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.

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.

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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.

 

Saving your Family without Killing Your Ministry

pastors balancing family life and ministryMy wife and I have 3 grown kids. One has survived a brain tumor, one was a straight arrow, and one was a challenge. My oldest daughter Heather (our challenge) even co-wrote a book with me about the experience in our family called Daughters Gone Wild-Dads Gone Crazy.

I’ve excerpted 5 insights from our book about how to keep your family intact in the pressure-cooker of ministry.

1. Resist turning words into weapons.

Heather got me so angry that at times I said some things I wish I had never said. I wish I could have taken back some of those angry words as the Bible tells us. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Prov. 12.18 (NIV-G/K). One psychologist suggested that we wait 30 seconds before responding in an angry situation.

2. Stoke the relationship fire with your children to keep the relationship alive.

If you’ve ever gone camping, to keep the fire going you must stoke it by stirring the embers. Often when I was hurt so much I had to make a conscious choice to reach out to her in tangible ways to let her know that I loved her. Just small things like simple grace gifts kept the relationship alive. Although I stumbled often, Heather later wrote us a letter that really touched our hearts. Here’s what she said.

“Thank you for never closing your heart to me. I wouldn’t be what I am now if you had…I always felt the love of God from you…through your unrelenting pursuit of me in my times of darkness, through your never giving up on me, through everything you did for me in spite of how horrible I was..that’s how God loves us.”

3. No matter how much your children may hurt you, never close your heart to them.

At times I felt like giving up on her. But by God’s grace, I kept my heart open to her. I’m glad I did because I got to experience the fruit of reconciliation later.

4. Keep a good sense of humor.

Sometimes you simply must laugh between the tears. One night Heather showed up at 4 in the morning as we caught her climbing into the window on the biggest day of the church year, Easter Sunday. I had to keep a sense of humor to keep from killing her.

5. Choose your battles carefully and lose some on purpose.

Some battles with your children are not worth the fight. On biblical/moral/ethical values, stand your ground. On personal preferences, it’s worth losing some of those. Dress, a clean room, and some music choices are personal preferences. I love what one parent advised, “If you can cut it off, wash it out, or grow it out, don’t sweat it.”

What have you learned that has helped you keep your family intact?

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4 Things I Wish I Could Do Over as a Parent

We have three grown kids, one grandson, and one grandchild on the way. We love all of our  kids and they love us. As I reflect over my parenting years, I’d give myself a solid ‘B+’ in the parenting department. But, I would also would have parented differently in several ways. In a recent family service at our church, I shared these 4 things I wish I could do over as a parent. As you read them, ask which might apply to your parenting style.

If I could re-do my parenting, this is what I would have done differently.

  1. I would have not gotten so uptight when surprises came.
    • I’m sometimes guilty of catastrophizing. That is, assuming a worse case scenario, an ‘it’s the end of the world’ mentality. Sometimes I did this when one of my kids blew it. And when I responded that way, I would turn the entire emotional tone of our family negative. It’s a phenomenon called emotional contagion. Leaders, dads, and influential people set the emotional tone of those around them, in either good or bad ways. 
  2. I would have dealt with my own insecurities.
    • I was insecure as a young dad. To bolster my self confidence I would sometimes try to control my kids behavior in an overbearing way. It was a blind spot. Back then I wish I had invited someone wiser into my life on a regular basis to help me deal with my own junk… a counselor, a coach, or a mentor.
  3. I would have been less driven to fix things and ‘doing’ and more focused on process and ‘being.’
    • I’m a problem solver and that’s a good quality. But with relationships with our kids, sometimes it’s not the best solution. Sometimes when they face difficulties they simply need our presence, for us to simply be with them. This goes against our cultural push to be human doings rather than human beings. So, when something in my kids’ lives needed fixing, I wish I had simply offered my presence rather than my solutions.
  4. I wish I had asked a lot more questions to make my kids think more for themselves.
    • This idea relates to number 3 above. Sometimes we should not fix things even though we clearly see what needs to be fixed. Sometimes the best thing a leader can do, whether in a church or a family or a business, is to ask questions so that the other person comes up with his or her solution. When that happens, the other person owns it better. As an example in parenting, let’s say your child clearly disobeyed you on an issue. Perhaps part of discovering what the consequence should be would be to ask your child, “So, if you were in my shoes what would you do? What consequence would you give if you were the parent?” Such dialogue could have helped my kids think more for themselves at an earlier age.

