Friday, October 31, 2008

The sense of doom...and A little whining

Warning: Whining ahead.

Well, we just got back from a couple of nice days away for our 29th anniversary. Rest. Quiet. Outdoors. Nice. The effects lasted for about ten minutes after I arrived home and get my telephone calls...

Someone called wanting to meet with me tonight. It's "a bone to pick with you" meeting. This is a good person, and they won't be too mean. But I'm pretty sure I know what it is about...and it won't be easy. It's election time. And everyone thinks I need to take their side. And I never announce any side-taking. And this person has already ruffled a few feathers here and there in the church about voting. And there has been more than the typical number of election-time-forwarded-mass-email-bombs landing in my in box from members, with the addresses of other members...passed back and forth through my incoming mail--angrily--to let me know that all is not well in the kingdom.

O well, today, the last day of my mini-vacation, was spent mostly at home, and in a doctor's office with a loved one. I've only thought of the meeting tonight, and the "ten or so pages" I was told I'm going to need to read before the next morning's follow-up meeting, about 50 times. My stomach twinges or cramps every time.

In a comment to an earlier posting, one of you pastors said something about carrying a constant sense of doom. I've felt that much of the day. Actually, I feel it most days. The KINGDOM is so much bigger than this stuff. But my most sincere praying, and my best discerned sermons can't seem to move people to a Higher Loyalty. (And this is the easiest going congregation I've ever pastored.)

I know of several other tussles in the congregation right now. Fortunately, only a few of them have blazes high enough that I need to stamp on them. Maybe if I catch up on those, I can study for Sunday's sermon...I'm only about six to eight hours behind on this one.

Why can't we all just get along?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Step-Away Pastor

Since the beginning of our marriage, my wife and I have made it a habit to take time away now and then. We've not always been able to afford much of a place, but it has been near ritual to take the time to step away for a while and renew our energies--as well as our promise to each other.

Often people respond to our stepping away with a sort of cynical, prideful jealousy. "Wish I had the time to get away!" Cynical because they think they have no time. Prideful because they assume busy-ness indicates importance. And jealousy, because they choose not to make it a priority to get away--but it sounds so wonderful to them.

The one time in my life that I was tempted to run away from ministry, was the time when I'd allowed myself to go a few years without stepping away on a regular basis. I thought I was so important, that the church I served could not get along without my presence and wisdom and talents for a few days, let alone more than a Sunday or so per year. The ignorance of my ways hit me in the face the day I crashed in burnout and depression. (See )

My wood stove kept the house cozy last night, even though outside the temperature dropped below freezing for the first time. Yet this morning, the remaining and glowing coals were few. The wood from last night had burned itself up in the process of keeping us all warm. And so, this morning I had to take a few moments and add some wood. I opened a vent to let in much needed air to breath coals into flames. And then I waited for a cast iron stove to renew its heat and effectiveness. And today, so long as a piece of wood is added occasionally, the house will stay warm.

When writing The Runaway Pastor, I had in the back of my mind a better plan. My wife and I have renewed our commitment to stepping away, to add fuel to the fires that keep our marriage viable, and to breath in the Grace and Peace that will keep others warm in the Presence.

If you lead in any capacity, you cannot do it on burned ash. Choose a pattern of renewal. How can you lead people to quiet pastures if you refuse them yourself? If you are a pastor, learn to step-away. It is so much better than the alternative.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Happy Anniversary to us!

Today is my twenty-ninth wedding anniversary!

Yesterday I preached about Jesus' echoing of the first commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." I'll spare you the entirety of the message, but...

The word we translate as "Love," has a much deeper root meaning than our U.S. version. The better translation might read: "Be loyal to the Lord your God..." Throughout the past 29 years, the romantic edge of our marriage has been wonderful. However, as in any relationship, sometimes romance waned a bit, or took a back seat to hospitalizations or family grief. There are seasons of life which are hard--agonizing even. But loyalty to the promise is enduring.

