Interview With Trevor Hudson (Part 1)

Trevor Hudson lives in South Africa. He is a Christian minister, author, and encourager to many. I have mentioned his latest book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved on this blog.

I recently asked Trevor several questions that might be of interest to Christians in general and ministers in particular. The following interview will appear in two parts. I will be giving away one copy of the book just mentioned in a drawing. To be eligible, please leave a comment below, on my Facebook page, or post a link on Twitter.

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Trevor, I have just read your book Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved. I enjoyed the book greatly and have been recommending it. What was behind the writing of this book?

Thank you, Jim, first of all for your warm affirmation of the book. It is very close to my heart! What was behind the writing of the book? I am deeply aware that we live presently in a historical moment characterized by a profound searching for a vital and life-giving spirituality. In the midst of all this searching there is a critical need for careful discernment. Many expressions of spirituality doing the rounds within Christian congregations can only be described as foreign to the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus. Often they are obsessively absorbed with the meeting of personal needs and reflect minimal concern for those who suffer. Alternatively, a spirituality of social struggle and involvement is frequently endorsed which avoids the biblical imperative for personal conversion and deep inner change. I wrote the book as a modest attempt to describe a spirituality that is centered in Jesus Christ, faithful to some of the treasures of the diverse streams within Christian Spirituality, accessible to those in the local congregation and responsive to the deep suffering all around us.


What do you suggest to congregations in which members desire to stay centered in Christ, but find daily demands and the needs of others around them are exhausting? How does the average Christian begin to see his/her way through?

I would say to congregational leaders, “Please be careful not to exhaust your members more than they are already!” As a pastor I want to be very respectful of the daily demands that those in my congregation face everyday. I would help them to see their daily lives at home and work and in the community as the primary place for their formation in Christ. They don’t have to be in the church buildings more in order to do mission. I would explore in our moments together very down-to-earth ways which help us remain mindful of Christ’s active presence within our daily lives—ways of turning our minds towards Christ on a regular basis, inviting him into our daily activities, remaining thankful, recognizing him in those we encounter and trusting him with outcomes. The promise of Jesus is that, as we learn to walk with him in our daily lives, we will live more lightly and freely. It is a wonderful thing when we in our local congregations can discover the reality of these words in our own experience.


(More to come)

Strengthening the Soul (10)

This morning I read a fine article by Gordon MacDonald in the November 2010 issue of stethoscope.jpg Leadership (print). The article is entitled “Your Regular Checkup.” Basically MacDonald says that if a yearly physical exam is important for people then so is a periodic “spiritual exam.”

Sometimes, after one has a physical exam, the physician will make that person aware of a health issue that had gone unnoticed. Likewise there may unnoticed issues of the soul within us that we may not be dealing with. MacDonald writes:

I have become increasingly aware of the enormous amount of activity inside of me that I neither understand nor fully control. Impressions, attitudes, urges, motives, and initiatives bubble up and out of that darkened space, and not all of it is noble. It’s similar to all the physical activity deep inside my body that I don’t know much about either. it just happens with or without my conscious consent. (p. 76)

MacDonald suggests that if one were a physician giving a “spiritual exam,” the following areas might be addressed:

1. My patient’s conversion story. After hearing this story, MacDonald would ask about this person’s current relationship with Jesus.

2. Memory. Reflect on attitudes that could be present in one’s life: “Resentments, anger, unresolved conflict, or regrets that need examination and resolution? Behaviors, attitudes, desires that are costing you the respect of your spouse, your colleagues, your constituency? How about one’s forgiveness capacity, one’s readiness to repent?”

3. Motivation. Consider your motivations. “Why are you doing what you’re doing in leadership? Do you have a sense of calling from God–a call affirmed by others who are close enough to see the Spirit of God in you? Is whatever your call is getting you out of bed in the morning with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm and anticipation? Or has your call degraded into a job, slowly sapping you of your vitality?”

4. Discipline. Finally, MacDonald says that he might ask the following question: “What are the things you systematically push yourself to do because they don’t come naturally to you but which are necessary in order to make you a more effective person and leader?” MacDonald suggests that the following categories of discipline might be considered: “physical, intellectual, financial, time management, emotional, ego, worship.”


Question:

What would you add to these reflections on spiritual health? What has been helpful to you in accessing where you are?

Strengthening the Soul (2)

I really needed to slow down. In fact, I needed to tendingthesoul.JPG stop.

Just two weeks ago, I was in Ruth Haley Barton’s class, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership” at Wheaton College. The class was not only lecture but included times for prayer, worship, and silence.

It was an opportunity to slow down. In fact, it was an opportunity to stop.

After all, it is very, very easy to stay really busy. Have you noticed this?

  • Phone calls, texting, e-mailing, tweeting, and updating the Facebook status
  • Meetings (even meetings to plan the next meeting)
  • Projects
  • Talk and more talk
  • Squeezing in several activities in one evening

Yes, most of us are very busy. I certainly am.

