Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dealing with those Depressed Days

I prefer to be honest. It doesn’t always serve me well. Like the jobs I feel I miss out on, when they ask for honest responses to questions like ‘have you ever been depressed or suicidal?’
How are you supposed to answer those kinds of questions?
If you’re in any kind of helping profession, it’s frowned upon that you might at times be unhinged. But I can tell you now I think you would prefer a pastor or a counsellor who can empathise with your depression and loneliness and anxiety. That is, without direct, first-hand experience it’s hard for those in the helping professions to serve well those who are suffering. Of course, competence should never be underestimated. It is a nonnegotiable. But there is a kind of X-factor in a trained helper who has been to hell and back, who healed along the way. And we know that it is up to us as helping professionals to show up to our duties fit for work. We just need to accept that sometimes, and it may only be a few hours, we need respite.
Having been to hell and back on several occasions
for months at a time, I can tell you there is life beyond it.
Nowadays, which is pretty much normal for me, I am in a monthly kind of cycle.
As I looked through the pages of an old journal from 2008, I was astounded as to how many red flags there were. Green flags for good days. Red flags for bad days. Some days are so bad there is nothing written in those pages. Like I’d vanished from my life. Other red flag days I was overwhelmed, swept up in busyness, fury, complaint, and the need to escape. Other red flag days there were external issues I couldn’t handle, perhaps the struggles my children have had. Still other days I was just unsettled in my spirit and confused beyond belief, full of a mental fog that would not lift for hours. Of course, some days were full of fear-and-frustration-intuiting conflict. And some days I was just so sick of myself for one or a couple of many reasons. There were so many red flag days in that year, but there are so many red flag days in every year, just as there are very many green flag days, but we hardly fear those. We are more likely to take those for granted.
In a monthly pattern of life these days there are at least two single days where I feel depressed. Where there is no hope nor life nor reason, and all vision of positivity simply vanishes. I put these experiences down to a mix of spiritual warfare, an unbalanced focus on my desires, and perhaps the return of past hurts and disappointments, as they fleetingly dare to dash across my psyche from my memory.
Some of these days it’s just a few hours. And some of these days are consecutive, but rarely more than two in a row. And still I hate smiling and lying about how I feel. It makes me more depressed, and yet if I know the person well enough who is before me, I aim to trust them in being honest about how I feel. I cannot add to their burden, of course, but I do recognise that many people are encouraged to know, that as a helping person, I have my own fragilities. We all do.
No matter what you do,
and no matter how you feel,
what you do and what you feel are okay.
Let no one take this away from you.
But try not to attack people because you, yourself, are low. Have the courage to be honest. Be vulnerable. We never know when our vulnerability will be an encouragement to someone. It’s always a good surprise to discover that. We are more likely these days than ever before to experience the empathy of friends and strangers alike. If you share with someone and they do not get you, try not to allow that to be license to spiral further downward. Adjust your expectations. In rejecting your invitation to know you more, which is a holy trust, they are the ones with the problem, not you.
If we have issues with our mental health, we have more community around us than we know, for we are all ‘normal’ until you get to know us. We don’t know who is struggling in our midst. And even those we look up to do not have the dream life that we often think they have.
Embrace the fact that life is an up-and-down exercise of endurance. It is easy for no one. Everyone finds life tough occasionally. And there is much more anxiety in the normal run of life than we ever realise.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Church for the people because God is FOR people

