heard reduces the odds of even worse conflict. Here’s how to make people feel heard: do not state your own position until you can state the other person’s perspective to their satisfaction.

Restate to them what they have told you: “So what you are telling me is…” Don’t defend yourself at all until they agree that you understand their criticism. This strategy sometimes works miracles. Try it!

Finally, discern whether the criticism reflects the isolated opinion of this one individual or possibly reflects the opinion of more than one congregant. Fact is, this person may be doing you a favor; cluing you in to what a lot of people think but won’t say!

You may want to follow up with your Board, or trusted leaders or some other advisors. Is this criticism true? Should I in fact do something about it?

You may be surprised what you learn or you may be reassured that really, it’s nothing at all to worry about. Either way, you benefit from the information.

I know criticism hurts. I realize it can test our self-control. However, let’s not find ourselves acting overly defensive but with openness and willingness to hear.

God will take care of the rest.

 

 

[i] Retrieved on 4/14/18 from  http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/154230501306700102

 

Your Biggest Leadership Challenge

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What do you think is the biggest leadership challenge you will face this year?

I’m sure there will be as many different answers to that question as there are readers. However, I would like to suggest that when it comes to dealing with and leading people, one universal challenge far exceeds all the others.

This one challenge faces every leader although some of us struggle more with it than others do. It cannot be avoided. It can make or break your initiatives, your goals, even your ministerial career.

Success or failure hang in the balance. Unfortunately, some do not even realize they face this particular challenge!

That challenge is yourself. Specifically, mastery of yourself.

Not your personality, for many types of personalities find their way as effective pastors and leaders. Neither is it your style of leadership, because your style will always be appropriate in some situations and can be adapted for other circumstances. Nor is it your looks or your sex or your age or your ethnicity.

Research consistently supports the conclusion that the best leaders, the most effective leaders in any circumstance are the emotionally intelligent leaders. Leaders who understand their own inner workings and master themselves.

Look, its simple. You can’t lead people well if you don’t understand them and understanding yourself lays the foundation for understanding others.

But it is more that understanding. It is also mastery of your own emotional states. I am not talking about suppressing emotions! I am speaking of ability to calm yourself when you are angry, to encourage yourself when you are down and to move yourself to action even when you are anxious.

Listen, when your own mind is boiling with anger or cringing in fear or wallowing in sorrow, you can’t think clearly. You certainly cannot focus on understanding others. You cannot adapt your behavior to what your followers need or even discern what they need because you are consumed at that moment with yourself.

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32 ESV)

So, whatever leadership challenge you face in the days ahead, I believe that God will help you, His appointed servant, to rise to the challenge.

However, whatever that challenge may be, above all, pray that God help you use the situation to increase your self-mastery. That’s the most important leadership skill you can possess.

Three Bad Ways Christian Leaders Deal with Stress

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The Lenten and Easter season is upon us. Many pastors tell me that in addition to the spiritual aspects, these seasons bring additional stress and busyness!

Of course, some stress is normal and even helpful. As always, the real question is, “How do you cope with the stress you are experiencing?”

Well, here are three common but completely dysfunctional stress coping strategies. All three definitely fall into the “avoid these” category.

Emotional Eating

Junk food, anyone? Excessive snacking? Skipping breakfast?

Your body and mind perform much better when you start the day with a healthy breakfast, eat balanced meals, and snack on nutritious foods such as fruit. Slipping into emotional eating habits? Here’s one practical tip: plan ahead. Have apples in your office instead of candy bars, for example.

Constant Caffeine

Hey, I like my coffee, too! We have a cute little sign in the coffee nook at our office: “All things are possible with prayer and coffee.”

However, I’ve consciously cut back lately. Should you?  Remember, caffeine is a drug, an addictive one.  Are you in the dependence cycle? A cup to wake up, more during the day to avoid the caffeine crash, then perhaps sleeping restlessly at night? Not good! Here’s a tip about coffee: you don’t have to quit but you could especially avoid coffee after mid-afternoon.

Atypical Addictions.

You usually display the highest qualities of godly Christian character, I feel sure. Unfortunately, too much stress can sometimes crack our armor. We may find ourselves doing things we normally would not. In fact, in some cases, we become addicted to pornography, pills, alcohol, shopping, or other compulsive behaviors. It happens.

If it has happened to you, seek professional help immediately. The longer you wait, the deeper the damage, the more difficult the recovery. Get started today and know that God’s grace will be more than sufficient!

There they are: three bad ways to cope with stress.

Instead, take care of yourself, even during peak busy seasons. Eat well, rest as much as you can, and don’t be shy about reaching out for professional help with troublesome compulsive behaviors.

You will feel and be happier and healthier!

How to Energize Yourself

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Last Sunday, lying in bed, I wrote down a few thoughts. I listed all the positive things that happened over the weekend. I whispered a prayer of thanks to God for each experience.

Something interesting happened.  As I wrote positive memories, more happy events came to mind: just little things about the Sunday church service or sights I saw while hiking on Saturday.