Yet, I have have found that constant activity day after day can leave me feeling empty, cold, energy-less, and even resentful. This busyness is all about doing and achieving instead of living, really living from the inside-out.

On Friday, I awoke early. I read the “practice” section of chapter 2 from Ruth Haley Barton’s book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership .

Take at least ten minutes to sit quietly in God’s presence with your growing awareness of what is drawing you into solitude at this time. Allow yourself to experience the hope that comes with knowing that there is a safe place for you to acknowledge what is true about you and to wait for God’s action in your life. (p. 45)

I went upstairs to our den and then outside to the little balcony overlooking our backyard. I sat still in the darkness, staring at a brightly lit moon. I sat in silence before God. After a few minutes, it became very clear what was weighing on my heart/mind. I brought this before God.

The point?

There is no substitute for tending to my soul.


Question:

Consider your own life. Now think about others who are around you. What is the constant (and even frantic) busyness doing to us?

Strengthening the Soul (1)

Last week, I was in Chicago for a three-day class at Wheaton College with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. busy.jpg

The class was great.

It was an opportunity not only to listen to Barton but to reflect on my life and relationship with God. There were wonderful times of silence, teaching, prayer and conversation. One of the blessings of the week was getting to be with the four wonderful people at my table.

Much of her material came from her book. What was incredibly helpful was the opportunity to spend time in another setting thinking my life and about my ministry.

The following are several statements that she made in class that were significant to me. (The quotes here are directly from the book.)

  • If Jesus were speaking to us today, he might also point out that when leaders lose their souls, so do the churches and organizations they lead. (p. 13)
  • These cries are gut-wrenching and consistent: there has to be more to life in leadership than many of us are experiencing. In all this listening to my own life and to the lives of others, I have become convinced that the more that we are looking for is the transformation of our souls in the presence of God. (p.14)
  • Truly, the best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. (p. 19)

I once knew a person in a church who routinely referred to the ministry of the church as “business as usual.” He spoke as if this were a good thing! Listen, business as usual is what is killing churches. In far, far too many churches, good, well meaning people are incredibly busy with church activity and yet experiencing no real life. They are simply doing what their leaders are doing. Their leaders are often good people who also are incredibly busy with church activity.

Barton is right. The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our own transforming selves. There is something powerful about a man or woman whose life is open before the Lord and who is experiencing real transformation into the image of Christ.

I came away from this class this week resolved to do several things:

1. I want to spend more time in solitude and silence tending to the needs of my own soul. I have just not been as attentive to these needs over the past year as I have been in previous years. I really became aware of this in this class.

2. I want to spend less time on things that just do not matter. I really enjoy this time of life. Yet, I want to spend my physical and emotional energy on things that matter. Yet, so much of the busyness of everyday life often involves doing things that just don’t matter. I find myself thinking: “Why am I doing this? How did I get in the middle of this?” So I am really giving some thought as to how I am spending my time.

(For the next few weeks, I will be posting a series each Monday entitled “Strengthening the Soul.”)


Question:

Do you sense that many people around you live with a parched soul?

What has busyness cost you?


What Story Do You Tell Yourself?

This morning I readSeth Godin’s blog and really liked what he said.

He asks a very important question:

What story do you tell yourself about yourself?

I know that marketers tell stories. We tell them to clients, prospects, bosses, suppliers, partners and voters. If the stories resonate and spread and seduce, then we succeed.

But what about the story you tell yourself?

(Read the rest of the post here.)

After reading this post, I continued to think about this. What story do I tell myself about myself? How about you? What story do you tell yourself about yourself? The stories we tell ourselves will impact what we conclude about ourselves. For instance, because of these stories some of us conclude:

  • “I can’t.”
  • “It can’t be done”
  • “I know something bad is about to happen.”
  • “I never get a break. You wouldn’t do any better if you had been through what I’ve been through”
  • “You can’t expect much from me. I am a victim.”
  • “If it wasn’t for ______, I would have done much better.”


Question:

What is your experience with this? What has been the impact of the stories that you have told yourself?

8 Questions to Ask When You Are Overwhelmed and Exhausted

I wrote this post with ministers in mind. But it really is applicable to most everyone.question.jpg

The following are some questions that have helped me in times when I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted:

1. What am I thinking about? I ask this question because I know that if I am spending a lot of time rehearsing my worries or my fears that it costs me energy. At one time in my life, I would wake up in the middle of the night and lay in bed thinking one negative thought after the other. It was like I was I was allowing each thought to have its moment on the stage of my mind. Each one would come on the stage and appeal to my anxiety and worry. Such thinking not only kept me awake at night but will drained of energy.

2. Who am I spending time with? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I am not just referring to people who may be critical of something I said or did. These may be people who are voicing some of the concerns I have had about some issue. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.

