Are We Too Sympathetic?

balance is the key

Have you ever felt exhausted caring for others?  Ed Stetzer reports that “90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.”  Many would say they feel called to carry out the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The word agapao (love) focuses on preference, “choosing God’s choices and obeying them through His power, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection.”  We can choose to love ourselves the way the Lord prefers and love others in the same way!

All too often, being sympathetic to others involves feeling stressed, stimulating the “sympathetic” half of our nervous system.  Our sympathetic involvement in the frustrations, conflicts, griefs, and difficulties of our neighbors, often causes our sympathetic nervous system to be in fight or flight, standing at attention, awaiting the next phone call to action.  During seasons of “sympathetic” dominance, we may experience increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased blood clotting (which causes strokes), increased blood sugar (prediabetes), increased muscle tightness, high adrenaline (which can be addicting), decreased digestion, decreased saliva production, dilated pupils (light sensitivities), decreased lacrimation (dry eyes), and cold hands.

The autonomic (automatic) nervous system, which consists of both the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) controls most of the body’s internal organs.  When the system is out of balance, in “fight or flight” too often, it causes a multitude of stress-related illnesses.  Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992).

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love.” The word fear is phobos, meaning the alarm of dread, or the need to flee or withdraw (flight), feeling inadequate without sufficient resources for the situation.  “But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
This is a good reminder and litmus test for each of us.  Love drives out fear, anxiety, and the fight or flight stress response.  Love can help us drive out sympathetic dominance, and stimulate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, or help us to “rest and digest.”  Here we experience increased saliva, increased lacrimation (tears), digestive enzymes are released, heart rate drops, muscles relax, pupils constrict.  When I am in the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, I feel at rest, able to love everyone.  When I am in sympathetic dominance, I am over-concerned about situations, and feel the need to fix things.   I am more confrontational and controlling because I usually feel “right.”  I’m afraid if I don’t fix this, we will be in danger.

I’m learning that when I find my hormonal system in sympathetic dominance, I’m not loving myself well, which means I can’t love others very well either.  All too often, however, I can’t get my nervous system back into balance.  The following strategies help to stimulate your parasympathetic “rest and digest” system: sleep or rest, exercise, solitude, massage, and hobbies or things you enjoy.  Specifically, I’ve been reading that Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic response, so you may want to take a choline supplement.

If most of your time serving the Lord is spent in fight or flight, it’s time to find the love.  Don’t be TOO sympathetic!

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

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David Strengthened Himself In The Lord

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As a pastor I spend most of my time in one of two areas.  I serve people suffering weakness, like hospitalizations or financial needs, and I spend time responding to conflicts like  broken marriages and church disagreements.  I was recently encouraged by Dr. Zack Eswine (The Imperfect Pastor) when he shared the story of how David responded to these things in 1 Samuel 30.

In previous chapters David had been fleeing King Saul who was trying to kill him and then he was rejected by the Philistine leaders in 1 Samuel 29 who didn’t approve of him.  In the beginning of chapter 30 David and his men were raided and all their wives and children were taken.  David’s men were so upset they wept till they had no more strength to weep, and then they talked of stoning David.  And the Bible says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.”  As we continue reading, some of David’s men were so overcome with grief they were too weak to go recapture their wives and children, so 200 of them stayed behind.  Upon reclaiming all the wives and children and plundering the Amalekites, the 400 who went resented the 200 who stayed back and refused to share the plunder with them.

And David, having strengthened himself in the Lord, was able to “manage well with all dignity” (1Ti3:4) and give grace to them all.  Those too weak to contribute were blessed alongside those who worked hard for it.  And those in conflict, who were filled with resentment, were blessed alongside those who had been overcome by love for their families.  May we strengthen ourselves in the Lord and bless those who are weak and those who are angry.

Be encouraged; God’s grace is for you.

Summer Vacation or Family Holiday?

Most of my favorite summer memories involve family vacations.  Camping at Silver Lake, swimming at the sand dunes, John and Diane Windle’s puppets at family camp, bike rides for donuts, the smell of suntan lotion, and M&M Peanuts.  When I was a boy, our family would share a half gallon of cookies and cream ice cream on the boat dock.  Dad would let us finish it all because there was no freezer to keep it!  Anybody for seconds?!

During a high school missions choir trip to England my sister Denise Lane and I made the nicest friends named the Hunter family.  They would come visit us in the US while on “holiday.”  Mr. Hunter was so tall he made my dad look like Barney Rubble, so we called the two of them Fred and Barney.  Watching them race in go carts was hilarious!  But we learned from the Hunters that what we call vacation, the British call “holiday.”

Recently I heard Pastor Stuart Briscoe talking about the need to take a break from time to time.  He challenged us to be intentional about how we spend this time away from our normal routine.  He shared the word “vacation” can mean to vacate or be vacant, to shut off and try to forget.  Maybe we try to live in a fantasy world only to crash back into reality.  “Holiday” on the other hand comes from our Christian heritage, taking time off to remember holy days.

In the Old Testament we see patterns of rest in the requirements of the Jewish Law.  God asked His people to observe seven breaks.  There were daily Selah breaks, a weekly Sabbath, a monthly New Moon day, three yearly week long Festivals, four other Feast days, the seven year Sabbaticals, and the 50th year of Jubilee.

But what grabbed my attention as Pastor Briscoe talked about these “Holy Days” in Scripture was what God asked them to do during these times.  They were to take a break from routine to be intentional about three things: Spiritual Transformation, Family Team Building, and Relaxation.  Or more simply put, a rest to pursue intimacy with God and intimacy with family.  The week-long festivals involved a pilgrimage.  And the Festival of Shelters was basically a camping trip to remember how they lived when God brought them through the wilderness.  A reminder that this earth was not their home, they were simply passing through, and God would provide everything they needed.

I hope you have at least a week of vacation or holy days this year (I think Scripture would recommend three!).  I hope you can leave your home and remember where God has brought you from.  I hope you can travel and be with your spouse and children and parents and siblings.  And I hope you can have time to rest and experience the love and peace and joy that overflows from our relationship with Jesus through His Holy Spirit within us.

Happy Summer Vacations! Or should we say, Happy Family Holidays!

Creating a Culture of Ministry Health

Dear Church Board and Chairperson,

Management Consultant Peter Drucker called church leadership “the most difficult and taxing role he knew.”1  LifeWay Research Vice President Scott McConnell said of pastors, “This is a brutal job, churches ought to be concerned.”2  100% of pastors surveyed by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development had a close associate or seminary friend who had left the ministry due to church conflict, stress related burnout, or a moral failure.3 

Until your church is large enough to hire an executive pastor, you as a board are the human resources department.  It is a huge responsibility to steward your employees, and stewarding the pastoral position has unique challenges.

If you want to create a culture of ministry health and growth, you need to intentionally identify and address the risks that could sabotage your goal. Below are 10 questions that reflect the challenges that you and your pastor face, as researched by Dr. Charles A. Wickman in Pastors at Risk (note chapter references in parentheses).

  1. How do we become unified with our pastor to clarify, communicate, and contend for God’s vision for our church? (Ch#4) “The primary stressor experienced by pastors, leading the most often to forced resignation, is vision conflict.” -Wickman/Spencer4
  2. How do we help our pastor by setting appropriate and manageable expectations of our pastor and clearly communicating them to him and our church? (Ch#7) “In a survey asking how exited pastors experienced stress in their ministry, role conflict was a top ranked producer of stress second only to conflict over how ministry was to be done in the church.” –Wickman5
  3. How are we helping our pastor train volunteers and delegate (administrate) responsibilities? (Ch#6)George Barna has discovered that while 69% of the pastors of effective churches have preaching/teaching as their primary gift emphasis, administration and leadership are found in only 15% of these pastors.” – John Hawco6
  4. How are we facilitating healthy communication in our church? (Ch#9) “Most church conflict results from poor communication.” -Rick Warren7
  5. How do we help our pastor manage the grief and loss he experiences regularly and create a culture of joy? (Ch#11) “Ministry is fraught with grief because of difficulty in relationships between sheep and shepherd, people and pastor.” -John A. MacArthur8
  6. How do we help our pastor manage stress related burnout and encourage him to have enough rest? (Ch#1-2) “75% of pastors experience a significant crisis that they faced due to stress in the ministry” -Fuller Institute9
  7. How do we help our pastor say no and handle the criticism that comes with it? (Ch#8) “All of the top at risk pastors said it was difficult for them to say no.” -Wickman10
  8. How do we help our pastor manage discouragement and encourage him to invest in self care? (Ch#3) “70% of pastors constantly fight depression.” -Fuller Institute11
  9. How do we support our pastor to pursue a healthy relationship with his wife? (Ch#10) “77% of pastors felt they did not have a good marriage.” -FASICLD 12
  10. How do we help our pastor manage isolation and encourage him to meet with pastors of other churches and denominations? (Ch#5) “Only a fellow minister can point out the width and depth of the rut in which a colleague may be running.” – Winton H. Beaven13

Thank you for investing in the health of your church by addressing the 10 Risks every church and its pastor face.  If you would like further resources or there’s any way we can support and strengthen your ministry, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Serving Jesus together,

jason@pirministries.org

1 Grudem, Elliot. “Pour It Out,” Leadership Journal, Winter 2016.

2 Green, Lisa Cannon. “The One Percent;” Christianity Today, September 1, 2015.

3,8,9,11,12 Krejcir, Dr. Richard J. “Statistics On Pastors,” http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=36562, 2007.

4,5,10, Wickman, Dr. Charles A. Pastors at Risk, 2014.

6 Hawco, John. “The Senior Pastor/Executive Pastor Team: A Contemporary Paradigm For The Larger Church Staff,” Dissertation, https://www.xpastor.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/hawco_john.pdf, 2005.

7 Warren, Rick. “Develop These 7 Skills When You Want People to Listen,” http://pastors.com/develop-these-7-skills-when-you-want-people-to-listen/, October 2, 2015.

8 MacArthur, John A. “Restoring the Grieving Pastor’s Joy,” https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/47-48/restoring-the-grieving-pastors-joy-part-1, September 24, 1995.

13 Beaven, Winton H. “Ministerial Burnout-Cause and Prevention,” https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1986/03/ministerial-burnout-cause-and-prevention, March 1986.

About Choose Mercy

Choose Mercy was birthed on a journey from wrath to mercy. While many in the church think wrath is the appropriate response to disagreement, we think the New Testament calls us to choose mercy (Col. 3:12) We have a passion for supporting and encouraging pastors and their wives and children.  This comes from the comfort we have received in our own pastoral experiences and witnessed in the lives of pastoral colleagues. Unfortunately the pain of church conflicts, forced exits, health challenges, broken family relationships, and personal failures often leave us wondering how to move forward. Our greatest desire is for each of God’s children to know their Father’s heart for them, and for pastors to personally experience the love and grace they have preached to others for so many years.  If you know of a pastor in transition that we can come alongside, please email jason@pirministries.org.