Category: Church Leadership

Ministry and Mary Oliver’s Poetry

In honour of this week’s Poetry at Work Day (the second Tuesday of January), I’m sharing an article that features some of the poetry of Mary Oliver and how it speaks to the life of ministry. This article was first published in Faith & Leadership with the tagline “how the poetry of Mary Oliver broadens the imagination…
Syndicated from When You Work for the Church

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Leaders Need a Deep and Abiding Sense of God’s Call

Leaders have to know who they are. . . . When everything else crumbles and when you are in situations of disillusionment, when plans haven’t worked out, when colleagues have disappointed you, there’ll come those times when you say, “Why am I doing this?” At that point, what is needed is a deep and abiding sense of God’s call.
As Wesley Granberg-Michaelson notes above, a sense of call is vital for ongoing ministry. In his own life, that’s meant serving as a research assistant for U.S. Senator Mark Hadfield, as managing editor for Sojourners magazine, co-founding a non-profit, working for the World Council of Churches as director of church and society, serving as general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and writing several books, including Leadership from Inside Out: Spirituality and Organizational Change and Unexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity.

For the full interview, please see the article first published in Faith and Life, which is the online magazine of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. Below is an excerpt that focuses on calling, commitment, and the challenge of ministry in changing times, re-printed with permission.

Q: What’s your advice for Christian leaders?

The first thing is to be clear about an abiding sense that they are following the way in which God has called them. Because often they’ll have nothing else to fall back on.

When everything else crumbles and when you are in situations of disillusionment, when plans haven’t worked out, when colleagues have disappointed you, there’ll come those times when you say, “Why am I doing this?”

At that point, what is needed is a deep and abiding sense of God’s call.

Leaders have to know who they are. They have to take the time to examine themselves and become really well acquainted with their gifts, with their possibilities, with their vulnerabilities, with their weaknesses, with their temperament.

Because all those things will come into play in the task of carrying out one’s position in leadership. And if you’re not self-aware, you’re going to get tripped up in ways that are unnecessary and that are likely to maybe get you into trouble.

Good leadership needs those who have a sense of distance and detachment from the organization that they serve. And that may sound almost ironic, but in fact …

Q: Yes, people usually talk about the leader’s passion, and the commitment, the vision — not detachment.

And I think leaders play an indispensable role in that, and they do so in a variety of ways.

But at the same time, you can’t ask the questions that an organization most needs to hear if you don’t have that ability to step back and remove your own ego, remove your own personal investment, and look with honest and ruthless clarity at the life of the organization.

Organizations share a kind of emotional life, and that emotional life can be healthy or it can be dysfunctional.

The role of a leader is to help tend the emotional health of an organization, and that’s done when the leader is what others have called a deeply self-differentiated person, who doesn’t become part of the kind of system of emotional dominoes where feelings and anxieties are just bouncing off one another.

Q: When you were in positions of leadership, what practices did you have to maintain that?

Every leader has to determine how they’re going to try to take care of their own soul.

Organizations don’t do this for you. Maybe they should, but typically they don’t. Organizations just keep asking, asking, asking until you will finally burn yourself out if you do everything they ask, and then they’ll hold you responsible for burning yourself out.

I find times of retreat in relationships of spiritual direction to be really helpful.

So when I started as general secretary, I told our General Synod Council, “I want to take one retreat day a month, and I want to be held accountable to this. You want to hold me accountable to all these measurables, all these things that we’ve got to produce. That’s fine. But I also want to be held accountable for how I deal with the things of my life that I think are going to be necessary to sustain all these.”

I learned early on through my time at Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., where I really was formed in so many important ways, the importance of having a spiritual director, having someone who would help guide me.

A more extroverted person may find accountability through gathering with groups and through any number or variety of practices. But you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to do something.

The organization won’t do it for you. And despite the best intentions of those in a church organization, they will be happy to just watch you burn yourself out.

Q: Do you think that it is a unique calling to be a denominational official?

Absolutely, I do.

I mean, this is not a job. And I mean, who would ever want it if it was a job?

These are terrible. I mean, you talk about tension — you can’t make everyone happy. People are always blaming you for something that you’re not responsible for. You’re trying to deal with a wide diversity of opinions of people who can’t get along with one another, and you don’t have enough money to do everything that people are asking you to do.

I mean, why in the world would you do this?

Q: You do make it sound fun.

You only do this because you’re called to do it, and you believe that these structures, despite their imperfections, are the expressions that allow us to live life together as a body of Christ in ways that we are connected and we are accountable, and that we will be able to do more together than we could do separately.

And that, in my view, is an essential need in the life of the church today.

There’s no image of the church in the New Testament that isn’t that of a connected church, a church where a body belongs to one another. I mean, why in the world was Paul traveling around and writing all these letters? It was because we weren’t all out there as independent churches that had nothing to do with one another. We were in this together.

And that calling is all the more important today. We’ve got to find those ways in which we’ll be the church together. A denominational structure is simply a structure that tries to express that.

It can do so poorly, or, if we learn how to work with them, it can do so well and make a difference. But to be called to it is a real ministry.

Q: What would you say to folks who are starting their careers and looking at these systems?

The most important thing is that anyone embarking on ministry has to go on the inward journey that allows them to really discern and discover where will they be making their unique and intended contribution.

I would certainly hope that among those options, working in larger denominational systems would be one of them.

Some are doing better than others. There are some real places of vitality. Racial, ethnic minority communities are growing and are vital. There are 4,000 new church starts a year in the United States. Pentecostal churches are growing. You find denominations like the Evangelical Covenant Church that are growing and are multiracial.

You can find lots of examples that are good, and then you can find examples of structures that are struggling. But they’re not going to disappear. They need those who can lead, because if they’re going to be any good, it will be because of gifted leadership.

Q: Are there any particular pitfalls you would advise against for young Christian leaders?

In many denominational structures and other Christian organizations today, it’s very easy to feel that there’s so much to do and, you know, I’ve got to work 70 hours a week in order to keep this thing afloat. Well, in the long run, that’s not going to work.

I remember when I first started on the Hill, I was working like that, and I was burning the midnight oil, and we were trying to stop the war, and we were trying to do things that we felt were pretty important.

But it’s when I got in the Church of the Saviour that I learned the balance between the inward and the outward life and learned that I needed to be clear about the capacities I had to sustain myself for the long term. I had to nurture those; I had to take care of those.

I would encourage young people going into such organizations to prepare yourself for the long term. Figure out how you can do this for 20 years. Figure out how you could make that kind of commitment — and that’s very countercultural for the younger generation.

Your peers are changing jobs every three or four years, and maybe you will too, but you’ll do your job better if you’re trying to do it for 20 years. So that would be my main word — try to think about how you would do this in a way that would last.

Thank you for reading. If you’re concerned about the good, the bad, and the ugly of church employment and how we can all do better, please share this article and consider signing up for my free updates. Comments welcome. I’m praying and working for positive change, and hope you’ll join me.

Syndicated from When You Work for the Church

When You Feel Like Running, Then Run to Jesus

In Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving, authors Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie ask:
What does it take for pastors not only to survive but to thrive in fruitful ministry over the long haul?
Their study examined 5 areas:

Spiritual Formation;
Self-Care;
Emotional and Cultural Intelligence;
Marriage and Family;
Leadership and Management.

Unfortunately their study drew only on married male pastors and their wives, so I decided to answer the authors’ question for myself.
How have I managed to thrive as a pastor?
Two years ago, I responded on my writing blog with My 22 Best Practices in 22 Years of Pastoral Ministry, and each year since then I’ve added another practice in another short article (13 Best Practices for a Healthy and Happy Sabbatical and What is the Secret to Flourishing?).

Today I’m gathering them together in one re-edited list for When You Work for the Church–some more over-arching concepts and others more specific life hacks, all based on my experience working for the church. Below are my best practices so far for surviving and thriving in church ministry.
1. Do what you love.
Long before I ever thought of being a pastor, I loved to plan worship, preach, and connect with people of all ages. What a delight then to be called to do what I love!
2. Share ministry and leadership.
Long before my congregation called me, they were a multi-voice congregation, with the pastor preaching just twice a month, and I’ve continued that practice. As much as I love ministry, I also love to give it away.
3. Journal.
By hand, on a device, or just in your head, find space to reflect on Scripture, pray, write poetry, dream, rant, debrief.
4. Have a great support system.
Including but not limited to a support group designated by your church or organization, plus family, friends, colleagues. One time when my husband was asked what he thought of my being a pastor, he replied, “She’s the best pastor of any church I’ve been a part of.” (and yes, he preaches on occasion, and shares the cooking and dishes at home too!).
5. Pray.
This might seem obvious, but never take prayer for granted.
6. Read Scripture.
Not just for sermon preparation, leading a Bible study, or teaching a Sunday school class, but for the sheer joy of Scripture. If the Word doesn’t move and transform me, how can I possibly share it in a way that moves and transforms others?
7. Aim to arrive a few minutes early for any appointments.
Instead of rushing to make it just in time, use the extra moments to gather your thoughts, pray, organize your schedule, take some deep breaths, or just spend some time in silence. I find I’m better prepared for whatever follows, and true confession, last time I arrived early for an appointment, I straightened up the back seat of my car which was sorely in need of attention.
8. Eat healthy.
Last night I made sole with black bean sauce, corn, rice, and a cabbage/kale salad. The night before, supper was brown rice noodles, tofu, and sui choy.
9. Be physically active.
I’m not as consistent with this as I’d like to be, but my mostly-on-but-sometimes-off work-out includes step aerobics and/or walking, plus free weights.
10. Get a good night’s sleep.
In addition to good basic sleep hygiene, for me this means going to bed prepared for the next day.
11. Track your time.
In ministry, it’s easy to blur the lines so it feels like you’re always working even when you’re not. Tracking time can clarify boundaries and make room for Sabbath time, which benefits both work, family life, and personal time.
12. Apologize.
Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s better to ‘fess up than cover up. Instead of being defensive and refusing to take responsibility, you’ll gain the respect of others and sleep better too.
13. Invest in on-going learning.
When I began as a pastor, I had no training or experience in pastoral care, so I focused all of my professional development there. Now I put more even weight on biblical/theological learning and the more practical nuts and bolts of ministry.
14. Experiment.
Taking risks on new initiatives is a form of learning by doing. Our first attempt at church planting in another community didn’t last long, but with our Vietnamese ministry we’re now moving ahead more strongly by planting a church within our church.
15. Go home for lunch.
I live just a few minutes from the church, so if I don’t have a lunch meeting or errands, I go home for a mental stretch break, do a small chore like unloading the dishwasher, or play the piano (badly and for therapeutic reasons, I might add).
16. Take all of your eligible vacation time.
43% of working Canadians don’t take all of their annual vacation days. I am not one of them.
17. Hold ministry lightly.
In one of my journals, I started a list of jobs I could do other than working for the church–college teaching (which I did before being called to pastoral ministry), temporary office work (also a pre-pastorate job), real estate agent (although I’d have to study for that), working in a book store (once my dream job), and more.
18. Don’t start your office day by responding to email.
It’s too easy to get drawn into other people’s agenda instead of focusing on my ministry priorities. Instead, I usually start by checking in with other staff, then turn to my key tasks for the day. I rarely find God’s priority for me to be email.
19. Have a sense of humor.
“Oh, so you’re a woman pastor?” said a first-time visitor. “Are there more of you in the Mennonite Church?” Well no, there’s just one of me, but yes, I’m glad there are other women in pastoral ministry in my own denomination and beyond.
20. Develop a thick skin.
“We don’t like it when women come in and try to change everything,” said one man who apparently disapproved of women as pastors. “Well we don’t like it when men do that either!” retorted his wife. Fortunately I was only a guest speaker at their church.
21. Have a life apart from the church.
While I’m fully engaged in the life of my congregation, I write and have a social and family life apart from the church too. That’s healthy for all of us.
22. Take regular sabbaticals.
If your church or Christian organization allows for sabbatical or study leave time, what are you waiting for? If not, consider whether the time is right to talk about developing a policy. My regular study leaves have helped keep me fresh as part of a strategy for long-term ministry.
23. Discover a sense of wonder again and again.
When I started pastoring, one of my biggest fears was that I might become cynical about the church. Certainly some of what  I’ve seen and experienced has disappointed and dismayed me, but as I’ve become more deeply involved, I’ve also found a deeper compassion for our woundedness and a greater wonder at God’s grace.
24. Run to Jesus.
Early in my ministry, I met regularly with my then conference minister, and I still remember his counsel, “When you feel like running, then run to Jesus.”

Your turn:
Which of these resonates with you?
What best practice can you share from your own experience?
_____________________
Like this article? Want to encourage churches and other Christian organizations in healthy work and employment practices? Then please share this article, and sign up for my free updates if you’re not already on my mailing list. Your support is much appreciated!

Syndicated from When You Work for the Church

Holier Than Thou? A Theology of Church Work vs. Other Work

Many Christians have the impression that church workers — especially evangelists, missionaries, pastors, priests, ministers and the like — have a higher calling than other workers.

While there is little in the Bible to support this impression, by the Middle Ages, “religious” life — as a monk or nun — was widely considered holier than ordinary life.