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Rather than pretend to be nice I’d prefer to be honest. Being a first-generation Christian, and a pastor and chaplain at that, I believe what I say here is relevant because I’m a relative newcomer.
You see, I’m ‘new’ to church; well, within the last fifteen years or so. I’m new and I still don’t fit. That’s a problem for many when it comes to the church. They just don’t fit.
Fifteen years may not seem new to you, but most people I know who I would call peers have been around a lot longer than that. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that I feel like I’m the newbie.
When I spoke with a couple slightly older than I at school when I picked up my son, and I mentioned what I did, they said, ‘Nothing good comes out of church these days.’ They weren’t being rude. They were referring to several things as it happened, not just about sex abuse and the abysmal responses of historical silence predicated on power and control. They were a nice couple, but they were unfazed by who I stood for (Jesus). Part of me wanted to celebrate the fact that they felt they could just be honest. But another part of me felt impotent.
What they were saying, in effect, was the church nowadays is in it for itself, which, decoded for us Christians means, they don’t see it as a Jesus movement. Many of us have a vastly different experience, knowing that it is all about Jesus. But not these people.
It reminds me of the time Graham Mabury said about his nightline days; Australians don’t have a problem with Jesus, but they have a problem with his retail outlets.
How is it that we have given our lives to the pursuit of Jesus, within the safe cloister of our churches, yet many people outside our walls see us as glorified clubs?
I’ve been praying about something over the past year or two, as God has undone the pastoral heart beating within my chest. This prayer has been something like, ‘How are you radically reforming your church, Lord? How are You making Your church a church for the common people, again?’ I’ve been praying on that old and tired term, revival.
Why isn’t the church the beacon it could be?
Because the church has been industrialised.
The little church I belong to, a church where I’m an elder, where I preach at, and where I support our pastor, and serve there with my wife, is apparently a dying church. It’s been dying for a decade or more. I say it facetiously, because I see it as the hope of the world. Yet, some bigger churches view our little church as a dinosaur, hungry to absorb what few young people we have. As a church we’re praying earnestly for revival and for God’s will regarding how to serve our community. We don’t so much want souls saved for Jesus, as if we’d cram whole persons into some Christian-sausage-making machine. We’re not geared for that. And that’s a plus I think. But we do want to make an impact in our local area. We want to be a tangible presence of Jesus, but in that we realise that people don’t want Jesus shoved down their throats.
They want what I wanted pre-Jesus:
for us to do our good works without strings attached.
The love of Jesus is done for love, not with a catch.
They want to see us put our money where our mouths are. They want us to be a people who put people first, not a people who have a reputation for exploiting people by getting them ‘saved’ and baptised and serving to build our ministries so we can have even more power and influence.
It still begs the question. How do we make our little contribution to our community in a way that our community can see Jesus through what we do? We need a way of getting involved in people’s lives, so it needs to be something worthwhile. We’re not the font of all knowledge. We’re not the service that everyone needs several times daily, like McDonald’s. We’re not some kind of innately attractive resource or material.
But, because of the love of Jesus in us, we want to be something by doing something.
Because of the love of Jesus, we want people to know that love, and they can only know that love when we move close to them. When we enter their world with kindness and grace to share. We need to find methods and mediums of tangible compassion and express ourselves in caring ways, not caring about insults that come our way. We need to be ready to roll up our sleeves, get dirty, lose ourselves in giving ourselves away, and trust God for the time when they might say, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ And yet not make much ado about nothing. Our lack of response will speak more volumes for our real motives for love than our clichéd words. Then, when enough relationship capital has been invested, and when they arrive at crisis, we’re ready to listen, support, encourage, and share our hope.
One person at a time.
That moment may never arrive. And that would have to be okay. We’re not ‘in it’ for a result.
This article isn’t the answer. The answer is something nebulous, and perhaps there’s many different forms of answer.
But we need to be a church for the people because God is for people.

I’m probably not the most credible voice even in my own city, but if my limited experience of church as a pastor is anything to go by, I can tell why the church is floundering. I have found more honesty and transparency and desire for real relationship outside the four walls of structured church. This is something we must ask God to challenge and change.

