Soul Searchin: Weary and Burdened?

May 29, 2010

by Rick Warren

Matthew 11:28-30 tells us, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (NIV). In this beautiful and short passage Jesus says three things: come, take, and learn. That’s all you need to know about stress management.

1.  Come to Jesus

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. In the Bible people came to Jesus for many different reasons.  Some people came for forgiveness.  Some people came for answers.  Some people came for healing.  Some people came to Jesus for salvation.  Some came to Him for eternal life.  But Jesus says “You could come to Me for rest.”  Release from stress, release from overload.  He says, “Are you weary?  Overloaded?  Come to Me.”

He says “I will give you rest for your souls.”  This is much deeper than physical rest.  Your greatest problem is not overloaded muscles.  You’re overloaded in your mind.  You’re overloaded in your spirit.  You’re overloaded in your emotions.  You need soul rest far more than you need physical rest.  You need release from worry.  You need release from tension.  You need release from stress, from guilt, from fear, from bitterness, from anxiety.  This is soul rest.  And He says, “If you’re worn out, if you’re tired, overloaded, come to Me and I will give you soul rest.”

Who or what do you naturally turn to when you are exhausted, when you are depleted, when you’re overloaded?  You may be a Christian, but I doubt that your first choice is Jesus.  You may turn to food when you’re exhausted.  You may turn to television and prop your feet up.  You may turn to a drink or a pill.  You may turn to some other form of escape.  But none of these things can give you soul rest.  Only God can give you that.

Notice what the Bible says, in Isaiah 40:29-31: He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint (NLT). It says new strength. It’s not just strength you had and you didn’t know about.  It’s strength from God you do not possess without Him.

The antidote for your overloaded soul is not a plan for time management.  It’s not a program for stress reduction.  It’s not a philosophy on how to simplify your life.  It’s not a pill.  It’s not even the church. Jesus does not say, “Come to church.”  He does not say, “Come to small group.”  He does not even say, “Come to the Bible.”  He says, “Come to Me.” The answer for your overload is Jesus Christ.  None of these other things can give you soul rest.  What you really need is that deep down soul rest when you’re exhausted emotionally, spiritually, mentally.

How do you do that?  Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace (Matthew 6:6, The Message). Get alone by yourself so you’re not pretending. When you are not acting in front of other people, you will begin to sense His grace.

Why don’t we do this?  Why don’t we turn to Jesus more?  Why don’t we come to Christ?

1.  We think we can handle it on our own.

2.  We often forget what God is really like.  We forget God is a loving Father who cares for us like a father cares for a small child.  God isn’t going to scold you when you come to Him for rest.  He’s going to love you.  But you’ve got to turn to Him.  That’s the first step.

2.  Take his yoke and give up control

Jesus says, My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. The reason why you get so tired, the reason why you get so overloaded is because you think you have to be in control of everything.  You think, “It all depends on me.  I’ve got to pull all the strings.  I’ve got to make it happen.  I’ve got to be in control.” Wrong! Everything is in God’s hands. “Control” is just an illusion.

The need for control and increased levels of stress go hand in hand. Are you a control freak? Do you have to have your finger in all of the pies? You will not lessen your stress level until you are willing to partner with Jesus and take up His yoke.

This is Jesus’ second solution to your stress.  He says, Take My yoke upon you. You say, “Wait a minute!  That doesn’t sound too relaxing.  That sounds like more of a burden.  It sounds like I take something else on my shoulders.  You don’t know what I’m already carrying.  I’m carrying way too much.  How can I take Jesus Christ’s yoke on me?”

Let’s go back and review what a yoke is. A yoke is a wooden beam that attaches two farm animals together to lighten the load so they can work together as a team. This lightens the load on the individual animals. So, why does Jesus use the symbol of the yoke? Because, first of all, a yoke is a symbol of partnership. It is Jesus’ way of telling you, I will help carry your load. He says, My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Why? Because it is a shared load. Psalm 55:22 tells us, Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall (NLT).

If you are overloaded, it is because you are not yoked to Christ.  You can be a Christian or even a Christian leader, and still slip that yoke off.  You’ve got to put it on moment-by-moment and say, “Jesus share this with me.”  Every time I get detached from Jesus Christ my stress level goes up.  Every time I get reattached to Jesus Christ my stress level goes down.  It’s that simple.  “Come to Me – Give up control.”  Those are the first two things.  The yoke is a symbol of partnership.  God says, “I will help you out.”

