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.
Chirpy was a fun loving and beautifully singing canary who never tired of entertaining an audience with her melodic sound. One day her owner was vacuuming the house while Chirpy was safe in her cage. Chirpy’s Mom decided to save some time and clean out her cage with the end of the vacuum hose. As she carefully removed the litter, the phone rang, and Mom instinctively reached for the phone only a few feet away. As she was about to say “hello” she heard this horrendous ”swoop” and Chirpy was gone, sucked into the vacuum's canister.
Mom quickly shut off the vacuum and opened the canister, and found Chirpy okay but somewhat stunned and shaken, covered with dust and grime. She did what any compassionate bird owner would do. She carefully picked up Chirpy, cupping her in her hand and ran to the kitchen sink and held her under the cold water. Noticing that Chirpy was shaking from the cold she blow-dried her with a hair dryer and gingerly placed her back in her cage. Her neighbor who heard the story called and asked how Chirpy was doing. “Well,” said the owner, “she pretty much just sits there and she seldom sings anymore.”
I would imagine that in the midst of COVID-19, that’s pretty much how we feel. Sucked up, drenched in cold water and blown dry. It’s taken a lot out of us and our churches. I would also imagine for our younger pastors who are just starting out, it’s been particularly difficult. Don’t forget to check on one another, and pastors, don’t forget your families.
Personally, I can’t wait to see how God is going to use all that we’ve been through! Daily I need to remind myself of the promises of God. Though more sinner than saint sucked up into the world’s craziness, I rejoice in God’s promise that ‘there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus’. Though washed over, I am reminded of my own Baptism when the indelible sign of the cross was made with water upon my forehead and engraved upon my heart. And though often blown over by the challenges of the day and ministry, I know that Christ walks by my side being filled with a ‘living hope’. Though disappointed in the barriers and stumbling blocks, I realize more than ever that I can do all things through Christ’s strength and reminding myself that ‘not even the gates of hell shall prevail against us’. I haven’t quite grasped St. Paul’s mindset, ‘learning to be content in all things,’ but I am learning to trust more in Christ and the Spirit’s leading.
I believe COVID-19 is a wake-up call to our churches and to the Body of Christ. We’ve been too lapse and too content with 'staying in our lane'. God has called us forth to stand up, stand out, and stand strong with the greatest message ever proclaimed. Maybe what we need now is a spiritual pandemic inviting and allowing God to work through us to proclaim the joy that ‘God so loves the world that He gave His One and Only Son’. Now is the time, perhaps more than ever to let our faith shine through by walking the extra mile, sharing the extra shirt, turning the other cheek, and directing our attention away from what has and will happen to us to what Jesus has done for us.
As the weather grows warmer, and we head outdoors to enjoy more activities such as walking, cycling, running, and swimming, all while social/physical distancing of course, I wanted to send along some sun safety tips that you can share with your loved ones. Skin cancer awareness is vital for all ages, and simple, practical, prevention steps should become part of your daily routine.
Growing up in a beach town on Long Island, NY, I spent the first few years of my life, plopped in the sand of the many beaches and state parks. I can't recall ever wearing sunscreen during those years. My brother and I were always swimming and exploring nature. This was before the advent of cell phones and gaming systems, and our childhoods reflected that in our daily outdoor life. My love for the outdoors remained strong throughout my life.
A few years ago, after returning home from a trip to Bermuda, I went to see my dermatologist for a regular skin check. It was during that visit to the dermatologist that I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of my left leg. Since this diagnosis, I have been blessed by God to be followed closely by a wonderful team of skin cancer specialists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, in Basking Ridge, NJ. The skin cancer center in Basking Ridge is a wonderful resource if you are looking for exceptional skin cancer care.
Wearing sunscreen, hats, cover-ups and long sleeves has become an important part of our daily routine, both for myself, and for my family. The American Cancer Society recommends getting screened for skin cancer every 12 months. So many people I speak with as a parish nurse are diligent about going for their necessary health screenings, yet often when I ask about their skin checks, they admit that this particular screening they sometimes forgo. Here are some statistics that I pray will help you to always wear your sunscreen and hats, and always go for your annual skin checks:
"Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide.
