Mark Driscoll, and why Every Pastor Should be Taken Down

Last week the Acts 29 Network dismissed from its membership Seattle mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll and his church Mars Hill Church and asked for his resignation as pastor. This came as several controversies came to light about Mark and his church. Mars Hill’s accountability board countered with a statement of frustration that apparently that board had failed to personally contact Mark and Mars Hill’s board before making their dismissal public. This news has become fodder for bloggers, resulted in some bookstores refusing to sell Mark’s books, fomented demonstrations in front of the church, and even hit the New York Times. I don’t know Mark personally, but this brouhaha has reminded me that every pastor should be taken down. Here’s what I mean and why it should matter.

Arrow down on red

I’m fascinated with survival stories, maybe because I’m a pastor and sometimes leading a church requires great survival skills. This survival story illustrates why every pastor must be taken down, or put into different words, why we must take ourselves down.

I recently read the 1988 book Touching the Void about two mountain climbers successful yet disastrous climb of the 20,813 foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. One climber broke his leg on the way down. In the other climber’s attempt to lower his injured friend, he was forced to cut the rope that was suspending the injured climber over a cliff in mid-air. If he hadn’t, they both would have fallen to their deaths.

When the line snapped, the injured climber fell 150 feet into a crevasse, almost always guaranteeing certain death. Miraculously, he landed on a small ledge inside the crevasse and survived. Although he had rope with him, his broken leg prevented him from climbing out of the crevasse. And the next day his fellow climber assumed he had died.

In excruciating pain he faced three choices. He could commit quick suicide and roll off the ledge. He could stay on the ledge and slowly die from hypothermia. Or he could take the risky choice and lower himself further into the crevasse hoping to touch bottom, not knowing how deep the crevasse was. He could possibly run out of rope on the way down and die anyway, freezing to death as he dangled in mid-air.

He made the third, risky choice, and rapalled himself down into the darkness. Miraculously he was able to lower himself onto on a snow bridge. He then pulled himself out of the crevasse as he found a more gentle grade and literally crawled back to camp, dragging his broken leg behind him.

The only way he was able to survive was by going down. He went down so he could go up.

Jesus Himself embodied that principle: the only way up is to go down. The Apostle Paul wrote these profound words in Philippians that captures what Jesus did and what we should also do.

5   Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,  10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5-9, NIV)

Jesus went down to become a humble servant, ultimately going to the cross for our sins. And God promised that because Jesus did this, He would lift him up. God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. (verse 9)

So, as I read the charges and counter-charges about Pastor Mark, my heart grieves that church leaders are being hurt, church people are being hurt, the Church itself is taking a hit, and spiritual seekers are saying, “See, I told you so. I don’t want anything to do with that kind of stuff (Christianity).”

Even in my sorrow, I’m learning this lesson. I must never use my ministry to glorify myself or seek personal gain. I must seek God inspired humility. I must live a life that offers as much grace to others as I have received. I must remain accountable.

And most of all, I must remember the principle illustrated in the life of Jesus: if you want to go up, you must first go down.

That’s why I believe every pastor needs to be taken down…down the road of humble service, grace-filled relating, and deep gratitude that we get to do what we do.

4 Ways to Become a More Grateful Leader

Ministry challenges can often rob our joy. Mounting problems, unhappy people, and never ending ministry demands often leave us with little emotional reserve to appreciate the good. What do we do when that happens? While not sticking our head in the sand about our problems, how can we bring joy back into our leadership? I believe becoming more grateful can help…a lot. Consider these 4 ways to become a more grateful leader.

Eraser changing the word Ungrateful for grateful

1. Realize the practical benefits gratefulness brings.

Recent research has shown multiple benefits of gratefulness (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Benefits include these.

  • You will feel better about life in general.
  • You will be more optimistic and experience more positive emotions.
  • You will be less likely to be depressed.
  • You will physical feel better.
  • You will be more likely to help others.

2. Practice the discipline of metacognition.

Metacognition is the term for thinking about what you are thinking about. Often we are unaware that incessant chatter and mental rumination about problems replays in our minds, like a scene in a dvd that’s stuck a loop. When that happens, negative thinking can snowball so that we lose perspective and only see the negative. However, when we consciously make ourselves aware of that video playing on our mind (periodically check in on our thinking), we can stop the problem tape and ‘reinsert’ a gratitude tape.

The Apostle Paul wisely points this out in Philippians 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.

3. Re-frame problems as learning opportunities or as ways that God can work.

As the old adage goes, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. We can’t avoid problems in ministry. But we do have the choice on how we choose to perceive them. When we gratefully re-frame a problem as an opportunity for God to work, it can motivate us to focus on solutions. And creating solutions gives the brain something it loves, certainty. Creating action plans and goals to solve a problem gives us a burst of the feel good neurotransmitter, dopamine, which helps motivate us toward further action.

4. Keep a journal of blessings.

In one study (Korb, 2012) researchers asked participants to keep a daily journal of what they were grateful for. They asked another group to write about what annoyed them. The group who recorded what they were grateful for showed greater determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy compared to the other group. So, journaling what you are grateful for is a proven way to increase gratefulness.

What has helped you become a more grateful leader?

Related posts:

Sources:

  • Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (2), pp.377–389.
  • Korb,A. (2012) The Grateful Brain 

8 Benefits of Silence and Solitude in a Leader’s Life

We leaders live in a world that bombards us with incessant visual stimuli and noise. And it’s easy to become addicted to such noise without even realizing it. Our so called time saving technology such as smart phones and high speed internet access relentlessly remind us that we can get more done in less time so we have more time to get even more done. As a result we are addicted not only to noise, but to hurry. As John Ortberg writes, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.”[1] Leaders desperately need what the ancients called silence and solitude to help us lead at our best. I suggest 8 benefits of building this discipline into your life.

solitude2

John Ortberg tells a delightful story in Leadership Journal that describes how a pastor or a leader’s life can sometimes get out of whack.

Some time ago, a newspaper in Tacoma, Washington, carried the story of Tattoo the basset hound. Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his leash in the car door and took off for a drive with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.

Motorcycle officer Terry Filbert noticed a passing vehicle with something dragging behind it, “the basset hound picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.” He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog had reached a speed of 20-25 miles per hour, rolling over several times.

Leaders often live like Tattoo, our days mark by picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can.

Hurry and noise and incessant busyness are enemies of a healthy spiritual life.

I can attest to that. Yet, God does not want us to be controlled by nor conform to the noisy, hurried life that our culture and churches often push us towards. Some of the greatest spiritual leaders and influencers of the past said much about this practice.

Henri Nowen, who taught at Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame, and wrote 20 books said, “Without (silence and solitude) it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.”[2] He also wrote, “It is a good discipline to wonder in each new situation if people wouldn’t be better served by our silence than by our words.”
 (The Way of the Heart)

The late Dallas Willard wrote, “(this one) is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops.”[3]

Blaise Pascal, the scientist and Christian thinker of the 1600′s wrote, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.”[4]

Austin Phelps, a pastor in the 1800′s noted, “It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.”[5]

The Bible also speaks often on silence and solitude.

  • There is. . . a time to be silent … (Ecc 3.7)
  • Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. (Ecc 5.2)
  • Be still, and know that I am God…” (Ps 46.10)
  • Moses and Paul, some of the most recognized figures in history were transformed in times of extended solitude.
  • Jesus lived in a world of inner solitude and frequently experienced outer solitude. He was busy but was never in a hurry. Silence and solitude was Jesus place of strength.
    • Before he began his public ministry he spent 40 days in silence and solitude. (Lk 4)
    • Before he chose the 12, (He) spent the night praying to God.(Lk 6)
    • When he heard of John the Baptist’s death …he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matt 14.13)
    • After feeding 5000 …He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. (Mt 14.23)
    • He often… withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Lk 5.16)

Before I suggest 8 benefits, here’s a quick definition of each, as they are both cousins to each other. They both go hand in hand and without silence, solitude has little effect. In essence they are practices of NOT doing something–not interacting with society and people–withdrawing from human contact, voice, noise, phone, tv, radio, newspaper, etc… for a few minutes or a few days. The following definitions combine thoughts of Dallas Willard, John Ortberg, and Richard Foster. When I speak of silence and solitude below, I will speak of them as one thing.

  • Solitude: The practice of temporarily being absent from other people (in isolation or anonymity) and other things so that you can be present with God. Its not loneliness nor is it getting away from people just because we don’t like them. It’s more about what we do with our bodies.
  • Silence: The practice of voluntarily and temporarily abstaining from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought. It’s about what we do with our tongues, what we say.

Silence and solitude is a tool God uses to restore our souls by breaking engagements with the world. It is really more of a state of heart than a place. Granted, it does include awayness from others, but as you mature you can even be in a huge crowd and experience the rejuvenating power it offers. On the other hand you can become a hermit and never experience its power.

Here are 8 practical benefits of silence and solitude.