Regrettably, this distortion remains influential in churches of all traditions, even though the doctrine of virtually every church today affirms the equal value of the work of lay people. In the Bible, God calls individuals both to church-related and non-church-related work.
Calls to Church Work
Exodus 28:1
Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Mark 1:16-17

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Acts 13:2, 5

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them….When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.

Calls to Other Work
Deuteronomy 31:14

The LORD said to Moses, “Your time to die is near; call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, so that I may commission him.”

1 Samuel 16:12-13

Now [David] was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Given this biblical evidence, it would be inaccurate to think that God calls church workers but not other types of workers. David was called to be a king, not a priest. Moses and Joshua were both primarily military and political leaders, not religious leaders. They were both exceptionally close to God, but that doesn’t make them religious leaders. Rather it shows that God calls people in all walks of life.
A Strong Sense of Guidance
Some confusion arises because many churches require that their individuals be “called” to be ordained or to serve as pastors, priests or other ministers. Often the word “call” is used to describe the process of selecting a minister or the decision to enter church work full-time. However, as in the Bible itself, these situations are rarely direct, unmistakable, personal calls from God. Rather, they may describe a strong sense of guidance by God,

As we have seen, God’s guidance can occur just as strongly in non-church-related jobs and professions. We will not attempt to evaluate whether “callings” to church work are more intense, more direct, more evident or more necessary than callings to non-church work. We will affirm that church work is not in general a higher calling than non-church work, and that the term “call” applies just as much to non-church work as to church work. We also affirm that non-church work is as much “full-time Christian service” as church work.
All Christians are Called to Full-Time Service to God
God’s call in our lives covers all of our conduct, everything we do, round the clock.
Colossians 3:23
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.
Before concluding our discussion on this point, however, we should note that one stream of thought interprets 1 Timothy 5:17-18 as contradicting this view.
1 Timothy 5:17-18
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”
Given these verses, some argue that being an elder is a “double honor” compared to other professions. That would make being a church elder–which is roughly equivalent to a pastor or priest in modern church usage–a higher calling.

A more accurate rendering, however, is that elders who do their work well are worthy of a double honor (or honorarium) compared to elders who do their work merely adequately. This may also contrast elders who volunteer in their spare time and elders who work full-time for the church.

The text cites two Old Testament quotations about pay that further reinforce the sense that this passage is about rewarding high-performing or full-time elders, not about comparing church work to other work. It means that elders who work full-time for the church, and who do it well, deserve to be paid well by the church. So the passage compares different church workers, not those who are employed by the church and those employed outside of the church.

The only jobs that do not have equal status in God’s eyes are those that require work forbidden by Scripture or are incompatible with biblical values. For example, jobs requiring murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, or greed (Exodus 20:13-17), usury (Leviticus 25:36), damage to health (Matthew 10:8), or harm to the environment (Genesis 2:15) are illegitimate in God’s sight.

This is not to say that people who do these jobs have lesser status in God’s eyes. People whose circumstances lead them to illegitimate work are not necessarily bad people. For example, Deuteronomy 23:17 forbids becoming a prostitute, yet Jesus’ response to prostitutes was not condemnation, but deliverance (Luke 7:47-50; Matthew 21:31-32). Jobs of this sort are not God’s desired work for anyone, but they might well be the lesser of two evils in certain situations. .
A call to ministry or church work is no more sacred than a call to other types of work. What matters most is not one’s job title or place of work, but following God, the One who calls us.
This article was produced by The Theology of Work Project, Inc., and re-edited with permission for When You Work for the Church.
Your turn:
Do you agree with this article that
a hierarchy of different jobs persists
in spite of the theology that values both church work and other kinds of work?
What reasons might underlie this persistence?
_____________________
Like this article? Want to encourage churches and other Christian organizations in healthy work and employment practices? Then please share this article, and sign up for my free updates if you’re not already on my mailing list. Your support is much appreciated!

Syndicated from When You Work for the Church

Interview: Carol Penner, Feminist Theology and More

Carol Penner joins the podcast to discuss a few topics with Katelin, including feminist theology, abuse, pastoral theology, and writing worship resources. From Carol’s bio:
Carol Penner teaches and writes in the area of practical theology.  After many years as a pastor in various Mennonite congregations, she is joining the faculty of CGUC [Conrad Grebel University College] this year. Her research interests include feminist theology and Mennonite peace theology, and abuse issues. She has a popular blog of her worship resources at www.leadinginworship.com
Some of the topics covered include:

Carol’s background in both pastoring and academia. (1:23)
How Carol’s pastoral experience is used in academia and what the average person is thinking about as theological questions. A major one is money. (5:38)
Violence on a personal level, especially violence against women, not only seeing violence as “what would you do if called to war?” (14:21)
How our theology and our Scripture contribute to questions of abuse. (17:41)
Things Carol found helpful in feminist theology. (21:33)
Pastoral abuse and how Mennonite churches don’t do a good enough job talking about it. (32:34)
Why Mennonite churches talked more about abuse in the 90s but then stopped. (39:59)
Why Carol writes worship resources online. (44:15)

Links
Leading in Worship blog by Carol Penner
Carol’s academic bio from University of Waterloo
MennoNerds Interview: Into Account (YouTube)
Mennonite Central Committee Canada – Abuse Prevention
Our Stories Untold
 

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How to Create a Thriving Ministry Culture

Sarita Hartz has over 10 years of experience on the mission field and in the nonprofit sector. She founded her own nonprofit, got totally burned out, fell apart, spent three years working on her own healing and recovery, and now works at sharing what she’s learned to support other international workers and nonprofit organizations. “I finally found my true calling in healing the healers,” she says.

In the following article, Sarita addresses the need for healthy ministry culture, and what she says applies as well to churches and other Christian organizations. The article first appeared as 8 Steps to Building Thriving Ministry Culture on Sarita Hartz’s website, whole, and is reprinted here with permission.

At the age of twenty-four, I founded a ministry to help rehabilitate girl child soldiers in a war-torn region of Uganda. It was a ton of hard work. I was young, full of idealism and naiveté and I didn’t know very much then about how to build a thriving culture.

As people came alongside me in my vision, I became responsible not just for me, but for my team as well.

This created layers of complexity I wasn’t quite sure how to navigate. More people meant more pressure, more consideration of other’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, decisions and disagreements.

I had the passion and youth to “go, go, go” all the time, but I didn’t think about how that affected the people around me or what it would do to me long-term.

In the ministry/nonprofit sector there is a great amount of burnout and unhealthy practices that are taking a toll on those who have dreams of doing good. Many articles are surfacing about this dangerous trend.
There is a widening gap between the values that ministries and nonprofits say they hold and the way they treat their employees.
Turnover is the greatest human resource challenge facing nonprofits.

In some ways, it’s understandable. We desperately need help and sometimes we’ll settle for warm bodies.

At the end of the day we’re doing more harm than good if we think volunteers matter less than the people we’ve set out to serve.
As founders we fall into the danger of treating employees or volunteers simply for what value we can extract from them rather than as people with their own needs we should care for.
Within ministry we often chew people up and spit them out, offering little member care, and complaining when we have high turnover rates.

In my coaching work, I often see the detrimental consequences that well-meaning ministries are having on their own people.

This saddens me because I believe God doesn’t want service to equal slavery.

As leaders, we often want to fulfill the mission even at the cost of ourselves and those alongside us.

We reach out to the poor and suffering with the Gospel of love, but often have little love and consideration for one another.

I get it. I’ve been there. And I’ve made a lot of mistakes. My first nonprofit I was so snowed under, I didn’t value staff or volunteer well-being as much as I should have. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the needs of volunteers or employees in addition to the needs of the people you are trying to serve.

And yet, studies have shown that investing in a solid, thriving organizational culture will result in happier, healthier staff and greater productivity as an organization with less turnover and burnout.
Investing in self-care strategies and the well-being of your staff will result in long-term sustainability.
Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations.

Often these values are unverbalized and insidious.

For example,

“The Boss is a workaholic and never takes off. I should be like that too.”

“Feedback is not appreciated. If I disagree I should keep my mouth shut.”

“I don’t want to, but it’s expected that I’ll answer emails over the weekend.”

Unless direct actions are taken to create a thriving culture, nonprofits can deeply wound their employees or even fail in their mission.

So here are 8 steps to creating a thriving ministry culture:
1. Become a Conscious Leader
The most important thing you can do for team culture is to do your own work yourself. In conscious leadership there is a concept of being above or below the line. When we are above the line we believe it’s more valuable to learn and grow than to be right, we are curious, open, feeling emotions, making impeccable agreements, and taking responsibility for our actions. When we are below the line we believe there is a threat, we act out of fear and blame others, we respond with drama, anger, and defensiveness, have a scarcity mindset, and we believe we are right. These polar opposite modes of leadership create vastly different outcomes within culture. If you are a leader I highly encourage you to learn the work of the Conscious Leadership Group.
2. Own that there’s a problem around stress
Burnout doesn’t just derive from working too much, it’s about perfectionism, unreasonable expectations, and a systematic toxic work culture that says our life is our work. – Alessandra Pigni
Cross-cultural work is stressful. It just is. Ministry often demands our whole souls. We care, and without ongoing processing that care can lead to toxic behaviors. High levels of stress are detrimental to our health long-term and that ultimately affects our ability to have impact in the world. It’s much easier to avoid burnout than it is to recover from it. But change has to come from the top down. As the director, you have to own your issues of over responsibility and over working and find a value for self-care so your people can follow you. You can say “unplug from work” all you want, but if workaholism and martyrdom is lauded and modeled in your life, if people are praised for answering emails over the weekend and getting little sleep, then the culture is promoting eventual burnout. Stop the guilt and shaming around people not being “tough enough” if they can’t do all you can. Accept there might be special grace on your life to do what you do. And remember if you are unhappy or stressed, your entire staff will feel it too.
3. Hire and delegate
We might be too overwhelmed to care for the needs of volunteers ourselves, which is why we should have a volunteer coordinator, someone who is specifically focused on their emotional wellbeing. As a missions organization, we should have a delegated member care staff person or hire an outside counselor or coach for our people to receive the ongoing inner healing they need to do their jobs well. This person should be someone safe, someone they can be honest with and not fear punishment or disciplinary action. Make sure these people have a value for compassionate connection.
Genuine bonds among coworkers where employees demonstrate caring, compassion, and tenderness was associated with lower stress levels. –The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit
4. Create policies that mirror your values
As a team, come up with your value system and what you will hold dear. Including staff and volunteers in this process will lead to greater levels of ownership. Address any areas where you aren’t in integrity with what you said was important to you. Instead of praising people for working 60-80 hours, start praising people who take their time off. Working longer is not associated with greater social impact. Stop guilt and shaming around self-care or making people feel they aren’t tough if they aren’t sacrificing everything for the cause. Compassion fatigue is real. Come up with a fun name people can use when they need a break: “Me time,” “Mental health break,” “Snooze button,” etc.
5. Practice what you preach
Culture only happens if you implement your values and policies and you actually participate in them. Your team will model their lives after you. Have your own personal self-care plan then email your team your goals so they will have permission to engage in their own. And be open to feedback and where your actions might not be in alignment with your values.

Here are some other great ideas to create healthy culture:

Morning celebration or testimony time (What gives you joy/thankful for?)
Encourage people to leave work on time and unplug (Play a song loudly in office til everyone is  out – Toto’s “Africa” is a great one )
Flexible work hours – work from home; if work late, come in later
4 day work week – longer hours for 4 days for a 3 day weekend
Digital detox – No emails sent late at night or on weekends
Walking meetings – walk while you brainstorm – promotes equality
Every 3 months –  mandated mental health day (time off to be with Jesus or do what nourishes them)
Build a quiet room for prayer, meditation, or power naps – with a sofa or bean bags- have lavender essential oils there – tea etc. –  have iPod available with guided meditations or nature sounds for when people need a stress break – create an atmosphere of walking into a spa – have adult coloring books – proven to reduce stress
Put a small gym at office – weights, yoga mats, punching bag, bike – encourage exercise breaks during the work day (Studies show 20 min of exercise in the afternoon is a better stimulant than coffee)
Download meditation apps (Calm, Headspace, Mindfulness)
Employee of the month – give them a massage or gift card to something self-care related (honor attitude and compassion)
Have healthy snacks in the office for energy throughout the day

Ariana Huffington’s Thrive Global has lots of other great tips for preventing burnout in your organization.
6. Get ownership from your employees in the process
This is perhaps what makes thriving cultures successful. Find out what your people value, what would help them de-stress- either through anonymous survey or in person if you’ve created a safe environment for them to be honest. Invite them into creating your wellness policies. It can be scary to let go of control, to get feedback, but it’s essential to thriving organizational culture. You may live in a culture where you’re afraid people will become less motivated if you give them more lee way. In some African cultures things can seem to move a lot slower. Change your expectations and realize that a well-supported staff in the end will be more productive. If they have a stake in your values, they will be more likely to carry them out. Creating breaks will lead to fewer people trying to cheat the system. Make sure you follow up to see what’s working and what isn’t. Learn to respect people’s boundaries when they say they can’t handle something.
7. Invite play and fun into the workplace
Play is an important aspect of building strong team dynamics. In harsh environments where we witness intense suffering, play is perhaps even more vital. Here are some suggestions:

Have Crockpot Mondays where different people cook their favorite dish and share (breaking bread together is important in building cohesion)
Have board games in the office to play during lunch breaks or a staff game night (Smallworld, code names, poker, apples to apples, taboo)
Put up a whiteboard for staff to write inspiring quotes, funny drawings or encouraging messages
Do a ropes course together or trust falls
Go on a fun, staff retreat together (camping or resort)
Have a karaoke night or movie night with a projector
“Surpraise”- Every month choose a staff person and cover their desk in post it notes of praise and encouragement
Do sports together (Play volleyball, kickball, disc golf, ultimate Frisbee)

8. Take your vacations and mandate staff do the same
One of the things that begins to slip often in the nonprofit sector is time off. We get so caught up in fulfilling the mission that we lose sight of rest. Resting is essential and it’s saying to God that we trust Him to take care of things, that we know He can move even without our help. Recommended guidelines for international workers are 25-30 days a year of vacation time. But staff won’t feel like they can take the time off if they never see you completely unplugging. It’s also a confidence booster for staff to see that you believe they can hold the fort down and function without you. It’s recommended that every 3-5 years you take a longer sabbatical (up to 2-3 months) to reset, do research, and reestablish your purpose and your commitments to self-care. True growth often happens in the stillness.

Let your organization be known not just for loving those you serve, but loving one another. You will leave a greater legacy of love and social impact in the world if you highly value those you serve with.
_____________________

This article lists 8 elements that are part of a thriving ministry culture.
Is there anything you would add or subtract from this list?
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How God Called Me into Pastoral Ministry

This summer as I’ve been reviewing my website and related links, I’ve discovered that an earlier article on my call to pastoral ministry is unfortunately no longer available. I had originally shared my story as part of a series on women in ministry, and called my article, An Accidental Pastor. Now that link goes to a private blog “open to invited readers only.” I don’t know when or why that change happened, but since my call story is my story, today I’m sharing an updated version below with a new title: How God Called Me into Pastoral Ministry. I hope it might encourage and inspire you to follow God’s leading in your life today.

My husband and I had moved to a new community and were just about to join a local congregation when the pastor abruptly resigned. Quite literally, he was there one Sunday, and then gone the next. It wasn’t the best introduction to a new church, but in spite of the turmoil, we decided to move ahead with our plans to join. After all, we had been getting to know the people over the last year, we both taught at the church-supported Bible college, and I had even served as a guest speaker for the congregation several times.

Without a pastor, the congregation relied even more heavily than usual on its members to do the work of ministry, and I was asked to lead a series of four worship services for Advent. I gladly said yes, and after my first Sunday planning and leading worship, a woman approached me and asked,
“How would you like to be the pastor of this church?”
I would later learn that she was part of the pastoral search committee, but my first response was to laugh! Pastoral ministry was the furthest thing from my mind. I was convinced I already had a strong calling–to teach, write, and be involved as a member of the church. Pastoral ministry was nowhere on my radar screen.

But that Advent as I continued to lead worship and to be active in the church, variations of the same question kept coming. Finally I received a call from the chair of the search committee. “We hear that you are very happy teaching and writing,” he began, “but we would like to talk with you about some interim pastoral ministry.”

By that time, I was no longer laughing–yet I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to meet with the search committee. At the time, I had a Master’s degree in Christian Studies–equivalent to a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, which is the new name for my degree. But I had no pastoral experience, and the church was still reeling from the difficult pastoral departure. If there is such a thing as a match made in heaven, I was quite sure it didn’t look like this!

Still, one of the things my husband and I have always valued about the Mennonite church is the understanding that God speaks to us in Scripture, in our own prayer life, and also in community. Here it seemed the community was trying to say something, and we agreed that I needed at least to listen.
Over those next few weeks, God’s Spirit moved among us in a powerful way.
As we continued to discern together, I went from not at all even thinking about pastoral ministry, to being willing to consider it, then curious, and then excited about a unique opportunity—to serve the church at a critical time of transition, to experience some new things for myself, and to learn and grow spiritually and personally through it all.

Would I be willing to serve part-time and continue teaching? the committee asked. Would some sort of team ministry be possible? They even had someone in mind for the other half of the team, but when that didn’t work out, one of the senior members on the search committee asked, would it be possible for me to take a leave of absence from the college and work as a full-time interim pastor?

So on the recommendation of the search committee, I asked for a leave of absence from the college and accepted the church’s call for what we all thought would be for the summer months and then the fall semester. The church would continue their search for a pastor, and I fully expected to be back at the college and teaching in January. I knew the search committee was already in conversation with a possible candidate, so surely they would settle on a “real” pastor by the time my leave of absence was over. I just didn’t know then that it would be me.

As it turned out, the church asked me to extend my interim ministry for another college semester, then asked me to candidate for the regular pastoral position. Once my on-going call was official, I went through the ordination process and became the first woman ordained to pastoral ministry in my area church denomination. As of this past Easter Sunday, I’ve now been lead pastor at my church for 24 years!

In some ways I’ve had it easy—my church had mainly resolved any questions about women in ministry before they extended a call to me, and I’ve received wonderful support over the years. But ministry has also presented many challenges. I’ve dealt with the past sexual misconduct of a pastoral candidate, financial misconduct by a member of the church against other members, difficult deaths including the loss of children and the still unsolved murder of a parishioner. As an associate pastor once said to me, “I wish you some bumps along the way so you’ll know what it feels like”—and I’ve definitely had my share.

Yet through it all, I’ve also had a deep and persistent sense of God’s calling. I may have started as an “accidental” pastor since I certainly hadn’t planned on ministry, but my experience has been so much more, thanks be to God.
_____________________
Writing/Reflection Prompt: When have you most strongly sensed God’s leading? What bumps along the way have you experienced?
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Boundary Training that Moves Beyond Sexual-Misconduct Problems

In the context of Christian ministry, boundary training is often presented as training to prevent sexual misconduct. In my denomination for example, all new pastors take a Relationships with Integrity seminar, with a refresher course every six years. Given the seriousness of professional sexual misconduct and abuse, such training is essential.

At the same time, good boundaries can be more than a negative restriction to prevent sexual misconduct. Viewed more positively, good boundaries can also function to release excellence in ministry and to promote the health and vitality of a congregation or other Christian organization. When we say no to crossing a boundary, we are released to say yes in other areas. This broad and more positive approach is what I most appreciate about Saying No to Say Yes: Everyday Boundaries and Pastoral Excellence by David C. Olsen and Nancy G. Devor (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).

 
This book concerns a different type of boundary training that moves beyond sexual-misconduct problems.
The lack of professional boundaries among clergy whose misconduct has been splashed across national newspapers has inflicted horrific pain on the individuals affected and betrayed far too many congregations.

