Anyone 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.
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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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
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.
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
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
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.
Times of stress and change can derail the process of recovery. And what else can you say about the tough times we’re living in now, with our economic woes and fears of job losses? With every news headline sounding more alarming than the last, and doomsayers coming out of the woodwork, I was encouraged by a letter forwarded to me by consultant and speaker Alan Zimmerman. I’m going to quote him at length here, as there are some good reminders for all of us here.
I’ve been speaking on change for a long time. In fact, many of you have brought me on site to talk about “Mastering Change: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results.” But there’s a new twist to the program. A lot of you are asking me how you can survive this brutal, unfair economic change that has been thrust upon us by other people’s stupidity. You are asking me to emphasize those resiliency strategies in my programs. So let me give you a few of those tips right now.
1. Doubt the doomsayers
And there are a lot of them out there. Perhaps you’ve seen the e-mail floating around the Internet that says little has changed for the better since 1980. It reported that 80% of the world’s people still live in substandard housing; 70% are unable to read, and 50% suffer from malnutrition.
Continue reading Facing Times of Stress and Change