Category Archives: Leadership

Recovery requires the willingness to think differently … which is harder than you think

The process of recovery involves learning to think differently, which is much harder than most people realize. It’s not a matter of simply adding a few select pieces of new information onto what you already know.

That’s easy learning. Hard learning is when you’re forced to learn things that contradict what you already “know.”

It’s true that recovery involves taking in some new information that is easily assimilated, and fits into what you already believe to be true. If that were the bulk of it, recovery would be easy, and most everyone would be successful at it. But much of the learning in recovery forces us to evaluate what we’ve believed or assumed to be true … and it challenges us to re-think those ideas. It frequently challenges us to unlearn things, discarding the lies, distortions, and half-truths we’ve accepted — about ourselves, God, our past, other people, how life works, what makes us happy, etc.

We’re often told that recovery requires us to “trust the process.” This is just is another way of saying that we need to be willing to accept that some of the things we’ve thought (in the past) were stupid, are in fact really wise and important. And we must become willing to accept that some of the things we’ve thought (in the past) were wise and important, are, in fact actually stupid, and dangerous for our well-being.

How do we deal with new and contradictory information?

Does it make you uncomfortable to deal with information that contradicts what you previously thought was true? There are two kinds of people: (a) people who plug their ears to contradictory information, and refuse to change (b) people who are willing to accept the new information — after verifying its accuracy of course — and rethink their position. This is wisdom.

A principle I’ve gleaned from Chinese philosophers like Lao Tzu and Chuang Zhu is that it’s healthy for living things to remain flexible and soft … like a green branch that is able to flex in the blowing wind. When things become old and hard, they become brittle … like a hardened tree branch that is liable to crack and break. That which is alive is soft and flexible, and that which is dead is rigid and brittle. Of course it’s not a perfect analogy, and it’s not the Gospel truth for all occasions, but there’s an important truth there.

There is a fine line between having firm convictions (good), and being rigid and closed to truth (bad). For people in recovery, this mental flexibility is essential. It’s really important to come to grips with the things you need to UN-learn about yourself, your beliefs, your ways of relating. For people in leadership, this mental flexibility is also essential. You have to be willing to learn, to see things in new ways, to challenge your assumptions. Otherwise, you will lose touch with the people around you, and the environment your organization exists in.

John Maynard Keynes once was challenged for altering his position on some economic issue. “When my information changes,” he said, “I change my mind. What do you do?”

What about pastors in recovery?

RecoveryAnyone living in our culture today is vulnerable to addiction — including pastors. And anyone struggling with addiction needs recovery — including pastors. But recovery is hard for pastors; harder than it needs to be.

Recovery is hard for pastors for many reasons. Because of their position as spiritual leaders, pastors have a hard time admitting to problems in their lives, and reaching out for help. This is partly the result of pride, but it’s also the result of the system we have created in the church today. Pastors aren’t stupid: they realize that being too open about their problems — or open to the wrong people — could get them fired.

So they don’t get the help they need. And more often than not, when they do seek help, they do so in secret, and their fear and shame about discovery often hamper their recovery efforts.

Leadership Journal recently published a great article by Amy Simpson on Pastors in Recovery. She did a lot of research for this article, including reaching out to me, and I’m grateful to be included in the article. There is a lot of good stuff in this article!

Here are some good quotes:

Once an addiction is acknowledged and treated, another danger is naiveté. For churches that don’t understand the disease of addiction, it’s too easy to believe a course of treatment has cured the problem and everything can go “back to normal.”

There’s a tension between ministry expectations and what is necessary for ongoing recovery. “In ministry there’s so much pressure to smooth over one’s life story. But what recovery and what Christianity require are rigorous honesty.” It’s not easy for pastors to be honest about who they really are when their churches ask them to be something other than human.

Addiction lends itself to easy judgment, but it is not merely a moral issue. In fact, (Dale) Ryan says, addictions often start with a perfectionistic desire to do and be better. Seminaries are full of addicts in training, he claims, because seminaries are full of idealistic perfectionists. “Perfectionism leads to compulsive behaviors, and they don’t present themselves as problems initially because you get rewarded for them.”

Once again, here is link to the full article.

Letting Go: How Far Do I Take This Approach to Life?

I know that the problem for many of us — which leads to stress and pain and ultimately to dysfunctional relationships and/or addiction — is this: we get too wrapped up in our expectations and desires for our lives and other people. Everywhere we look there are problems to fix. Everyone in our lives has something we want them to change. We vacillate between trying crazy hard to control and change, and then swing over to passivity and disengagement.

It seems like the more we try to change things, the more resistance we get, and the more disappointment we feel.

What would it be like to just accept other people the way they are? What would it be like to accept my life as it is? Could I do this? Should I do this? Doesn’t it seem like we’re giving up “the fight” then (as in, fighting for what’s right, fighting for our marriage, fighting for purity, etc., etc.)?

I don’t know. I do know that some point we have ask ourselves: What is all this fighting getting us? How well are the people in our lives responding to our suggestions and encouragement to improve?

I ran across a paragraph from Byron Katie that got me thinking. I’m not sure I completely agree with it, because it seems so extreme. But it sure has me thinking. Somehow there is a curious co-mingling of acceptance and change. Somehow these two things seem to go together: accepting my life and myself and others around me just as they are … and moving towards something more healthy and God-honoring. Listen to how Katie puts it:

I don’t know what’s best for me or you or the world. I don’t try to impose my will on you or anyone else. I don’t want to change you or improve you or convert you or help you or heal you. I just welcome things as they come and go. That’s true love. The best way of leading people is to let them find their own way.

What do you think?

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Podcast Interview about Sexual Struggles and the Church

Not long ago I was interviewed by Jeff Fisher from the PorntoPurity website. Jeff is a former pastor, recovering addict, and has created a great website with tons of audio resources. Jeff and his wife Marsha have a great story of hope to share not only for pastors, but for all couples dealing with pornography and other sexual struggles.

Jeff recently interviewed me about my experiences and observations about how sexual struggles get handled in churches, especially when church leaders are involved. The interview is featured in three separate podcasts. You can listen or download them below: Continue reading Podcast Interview about Sexual Struggles and the Church

New book for pastors from Covenant Eyes

Internet Pornography: a Ministry Leaders Handbook

With a chapter by yours truly

Covenant Eyes has just put together a great resource for pastors. They’ve published an Ebook called “Internet Pornography: a Ministry Leaders Handbook.” You’ve gotta love the price too … free! The book includes chapters written by Luke Gilkerson,  Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg, Tal Prince, David Blythe, and Nate Larkin (among others). I wrote the chapter on “The Danger of Pedestals.”

You can read excerpts of my chapter in a two-part article on this website here and here. But by all means, get the entire book from Covenant Eyes (did I mention it was free?), and get it to your pastor.

The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 2

Last week I wrote about the danger of people in churches projecting idealized images onto their pastors. This is not only unhelpful for the people, it’s dangerous and damaging for the leader. (See part 1 of this series here). So now the question is, what can we do about it?

What is the answer?

Humanity. Let the leader be human.

A recent meditation from the recovery book “Today,” from Hazelden publishing has this to say about pedestals:

“Sometimes we expect far too much of the people around us, and because no one can ever live up to those expectations, we are almost always disappointed. Continue reading The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 2

The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 1

As an ordained minister and the senior pastor of three churches (thus far), I know from experience that pedestals are dangerous. People often come into the church with a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be.  They may assume the pastor will embody that. This is a problem when we let them down – when they see how we fall short of the ideal that they created in their minds.

But it’s maybe an even bigger problem when they don’t see our flaws, because they don’t want to see our flaws, and we get too good at hiding them. Most of the people in our churches want to see us in a good light, because this reinforces their faith … Continue reading The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 1

New study shows abuse rates by Catholic priests even higher than expected

There’s a great article on our companion blog for pastors (lastingleaders.org) about a recent report with even more bad news for Catholics. A comprehensive study done for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that between 1950 and 2002, 4 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing minors (4,450 of the 110,000 priests active during that period). Previous estimates by church officials had been much lower. Read the article for more.