If you follow The Runaway Pastor to the end, you will experience this faith in, and commitment to the promise as I believe it is intended. One of the most important reasons I wrote this novel is to paint a picture of love as loyalty to a vow, verses "the way things seem to feel right now."

It is my hope and prayer that whoever reads The Runaway Pastor will come-away with a newly deepened commitment to stay true to their initial "I dos." A pastor who recently finished the entire manuscript has certainly testified to that outcome in his life, and for that I'm grateful.

Grace and peace to you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chapters 6 & 7: The Runaway Pastor

I'm adding two chapters again. They seem to need each other. They also contain a great deal of change. I'll probably not add another chapter for a couple of weeks.

According to my counter, the traffic at the site has grown by about two and a half times since I posted chapter 5. Thank you for telling your friends about The Runaway Pastor.

Each time I add chapters, I remind you that this book is NOT about me or my family. My wife and I celebrate our 29th anniversary next Monday. I am the most blessed man in the world.

Once again, I've provided the new chapters, and then the entire manuscript so far, in two separate files. Please let me know when you find mistakes, or problems. This is a finished novel of which I'm only posting a bit at a time. But if you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

For chapters 6 & 7 copy and paste this link into your browser:

For chapters 1-7 copy and paste this link into your browser:

Grace and peace to you.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Shocking Stats about your (?) Pastor

I've struggled today with whether or not to post this. However, I've decided it is vital rational for this entire blog. It also explains the reason I have written The Runaway Pastor, and will help many to understand the plot of the book itself. You may read the first five chapters at the following link:

(Note: The following references partially assume that pastors are male. That is not the case in all settings, including in mine. The statistics however are both frightening and vital.)

"Depression and burnout are at epidemic proportions. If this were the case anywhere else in the world, there would be an incredible outcry. The September/October 2000 edition of Physician magazine reported that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or dealing with depression. Forty percent of pastors and 47 percent of their spouses say they are suffering from burnout. The norm among men in our country who are experiencing depression at any given time is about 10 percent. The norm among pastors is 40 percent."

Goodall continues: "To help me understand the role of stress in a pastor’s life, the executive leadership of the Assemblies of God asked me to participate in a 4-year think tank at Duke University called Pulpit and Pew. A book came out of that study entitled Pastors in Transition. I learned the primary reason pastors quit the ministry is conflict in the church. Conflict never goes away. Many pastors do not know how or when to deal with conflict. Conflict constantly hits them like a baseball bat on the head. They say: “I’ve had it. I’m going to do something different.” Unless church conflict is addressed along with the issues of burnout, stress, and depression, and the underlying causes creating these problems, the church will lose more and more of its fine pastors."

(Source: )
Coming Out of the Dark:
Two Pastors’ Journey Out of Depression
With Wayde I. Goodall And E. Glenn Wagner

In my new novel The Runaway Pastor, you can experience life through the eyes of a burned-out pastor. It is my desire to pastors learn to step-away for rest, before they run.

I think it's time this conversation gets a bit more public.

Jump in and comment. What are you thinking?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's one of those mornings...or Thank God for the Psalms

It's one of those mornings...which follows one of those evenings. If you've been there, you know what I mean. One conversation at the end of a meeting...a hurting soul, who hints that it is at least partially your fault, or the church's fault; again.

You know the morning. The night before, you take a while to settle, and get that song out of your head. You read a little extra late, and then wake hours early, for good. And so you get up and start the day, trying to focus on your joys, but with limited success--because you can't wipe away the hurt in their eyes. And you wonder how deep this will go?

Because people who get hurt easily, and add weight to your days, (and exact sleep from your nights) have a way of speaking with others. And even though you know their influence has been weakened by their patterns, their words still register in the minds of those you love, and who love you, and who vote for/or against your leadership.