What kinds of things would you do over as a parent?

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Do these 4 Steps Lead to a Pastor’s Moral Failure?

Each year it seems that another famous pastor steps down due to moral failure. As I’ve read about these falls, I’ve often wondered if there are threads common to these falls. H. B. London interviewed Archibald Hart, author and Dean Emeritus at Fuller seminary, several years ago on this subject. He suggested four steps that lead to moral failure in a pastor’s life.

In their interview they discuss how depression from pastoral burnout can lead to loss of vision, loss of ideals, an “I don’t care attitude,” and potentially result in moral compromise.

Dr. Hart then describes this progression of steps that leads to moral failure using what he calls the four A’s.

Listening to these four A’s caused me to pause to make sure I don’t go down that path. Often pastors and other spiritual leaders slowly move down this path without realizing it.

What would you add to this list of warnings signs of moral failure?

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What I Learned from Kids who Survived Cancer

My youngest daughter, Tiffany, has survived a brain tumor and multiple brain surgeries. As a result, she has a heart for hurting people. A few times a month she takes her dog LuLu to hospice care to visit patients.  A few years ago for several summers she served as a counselor at a camp for kids who survived cancer. Each year that camp would invite the kids, counselors and family to a dinner/dance the day after U.S. Thanksgiving. That year I took Tiffany. After dinner, Tiffany, the other counselors, and the kids took to the dance floor. That’s when, as I fought back tears, I jotted down these insights that I learned from these kids who survived cancer.

  • We all yearn for a place where others accept us “as is.” All these kids had this in common, they battled cancer. Many that night carried the obvious evidences of that battle–bald heads and puffy faces due to chemo, wheelchair confinement, or visible scars from surgery. But these things didn’t matter to them. It was as if they were oblivious to each others’ physical limitations. They accepted each other “as is.” (Jer. 31.3, I have loved you with an everlasting love.)
  • We all need moments when something transports us away from thoughts about our problems. One rule the camp rigidly enforces is, “We will not talk about our illness.” That same spirit carried over into the comments by the director that night as she spoke of joy, hope, and future. That same spirit pulsated from the dance floor as these kids jumped, danced, and twirled to the beat of the music and the direction of the rotund DJ. (Phil. 4.8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.)
  • God’s image that He implanted into every human heart shows itself when we sacrificially give ourselves away to others. Each camper is assigned an adult that spends 24/7 with that child during camp. At this dinner the adults sit next to their ‘companion,’ as they are called, and they joyfully dance with them on the dance floor. One counselor Tiffany introduced to me had served 15 years straight. Her effervescent personality oozed love for these kids. (Gal. 6.2, Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.)
  • God wants us to celebrate each other’s milestones with great joy. Each year at the dinner they play Pomp and Circumstances as the camp’s high school seniors march to the podium. This year only one made it. Two others couldn’t attend due to their illness. The high school senior whom the group celebrated that night had attended camp 13 years straight. Although surgery scars marred her face, she walked across the room and held her head high for she had not only survived, but thrived. After she received her ‘diploma’ the DJ began the dance music and this senior, dressed in her graduation robe, became the center of attention. The kids rushed into a circle as they danced and celebrated her milestone. My thoughts drifted back to when Tiffany graduated from high school. We weren’t sure that she would make it that night because the effects of her brain surgery often left her unable to stand on her own. The teachers had assigned a big football player to stand at her side and help her if needed. But, with a sense of great accomplishment, she walked across the platform on her own and received her diploma. I rejoiced. Then I cried. (Rom. 12.15, Rejoice with those who rejoice.)

I never expected to learn about acceptance, thinking about the good, sacrificial service, and celebration from kids who had cancer. Yet that night I committed, for Tiffany’s sake, to stay as long as she wanted so she could relish those magical moments with people who accepted her unconditionally.

Modifying the line from My Fair Lady, “I could have danced all night,” I could have stayed all night as Tiffany danced all night.

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