books

The medicine ball of shame

shame

 

 

 

 

This morning I did something really stupid. I overturned an entire Yeti tumbler of Diet Coke on our family room carpet. And immediately I heard the voices of my parents…

“Idiot!”

“What’d you do that for?”

“THINK!!”

“You jerk, you should be more careful!”

“Just move–get out of the way, I’ll clean it up myself.”

Yep, those were words I often heard as a kid. And look, I’m not a kid anymore; I’m 65 years old. My parents are dead. But those wounding words echoed in my head this morning as I rushed to get towels and wipe up the mess I’d made.

It was quite a revelation, hearing those voices again. And it made me think: No wonder! No wonder I feel ashamed and incompetent so often. No wonder, when I make a mistake or feel that I underperformed, I beat myself to a pulp. No wonder I feel intimidated by older, powerful people.

My parents did not hit me (well, Dad did once). But they shamed me. A lot. Shame was the sharpest tool in their parenting kit. And to this day I haven’t been able to shake it. I know God loves me. I have friends who love me. I often get affirmation and praise. But shame, like a 100-lb. medicine ball, weighs me down and keeps me from running with joy and abandon.

Here’s what shame feels like:

  • Hating yourself
  • Second-guessing your decisions and opinions
  • Feeling you’re never enough
  • Being skeptical of compliments
  • Apologizing for things that aren’t your fault
  • Taking responsibility for others’ comfort and happiness
  • Refusing to forgive yourself
  • Regretting the past
  • Doubting the love and grace of God

You’ve just read a description of my medicine ball.

Remember my first sentence?– “This morning I did something really stupid.” There’s that voice again. But come on. Is spilling a Diet Coke “really stupid”? It was just an accident. It’s not a big deal. But when I was growing up, spilling things was a big deal. So was not perfectly mowing the lawn, slouching in my chair, having acne, stating my opinion, or talking about sex. During my childhood I learned that such things are not just unfortunate or inadvisable, but shameful. Bad.

Chuck DeGroat, in his book Toughest People to Lovesays that we all drag a long, invisible bag behind us. As we grow up, we put things in that bag that we don’t want the world to see, things that our family, friends, or culture think are unacceptable. I remember the night I disagreed with my mother. I said she was crazy. You would have thought that I had just blasphemed the Holy Spirit. “Michael!” my dad shouted. He shamed me for voicing a counter opinion and (jokingly) calling my own mother crazy. That night something happened. I decided I was bad for thinking for myself. I felt ashamed for daring to disagree with an authority figure. So I pulled out my invisible bag and stuffed my bold dare into it. Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I stuffed a lot of things into that bag. And it really wasn’t until my late 40s or early 50s that I began to reveal parts of my hidden self to other people.

While it hurts to revisit my past like this, it gives me understanding. It helps me understand why I do the things I do and feel the things I feel. And it helps me understand other people too. Because they are carrying around medicine balls of their own. Everybody has wounds no one else sees and hears voices no one else hears. Everybody drags a bag. Shame has dogged us ever since Adam and Eve hid in the Garden of Eden.

To battle shame we have to believe the other Voice. We have to believe the Word that says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (Isaiah 43:1, Romans 8:1, 1 John 3:1).

That’s the Voice of love. Listen to it, over and over again, and let go of the medicine ball of shame.

 

The Accidental Pastor

Harry S. TrumanI just finished an excellent biography of Harry S. Truman entitled The Accidental President, by A. J. Baime (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). I didn’t know that Truman was considered a highly unlikely candidate for Roosevelt’s Vice-President in 1944. Only two percent of Democratic voters favored him. People outside Missouri didn’t know much about Truman, and what they knew did not impress. He had run a haberdashery in Kansas City, but it went bankrupt. He hadn’t earned a college degree. He had applied for a license to practice law but changed his mind. Most of his business ventures had failed. Truman’s mother revealed that he didn’t even want the V-P job. “They pushed him into it,” she said. His partnership with the gambler Tom Pendergast put a cloud over Truman’s career in the U.S. Senate. His enemies long referred to him as “the senator from Pendergast.”

When FDR died suddenly in April, 1945, Truman was thrust into the highest office in the land, an office to which he had never aspired. “No man ever came to the Presidency of the United States under more difficult circumstances than does Harry S. Truman,” said a newspaper columnist at the time.

That’s why A. J. Baime calls Truman “the accidental president.” The whole nation was anxious about their new, unproven leader. Yet he successfully finished out Roosevelt’s term in office and went on to win a come-from-behind victory in the presidential election of 1948. Consider the accomplishments of the Truman presidency: the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, the creation of the United Nations and the modern Department of Defense, recognition of the state of Israel, the Berlin Airlift, the formation of the CIA and NATO, and many other things. And of course, Truman’s presidency is noted for the Allied victories that ended the war with Germany and Japan.

Sometimes we in ministry feel like Harry S. Truman. We feel like “accidental pastors.” Not that we haven’t been called and equipped by God to do what we do. Not that our congregations haven’t affirmed our gifts and responded to our leadership. But often we go through seasons when we wonder, “What was I thinking? God, what were You thinking?! I can’t turn this ship around. I’m not sure I belong here. I can’t take all these people to the Promised Land.”

It’s at times like these that we have to remember some of Paul’s words:

What is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30)

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

So to myself I say: I am a servant, not a celebrity. I’m a jar of clay. Sure I’m weak, and half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m no accident. I am who I am by God’s design. I am where I am by God’s appointment. So God, have your way in me and be glorified.

Who am I and why did I write a book about ministry survival?

I’ve written a book for pastors, missionaries, and other people in Christian ministry. It’s called Surviving Ministry: How to Weather the Storms of Church Leadership. But let’s be real. You don’t know me from Adam. You’ve never heard of me. Why would you pick up this book? Print

Maybe the following interview by Christianbook.com will help you get to know me and why I wrote Surviving Ministry:

Tell us a little about yourself. I have been a pastor since 1986, serving Presbyterian (PCA) churches in Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida. I’m an avid racquetball player, cyclist, guitar player, and fan of classic rock and historical fiction. My wife and I have been married since 1976. We have four children and eleven grandchildren. I maintain a website for church leaders called Surviving Ministry, as well as a blog called The Greener Grass.

What was your motivation behind this project? After being a pastor for twelve relatively tranquil years, I accepted a call that turned out to be extremely challenging. I was not a good fit for the culture of either the church or the community. Moreover, I was unprepared for the trials I would face. The church had been badly hurt by its previous pastors. During my time there we went through crisis after crisis. Some of them were my fault; others were not. After five years I was done. I thought my days as a pastor might be over. But by God’s grace, I found a position in another church and recovered my zest for ministry. This book is a record of lessons I learned during and since those five stormy years.

What do you hope folks will gain from this project? Even the best pastors and healthiest churches can go through storms of adversity. This book will help pastors and other ministry leaders look for the signs of an impending church storm, limit its damage, learn its lessons, and live with gospel optimism for the future. In addition, it will give them a layer of protection from ministry fatigue and failure so they may move forward in their calling with hope.

How were you personally impacted by working on this project? Writing this book was therapeutic. It helped me better understand my own story and how it shapes the way I do ministry both positively and negatively. I connected with many other pastors who shared their experiences with me. I came to a clearer understanding of factors that lead to organizational conflict and how to recover from it.

Who are your influences, sources of inspiration or favorite authors? Over the years I’ve been impacted by the writings and lives of several figures in church history, particularly Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, John Murray, etc.; and more recently by J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Tim Keller, and many others.

Anything else you’d like readers to know: Failure can be not only the means of identifying heart idols but of finding a new, more gospel-centered way to live and minister to others.

To purchase the book, here’s one place you can go: https://www.christianbook.com/surviving-ministry-weather-storms-church-leadership/michael-osborne/9781498280280/pd/280283

Or, if you prefer Amazon: http://ow.ly/N66K305DJkw

 

 

Here’s My “Key Life Pastor Chat” with Steve Brown

Recently I visited the Orlando studios of the Key Life Radio Network to be interviewed 2016-09-21-12-41-36by author and seminary professor Steve Brown. He wanted to feature me on his October 2016 “Pastor Chat” regarding my book, Surviving Ministry: How to Weather the Storms of Church Leadership. We were joined by fellow pastors and friends Randy Greenwald and Kevin Labby.

Steve asked me some probing questions about pastoral burnout, church conflict, and my own recovery from a difficult pastorate. If you’re going through a hard time in ministry, I hope this interview will (a) prove to you that you’re not alone, (b) give you some pointers, and (c) furnish you with hope and maybe even some laughter for the journey ahead.

Click here to listen to the interview. Click here to buy my book.

Wise words from Dallas Willard

9780310275961r1Pastor John Ortberg in his book, Soul Keeping, recalls a conversation he had with the late Dallas Willard. He asked Dallas what he (John) should do to help his church grow. That’s every pastor’s question, right? “What must I do to succeed, to be an agent of spiritual transformation in my congregation?”

Dallas’ reply is worth writing down and putting in a place where you’ll see it every day. He said to John Ortberg,

The main thing you will give your congregation…is the person you become. If your soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody. You don’t send a doctor with pneumonia to care for patients with immune disorders. You, and nobody else, are responsible for the well-being of your own soul. You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God.

What a strange reply! Imagine that… More than any other human factor, the spiritual health of our churches depends on our own spiritual well-being.

This is at once a comforting and a deeply humbling truth. Comforting because it releases us from the idolatry of success. But humbling because it means we must do the hard business of soul care and daily repentance if we hope to maintain a healthy spiritual life.

May we do so.

12 burdens pastors most frequently carry

Chuck Lawless, Professor of Evangelism and Missions, and Dean of the Graduate School at Southeastern Seminary, says pastors are most often weighed down by the following twelve things:

  1. Declining church growth
  2. Losing the support of friendsCarrying-Burden-e1377548159656
  3. Grieving a fall
  4. Sensing that the sermon went nowhere
  5. Losing vision
  6. Being lonely
  7. Dealing with unsupportive staff
  8. Remembering failures
  9. Dealing with death recurrently
  10. Facing personal jealousies
  11. Balancing family and ministry priorities
  12. Responding to criticism

Yep, twelve for twelve. I’ve experienced all of these things in my 30 years of pastoral ministry. Fortunately, not all at once.

The question is, how do we deal with these burdens?

I’m in the process of writing a book on that very topic. Tentatively titled Surviving Ministry: How to Weather the Storms of Church Leadership, I will share stories and practical, Biblical wisdom for pastors in the trenches. I’d love to hear from you. What have been your greatest struggles as a pastor? What have you learned about God, yourself, the church, and the ministry from those struggles? A personal story illustrating the risks, wounds, and rewards of ministry would be most helpful. Write me at meoupc@gmail.com. I’ll keep your information confidential and change names to protect privacy.

What to remember when you’re suffering

When we are hurting, it helps to pull out one of the preachers of old and hear him remind us that God ordains affliction for our good and his glory. Here’s what the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), said about the benefits of suffering:

“God’s great design in all his works is the manifestation of his own glory. Any aim less than this were unworthy of himself. But how shall the glory of God be manifested to such fallen creatures as we are? Man’s eye is not single, he has ever a side glance towards his own honour, has too high an estimate of his own powers, and so is not qualified to behold the glory of the Lord. It is clear, then, that self must stand out of the way, that there may be room for God to be exalted; and this is the reason why he bringeth his people ofttimes into straits and difficulties, that, being made conscious of their own folly and weakness, they may be fitted to behold the majesty of God when he comes forth to work their deliverance. He whose life is one even and smooth path, will see but little of the glory of the Lord, for he has few occasions of self-emptying, and hence, but little fitness for being filled with the revelation of God. They who navigate little streams and shallow creeks, know but little of the God of tempests; but they who “do business in great waters,” these see his “wonders in the deep.” Among the huge Atlantic-waves of bereavement, poverty, temptation, and reproach, we learn the power of Jehovah, because we feel the littleness of man. Thank God, then, if you have been led by a rough road: it is this which has given you your experience of God’s greatness and lovingkindness. Your troubles have enriched you with a wealth of knowledge to be gained by no other means: your trials have been the cleft of the rock in which Jehovah has set you, as he did his servant Moses, that you might behold his glory as it passed by. Praise God that you have not been left to the darkness and ignorance which continued prosperity might have involved, but that in the great fight of affliction, you have been capacitated for the outshinings of his glory in his wonderful dealings with you.” (Morning and Evening, July 19)

How do you handle failure?

I’ve come across a new book that looks like a great read. It’s called Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, by J. R. Briggs. According to Scot McKnight the book deals with “four basic areas downloadof failure for pastors:

1. Mighty fall: sexual, moral failures

2. Tragic event: cancer, shocking terminations, betrayals

3. Slow leak: wearing down of the soul. Constant drips of discouragement

4. Burned out: crisis to crisis wears a pastor down. The system overheats and it burns out.”

Add to these things the other pressures faced by ministers of the gospel (expectations of success and church growth, the allure of celebrity, the constant need to produce rich Bible messages, staff demands,
etc.), and you have a real recipe for debilitating guilt and shame.

Looks like a must read.

A new way of seeing your ministry

It was timeimages to go to the optometrist again. My glasses were scratched and I wanted some new frames. So I made an appointment, took my seat in the exam room, and looked into that periscope gizmo. Uh oh. “You need a new prescription,” the doctor said. My “far” vision was still pretty good, but my “near” vision was worse than ever.

Which reminds me: Things can look really blurry when they’re up close.

That’s why church leaders often need to get away from the day-to-day grind of church ministry. We need to step back, relax, get a new way of seeing, and listen to God. Jesus did it. Who are we to think we don’t need to “withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16)?

Wayne Cordeiro wrote a helpful book called Leading on Empty. The subtitle is “Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion.” Cordeiro is the pastor of a big church in Hawaii. The book tells about his experience with burnout and recovery. It’s also a clarion call to make sure we finish well. In order to do that, we need a new way of seeing ministry.

Here’s a good sound bite from the book: “Do the things only you can do.”

Cordeiro says that 85% of what we do, anyone can do. With a little training, most people could do another 10% of what we do. But unfortunately, because we are insecure or refuse to delegate or are just undisciplined, many of us give our time and attention to that 95%, and neglect the 5% that only we can do. It’s that “crucial 5%” that God will one day hold us accountable for.

Think about your ministry and ponder these questions:

  • What is it that only you can do?
  • What is your unique contribution to the spiritual growth of others?
  • What do you love to do?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What brings you joy in ministry?
  • If you weren’t around, what would people miss out on?
  • What are you best at?
  • What do people say they appreciate the most about you?

Questions like these can help you identify the things that only you can do. Devote yourself to those things.

The apostle Paul knew his unique calling. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” he said (1 Cor. 9:16). Paul told Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” that was in him (2 Tim. 1:6). “Do not neglect the gift you have,” he said (1 Tim. 4:14). In other words, do the things only you can do, young Timothy.

How would you complete this sentence? “Woe to me if I do not ________!”

Obviously, we all have to do things that lie outside our job description from time to time. But Wayne Cordeiro is right. Most of us church leaders and pastors need a new way of seeing. We can’t–we shouldn’t–do it all. If we try to do it all, we’ll wind up leading on empty.

What has helped you focus your time and energy on things only you can do?

Leading with a Limp

Get hold of Dan Allender‘s book, Leading with a Limp. It’s unlike most other books on leadership. Allender’s thesis right there on page 2 is “to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues.”

Wait a minute… I thought leadership was about know-how, competence, expertise, control!

No, says Dan Allender. In this book he calls us as leaders to be willing to expose and dismantle our sins and shortcomings out in the open, where our colleagues and employees can see us for who we really are. Put another way, we leaders are supposed to be the chief repenters.

Allender spells out five challenges every leader faces: crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness, and weariness. He explains that there are both ineffective and effective responses to each of those challenges. Drawing from both personal experiences and Biblical stories, Allender calls on leaders to move into the chaos of each challenge with courage. But the kind of courage we must exercise is paradoxically the kind that admits weakness. “You are the strongest when you are weak, and you are the most courageous when you are broken.”

If you’re looking for a book that will tell you the five secrets to success or the seven steps to taking your organization to the next level, Leading with a Limp is not it. But if you’re a discouraged leader who wonders whether God can use you, a mother or father who thinks you’re the only parent in the world who doesn’t know what to do next, or a church leader who wants to see your church grow as a gospel community, this would be a great read. It certainly encouraged me.

What books have you found helpful for surviving in ministry?