Every Congregation I served had one, most do! They are not elected, they are self-appointed. Their meetings are not on the Church calendar. Most of their business is conducted in the church parking lot or by email. They keep no records nor are votes taken. But the events which they talk about are stored in their minds and often sometimes in their hearts. They basically have no new ideas, but vividly remember the “good old days.” They have no officially elected Officers but each member is convinced they have “the inside track.”
You can find the first mentioned in the Book of Numbers. Affectionately they are known as the “Back to Egypt Committee.” Their recurrent motto goes back to the good old days when “we were better off in Egypt. There we remember having fish to eat, and cucumbers, melons and leeks, all at no cost.” And hidden in their complaint was the thought that somehow and in some 18-20 way we were better off back then in what became their mantra, “the good old days.”
“Back to Egypt” committees drive Pastors and Church leaders crazy and often not only destroys ministry but hinders and even prevents ministry. They can be the Pastor’s “worst nightmare,” and often results in frustration and distraction to what is the central mission of the church.
Are we not called “to walk by faith?” Back to Egypt Committees see the problems of the world and wish for the good old days. In some ways they were “good old days,” e.g. Gas, 29 cent gallon, a new home averaged around $2,400, eggs as low as 39 cents a dozen. But wouldn’t it be better instead of wishing for the good old days to return, to instead actually see our world’s problems and bend our knees in full confidence that God has not forsaken us as we boldly pray and watch to see what He will do through us. Let’s not forget that He, and He alone is “our still point” in an ever changing and tumultuous world. He is still the same, “yesterday, today and forever,” with the same authority and the same promise, “I will be with you always,” (Matthew 28:18,20)
The greatest encouragement that you can give to your church leaders is to let them know that you stand with them, and together you stand with Christ who gives us the promise of the Holy Spirit who will never leave us or forsake us. I would love our attitude to say, “Bring it on world, throw at us the best you’ve got, but know that you have met your match clearly in the Words and promises of God. Let’s sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon…one little word can fell” and really mean it, knowing that all and everything that stands in opposition against us must bow in submission to the One who is “The Lord of Lords and King of Kings.”
Let’s dismiss “the back to Egypt Committees” that stir among us, and support our Pastors and Church workers with your prayers and encouragement, knowing that “in Christ we can do all things through Him who strengthens us.” (Philippians 4:13)
For Well Coalition
In 1969 when I graduated from Seminary, there were four websites. Thirty years later, there were 20 million. Today, new websites are added every 2 seconds, new products every 30 seconds. What is fresh and innovative today is stale and obsolete tomorrow. More information has been produced in the last 30 years than the previous 5,000 years.
The average watch you wear has more computing power than all the computing power used to send Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in Apollo 11. A one Gigabite fiber can transmit the text of 35,000 novels in one second. Unbelievable! Is there something upon which we can stand firm and confident that will not and can not change? Of course, there is! And we are privileged to stand as proud heralds of the Good News, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) As they say, “it doesn’t get any better than that!”
But with the good news comes the challenging news, “Go and make disciples of ALL nations.” No one is to be excluded. No one! Certainly not sinners, nor people who are different than us, or people of different color, nationality, not even ”lapsed Lutherans and certainly not those who have no religious beliefs. This is hard work. Exhausting and challenging work! If the world would only stand still long enough for us to catch a breath. No chance of that happening. But let’s remember, we worship and adore and preach and confess and rely on the One who does not change. He is the same One who promises us, “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Before PTSD slaps you down, knocks you around, and grounds you in depression and worry, rely on the One who will not leave nor forsake you. Brothers and Sisters in Christ who serve the Lord mightily, He is by your side to walk with you, in front to lead you, behind you to encourage you, over you never to lose sight of you and before you to show you the way, and give you the strength to be “more than conquerors through Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8:37)
Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to take some quality time for yourself and your family. They need your presence, your love, and you just being there for them. And if it ever gets too much, and it can, and it will, reach out to someone who can help. Even give me a call; I’ll be glad to listen. (973-875-1931)
Richard C. Izzard
If you haven't noticed we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Mental health has never been so important as it is right now. When our world has been turned upside down with illness, loss of jobs, income, friends, and family, it is more important than ever to stay rooted and connected to the One that remains constant through it all. In Psalms chapter 1, we are called to "...meditate on His Word day and night."
The word "yoga" means "union" or "to yoke". God tells us that when we yoke ourselves to Him our burden is lighter. In Holy Yoga class we often talk about, as Christians, we already have a "one-up" on the rest of the world. Not only do we know that we can yoke ourselves to God, but we are commanded to. Further, we have a responsibility to share this connection to Him with others. Jesus took up the cross for everyone. Therefore, the yoking to Him is available to all who believe.
In Holy Yoga class, this is our focus. A connection to the Most High. Some get that through song. Some of us connect better through prayer. Some of us, through movement. I offer a breath and movement meditation to help find that God connection on the mat. Worship music is often played as we stretch our bodies and focus on His Good Word.
I encourage my classes to anyone who is interested in bringing Christ into their meditation or exercise routine. Visit www.oneloveonebody.com for more details.
In His Peace,
The following is an actual transcript conversation between a United States Naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland, October 1995:
Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees South to avoid a collision.
Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a United States Naval ship. I say again, divert your course.
Canadians: I am 3rd class signalman Smith. I say again, divert your course.
Americans: This is the Aircraft Carrier USS Lincoln, the 2nd largest ship in the United States fleet. We are accompanied by three Destroyers, three Cruisers, and a number of support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees North or counter measures will be taken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: We are a Lighthouse. Your call.
As Pastors and Church Workers we can at times be stubborn, especially in following our own advice. The truth is if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of others. We often find ourselves under pressure with time restraints, work to be accomplished, visits to make, sermons to be prepared, meetings to attend, vision to be addressed, counseling needed and biblical preparation, to name only a few.
The truth is, we will never find time to take care of ourselves unless we intentionally build it into our day, disciplining ourselves with the same advice we would offer to others. Jesus was often found taking the time to be alone with His Father, to strengthen Himself for the ministry that lay ahead. What makes us think that as Church Workers we are immune from the pressures of ministry and can ignore the signs of stress and burn out. NEWS FLASH! Pastors and Church Workers are breakable. Your family needs all of you, not what’s left over at the end of the day. Your people need you to set an example not just by plowing through the day but teaching them by setting an example.
Our Lighthouse is Christ. He is our still point. Stay the course! But it will require spending some quality time with Him, not just being in the Word for sermon preparation or taking time off only because you are exhausted. Let Christ direct your actions and your rest. As brothers and sisters in Christ let us continue to care for one another, willing to walk the extra mile, sharing one another’s burdens, sorrows, struggles and joys, taking the time for renewal and course correction when needed.
Janine knew she had made a horrible mistake. At 15, she was well aware that she could not properly care for her yet unborn child conceived out of wedlock. As she sat in church on Christmas Eve she struggled with how to tell her parents, and how she would handle the shame and the disappointment she would hear in their voices. For her, abortion was not and never would be an option. Her heart ached as she struggled with the difficulties that lay ahead, and the heartbreak of knowing that for her child’s sake, given her child up for adoption would be what was best.
As she sat in church on Christmas Eve, in the quiet of the candlelight she would later tell her family and friends that she had no doubt that Almighty God spoke to her. The message was clear and concise. “Janine, I know what you are going through. I too had to give up my Son. I too felt the pain and the anguish that you are facing.” But be assured “’I will be with you always!’”
Janine found instant courage knowing that God knew exactly what she was facing and that no matter how tough the future, God, the Creator of all, would be by her side.
It’s an understatement to say that 2020 was a difficult year. But as difficult as it was, we always had the confidence of knowing God was always by our side, giving us comfort when needed, hope when desperate, joy in the midst of sorrow, and confidence that He will never leave or forsake us.
With the promise of a vaccine, and Covid 19 being more controllable, 2021 will be a year of opportunity, listening anew to God’s direction, hearing His nudging through the power of His Word and following in the footsteps of Christ who is Lord. The convenience of “going back to business as usual” is not (in my opinion) an option for the church. Instead, we need to “walk by faith and not by sight!” Magnificently, God is not stumped by what needs to be done, but it will take courage, vision, boldness, creativity and determination to focus and follow in the direction that He leads.
May I also be so bold as to say to all of our NJ Congregations, it’s been hard on all of us, including our Pastors and called Church Workers. Make sure to insist that they take some time off, time away from the pressures of ministry and to spend some quality time with their families. Don’t take “no” for an answer.
Pastor R. Izzard
For the Wellness Coalition
One January morning, a world class violinist played six of Johann Bach’s most stirring concertos written for a violin solo and played on a 300 year old Stradivarius valued at over 3.5 million dollars. Two nights before he performed to a sold out audience paying as much as $200 for the “nosebleed” seats, but this time the performance was free. Joshua Bell, a renowned violinist ditched his tux for a baseball cap and a pair of jeans and played incognito outside the Metro Plaza in Washington D.C.
The experiment was conceived by a reporter from the Washington Post, who with hidden cameras recorded that of the hundreds of people who passed by only 7 actually stopped to listen. The 45 minute performance ended without applause or acknowledgement. In the rush of the day, there was no time to stop and listen to one of the greatest musicians play some of the finest music on one of the most beautiful instruments.
For us too, Christmas is filled with shopping, cooking, parties, cards, decorating so much so that the greatest message of all, “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6) can get easily buried beneath the turmoil. And if that is true for all of us, think what it would be like to be a Pastor with added sermons, worship services, and the increased impact of the needs of the sick, the hurting, the lonely, the poor and lost.