It is also a symbol of control because farmers use the yoke to guide and direct and control the farm animals.  Where oxen are yoked together they are controlled by the master.  When you are under the yoke of Christ you are controlled by God.  You have given up control.  The load is lighter but you have given up control.

When I’m yoked with Christ we move together in the same direction and at the same pace.  When you are yoked to Jesus Christ you can’t go in a different direction than Jesus.  And when you are yoked with Jesus Christ you can’t go any faster than Jesus goes.  He sets the direction and He sets the pace.

You do need direction in your life but you need far more than that.  You need a pacesetter.  All of us have a tendency to go faster than we really should, especially leaders.  And Jesus knows better than you do what is the adequate, accurate pace for your life.  Every time you get away from the yoke of Jesus and you start going another direction you get in trouble.  Every time you get out from under the yoke with Jesus and you start going at your own pace you get overstressed.  That’s why He says, “Come to Me,” and then “Take up My yoke”.  Give up control.

How do you do that? Galatians 5:25 tells us, Since we live in the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (NIV). Follow God step by step. Who is setting the pace in your life right now? Are you following God’s agenda or your agenda?

Let God set your agenda and pace.  When Jesus is connected to you and you are connected to Jesus, you’re going to slow down.  Why?  Because Jesus was never, ever in a hurry.  I’ve read through the Bible many times and not one time have I ever read, “Jesus ran to this place.”  He never ran.  Never, ever ran.  He always walked.  In fact He kind of sauntered.  One time He had a friend die about three miles away and it took Him three days to get there.  That’s slow walking.  Why?  He knew God had a plan.  God didn’t want to heal a sick man.  He wanted to raise a dead man.  So He wasn’t in a hurry to get there and in those three days the man died and was buried.  A greater miracle.  God had a better idea.  God had a plan.

Many times you’re rushing to meet a deadline that if you missed the deadline, God had a better idea.  You’ve got to give up control if you want to lower the stress in your life.  You have to let Him be the pacesetter.

The truth is you’re going to be yoked to something in life.  Years ago Bob Dylan wrote a song, Gotta Serve Somebody.  You’re going to give your life for someone or something.  You may be yoked to your career.  You may be yoked to the desire to acquire great wealth.  You may be yoked by the expectations of other people.  All of those are heavy burdens.  They’re heavy yokes to carry on your shoulders.

Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you.” So what do you do?  You take off your heavy yoke, the burdens that are on your shoulders – you drop those – and you put on Jesus’ yoke, which is light and easy.  The truth is you don’t have one yoke on you.  You have a dozen.  You’re carrying expectations of a lot of different things and people and events.  You’ve got a community yoke.  You’ve got a family yoke.  You’ve got a business yoke.  You’ve got a church yoke.  You don’t have just one yoke.  You’ve got a dozen.  If it were a cartoon there would be a dozen of them piled up on your back.  Jesus said, “Throw all of those things off and put on my yoke.  It’s easy and light and well-fitting.”

If your burden is heavy, if your load is not light you’re not yoked to Jesus right now.  You’re doing something that is out of God’s will for your life.  You may be doing the wrong things.  You may be doing the right thing in the wrong way.  We think the answer to our stress is escape.  I’m overloaded – I need a vacation.  God says, no, that’s not it because when you go on vacation you take you and you’re the problem.  You can go to Tahiti but your mind is going with you.  We think the antidote to stress is escape.  God says the antidote to stress is give up control.  Every time I give up control, God gives me His peace.

3.  Learn to trust

That’s the third key to stress management.  Learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus is the outstanding model in history of how to live a life of purpose and peace.  He is our model.  The third step is learn to trust by following Jesus’ model.  Watch how He lived and then do it.

Study how Jesus lived and do what He did and you’ll have the same kind of peace that He had.  If you want balance, if you want health, if you want sanity in your schedule, and in your life, follow the model of Jesus.  Learn.

Learning is a process.  Learning doesn’t happen instantly.  Learning takes time. You didn’t get into the mess you are in overnight. The habits of a hurried, worried lifestyle didn’t start yesterday. You have had years of practice in this. You have developed a lifestyle of overload, a lifestyle of stress, a lifestyle of hurry and worry. You are not going to change that overnight. There is no magic pill you can take. You have to unlearn some things and change some bad habits. You are going to have to learn from Jesus.

What can we learn from Jesus?  He tells us, Learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart. Gentle and humble. You are probably thinking, how is that going to help me with stress? Perhaps courage and stamina might be better traits for stress reduction. Or confidence and strength. Power and self-assurance.

But God says, if you’re overloaded you need to learn gentleness and humility. Why? Because the two greatest causes of overload in your life are aggression and arrogance.

Aggression – we get in a hurry.  I’ve got to have it now, even if I can’t afford it.  So we overextend.  We buy things we can’t afford so we have to hustle to pay for them.  We don’t want to wait.  We don’t want to pause, we don’t want to delay, we don’t want to consider.  We want it now.  We want to be assertive.  We want to be aggressive.  We jump into projects and we get way over committed before we could possibly fulfill all those commitments simply out of assertion and aggression.  We get in a hurry.  I’ve got to do it now!  We only go around once in life.  So you’re out there pushing and not in a gentle way.  In an aggressive way – dog eat dog, competition.  Even in ministry. Sometimes, especially in ministry! We’ve got to do it now.  We’ve got to do it first. We’ve got to do it best.  You’re overloaded because of aggression.

You’re also overloaded because of arrogance.  Ego is responsible for a lot more stress in your life than you want to give it credit for.  Ego is responsible for a lot more stress in my life than I want to give it credit for.  We think, “I can handle this!” and we take on another responsibility.  Ego and arrogance is why you try to control everything because you think you know better than everybody else.  You think you know better than God.  You try to do it all.  You try to have it all and you try to be it all and you try to please everybody.  Arrogance will prompt you to attempt more than you can possibly fulfill in terms of commitment.

Jesus said, “If you really want soul rest here’s the antidote – gentleness and humility.”  You need to remind yourself daily that you are not everybody’s savior.  You can’t solve everybody’s problems.  You can’t even solve all your own.  You need to remind yourself that you are not the manager of the universe.  Jesus is.  You need to remind yourself that you’re just a tiny cog in a very, very, very big universe.  Let’s put it in perspective.  Have a degree of humility, which brings sanity, which brings release from stress.  Be gentle, be humble.  How do you learn that?  By following Jesus.  Jesus was gentle and humble.

What was Jesus’ secret of peace? I read through the book of John this and found twelve times where Jesus says, “I only do what the Father tells me to do.  …  I only say what the Father tells me to say…  I think what He wants me to think…  I go where He wants me to go…  I stay where He wants me to stay…  I do what He wants me to do…” Jesus lived a life of simple humble obedience to the Father.

Do you think that would change the stress level in your life if you began to live that way? We all get invitations  – wedding invitations, graduation invitations, dinner invitations.  But this invitation from Jesus is the greatest invitation you’ll ever get in your life. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Some of you are at the breaking point from overload.  Ministry can be tough and draining. Turn to Jesus.  Give up control. Learn to trust.  You will find rest for your soul.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church.

Join us next month for Lance Witt’s article in Soul Searchin. Lance is the founder of Replenish Ministries, an organization devoted to ministering pastors to help them become healthy, holy, and humble. He also serves as the Pastor for Strategic Development at Thomas Road Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Soul Searchin: Been Hurt by a Church? ReChurch by Stephen Mansfield

May 5, 2010

by Cheryl Shireman

You are likely reading this book because you believe that you have been hurt by a church or you know someone who has. Or perhaps you were forced to witness a harmful church fight, and the experience has wrenched your soul ever since. Whatever the case, there was an incident, a turning point, and since then you have been different. So begins Stephen Mansfield’s latest book, ReChurch: Healing Your Way Back to the People of God.

If you are a Christian, chances are you either know someone who has been hurt by their church, or you are nursing your own church-inflicted wounds. This is a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless. Perhaps you, or someone you know, left the church amid bitterness and pain. There were feelings of anguish and despair. Perhaps resignation and bitterness followed. Mansfield looks at this reality in a direct and straight-forward manner. This is not a book that whines about the inadequacies of the modern church or the injustices of Christians hurting other Christians. It is a book about reality. Using examples from the Bible, examples from his own life, and examples from the lives of other Christians, Mansfield will help the reader shed some of that pain and bitterness and begin to heal by being grounded in reality.

While the examples from his own life are revealing as far as his feelings and his own contribution to his personal pain, he never uses the book to “tell all” or seek a little revenge. He skirts the actual events while still pulling back the curtain to the pain those events caused.

For nearly a decade, I had been the pastor of a growing and influential church. It had been a glorious experience and I had loved the life that we shared and the history that we had made as this nearly four thousand-member congregation pursued the things of God. But then, for reasons that don’t need airing here, it all came to an end amidst conflict and uproar….Frankly, it was a soul-deforming season of hell, and it ended with me leaving the church I had led for more than a decade, suffering all the isolation and suspicion that such departures usually entail. I was stunned by the humiliation, lashed by the loss and the loneliness. Each morning when I awoke, I had to remember what was happening to me, my soul so fractured at the time. And when it was all over, it wasn’t over. Thought I thought I had gone through all the required horrors and had begun to move on, I soon found that those horrors kept cycling through me.

Mansfield does not replay his hurt through the pages of this book, although he admits to nursing and replaying the hurt over and over again in the past. Instead, he looks at his reaction to the hurt, and how the end result might have been different had he not only reacted differently, but also had different expectations of what it means to be a church. He challenges the reader to look at the circumstances and people who have hurt them in a different light. More importantly, Mansfield challenges the reader to look at their own role in the hurt. How was the hurt handled at the time? How is it being handled today? I want to show you how to get clean and free from what you have done to yourself in your church hurt.

He begins by telling stories of Christians who have been hurt by their church, and yet went on to not only overcome it, but to serve in a greater way because of the hurt. He writes of the struggles of famous Christians such as George Whitefeld, John Wesley, St. Patrick, and Jonathan Edwards. Here is the lesson: Great men and women of God are not exempt from hurt and offense. Instead, enduring the wounds of fellow Christians with mercy and grace seems to be the call of every true saint, and we should not expect it to be any different in our own lives. Despite their trials, these men went on to serve God in a courageous and exceptional manner. After reading of the struggles of these Christians, primarily caused due to pain inflicted upon them from other Christians, it is hard to see our own personal grievances in quite the same light.

The book then walks the reader through his own journey of forgiveness, which was led by a group of pastors who came to him and refused to allow him to sink into his personal form of despair and hopelessness.  He guides the reader through the same steps that he took in seeking healing. One of those steps is recognizing our own role in our pain.

He writes that much of our hurt is the result of our love for the church. When it works, when it all comes together and there is peace, finding the joy of a good church feels like finding the meaning of life. The danger, though, is the more we love, the more we are opening ourselves to hurt. In our love of the church, and our devotion to individual people of that church, we begin to forget the very nature of humanity. In our sentimentality about our church and those we love in it, we forget to stand guard against the natural failings of humanity. As a result, when someone in our church hurts us, someone we loved and respected, we are devastated. We never saw it coming from them. We expected more of them. How could they hurt us in this manner?

I have listened by the hour to the talks of what people have suffered as they have endured the blows of human nature in the one place they never expected harm – their church. I am more sorry than I can express. I grieve for them. Yet I also must say that to be surprised that human nature would rear its ugly head – in the very place where it is under the greatest pressure to change, where the stakes are high and the devil strikes hard – is simply biblical ignorance and a failure to live in any sort of connection to the real world. Mansfield does not pull any punches. He recognizes our sentimentality over the church, and even identifies with it, but then smashes it against the rocks and identifies it as folly. For whatever else you believe about the church, circumstances that have hurt you and have driven you to this book, you must admit that much of your hurt is your astonished horror that people you trusted could be so cruel. True? And you must own your own foolishness in over-trusting, over-lauding, and over-resting your sense of God and self on what mere human beings promised to do.

Mansfield writes of lost hope. He describes two men walking on the road to Emmaus in bitter disappointment. These men are approached by a third man. Unbeknownst to them, this man is Jesus. He asks them about their down trodden manner and they tell him of a man named Jesus. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and the crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24:19b-21a, NIV). Mansfield compares the loss of hope in these two men to the loss of hope experienced by those who have been hurt by the church. I suspect that we can utter those desperate words along with the two men on the road to Emmaus. We had hoped.