But most clergy don’t engage in the notorious violations reported in the daily news. Though we may not realize it, we likely face more mundane boundary challenges every day, from being called to attend an emergency sickbed during our child’s music performance to the unspoken expectation that we attend every committee meeting. We may be worn down by the demands of ministry, disconnected from the source of energy that inspired our call and that nurtures our gifts. . . . This book discusses the ordinary boundary problems that are robbing too many clergy and congregations from life-giving ministry. (vii)
While individuals are responsible to set appropriate boundaries, there are also systemic factors.
. . . the reality is we are all embedded in networks of relationships that define and sustain us. . . . Holding clear boundaries and practicing self-care in a healthy congregation is hard work, but to do so in a congregational system that is chronically anxious about its future, is experiencing and worried about declining finances, and wants to bring back the glory years of the last generation is an even greater challenge. Setting boundaries as anxiety ratchets up in a congregation becomes increasingly difficult. In this regard, issues of the system become a large contributing factor in boundary problems. (12-13)
This book draws on Murray Bowen’s systems theory to understand the church and other Christian organizations as emotional systems.
For example, just as a family develops certain patterns from one generation to the next, so churches and other Christian organizations develop patterns of behaviour and communication that are transmitted from one generation to the next.
When joining a new system, a new minister [or other employee] has an opportunity to ask non-threatening questions about his or her predecessors and what their leadership style was, simple questions like: “Could you tell me what you most valued in the last minister?” “What were the criticisms?” “How would you describe the leadership styles of the last three ministers?” “What are the controversial issues in this congregation?” Questions designed to learn the congregation’s history are a place to start an important task of the first year or two of a new call: discerning as much as possible about the congregation’s communication patterns, history of over-functioning and under-functioning between clergy and lay, projection and scapegoating of the pastor, and so on. (57)
Successful boundaries are a team effort.
Personnel committees (which have different names, depending on your denominational context) can be a wonderful resource to clergy [and other employees] in helping them set and maintain boundaries. First, the committee must understand how important boundaries are for the sake of congregational vitality and work carefully with their minister to help set and support those boundaries. If such a committee does not exist in your congregation, ask for a model from your denominational office or from trusted clergy colleagues. If this type of committee does not exist in your congregation, make it a priority to start one. Second, very practical strategies can be implemented such as regular meetings so that some members of the congregation begin to understand the need for clergy to take care of themselves and also help monitor that self-care is taking place. Committees can provide a coach for their minister, they can encourage sabbaticals and continuing education, and they can make sure there is money for both. They can help interpret to the larger congregation why such boundaries are essential. (105-6)
This book is full of practical examples, questions for reflection, encouragement and tips to organize a clergy or other ministry group, and a workshop outline for boundary-awareness training. Highly recommended for pastors and other ministry workers, churches and other Christian organizations, including denominational leaders responsible for boundary training.
Your turn:
Where do you long for more depth?
What do you need to change–internally, externally–
to have room for the “yes” you are longing to practice? (84)
_____________________
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7 Ways to Keep Sabbath When You Work on Sunday

Working for the church or other Christian organization often means working on Sundays. That might be most obvious for pastors responsible for Sunday morning worship, but that’s also the case for many others as well. Think of denominational staff and those involved in parachurch ministries who travel to speak at different churches on Sunday mornings. Or those on shift work in care homes as nursing staff, preparing meals, cleaning, or performing other duties. Or the church secretary who worships in her own congregation and finds herself constantly asked about bulletin announcements, or where to find the dry erase markers for the whiteboard, or how to unjam the photocopier.

The challenge of finding Sabbath on Sunday is there too for active members within the church. For the church nominations committee member who spends his time on Sunday morning seeking out and talking to potential nominees. For the mom whose husband is working, yet she gets herself, their three children, and all of their related books, snacks, and diapers ready for church and out the door. For them and for many, Sunday morning worship can feel more like work than Sabbath.

Yet Sabbath worship and rest are vital for all of us, so today’s article is about how to keep Sabbath when Sunday mornings feel like work. It was originally written for Congregations published by the Alban Institute (now Alban at Duke Divinity School) and is used here by permission (full citation at the end of the article). Just don’t be put off by the language of “clergy,” and feel free to substitute your own name or role. This article contains great ideas for anyone looking for more Sabbath in their week and how to include your family in your Sabbath-keeping.

7 Ways to Keep Sabbath When You Work on Sundays
Although Sunday is the day of Sabbath for most Christians, for clergy this is a working day–and a hard-working day at that. So while Sundays often provide a sense of rest and relief from more worldly cares to those in our congregations, clergy are left with the dilemma of finding a way to feed our own spirits. If we are to be effective spiritual leaders, we must make the effort to keep Sabbath in our own way and time. Below, I offer seven ways to honor Sabbath in our lives.
1. Worship While Leading
We can learn to worship while leading worship: isolating even one part of the liturgy in which we relax, like a musical offertory or benediction, is a start. Ideally, we would be so self-forgetful in the pulpit that we would worship with our people the entire hour. Spiritual disciplines, like meditation and breathing can help us to prepare for such full worship. But absent this utopia, why not add dimensions to the service that quiet us, the leaders? I used “Lead me Lord, lead me in Thy righteousness, make Thy way plain before my face, for it is Thou, Lord,Thou, Lord, only, that makest me dwell in safety” for years after the sermon. I rested in those verses and still do.
2. Worship with Other Churches
We can worship with other churches that worship at a time different from ours. For years, I went to First Baptist Church on Sunday nights. I even held an associate membership. I worshiped at “their” service on Sundays nights; I worked at my service on Sunday mornings. Now I like an 8 a.m. Sunday Episcopalian mass or (don’t tell anyone) a Catholic mass on Saturday afternoons. Before we moved to Florida, my family worshiped monthly at the Jewish Community of Amherst, where we also belonged. The worship of communities other than our own often happens in a different time frame; we may join them with ease.
3. Worship on Your Day Off
Sabbath can become a normal part of our day off, whether it is Friday or Monday, by developing a personal ritual. Reading the Psalms or playing a musical instrument, or simply sitting in a certain chair for a certain period, will do. Such “leisure time” rituals do not enjoy the rich community of Sabbath keeping–but they do keep the third commandment. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, it says. We who work while leading worship might offer a substitute: Remember a Sabbath to keep it holy.
4. Worship on the Road
Clergy have nearly constant opportunities to attend retreats, workshops, and conferences. At most of these meetings, worship is held. Often, it is quite rich. Sometimes, it is perfunctory. We can be part of the lobby that asks for as much depth and length as possible in these services on the very grounds that clergy need communal worship experiences so that we may know Sabbath. If we can’t worship at home, we can worship on the road.
5. Worship as a Family
Family worship is a nearly lost art in the modern world. Still, family devotions can ground a clergy family even more than they can ground a non-clergy family. The fragmentation of the modern sports and shopping and Sabbath worlds–what we call the “week-ends”–means that families have a very hard time getting together to worship God.

