Archive for November, 2014

broken heartNine years ago, I was on the path to success in ministry, but I was in danger of losing my fiancé. I was gaining the knowledge needed to pastor through seminary, but I was ill equipped in the art of relationships. At times, conflicts with my fiancé triggered issues of insecurity that manifested in either lashing out in anger or shutting down. It was easier to pretend that everything was fine and disengage, because I couldn’t articulate the root issue for my sensitivity– other than “I’m just so mad” or “This is unfair.” This often led to us arguing about superficial things and she almost broke it off.

Fortunately, we ended up going to a conference together called Emotionally Healthy Leader, and while the conference was geared towards fostering emotional health for pastors, it ended up saving our relationship. The conference helped me to understand that you can have leaders who are intellectual giants in biblical studies, yet complete emotional infants – not knowing how to deal with difficult emotions such as anger or grief. You could be a top-notch seminary scholar, and yet be completely untransformed in how to deal with things like criticism and other things that trigger your insecurities. Spiritual maturity should create emotional maturity.

EHSLogo1Emotional health is usually not considered as one of the top five desired characteristic among pastors, which I believe is a serious detriment to the pastor’s family and church family. A statistic shows that 45% of pastors have experienced depression or burnout to the point where they needed to take a break away from ministry. I’ve seen many pastors who are able to grow the church quickly but their emotional issues can crush the church just as quickly. This was true for me. While I was doing all the right things in ministry, my inability to express my emotions, communicate clearly, deal with conflict, manage stress and handle failure was impacting my leadership and relationship with my fiancé, and church members, and my personal joy in my work.

So why is this happening? I think there is a fundamental flaw in how we view our spiritual development and training among pastors. There is a heavy emphasis on biblical studies and knowledge – and that’s certainly needed! However, the standard of training for pastors can’t be limited to just head knowledge of the Bible—it also needs to encompass the development of pastors as a whole person. This includes providing tools to help pastors cope with stress, anger, conflict resolution, mental issues and setting good boundaries and limits. I only had one class in seminary on counseling and I wish I was given more tools and training on these topics because I now know personally just how liberating it could be not just in ministry but in marriage. I’m learning that pastor’s emotional intelligence (EQ) is just as important and impactful as their ability to teach the Bible.

14Feature_How_to_Be_an_Emotionally_Healthy_Leader_0101_260769495These are some books that have helped me in my emotional development. It’s my hope for you that you would read some (or all) of these books as the first step in this journey, and also discussing this topic with your friends and peers. In the context of my marriage and ministry, these books have helped me express my opinions, engage in healthy conflict, be contemplative about my own inner self, the importance of setting good boundaries, and learning to say no. These are critical spiritual issues that all Christians especially pastors need to incorporate as part of their spiritual walk.

 

Books:

  1. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero
  2. How People Grow by John Townsend and Henry Cloud
  3. Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud
  4. 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

I believe that as the leader goes, the church goes. If our pastors are unable to wrestle with their emotions then how can we expect our church family to be any better? If our pastors work without limits and boundaries and don’t know how to balance work and family life, how can we expect our church family to learn from us? As pastors we have the opportunity to model spiritual and emotional maturity for our members, so that they can grow holistically. Emotional health and growth is something that needs to be done in community and relationship. A lot is riding on us as pastors so it’s important that we invest in the discipleship of our emotions.

 

 

 

dream jobHow good looking are people on staff? Do they root for the same sports team as me? Do they serve good coffee? Now obviously, these questions should be low on your priorities when deciding on your first or next church to work. But what questions should you be considering?

I was having lunch with a youth pastor in his early twenties who was transitioning out of his church and searching for another church. Since he had opportunities to intern at multiple churches, I asked him, “How are you going to find the right church?” He paused and shrugged his shoulders. He wasn’t sure.

I was in the same place nine years ago; I had no framework to navigate me in the decision making process. Most of us pastors aren’t taught this in seminary and so many of us don’t have a filter to choose. Some statistics share that the average length a pastors stays at a church is roughly 2 years. The impacts of such quick turnovers are being felt negatively by the pastors, their families and the church family.

To abate the tide of turnover due to a poor fit, and to help think through the decision of where to work that will best suit you, your family and the church, here are some questions that have helped guide me in the past. Now of course there are other practical, financial, and logistical factors to consider, but these questions are focused on helping you think about fit and vision..