He then opens his own heart. I had hoped –for friendship and loyalty and for someone to act biblically. I had hoped – for belonging and for truth and for a role to call my own. Throughout the pages of this book, Mansfield shows you how to climb back out of your pit of despair, ground yourself in reality, and begin to hope again. He knows your story. He has lived it. He respects your pain. But he also firmly coaches you right through that pain by walking beside you as you experience it again, this time with a critical eye to your own short-comings and unhealthy expectations.

He knows that many of us are hiding. We have walked through the hurt and come out on the other side, but we still nurse our scars and cover tender wounds. Your story is different than mine. Perhaps the day you walked out of that church is the last time you’ve ever been back – there or anywhere else. Or maybe you’ve found a comfortable, protected place at the back of a big cathedral, where no one knows and no one can press in on your scars. Or perhaps you tried to jump right back in and find another church as soon as you could. But in your wounded and bleeding state, it all seemed thin and fearful and not worth the cost. And so you’ve floated or you’ve fed where you could on television programs or through books. Or maybe you’ve simply remade your beliefs so you don’t need the people of God anymore. This book is a lifeline, thrown out to those who are ready to move beyond the scars and into the Glory that God has called us to. It is well written, thought-provoking, and inspiring. In fact, I believe it should be required reading for every pastor. Perhaps required reading for anyone who belongs to a church.

As a writer, he does not pull any punches, and yet he is often inspirational. The confirmation of history is that we are not called despite our wounding and betrayal; we are wounded and betrayed because we are called. And God yearns to make your pain redemptive in your life.

ReChurch is not always comfortable reading. Mansfield is not a hand holder or a back patter. He won’t shake his head in worry over your wound. If you are ready to get on your feet and begin to shake it off, though, he will walk beside you and lead you down the path he has walked, the path toward healing and finding your way back to the people of God.

Cheryl Shireman is the Purpose Driven Small Group Network Coordinator.

Soul Searchin: Pastoral Care for the Pastor

February 25, 2010

by Steve Johnson

“Pastor, can I stop by your office and talk with you?” Those of us who serve as pastors have all received phone calls that begin with a similar question, and each time we know that we are about to assume the role of a “counselor.” It is part of our calling as caring shepherds. We want to help, and we do our best to offer sound Biblical counsel. Sometimes we get to experience the joy of knowing that we have given encouragement to a person who is hurting. Other times the problems run deeper, and not all of us feel adequately equipped to deal with the complex human issues that confront us. At such times we are not too arrogant to refer the person to a professional counselor who is better skilled in dealing with certain problems.

One Ton WeightBut we are still pastors. The burden of our hearts is to shepherd our flock, sharing their joys; their hurts; easing their burdens; and helping them in their struggles. We sit beside them or across the desk and listen to their stories of abuse, or loneliness, or stress, or marital infidelity, or financial trouble, or conflicts in the family or on the job. We deal with the distressed, the disillusioned, the dejected, and the depressed. Our goal is to open the Scriptures and help restore their faith, hope, and joy. We know that life can be hard for human beings, including Christians. So when our people need a counselor to talk to we want to be there to provide a listening ear and pastoral care because they need it.

But what about the times when the pastor needs pastoral care? What if the shepherd needs shepherding or the counselor needs counsel? Are we pastors so infallible that we never experience distress, disillusionment, dejection, or depression? Do we exist on a level above the human condition so that we never struggle with loneliness, stress, conflict, anger, or temptation?

Consider the following results of a survey of pastors conducted by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth:

  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry is affecting their family negatively
  • 33% say that being in ministry is clearly a hazard to their family
  • 75% have reported a significant crisis due to stress at least once every five years in their ministry
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 90% feel they were not adequately trained to cope with the ministry demands placed upon them
  • 40% report having a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
  • 37% have been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
  • 70% have a lower self-image since they have pastored than when they started

Those are alarming statistics. And what makes these findings even more disturbing is that the survey, like most others, was probably conducted confidentially. That means that the pastors who responded are very likely struggling in secret. When members of our congregation are struggling with serious life issues we expect them to get help, because we know that if their condition continues unchecked it will lead to more serious trouble. So why should it be any different for a pastor? It shouldn’t be. The pastor’s need for pastoral care must not be ignored or neglected. It should be respected by both the pastor and the congregation, and a plan should be in place to help him stay healthy and strong.

