Tag Archives: pastors

Options for Burned-out pastors

I am working on a talk for pastors and church leaders regarding the problem of conflict with parishioners. One of the surprises for pastors is that Kingdom work means facing attacks from those who are supposed to be on the same side. We know from work with military, NGOs, and missionaries that the most difficult aspect of personal sacrifice is not threats from outside but lack of support from supposed friends and teammates.

So, when a pastor finds him or herself in a conflicted situation and feels burned out, where might that pastor turn? There are a couple of local options for help:

1. C4ML Coaching. As a mission of Biblical Seminary, Mick Noel provides coaching regarding matters of leadership and church culture. His coaching isn’t a substitute for counseling or needed retreat but Rev. Noel is keenly aware of burn-out and church conflicts and can guide the pastor in making a plan to address leadership matters in the church. C4ML also provides opportunities for small cohorts of pastors to meet to discuss how to handle culture change in the church and wider community.

2. ServingLeaders. David Wiedis is an attorney and counselor who provides coaching, consultation, and counseling for ministry leaders. The link will connect you to his thoughts on burn-out.

3. You might consider preventing such burnout by doing some education/personal work with a new ministry called, The Identity School for Christian Ministry. Rev. Bob Miller is offering material he believes is absent from most MDiv programs but necessary for survival in the pastorate. The courses are described on the website and run for 2 days at a time.

4. Retreats. There are a number of locations that provide retreats. Use your search engine to discover these. Some are low cost, some are free if they accept your application. Some leave you alone while others provide counseling and/or coaching. While retreats are good in that they provide a break, unless there is a change in how the situation is being approached, the pastor should not expect miracles.

5. Counseling. Lastly, a good spiritual director or counselor ought to be able to guide the pastor in personal assessment, re-orienting priorities, and choosing a new response set to the difficult situation.

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, conflicts, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

Pastor Health Conference Recap

On Friday, Biblical Seminary hosted the first of what I hope to be many “Pastoring though Church Challenges” conference for pastors. We had a nice 75 or so ministry leaders here to hear plenaries and breakouts regarding specific church challenges and opportunities/challenges to their spiritual and emotional lives.

Everything went just about as smoothly as could be. My assistant director (MA Counseling program), Bonnie, gets all the credit here. I had an idea…she made it happen–and happen well at that!

At the end I asked a few anonymous survey questions and over 50% responded. Here’s what we learned:

1. Over half of the respondents are facing high levels of chronic stress
2. Most report they are “managing with struggles” (opposed to managing either “poorly” or “satisfactorily”, or “well.”
3. When asked to write in the top 2 sources of their stress they gave answers that fit in several categories. The categories receiving the most “hits” were personal issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, sinful habits, no passion) and marital distress. Financial stress and church conflict got the next highest level of “hits.
4. 43% did not have regular contact with someone who really knew them and their personal issues
5. Interestingly, respondents were rather wary of joining face-to-face or web-supported support groups of peers. Most rated their interest (theoretical) as maybe to unlikely. Web supported groups (video/discussion) received the least interest.


Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring, seminary

Must See Pastor’s Conference at Biblical Seminary

Folks, last reminder for those of you in the Philadelphia area. On March 20, 2009 we will be hosting a pastoral health conference at the seminary from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. The conference is entitled:

Hazardous to Your Health: Pastoring Through Church Challenges

We have a great range of speakers on a variety of church challenges topics. You can hear Diane Langberg talk about leadership; Rev. Rick Tyson talking about ministry depression; two pastor’s wives talking about the unique challenges they face; An attorney address legal challenges; John Freeman address sexual brokenness in the church, and much much more. I will be concluding the conference with the final plenary devoted to describing a simple revolution in the area pastoral renewal. Rev. Philip G. Ryken will participate with me to describe some ways he is meeting the challenge of ongoing spiritual care.

Please torture your ministry friends and acquaintances to come. It will be a refreshing and useful time for them. Especially invite spouses of ministry leaders. They almost never get any kind of opportunity to be blessed and encouraged.

Here’s the link to purchase a ticket for attendees (check out the lower rate for students and guests of ministry leaders!). Registration includes lunch and comedic entertainment:


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Filed under Biblical Seminary, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

What discourages you?

Spoke today to a group of pastors about encouragement and discouragement in their ministries and lives. Generally speaking, our levels of either fluctuate with our expectations crashing into reality. When things go as we hoped, we feel encouraged. When they don’t for periods of time, we get discouraged.

What discourages pastors? Many struggle with knowing just how to evaluate their work. Since the work is never done and there is always more to do (another complaining friend, another couple to counsel, another program to oversee, another small group to visit), the temptation is to fall back on some unhelpful measuring sticks and either try to do more than one should or give up and withdraw.

My view is that while our circumstances give ample opportunity to deflate us, discouragement is much less the result of our circumstances and much more the result of unmet desires and expectations. Haven’t you have had the experience where something went badly but since you had no significant expectations for anything better, you weren’t all that discouraged by it? Our problem is that we look to the wrong things to encourage us. We look to successes in ministry, in work, in marriage, in parenting, in whatever we do. And the absence deflates us and tempts us to either get angry or quit.

Among the passages we looked at were:

1. Phil. 2: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, then…” Many are familiar with this passage because of Paul’s exhortation to set aside our own agenda and to follow the example of Christ–sacrificially serving others. And many admonish us to take to heart what it is this passage calls us to do. But, what is the engine that drives us? Encouragement. Where does that come from? See v. 21 of the previous passage: “It has been granted you to believe….” Encouragement comes from remembering the work of Christ NOT from our success in ministry.

2. Heb. 12:5. This passage starts out with a “therefore” as well. Remembering all the saints before us and their faithfulness, we are called to “run the race” and “throw off everything that hinders us.” We are to leave sinfulness behind. But such a task wearies us. Verse 3 tells us that spiritual weariness is not fixed by numbing ourselves with food, sex, TV, etc, but by “considering Christ” and his endurance. The the author knows that to kill the flesh we have to fight to the point of what feels like bloodletting. But in verse 5 he tells us to take courage because God is disciplining us. Huh? Did you ever take courage when your father or mother disciplined you? I didn’t. But Hebrews is telling us that one of our sources of encouragement is that God is treating us as family and so he lovingly disciplines and refines us. 

Bottom line, our encouragement comes from remembering that God is at work in our lives even if we cannot see it. Now, encouragement may come in the form of being able to quote Ps 88 which communicates much faithful despair. 

One more point. We ought to differentiate between discouragement and grief or sadness, or frustration, or confusion. These are not the same. It is possible to be dismal about the outcome but having courage to keep going. Courage and action are more likely signs of encouragement than anything else.

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Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Despair, pastors and pastoring

Pastors and mothers have much in common

Was talking to a group of pastors about their expectations as they entered the ministry. Several were quite eloquent and open about their surprises. Some were surprised at the level of burden and that lack of joy in the work. Some were surprised that the job of pastor wasn’t as eternity focused as they expected. Here’s an amalgam of phrases said by some: “I thought I was going to be dealing with weighty matters, life changing stuff, the stuff of soul care. But instead I’m dealing with policies, criticisms, and other mundane things most of the time.”

When talking to my wife, she so wisely said, “yeah, just like the work of a mother.” You know you are shaping souls and working to grow young boys (in our family anyway) into mature men. But most days you are dealing with socks, runny noses, and whiny, ungrateful kids.”

Yeah, mothers and pastors work for weighty, eternal matters. But day by day it is hard to keep that in focus.


Filed under parenting, pastors and pastoring

Is burn-out an American phenomenon?

Part of my sabbatical is designed to understand how better to help pastors and their families avoid the crash and burn. There are many pressures (finances, conflict, loneliness, the fishbowl, etc.) on ministry families and while any one of them may not be overwhelming, together they can bring a minister to his/her knees. Worse yet, they can tempt the leader to seek comfort in ungodly ways.

But a friend of mine who cares greatly for ministry leaders was recently talking to an African pastor. This pastor has NOTHING. He ministers to those who have NOTHING, to those living under trees. They live in a country that is in the midst of a civil war.  He has his wife spend months apart ministering to the poor. When my friend asked about pastoral burn-out, this pastor could not comprehend the question. It didn’t compute–and not because he didn’t understand the concept.