1. It (they) break the power of hurry, our addiction to a ‘have-to-do-this’ mentality.

 Willard explains it this way. The person who is capable of doing nothing might be capable of refraining from doing the wrong thing. And then perhaps he or she would be better able to do the right thing.[6]

It helps create an inner space for us to become aware of what we are doing and are about to do.

2. It helps renew our souls. 

Francis de Sales who in the late 1500’s developed sign language to teach deaf about God wrote, “There is no clock, no matter how good it may be, that doesn’t need resetting and rewinding twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. In addition, at least once a year it must be taken apart to remove the dirt clogging it, straighten out bent parts, and repair those worn out. In like manner, every morning and evening a man who reallly takes care of his heart must rewind it for God’s service . . . Moreover, he must often reflect on his conditon in order to reform and improve it. Finally, at least once a year he must take it apart and examine every piece in detail, that is every affection and passion, in order to repair whatever defects there may be.[7]

The Bible speaks pointedly to this idea.

  • Be silent before the Lord God! (Zeph 1.7)
  • My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. (Ps 62.5-6)
  • For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ (Is 30.15)

3. It reminds us that life will still go on without us

It interrupts the cycle of constantly having to manage things and be in control. It breaks us from a sense of being indispensable.

4. It clears the storm of life and mind for wise decision making and planning.

Luke 6:12-13 tells us that Jesus spend time in silence and solitude when deciding whom to choose as the disciples who would travel with Him. And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.

 5. It creates inner space to hear the voice of God.

God spoke to the prohet Elijah right after he had come from a power encounter with the Baal worshippers on Mount Carmel. He had fled because he heard that Queen Jezebel had placed a price on his head. He hid in a cave and God asked him what he was doing there. Then God told him to leave the cave and that He would speak to him. Elijah saw a storm and then wind and then an earthquake and then fire. Yet God was not in any of those. Rather, God spoke in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.2).

We are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear God when he is speaking to us.[8] Silence and solitude frees us from life’s preoccupations so we can hear God’s voice.

6. It allows us to disconnect from the world and deeply connect with our soul.

Henry Nouwen said, “In solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding.” And what is scaffolding? It’s the stuff we use to keep ourselves propped up be it friends, family, tv, radio, books, job, technology, work, achievement, our bank account, etc.[9]

 7. It helps us control our tongue

James 1.19 says, My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry….

Silence and solitude can free us from the tyranny we can hold over others with our words. When we are silent and yield to the advice in James, it becomes more difficult to manipulate and control the people and circumstances around us. When we practice silence we lay down the weapons of words. It often reminds us that we don’t need to say as much as we think we do. We find that God can manage situations just fine without our opinions on the subject.

 8. It helps us with the other disciplines

When we include silence an solitude it enriches prayer, Bible reading, and fasting.

What would you add to this list of benefits of silence and solitude?

Related posts:

References:

[1] John Ortberg, The Life You Always Wanted, p 84

[2] Richard Foster/James Smith, Devotional Classics, p 95

[3] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p 161

[4] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p 358

[5] Whitney, spiritual disciplines, p 194

[6] Willard, The Divine Conspiracy p 359

[7] Ortberg, The Life You Always Wanted, p 94

[8] Foster, Devotional classics, p 95

[9] Ortberg, The Life You Always Wanted, p 92

What You Don’t Know about your Church May Kill You

Many pastors begin a new assignment and get blindsided from issues they never expected. When that happens, it can be deadly. I’ve found that creating a genogram of your church, called a family diagram in psychology, can yield much insight into how people may have perpetuated unhealthy patterns in a church. It’s simply taking a bird’s eye view of your church’s past, looking for connections, and drawing them out. I excerpted below a section from my recent book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership that illustrates the process.

green grenade on a battlefield at dusk

I wish I had known about family diagrams before I began to pastor. If I had seen how dysfunctional batons pass from one leader or significant stakeholder to the next, I could have avoided a lot of grief— or least prepared myself to handle those issues better.

I recall one church I served where the founding pastor had been a father figure to many of the early members. He was “larger than life” from both the stage and in one-on-one relationships. Because many of the old-timers had come to faith through his ministry, most had never seen any other pastor lead. He had become close friends with many of the stakeholders, making himself available to them 24-7. The father figure he played loomed large.

When I arrived as senior pastor, my leadership style was not to give people 24-7 availability, except in emergencies, because I’d soon burn out if I did. I was also a ready-aim-fire leader, whereas he was known as a fire-fire-fire leader.

