Beating the Odds
Chances are you can think of plenty of men and women that have left the ministry. They were focused, educated and passionate, but they didn't survive. In an article entitled, "Statistics on Pastors," Richard J. Kregcir shares these alarming facts:
Did you know that even those who are doing well and looking good are often secretly struggling with their faith, or calling, or habits or marriage? The resources on this site are for the weary AND the well. We all need to guard our hearts and stay focused on overcoming the challenges that are part of this thing we call ministry. The information and activities below can help you do just that.
Creating a Genogram
Dan is married and has four kids. Years ago he became a minister. Now he is a Christian leader and does quite well in his ministry roles. Secretly though, Dan is haunted by feelings of inadequacy. And even though he has a solid relationship with his wife and children, he struggles with feelings of loneliness. His feelings often don't make sense. He is often discontented and somewhat depressed, even though he has plenty of reasons to be joyful. He fears failure and feels inadequate even though he has plenty of successes in his ministry and personal life.
Perhaps most troubling to Dan is his secret battle with doubt. His whole life is about his pursuit of certainty and clarity. He is angry with God for not helping him get all the answers he needs and for being so distant—just like Dan's dad.
It doesn't take a degree in anything to see how Dan's past pain is shaping his present situation and the path he has taken to get there. Would you be surprised to hear that Dan tends to micro manage everything? He charts and outlines and analyzes before he makes decisions because he's afraid of being wrong. He wants stability and will do whatever he can to avoid the feeling of vulnerability.
He is also a workaholic. The early desire to gain approval through performance has served him well in terms of accomplishments. He is praised for his diligent attention to detail and the volume of things he can produce. He operates from the motto, "You may be smarter than I am, but I'll out-work you." He has diplomas and awards and gets paid well, but doesn't know his oldest daughter's favorite book, movie, or color. Surprised?
Dan knows the Bible well. He has learned to approach it intellectually--in a controlled and emotionally detached manner. He is a good expositor and a good teacher. He is doing an excellent job of reducing his relationship with God to a well-defined theology. It has become so sterile and mechanical that it is safe, predictable, and lethal to his spiritual health. Dan is a model minister but secretly feels like an emotional cripple. He can feel the incongruity between his head and his heart, but he keeps using head strategies to solve his heart problems.
Dan is smart, but he doesn't realize how his past pain has created a filtering process that is working throughout his life as he approaches each new moment and challenge from within the story of longing for value, safety, and emotional security. He doesn't understand how these have defined the possibilities in his mind and caused him to travel down pathways that reflect more of his brokenness than God's intentions for him. All of his biblical knowledge and good deeds have not healed him emotionally.
Dan's story is not fictitious, only his name. Ministry leaders like Dan often end up exiting the ministry because of burnout or personal crisis. Look at the genogram below and see if you can find a connection between Dan's past experiences and his present reality.
Creating Your Genogram:
Many people are surprised to discover how much influence their family of origin has had and is continuing to have on their thinking and behaviors. After you've created your annotated family tree, you can complete your genogram by completing the following activities. Doing so will also help you understand some important ways that each person on your family tree has influenced your self-concept.
For example, using the sample genogram, we could list some of Dan's lessons from his parents. He learned to avoid conflict by walking away from the situation. He learned that he couldn't really manage pain through substance abuse. He learned to protect himself emotionally by not expecting too much of others and not getting too close to anyone. His resulting self-concept and behaviors included feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure which resulted in workaholic and controlling behaviors and a refusal to value his own feelings. This isn't an exercise in blame assignment and it isn't some kind of psycho-babel. The fact is that we have all been deeply influenced by our family tree. Often we have structured (sometimes unwittingly) our life to avoid experiencing past pains again. Old survival skills can become the source of dysfunctional relationships with God and others--even without us realizing it. How much is your picture of God and yourself shaped by your family of origin?
Creating a Life Map
Have you ever stopped to carefully think about the influence of your past painful experiences on your current life? Let's consider a moment from the life of Moses. He met God through the imagery of the burning bush (inexhaustible power). He was directly commissioned by God to liberate the Hebrew people and assured of success. He personally experienced two miraculous signs directly from God and was given the means to miraculously demonstrate his commission from God to the people, religious leaders, and Egyptian governmental officials. What more could this servant of God want as he began his ministry? Yet Moses' response, after all these assurances, was "O Lord, please send someone else to do it" (Exodus 4:13). Read chapters 1-2 of the book of Exodus. Then grab a piece of paper and write a paragraph describing Moses life. Next outline your thoughts about howMoses' past pain preconditioned his emotional response to God's call. After you've done so, come back to this web page and explore further below.
