July 26, 2012

Fighting Clergy Depression

With so many toxic and unhealthy churches, it's a wonder there isn't more clergy depression. But if you suspect that your clergy spouse is depressed, how can you know for sure?

Depression is a serious illness that requires professional help. It is more that just feeling bad or out of sorts for a day or two, Depression persists--sometimes for years. And often family members are the last--yes, the last--to notice.

But here are some clues to watch for in your adult loved ones. Please note that kids and youth are another matter.

1. Too much eating or loss of interest in eating
2. Too much sleeping but still feeling tired no matter how much sleep
3. Loss of interest in sex
4. Inordinate feelings of constant helplessness or anxiety
5. New, increased, highly ritualized compulsive behaviors
6. Unexplained sadness, feelings of guilt and/or despair
7. Talking or thinking about suicide
8. Unexplained physical illness and/or pain
9. Increased desire to be alone and/or disconnecting from significant relationships.
10. Spiritual ennui, listlessness, lack of focus or concentration

Often these clues are a matter of degree and they can appear together. Because we are physical, emotional, relational, rational, spiritual beings, a disturbance in one area will show up in the other areas as well.

In our churches, we're not good at talking about depression--much less clergy depression. But it is common. So take care. Even a healthy church drains clergy and families--an unhealthy church will suck the life out of you. So if you're in trouble, reach out to a trusted professional. If you need a counselor, you can go to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors website and find someone in your area.

Grace, Kathy

July 25, 2012

Growing a Healthy Mission-Oriented Church

How do you grow your church? As you know, there are about a million books on the subject. But the one thing that these books don't talk about is that a healthy clergy family is a key ingredient. Why?

Dan Dick's research shows that the sicker the church, the more hours the pastor puts in. So if a pastor's family is not healthy enough to survive the stress of back-breaking hours of work at/for the church, pastors will surely fail at their efforts to grow the church. When one parent is away, at work, or otherwise committed, it takes extra effort from the other spouse. If one parent is busy visiting, evangelizing, meeting, administrating, comforting, appearing in court for a wayward church member, the other parent has to take up the slack with the children--their homework, their busy schedules, their daily wants and needs. And since most spouses also work, that means that the spouse has to be healthy enough to meet most or all of the family demands, because there always has to be a parent on-call.

The pastor's spouse has to take up the slack when the demands of the church tax the pastor. But the family, not just spouse, has to have effective (healthy) ways to process and solve their own troubles and conflicts. Too much conflict at home, means that the pastor cannot be as effective at church. This does not mean that the clergy family is supposed to sweep their problems under the rug and not deal with them--most kids I know won't tolerate that anyway for long. But it does mean that when family trials come, the family has to have enough resilience to handle their problems without spilling over into an already demanding church situation.

But be aware, if the church is toxic, the church sickness can easily effect the clergy family, unless the pastor and the family are differentiated from the church family. So spouses need to remind the pastor that their family is not an merely an extension of the church family.

One way to keep healthy clergy families is for the pastor and spouse to keep their priorities straight and make some decisions up front and then clearly communicate those decisions to their family but also to the church. What is most important when? What counts as an emergency? Will the pastor always take a call from a family member, even if in the middle of a meeting or counseling session? Under what circumstance will the parent (no matter which one)leave work to attend to a child? Likewise, what constitutes a church emergency when the pastor may have to pick up and leave immediately?

If you want to grow a healthy mission-oriented church, the pastor's family is essential to make that happen.

Grace, Kathy

July 20, 2012

Find Joy by Choosing Gratitude

This time, a shooting at a movie theater in Colorado...

It's too easy for the world to suck us into its undertow. It makes me feel tired and overwhelmed, and it is those times that I just want to each chocolate and watch old movies. But it's also those times when I start to drift from God. Instead I have to be constantly vigilant about rejecting ingratitude and choose gratitude instead. When I start focusing on what I don't have, what I can't do, or what others have done to me or those I love, I am tempted to fret, worry, complain, and resent. Then, truthfully, too often, I vent my feelings to others--not very attractive or helpful.

When I feel myself going under or attacked by the evil of this world, I have discovered that gratitude helps me be open to God's grace. Gratitude keeps me stay afloat and not get weighed down by doubt, negativity, discouragement, or anxiety.

Choosing gratitude is a way to choose joy. Not happiness, which is transient and dependent on circumstance, but joy, which is fruit, not just of the Spirit, but for our spirit. Choosing gratitude is like taking a long sip of sweet tea.

Today, I will set my heart to relish God's abundant love in our midst and to disciple my tongue to speak words of kindness and goodness.

Because God chooses me, I will choose gratitude.

Grace, Kathy

July 18, 2012

What Makes a Good Bishop?

As we speak, our Jurisdictional delegates are at Lake Junaluska voting on the various candidates for bishop. As our area will be receiving a new bishop, we have a vested interest in the outcome.

Having lived through the tenure of several bishops, I certainly hope we get a good one. But what kind of bishop would that be?

1. Please send us a person who doesn't NEED to be a bishop. We don't want someone who has spent their entire professional life preparing this this office or who sees it as the pinnacle of success. Send us someone who could take it or leave it. Otherwise, that person will have too much ego wrapped up in their office, leaving little room for servant leadership.
2. Please send us a person who won't try to blow things up once they are here. We've suffered that already. Our conference has its weaknesses, but we also have significant strengths. We need a bishop who can help us build on our strengths and not undercut or undermine the vital ministry that is happening.
3. Please send us someone who is secure enough in themselves, their faith, and their experience who will listen and find ways to partner with us in mission and ministry. We don't need someone who believes that it is their way or the highway.
4. Please send us a leader with a collaborate style. If our bishop is even perceived as autocratic, disaster will follow.
5. Please send us someone who has people skills and who can actually lead Annual Conference in a positive manner.
6. Please send us someone who will hold the reins of power loosely enough that new and entrepreneurial ministries can emerge, so that new churches can arise.
7. Please send us someone who is still on the road to perfection, who actually believes that they have not arrived or that there might be others in front of them.
8. Please send us someone who understands the connectional church at the district and conference levels. Someone who will actually stay in our conference and work with us and not be jetting off to save the world elsewhere.
9. Please send us someone who has served and grown local churches, but who also sees that vital ministry happens in a variety of contexts--universities, hospitals, armed services, counseling centers, etc.

Like you, I agree that no person is perfect and that our conference will not get everything we need in the person who is our bishop. But if I have to sum it all up, I'd say, send us a person who has a mature faith and who isn't afraid to find new ways to partner with us in ministry, someone who will instill confidence and hope rather than doubt and fear.

I hope you are praying for you delegates as well.

July 10, 2012

How is Jesus the Way?

In my Sunday School class we just finished studying "Going Public with Your Faith." I highly recommend the 5-part study by Chip Ingram. This is not a commercial, but if you want to investigate further, go to http://www.livingontheedge.org/home/chip/chips-corner.php

In the last session, Chip explains the plan of salvation. It's a lot more than you think, so don't prejudge. What he says isn't unfamiliar. There is a deep gulf between the holiness of God and sinful humanity. Jesus is the bridge. All we have to do to become a Christian is walk across the bridge; i.e., trust Jesus. After thinking and discussing this in class, a couple more lights went off in my head. The reason God wants us to be with him is because he loves us. He's not on his side, tapping his foot impatiently and he's not evaluating or judging our imperfections. And actually he is not even standing around waiting for us, letting eternity tick by. Rather, he is more like the father in Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son. God is searching for us and anxiously awaiting our return to him. But he doesn't stop there.

And Jesus? Jesus is not the bridge. (Sorry Chip.) We don't walk across the bridge. Jesus is the one who walks across the bridge to us--a bridge already built by God (his prevenient grace)--to bring us home. And here is where reality differs from Jesus' story. In the story, the son makes his own way home. In reality, Jesus goes and finds us and then brings us home. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who finds the lost sheep. That is grace. We don't walk across the bridge on our own power, but only with the help of Jesus. Our part is simply to take Jesus' hand and follow him. Yes, we trust Jesus to lead us, but we take steps of faith. Perhaps baby steps at first. But as we continue to follow, God empowers us to love enough to find others to make the journey with us. When we follow Jesus together, we are the Church.

Jesus is the way, but he is so much more. And for those of us who have trouble trusting, God knows that too. He loves us enough not to let us keep ourselves separated from him, others, and even ourselves.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

July 4, 2012

Fun Wesley Facts

For those of you who know Dr. Dick Heitzanrater, you also know that he has a wry sense of humor, but you also know that he is a top-notch Wesley scholar, having taught at Duke Divinity School for many years. This post is based on his forthcoming essay. So no matter what you've learned or read about Wesley, here's the real scoop.

We all know the Wesley Grace: "Be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored..." and so it goes. This was originally a poem by John Cennick, one of Wesley's early preachers. Even if Wesley used it, he was not its creator.

Then there is "Wesley's Rule": "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." This saying was attributed to Wesley as early as 1904 by George Eayrs and is then cited in Bartlett's Famous Quotations, but the best that we can say is that it sounds like something Wesley might have said. There is no evidence that he actually said it at all.

Wesley was a phenomenon in his own day with many followers and detractors. But the truth about the man is not as important as the content of his message and the presence of Christ in his life. Wesley lived out his faith the best he could. As Methodists, we can do no less.

Grace, Kathy

July 3, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

Friends, As we celebrate the birth of our country, let us remember that our pledge says, "Freedom and justice for all." All means all in the world, in the church, in our homes.

Dear God, You are the author of all good things. You are our creator, sustainer, and redeemer. As we celebrate the birth of our country, let us call our nation to prayer. And let us remember that true greatness means being mighty in service to others. And true generosity means welcoming strangers in our church, in our neighborhood, in our country. In Christ's Holy Name, Amen.

Grace, Kathy