After about a year, I began to sense a weird vibe from some of the stakeholder leaders. It seemed that I couldn’t please them, no matter what I did. I felt befuddled. But as a clearer picture of the previous pastor emerged, I began to understand what fueled this tension. I realized that some leaders wanted the best parts of him— in me. They wanted a father figure who was available 24-7. One leader even confessed to me that he expected me to be a father to him.

They also loved his larger-than-life dreams that seemed to come “straight from the Holy Spirit.” It excited them, and many felt that church should be perpetually exciting. My vision, however, came more slowly through a more deliberate and thoughtful process, definitely not eliciting as much initial excitement as his did.

They had transferred the idealized former pastor’s strengths onto me, and I had failed to meet those expectations. Edwin Friedman captured this transference when he noted, “Institutions . . . tend to institutionalize the pathology, or the genius, of the founding families.” [Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (Bethesda, MD: Friedman Estate, 1999), p. 199]

This founding pastor had left under difficult circumstances. As a result I also bumped into another unspoken script: a fear and distrust of strong pastoral leadership among some stakeholder leaders. Had I known how churches, like families, pass down dysfunctions, I could have better navigated those bumps.

If you’re a senior pastor, I encourage you to probe your church’s past to learn the hidden scripts against which you may be bumping. Take some key leaders and long-term members out to lunch and ask about the church’s history. Listen especially to the stories from the old-timers. The more you learn about your church’s past, the better you’ll respond to its dysfunctions. I’ve listed some questions below that you might ask these leaders to help you create a diagram.

  • What significant events, both successes and traumas, have marked your church’s history?
  • How has your church responded to traumas and crises?
  • What problems seem to recur in your church?
  • Does your church have any deep, dark secrets?
  • How did the church begin?
  • Was it from a church split?
  • Was it a plant from another church?
  • Are relatives of the founding families still in the church?
  • Are some of the founding members still in places of influence?
  • How long have pastors stayed?
  • What were the circumstances behind their departures?
  • How were their departures handled? How do people talk about the prior pastors?
  •  Is there an ongoing pattern of firing staff?
  • Have any recurring sins persisted in staff or key leaders (sexual immorality, financial malfeasance, gossip and so on)?

You’re likely to find some repeating patterns. Simply knowing what you’re up against and paying attention to these multigenerational dynamics can give you a head start in dealing with the patterns. While acknowledging the past, you can more wisely lead your church into the future, knowing that these past patterns still play a part in the present. As Pete Scazzero has often said, “To go forward, you must go back.”

Here’s a fictional example of how someone might loosely diagram a church’s dynamics going back several years or several pastors. (People Pleasing Pastors by Charles Stone, permission granted, InterVarsity Press, 2014). Click on the image so you can see it clearly.

genogram of a church

What impact have you seen that your church’s past has had on your ministry?

Related posts:

27 Questions to Ask Before you Take a New Job

When a pastor considers a move to a new church setting or any leader considers a new job, he or she should do whatever is possible to define reality.  As Max Dupree, leadership guru and writer said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.”

When I’ve considered a new ministry change, I’ve sought answers to key questions. And over the years I’ve compiled this list of 27 questions (actually 30) to ask a search committee and/or your future boss. If you’re moving into a non-ministry setting, you’ll want to tailor your questions to your unique setting.

New job stamp
  1. Why me? What about me interested your committee?
  2. What stories of God’s moving do people still tell?
  3. What’s not going well that needs changing or needs to go?
  4. What are the burning issues?
  5. What are the biggest obstacles facing the church?
  6. What’s missing?
  7. What significant events, both successes and traumas, have marked your church’s history?
  8. How has your church responded to traumas and crises?
  9. How would your community describe the church?
  10. What do you most hope that I will do?
  11. What are you most concerned I might do?
  12. What are the major obstacles I will face?
  13. What ministries are struggling? Which ones are shining?
  14. What will be deemed a success under my leadership?
  15. How do you see the church in 1, 3, 5 years? What kind of growth do you expect?
  16. Describe how you see our working relationship?
  17. What should I focus on? What should be my priorities?
  18. How is the current staff moral?
  19. What is your expectation for my spouse?
  20. What were the previous pastor’s strengths and weaknesses?
  21. How was his or her relationship with the staff and board?
  22. What do you wish he had done differently?
  23. What problems seem to recur in your church?
  24. Does the church have any deep, dark secrets?
  25. Have any sins persisted in the staff or leadership?
  26. How would you describe the church’s tolerance for change?
  27. What has caused recent people to leave?

What questions would you add to this list?

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