The Pastor’s Responsibility for His Own Pastoral Care

The plan begins with the pastor himself (Acts 20:28). Our greatest success is to finish the work God has called us to do. But every pastor has to realize his own vulnerability. Stress and burnout are not phantom conditions. They are very real risks that come with the rigors of pastoral ministry, and unless specific disciplines are practiced and preventative safeguards are in place there can be serious consequences for the pastor’s health, his family, and his ministry. Here are a few suggestions that can help a pastor reduce the risk:

  • Spend adequate time alone with the Lord in prayer, meditation, and personal Bible reading (not just for sermon preparation). It is also helpful to express thoughts, feelings, or prayers in a personal journal. The Psalms reveal how David understood the value of releasing the distresses of his mind through the pen in his hand.
  • Avoid isolation. Every pastor needs friends, even within his church, with whom he can have fun and do “guy things.” It is also important to have at least one close friend, within or outside the church, whom he can confide in and with whom he can share his innermost struggles and feelings. This needs to be a person who understands him, who will not judge him, and especially one who will keep private matters confidential. Like David, every man needs a Jonathan in his life (Prov. 17:17; 18:24; Eccl. 4:10).
  • Have a hobby. Pastors need a “diversion,” an activity that removes their minds and bodies from the pressures of ministry for a time in order to relieve the mental and emotional stress.
  • Manage time well. Pastors have the luxury of keeping a relatively “fluid” schedule, but they can also put undue pressure on themselves if they aren’t disciplined with their time. It becomes necessary to prioritize pastoral responsibilities according to essentials. This helps avoid getting stressed out by trying to accomplish more than time allows. But be certain to reserve adequate and undisturbed hours for study and sermon preparation.
  • Set realistic life goals and work toward them. God does not want His servants to become bogged down in the mundane, distracted by the petty, or worn out by mere busyness. He wants His shepherds to accomplish something of kingdom significance (Acts 20:24; 1 Cor. 1:1-9).
  • Seek counsel if necessary. If a pastor is suffering from the symptoms of stress, burnout, depression, or other negative conditions, he needs get help, preferably from a qualified Biblical counselor. There is no shame in seeking help (Prov. 24:6). Pride comes before a fall.

The Church’s Responsibility for Pastoral Care

The local church, beginning with the Board, needs to recognize their own responsibility in protecting the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of their pastor.

  • The budget should include provision for him to attend one or two conferences or retreats each year where he can find refreshment and renewal. This should be in addition to his regular vacation time, not part of it.
  • Respect his study time. Apart from an emergency, he should be allowed to have undisturbed blocks of time to prepare for preaching and teaching. If he is weak in the pulpit the whole church will suffer.
  • Don’t demand more from the pastor than he can give. He is human and imperfect. He needs your prayers and encouragement as much as you need his. Understand that he can’t please everyone, and sometimes the person he won’t please will be you!
  • Consider granting the pastor a sabbatical. This is not as common among independent churches as it is in denominations, but it is growing in practice. Every seven to ten years the pastor should be offered a paid leave of ten to twelve weeks (not including regular vacation time) to seek spiritual and mental refreshment, do research or writing, travel, or pursue other activities that will “disconnect” him for a time from the routine demands of ministry and provide him a time for renewal. Even Jesus realized the importance of stepping away from the ministry for a time.

Pastoral ministry is rewarding. But it is also rigorous. And even Satan knows that the church will only be as spiritually healthy as its pastor. That is why he wants to keep pastors discouraged, ineffective, feeling like failures, and, if possible, utterly destroyed. But God is the great Encourager. He encourages pastors by His Word and by the support and love expressed to them by individual Christians (Acts 28:15; 2 Tim. 1:16-18). And that is why pastoral care for the pastor must be seen as an essential responsibility shared by both pastor and congregation. The result will be a healthy and blessed church.

Steve Johnson is the Lead Pastor of  Oakwood Bible Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Soul Searchin: Psalm 23

January 28, 2010

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. Amen.

Psalm 23 KJV

Soul Searchin: ‘Tis the Season

December 10, 2009

The countdown to Christmas is on. We all want that “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas, but the reality often falls short. Christmas can be a time of overwhelming stress and despair. Families are often estranged and if they see each other at all, it is very often under duress. As we deal with decorating the house, wrestling with broken Christmas lights, and pushing our way through the mall to buy Christmas presents, it is easy to lose sight of the most important gift we will ever receive.