We clergy can offer ten minutes before or after church services to our family as a way to regard scripture, memorize prayers, sing songs, and create “little” rituals that go a long way toward Sabbath separation of rest and work time. Such a service might happen right before a required Tuesday or Sunday night supper at which the whole family “must” gather. These services or requirements don’t have to be pious or leaden so much as simple and quiet. They are a great time for the family’s favorite foods. A simple scripture and prayer of gratitude for the events of the week, in which the family shares, can be as meaningful as hours of time in a so-called sacred space. If we begin these family services when children are young, they will grow to appreciate them even more. Going around the family circle and asking everyone what they are grateful for from the last week is a ritual that lasts and lasts. Asking if there are any regrets can bring up some surprising confessions. These modest observances can keep a family together and a clergy person calm.
6. Worship While You Walk
Keeping a ‘portable’ Sabbath may be as good as some of us can do. Because it is not perfect does not mean that we should not do it. I like to hike at least once a week, a long way in and a long way out of a local forest, as a way of emptying my mind. I think of these walks with a kind of hunger that resembles the way Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the Ashkenazi Jews as hungering for the night of Sabbath: if I miss this time, I get very grumpy. If I “keep” this Sabbath, I get less grumpy. I don’t build the resentment that many clergy know so well–that somehow we are the one-person spiritual department in a large widget-making corporation. The walk gives me what I want to give to others.
7. Worship with Integrity
Clergy need two days off–one for laundry and errands and one for God. Mixing the two makes us hypocrites over time: we want people’s attention to God to be basic and primary. When ours becomes more so, so will our peoples’. When we know how we are living our own lives, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and missing God too often, hypocrisy begins to bleach and take the color out of our leadership. We need two days off–and we need to interpret this need to those who right now think we are “off” all the time.

Reprinted with permission from Alban at Duke Divinity School. Written by Donna Schaper, “Seven Ways for Clergy to Keep Sabbath,” Congregations: The Alban Journal, July/August 2000.
Your turn:
What other Sabbath practices do you find helpful?
I’d love to add to this list!
_____________________
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Humanizing Human Resources: Re-Imagining HR

“Anybody can put together a policy manual,” says Director of Staff Services Lee Scott. “What’s more important is knowing who your staff are, what they love, and what they need.”

Lee Scott had no experience in human resources prior to being hired by the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO). “I’m a farm kid from western PA,” says Lee, “I grew up taking care of cattle.” After college, he stayed busy gathering a master’s degree in divinity, a second master’s in public policy, and consulting on business strategy for one of the co-authors of The Serving Leader. Now he puts his combination of business and shepherding to good use as CCO’s first-ever Director of Staff Services.

Lee Scott was interviewed by Sam Van Eman, and the interview revised for When You Work for the Church. Used with licensing and permission from The High Calling.
Lee, let’s start with a simple question. What is HR?
HR is a lot of things to a lot of places. In general, it provides structure for an organization: benefits, conduct policy, time off for vacation or a new child. . . . It’s also the butt of a lot of jokes. Whatever it is, it functions well when it equips other parts of an organization to accomplish their tasks more efficiently.
Why did you get into it?
I got into it because Jesus called me to it. I didn’t know a job like mine even existed. The CCO didn’t want a by-the-book corporate model but a permission-giving model with someone willing to understand the organization’s culture. My favorite classes at Carnegie Mellon were on organizational behavior and management. My background in pastoral care and the job description being so different from what I expected made me think it was possible.
Speaking of different, even your title as Director of Staff Services is unusual.
As our executive vice president said, “Many HR departments live by a do-this-don’t-do-that mentality. We’re committed to empowering staff.” So that’s what I do. I serve the staff.
What makes this approach better?
If HR is going to be reimagined—restored—we need to see employees as people, not resources. At the CCO, we believe they’ve been called to this particular work. If I view my staff in this way, it changes how I understand employee relations. We’re not dealing with their employment. We’re dealing with their calling.

Our own calling as an organization is “Transforming College Students to Transform the World.” If we hope to do this, then we need a transformational staff, which means we need to develop and manage our staff toward that end.
How does that inspire you practically to do your job?
I get to collaborate in the recruiting and placement process. Because our staff are so engaged with the mission of the organization, we’ve had to orient HR around how they execute their calling. The recruiting department invites them to join us, and then, literally, hands me a track relay baton as a symbol that it’s now my job to care for them.

Considering the huge percentage of their daily lives staff spend working here, it’s an honor to encourage and equip them for ministry, Or, as Ephesians 4:12 says, “to prepare God’s people for works of service.”
One practical example of this is the CCO policy manual. A couple of years ago, I got very sick with Lyme’s Disease and called to ask about time off. You answered me and then suggested I read the employee handbook for more details. I did. The entire thing. The strange part? I normally bristle at regulations, but I couldn’t help but feel cared for after each page.
Well, I think it’s because it reflects the organization who wrote it. It matters, for example, that our CEO writes a note on the first page to set the tone. You probably also felt cared for because the code of conduct gave you confidence to know how to act. You felt cared for because it addressed every area of your life: physical, mental, your wife and kids, finances for your family in the years after you stop working, space to pursue further education.

Think about it: our staff start off with three weeks of paid vacation. My mom had to work thirty years to get there! And twelve paid sick days? There’s no federal law [in the US] for paid sick days. We exist as a community. Anybody can put together a policy manual. What’s more important is knowing who your staff are, what they love, and what they need. Rather than know that Sam works for us, I need to know who Sam is.
Maybe that was it—the human part of human resources. You even prayed for me, though I’m sure most places can’t do that.
No, but we can at least know staff names and whether they’re married and have kids. In an organization of our size (about 170), every employee deserves to be known by their HR department.
Seems like something every HR department should be doing, religious affiliation or not. Since the CCO is a Christian organization, what examples do you see it (or yourself) borrowing from the Bible?
Moses was the first HR professional. He established the first medical plan—a snake on a pole! [laughs] Nehemiah is a great metaphor for this generation of people in my position because he wasn’t trying to do something new. He worked on building the basic foundational structure to allow for other things to come later. In a similar way, we’re trying to restore what is in disrepair in the workplace.

I should clarify what I mean by structure. We want to understand the culture and context first, not adapt staff to an HR structure. Our employees are people who have a sense of calling to this work. And people have agency. They have chosen to push this rock up the hill. I want to help them. That, to me, is a new orientation for HR.
How do you hope this translates into what staff might say about your work years from now?
I think they’ll say less about me and direct their comments to their employment experience. I hope they’ll say, “They generously cared for the work I did,” and “It was a special place when it came to benefits,” and, “I worked for an organization that went above and beyond, and sought to know me.” My hope is that comments like these would result from us spending more time listening than writing policy. And if our staff thrive, the mission will get accomplished.
Your turn:
How would you describe HR in your own work context?
What would you want to add to the re-imagining described in this interview?
_____________________
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When are they going to start teaching ministers how to communicate?