1. Do you KNOW yourself as a pastor/leader?

supermanPastors are expected to be superman—good at everything to save everyone. And many pastors try to live up to this expectation, including myself. I’ll have the desire to be good at everything—preaching, teaching, leading, managing, and organizing. But I simply can’t. I’ve had to come to terms with who I was as a pastor. I’ve had people challenge me to discover the unique gifts and strengths God has given me based on my story, past experiences, failures, and passions – rather than trying to be what I perceived every other great pastor to be. Once I was able to understand my own unique strengths and passions, I was able to find freedom and fun, along with a sense of focus on what I wanted to do next. This is still a journey that I’m on with so much room to grow, but here are some follow up questions that have helped me process. I encourage you to reflect on these questions and get input from trusted friends, family and colleagues.

Follow up questions:

  • What type of pastor/ leader do you want to be? (teaching/ preaching, admin, worship, executive, youth, children’s) Why?
  • In what areas have you received affirmations from friends, family and church staff about your gifting and passions?
  • What would you still be doing even if you did not get paid for it?
  • Have you asked others about some of your leadership blind spots or area of weaknesses? What are they?

2. Do you KNOW the Senior Pastor or pastor overseeing you?

When I interview at churches, I prepare several questions to ask about the senior pastor or pastor who will be my supervisor. This is so important because these people will be your role models and spiritual guides. You want the right person leading you – someone whose vision you are inspired by and someone you are excited to support. When you go in for interviews, be prepared to interview your interviewers. Ask questions and do your research. Listen to their messages online and interview current and former staff if possible. Get a good grasp of who they are as far as a leader and family person.

3. Do you KNOW the organization, culture and value?

I interviewed and accepted a job at a church before I knew anything about the culture, value and organization of the church. In my youthful naiveté, I just assumed that they were all the same. After all, we all loved Jesus right? I sure was wrong! Just as there are 32 unique and different flavors at Baskin Robbins, each church has their own unique flavor, even within the same denomination. It’s important to know have a sense of a particular church’s culture and structure before you actually accept the job or else you may regret the decision and leave just as quick as you came.

Here are some follow up questions:

  • Have you visited the church website and what have you learned?
  • Have you interviewed and talked to people at the church specifically about work and relationship dynamics?
  • Do staff members love, like or put up with the church?
  • What is the vision, mission and values of the church and do you agree?
  • Do they have a history of high turnover or is staff very happy there?
  • What do your spouse and family think of the church?

leadership compassOur church just celebrated our senior pastor for his 30 years of leadership. It was such a beautiful way to honor what God has done through him. I would love that for myself and for you—to find the right church where your gifts and passions align – and that we can participate in many more 30-year celebrations!

 

 

 

 

 

 

mr-rogers-hello-neighborRecently, my family had a very nice woman who lives a few houses down from us welcome us to the neighborhood. This was such a sweet thing…but there was just one problem: We have been living in our neighborhood for the past NINE years.

So after 9 years of living right next to each other, my family didn’t know her, and she didn’t know us. And actually, I’ve already forgotten her name. But really, who cares, right? It’s not that big of a deal. These days, we don’t live in a society where you’d casually knock on your neighbor’s door for a cup of sugar when you need some. With social media and the technology available to keep in touch with friends and family who are not within our living vicinity, there’s hardly an expectation or a blink of an eye from anyone if you don’t know your literal neighbors. Knowing and having community with your actual neighbors is not really that important anymore….right?

being_a_good_neighborOne former mayor from Colorado would strongly disagree. In 2009, a group of pastors proposed some big ideas to their mayor in Colorado to help with their city issues of homelessness and lack of services for the community. What the mayor told these pastors next, however, surprised them and may surprise you. He shared that ‘’there are a lot of issues that face our community, but the majority of them would be drastically reduced if we just became good neighbors— if we took Jesus seriously when he said to love God, and love your neighbor.”

Can the answer really be this simple? When we look around and see all the needs in our society, how would we answer the question, “What is the greatest need in America?” Aren’t the problems in our cities so complex that they require politicians and experts to create strategic policies and programs to even make the slightest dent in these multi-layered issues? Or could it be that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said over 2,000 years ago that the second greatest commandment after loving God was to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself? Could Jesus really have known that good neighbors can have the most positive impact on a community helping to see crime rates drop, property values rise, and helping increase health.

love where you liveMy church recently finished doing a series called Love Where You Live where these types of things were discussed with the hope that we would love our neighbors. And through this series, my wife and I mutually came to the same conclusion: We’ve been pretty bad neighbors. We don’t know our neighbors’ names and we really never made an effort to get to know them. And to be blunt, we just didn’t care. To make it worst, I’ve even gotten into an argument with my neighbor over trash when they were moving out. I’m not winning any great neighbor awards if there are any out there.

But what would it look like if we changed our perspectives and priorities and started to care about the people who live next to us? What if we started to believe that we have been placed in our neighborhoods for a purpose – to bless our neighbors as we’ve been blessed? I know for some of you, this may be easy. Perhaps you are extroverted and it is more natural to put yourself out there— and that’s awesome. I would love your tips and advice. For many others, however, including myself, this is difficult. It’s easier for me to do a service project because that only requires a couple of hours of service with strangers, but being a neighbor is a 24/7 commitment! They’ll always be there and watching you especially if they know you’re a Christian. They’ll see how you live and that puts pressure on you to be a good neighbor. It’s easier to hide.

good neighborBut after being challenged and encouraged by our church, my wife and I took some time to step out of our comfort zones and walked around our neighborhood to say “hi.” We knocked on about 15 homes to introduce ourselves and pass out hot chocolate. I sheepishly stood behind my wife and kid who acted as a barrier between me and the discomfort and awkwardness I felt going out of my way just to say hi. And you could tell at first, our neighbors felt awkward as well, suspicious of what we were doing and what we wanted. But within a minute, they would completely change and warm up, and by the end of the hour, I learned one important lesson—our neighbors had great smiles and I wanted to get to know them more! It was so wonderful to finally to put a name to the faces that we had seen from a distance for almost a decade. And I didn’t realize how diverse my neighbors were – people from all over the world. While we didn’t chat long with them, I felt inspired to continue to build our relationship and hear more of their amazing stories in the future.  This simple activity turned out to be one of the most blessed things we have done together as a family in a long time.

I hope you’ll join us in this adventure. I totally get that we’re busy and stuff like this can be really awkward.  But this is an incredible opportunity to love and bless others and make a real impact on the health of our nation. Here are five steps whether you need to take baby steps or you’re the neighborhood watch leader that wants some more ideas.

1) Say “Hi” and have ask questions ready to ask your neighbor when you pick up the mail or take out the trash. 

2) Take a walk around your neighborhood with your family and introduce yourselves. I recommend going with your spouse or kid or pet… (or niece or nephew or friend’s dog!); it can help to break the ice and make things less awkward. 

3) Pass out Holiday treats to your neighbors with a card. Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner. This is the best reason and opportunity to show your neighbors that you exist and that you care.

4) Have a garage or yard sale. This is a win-win situation. You can clean out your house, make some money and meet your neighbors. I recommend having some free coffee and donuts and you’ll have some great conversations. 

5) Throw a party in front of your house (not the back) especially for your kid’s birthday party. Make sure you get a bounce house for all the kids to see and they will come. If you don’t have young kids to throw parties for, a casual holiday party with simple snacks and drinks like an open house might be a fun, non-threatening way for neighbors to drop by and say hi. 

While my family and I are taking baby steps and are novices at being good neighbors, I’m encouraged to know that there are some inspirational super-neighbors out there. My friend, Lee, epitomizes the heart of loving your neighbor. In the past four years, his family of four has invited eleven different people from so many different families to stay at their house.

twogreatestcommandmentsCurrently, he has a 3-year old, a 1 year old, and one more on the way. My wife and I have a 2-and-a-half year old and one more on the way, and we’re already feeling like 3-bedrooms is not enough. But Lee and his whole family stay in ONE bedroom (can you imagine the great sleep they are getting?) This isn’t done out of necessity but out of generosity. They stay in one bedroom, so that they can open up the other two bedrooms for his neighbors in need. For instance, he has had a mother and five kids stay with them for a few months because she was in an abusive relationship and needed shelter. I believe that if anyone would win a neighbor of the year award, it would be Lee and his family. He genuinely cares for his community. This inspires me to take more initiative to love and bless my neighbors and live out the second greatest commandment! I hope you’ll join me and my family in taking steps towards changing our neighborhoods, one relationship at a time!

 

***Disclaimer: This post is for adults who are married, thinking of marriage and pastors/ leaders.

sex_mythsWhen we get a rare chance to watch a movie together, my wife always wants to watch a lighthearted chick flick, while I am drawn more towards the action thrillers with some blood and guts. Unfortunately, she usually wins. Despite my low desire to munch popcorn to Nicholas Sparks movies, however, I do actually enjoy a good love story…and being part of one is even better.

One of the best parts of being a pastor is being able to officiate a wedding especially for a friend. I’ve had the privilege of officiating eight weddings, and it is always such an honor to be part of a couple’s love story in this way. But the part I enjoy the most is the part that is not publicly visible: premarital counseling.

divorceWe’ve all heard the depressing statistics on divorce rates – with some stats even showing a painful 75% divorce rate in California. Given this powerful trend, I believe premarital counseling is more important than ever – perhaps even more important than the actual wedding day, since a healthy and life-giving marriage is more essential than a one-day ceremony.

So to set these couples up for martial success, I meet with them for 4-5 sessions of counseling. The last session focuses on the topic of sex. Most couples get very uneasy when I bring up this topic because they think I will ask about their own personal sex history. I quickly reassure them that I will do no such thing. This session is a time to discuss any unspoken assumptions about sex that they haven’t shared with each other, work through any misperceptions, and set the foundation for an awesome, steamy sex life they are about to embark on as a married couple.

counselingHere are three myths about sex that we’ve discussed in these sessions, drawn from the courses I took while getting my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. I believe debunking these myths can help couples have more realistic expectations about sex, feel more freedom to express their needs/desires, and view sex as a way to serve and bless each other rather than just being self-serving… all ultimately leading to a more satisfying sex (and emotional) life together in holy matrimony.

 

MYTH #1: Your best sex life is in your 20s.

REALITY: Your best sex life is likely to be in your 40s, 50s, and 60s.

 

You’re probably shaking your head in disbelief. “A 60 year old grandpa is having better sex than a hot-blooded 20 year old? Come on.” Most of us usually just equate our physical peak to our sexual peak. Dr. David Snarch, however, the marital sex therapy guru, shares that older couples are having better sex not because they are in better shape and have more drive, but because they are more comfortable with their bodies, their sexuality and are generally more accepting of who they are. Younger couples, on the other hand, are still navigating through their own identity, insecurities, and sexuality, which can interfere with the enjoyment of sex.

Younger couples early on in their marriage may be frustrated by the quality of their sex life or hide how they really feel about it, especially if they believe the myth that they should be having their best sex of their lives during this early stage. With this myth hanging over their shoulders, they may feel less inclined to admit their frustrations or insecurities and sex can start to become more of a chore or routine. The truth that your best sex is much later in life should bring a measure of peace and comfort for all couples. It really helps couples understand that their sex life is a journey that requires communication, growth and maturity. It gets better as trust grows, insecurities dissipate, and communication is strengthened. This can give courage to couples to be honest with themselves and each other so that they can have their best sex together both now and in the future.

 

MYTH #2: Men want sex more than women.

REALITY: High sexual desire is not only in men

 

This is a common myth that may inhibit the honesty of women with higher sexual desires or for men who have a lower sex desires than the stereotypes – each feeling abnormal compared to what they think is the norm. This can cause tension and conflict, especially if the couples apply these stereotypes on each other, causing confused or broken expectations..

According to Dr. Snarch, levels of sexual desire is not gender based. His take is that there is an even split between the men and women with regards to the level of sexual desire. The freedom that a woman might have more sex drive than the man, or vice versa, can help open the door for better communication, understanding, and acceptance of their partner’s sexual needs and how to navigate through those different levels so that both parties can be on the same page.

 

MYTH #3: All woman should reach climax through intercourse

REALITY: Only a third of women reach climax through intercourse itself

 

The movies typically show women and men having sex that always ends with mutual orgasms, so it makes sense that we have the same expectation in our marriage beds. The reality, however, is that only a third of women actually have orgasms through intercourse. Recognizing this can free up couples to set more realistic expectations about the outcome of sex and also open up conversations for the couple to be more creative in mutually satisfying each other.
Kids_ballroom_dance_poseSo to wrap it up… sex in marriage is a lot like learning to ballroom dance. None of us are great at it when we first start especially me – my wife had a heck of a time trying to teach move the moves for our first wedding dance. But when we communicate and practice the dance routine – the footwork, the spacing, the body movement – we get to a place where our two left feet start waltzing around.

Our God is a God of pleasure and intimacy, and sex is a beautiful gift from God that was meant to deepen intimacy between husband and wife – physically, emotionally and spiritually. This requires honest communication and vulnerability, which can be scary or awkward, but when you take those steps together, you will have the most beautiful Cha-Cha or tango!