Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

Dumping Ground

Too many of us use our families as dumping grounds for ministry garbage. There are healthier ways to deal with the stress of pastoring.
I hate church," complained a pastor's spouse. "I'll never set foot in church again," vowed a preacher's kid at our youth retreat. Having been in pastoral ministry and counseling for more than 30 years, I've heard every negative comment that can be made about pastors and churches. I have listened to my own wife and children describe at length the things they dislike about church as an institution.

So where do these negative feelings germinate? I don't know every source, but I do know one: the pastor. Too many of us dump our negative feelings about church members, boards, leaders and programs on our families.

My wife and I have a coded action that tells each other to stop dumping. She tugs on her earlobe and asks, "What is this?" I stop my tirade and say: "It's your ear. Your ear isn't a garbage can." I stop dumping and start taking responsibility for my own feelings and responses.

Instead of dumping, try debriefing. Debriefing requires both of you to agree on how and what you will share with each other. In my book, The 77 Irrefutable Truths of Marriage (Bridge-Logos), I describe debriefing. Debriefing:

takes responsibility for our own feelings instead of blaming others for how we feel. It includes asking our spouses to be a reality test for us
agrees we will cast our cares on the Lord instead of dumping them on our spouses
prays to receive God's perspective
acts in faith trusting God to change us and release His potential and healing in us.

At times, however, it's not wise to ask a spouse to listen to our debriefings related to ministry issues. We may need help, but family is often the wrong place to go. Yet we fear sharing our feelings with those outside our families. "What if they can't be confidential?" we ask. "They may think less of me," we muse. "What if they feel overwhelmed by my feelings?" we wonder.

Ask God to bring others into your life who can debrief you without risk. Such people may be other pastors or church leaders who have the same kinds of feelings you have. Find a mentor, spiritual father, peer or skilled pastoral counselor who will listen to you without projecting blame, condemnation or guilt on you. Find somebody to talk with whom you can trust.

Years ago my friend Dave Stone and I wrote a youth ministry book titled Friend to Friend. In that book we identified three key questions that helped friends debrief one another without owning one another's problems. These questions can really help as we debrief one another.

What do you want for you?" Don't bash one another. Ask what you each need to heal and get beyond the current negative situation.

What are you feeling?" Simply take responsibility for your feelings by identifying and sharing them.

"What are you doing about it?" What actions are you taking to resolve the problem?

"What will you do about it?" Sometimes, catharsis is all you need. But other times, you may need to take action to get over it. Appropriate actions include repentance, confession, reconciliation and restoration.

Finally, ask one another some probing spiritual questions:

"What does God want to happen in this situation or with this person?"

How does God feel about you and the other person?"

"What is God asking you to do right now?"

One final word about home and spouse: God never asked our spouses to bear the burdens or go to the cross for us. We should stop dumping on them and take all of our garbage to the foot of the cross.

Larry Keefauver is co-pastor of The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida, and author of Lord, I Wish My Teenager Would Talk With Me (Charisma House).

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