We at PDSGN just wanted to send you a little Christmas reminder…

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:). To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:1-14 KJV).

From all of us at the PDSGN – have a wonderful and safe Christmas. May you be surrounded by loved ones. May you be warm and have enough to eat.  May you have at least one gift to open under the tree.  Most of all, may you carry the gift of Christ in your heart not only on Christmas, but through the rest of your life.

Steve Gladen and the PDSGN Leadership are praying for you and your ministry. We pray for your strength and endurance, and we pray that you connect with other leaders so that no one stands alone.

Joy to the world…

Soul Searchin: Standing On The Ledge

November 21, 2009

by Cheryl Shireman

Standing On The Ledge

Of 1,050 pastors surveyed at two pastor’s conferences held in Orange County and Pasadena, California …

  • 100% had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • 90% of the pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.
  • 89% considered leaving the ministry at one time.
  • 57% stated they would leave if they had a better place to go – including secular work.
  • 81% of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people.
  • 77% of the pastors surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage.
  • 75% of the pastors surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others.
  • 72% stated they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons.
  • 38% read the Bible for devotions and personal study.
  • 71% stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even daily basis.
  • 38% of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • 30% said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • 26% said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality.
  • 23% of the pastors said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home.

These statistics are from ongoing research that was originally started in 1989 as a Fuller Institute project that was picked up by FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development) in 1998. The above data was recently retested by FASICLD by surveying 1050 pastors from the two conferences mentioned above (416 in 2005 and 634 in 2006) . Furthermore, most statistics state that 60% to 80% of those who enter the ministry will not be in it ten years later.

What is going on here? Why are God’s people, called to do God’s work, so miserable? These statistics, to say the least, are sobering.

I am working from my home office. We live on a lake. As I write this, very early on a cloudy fall morning, the sky and the lake that are reflected in it are grey. Leafless, the trees reach over the lake and into the water as black twisted limbs. Two hours from now, this scene will be long gone. The grey morning will be replaced and the sun will fall across the lake in all its glory. But right now it is a grey morning. Spiritually, emotionally, it has been a grey week.

I love God. I love serving him. Last week I was on a spiritual high. I was on a mountain retreat with other Purpose Driven Small Group Network leaders and the week could not have gone better. We connected to God and each other and all left feeling renewed and recharged. I remember moments during our time together when it felt as if God was sitting right in the room with us. I could feel His presence in our exchanges with each other, in our whispered prayers, and in the laughter and camaraderie.

The day after I returned home, the grey started creeping in. We have two houses. Not by choice, but because we cannot sell one. This week the upstairs toilet leaked through the garage roof in house number one. The furnace needs replaced in house number two. One of my daughters has just started dating a guy who lives in Denmark. She had previously been dating someone who lived across the country and I had been worrying about her moving away. Now Denmark. Denmark? My other daughter is planning a wedding for next year. Did I mention that my husband lost his job in April? He worked in the automotive industry. He has never been without a job and he is still reeling from that blow. Unemployment figures were announced yesterday for our area – 13.2%. The “check engine” light just came on in my husband’s car. The “check engine” light has been on in my car for over a month. And our health insurance will expire at the end of the year. 

The grey was so heavy it felt like wet flannel draped over our lives. I started thinking about getting a “real” job. One that paid more. One with benefits. One where all I would do is show up, do my job, and get a pay check every week. No long nights working. No early mornings working before sunrise.

I wondered why God was being so mean to me. I felt like I was doing everything “right”, and yet everything seemed to be going wrong. In short, I was feeling sorry for myself.

Depressed, I rose from bed this morning and made my way to my home office through the dark house. I settled into my chair, wrapped a blanket around my legs, and picked up my cell phone. I had turned it off yesterday – certain that any call would be bad news. Someone in the PDSG Network had left me a message. We had an email exchange yesterday that was not pleasant (primarily due to a misunderstanding on my part). There was a smile in his voice. He left a message and told me that he was calling me to “bring me off the ledge.”

Of course, I wasn’t literally on a ledge. But spiritually, maybe so. And looking at the above statistics, many of us in ministry are on a ledge. Something is amiss. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”, and yet, most of us are running on empty. We are so busy “doing ministry” that we are not connecting with God or each other. I went to my small group meeting this week without completing the study. I didn’t have time. More than once this week, I felt the urge to curl up with the Bible. God was prompting me to do just that. He knew what I needed. But I ignored Him. My husband asked me to go for a walk. I said no. When I needed to talk to others for support, I turned off my cell phone. Repeatedly, I made choices that moved me away from where I needed to be. Instead of crawling out of the fog, I crawled into a hole and pulled it over me.

