Wednesday, August 10, 2011




A pastor came for a two-day John Mark Ministries retreat. Basically, he had one question: 'Why do I flare up at people - particularly women - and get so exasperated when they don't meet my expectations?' On the first day we looked at his time-line. He had been emotionally abused by a very controlling mother. He entered pastoral ministry after 15 years in the police force. There are your first two clues!

Freud said, 'The child is psychological father to the adult....' Building on Freud, Erik Erikson described eight stages of life in which we, ideally, develop lasting traits, such as trust, independence, purpose, a feeling of competence, an ability to love, etc. A massive amount of clinical experience with disturbed patients has confirmed that early psychological experiences are important causes of later dysfunctional behaviours.

Reviewing Powell and Barker's book on stress, Unloading the Overload, I wrote: 'I have come to believe that while lifestyle variables are important in dealing with the symptoms of stress, the causes of stress lie deeper, in our unconscious needs, fuelled mainly by family-of-origin experiences. And yes, our authors agree (against most of the articles you'll read in popular magazines about the subject). "Unless we do something about internal reconstruction, there will always be a gradual regathering of those discarded and unstructured external stresses"' (p.67). Right on!

Further: 'There are three dimensions to the self (pp. 68 ff.): emotional maturity, self-image, and spiritual maturity. When a child's separation and differentiation processes are blocked or delayed, the child is more prone to be anxious, and continue to express a strong need for a mother's presence.' (In my view, this is also an important factor in adult males who have not been properly initiated into manhood by the men of the tribe when they were teenagers. Why do otherwise highly intelligent and successful middle-aged males resort to the comfort of female flesh?) Re self-image: 'Alfred Adler has helped us understand our actions as needing to protect our self-image and overcome our inadequacies. Overload happens (particularly in driven adult professional males) when they take on impossible career-loads in order to feel better about themselves. But the healthy development of the spiritual self leads us to promote others and their giftings'.

An interesting example of a child 'acting out' a family dysfunction can be seen in the 1964 movie, The Chalk Garden. The basic problem in the film's story: parents having children because of their own desires; they need to feel loved and they believe that a child's helplessness will be a source of love; or perhaps they have in mind a particular role for the child to fulfil. They expect that the child will grow up to be totally obedient to them as a sign of love. But the child feels suffocated by the parents' desire and tries to find his or her own destiny. This search for independence only marks the child, in the parents' minds, as disobedient, ungrateful, and unloving. Love quickly turns to hate and disaster follows. (Rent the movie and analyse the story).

These days, after thirty-five years serving pastors and ex-pastors across all denominations, when I'm asked what is the major human factor predicting 'success' in ministry, my response is 'They chose their parents well!' The motto of our little counselling practice: 'It's never too late to have a happy childhood!'

So it is important to explore your history - for traumas, stressful emotions, and the origins of one's beliefs and attitudes. In principle, an abused child can never live as if the abuse never happened. Abuse may be physical abuse (bruises; burns; internal injuries; fractures; etc.), physical neglect (lack of medical or dental care; lack of food; lack of sleep; inadequate hygiene; unsanitary living conditions; etc.), sexual abuse (sexual acts with minors, sexual exploitation such as pornography or prostitution), or emotional maltreatment (belittling; screaming; threats; inconsistent parental responses; family discord; etc.).

Some of the pastors reading this are women. Please forgive now a digression about men.

One of the books I wish I'd written is Steve Biddulph's Manhood. Now Steve is more liberal than I am about pornography and masturbation and a few other things but essentially he's on to something very important. In the seminars I lead on manhood I make this global statement: 'Most of the problems in the Western world can be traced to our inability to create men from boys.' Every pre-industrial society has initiation rites for precipitating boys aged 14 or 15 into manhood. We in the West have something called adolescence which inhibits/complicates this process. So what should we do? Men should take boys away and talk about being men - the challenges and the problems of manhood - do things together, enjoy recreational activities together, talk about Big Ideas with boys. If we don't properly create a rite of passage for boys, they'll find destructive counterfeits - hence initiation ceremonies in the armed forces, teenage boys getting on to drugs and breaking into houses etc. The Kiwi movie Once Were Warriors is the best I've ever seen on the destructive aspects of the breakdown of Western families.

Most men (including pastors) don't have real friends. They don't know how to grieve with other men. So they 'burn out' and have mid-life crises. Their emotional output is not matched by emotional input. And, again, they've never properly dealt with their family-of-origin stuff.

Probably most of us males need a 'mid-life crisis' to wake up to ourselves. Mine was in Korea in 1977 when I spent a night in tears in a chapel in the Full Gospel Central Church repenting of my sinfulness, selfishness, and failures in ministry and parenting.

Every pastor has had people schedule an appointment to say, 'I've never told anyone this before, but I have a problem with pornography. I'm having an affair. I've been having sexual conversations in chat rooms. I can't stop calling this live-sex phone number. I keep meeting men for sex. I went to a massage parlour and.' Guess what? As a counsellor-to-pastors I've heard all these - and more - from them too!

There is a deep father-wound in most of us men and we will try anything to heal it. Or, to change the metaphor, there's a deep abyss in the core of our being, and we often fill the abyss with the wrong stuff - needs for self-gratification, approval, esteem, and so on.
Richard Rohr is one of our best teachers-of-men. He has given John Mark Ministries permission to reproduce on our website anything he has written. Sample: 'Initiation is always about transforming: holding out for win-win, both-and, turning pain into power. Very few of us are well taught in this area, even the clergy who often see themselves as problem solvers instead of agents of transformation, as careerists instead of prophets of an alternative consciousness.

'I think it is into this vacuum that the modern men's movements have come. Whether you agree with their message or style is not the important first question. Men are looking for spiritual experience, they are trying to submit themselves to "godfathers" in a country with very few of them.

'As for the essential messages, I have gleaned these from my cross-cultural observations. Somehow, male initiation must communicate the following to the young man:

Life Is Hard

'If you can be convinced of this early in life and not waste time trying to avoid it or making it easy for yourself, you will ironically have much less useless suffering in the long run. Because we avoid the legitimate pain of being human, we bring upon ourselves much longer, meaningless, and desperate pain.

You Are Going to Die

'The certainty and reality of one's own death must be made very real. The young man must live as one who has already died "the first death" and is not protecting himself from the second. This is seen in the traditional Christian baptismal teaching: "Do you not know that you who were baptised were baptised into the dying of Christ?" (Romans 6:3). One's death must be ritualised through trials, facing loss and one's fear of loss, and symbolic drowning of the baptised.

You Are Not That Important

'Cosmic and personal humility is of central importance for truth and happiness in this world. The initiate must be rightly situated in a world that demands respect from him, or he will have an inflated-deflated sense of himself that will need continual reassurance. This is almost the complete contrary of the post-modern "I am special" button. Littleness is nothing to be denied or disguised, but gives a basis for all community, family, and service.

You Are Not in Control

'The illusion of control must be surrendered by a deep experience of one's own powerlessness. Usually only suffering accomplishes this task, especially unjust suffering and things that one cannot change. Reality and God are in control, and we will normally not accept this until led to the limits of our own resources.

Your Life Is Not About You

'This is the essential and summary experience. You must know that you are a part of something and somebody much bigger than yourself. Your life is not about you, it is about God. Henceforward, the entire human experience takes on a dramatically different character. We call it holiness.

'The goal of initiation rites, and healthy religion, is to situate and align the individual correctly in the universe. Such alignment is the foundation for a deep and enduring human dignity, a dignity that the young man can now see in everything and everybody else, because it is not his own. It is ours.

'Religious people might describe that as belonging to God. Jesus might have described it "as the peace that the world cannot give" (John 14:27) and the "joy that no one can take from you" (John 16:22). It cannot be taken from you or even given to you, because it is no longer based on you. It just is. And it is good.'

I heard Richard say this at a conference in Canberra: 'I travel regularly to the pre-industrial ('Third') world. There I meet 15-year-old boys who exhibit a humble self-assurance, a gravitas, that I don't find in Western teenagers.'

(Richard Rohr, OFM, is founder of the Center for Action & Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which sponsors rites-of-passage retreats for men and for women. The seeds of this material can be found in his books The Wild Man's Journey (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1992) and The Quest for the Grail (Crossroad, 1994).)

Other issues about self-understanding (for pastors of both genders!):

* What are your three key spiritual gifts? Can you articulate them as quickly as you can give your name, address, and phone number?

* Do you know your Enneagram or Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality type? Whilst these resources are by no means the last word in self-analysis, they provide some useful hints about who we are. (I wish I'd known I was severely introverted before I entered pastoral ministry!)

* See the Retreat section on the John Mark Ministries website. In a Quiet Day (without your mobile phone!) write in a journal your answers to the questions. Like: Write about Anxiety/Fear, Sadness/ Grief, Guilt (bad things I have done), Shame (bad things I feel about me), Irritation/Anger. What problems/challenges do each of the 'seven deadly sins' hold for you? (Sloth, Lust, Anger, Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Greed). What are your 'addictions'? We each have a 'shadow' side (Jung). What is yours? Where are your areas of incompleteness? For what non-altruistic reasons are you in ministry or doing good? Of the three great temptations - money, sex, power - where are you weakest? Why? What are you tempted to do/be/think if you were sure you wouldn't be found out in this life?


Bill was your classical 'disgruntled pastor'. He was always complaining - about the church in general, and the people in it in particular. The church was the way it was because 'the blighters won't work'. People stubbornly held on to the many heresies he accused them of believing. They did not come out to the Sunday evening services or the prayer meetings. 'This church is going nowhere with these people,' he kept saying to his wife and pastor-friends.

'Codependency' is all about projecting our unmet needs onto other people. We might 'love' them, yes, but it's 'need-love' rather than 'gift-love'. 'I love you so that you will meet my needs'. So others are treated as objects, rather than as autonomous persons. Recovery or healing is the process whereby we find our true selves apart from the person/s we are 'enmeshed' with. Codependent persons often say things that imply 'I'm the way I am because of you. You are the problem. Why can't you change? You are so...'

Just about every 'codependent' person I've counselled comes from a 'dysfunctional' family. A dysfunctional family is characterised by some of the following:

* children have to follow rules like 'Don't feel, don't trust, don't tell'

* emotions are either expressed violently, with a lot of anger, (e.g 'Don't you cry or I'll give you something to cry about!'); or they are repressed

* there is a lack of real/healthy intimacy

* children feel they have to meet adults' needs

* there may be emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual abuse - or neglect

* 'perfectionism' may be a factor in Christian homes

* there are lots of rigid rules, and punishments. Sometimes these rules are arbitrary - not easily understood, or they change without warning

* there is a 'strictness' sometimes about what to believe and what not to believe. Truth is black and white

* the 'silent treatment' may be common

* you must keep family secrets; there is a lot of denial

* 'triangulation' may occur, where one family member is used as a go-between

* there is a 'victim' or 'martyr' syndrome: 'I'm feeling bad so it's your / someone else's fault'

* personal boundaries are not clearly defined, accepted or respected

* 'masks' are worn to impress the right people

* 'control' is big!

* children in these situations cope by becoming perfectionists, or pleasers, or clowns, or scapegoats to deflect the family tensions

* adults from dysfunctional families may be workaholics (until their midlife crisis!), or solitary/lost and drifting through life, controllers, addicted to alcohol or other substances, having low self-esteem, unable to handle stress etc.

* you learn that it's unsafe to trust any / too many people

* there's not much fun; sometimes not many happy times with visitors.

* everything one does, thinks, or says is judged by someone else's standards -- nothing is done, said, or thought "Good Enough".

* you do not know or believe that being vulnerable and asking for help is both OKAY and NORMAL.

* you do not know that it is OKAY to talk about problems outside the family; or that feelings just are -- and it is better to share them than to deny, minimise or justify them.


George Barna's book Leaders on Leadership is a compilation of articles by various authors (Jack Hayford, Kenneth Gangel, Gene Getz, Leighton Ford, et al.) on a variety of topics like 'The Character of a Leader', 'Being Tough, but Tender', and 'Conflict: The Refining Fire of Leadership'. Chapter Eight is about 'The Life Cycle of a Leader'. J. Robert Clinton and Richard W. Clinton, describe a general pastor's development time line. Given that gender, ministry setting and situation and other factors may cause slight deviations, such a time line is quite revealing. The Clintons' rationale: 'On the whole, the same general kinds of things happen because God is in the business of developing leaders. And he is consistent. And certain things must be there - like character, spiritual authority, relationship and giftedness' (p. 158).

The following is a summary of these five stages:

* Stage One: Ministry Foundations (Age 16-26). Character Shaping Phase: Basic character formation, underlying values, growing awareness of God, beginnings of spiritual formation are developed.

* Stage Two: Early Ministry (5-12 years in ministry). Ministry Formation Phase: Leadership character and commitment to leadership role are formed on the basis of early experiences (eg. conflict, crises, etc). Experimentation and awareness of ministry giftedness emerges, spiritual formation and ministry formation become priorities.

* Stage Three: Middle Ministry (8-14 years in ministry). Spiritual Formation Phase: Life purpose, giftedness, and major roles in ministry are clarified. Insights for empowering people in ministry are learned. Authority and conflict issues are faced, perhaps in the setting of a leadership 'backlash.' Challenges emerge requiring special attention and growth.

* Stage Four: Latter Ministry (12+ years). Strategic Formation Phase: Acting on one's specific life purpose and calling in ministry as one's ultimate areas of contribution clarify. Ministry becomes more efficient and effective at this ministry peak. Spiritual warfare and spiritual formation become greater foci as the ministry engages in 'deep processing.'

* Stage Five: Finishing Well. Fulfilment Phase. Ultimate contributions continue to be developed, consolidation of a lifetime of ministry achievements and experiences, important values are passed on to other generations of leaders, perception of 'destiny fulfilment'. I have frankly found paradigms like this to be fairly generalised, and sometimes not helpful. I regularly counsel pastors who don't fit into such neat categories. For some, their mid-life crisis comes in their early-to-mid 30's. Some pastors grow quickly - others, to use a sad phrase, 'have one year's experience thirty times'. Others seem to have a remarkably mature 'gift of wisdom' all their ministry-careers. And others battle in this area, frequently alienating parishioners unnecessarily. Another variable is the age at which most pastors enter parish ministry: the entry-age is getting later, with, it is assumed, more life-experience beforehand.


Rowland Croucher July 2002

A Pastoral Survival Guide [3] -

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