Like Moses, your past painful experiences have created deep, heart-level feelings of fear, guilt, shame, inadequacy, etc. These feelings often precondition how we intuitively respond to the challenges and opportunties that come our way. One way to become more aware of them and their influence is to create a Life Map (sample below). It divides your life into segments (Childhood, Youth and Adult) and provides a place for you to note your painful experiences. The colors and number on the left of the chart indicate an increase in the intensity of hurt as you move upward. The sample life map presents real life experiences. Consider how life shaping such events can be.
Now it's your turn. Use a blank Life Map to recreate the path of pain in your life. Prayerfully follow the simple steps below:
Addressing Ministry Frustrations
The mind map link below directs you to a list of sources of ministry frustration that you can use to pinpoint areas for prayer, study and counsel. As you read through each section (branch) note the extent to which the issue listed is a source of discouragement or emotional challenge for you. Then ask yourself the following questions:
Make this assessment a prayerful activity. Invite God to use this tool to challenge your thinking and reshape your heart.
I'm sure you can add to this list. If so, be sure to send me a note for future versions.
Planning for Spiritual Growth
What is the secret to a growing and vibrant relationship with God? Beats me! As far as I know, there isn't a secret. Instead the Bible presents spiritual growth as a dynamic and individualized path that believers travel down. It's a journey that doesn't look or feel the same for everyone. Spiritual growth is not realized by applying a formula or completing a process. The reason is simple. Spiritual growth is essentially relational. It's about nurturing your relationship with God and others in keeping with his leading, support and truth.
While it's true that spiritual growth cannot be reduced to a "one size fits all" plan. It's also true that the journey of faith has certain anchoring points that all believers share. These anchoring points are behaviors and motivations that contribute to a growing relationship with God but are not the sum of it. Regardless of age, race, gender, personality type or geographical location, the five priorities listed on the graphic below are vital to spiritual growth. All believers experience spiritual growth, though not exclusively, through Worshiping, Learning, Serving, Sharing and Connecting when they are done intentionally and relationally as a means to love God and extend his love to others. That's the assumption of this section.
Consequently, the diagram above is offered as a personal assessment and planning tool. You'll notice that the graphic has colored circles with red at the outer edge and green in the center. The colors are meant to suggest a progression from STOP to GO with the goal being the live a life of greater impact for the sake of Christ. Suppose, for example, I ask you concerning your Church Worship experience to indicate the extent to which you think it is contributing to a growing relationship with God. You could place a dot in the Worshiping/Church section to indicate your response. A dot on or near the outer edge (red circle) would indicate that little or no relational growth is occurring from your experiences in that area at this time. A dot closer to the center would indicate the area is having a more positive impact on your relationship with God. By doing so for each area, you can map your own personal spiritual growth situation. The image below illustrates what a completed map might look like.
If you connect the dots and examine the result, you will have a tool to help you focus on some key aspects of your spiritual growth. Here are some key questions you might then want to ask:
1. Why is this area having its particular impact in my spiritual growth right now?
2. What is the relationship between my areas of high and low impact; how do they coexist?
3. Which anchor point area is having the least impact on helping me grow relationally with and why?
In order to use this tool effectively, you'll want to have a clear definition for each of the anchor point topics and subsections. Then you'll be ready to print out a blank copy of the Growth Planner (copy, paste and print the image above) and prayerfully do your own assessment. After you do, you can identify some changes you want to make in behaviors or attitudes to support your goal of living relationally with God and being a person of greater impact as a result.
Exploring Hidden Sin
Typically we look to Jesus, Paul or Peter for New Testament role models. It turns out that there is a lot we can learn from Judas. In fact, at times, his life may be the truest representation of our own. If we had known him before he betrayed Jesus we probably would have liked him. He was a "good" man. As noted on the chart below, he was a trusted disciple and treasurer of the group. He was a witness to the miracles and a part of the ministry work.
But Judas was also a "bad" man. The gospel writers tell us about his greed expressed both in stealing money from the group and seeking money for his betrayal of Jesus. His life, at some point, was marked by duplicity. He was going through the motions of faithful service in public, but he privately practiced unfaithfulness. Eventually the bad became public and his life turned ugly.
We can see that Judas had two stories--running concurrently. Sound familiar? How often has the moral failure of a Christian leader become public and then we learn that there is a long-running hidden story? I'll call this the "Judas Syndrome." We need to learn a lessons from Judas.
1. The clash between our public self and our private self will happen.
2. Each story is activity being shaped by the other.
3. The resulting personal crisis will constitute a moment of reidentification and redirection (either framed by guilt or grace).
What about you? Is it time you addressed a hidden story in your life? If so, you already know how it is stealing your joy and holding you inside the grip of guilt. Explore the lesson statements above and apply them to your life. Take a retreat and get some help. Concerning Christian counseling. Your life and ministry are too valuable to let them be compromised or destroyed. Don't think it can't happen to you. It's happening all around you.