It's taken a few decades, but I think I'm learning to let it go. (That's probably why I'm up a little after three this morning, huh?) There's nothing like loving a group of people unconditionally...sort of. And there's nothing like knowing that nearly all of those who serve alongside you, love you back, unconditionally...sort of. And they, the weak and the strong, help you hang in, and not run away.

And my pattern of reading five Psalms a morning, and hearing the honesty of the writers, and casting my cares to the night sky, and praying some ancient prayers, and praying some that are new today before the dawn gets anywhere near the horizon; that pattern yields fruit. For there is One who is faithful like the morning, and unconditional like the tide, and who never burdens me with my weaknesses.

Monday, October 20, 2008

THE RUNAWAY PASTOR: What is Trent running from? Running to?

From emails I'm receiving, people think Trent ran from Natalie, and to Kim. Interesting.

I want those of you who have read at least the first few chapters to consider this: Maybe Trent ran from his church work, and to people like Kim, who needed--and wanted--a pastor?

Maybe, he ran from those who needed administrating, to those who needed loved, cared for?

Could that be the attraction to Kim?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Runaway Pastor--All Five Chapters

Just wanted to get all five chapters of THE RUNAWAY PASTOR up in one place. Here is the link for all I have posted to date of my new novel:

Yesterday someone asked me why I've written this book? First, so far, you've seen the very hurt version of the lead character Trent. I wanted us all to experience what might happen if a pastor followed through on common escape fantasies. Second, as the book unfolds, readers will see the reason for Trent's anger and escape from his wife and the church: Love.

A friend helped me see that yesterday. We get most angry at those things we most love. Trent must really love the church, and later sections of the novel will help readers see that.

And his wife...This was the most difficult thing for me to write about. I can't imagine running from the love of my life (29th anniversary in a about a week!). But Trent, as the book demonstrates, felt his marriage was broken beyond repair. As the story unfolds, Trent and his wife Natalie will face tough choices. And I believe Trent's heart at the very end of this novel (feels like it needs a sequel) will reveal truth our culture dearly needs to grasp. So hang in.

Finally, someone asked me how much of the novel I intend to put on-line before proceeding to print. The only answer I have is: I don't know for sure. I'm hoping to gather enough readers who would buy the book, to make my publishing it worthwhile. (I've emailed a bit with the publisher of THE SHACK, and he recommends all new authors try to develop an organic market on-line in this way, rather than going through a mainline publishing system.)

So, I'd love it if you let me know if you would plan to buy a copy. No promises on your part, I just need to know as a group of interested people develops. There's an email link in the side bar if you'd prefer to let me know of your interest there, or just comment on the post. Or maybe you just want to keep following for a while, to see what you think...

Peace to you!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hope, Fear, the Emergent Church and The Runaway Pastor

The sea of life is so disturbed with change and conflict that, like sailors in a gale, Christians are scuttling all things unessential. What does that mean? Consider the things (rules, worship style assumptions, etc.) once thought vital for faith in your tradition. Any of them been tossed overboard in the past decade or so? Or have you jumped in yourself?

My novel: The Runaway Pastor is a story of a pastor desperately seeking to know which vows are worthy of keeping: Marital? Ordination? What are the least common denominators of our faith?

Call me an alarmist, but navigating the days ahead may require much, if not most of the things we cherish being exposed as non-essentials.

Now, I still plug into daily times with scripture, and love to read theology and understand tradition. But, I'm grateful that my thinking is also influenced by various emergent Christian thinkers. I am a follower of The Emergent Village, a kind of online gathering place for the emergent church conversation. (Others are plentiful, and I enjoy an occasional visit to and other associated links.) In a day when the ocean of faith is littered with things ships once thought essential cargo, I want to see what others are holding onto. I want to know what they are scuttling, and why? And, I'm encouraged that Jesus is the central loyalty in the emergent conversation.

Everyone knows these are changing times. Could this be one of the chief sources of burnout for Christian leaders? The rub can be felt from varying angles: My thinking is changing. How would my congregation respond if they knew? Or, People in my congregation are becoming more theologically liberal (or conservative) in the way they think. How can I keep all of the parties appeased? Honestly now, are pastors to be appeasers, or...?