Why? Are we Americans soft and weak given that we live in the land of plenty? Probably. But are there other explanations? I think so. Foremost in my mind is the place of expectationsin the life of Western pastors. Expectations of success, growth, contentment (from self and church community) create pressure and when expectations are only partially met, it leads to the temptation to discouragement and looking to greener grass. Secondly, I think living in constant crisis without hope for change rarely allows for collapse–unless it is to die. It is common for the greatest emotional collapse to happen when one has the opportunity to pause and reflect. In crisis, we do not reflect. When the crisis abates, then we reflect and see that our assumptions and expectations do not fit with reality. It is that point that leads to either leaning on the Lord while changing our expectations to match his OR either trying harder or choosing another assumption that causes greater pain.

What do you think?


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

Pastor revealed

Probably several of you guessed it. The wonderful preacher with mental health issues is…..

Charles Spurgeon. Want to read more of his thoughts, pick up any one of his good books or check out this one from Amazon that weaves together his thoughts on despair, anxiety, and other dark nights of the soul.


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

Risk factors for pastoral infidelity

Today, I listened to a CD of Dave Carder at last year’s AACC convention. He is the author of Torn Asunder, a book about affairs. I’ve not seen his newest book, just out in April, is entitled Close Calls. Both available on Amazon.

He presented a talk entitled, “Emerging Trends in Pastoral Infidelity.” He summarized data gleaned from 5 studies between 1987-1998. He continues to collect information that will be out this year.

Here’s some surprises in his data and risk factors:

1. suspected rate of sexual impropriety: about 40% (though this is perceived because of underreporting. Actual reporting number is 21%, though 15% admitted to lying on the surveys)
2. pastors affair partners are now more likely to be outside the church
3. 90% of pastors report being blindsided by the affair–they didn’t see it coming
4. The vast majority of improprieties are never discovered
5. Risk factors increase with:

  • History of sexual molestation, family history of infidelity, adolescent promiscuity, learning disabilities/ADHD, female friends with private conversations, conjoint ministry with opposite sex, lingering outside of ministry to share personal matters
  • Lower age in conversion to Christianity increases risks
  • Higher education increases risks as does increased bible education
  • both ministry exhausted and ministry connected pastors 

Any of these surprise you?


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Evangelicals, pastors and pastoring, Sex

Pastors dealing with infatuated parishioners

Yesterday I was interviewed by a local newspaper reporter regarding the problem of pastors dealing with parishioners who become infatuated with them. She was interested in what seminaries do to help train divinity students to handle such a problem. The impetus is a situation where a woman was killed in her church allegedly by another woman who thought that the murder victim was trying to steal the pastor away. All allegations thus far. **Update 4/8/08: Here’s the reporter’s article. You’ll see that I’m not the most eloquent interviewee.**

I’m not the clearest or most formal speaker when it comes to interviews (I talked about warm fuzzies instead of attraction).  But, I tried to convey this.

1. Lots of folks feel warm and attracted to their pastors because their pastors listen, care, pray for, and encourage them. That’s pretty normal.

2. Some people (a small minority I believe) mistake these “warm fuzzies” for romantic feelings based on prior history.

3. An even smaller subset are willing to act on their sexual attractions.

4. Finally, the smallest subset become or were already delusional about the reciprocity.

What do pastors need to do? Build solid, clear boundaries. When boundaries are violated, they need to address those violations and involve other leaders or appropriate people–including the legal system should the person persist (stalk?) the pastor.

In reality, we spend far more time making sure that pastors understand their power and do not abuse it. We don’t spend a whole lot of time helping them protect themselves. But, we do try to help them normalize #1-2 above without freaking out or assuming the parishioner will move to #3-4. 


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership

Ask your pastor this question: Who disciples you?

Recently I’ve taken to asking my pastor clients this question: Who disciples you?

Typical responses? “Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that…don’t know…nobody, I guess…does —– count (nationally-known preacher they listen to or read on a regular basis)” I used to ask, “Where do you feed spiritually?” However, the discipleship question moves beyond that of being fed to being discipled and mentored.

Our shepherds are also sheep like us. They need discipleship and mentoring. One wonders if ministeriums could be resuscitated to provide true discipleship.

I’m writing a piece about pastors and their need for care. One study found that while a goodly number of pastors would be open to getting counseling, most do not think their stresses and needs reach a level where counseling is needed (It could be useful but I don’t think my problems are that big). Another study found that most pastors do not have close relationships with others outside their spouse.

If this is true, then most of our pastors are without any discipleship. Is it any wonder then that problems like pornography and other misconduct are frequent among pastors?


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership