Thinking Out Loud

June 22, 2017

Christian Leaders Have Feelings, Too

Have you ever received a letter or an email where you could acutely feel the pain of the person writing? It happened to me about a week ago, and not for the usual reasons that people experience hurt. This person had unexpectedly come out on the wrong side of a business dealing some other Christians. Though the letter wasn’t written particularly to evoke an emotional response, but it really affected me and has stayed with me throughout the week.

Interestingly, if I am to be perfectly honest I don’t particularly like this person. Circumstances necessitate a relationship that would not exist otherwise. Really, that’s how it is in the body of Christ. Look around your church on Sunday morning and ask yourself how likely you would otherwise be to interact with this set of people. Would you have another context to make their acquaintance? Would the ones you count as friends have ended up so through some other means?

Meanwhile, all’s fair in love and business, right? Tough luck. Easy come, easy go.

Ruminating on this continually however, I’ve been reminded that people in Christian leadership are not immune to hurt and pain. Years ago I was at a crossroads where I could have gone into pastoral ministry. “Don’t do it;” a mentor advised; “You’re not thick-skinned enough.”

But who is thick-skinned enough? We’re human. We bleed. Electing to choose a ministry that must be, by definition, compassionate means that pastors may be more sensitive than many of us. We all have different degrees of sensitivity, but I think pastors bear the biggest brunt of this. They are particularly vulnerable on Sundays, especially right after the sermon. If you want to bring someone down a notch or two, that’s the perfect time. As an aspiring Bible teacher, I had just finished a Sunday morning sermon at a Christian conference center that was transitioning into a summer camp; so adults from offsite were still in the habit of driving there for services. I don’t remember the topic, but I felt it had gone reasonably well until the director called me into his office immediately after.

“You really think you’re hot stuff, don’t you?”

I stood there not quite sure how to respond. It turned out later that there was a enormous political power struggle going on in this organization, and he didn’t want me feeling in any way empowered.  The rest of that conversation is a bit of a blur.

Christian leaders have feelings. Some no doubt pursue ministry not realizing the emotional price they will have to pay. This undoubtedly leads to the rather high attrition rate in this profession. But heads of missions, parachurch organizations and other Christian charities could be included in this, as well as lay-leaders who may have a role in the life the church which is quite a contrast to their primary vocation.

It’s important for the rest of us to bear that in mind.

Don’t cause hurt. If you need to confront an individual, do it lovingly. If you think something needs to be done differently, make a suggestion, not an order. If you feel someone is going astray, scripture tells us to lead them gently back.

Watch for leaders who are hurting. They’re all around you. In the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, you can be a pastor’s pastor. They need to talk, too. Remember them in prayer.

Rebuke the person who causes hurt. If you know someone who loves to stir the pot, who loves to be ‘Brother Sandpaper,’ pull them aside and remind them that the Christian leader in question is human just like them.

Bear your own hurts well. If you’ve continued reading this far, perhaps you have some leadership role in the church and need to expect at sometime to have to manage the emotions which arise when the inevitable attack happens, because it probably will.

Make love your rule of life.

 

September 17, 2010

Suppose I Were To Tell You…

I hesitated to write this.   Just three short weeks ago, I wrote about confession in general, and the website PostSecret in particular.    While it would have been more simple to devote that space to a discussion about why it is that we have this need to vent or get something off our chests, I wrote instead about the fact that this type of confession doesn’t really go anywhere beyond confession itself.   It lacks what we experience in a liturgical church service following the confession of sin:  The assurance of pardon.

Why am I returning to this subject?

Because this week blogger Mandy Thompson (who just this week, in the link list, we referred to as not that Mandy Thompson) offered her readers an opportunity to comment (in this case, confess)  anonymously beginning with the phrase, “What if I Told You…”

While this sort of thing may not be your preferred brand of reading — perhaps you consider it prurient or voyeuristic — I think that every once in awhile something of this nature bears reading; in this case for two very particular reasons.

First of all, these were Christian readers responding to the opportunity, not readers from among the general population.   In fact, a very noticeable percentage of them were pastors’ wives or pastors; something very reminiscent of Anne Jackson’s books, and her current Permission to Speak Freely book tie-in website.   Apparently, clergy families are in desperate need for an Ann Landers or Dear Abby page on which to bare their deepest hurts.

As we are all from time to time.

Secondly however, and this is why I’m linking to this today; at what I’m sure was  great personal emotional exhaustion, Mandy took the time to answer each and every response.   That’s with the number of comments closing in on 200.

What if I told you I’m impressed?

This is the blogosphere at its best.   When someone tells you that blogs are a waste of time, let them see what’s happening at MandyThompson.com, and then don’t miss some of her post-mail-avalanche comments that follow more recently.

If you’re a blogger, do you see what you do as a ministry?  Are there times someone left a comment that resulted in you taking on the role of counselor?  If you’re a reader, have you ever had a blog writer that you really connected with and received help from?    For either category, have you ever continued the dialog off-the-blog?

September 8, 2010

Wednesday Link List

The long hot summer is just about over, and the kids are back in school.    Time for a look at the pages that grabbed my attention this week, with a little help from our friend (at right) the links lynx.

  • First of all, there’s a live event online tomorrow (Thursday September 9th) night:  A Night of Worship, streaming live from North Point Community Church at 7:30 PM Eastern, 6:30 PM Central.   To watch at home you need enough bandwidth to capture the live feed, and this website.
  • When Chad Holtz isn’t busy pastoring a rural Methodist church, he’s busy confronting evil at the local Islamic Center.  Sort of.
  • Greg at the blog, Lost in the Clouds posts an edgy response to the Christianity Today cover story Hipster Christianity by Brent McCracken based on his book of the same name.   Greg says “I’m sorry, but all of this is adding up to a sorry picture of our tour guide through the world of Hipster Christianity…”   I think he struck a nerve.
  • Students at Belmont University are being handed cash to make a difference.    Donald Miller explains the $20 giveaway; but I wonder what they’d do if — after the manner of Matthew 25 — one of the students simply handed back $40?
  • Carlos Whitaker doesn’t want attendees at the Catalyst Conference to be singing the songs he chooses, so he asks his readers to report the song titles they are connecting with at their churches.   So far, over 125 replies.
  • Frank Turk, who probably doesn’t write a lot of music reviews, joins a number of bloggers who are noticing what can only be termed a “modern hymnwriter,” Matthew Smith.
  • Andrew Jones lists five major game changers that revolutionized who he is today.  People in ministry, don’t miss this one.
  • Thom Turner knows that baptism can be a divisive subject, but suggests there’s room for diversity even within denominations and possibly within local churches as well.
  • If you missed the blog tour — actually it was more like a progressive dinner — for Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely (Thomas Nelson), you can still catch all seven excerpts by following the links, starting here.  Anne’s honesty will resonate with anyone dealing with various types of pain.
  • Brian, a regular reader of this blog, invites you to join him and others in a week of prayer for Beja people — nomadic camel herders — of Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea.   Read more here.
  • Our video link this week is a worship song you may not know by Willow Creek’s Aaron Niequist, simply titled Changed.
  • U.S. Fundamentalist nutcase Terry Jones is determined to burn copies of the Quran on September 11th — I doubt even the U.S. President could stop this guy — so as of Tuesday night officials announced plans to quell access to his property through an identification checkpoint, so fewer people can see him do it.
  • John Stackhouse has no problem with street preaching, but that’s usually in commercial areas, right?  What happens when the preachers invade a residential street?  That, he says, is going too far.
  • Anglicans in Nova Scotia, not content with the annual “blessing of the pets” service, are having a “blessing of the techs” service for laptops, cellphones and mobile devices.
  • This may be your church, or at least your church sign:  Grace Methodist Episcopal in New York, circa 1922; from Shorpy.com; a classic photograph site.  Middle picture is from the Gospel Mission in Georgetown, circa 1920; final picture is a storefront church from the “Black Belt” of Chicago in 1941 and where deciding where you’re going to eat after church isn’t an issue with the lunch wagon next door.   Click through any of the pictures to see the images in super-giant size.


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March 22, 2010

Bullying: Echoes of a Past Life

It didn’t attract a lot of comments a year ago, but I felt it was one of the better things on this blog, and because I have new readers, I decided to repeat this item today…

no-bullying-circle

This story of an 18-year old in Cincinnati who hanged herself last July after constant taunts from both school friends and strangers had an eerie resemblance to several other stories that have crossed my path lately. We sometimes call it cyber-bullying, but it’s really just harassment, ramped up to the nth degree.

Suddenly, my mind flashed back to a scene in a different era several decades ago… A group of teenagers returning from a weekend at the beach. The cottage, situated on one of the Great Lakes, was owned by a good friend, and his dad was driving us home. He’d dropped people off one at a time and arranged it so at the end it was only my friend and I left in the car.

Then he let us have it. “The way you treated ***** was terrible;” he said. “Don’t you know the boy has feelings?” Actually, no. Mainly because ***** seemed content to laugh along with the rest of us, as we ridiculed his speech and mannerisms. And some of us — like me, for example — didn’t know back then how to let a joke die…

Dear RG

The chances of you reading this are one in a gazillion, but I need to know that it’s out there. Perhaps someone else will read this who isn’t you and doesn’t know me; but they’ll claim it as their own. Perhaps by some miracle you’ll see this and recognize my name and know it’s for you.

We like to think things were better back then. There was no e-mail, or texting, or instant messaging, or Twitter. No matter what people thought about you, you could go home and shut the door and be within the safety of your family. I don’t know if your family provided that kind of refuge for you, or if our remarks were so hurtful that you went home and cried.

We didn’t really mean to hurt you. We thought you were in on the gag. Looking back, you were probably just being brave, just being defensive.

Today, the kids have all this technology and we know that bullying doesn’t have to be physical, it doesn’t have to mean picking a fight. While we didn’t have the technology to invade the sanctity of peoples’ homes and continue the harassment; we should try to remember that we weren’t that innocent in those innocent times. People were mean and cruel and said things they shouldn’t have; and some of us didn’t know when to quit.

So, RG; I’m sorry. I hope you were able to triumph over our high school stupidity and that you’ve made a good life for yourself all these years later.

For what it’s worth, I went to church back then, but didn’t understand the dynamics of living as a Christ follower. I didn’t let my faith deeply impact my behavior. I didn’t know my life was supposed to reflect a difference; a distinctive; patterned after the One I had pledged myself to serve and obey.

Some of that came together during the very last weeks of high school; some I figured out in the second term of first year university; some came together when I was 21; some I learned when I got married and had kids of my own; some stuff I worked out last year and last month; and a lot of what it means to bear the name of Jesus Christ I truly have yet to learn.

Yesterday I read a story about a young girl in Cincinnati and how the taunts of her friends and acquaintances drover her to the lowest point. I read of the agony of her parents; the grief of losing their only child, and all the hopes and dreams and aspirations they had for her.

And suddenly I thought of you; I thought of us; I thought of that cottage weekend when I simply didn’t know when to shut up. I wish I could relive that weekend over again; and I wish I could have been a true friend, instead of using you as a prop for my personal love of attention.

It’s never too late to say you’re sorry. I’m sorry.

~Paul.

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While looking for a graphic for today’s post, I came across this, which also provides some food for thought.

cycle_of_bullying

August 25, 2009

Reblogging The Best of August 2008

Filed under: blogging, quotations — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:46 pm

Here’s three short posts I ran around this time last year that I thought worth repeating. Summer reruns, I guess.

The Dangerous Act of Worship

“Our central lie is in the discrepancy between the language of worship and the actions of worship. We confess “Jesus is Lord” but only submit to the part of Christ’s authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t disrupt the American dream, doesn’t draw us across ethnic and racial divisions, doesn’t add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn’t mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn’t ask for more than a check to show compassion. We “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best. Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say that we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. Its the sign of disordered love. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.”

~

Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 71 — h/t Andrew Hamilton blogging in Australia at http://www.backyardmissionary.com/

To all the hearts that have been broken,
To all the dreamers with abandoned dreams,
To everyone in need of a friend,
— You are loved, You are loved;
To the rebels wounded in battle
To all the rockers that have lost that beat
To all the users who are all used up now
— You are loved, You are loved.

~from the mid ’80s by Christian Rock band, THE ALTAR BOYS; this was running through my head this morning as I felt a hunger and desperation to know deeper the reality of God’s love for me as an individual; something that we all need to strive to be more aware of. His love for us is there and it is constant; it’s our perception of it that changes with circumstances and feelings.



I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.”
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone;” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” And that is dying.

No, it’s not C. S. Lewis. Attributed to Henry Scott Holland or Henry Van Dyke, depending on who you ask.

January 15, 2009

Attempts at Prayer at 2:30 AM

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, prayer — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:55 pm

I haven’t been sleeping well lately.   I wake up and then have way too much on my mind.   Last night I woke up at 2:30 and all I could think of was an accident that had taken place on Tuesday night, which I had just heard about on Wednesday night,  where two local elementary school teachers had been killed in a collision with a transport truck.   They both left young families behind.

I figured my best response to those thoughts was to pray, but pray for what?   We’d already prayed for the peace and comfort of God to reach into those families, but it was 2:30 AM and I wasn’t thinking clearly.   So I prayed, “God, this is too hard.  Turn back the hands of time to Tuesday and make it so it never happened.”

Of course, you can see a number of problems in that prayer.    First, if anything, it’s probably inspired by the Superman movie where he sets the earth spinning backwards to reverse time.   Secondly, of course, it’s just not a prayer that can be answered.    Nobody can criticize my lack of faith for a request so big, but it’s very misplaced.

I guess what I was really praying at that hour was, “Make it go away.”   Not just the hurt of those two families, but the hurt everywhere; the broken marriages, the people in the U.S. and U.K. getting hit the hardest in the economic slowdown and losing their homes, the hungry and thirsty in the arid parts of Africa, the people dodging the rockets in the middle east.

I refined my prayer to ask that God, in His mercy, would intervene and give protection to those who travel on icy roads this winter; and give a heightened sense of diligence to those who maintain those roads.    “In Jesus name, Amen.”

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