Christianity is all about helping people change their minds and behaviour, right? We want to see people choosing to follow Jesus, then growing in their understanding of what that means and how they can follow him better. Don’t we? So why are we still using approaches that have been shown to be very ineffective? How … Continue reading When are they going to start teaching ministers how to communicate?
Syndicated from the Way?

An Update From My Transitional Break

For the past few weeks, East Petersburg Mennonite Church has invited me to take a Transitional Break. This several week break was designed to give both me and the church a chance to own and mark my...

More online at www.jeffmclain.com

Syndicated from Jeff McLain

Healthy Ministry and the Pastor with Mental Illness

When Tony Roberts first published Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission, I was immediately intrigued by the title and subtitle. In the context of church life, I understood ministry and mission. I even understood mental health and mental illness–but madness? Sandwiched between ministry and mission, the frank term made me want to learn more.
I eagerly read Tony’s book on his experience as a pastor with bipolar disorder, and wrote a review on my writing blog. Now that I’m writing specifically in the area of church employment, and in honour of Mental Health Awareness Month, I invited Tony to join me for an interview and excerpt from his book, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.
Welcome, Tony, and thank you for your willingness to engage in this conversation with me. How would you describe your journey with bipolar disorder and being employed as a pastor?
I entered pastoral ministry in 1991. I had been in sporadic group therapy for a couple of years with symptoms of depression. By God’s grace, my mania had only manifested itself as feverish energy I could channel into study and work. When my oldest daughter was born (March, 1992), I escalated into a mania that at first seemed like being a super-involved dad. Within a week, however, my mood shifted to a mixed state. I worked countless hours at church and, when I was home either yelled at my daughter’s crying or hid in my bedroom.

At church, I was able to function similar to how I functioned as a student. When I was manic, I got way ahead (by as much as six sermons that I could draw on); other weeks I was depressed. Looking back, though, there were certainly times I was as emotionally and spiritually absent at church as I was at home.
Was your church previously aware of mental health and mental illness issues?
In 1994, I was called to a different church. In early 1995, I had a full-blown manic episode with psychotic features. I voluntarily admitted myself to the hospital. God had laid the ground work. A trio of women from the church who worked in the mental health field educated and shepherded the congregation through those difficult first days. My denomination (Presbyterian) provided pastoral and administrative leadership in the interim I would be out.
That’s good to hear. Can you say more about support from your local congregation?
I was incredibly blessed to receive support from the faith community in so many ways. I spent six weeks in the psychiatric hospital and never saw a bill. What my insurance didn’t pay, a special offering from churches did. I was told I could take as much time as I needed to get well and that my position would be there when I could return. My children were ages 3 and 1, and volunteers provided child care so my wife could visit. Someone coordinated meals. It was amazing.
What else could a church do when their pastor or other church employee is dealing with mental health issues?
One of the best gifts I was given by this church was the freedom to discuss my illness as part of my overall ministry. I am not my illness, but it is part of me. The church did not pressure me to keep silent about it. In fact, after I came back to work full-time, several people in church and in the community came to me for counsel related to mental health issues.

The best thing the church has done for me over the life of my ministry is pray. Specifically, not generically. Of course, this requires consent from the person with the mental health diagnosis, but the more we make prayer for folks with troubled minds an ordinary part of our personal and public prayers, the less pressure we put on those trying to hide it.
What cautions would you offer?
The most problematic relationships I had were either with those who thought my illness was contagious (avoiding me like the plague) or thought that I was so fragile that they couldn’t bring their own burdens to me. One other problem I can envision is when a church member begins to believe she can be the pastor’s therapist. As much as possible, we need to pray for and serve alongside our pastors, not diagnose and try to treat them.
What do you recommend for pastors and other church employees to work at their mental health?
God gives us so many means to promote healing. Kathryn Greene-McCreight in her book, Darkness Is My Only Companion, applies the strength of the proverbial expression “a threefold cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). I have likewise discovered God at work through faith and medicine, prayers and pills, worship and therapy.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I would appreciate your prayerful support in my new vocation which has begun with my spiritual memoir, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission, and now is extending to my website: Delight in Disorder. Within the limitations of my illness, I hope to do some public speaking and perhaps develop a podcast. My mission is to spread the hope of Jesus Christ with folks like me who have unquiet minds, and shatter stigma within the church towards persons with mental illness.
I’m happy to support you in this, Tony, and to share the following excerpt from your book, “The Great Congregation,” from Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission:
My foot stands on level ground
in the great assembly I will bless the Lord. (Psalm 26:12)

Looking back over my nearly twenty years of parish ministry, I’ve served some pretty great congregations. Certainly, there were particular individuals who tried to make my life miserable (as there always are). On the whole, however, the churches I’ve served have been warm and welcoming bodies of Christ who have helped me function to my fullest as a minister with a mental illness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ can be a great help or a tremendous hindrance to someone who has bipolar. I have been blessed to serve alongside many who have challenged me to do my best while still loving me at my worst. This combination has helped keep me relatively balanced; together we’ve been able to accomplish some wonderful things in the spirit of the LORD.

As with the course of my illness, I had many peaks and valleys in my years of pastoral ministry. It is true that at my worst, when I needed intensive treatment, church members had to carry a greater load (though in my denomination, they often received guidance and support with this). I was absent for lengthy stretches during treatment. When I was physically present, I was sometimes so emotionally stymied that I could perform only basic tasks.

For a good portion of my ministry, however, God graced me with the ability to balance my commitments, to be creative and care compassionately as a “wounded healer.” My experience of confinement (a sort of “exile”) in psychiatric hospitals gave me unique insights into the spiritual needs of persons in prison, home-bound, in nursing homes, or hospitals. My struggle to function while depressed encouraged people who experienced dark times themselves. My journey through recovery from addiction inspired many taking their first steps away from destructive drugs and harmful habits.

You might think it improbable that a congregation can be successfully led by a minister with a mental illness. But while it is difficult, it is entirely possible. All it takes is a commitment to be faithful within the covenant God has given us–to keep each other honest and true as we each do our part for the work of the LORD. It can be challenging, but when it happens well, what a testimony it is to God’s grace!
Your turn:
What counsel or resources would you suggest for churches and church employees living with mental illness?
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Next Up in two weeks: More for Mental Health Awareness Month. If you’d like me to send future articles directly to your email inbox, please sign up for my free updates.

Syndicated from When You Work for the Church

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