It’s easy to get lost in preparation and never stop to take the time to hear the preciousness of God’s love for each and every one, including Pastors and Called Workers. Pastors and Called Workers, stop to get recharged and renewed and hear the message of God for you, “for unto you a Child is born, to you a son if given…. and for you too in the midst of your ministry He is “the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.”
I wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas!
Written by Pastor Richard Izzard
Virginia Satir, a Social Scientist, told delegates of the American Ortho-psychiatric Association that there is a cure for depression and discouragement that doesn't require a prescription, is free, and its even fun! She reported that “every person for survival needs at least 4 hugs a day, for maintenance needs 8 hugs a day, and for growth, no less than 12 hugs a day.” Obviously, especially in the days of social distancing our ‘hugs’ are associated with kind words, compliments, positive strokes, praises, approvals, thanks and commendations. She also went on to say “negative comments are so devastating that it takes 99 positive strokes to combat one put down.”
When it is thought of in that way, the words of St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 comes as a powerful reinforcement, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.” The word that St. Paul uses literally means “to mend one’s nets.” As fishermen carefully check their nets at the end of each day’s catch, mending those places where mending is needed so that none would be lost. So we, as children of God need to go all out to mend, repair, restore and strengthen our relationships, especially within the Body of Christ.
Discouragement is one of the most devastating of all darts that the devil can throw our way. It weakens us and the Body of Christ, so that we become even more vulnerable to the devil’s attacks. I’ve heard the criticism that “the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded.” No doubt we all have been wounded by sin, and there are times when we fall short of God’s glory, but by the love of God and by the price that Christ paid in full on the cross, we are healed and forgiven and made whole. Therefore, let us not be guilty of “shooting the wounded.” Rather let us be about the business of “building up the Body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)
These are difficult and discouraging times , but by God’s help and with the encouragement of one another we will get through it. Let us not forget the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that we do have the One whom He sent to walk alongside us, as a Counselor and an Encourager, One who is with us always, helping us in crying to our Heavenly Father, “Abba!”
On Christian radio, there is a song that begins with a grievance directed toward God about the condition of the world; the poverty, the hatred, the prejudice, the faithlessness. In frustration, God is asked, “Why don’t You do something?” God listens and answers back, “I did! I created you!”
In many different ways, every called worker has responded to God’s call, and with a burning passion in their heart, they answered with joy and expectation. It is that same burning passion in one’s heart that answers God’s call that can so easily lead to burnout and everything that goes with it.
Last month I promised to tell you how I handled the threatening and ministry destroying sense of burnout! Simply put, I considered another call to another church in a different area and situation. I would strongly not recommend this as a way of handling burnout. I went from a small struggling congregation in the Midwest to a large East Coast church with a Christian Day school. Then to a mission church in Northern New Jersey to a specialized ministry in a large church in Texas. To a shrinking large church in New Jersey to a growing and expanding church and school in the Southeastern District. It was quite an adventure, but burnout was never far behind. Considering a call began with concentrated prayer and contemplation. And it felt really good to be wanted. Accepting the call gave me two more weeks of packing and saying goodbye and another two weeks to relocate. It was like an unintentional sabbatical. I would then work “like crazy” until my passion for succeeding brought me again to the point of burnout.
In retirement, I found the benefits of being an “Interim Pastor” that came with a 1 ½ to a two-year commitment. By God’s grace, I did seven interims, always knowing that I could end the commitment when needed. But burnout was never far behind, having never dealt with it in a beneficial way. Don’t get me wrong, I loved ministry, and I loved the people and the places I was called to serve, but burnout was always nipping at my heels. I was blessed and very fortunate to have an understanding wife.
I wish the Seminary would have taught me ways to properly handle one’s passion for the Lord and Christ’s mission. I wish that today’s churches had Wellness Ministries for their called workers. I wish God’s people better understood the pressures and the root causes that bring about burnout. I wish that every congregation personally and seriously developed a wellness team to actively aid and support church workers. And I sure wish pastors and called workers would take more seriously their spiritual, physical, and mental wellness. I believe healthier church workers will strengthen our resolve to be more missional and help our churches become more incarnational and not places of escape to pamper our whims, likes, and dislikes.
“God, why don’t You do something?” “I did,” He says, “I created the church, the very Body of Christ, and I gave to them ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ.’” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Richard Izzard, for Church Worker Wellness
P.S. A good resource for future action is Dr. Bruce Hartung’s book, “Holding Up the Prophets Hands.”
After talking with our two Seminarians assigned to do ministry in Bridgeton and Maywood, it brought to mind my own experience when I was placed in a small congregation west of Chicago. It never occurred to me that when your passion for ministry is high, so is the increased threat of burnout. Back in those days, we never heard much about pastoral wellness and health.