Henri Nouwen, a prolific writer (now deceased), wrote a phrase that has had a profound influence on me: "Leaving the house of fear." The year I first read it, my advent series became the common response of Joseph, Mary and the shepherds to God's good news: FEAR!--And the accompanying common response from Heaven's messengers: "Do not be afraid." Why? Because this is good news. They were told to focus not on fear, but hope.

I have great hope for the future, and I have no idea what it will look like. I do know that Jesus, as I experience Him and reflect Him in and through His people, will remain on board...even if much I've held to must be scuttled.

Scuttling can be invigorating.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Poverty: Blog Action Day

I write this as a participant in Blog Action Day.

How many of you have had to turn people away who legitimately needed assistance? Often, people call our church needing assistance. Many times we can ascertain they are not truly in need of financial help. But occasionally they are. It is most difficult when someone stops by, you KNOW they need your help, and there is nothing in place with which to serve them.

Two winters ago, a young couple came to our church office needing assistance. They had been living in a tent in a nearby national forest with their three children. This was in the midst of an Indiana winter!

Now my congregation is broke! The haggard couple walked into our almost brand-new multimillion dollar building, their necks craned high to see the vaulted ceilings and lighting. And I had to tell them that we had no funds for them. I gave them some of my own, but not enough to make a dent.

Then, I took them to a less impressive part of the building, and told them the story of the innkeeper, and Joseph and Mary. Then I told them I felt like the innkeeper.

The good part of the story came later in the week when our congregation welcomed them into our youth room to live until they could get back on their feet. As you might guess, the end of the story had sad and joyful tones...

This blog site is a place to discuss pastoral burnout. Maybe being the greeter at a seemingly unfriendly weekday "inn" adds stress to the lives of other pastors.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Runaway Pastor: Chapter 5

Thanks to all who are giving me feedback. Exciting to have a first reader from Europe this week.

However! I had no idea the spot you were in this week. I just spoke by telephone with a friend, and he mentioned reading the last two chapters, but not wanting to comment. And I got to thinking...what can you say about what is happening? What is there to discuss? I know it's a messy situation that Trent is in. (That's why I've told you repeatedly that he is not me. But have I told you lately how much I love my wife? Got a big date planned tomorrow night!)

Well anyway, here is chapter five. The soup gets thicker here, but you begin to see just how lost Trent is. I don't want to give the book away, but Trent will eventually do, um, better... Hang in.

If you'd like the first four chapters as well...

Maybe for now, you could comment on some of the other posts? I'd especially like to keep the Very Important Question post alive. Could you jump in there?

One more thing: You can sign up to be notified if a new post or even a new comment hits my site at the bottom of the right hand column. I'd also love to have you click on "follower" if you'd like.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How much of this is theological confusion?

So how much does burnout amongst clergy have to do with theological differences? Here is what I mean.

Today I attended a gathering of our local pastors. Each of us is from a different denomination. We get along well. We disagree on some theological stuff, I suppose. It rarely comes up. But when leaders from Roman Catholic, Salvation Army, Southern Baptists, Disciples of Christ and Nazarene churches get is fair to assume that our denominational and theological templates don't match perfectly. We gather with a larger purpose, however, and it is a good thing.

Now one non-clergy person visited us...felt that God is asking him to get the churches together for a "revival." He is a good man. However, the kind of revival he would envision, and the one that others in the room might picture, would be completely different. So we smiled, nodded and moved-on.

But in our congregations, people have received their theological training from varying sources such as TBN, Christian "End of the World" horror novels and movies, their grandfathers, Oprah and even a smattering of proof-texts from scripture. And these people come from one of two camps: "What I believe is the absolute, undeniable, complete gospel truth;" or "What I believe is just one option amongst one can know the complete truth."

And as you read the above paragraphs, you fit into something close to one of the two camps just listed. How can we get along, when there are such emotionally powerful biases in our midst?