Monday, September 10, 2018

God has something better for you than you’re even prepared to ask for

Photo by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash

Some praying people are conditioned to think that their prayers, however small, won’t be heard, let alone answered. Let’s not call it wrong, but theirs is a doubting faith.
There is an opposite kind of person who prays big prayers in the fullest expectancy of their prayers being answered. Let’s not call it right, but theirs is an expectant faith.
But this article isn’t really about whether
God answers our prayers or not.
It’s about something more abundantly concrete. It’s about the reality that God is building a future for each of us that we would scarcely dream or imagine could be ours. And this isn’t some prosperity doctrine mumbo jumbo — like, God is going to favour you and your family in many material ways; O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz!
This is centrally about being open to a plan that God has for our lives that even we can’t dream up.
Part of this openness is the acceptance that comes with maturity. Another part of this openness is the wisdom of faith that acknowledges we see in a mirror, which is our life, dimly, and is prepared to risk that image for something only a good God would give; something better.
God has a reality for us that we will certainly step into
and we will be in that reality in that time to come.
Life will not, and cannot, remain as it is now.
Pick a point in time and go there with your future, say five years from now, and know that that reality God has appointed — to you. You don’t know it yet. You cannot even foresee it. As you look back five years and couldn’t imagine being where you’re at now, as you look five years ahead, there are realities you cannot dream up from this limited vantage point.
If you’re prepared to dream big with God, to invest and sow, those investments and that sowing will reap a harvest, at the appointed time, if you do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
When given an option of being positive about the future or negative, one sows hope and the other sows despair. Which attitude will you choose? None of us can afford to be against ourselves. None of us can afford to be against others.
We need to be for us as God is for us.
We need to be for others as God is for others.
God will look after the rest!
Perhaps the heart of our prayers for ourselves and our future reside not in an expectant faith nor a doubting faith, but in an accepting faith — accepting that God desires good for us, and that it is our job to sow in faith.
God’s desires are always more unknown to us than they are known to us. We simply must trust that His desires for us are better than we could, in our limited vision, desire for ourselves.
Let’s not sell God short on what He desires to do in us and through us, for us and for others.
An accepting faith surrenders my hopes
into God’s more than capable hands
knowing, with Him, it is well with my soul.
An accepting faith is neither wishing more from God than He might give us, nor is it settling for much less than He would do in and through us.

An accepting faith gives our life over to Him, for His use and for His glory, and whatever is for God’s glory is ultimately in our best interests.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Why Silence is No Longer, and was Never, Good Enough

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

The culture of silence in certain quarters of the Catholic Church is deafening, and now it’s coming from The Top. It sends a bellowing message that careens within the psyches of abuse survivors affected. It is a blight on God’s holy church. But am I, as a representative of God’s evangelical church, any less culpable? I’ve abused people. But… there is a big but coming:
There is a big difference between abuse that has taken place and been confessed and repented of — that has been forgiven — and abuse that has not been confessed and repented of. A monumental difference. I wouldn’t be writing this article if I felt there was abuse I hadn’t confessed or repented of.
There is a massive difference between sin
that has been acknowledged, confessed, repented of, and forgiven.
On a whole other level is the sin that is hidden,
that is unacknowledged, unconfessed, and not repented of.
The premise of this piece is not the sin done, for we have all sinned — not that that is unimportant, because it is still lamentable — but the principle I’m exploring here is the systemic covering up of significant and repetitive abuse.
The silence that meets survivors of abuse is an abomination.
But silence is not the half of it. If an entire organisation propagates silence that its leader has issued as a stance by edict, then the survivor feels scapegoated. And down the spiral of traumatic machination does the survivor go. If the abuse was one thing, and the silence was something entirely deeper and pathological, we can only imagine the additional depths and manifestations of trauma a survivor faces.
When a leader decides they will meet what they discern as “division,” because it appears someone is “seeking only scandal/destruction,” “even in the family,” we have to wonder what kind of family it is that the survivor is part of, and the cost they must bear for revealing the truth by uncovering the sin. And this is division? This is scandal? Do these just seek destruction? Vindication is certainly sought. But how on earth can any of these scandals now be handled privately? What tenuous position does that then place the survivor in?
Why are the powerful, in this context —
who are alleged abusers, who are hiding the alleged abuse —
always given positions of privilege?
The Pope appears to be so interested in the truth as to discern when to speak and when to remain silent. Certainly, wisdom is about discerning when to speak and when to remain silent. But truth? The only time we would consider remaining silent when it comes to the truth would be when we’re concerned we’re on the wrong side of the truth. But shouldn’t the church be leading the way in truth and advocacy for the abused and oppressed?
Jesus came to bring good news to the poor,
to proclaim release for the captives,
the recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
(See Luke 4:18-19)
So, there is a mismatch between the tenets Jesus stood for and the tenets the Catholic Church, in this situation, stands for. And it appears it isn’t just the Catholic Church. It happened at Willow Creek, too.
But there is still silence.
It is reprehensible, even unbelievable.
And yet here we are!
Some obviously don’t believe Jesus’ words
when He said ‘the truth will set you free.’
Silence is no longer good enough because we live in an age where common humanity has a voice, where worthy causes go viral, and survivors of abuse are no longer constrained to silence.
God is using social media to bring much darkness out into the light. And yet I hear so often empathy for those who abused minors decades ago, because it was a different time, as if those people thought they would always get away with it.
It makes me realise that silence was never good enough.
It is good that we are entering an age where survivors of abuse will have their day in court, where they may be believed, and perhaps for the first time, receive the support they should have always received.
None of us can imagine the kinds and amounts of atrocities done by so-called righteous people over the centuries. If we even had a glimpse into some of these accounts, we might be traumatised simply to bear witness to them. And we haven’t lived these lives. The survivor that reads these words, who knows all too well the requirement for and cost of silence may manage a wry smile to conceal a quivering chin as a solitary tear rolls down the cheek, and that is just the visible tip of the iceberg. A whole being lives beneath the persona, and only the person can know how hellish it is to bear what can seem impossible to be re-written.
Silence costs the survivor in myriad horrifying ways,
because repetitive trauma makes trauma complicated.
There must be severe retribution for any of those who are guilty of horrendous abuse and, ten times worse, for those who managed the system that covered it up, that protected the perpetrators, that promoted them, or moved them on, without having faced the consequences their crimes deserved.
Survivors need to believe that God’s Judgment,
which is final and everlasting,
will generously placate their grave concerns.
A lack of compassion shown to survivors of abuse is having a boomerang effect. There is no compassion for those who wantonly abused children, and especially for those involved in cover-ups. That is simply a consequence of the kind of evil we’re talking about.
Protectionism against ‘division’ in the church must always be viewed with suspicion where there are allegations of abuse.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Stepping out and over the Edge into Healing

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

I will never forget my first experience of abseiling as part of an emergency team training session. It was such a dipolar experience. Stepping over the edge was a gargantuan challenge, yet once I was over the precipice the rest of the exercise was pure technique, not to mention enjoyable.
I remember feeling silly that I had all this protection equipment on, and skilled instructors, and additional belay, yet part of me did not want to climb over that edge. As I did, and I feel for you if you have a fear of heights, I felt my sense of equilibrium tested and stretched. My body was hard and my grip was tight, revealing that I had illogical trust issues that defied what I knew to be true — this system of abseiling could be 100% trusted.
in manifold fear, action speaks volumes,
as involuntary responses take over.
Once I was over the edge, all of the challenge evaporated, and the rest of the exercise was easy. Indeed, it was one of those experiences you just want to do again and again, having overcome the initial hurdle.
The exercise of abseiling seems to me to be pretty close to the exercise of healing one’s inner dialogue of pain and trauma. Of course, this assumes that the therapy is safe, where any risk of fall would be eliminated. The abseiling analogy imagines that the hardest part of plumbing our grief and trauma is stepping over the edge, of trusting our pain to a process, of knowing we will come out intact on the other side.
Stepping out over the edge
where we feel we might fall is terrifying.
Such a fear needs to be validated,
listened to, valued, and addressed.
We don’t know if we will be re-traumatised. We don’t know how we will respond emotionally, and having unscrewed the lid, we need confidence to know we will be able to contain it. If we haven’t experienced it, we are forgiven that having all manner of reservation.
I think the best therapist in these situations is the one who has unexpected levels of compassion, the copious grace of empathic patience, and mastery over their ability to discern. They almost make it too safe. They make their interventions double- and triple-safe. They may even give us the kind of confidence that encourages us to have a go. Indeed, they may offer so much space that we are saying, ‘I’m ready to go already!’
As we step over the edge, having been protected from falling into an abyss, we do so holding capable hands. We do so holding the hand of our helper whilst also holding the hand of God.
We step out and over the edge safely
and into the destiny of our awaiting future
beyond our fears.
As we step over the edge into the new frontier of the expansive life that God is calling us to, we do so trusting the implicit safety we have been given. We step over the edge knowing that the hardest thing is over, and even though there may be more unsafe edges to climb over, having conquered the first edge we are granted courage to know that we can do it.
Overcome a hurdle and the next
similar hurdle is no such worry.
God has ordained for each of us this life that we live. It is all we have, so we make the most of the opportunity. If we shrink back now and don’t make the most of the days we have, we very well miss what is ours alone to have. Today is the day to step forward into the day’s destiny.
So, the opportunity ahead of each of us is to identify which edges we need to step over, and to find safe ways of entering into the healing that God has for each of us.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Biblical Encouragement to Continue in the Faith