1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
More than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent." (The Skin Cancer Foundation)
Knowing the ABCDE's of skin cancer can also help you to do monthly self checks of your skin. Qualities to look for:
A~ Asymmetry - One half of the mole doesn't match the other half
B~ Borders - Irregular borders
C~ Colors - Color that is not uniform
D~ Diameter - Diameter greater than 6mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)
E~ Evolving - Changes in size, shape, color, or bleeding or itching of a mole
God bless your summer!
In His service,
Colleen Bottcher RN, BSN, FCN
NJ District LCMS Parish Nurse
Our Savior Lutheran Church
22-15 Broadway, Fair Lawn, NJ
What is the most common response to the question “how are you?”? “OK,” “good,” “hanging in there,” “not bad,” are all typical responses. But I’ve found that #1 is “Fine.” Personally, I got so tired of people coming out of church responding to my question “how are you?,” by simply answering “fine.” So I redefined the word. The “F” stands for “fouled up,” the “I” for “insecure,” the “N” for “neurotic,” and the “E” for “erratic.” It took some time, but soon people stopped saying “fine.” As a side benefit, visitors could often be identified by their “fine” response. And at other times it became an open invitation for possible Pastoral intervention and care.
Now granted, sometimes “fine” doesn’t mean I am “fouled up,” “insecure,” “neurotic,” and “erratic”. We’ve all been there at one time or another. The Coronavirus certainly has and can make us feel that way, especially as the days drag on. But let’s not forget that what we feel we can best be described as “fine,” may it more importantly bring to mind the multitude of promises from God for each and every element of “fine.” Fouled up? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Insecure? Jesus promises “Lo, I will be with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Neurotic? “Be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) “Erratic?” “It is to your advantage that I go….the Helper will come to you…” (John 16:7,8) I read somewhere that there are no less than 366 “Do not be afraid” promises that God makes to us in His Word, one promise for each day, and one more for a leap year.
No doubt the pandemic has “pushed our buttons” as we are being pushed to a new normal. The Good News is we are already part of the “new normal,” brought to us by the sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we are more than “fine” because of the promises of Our Father, and the redeeming work of Christ and the presence of the “One who comes to walk along side of us.” As we face the challenges that yet lay ahead, let’s continue to check in with our brothers and sisters in ministry, being concerned not only with their physical, mental and spiritual well being, but the wellbeing of their spouses and families. “Bear with one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
As I began to pray about and to write this Parish Nurse blog, I started by looking back through my journaling during the last 8 weeks working as an RN, caring for my patients as they one by one developed COVID-19. So many gifts from God have given me the strength to go through these challenging weeks. The gift of prayer from my brothers and sisters in Christ, my family's support and prayer, God's Word, the many virtual worship services, Bible Studies and Zoom meetings that lifted my heart and spirits.
So many aspects of our lives were instantly stripped away from us when this pandemic occurred. Some of us have lost dear friends, co-workers, or family members who have been called home to our Lord. Many of us lost jobs, income, investments, freedoms that we have always assumed would be available to us, and much more. Our physical, mental, and spiritual health may be suffering. Our youth and college students have temporarily given up seeing their teachers, classmates, friends, and have had to adjust to remote learning. There are many challenges and stressors before us, however God is always with us, and His grace and love carry us through this storm. Celebrating Mental Health Awareness month is more important than ever!
Holy Yoga classes have also provided spiritual and emotional care to us as we navigate this new reality. This week in Holy Yoga, our focus has been on waiting on the Lord. As we wait, may we experience His peace, and share His peace with others. May we seek God in all of our waiting moments.
I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month this year, it is so important that we support one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. A few tips from the CDC to cope with stress during COVID-19:
1. PAUSE. Breathe. Acknowledge how you feel.
2. TAKE BREAKS from COVID-19 content
3. MAKE TIME to sleep and exercise
4. REACH OUT and stay connected (call one another, FaceTime, send cards, host a zoom meeting)
5. SEEK HELP if overwhelmed or unsafe or alone
Additional Mental Health Resources:
NJ Mental Health Hotline: Dial # 211
*Note: There are many Telehealth options available for those struggling with mental health and stress issues. #211 can help you find an appropriate practitioner.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial # 1-800-273-TALK
Did You Know:
Physical exercise is the single most important activity you can do to keep your brain healthy. Exercise can boost blood flow sending positive nutrients to the brain, increase your levels of dopamine, and generate new brain cells that can help the brain self-regulate and calm down. The simple exercise of walking can help you clear your mind, decrease anxious thoughts, improve your mood and burn calories all at the same time.