Time in God’s Word and time with other supportive Christians are sources of nourishment that God has given to us. And yet, we often reject those in times of despair. Beyond the Bible and other Christians, what feeds your soul? Is it time in solitude? Time walking in the mountains or along the ocean’s shore? Reflective prayer? Playing games with your kids? Going to McDonalds for a large sugar free vanilla iced coffee with your spouse? Rocking your new baby granddaughter? Taking a moment on a dark morning and expressing thanks for the many blessings God has poured into your life? A friend reaching out in support? Whatever feeds your soul is a gift from God. It is His way of “wooing” you, of supporting you, of showing you how very much He loves you. Do not reject His gifts of love. Come off of the ledge. Take time to feed your soul. Do not become another statistic.

The sun is coming up. The lake and the sky are taking on shades of blue. Across the lake I see two swans floating. My three kids are going to all be here for Thanksgiving. My son and his wife had their first baby (our first grandchild) in May and she is about to crawl. I woke up this morning next to the love of my life, my husband. A friend has left an encouraging message on my cell phone and talked me off the ledge. God has given me these words this morning to share with you. Life is so very very good. And God is better.

Just as the sun rises over the lake in all its glory, the Son has risen in our lives – in all His glory. Bask in His warmth. Stay connected. Feed your soul with the many gifts He has given you.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 (NIV).

Cheryl Shireman is the PDSG Network Coordinator.

Soul Searchin: 2 a.m. Friends

October 13, 2009


by Jay DaniellMCj04420010000[1]

A few years ago I had coffee with Tony and Burt, Small Group Ministry Leaders from towns over one hundred miles from my home. We had each been leading the Small Group Ministry at our churches for a number of years. We had each read lots of books and each of us had even attended a Small Group Conference, but that was the first time we had ever sat down face to face with another Small Group Ministry Leader just to talk groups. 

Each of us was desperate to connect with someone who was in a similar ministry, with the same battles and victories. It was encouraging for each of us to know that we shared the same passion for small groups and passion for building the Body of Christ. 

God had already blessed me with a network of people to call when I was having a rough day in ministry. Tony had few. What if I had not been there for Tony?  Would Burt’s church still be pursuing community with a skilled ministry leader? Would I still be in the ministry today? I may never know the answer to those questions, but this I do know, Tony, Burt and I have developed a relationship where we are able to build each other up for ministry. I need these kind of relationships. So do you. 

When I was first launching Men’s Small Groups, I often used the phrase “2:00 a.m. Friends”. You know who they are.  They are the people who you can call at 2:00 a.m., while you are in the midst of a crisis… and they will answer the phone.  I would ask the same question today of any Small Group Ministry Leader, “Who do you know that would answer the phone at 2:00 a.m.”? You may not call at literally 2:00 a.m., but your “2:00 a.m.” may be when you find your ministry in a crisis situation. Do you have someone to call? 

For me the PDSG Network is here to connect 2:00 a.m. friends. My experience is that most Small Group Ministries have more in common than one may think. Case in point: Last November I was blessed to travel to a planning retreat for the PDSG Network. It was about midnight as the guys in my cabin were settling in for the night. Three of us were still too wired to sleep and we ended up in the kitchen “networking”, or in plain terms, talking about small groups. It amazed me that each of us shared the same priority concern for our ministries. And the funny thing was, one of us oversees forty groups. Another oversees four hundred groups. And the third oversees four thousand groups. But we shared the same ministry concerns. We had the same problems and had shared many of the same joys. 

Why do I do what I do? That’s easy. My ministry matters in the Kingdom. Your ministry matters in the Kingdom. Why wouldn’t we want to walk together? Why wouldn’t we want to build each other up? 

If you don’t have a 2:00 a.m. friend, get one. Better yet, if you aren’t a 2:00 a.m. friend, be one. 

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV).

Jay DaniellJay Daniell is the PDSG Network Database Manager and the North Central Area Point Leader.  He is also the Small Group Ministry Director at Our Savior Lutheran in Norfolk, Nebraska.