Photo by Max Saeling on Unsplash
It’s not what it sounds but it is what works. It doesn’t sound encouraging but it is encouraging.
What happens in life is when we’re down, the kitchen sink is thrown at us. Ever noticed that? Not one or two issues, but what seems like ten or fifteen, simultaneously, in stereo. The day I began writing this article was one of those days. The day I finish and post this article is a new day, praise God.
But we’re called always to return to the biblical text — for our replenishment, for our sanctity, for our sanity, for our encouragement… in the faith… to continue.
Here is it from Acts 14:22 (NRSV) — “There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God’.”
“It is through many persecutions that
we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Absorb that. Ruminate in that. Dwell in it. Notice the word ‘many’ and notice the word ‘enter’; these words are connected as the entire sentence works in unity to present a salient concept. It is supposed to leave us troubled of spirit; to be challenged to understand it; and even, as it stands, it is an invitation to enter a mystery. It is an invitation to surrender — ‘Lord, I cannot control everything that happens. Only you are in full control.’
Notice, now, the words in the first part of the verse:
“… they strengthened the souls of the disciples
and encouraged them to continue in the faith…”
The souls of the disciples may well have been discouraged because of persecution. So how are the disciples now encouraged by the statement that they must endure many persecutions to enter the kingdom of God? The key word is ‘continue’… to continue in the faith, just as they have been doing.
It is an encouragement to continue.
There is no better vindication, and no simpler encouragement, than to say, ‘You’re on the right track, just keep going, I/we are with you in this.’
It’s all we need; the assurance that God is with us in every battle, and that those we depend on for guidance are willing to do the same; to not let go and to never give up.
Encouragement leads to the ability to continue in the faith.
Faith endures struggle in the hope of vindication without bargaining over the promise God has laid securely in the heart, and this faith leads to the courage of conviction to continue.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hello Darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again

Photo by Nicolás Rueda on Unsplash
Empathy in the individual is a massively important quality. Though it is a felt kind of trait, not strictly related with intelligence quotient, I think it is a cornerstone in the development of intelligence. Here’s why. When we have the capacity of feeling for others, we truly connect with our world and the fiasco of self is ended.
At least that is the theory!
But empathy isn’t the end of it. It’s just the beginning. Once our empathy is acquired it doesn’t stay with us statically; it can grow or rescind. We may develop it, but the tricky thing is we can also grow our skill for tapping artificially into it. In other words, we can learn to fake it.
Anyone can appear caring.
We need to be suspicious about those who appear as caring without actually feeling moved.
But the truth is that’s me. There’s a darkness in me to be able to continue as a pastor and counsellor and not be traumatised. Some would call it a thick skin. I know I’m capable of feeling enormous empathy, but it’s moderated hugely now by my mind. Of a sense, I can control it. On one level such control is good. It helps me do my job. But at another level I feel cut off from what I could possibly be feeling. Or, I mourn the fact that I’m not as emotional as I once was or upset by things many other people are. In a weaker moment, I can truly wonder if there is darkness in me to the degree that my conscience is somewhat seared. But I know what I think, and that convinces me — my thinking conveys reprehensibility for the things that would otherwise gut me.
See how there is the entrance into the reality of my darkness. I’m not afraid of finding out how dark my soul could be. It would trouble me where I was to find darkness. And it has. But it only troubles me to the degree that I am impelled to do something about it. Yet this is just one example. I am still vulnerable in areas where I think I’m right, where I could be wrong, where pride can still be the predictable initial response. Pride is never too far away as an immediate response I must be awake to. Pride driven of fear that I’m not, in fact, all that I think I am. Still, there are hidden darknesses that I am yet to be made aware of that elicits the prayer, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
You may have heard the song The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel, which says, ‘A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.’ This is so true to our human nature, that we cannot see what others see, and what others see we disregard, because we can only see our truth, and it forever polarises us in conflict with others who disagree. We are forlorn to war and battle and to decry justice and to fight for ‘justice’, and the biggest irony of all is the supposed social justice warrior insists they are right, and if only things were turned their way all would be right with the world. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Yet, there are those on the Right who cannot bear that they also might be wrong. I see so much at the polarities that is untrustworthy. Both sides manipulate truth to satisfy their need and prop up their position.
Could it be possible that we are all wrong?
If all of us could be wrong, and if only God can truly be right, all the time, what might that convince us to do? The trouble is, especially in the Christian world, we tend to think that God is on our side, when there are other Christians who see the world differently and believe God is on their side. Could it be possible that we are both partially right? If that is true, we are both partially wrong, as well. Where does all this thinking lead us?
Hopefully it leads us to the place of bringing our sinful opinionatedness to the cross, to confess our need of Jesus, and to repent toward the possibility of those truths that we cannot yet see. All we need to do is acknowledge that we cannot see everything.
We can only fix ‘us’ in Jesus’ name.
The ‘other’ is the Holy Spirit’s project.
Imagine this scenario: standing before God’s Judgment Seat on the day we finally meet Him.
We hear the record of our lives. Together with our record as it is read out, we hear others’ records read out; those whose lives paralleled ours, and especially, as it pertains to this topic, we hear those records of those people we might praise and despise.
Gradually we are enlightened as we listen, and begin to comprehend the facts we never knew, which are the things we always did that we thought were right but that weren’t wholly right, and those things that others did that we thought were wrong, that weren’t wholly wrong.
We hear the record of this other person we could not forgive, and for the first time in our lives we see how truly lovable they are, because the perception of God is added to us.
We begin to see who they actually are from the experiences that had shaped their lives. And suddenly there is a sense of remorse, because we did not, or chose not to, see what we could have always seen if only we had been openhearted.
In the immediacy of this moment, suddenly God makes us angelic to the point that all our eyes can see is truth, and from that truth is the full portion of grace, because, for the first time in our lives, we understood that grace can only be understood and extended from the perspective of the fullness of truth.
Then, after seemingly a long silence and pause,
God speaks these words gently:
‘You seem surprised, My son/daughter.
‘Did you not assume that you too had blind spots? Did you not plan for this day? Did you assume all along that you had read me right, whilst thinking all along others who love me read me all wrong? Did you assume that the moment you pledged yourself to Jesus resolved your sin in its entirety? Were you not concerned at all that from the moment you pledged to follow My Son that you did not grow as much as you ought to have? Do you arrive here imagining you are at the top of the hierarchy of mortals in heaven? Did you live your life that way? Of course, you are thinking right now, “You know it all, God, so I really have no defence.” Of course, the prosecution rests, for My questions of you are not judgment as you think they are Judgment. Until now you have been geared to think of everything against your view as judgment. I offer these rhetorical questions to you to bring you to the truth that causes repentance, which is an eternal commitment to and commission for the truth.
‘My Grace has covered you; you are loved and you are mine, but I would not love you if I did not bring this truth to you. Now, enjoy my heavenly kingdom, knowing you can only now do good and be good to all.’
What if our world was suddenly full of people, every single one of us, who saw immediately where we were wrong, instead of being right all the time? Of course, this is not a picture of earth, it is a picture of heaven on earth, but not of the new heaven and earth where there will be no wrong.
Could it be our opportunity, here as we live our lives, to live with our wrongness at the forefront of our awareness, as the principal modus operandi for living at peace with everyone, so far as it depends on us?
I started this article talking about empathy. If we, ourselves, do not have empathy we have no hope of realising the potential that God stowed in us from the beginning.
Please do not think this is referring to anybody else but yourself. It is so common for each of us to think about how others lack empathy or exude it too much, without facing the question for ourselves.
This is your time. This is your question.
Before the Lord of all the Ages.
This could be your opportunity to truly ask how devoted you are to truly following Jesus. What a golden opportunity it is, before your time, and mine, is up.
It is up to us to tell on our darkness before the darkness tells on us.
It’s time to be honest and to ascribe honesty as our covenant of allegiance to Christ.