In His service,
Colleen Bottcher RN, BSN, FCN
NJ District Parish Nurse
Brothers and Sisters in Ministry:
A Mom left her two boys, ages 8 and 10 at home while she went to the corner store. When she returned a few minutes later, her two boys were standing with six of their friends in a circle in the living room totally captivated by what was in the center. As she quietly walked in and peeked over their shoulders, she was horrified at seeing a litter of baby skunks. In panic she screamed, “Run children, run!” And each of the boys picked up one of the skunks and ran.
Bruce Hartung talks about “Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS),” the effects of “left over” stress that builds up over time and remains even after the initial crisis has passed. The Coronavirus has been an unfriendly addition to our lives, lives that are already filled with the stress related work of doing ministry. Adding to that is the inability to use the tools we were comfortable with, further embedding in us a secondary stress that is real and can be damaging to further ministry. When the pandemic is brought under control, we will all breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t nonchalantly think it’s over. We will be facing new issues that at one time weren’t issues.
The world changed after WWI, “the war to end all wars.” It changed again when nuclear warheads were used, and again with the emergence of “free love,” and the “conflict” in Vietnam, and again with the introduction of Birth Control Pills and again with 9/11 and again with legalized abortion. They say it takes 2 ½ times longer to do the same ministry today as it did 20 years ago. And we kid ourselves that as Pastors we think we are “okay” and the little bundle of a “skunk” we’ve inherited is no “big deal.” It’s not selfish to take care of yourself and the needs of your family!
For the sake of your family, congregation, and future ministry, find ways to debrief, take some time off, ask your congregation to help, talk openly and honestly to brothers and sisters in ministry who are going through the same things. It’s time to “lay down our weapons” and let’s come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and whatever you do, don’t pick up the skunk and add it to your collection of things you don’t need. Let’s rely on the strength of being who we, members of the Body of Christ totally committed to Christ as Savior and Lord. We can kid ourselves and simply go back thinking that nothing has changed. But the world before COVID-19 and after are not the same!
The Good News is God’s Word is as relevant today as it was before the pandemic, “the Word of the Lord remains forever.” Jesus is yet the same “yesterday, today and forever,” and we are still charged with the same mission, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Because of COVID-19 God has taught us some new ways to reach out and churches have learned some new ways “of doing business.” The devil thought he could use today’s troubles to discourage God’s Church. But the only thing I see it has done, is to re-invigorate today’s church and make us even more committed to be the re-energized Body of Christ living under the real truth “Christ is Risen!” “He is Risen indeed!”
By: Pastor Richard Izzard
For the last 10 years I have been trying to sway people’s minds about the Lily as a flower that represents the message of Easter. It’s beautiful, no doubt. To see our churches adorned with the trumpet shaped flowers heralding the resurrection of Christ is nothing less than awesome. After the serene days of Lent, and the growing anticipation of something spectacular heralded by the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem, and the faith building institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the excruciating agony of Good Friday, when it seemed as if for a moment sin and the devil had won. But then came the 3rd day and with the dawning of the sun, good news, exciting news, death dying news was announced, “Christ is risen, He is Risen indeed!” The Easter Lily might help bring to mind the dawning of a new day and Christ’s triumphant, but besides its beauty, it falls short in a number of ways.
The Lily is what is known as a “hot house” flower. It takes the right amount of water, warmth, soil and sun to cause it to bloom. Too much or not enough water, warmth, or sun, the Lily will not bloom, and will remain lifeless and dull until properly attended. So, I would respectfully suggest that another flower would be more qualified to represent the joy and the triumph of the greatest message of all, “He is Risen!”
The flower of which I speak comes out every year just around this time. As a flower it has taken a beating. We dig them up to throw them out, we stomp on them, and douse them with pesticides. Yet try as hard as we can they keep coming back. I’ve even seen them break through concrete and asphalt as if they are laughing in our faces, as they announce their undeniable and never dying spirit. The flower? The unbeatable and never to be denied dandelion.
