Pastors Afflicted with Relational Anorexia

In my research for my second book, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, I discovered that pastors are often the loneliest people in the church, second perhaps only to their wives. I learned some sobering insight from several sources. In this post I unpack the concept of relational anorexia for pastors.

Eraser deleting the word Anorexia

Here are some of the sobering facts about pastors and their relationships.

  • I interviewed Dr. Michael Ross, Executive Director of The Pastors Institute, who has worked with several thousand pastors in various capacities. He told me that the number one problem pastors face is isolation.
  • Gary Kinnaman author and former mega-church pastor and Alfred Ellis, author and founder-director of Leaders that Last, an organization for ministers, wrote, “Most people in full-time ministry do not have close personal friendships and consequently are alarmingly lonely and dangerously vulnerable.”[1]
  • Well known author, Steve Arterburn has observed that “the men in the church who are least likely to have friend connections are pastors.”[2]
  • Focus on the Family discovered that nearly 42% do not have any accountability partner with whom they meet.[3]
  • And the Alban Institute, an ecumenical organization that serves thousands of congregations through research and publishing, has learned that pastors tend to seek help from others only when they are in crisis, “rather than allowing these resources to sustain and nourish them consistently.”[4]

In other words, we don’t seek out safe people to help us process ongoing ministry issues until they escalate into major crises. Even then, many pastors suffer alone.

We’ve probably all preached that God created us for deep relationship with others. But just as anorexia (the word actually means “no appetite”) can cause a person literally to feel no hunger even though he is starving, relational anorexia can keep us from feeling our inner hunger for deep relationships. Henry Cloud and John’s Townsend describe in their book Safe People these indicators that we might have relational anorexia.

  • I am uncomfortable with people and relaxed when alone.
  • I don’t get “lonely,” whatever people mean by that.
  • I spend time with people out of obligation, or for functional reasons (tennis partner, commuting to work, etc.).
  • My fantasies of vacation always involve my doing something fun by myself.[5]

The authors also posed several questions that may indicate major hindrances to healthy relationships. I’ve paraphrased them here.

  • Do you tend to only be a giver in most of your relationships?
  • Do others usually approach you only when they want something from you rather than to simply spend time with you?
  • Do you find it difficult to open up to others?
  • Do you most often choose to be alone to deal with your problems?
  • Do you feel that only God really knows and loves you?
  • Are intimate, two-way conversations with others rare?[6]

So, what should we do if we suffer from relational anorexia? I recommend that every pastor have at least one safe person in his (or her) life with whom they can be honest and with whom they can process their pain.

Who’s your safe friend? In this post I list qualities to look for in a safe friend.

Related posts:

references:

[1] Gary Kinnaman and Alfred Ellis, Leaders that Last (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 10.

[2] REV.org, “Steve Arterburn Interview: Open Season,” August 2007. http://rev.org/protected/Article.aspx?ID=2519.

[3] Focus on the Family, “Pastoral Ministries 2009 Survey” (of over two thousand ministers), http://www.parsonage.org/images/pdf/2009PMSurvey.pdf, 8.

[4] Michael Jinkins, The Alban Institute, Congregations, “Great Expectation, Sobering Realities: Findings From a New Study on Clergy Burnout,” Number 3, May/June 2002. http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?q=printme&id=3284

[5] Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Safe People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 129.

[6] Adapted from ibid.

 

3 Simple Questions that Can Make or Break Leadership Effectiveness

Sometimes leaders can view their role only encompassing the big-picture, long-term, and strategic kind of stuff. I’ve learned, however, that how I treat simple one-on-one encounters with others may impact my leadership and my church in greater ways than my big-picture stuff. I suggest silently asking yourself these three questions when you’re with another person at your church or organization.

Business people standing with question mark on boards

3 Key Questions that Can Make or Break Leadership Effectiveness

  • If I were in this person’s shoes, would he or she feel loved by me?
  • What does this person need from me now and how can I meet it?
  • What is God doing in this person’s life and how does He want me to help?

Perhaps these questions are ways to live out the maxim, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

What are some other subtle leadership insights you’ve learned that affect leadership effectiveness?