Friday, August 31, 2018

How Churches can fail their Struggling Pastors

Photo by Elisey Vavulin on Unsplash

Please forgive me, but I cannot undo my past. Nearly 20 years I spent in the field of industrial relations, brokering peace between employees and managers through my role as a health and safety professional. My job was to advocate for the person who was bullied, to investigate incidents for the truth, and to understand and improve the systems and processes that supported a safe workplace.
My experience in the secular workplace, within industrial relations systems, was with large organisations that were committed to best practice. Whilst the cultures in these workplaces were not perfect, they were certainly workplaces, for the most part, that respected and backed their employees. I would have had a great deal of problem staying with an organisation that couldn’t respect and back their employees. It’s just the way I am. The caveat here is that I have heard plenty of horror stories, and seen a few, but it wasn’t my experience for the greater part. The companies I worked for always seemed to be striving for excellence in the right way.
When I contrast the church workplace with the secular workplace, through all of what I read and know by experience, it still amazes me how woefully struggling pastors can be treated.
When people are below their best
they perform at below their best.
We all perform poorly at some point.
Where’s the support
so we can rise again to our best?
Pastors are people too.
The church could learn a lot from the way that high-reliability organisations operate. For starters, they endeavour to have a Just Culture. That their heartbeat is the mantra ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ Culture is everything because everything is consumed culture. And, yes, churches also have their own culture, a kind of DNA that epitomises the way they operate.
It is commonplace industrially for employees to have the security of an Employee Assistance Program. This entitles the employee and their family members to thoroughly confidential psychological support and counselling. I know that policies suggest that there are, by a norm, 3 to 6 visits made. But I know the reality in organisations with an employee-friendly culture. They don’t place such a limit where there is the need for more support.
In fact, my experience with the organisations I’ve worked for is they will do anything reasonably practicable to support an ailing employee. And any employee who had a truly honest relationship with their employer could negotiate anything, because the employer truly wanted the best for the employee.
The employer was investing in not only the worker, but in the mental, social and emotional environment of the worker. It was their moral obligation in understanding the ‘system’ that underpins human factors.
Churches must invest in their pastors,
just as pastors invest in their churches.
The more a church invests in their pastors’ health and well-being,
the more pastors’ will perform acceptably for their church.
It was the same with employees who had alcohol and other drug problems; I helped facilitate programs to augment rehabilitation, and so long as the employee was able to remain honest, there was nothing we would not do to support them. Everything was negotiable. This philosophy underpinned the application of policies that were written.
Now I know that some churches, and probably many, would assist their pastors and paid ministry workers to this degree; to the actual degree of having faith within the relationship that neither is going to be screwed.
I guess, however, there is a possibility that some churches do not, or won’t, or cannot, assist their pastors and paid ministry workers to this degree. Some of the reasons may be very practical. Sometimes it is what it is, and we can’t do anything about it. But I really do wonder if more can’t be done to check in on pastors and paid ministry workers, regarding their health and well-being, to understand their issues, and to give them redress into counselling and other forms of support.
If we can allow an employee in the secular workplace to take time off or to make other reasonable adjustments to their work, or to give them counselling support, and to be on the front foot in checking in on them, to see how they’re going, why can’t we do that in the church for our pastors?
If we can understand when an employee in the secular workplace is maximally stressed, or who is bound up in conflict, or they are unhappy or upset for any logical reason, why can’t we extend this to the church workplace?
If bullying and harassment and mistreatment can happen in the secular workplace, it can happen in the church workplace. I have seen mediation in both workplace settings, and the church, from my experience, has a lot to learn. If there is an issue that requires mediation, so all parties are supported, surely it is incumbent on secular management or church leadership (whatever the context is) to arrange a genuinely independent and skilled person or team to do it. So root causes of conflicts can be established and reconciliation brokered.
Can churches not see that the
working environment for pastors is hazardous?
It is wonderful leadership when churches acknowledge
the health risks that pastors and other ministry workers are exposed to.
It is exemplary leadership when churches commit
to protecting their people in such a hazardous environment.
I think there is an opportunity for the church to understand it is an industrial relations environment, and have policies and systems and procedures to deal with a range of problems, so that pastors feel adequately supported, and churches can feel protected.

I will finish with this. I find it is reprehensible that an ordinary employee might get full and fair support from their employer, and they should, (and I know that many still do not) yet churches are not willing, in many situations, to support their pastors to that same kind of degree.