As Easter people, we know that even if our sins were a thousand times worse than they are, they yet would be no match for the grace of God. No matter how much we are pushed, beaten down, run over and trodden upon, we keep coming back standing strong. Not even something as horrible as the Coronavirus can silence or defeat the message we preach, teach, and live. In fact, the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is available to us, daily, every minute, every hour. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)
Pastors, called workers, lay leaders, people of God, stand strong, confident and unconquerable! And when you see a dandelion, remember He IS risen, and we are His people.
Pastor Richard Izzard
A bricklayer spent the day setting bricks high up on the wall of a two-story building. At the end of the day he was satisfied both with the quality and the quantity of the bricks that were set.
But that night a terrific storm with drenching rains and high winds struck the area. Afraid that the storm had done damage to his work the day before, he left for work early and was disheartened by the damage that was caused by the storm, both loosening and dislodging some of the bricks.
He began the repairs by first building a pulley system that enabled him to hoist up and let down a barrel once it had been filled with the damaged bricks. He began by raising the barrel to the place of damage, tying it off below and then climbing to the top of the wall to fill the barrel.
Everything was going as planned until he climbed down to release the rope and lower the now filled barrel. It was then that he realized the filled barrel was heavier than he was, and while still holding the rope, he was instantly pulled off his feet and headed up at a top rate of speed. Unfortunately, he met the barrel coming down causing the first of his cuts and bruises. When he reached the top, the barrel hit the bottom and in doing so spilled its contents, which now made him heavier than the barrel causing him to come down, at a high rate of speed, hitting the barrel causing even more cuts and bruises. He landed hard on the spilled pile of bricks sustaining more damage. He then absent-mindedly let go of the rope causing the barrel to descend at a high rate of speed hitting him on his head causing a concussion.
Some days ministry is like that. The coronavirus has added complication upon complication with no immediate end in sight. But let’s not forget that we do have one source of strength and hope and joy that can not and will not be taken from us, and that is the promise of our Lord, “I will be with you always.” Isaiah wrote, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“For such a time as this,” in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, fear and worry, we have the message that will not only get us through, but enables us to be “more than conquerors” through Him who loves us. This is a time as God’s people to come together, to “be of one mind,” to love and support one another, to be even more like Christ, reminding ourselves that He is Lord and as the Head of the Church, He has made good on his promise to send a Helper who walks alongside of us to encourage and to build us up.
In fifty years of ministry I have never faced a challenge like what Pastors are facing today. There are and will be days when we will all feel like the bricklayer. People support one another, Pastors love your people, and people show support for your Pastor with an extra added dose of encouragement. And whatever else we do, do not let the devil use this crisis to serve his purposes.
by: Rev. Richard Izzard, Congregational Revitalization
A song on Christian Radio begins with a frustrated person screaming at God over the problems of the world, yelling “Why don’t you do something?” God’s response is provoking, “I did! I created you!”
Personally, I believe we spend too much time talking about “the way it once was,” while wringing our hands in despair and not enough time reminding ourselves that we worship One who even raises the dead and promises to walk alongside of us. We are created and equally as important our churches have been commissioned to let the “glory of God be seen” and the atoning life, death and resurrection of Christ be known.
One of the greatest challenges we face today is being as zealous about people who do not know Christ as we are about truth and righteousness. Christ crucified is the only message that the world cannot duplicate. St. Paul had it right, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (2 Corinthians 2:2) We are the future that we have been hoping for, created by God to passionately and actively make Christ known in our communities all that God has done and is doing.
Here’s the challenge, let’s call it “a Presidential and New Jersey Leadership Challenge.” We are looking for congregations who are willing to commit themselves to grow by at least 10% of their current average Sunday Morning Worship attendance over the next triennium.
Would your congregation be willing:
If we strongly believe that God can do great things through us when we turn to Him for guidance, strength and direction, this challenge just might be what you’ve been waiting for. Let me know if you are up to the challenge and how the staff of the NJ District can help. Keep us posted on what God is leading you to do. We will gladly share with you ideas and the creativity of other NJD congregations.