And when pastors lead on Sunday mornings, already feeling they are "constantly on trial," how can they stand anywhere with any confidence? I'd say we either preach loud and hard line. Or we teach series of how to do life, that avoid these issues; or we hope people will never find out the deep truths we hold in our hearts.

So, if anyone is listening...what do you think?

Monday, October 13, 2008

How much of this is pride?

We had a good day Sunday. Attendance was pretty good. A great bonfire in the evening; a lot of new people, and many good conversations and friendships developed. And so, yes I was tired after it all, but Monday was good.

A week or so ago, when attendance was weak, Monday was bad. The sermon had been good, several people spoke well of it. Yet, many regulars were gone, and the numbers were down. I wore discouragement all week.

Someone commented on the "A Real Important Question" blog a week or so ago. He said as a pastor, he feels he is "constantly on trial." I can't help but wonder, what if people skipped church because they are bored with my teaching? Leadership? Vision?

How many of our difficulties are based on pride? One of the best friends I ever had once told me: "Remember, this is a marathon, not a fifty yard dash." I've taken a great deal of comfort from that.

But I must admit, whether the race is fifty yards or twenty-six miles, I really prefer my people seeing me way out in the lead. Is "middle of the pack" not good enough for a pastor's ego?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Runaway Pastor: Chapters 3-4

For those of you who are new to the site, I've been posting a new chapter of my novel The Runaway Pastor each week or so. Since beginning, there has been growing interest in the book. That is the purpose of placing the chapters here. I'm hoping to "grow a market" organically here on-line. If the interest begins to fade, I'll catch the hint, and work at this in a different way.

It's bonus week. Instead of adding chapter 3 alone this week, I've decided to add chapter four along with it. They seemed to fit together.

I believe the book could spark some important conversations amongst pastors, as well as with those who care about them. If you believe this is the case, you need to tell me; and you need to connect others to this site. Again, if you don't, you need to tell me, and I'll catch on.

Keep the editing ideas coming, and let me know what you think.

Once more, let me remind you: Trent is not me. Natalie is not my wife. Read that again.

Hey, thanks for following along, and hold on...these are important, yet tough chapters. Feedback please...

Here are chapters 3 & 4.

And for conveniance, here are all of the chapters I've put up so far.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Very Important Question!

Is there a difference between the reasons for pastoral burnout, and other professionals burning-out? I think this is an important distinction. Things are tough all over! Are there any unique stresses for pastors?

I'm asking pastors to respond to this question: What unique challenges, hardships, difficulties are there for pastors, as opposed to those in other professions; including professionals in the medical, counseling, teaching and business fields?

Think about it. Be specific. Let's see where this goes.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Helpful Articles

I can do nothing better for a pastor suffering from depression than to point them to the following articles. The only problem is the assumption in these articles that the pastor will be male, and the spouse a wife. But since most ministers I know are such, please read for the terrific insights and statistics within.

Two pastors tell of their journey into depression/burnout and of their steps toward healing. Please read the following articles.

Their wives share the story from their perspective.

Grace and peace to you!


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Here is Chapter 2! Thanks for asking!

The Runaway Pastor Chapter One:

And now Chapter Two:
(You copy and paste the link into your browser window.)

I hope you will read with an editor's eye. I need your ideas and corrections.

Here are a few of the comments you have given me about the first chapter:

I found your first chapter grabbing my attention and identification. Well written and creative. I'm not sure how objective I can be, as being a pastor myself causes me to find more than a normal level of empathy. I am looking forward to chapter 2.


If you haven't read chapter 1, go and read it. Then send the link to all your pastor friends. After they read the first chapter, why not talk about it with your friends. Those who are honest will say their middle name is Trent.


I read the first chapter and was instantly hooked. Looking forward to the rest.

I guess as a rookie author, all of this is pretty exciting to me. So use this blog to record your thoughts on the second chapter.