The irony of the work that I do as a therapist is that ministry leaders are one of the biggest referrers to my practice. They often instinctively see someone who is hurting and in need of help, and they are quick to locate help for that person. They may do some counseling themselves, refer to a lay ministry, or make a recommendation for that person to come see me in my private practice.
Ministry leaders are really good at connecting hurting people to avenues of help.
If that is the case, then why do so many ministry leaders have a hard time connecting to help for themselves? I ask this question of myself as well since I have been serving in ministry for about 18 years.
Why do I have such a hard time reaching out and getting the help I need?
It was not always easy for me to ask…to reach out for help. And it still isn’t easy. But when I did…wow, it changed my life. And I was forever thankful to the people who often encouraged me to get the help I needed. In fact, I’m just now coming out of a long season where I had people alongside of me helping me through some difficult transitions.
So why then do ministry leaders often ignore their need for help but are so good at getting others help?
Here are a few thoughts I have. Let me know what resonates with you.
One, many ministry leaders are often so outwardly focused on the needs of others that they don’t look at their own needs. Some of this is due to the large amount of us in ministry who are “people pleasers” and have hard time setting boundaries in our lives. We overextend ourselves in order to help others, but often at the peril of our own families, marriages and personal lives. The thought of getting one’s own help often goes unnoticed. And unfortunately, I was sharing with one pastor in counseling the other day that church history is full of stories of great ministry leaders whose personal lives were a trail of destruction. Broken marriages. Angry and detached kids. And a ministry legacy that was tarnished in the process.
Two, many ministry leaders see getting help as a sign of weakness. Though they refer others to get help, they internalize their own need for help as some form of failure. It’s sort of like the person who says, “I think medication is great to help someone through their depression and anxiety. I recommend it. Oh, but I would never do that myself.” There is some perceived weakness in themselves for needing help that they don’t place on others who need help.
Three, many ministry leaders live in fear of being exposed. “What if someone in my ministry finds out I’m seeing a counselor? They might think I’m unfit to preach (serve, lead worship, etc.) each week.” The disconnect in many ministry leaders is that there is a perceived notion that they are being vulnerable, but often the vulnerability that is trotted out is just another form of masking true vulnerability out of fear as being seen weak and being exposed. Brene Brown writes:
“Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust, and disengagement…’letting it all hang out’ or boundaryless disclosure is one way we protect ourselves from real vulnerability. And the TMI (too much information) issue is not even a case of ‘too much vulnerability’ — vulnerability is bankrupt on its own terms when people move from being vulnerable to using vulnerability to deal with unmet needs, get attention, or engage in the shock-and-awe behaviors that are so commonplace in today’s culture” (Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, pp. 46-Kindle)
Ministry can be a dangerous place for many leaders who find the vocation as a place to get their unmet needs met, get attention and look for affirmation. And when we practice vulnerability out of that place we aren’t being vulnerable at all, but letting out only those parts of ourselves that we aren’t afraid will be rejected or not loved. And what’s even more dangerous, we might not even know that we are doing that. It takes the insight of others around us to point that out in our lives. And it takes courage for us to recognize and acknowledge it.
Four, many ministry leaders who have adopted business practices as the primary lens through which they view success, don’t see getting help and counseling as a value. Getting help often is a long journey that can’t be quantified and measured in marketable bullet points. A ministry leader can count numbers of those who attend events, look at their social proof online, but getting help can’t be measured that way. Getting help is not a quick fix but more of a “long obedience in the same direction.”
I know there are countless other reasons for why many ministry leaders don’t get the help they need. But these are four that came instantly to my mind. Why? Because these are four that I most identify with. As someone who has been in ministry for 18 years, grew up in a pastor’s home, and who works with tons of pastors — I have practiced all of these excuses for why I can’t get the help I need. And I will continue to practice them.
So I’m thankful to those around me who have helped encourage me to get help when I needed. Thankful for a wife who supports my ongoing growth and desire to get help when needed. Thankful for friends who I can be vulnerable with and who spot when I’m substituting it with a faux vulnerability. Thankful for a God who loves me for who I am.
Over the last month I have done two webinars trying to help men become better men, fathers, husbands, friends, colleagues and leaders. I have this desire to see men chart out a vision for their life (because as Proverbs reminds us: people perish without a vision). Without a vision men perish, as do marriages, families and vocation. I have a desire to also see men connect emotionally at a very deep level. That ability changes lives. I see it too often in my work to know how true it is. And I have a desire to see men take care of themselves so that they can be life givers, rather than life takers.
The webinars had great turnouts, and though I wasn’t totally surprised that a lot of men on there were in ministry, I think I have been a bit surprised that all the men in my new online program are ministry leaders (church planters, pastors, lay leaders, etc.)
What I’m discovering is that there is a huge need out there and I hope that male pastors will get the help they need. And if I can play a small role in that, then I am grateful.
Check out my new webinar designed specifically for male ministry leaders (see below) and learn a few strategies that I use with them to help them be the men God created them to be. If you are wondering how you can get help, then sign up for the webinar and let’s connect.
[unfortunately the sound to this webinar has been lost — but check out the slides]
What are some other reasons why you think male ministry leaders don’t reach out to get the help they need?