Monday, September 29, 2008

Joys, not stresses--

I want to speak of joy. Anyone who is or has been a pastor, understands the deep joys involved in the work.

In recent days, I have known days that to some, might seem reasons for burnout. But in the midst of these days, I've found joy. Let me explain.

About four months ago, I received the call that a gentleman from my congregation had pancreatic cancer. I met regularly with him and his wife and other family members over the next weeks and months. We prayed and shared our fighting-hopes and finally, hung our heads together when those hopes were gone.

Then our talks became deeper and more openly loving. I told my friend and his wife that I'd travel to a nearby state with them for his final funeral service. He shared with me some scripture and words that God had given him. I used them in his funeral service here, and at the distant site. He said, "It seems to me that God said 'Trust me.' and 'My grace is sufficient for you.'"

On a Monday, I sat with him, his talking coming in brief whispers. His wife told me he couldn't make it long. A hospital bed was delivered to his home, and his son and I helped assemble it, and put the sheets on. Two nights later, he died. It was nighttime, and the family called, saying I didn't need to come.

I hurried to the home, not stressed, but unwilling to miss sharing love with his family in those mystical moments. We sat together for a couple of hours. It was difficult and sad. It was a time filled with peace. The men from the funeral home came and picked-up my friend's body just before midnight.

We prayed. I went home tired, and so fulfilled. THIS is what God has gifted me to do.

On the night of visitation at the funeral home (the night before the local funeral) I had to leave for a while to see a family who's wife and mother had attempted to take her life. I drove the thirty minutes to see them, and sensed comfort moving from my soul to theirs. Christ was with us midst the beeping machines in the intensive care unit. And then I returned to the visitation--fulfilled yet again.

Again I thought, "This is who I am. I am a shepherd. I love people well, because that's how our Lord made me."

But this week I prepare for next week's board meeting. And that doesn't feel so much like shepherding.


Saturday, September 27, 2008


The Runaway Pastor--chapter 1.I have finally placed the first chapter of my novel on-line. I will post more in the days and weeks ahead. PLEASE understand the following: The main character in the book is not me. His wife is not my wife. His church is not my congregation.

However, I wrote this novel out of experience and after hundreds of conversations with many pastor friends. I love the church and I am grateful to the service that clergy give her. I hope this book provides an inside look into the life of one pastor that came to the end of what he could do.

Please respond. I am posting this in order to gather some interest in the final product, which is not yet published. I look forward to your input and interest. For now it is in WORD format. Let me know if that is a problem.

Here is the link:

Thanks for taking the time.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Over the past two weekends, I've run into runaway pastors. Their pain lies only slightly below the surface. Who can they tell?

Last Saturday morning, at a hotel a couple of hundred miles from home, I happened onto an old friend. He's been a pastor for a few decades. He is the picture of success. The congregation he pastors has grown by about 20-30 times. He has many respected positions in his denomination. He is a winner.

But after asking about how he is doing, tears formed in his eyes. Practiced skill kept them from spilling on the table where we sat. Seems to me, he'd like to run away. I heard stories of depression and feelings of "What else can I do to earn a living?" He is a friend. Please pray for him.

Then he told me of a mutual friend who ran away without a plan. A pastor for years, who kept his secret well--the secret pain he felt--until he could no longer. And recently, he followed through on his deepest desire, and quit.

The weekend before last, I met a woman who is married to one who had a secret. After years of ministry--again as a success in all of our eyes--one day he went to the office and quit. She found out later that day. They were not prepared with other jobs. They are seeking them now, and life is hard. But the sense I get is, he wouldn't change a thing.

One pastor tells me of fantasizing of how he could get kicked-out of the ministry, without losing his wife, or going to jail. It was then he made his plan to step aside...instead of running.

We speak a great deal of sharing burdens with each other. We ask for prayer requests, and others release their worries and pains. But we are the wall. We soak in the sound waves and witness the tears and even share them. And we display the same wall of portraits, with our perfect family and our own ever smiling face--even when the smile is fading--or fake.

Most ministers, when they hurt, keep their pain secret. Must they? Who can they tell?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A bad day earlier this decade

A Move Inland

One day you wake up, shake your head and wonder how you ever got here. And once oriented, you recognize you’ve awakened into a bad dream. You want to go to sleep again. How did it come to this?

I remember the romantic days of dating the ministry. Invitations dared me to bow and give my all to the adventure of following and serving Jesus. There were long wonderful hours of praying and seeking God, constant dreams of doing the heroic for Him. First sermons, new responsibilities—ministry was magic!

The years of God-study were a mixture of diving to the depths of the ocean and sailing its surface. Discovering the vastness of it, yet knowing its enthralling borders alone: Being found powerless in the throws of its surf, and the rip of its tide. Overwhelmed in the glory of it all, surrender was the only option.

But ministry is a move inland, a weekly recitation about the great seas and feeling nostalgic about the surf, while sitting in the mud by a farm pond. Ministry, we soon discover, is not so much a bracing daily visit to the shore. It’s more of a competition to accumulate the largest desert fleet of watercraft and the most loyal cruise customers. Weekly orations about the glories of the ocean soon leave us wondering if it still remains, somewhere beyond all the workshops, magazines, growth conferences—some place toward the coast where the maps say the land is supposed to end.

When I first took a pastorate, and began to shepherd a people, I remembered the route to the sea. I’d rise early and stay up late in order to travel to the place where gulls would scream, and the surf would splash and rush its bitter cold against my hot dry skin. I’d dive and swim and play. I’d pull on goggles to look beneath and grab a board to ride on top. A sunset cruise would cause my heart to fall in love again. Watching a fisherman unload his catch never failed to amaze: the variety of the catch, the majesty and mystery! Oh, and the sudden winds, and slashing storms, and pounding rain, and running away to escape the adventurous dangers of this God.

There is a limit to how well a soul can speak of the ocean, when it sees the ocean no more. When some folks back home prefer pilgrim songs and others pirate tunes, you work to balance the ship. And once, weekly ventures to the sea required the simplest of boats to gather the travelers. Now, we finance, cruise ships and staff them for entertainment and turn in the numbers of how many show-up in the desert… to hear of the ocean… and describe it as best they can… as a muddy pond where cattle drink, and a good cast reaches from one bank to the other.

O, how I long for the sea again. A pond can get you wet—but few loose their lives in it, or find their living in it. Few paint it’s sunsets or dream of the ripples that reach its edge when a catfish stirs the surface.

And so, I tell myself to go to the sea. Take the time, step away from the ship long enough to smell salt air, burn my brow and hear the gulls. And maybe once I’ve gone, I could again bring good enough invitations to the coast, to a people who have settled for farm ponds: Or who, thanks to my lost memories, have heard that’s all that ever was.

After writing this journal entry on July 25, 2007, my heart began to recall a poem I’d memorized as a child. I found it online. And the wild longing for escape defines the longing of my soul so well.

By John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sails shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the see again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When this pastor burned-out.

Two and a half years ago I was in the midst of my Sunday AM teaching, when the plug got pulled. One minute I felt fine. The next I had no strength. After thousands of dollars in medical testing, scanning, sampling, and imaging--it was determined I was a victim of pastoral burn-out.

Most people assume this means I was tired of ministry, or I was bored, or exhausted. No, it meant that one day I was running ten miles for fun; and the next week I could not walk fifty feet without rest and gathering my bearings. It meant I went from being a people-person with no fears; to being a guy unable to walk into a restaurant--or any public place--without an overwhelming dizziness and a threatening panic attack. I needed naps, long ones throughout the day. A counselor told me I was in a "major depression," and I was not able to argue, I could only sob.

I am still a pastor. I have been loved back to decent health by a great group of friends, family, and an amazing wife. And in the process, I have discovered a great deal of back-room whispers about pastoral burnout. As a group, we are warned to avoid it. We hear rumors of its pervasiveness. But I have not found a forum where a pastor can say, "Here is why I burned out." Or, "If I could, I'd do something else." Or, "I feel trapped in the ministry."

Now since admitting my "crash" (as I like to call it), I have heard those words, and many like them from pastor friends. Do you need to talk? Do you need to vent? Here is a place for you to run away, and not leave. Or maybe to receive encouragement to hang-in, or to leave, or...?

All I can say is, I didn't see it coming. But believe me, I had earned it.

So I'm putting this out here. Jump in if you want.


New Book

I have written and am preparing for publication a novel about a pastor who ran away. He lost his passion for ministry midst doing church CEO work. And he lost his wife because he was never home.

And so he made a plan. And he ran away to the other side of the country, and no one had a clue where he was. Hey pastor, have you ever wanted to run?

This blog will be a place for pastors who hurt. I'd like for it to be a grace dispensing place for those of us who haven't run, even though we've considered it. Check in now and then, and soon I'll post a portion of my book. Maybe you'll be able to relate.