I was called to the congregation meeting in an old wood-frame church, built back in the days when men sat on the pulpit side and women on the lectern side. The church lived in the shadows of both a mega Lutheran church and another Lutheran church that attracted the more influential. In my zeal, I put in long hours working almost every day with little time off. The people were wonderful Christian servants who had long been written off.
I started in August, forgetting that Advent would require an extra service each week and be followed closely by Christmas and the New Year. Easter came early that year, so Lent too came the day after Christmas, or so it seemed. I was weary and thinking I had chosen the wrong profession. About halfway through Lent, with the pressures of ministry increasing, my tank was near empty. I had nothing for Sunday's message. I remember going to the church and collapsing in front of the altar, pleading and begging God for help and strength. I could not hear Him.
Seminary training never warned me there would be times like this. That night I slept fitfully. Around 4:00 a.m. I awoke with a thought. It was in the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his emotional and moving I Have A Dream speech. That was it. Homiletic professors, forgive me, I don't remember the text or if there was one, but I will never forget the title: 'I Had a Dream!' The details of the message remain long buried, but the overall meaning was clear, concise, and not very Pastoral:
"I had a dream that when I came to you, we would light our community on fire for the Lord, and you, the members of the church, killed my dream."
I had no energy left. I was void of ideas, and the accomplishments were few. I had a dream, and I was burnt out. Their reaction might best be summed up by one kindly, elderly lady, who patted me on the shoulder and simply said, "Pastor, it will be okay, you'll get over it." Elsie, who with that one pat on the back and a compassionate voice, provided more to my Pastoral wellness than I had ever received.
I found out the hard way that the greater the passion, the higher the threat of burnout. And quite honestly, my struggle with my passion for the lost and the church's condition quickly led me to the depths of depression. And remember, back then, compared to today, ministry was considered 'easy.'
Burnout is real when passion is high. It can happen in any profession, but Pastoral Ministry has one of the highest burnout rates of most professions. As Pastors, we need to learn how to manage our passion for Christ's ministry and His Church. I have met some Pastors who, due to stress and burnout, retire way before their actual date of retirement!
Congregations need to give serious consideration to developing a wellness support team for their ministerial workers. There are many valuable resources available to help combat burnout in ministry. Please respond to this blog in the comments section and I’ll direct you towards resources that will help you develop a team within your congregation that supports and cares for the pastor and other ministry workers. Families of ministry workers should also be included in this care, as they too suffer the effects of burnout.
Next month, I will be issuing a sequel to this blog on how I handled the burnout. Until then, congregations, please take care of your pastors. Pastors, please take care of yourselves as you continue to care for your congregations.
Pastor Izzard for Pastoral Wellness
A couple took their young child to a concert in Carnegie Hall to hear the great pianist Paderewski in hopes that he might be inspired to take his piano lessons more seriously. As they were finding their seats, their young son quickly disappeared. Frantically and helplessly they searched through the people finding their seats, when they heard a commotion coming from the front of the stage. They heard some people yelling, “get him off of there,” “where are his parents?” “he’ll ruin the concert!” It was then that his parents caught sight of their son making his way to the Steinway Grand Piano on stage. They were stunned, not knowing what to do, when their child sat down at the piano and started to play the only tune he knew, ‘Chopsticks.’
Backstage Paderewski heard the commotion and quickly assessed the situation. He quietly walked on stage as the crowd grew quiet and the parents sank further down in their seats. He quietly sneaked behind the boy, and put one hand on the keys to the left and the other on the keys to the right and started to improvise a tune incorporating the boys ‘Chopsticks’ rendition, as he whispered to the boy, “Keep going, you’re doing great! Don’t stop! Good job! Together we’ve got this!” As a duet they played a never before heard tune, with the audience responding by giving them a standing ovation.
In the midst of one of the most disheartening, frightening, and devastating events known as Covid-19, God’s church ‘plays’ what it can as God quietly whispers in our ears, “Keep going, you’re doing great! Don’t stop! Good job! Together we’ve got this!” But beware, people of God. A great passion to do what God has called us to do and be can in these hard times set the stage for burn out. Especially when many of the tools we use for ministry are temporarily unusable. As the Body of Christ we need to encourage each other, especially our Pastors and called workers to keep going! We need to tell them, “You're doing great! Don’t stop! Good job!” And perhaps most importantly, “Together we’ve got this!”
Make no mistake, God is with us, after all that is His promise, “I will be with you always!” We will come out of this smarter than we were when it first started having set the Lord always before us, he is at our right hand, we shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)
Congregations encourage your Pastors. Pastors encourage one another. VPs, Circuit Visitors, encourage your brothers and sisters, especially those out front leading.