Each little memory made me smile. I thought, “You know, this sense of satisfaction and peace creates such a nice way to fall asleep.” I woke up the next morning rested and energized.

Of course, we know that Scripture exhorts us to give God thanks. Scientific research proves that gratitude benefits our sense of well-being. For example, when people write letters of gratitude to other people or when they record positive things, they experience increased well-being.

Reflecting on positive experiences and especially writing them down builds a positive mental outlook. It helps me reframe my mindset. It makes me feel better and reduces my stress. Also, as I mentioned, it’s a great way to go to sleep on a Sunday night!

Here’s the really great news and the main point: positive thoughts create positive emotions; positive emotions energize us to work hard and live fully!

You can easily cultivate a highly beneficial habit of reflecting more on the positive experiences of life.

Take me for an example. I don’t journal every day or even every week. Still, last year, I made the primary topic of my journaling gratitude and thanksgiving. I purposely wrote about positive things. (Of course I wrote about problems, too, and whatever was on my mind.)

After focusing on gratefulness and thanksgiving for a year, I’ve formed a habit. This good habit helps me reframe my sometimes anxious or negative thoughts into a more positive mindset.

Shift your mental focus to positive things and to really savor them. Otherwise, they just run through the fingers of your memory and rapidly fade into the forgotten.

Reflect on your blessings. Allow your soul to savor the goodness.  Otherwise, you may find yourself dashing past a blessing to focus on the next problem at hand.  

My challenge to you this next week – take time to reflect upon, give thanks for and even write down the little things that bring a smile to your face. Record them, perhaps talk to others about them. See if it doesn’t brighten your mood and energize your life!   

Finally, if journaling is something of a mystery for you, you may want to view my very simple Journaling for Insight graphic.

Three Feedback Questions Every Pastor Should Ask

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Pastor Todd cringed inside as a parishioner offered a brief critique of his recent sermon.

The comments were not mean-spirited nor overly critical. They just weren’t, well, glowing.

Todd eventually realized, though, that his discomfort with any feedback other than “Amazing!” revealed himself as a thin-skinned, insecure leader. (His words, not mine, by the way.)[i]           

We all need feedback to perform our best in such skills as preaching. I would go a lot further than that, actually, and say that from time-to-time, we need feedback about all aspects of our life and work!

Feedback from others provides essential information we need to grow in our own personal insight. We cheat ourselves of growth opportunities when we allow insecurities to make us defensive and deaf to the perspectives of others.

In fact, the really strong among us not only accept feedback but seek it out!

Pastor Todd now preaches three times on Sunday and has a team that gives him feedback about his first sermon on Sunday morning so that he can improve his delivery in the next two services.

Here are three general questions I’ve found helpful in seeking feedback from others in regard to my leadership. (They could be adapted for asking others about your preaching but in reality they apply to just about anything.)

1.       What should I stop doing?

2.       What should I continue doing?

3.       What should I start doing?

One additional thought: consider asking your spouse for feedback. Spouses tend to give really honest answers! Of course, with spouses and everyone else, be prepared to remain non-defensive and thankful for whatever perspective they provide.

Finally, don’t forget to journal concerning the feedback you receive. Journaling provides an excellent, structured way for you to process and benefit from the perspectives of others. You may find my brief guide, Journal for Insight, useful.

Listen, learn, grow!

 

[i] https://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2016/10/31/four-reasons-every-lead-pastor-should-ask-for-critique-and-feedback/

Do You Maximize Tough Situations?

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Do you ever find ministry and Christian leadership stressful? If so, you’re not the only one. Even the Apostle Paul laid out a list of leadership stressors:

I have worked much harder [than other servants of Christ], been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. .. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NIV)

Wow, what a list (and I didn’t even include everything)!

Your list probably doesn’t include floggings, shipwrecks and beatings. It may include criticism, conflict, resistance to change initiatives, unrealistic expectations, and overwork!

Those things are hardships, too. Don’t underestimate them. Fact is, they can be stressful and too much stress over time saps emotional energy and can literally make you physically ill.

Yet they also present a rich opportunity: to know yourself better and grow as a person if you are up to the challenge.

Now clearly, the first priority when we suffer criticism, conflict or complaint is to keep our eyes on Jesus! Paul’s list of troubles (including his famous “thorn in the flesh”) all lead him to this word from God:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

However, events that bring out strong emotional reactions in us provides an opportunity to understand ourselves better, see ourselves in a clearer light, and yes, when necessary, make the adjustments we need to become more healthy, happy and even Christ-like.

So, here’s my challenge to you. For the next month or so, every time you encounter a tough situation – anything that causes you to feel strong emotions – take a few minutes to reflect. In fact, journal about it. I predict that you will be surprised what you learn about yourself and how you actually begin to grow stronger.

It’s a great way to redeem those stressful experiences and mine them for golden growth opportunities.

I have linked here to my Journal for Personal Insight tool that will help you know what to journal. Blessings to you as you grow in your insight. Let me know what you learn!