Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Tod Bolsinger Offers Wise Insights on Pastors and Their Souls

posted by Mark D. Roberts

A couple of days ago I posted excerpts from a recent letter of John
Piper to his congregation. In this letter, Piper explains in strikingly
honest terms that he is taking an eight-month leave of absence from his
pastoral duties in order to focus on his marriage and his soul.

Tod Bolsinger in Montana

Today, on his blog, It Takes a Church,
Tod Bolsinger offers some reflections in response to Piper’s letter.
Tod, the Senior Pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church in Southern
California, has some very wise things to say about pastors and their
souls. I’d strongly encourage you to read the extended excerpt below,
even if you are not a pastor. (Photo: Tod Bolsinger enjoys a Montana meadow.)

Here’s what Tod writes:

I once was part of a leadership group with renowned CEO Max DePree.
Someone made the comment about how hard we pastors work and someone
else chimed in that pastors work harder than anyone. Max wisely and
calmly chided us, saying that from his experience pastors don’t work
harder than any other executive or mid-level manager in most companies
he knows.  I wholeheartedly agree.   I don’t travel nearly as much as
most of the men my age in my congregation. And while I work hard, I
also get lots of support to balance family and personal time with work
time. (I am even taking a few days off this week to recuperate from
Holy Week.)

However there are two ways, that both collude very negatively and
demonstrate how pastoral work is at least a bit more COMPLICATED than
other professions.  And it is that complexity that is potentially very
dangerous to souls, relationships and, yes, ministries of pastors and
other Christian leaders.

1. We work in what Ed Friedman calls “an emotional
field”.  That is that our work, by it’s very nature, is work that
demands that we constantly negotiate and monitor our own emotional
issues while at the same time navigating the emotions and anxieties of
other people and the church system.  We not only preach, teach, lead,
administrate, counsel and consult, we do it while also attending to the
emotional health of the church system, tending to (mostly unspoken)
projections and expectations  of a community that is by nature filled
with confusing boundaries.  The church is a “family” and a “business”
at the same time.  People want us to be both “professional” and
“personal”.  We get criticized for not knowing everything there is to
know about the mystery of God and not knowing every person’s name in
our congregation when we run into them at the grocery store.  Our
congregation is both our “customer” and our “client” and our “partners”
and our “bosses” all at the same time.   Again, we don’t work harder.
It’s just really complex and emotionally really demanding.

2. Ministers are very prone to confuse our “self” with our
“roles”.   In our “roles” we are admitted into the holy ground of
people’s personal lives and literally into every setting in the church
life. (And in the church itself: I  have a coveted “#1 key” that can
open every door in our church. An apt symbol for the role of a
pastor.)  We are often asked to pray at OTHER people’s family
gatherings, we get welcomed into hospital rooms that even family
members can’t go in.  People trust us with family secrets. I can walk
into any meeting, any classroom, any conversation on the patio at our
church and they will literally stop what they are doing to welcome me
and listen to whatever I want to say.  But that is because I am the
“PASTOR”. (“Tod” can’t do any of that. Because when I try that at home,
my 13 year old daughter says, “Daddy, you’re interrupting!” )  And the
respect and affirmation we get as pastors is heady stuff and often in
great contrast to the “normal” lives we live outside the pulpit and
away from the congregation. As a pastor, when I preach a sermon, people
literally tell me they “LOVE me.”  And I think, at that moment, they
really mean it. When God works in people’s lives, they genuinely feel
something of love toward the messenger.  And since most of us who go
into ministry do so as “wounded healers” who are working out their own
brokenness, it is really tempting for ministers to work out their
personal foibles in the church setting and neglect their emotional,
relational and spiritual lives.  It is very tempting to believe that
because others are being saved, sanctified and comforted through you,
that you MUST really be as secure, holy and solid as WISH you were.  
Most Christian leaders problems come from confusing the “role” that God
gives us and equips us to play with the “self” that is always in need
of grace, community, and truth to be whole.

We pastors must indeed bring our real “self” to our roles, but we
must keep clear that we are NOT our roles. We are children of God in
need of discipline by our heavenly father, we are spouses and parents
and siblings and friends.  We are saints in need of sanctification and
sinners in need of forgiveness.  We may pray eloquently and preach
passionately, but we also snore and swear and have hurt feelings and
very humble foibles and fears.  If we only play the role all the time,
not only do our families and relationships suffer, our souls will die,
too.

In the famous story, Narcissus is cursed for being cruel to another.
The curse is that he will fall hopelessly and helplessly in love with
the next face he sees.  He sees his own face in a reflection in a lake
and then can’t take his eyes off of his own reflection, so he sits by
the lake pining in sadness until he dies.  We tend to think of
narcissists as ego-maniacs who “love themselves”.  But as the best
psychology will tell us, narcissism is a wound that comes from not
getting enough love and care for our “real” selves.  We narcissists
(and pastors are in the same category with actors, politicians and
business executives here) are those who have learned to get affirmation
for our “image” that we can’t seem to get for our “selves.”  We must
never forget that in the myth, Narcissus, dies of starvation.  He can’t
pull away from attending to the image in the lake to feed his genuinely
hungry self.

Thanks, Tod, for these wise words.



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