Related posts:

What this Leader Learned about Life from 10 Kindergarteners

Several years ago I visited the pre-school that my church ran. It included a kindergarten class. The morning I peeked in I noticed that all 10 kids were sitting in a circle holding hands. Their teacher, Autumn, invited me in to join them in their morning prayer. Delighted to do so, I sat between two dainty girls, one with long curly blond hair, the other with glasses and a patch over one eye. As the children prayed, God reminded me about some important life lessons.

Kindergarten sign with icons

Autumn prayed first and then each child prayed around the circle, one after the other. Out of their tiny voices came these prayers.

Thank you Jesus.

I pray for my tadpoles.

Jesus, please help my fish. I have two fish and the fins of one fish are coming off and the other one has spots.

I pray for my grandmother who has cancer.

Jesus, I pray that my puppies will live and that my parents will let me keep one.

And then this one really touched my heart.

Jesus, my mom is off tomorrow. I really want to spend time with her. I know she is busy, but please let her spend time with me.

In five minutes after listening to 10 six-year-olds, God reminded me of these simple life lessons.

  • When we pray, God looks not at the eloquence of our words, but at the honesty of our hearts.
  • No subject is off limits when we pray.
  • Kids want time with their parents more than anything else.
  • I must never allow a busy schedule to trump such significant moments as holding the hands of six-year-olds while they pray.
  • I wish I had more of the simple faith of a child.

Today, look for opportunities for God to teach you about what’s truly significant, even from a child.

Related posts:

Is This the Most Important Time on Sundays for a Pastor?

I’ve been in full-time vocational ministry 35 years and have always believed that the most important use of my time on Sunday was when I brought the message. I still believe that, but now also believe that the second most important time is right before and right after the service. I call it my ‘ministry of presence.’ My high visibility as I chat with people, shake their hands, and give them a listening ear provides a tiny “one-on-one” window into their hearts. I believe those brief interactions may affect some people more than the sermon itself. Here are four simple choices we can make to maximize that time.

Hands are holding the blackboard of time to listen concept against gray background.
  • Look for the “deer-in-the-headlights” faces.

This look often telegraphs new people. I look at peoples’ eyes and I can usually catch their, “I’m new here and have no idea what to do or where to go.” I will introduce myself and try to make them feel that I really care. A touch like that from a pastor can make a profound impact on a new person.

  • Seek out those in wheelchairs, those with canes, or those with other physical or mental challenges.

One guy, Robin, came to our service years ago in a motorized wheelchair while attached to a ventilator that kept him alive. I intentionally reached out to him several Sundays in a row. The relationship grew and I had the privilege of later leading him to Christ and baptizing him. He’s now with the Lord. Had I missed those touch points, I may have never gained his trust to share the Gospel with him.

  • Give your full attention to people to whom you talk.

Avoid communicating, “I’m talking to you now but I am looking over your shoulder to get ready to talk to the next person.” People will quickly sense a half-hearted listener.

This may sound harsh, but some people will hog the entire time before and after a service as they talk about themselves or some problem they’re facing. Sometimes I’ve even walked up a different aisle to avoid getting cornered by a monopolizer.

These simple practices have made many lasting spiritual deposits in others as I offered them my “ministry of presence.”

What have you done to increase your ‘ministry of presence?

If you are not a pastor, what advice would you give to us pastors to help people feel special on Sundays?

Related posts:

A Counter-intuitive Way to Manage Ministry Pain

Pain and ministry go together like peanut butter and jelly. Once you make a PB&J sandwich, there’s no separating the two ingredients. Neither can we isolate successful ministry from the pain it inevitably brings. I don’t like rejection, disappointment, or criticism. I don’t know any pastor who does. Sometimes, however, I do everything I can to avoid them. However, this woman approached pain in a counter-intuitive way.

Portrait of a man with fist and eyes closed on black background

A French nun who lived in the late 1800s, Thérèse of Lisieux (known as “the Little Flower”), practiced a simple way to draw closer to Jesus.

It is, in short, to seek out the menial job, to welcome unjust criticisms, to befriend those who annoy us, to help those who are ungrateful.

Thérèse didn’t allow those experiences to help her grow only if they came her way; she actually sought them out and embraced them. As difficult as that seems, perhaps the Lord would want you to consider this unusual tool to help you become a more effective pastor and follower of Jesus.

What are your thoughts on what Thérèse did? Does it seem too ‘out there’ or was she onto something?

Related posts: