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Archives for 141 – Taking Care of the Caretakers

One of the things I tried to tease apart in the survey we conducted was what separates a spiritually healthy minister from those who do not report as healthy of a relationship with God? In order to determine this, I took those who endorsed being “Very Satisfied” with their relationship with God and compared them statistically against everyone else. What bubbled to the top in a way that showed these two groups statistically different?

11% of Church of Christ ministers in the survey said they are “Very Satisfied” with their relationship with God. When you compare those 11% with the other 89% here are the differences that crop up that are statistically significant on the .05 level (which means we have a 95% confidence that these statistical differences are meaningful/actual differences and 5% that it is due to random chance).

Physical health: Ministers who endorsed being “Very Satisfied” with their relationship with God were less satisfied than the rest on their physical health. They also spent less time exercising! Let’s not make that a prescription for a deeper spirituality by any means. I would like to dive deeper into that in a future study.

Ministry/Study: These ministers spent more time studying for lesson prep than everyone else and more time in personal study. They also reported significantly better relationships with their elders than everyone else on average.

Last, these people were more hopeful about the future on average than the rest of the sample.

What does this tell us? Does this tell us healthy ministers are connected with healthy elders? It at least tells us healthy ministers have a healthy view of their elders. It also tells us the value of personal study as well as lesson prep on one’s own deeper spiritual life and walk with God as those who studied longer reported more satisfaction with their relationship with God. The health piece surprised me and I am still trying to wrap my mind around it. Based on the data collected there isn’t much that can be teased out of that but we can look more deeply into that in the future to see what is going on.

Last, often what is overlooked in studies like these are the things that did not have an effect but often that information is just as interesting. It is interesting that there were no differences in those who report being “Very satisfied” with their relationship with God and everyone else in their marriages, parenting, relationship with staff, mental health, etc.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on this information. I would also like to know areas you believe would be important to assess in the future.

Emotional intelligence and leadership

In my frequent work with church leadership teams, I find that a constant challenge for ministers and elders is the way they address the relational dynamics that are constantly present in a congregation. When all is said and done, a critical component of leadership is how to relate to people!

One way to explore this critical aspect of leadership is through the lens of emotional intelligence, a theory popularized by the work of Daniel Goleman more than 20 years ago.In short, emotional intelligence reflects the capacity to monitor your emotions and the emotions of others, and to utilize that information to shape your words and actions. To say it another way, emotional intelligence is paying attention to your emotions and to the emotions of others in ways that help you effectively interact with others.

Following Goleman’s work, emotional intelligence focuses on four different competencies:

  1. Self-awareness – what is going on inside you.
  2. Self-management – emotional self-control and adaptability.
  3. Social awareness – attentiveness to others and the capacity for empathy.
  4. Relationship management – capacity to attend constructively in conflicted situations, with loss, or with the need to inspire, build teams or develop others.

When talking about emotional intelligence, I occasionally receive some pushback. What about intellectual intelligence? What about knowing what to do? Obviously, knowledge and skills are incredibly important. However, knowing what to do and helping others do the right thing are two different matters. As Goleman notes, intelligence might get you the job, but emotional intelligence will help you keep it!

At the heart of human experience is the way our emotions shape our doing and being. Even the simplest of interactions in our families and congregations are fraught with emotional fields. Each of Goleman’s four competencies is critically important for leaders to develop. Beginning with self-awareness, effective leaders stay tuned to their own emotional state. To be self-aware is to be able to identify the feelings and thoughts surging within our own bodies. Once leaders are aware, they can explore constructive avenues for how to appropriately manage their own emotions instead of letting their emotions manage them.

Moving beyond the self means attending to others. Social awareness calls upon the leader to remain attuned to what others are feeling. It is not always easy; so much of what a person is feeling is communicated nonverbally. Once some assessment of a person or a group’s feelings has been made, wise leaders turn to managing their influence in the relationship.

The language of emotional intelligence may seem a little distant to congregational life. But in many ways, the witness of Scripture reminds us that being a Christ follower means that we practice virtues (2 Peter 1) and embody the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). Maybe, as church leaders, we can begin to imagine how important our emotional intelligence really is to the health and mission of our congregations!

Blessings,
Carson


[1] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, (New York: Bantam, 1995).
[2] I have explored this elsewhere. See Carson E. Reed, “Motive and Movement: Affective Leadership Through the Work of Preaching.” Journal Of Religious Leadership 13, No. 2 (September 2014): 63-82. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 2, 2017).

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How are our ministers’ families doing and what sort of effect is ministry having on the families of our ministers? Along with that, how are our ministers’ doing in their own relationship with God and what seems to affect that? Last, how healthy are our ministers in their ministry? What can they do to help themselves become healthier and what can congregations and leadership do to help? We tackle these questions and more in this post as we continue to report results from our 2017 ministerial health survey.

Marriage and Family Health

98% of respondents were married. This is right in line with Barna’s recent numbers in their “State of Pastors” report. Here are some of the questions and results:

Marital satisfaction

  • Satisfied + Very satisfied = 88% (Good news!)

How spiritually connected are you with your spouse?

  • Connected + Very connected = 81% (Good news!)

How has ministry affected your spouse?

  • Very positively – 9%
  • Positively – 44%
  • Neutral – 23%
  • Negatively – 21%
  • Very negatively – 1% (roughly on 1/5 negative to very negative)

How has ministry affected your children?

  • Very positively – 19%
  • Positively – 46%
  • Neutral – 24%
  • Negatively – 11%
  • Very negatively – 0% (roughly 1/10 negative, no very negative)

How spiritually connected are you with your children?

  • Very satisfied = 24%
  • Satisfied = 57% – (81% cumulative)
  • Neutral = 12%
  • Unsatisfied = 7%
  • Very unsatisfied = 0%

Almost all of these questions correlated highly with each other. That isn’t any real surprise. The one correlation that stood out is how ministry has affected your spouse and relationship with elders! Ministers reported some very positive results here, better than I would have expected. I am very happy to see that. It is still sad to recognize that some are truly struggling.

Ministerial Health

Average hours/week in ministry – 45.5

  • Hours/week in ministry correlates with stress and with relationship with elders (the longer they work the more negative they report their relationship with elders)

What will your next employment be?

  • Congregational ministry – 56%
  • Non-congregational employment – 16%
  • Retirement – 10%
  • Other – 18% (about half of the other was “I don’t know”).

I believe we need to pay attention to this. Roughly half the ministers in this sample are certain that their next job will be in a congregational setting. I find that shocking.

Have you ever considered leaving ministry for good?

  • 63% – Yes
  • 37% – No

I took a deeper look at these numbers through an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). As I said previously an ANOVA compares means between two distinct groups to see if there is statistically significant differences between the groups on continuous variables. I found a number of statistically significant differences (all of these are at the .05 level or better, which means we are 95% sure these is really a difference between the groups of those who have and those who have not considered leaving ministry on a number of things.

They differ statistically on:

  • Satisfaction with mental health
  • Marital satisfaction
  • Spiritual connection with spouse
  • How ministry has affected their spouse
  • How ministry has affected their children
  • Hours in personal study
    • Those who have considered leaving ministry spend on average 2.97 hours/week in personal study
    • Those who have not considered leaving ministry spend on average 4.85 hours/week in personal study. The difference is statistically significant.
  • Their hopefulness about the future
  • Quality of sleep
  • Hours of sleep/night

This shows some distinct differences between those who considered at one time or another throwing in the ministerial towel for good. This also shows us that one way to combat this is to spend more time in personal/devotional study (study not in lesson prep).

Last, we asked about how balanced ministers felt they were in balancing ministry with other responsibilities. We found a high correlation between balance and stress. Less balanced ministers report higher stress that more balanced ministers.

Spiritual health

How are our ministers doing spiritually? How is their relationship with God?  Who do they turn to for help and how often?

91% of ministers report having someone to confide in.

85% of ministers report having someone to confess to.

Who do they turn to for this type of support (other than your spouse)?

  • Minister outside congregation – 33%
  • Friend outside congregation – 29%
  • Friend inside congregation – 18%
  • Elder – 14%

These numbers are what I expected they would be. They are turning to outside help first and less likely to turn to someone in the congregation. Only 14% would first turn to one of their elders in this situation.

How frequently are they seeking support (listed in order of frequency)?

  • Monthly – 39%
  • Less than 1 per year – 23%
  • Semi-annually (between monthly and annual) – 18%
  • Weekly – 15%
  • Never – 5%
  • Annually 1%

How satisfied are they with their own relationship with God?

  • Very satisfied = 11%
  • Satisfied = 65%
  • Neutral = 13%
  • Unsatisfied = 11%
  • Very unsatisfied = 0%

How hopeful are they about the future?

  • Very hopeful = 38%
  • Hopeful = 51% (89% hopeful or better!)
  • Neutral = 9%
  • Unhopeful = 2%

Let’s look a bit more deeply at the numbers to find out more about what is going on. If we look at two distinct groups – those who have someone to turn to (85%) and those who report they don’t (15%), what differences do we find between those two groups (via ANOVA)? Those who don’t have someone to confess to

  • feel less balanced in ministry than those who do
  • Spend less time in study/prep for lessons than those who do
  • report lower satisfaction in their relationship with God than those who do
  • Feel less hopeful about the future

It should alarm us that 15% of our ministers say they have no one to turn to for support. Of those who do have someone only half are doing so a few times a year or better.

What does satisfaction in their relationship with God correlate with?

  • Stress (the better the relationship with God the lower the stress)
  • Time in personal study (the more time in personal study, the better reported relationship with God)
  • Balancing responsibilities
  • Frequency of going to people for help – the more satisfied you are with your relationship with God the more frequently you turn to others for help. Remember, any of these can be stated in reverse order as this this a relationship, not cause and effect – the more frequently they turn to someone for help the higher satisfaction they report in their relationship with God. Spiritually healthy people are willing to get help when they need it.

I know this is a lot to consider. I am going to do at least one more post pulling from the first three to talk about what all of this means and what we can do to help our ministers be healthier and what ministers can adjust in their lives and ministries for better and healthier outcomes.

How healthy are our ministers? We asked them a variety of questions to determine various aspects of their health. This post reports the findings on their physical and mental health of our ministers and how this relates to and impacts other areas of their overall health (relational, spiritual, ministerial, etc).

Physical Health

How long has it been since you have seen a doctor?

  • Average time = 25 months
  • Max = 12 years
  • 27% reported being over 12 months since last visit

When asked about their satisfaction with their physical health we found just over one third were satisfied to very satisfied, while the remaining 58% were neutral to very unsatisfied. Here is the breakdown on satisfaction with overall physical health:

  • Very satisfied – 6%
  • Satisfied – 30%
  • Neutral – 21%
  • Unsatisfied – 37%
  • Very unsatisfied – 7%

Diet had nearly identical results (which also correlated very highly) with physical health.

  • Very satisfied – 5%
  • Satisfied – 28%
  • Neutral – 25%
  • Unsatisfied – 37%
  • Very unsatisfied – 3%

There were statistically significant correlations between health and diet satisfaction as well as satisfaction with health and stress levels (the more stress, the less satisfaction with physical health).

How much exercise do our ministers report getting per month?

  • 47% reported 10 hours or less per month.
  • 10% reported never exercising

How much sleep are our ministers getting? They are averaging just under 7 hours of sleep per night. The national average hovers just below 8 hours. Ministers rated the quality of their sleep at 71.92 on average on a 100 point scale.

There is a variable that is related to how much sleep ministers are getting as well as the quality of their sleep that I am going to spend quite a bit more time on later in the results and that is whether or not ministers have considered leaving ministry. Just to give you an idea, there are different times of variable that are required to run different statistics. One of the most helpful statistics is called “Analysis of Variance” (ANOVA). It takes two distinct groups, in this case those who have considered leaving ministry and those who have not (the independent and dichotomous variable), and compares differences in their means/averages. If the means are consistently different, then the ANOVA is able to determine that those two groups truly differ on a given variable (called the dependent variable) with a certain level of confidence (say, 95% confident that the differences are not just random variations in the data).

So here are the numbers:

  • ANOVA showed a statistical difference between those who have considered leaving ministry and those who have not in the number of hours of sleep they report (for those who know stats, F= 5.073, significance = .026) and quality of sleep (F = 8.152, sig = .005).
  • Here is what that means. Those who have considered leaving ministry report getting less sleep and worse quality of sleep at night than those who have never considered leaving ministry.
  • The groups (those who have considered and those who have not considered leaving ministry) vary in a statistically significant way (means probably not just randomly occurring in the data) on these two variable.

This doesn’t mean that getting more sleep will make you less likely to consider leaving ministry but it does give us information to ask why it is that these two groups differ in the ways that they do. I am going to dig into this quite a bit further in the posts that follow.

Mental Health

We asked a number of questions about participant’s mental health, especially as it pertains to ministry’s impact on mental health.

The good news is, 82% reported being Satisfied or Very Satisfied about the current state of their mental health.

34% reported having mental health issues they believed were a result of ministry.

Anxiety
52% have experienced significant levels of anxiety as a result of ministry with 31% of those who have reported experiencing significant, ministry related anxiety being within the last month. 73% of those who have experienced this report it being within the last year. The average time since last anxiety among those who endorsed experiencing ministry-related anxiety was 30 months ago.

Depression

34% reported significant levels of depression they believed were ministry related with 21% of those being in the last month and 52% in the last year.

Anxiety and depression were highly correlated (Pierson = .807, significance = .000)

Satisfaction with mental health correlated negatively with time since last ministry related anxiety (so the better satisfied with your mental health, the longer since the last anxiety – P = -.344, sig = .007)

Mental health satisfaction correlated with marital satisfaction (p = .376, sig = .000)

Stress

We gave participants a sliding stress scale from 0 to 100. The average was 46.

Stress correlated with a number of things:

  • Correlated with health satisfaction (the higher the stress the less satisfied with physical health)
  • Correlated with hours spent per week in ministry (higher stress, higher hours)
  • Correlated with relationship with elders (higher stress, more negative elder relationships)
  • Correlated with balance of ministry responsibilities (higher stress, less balanced)
  • Correlated with satisfaction with one’s relationship with God (higher stress, less satisfied)

Conclusion:

We find almost a bell curve distribution on satisfaction with physical health and diet with most responses around the neutral mark and very few who were either very satisfied or very unsatisfied. Both measures leaned negative. I would be curious to see how this compares to a similar question being asked of a broader, more general population of people in general (especially middle aged men, as that is mostly who was in the study). We also find ministers getting less sleep than average and while not reporting high levels of stress on average, still showing us that stress is related to a number of factors (via correlation) that we should pay attention to -particularly that stress and satisfaction with health, elders, balance and even relationship with God are significant. This does not necessarily mean that decreasing stress will automatically fix any of these things but it does show there is a relationship.

We see that ministers report overall being pretty positive on their mental health until you get more specific. Once you get more specific, we have some real issues to come to grips with. When over half of ministers report significant anxiety as a direct result of ministry, that is a real issue that must be addressed. When one third of those report its incidence within the last month and the vast majority within the last year, that is troublesome. Our ministers need support. They need to be encouraged to take care of their mental health, see a counselor when needed, and to not attach any stigma to them for being human.

Remember, what they are reporting is not anxiety and depression in general but specifically from ministry. This is one area where our findings diverged from Barna’s but for a reason that makes sense. Barna’s recent State of the Pastor’s study found a higher incidence of anxiety and depression but they were asking in general, not as it only pertains to ministry. It would make sense that asking the question generally would yield a higher incidence than asking about anxiety and depression as a direct result of ministry.

These findings remind us that ministers are whole people with a whole range of interconnected health issues. They remind us of the complexities of what it means to be human and how various aspects of our health interlock and interrelate with one another. If we are going to help ministers be healthier, then we need to focus on the whole person. This will become more and more evident as we share more results.

Over the last few years the discussions I have had with other ministers has led me to believe that we are in a period of time that is vitally important to the future of the church. The thing that has led me to believe that is the amount of ministers I talk with who are tired. They are approaching burn out. They need some support but don’t always have an outlet to find the help they need.

I decided to try to find out more about the health of ministers in Churches of Christ. This post is the first in a series of posts reporting the findings. Hopefully these results will help us figure out better self-care as ministers and help elderships develop practices and relationships with their ministers that help them become healthier.

I assessed five areas of health: physical, mental, relational, spiritual, and ministerial/professional. We understand that these areas are not isolated but that they all interact with each other as we view our lives, bodies, minds, souls, etc more holistically.

This post will give the demographics of those who participated in the survey. Future posts will dive into each of the five areas.

Participants:
119 people took the survey.

Age: Average was 43 years old

Gender:

  • 97% male
  • 3% female

Marriage and family

  • 98% married
  • 95% have children
  • 79% have children currently in their home

Ministry roles:

  • 80% Preaching minister
  • 11% Youth minister
  • 6% Associate minister
  • 2% Family minister
  • 2% Childrens’ minister

Their average years in ministry was 18.3

The average number of congregations they have served in was 3.

The number of years they have served their current congregation had an average of 7.3 years.

The Barna group has been in partnership with Pepperdine University to assess the health of ministers in a report titled “The State of Pastors.” The study reaches beyond Churches of Christ but Pepperdine has partnered with Barna group to see how ministers in Churches of Christ compare with ministers in other denominations in terms of their health and well being. I encourage you to look into their findings as well. I was also encouraged to find that our study and their study had similar findings in the areas our work overlapped including the demographics of our samples.

In conclusion, I look forward to sharing the findings of this study over the course of the next week. It will be both eye-opening and helpful and I believe it compliments the work Barna has done very well.

One of my professors this year stated that theologians see something wrong in the world and try to right it, or write it, I would add. I certainly don’t plant myself in any capacity as a theologian by any means, but I have seen enough of something wrong that alarms me to the core. I want to flip the on-switch on a spotlight upon a critical issue. I have seen it affect more women and girls than I can count, and I, too have battled with this particularly hellish devil. It wears a peculiar and sneaky cloak, so it hides and lurks whilst the prey is completely devoid of awareness of its presence. It has the cunning ability to launch its claws into any human, but for this particular piece I am focusing solely on women and girls.

I’m talking about the lens of unworthiness which so many of us are viewing ourselves through. We are looking through false glasses into our mirrors. What person put those lying spectacles abridge our noses? Was it a particular person, a set of circumstances, a shaming theology? What reduced perfectly capable and rational thinking, smart girls and women to any status labeled “less-than”? Whatever did it, or whoever did it, however in the world it got into our marrow and seeped in our pores needs to be recognized. It’s costing all of us. It’s costing the world. It’s costing our churches, our children, our own spirits. We may not even see it ourselves, but it’s manifesting itself nonetheless. And no one hurts worse than the one feeling unworthy.

I could count on two hands right now – just off the top of my head – women and girls I know who have felt this way. Here’s one mountainous way it manifests: we choose and then stay with abusive and/or neglectful partners. I start with this one because our physicality and emotionality is at risk here. This is 911 territory, dangerous and emphatically treacherous. But here’s how that happens. We think we are not good enough, deep-down in our souls. We have a gaping grand canyon hole that we think is just grape-sized. We literally believe we are not deserving of goodness, whether we know it or not. So we settle. Or we all-out choose a person who is mean to us. Because we don’t think we deserve better. Why do we do that? Because we view ourselves as less-than, not-enough, mediocre. This is not okay, this is not of God, and not who we were made to be. I have counseled women trying to leave their absent and abusive husbands, and been broken when they, to this day, stay. Obviously that is by their own choice, but it pains me to know they don’t even see their own worth. And no one can make another person see their own worth. There’s no ticket booth passing out tickets to self-worth, unfortunately.

We have to accept and have access to that beacon of strength that is burning like a meteor inside each of us. Once we realize we are our own best friend, and anyone attempting to deteriorate our spirit has to go, then we can move into action. This is not easy and is very difficult. This takes a very vibrant awareness and a seeing that may not always meet the eye, and sure won’t meet they eye of the person doing the harm. Regardless, get in the car and go. No looking back. Know that Jesus gave His complete trust and honor to women, and you also should be treated in this way.

Anything less is just not love.
Other ways this bubbles up into our lives is in various addictions, whether they be shopping, drugs, alcohol, social media, obsessive thinking, et cetera; anything at all in the world we are dumping ourselves into to avoid pain from the grand canyon hole inside our hearts. It takes a delicate dance to tiptoe around a canyon. The edge is always there, threatening…but very much alive. No one, including me, wants to admit to the grand canyon in there. It’s certainly easier to try and shop it away, pray it away, exercise it away, pill it away. But at what cost? Is it really worth living that way for forty years? Thirty? Twenty? One more day? What if it could all be better? What if today was that day you put those shoes on and said “NO MORE.” That canyon might not have been of your making, but you can absolutely put it in your rearview mirror….beginning now. You have one life, given you by the same God who made the mountains and oceans and all of creation.

It wasn’t that long ago I unearthed an old journal of mine.

Journaling is something I’ve attempted at several points in my life, but it never took.  So it was no surprise when I opened it and saw only three entries dated 2002, 2004 and 2006. They included phrases like “real hope,” “please give me real transformation” and “God help me!” You see, 2001 was the beginning of an almost-decade battle with the horrors of prescription drug addiction, but it was born out of a much deeper problem.

I couldn’t have known how our perception of life’s experiences, good and bad, shape much of how I saw myself.  At an early age, I had come to the conclusion that I was simply not good.  Even after responding to the relationship that Jesus initiates with all of us, I battled a darkness within.  It just seemed like I could never overcome the deep sense of worthlessness.  I concluded that God’s grace only wipes sins away, but offers no power over the emptiness that causes the sin.

Reading those three journal entries, I painfully remembered the desperate optimism that filled them.  I was hoping for a quick fix.  When it never came, however, it caused only resentment and self hate.  Was the God of Abraham real?  What happened to the God I read about in the Bible?  And if God is real, am I just too far gone?  Like many, events in my youth had given me a distorted view of God and myself.

I remember seeking help, but all loving people could tell me was to try harder.  Reading countless books on addiction and recovery seemed to point to behavior modification and often left me frustrated.  I knew the breeding ground for my duplicity and negative behavior was much deeper.

I remember finally accepting that Jesus must have no power in this realm, and only came to help me avoid hell after my body dies…which I often longed for.

As years went on and the struggle took many forms, my emptiness and thirst for Jesus’ healing continued to increase which has lead me to where I am today.  Living as a New Creation in the Power of Jesus Christ. So what did I discover?  Well here is a start.

I began to ask, what did God create in Eden and what was different that walked out of the Garden?  What I discovered was a God-crafted person in perfect symphony with his Creator.  This God-crafted person was the result of the fully sufficient community that existed before time itself, the community we call The Trinity–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  A divine community in perfect harmony with each other, adoring and loving each other.  It is out of this Love that all of God’s creation was made.  At the height of his creation were the God-crafted persons who would serve as His images within the world he created.  God’s commission to his human creation was to receive, reflect, and multiply his glory to all the rest of creation.

In giving His breath of life into mankind, an intimate connection was established that exceeded any that God had created before.  As humanity walked in the power of that connection, harmony reigned as God’s Shalom filled His creation.  The very breath (or Spirit) of God guided mankind’s spirit, flowing through His soul (thoughts, will and emotions), and the flesh responded in perfect symphony.  This is what it means to be whole.

Dr. Brene Brown suggests that humanity’s greatest fear is disconnection.  And that from this fear deep within all of us, all forms of behavior are birthed.  I believe that fear was birthed the moment Adam disconnected from God.  And from that divorce forward, the deep intimacy that inspired that symphony was fractured.

What emerged was a person whose spirit was fractured…no longer in harmony with his Creator’s Spirit, animating his spirit, flowing through his soul and acting out through natural obedience.  The God-given person was now fractured and what feels like independence and freedom is the result of that death.  Now disconnected from the source of life humanity was designed for, all creation begins to groan.

I know the smell of that death.  The death which allowed me to be born disconnected from the intimacy I was originally designed for.  And no parents, no matter how loving they are, can replace what we were originally designed to receive from God Himself.  No, as Scripture reveals, we are born of Adam.  And whether humanity realizes it or not, that reality is nothing short of traumatic.

That trauma creates a space where even a baby will show a lack of trust and innocence.  We do not like to think of babies or children in these ways, but the effects of the fall are traumatic and their lack of innocence is quickly evident.  In short order an infant will discover that he or she can cry when they aren’t physically in need of food and be fed.  This deception is born out of our selfish independent nature.

Yes, we are born fractured and it doesn’t take long for the evil one to begin to manipulate that trauma.  And it’s in that space that Satan’s forces work quickly, manipulating anything they can throughout our lives to serve as barriers to healing and bonding with God, the bonding that is so essential to healing and so essential to experiencing the New Life Jesus has made available to everyone through His resurrection.

Before long a child will begin to seek ways to receive what they are not getting from God.  Activities that seem to shore up what is lacking in the depths of their heart.  “Things that make me special” which births all types of false self beliefs that serve as a breeding ground for artificial fillers and the establishment of strongholds.

These fillers are temporary fixes for the deep hole which God created for Himself.  From personal beliefs about God and His nature, to

“My value comes from good grades.”

“I’m the bad boy.”

“I’m the good girl.”

“I’m just not good.”

This list can be endless as an individual’s perceptions and the enemy’s creativity collide.

But at some point we realize it’s not working inside, and we need something more.  And because we sense our own brokenness, we seek something that feels like we are in control.  And it is out of this deep pain/darkness and need to control something that addiction is born.

And although addictions are manifested in many ways, from religious legalisms to mood altering substances, they are birthed in humanity’s deep need to control and cope with what they perceive to be reality.  From children sucking their thumbs to a 70 year old addicted to prideful gossip, they both emerge out of our brokenness and need to feel better.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, our sin addictions are birthed from our own independent and selfish nature.

Until people can be brutally honest with themselves, those boundaries prevent the healing that Jesus has made available by reversing the curse of sin and death.  And unlike Satan, God honors our boundaries.

All people are victims of that early trauma which fractured our intimacy with God and within ourselves.

So you may ask, If our fractured experiential intimacy with God is the problem, and Jesus heals our brokenness, why aren’t churches places people can go for healing?

Why do so many believers in Jesus struggle with all kinds of addictions to sin?

What did Adam have?

What did Adam lose?

What did Jesus take back?

Where is it today?

Good questions to consider with other honest seekers of truth.

It was great to find out I was not terminally unique.  The Bible describes all kinds of hearts: hearts of stone, hard hearts, divided hearts, and even a man after God’s own heart.  As diverse as people’s hearts are in the Bible, there are also multiple examples of God changing those hearts.  But not the magic I was hoping for, which wouldn’t need much effort, obedience or true vulnerability.

Many today say that if they saw the Red Sea part or any other miracle, then they would believe.  The work of God described in this article is a miracle that no one can fully grasp but is available for all.

You see, much to my surprise it seems God is restoring my broken, divided heart. It didn’t happen in a flash or at the end of a desperate prayer. It didn’t even happen as an immediate response to a new belief. It is coming as the result getting real, dropping the religious mask, seeking truth above all else, coming clean about my own brokenness, and honestly inviting the wholeness of Jesus Christ into all of my life.

God wants the same for all His children.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Israel’s choices are laid before them. They stand at a crossroads where they can choose death and destruction or life and prosperity. But what does it mean to truly choose life?

Like Israel, we also choose for ourselves whom we will serve. We can turn away and worship false gods or we can choose to follow the one true God of forgiveness, mercy, and love. James K.A. Smith, author of You Are What You Love and one of our featured guests for this year’s ACU Summit, writes that this choice is “not magic. Nor is it merely intellectual. It’s a matter of re-forming our loves, re-narrativing our identities, re-habituating our virtue. And that is centered in the practices of the people of God gathered by the Spirit around Christ’s Word and the table.” This choice to follow is radical and life-changing, and we get to experience it together.

The book of Deuteronomy is more than a record of the past. It is vibrant, eternal counsel for living faithful Christian lives in our time. Interpreted in the light of the Gospel and fulfilled through Christ’s teaching, Deuteronomy continues to speak to believers today, offering redemptive wisdom for daily living. This divine instruction is not legalistic but a passionate call to heart-centered obedience. It is  a story of a living faith that will continue to inspire and teach our children and those who come after us. Contemporary themes from Deuteronomy show us the importance of trusting in the God of the Ages. And this we do by developing faithful habits of worship, doing justice to every single person, loving our neighbors with our whole hearts and practicing mercy.

ACU Summit 2017 will lead studies from this ancient text that will inform the future of the church, and the choices we make as we strive to serve God. We invite you to join us at ACU Summit 2017 from September 17-20. Attend classes that speak to your interests and congregational needs, listen to lessons from Deuteronomy, and partake in fellowship and conversation with others who have chosen to follow after God.

May we all choose life.

There is a growing interest in the health of our ministers. Over the last few years I have seen this conversation crop up in several significant places. I believe this is the case because there are many ministers who are either facing burnout or who want to prevent ever getting to that place.

There are a few places I am seeing this resurgence of interest. First is personal experience. The more ministers I talk with the more we see the need for self-care and discuss what we do to fill our cup back up. Ministers are seeking out groups of other ministers to spend time with and to decompress, get encouragement and spiritual formation through informal regional minister gatherings. Second, I see it in the lectureships. The Pepperdine Bible lectures, which concluded on Friday, had quite a few offerings on ministerial health. Maybe I just noticed it more because this is on my mind but I don’t think so. Third is Barna group. Barna recently partnered with Pepperdine to create a study called “State of Pastors.” Part of that study compared the health of ministers in Churches of Christ to ministers in other churches.

There is a growing interest in this area because there is a growing need in this area. We ministers feel the need to take better care of ourselves. We take care of others and often we are the last to take care of ourselves. Health ministry needs healthy ministers. We feel it. Our families feel it. Our churches feel the cost of ministers who need to spend some time in self-care. It is time we do something about it.

This month’s issue of Wineskins will focus on ministerial self-care. As part of this discussion I am going to be releasing the results of a study that I did of the health of ministers in Churches of Christ, part of which I presented at the Pepperdine lectures. Some of the results are hopeful and other parts show some places where we need to make some improvements. Last, the study not only showed areas of strength and weakness but also assessed practices that can help or hinder one’s health as a minister. I look forward to sharing the results of that study. I found it eye opening and I believe you will as well.