3. What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk with people (e-mail, phone call, personal conversation) about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about their financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, It is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative.

As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t continue to think about sad and tragic situations all of the time. So I often make sure that I watch something funny on television. Or, I might be sure to watch a good ball game of some kind. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I think about really does matter.

4. When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I do not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel more sluggish, I tend to have less energy and motivation particularly in the afternoons.

5. When do I rest? Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Very, very unwise — in my opinion. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.

6. When do I empty my mind? I have learned much from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. I have learned the importance of emptying one’s mind (or doing a “Mind Sweep“. That is, taking everything that is going on in your mind and putting it on paper. Several years ago, I was in one of his workshops. One of the exercises that we did that day was to take a clean sheet of paper and write down everything that we were thinking about. I remember thinking, “This won’t take long, I am only thinking about a couple of things right now.” We took about ten minutes for this exercise. I began my list and could not believe all that I wrote down. I put down everything from “Get the tire fixed” to “Got to call Steve on the way home.” Each time that I wrote something down, I then seemed to recall one more thing that I had stored in my mind.

Allen’s point is that if we do not regularly empty our minds, then stress is the result. He says that you must have a system in place where you can empty your mind and then know that you will come back to what you have written this down and deal with them.

7. Who am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person who I am frustrated with or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven.”

8.   Who am I depending on? I deliberately saved this one for last. This is one that I have to think about occasionally. Am I trying to do this ministry in my own power or in the power of the Spirit? Am I depending on myself or on God? Nothing is more exhausting than to try to do ministry via human power and human ingenuity. It will always be inadequate for the task at hand. That alone is exhausting!


Question:

Which one of these eight questions do you especially need to consider? Why?

   

Choose to Move Away From Anxiety Producers

Some people seem to specialize in passing on their anxiety to others.    worry2.jpg

Years ago, my dad had a heart attack and was admitted to Baylor Hospital in Dallas. His doctor did a coronary angioplasty on his heart, which is a procedure used to open blocked coronary (heart) arteries. The procedure greatly improves blood flow to the heart. The procedure had been done that morning. That evening, about 6 pm, a friend of his came into the hospital room. My mom and I were in the room. This friend was from their church and evidently had come by to encourage my dad.

The friend leaned up against the wall. He was talking to my dad, who looked rather weak after having had surgery that morning. The guy then said, “Oh I see you had the balloon surgery. Well I sure hope yours goes better than my brother-in-law’s did.” My dad said, “What happened to him?” The friend replied, “Oh his procedure didn’t hold. He’s DEAD!” My dad looked pale as he lay in the bed. At that point, the guy said, “Well I had better go.” He then left the room.

What a visit!

Encouragement? Not really. In fact, this friend dumped a load of anxiety in that hospital room and then walked away. Some people are like that. They have a way of leaving their anxiety behind.

  • Perhaps it is the minister who is always upset about something in the church. Yet this minister never goes to the person involved in order to deal with these issues. The minister typically goes to the office and bad mouths the church member.
  • Perhaps it is the mother who is always complaining to her best friend about her teenage daughter’s behavior. Yet, she never deals directly with this daughter.
  • Maybe it is the husband who is frustrated with his wife over her spending habits. Yet, he never deals with his wife. Instead, he constantly and anxiously talks to anyone who will listen about how little money they have.

Meanwhile, some people dump a load of their anxiety on those nearby, other people have a way of magnifying even the smallest anxiety. Perhaps you know these people. Maybe there is a discussion in a group or in a meeting. They have a way of magnifying and exaggerating the smallest anxiety, until it becomes huge. Consequently, they typically bring anxiety to a group instead of calmness.

The following has helped me with these kinds of people (those who pass on the anxiety and those who magnify it):

1. I have chosen to limit time with those who regularly want to dump their anxiety as well as those who seem to magnify and exaggerate anxiety. It just wears me out to hear someone go on and on about some person (not present in the room) and then gripe for a while about someone else. I can’t spend a lot of time with someone who has a way of blowing up the smallest anxiety into something large and overwhelming. Suppose someone makes a comment in a meeting. Later, a person who was in that meeting begins to rant and rave about how stupid the remark was. He tells the story again and again. Every time he tells the story, you can just see the anxiety in the faces of others.

I choose to limit my time with such a person. Yes, I want to love the individual and will spend some time with that person. However, I choose to not spend an extended amount of time with someone like this. When I have been around this kind of person too much, I become anxious and begin to process life through the same kind of filter as that person.

2. I have chosen to focus on managing myself. I want to bring to any group a sense of calmness and focus. For me, this means that I try to prepare myself early in the morning (See “Learning to Dodge the Anxiety Traps.“) This calmness is important in one-to-one conversations, meetings, and even in preaching. A long time preacher heard a person preach on the grace of God one evening. He said that by the time the sermon was over, he was a nervous wreck. Why? The preacher’s manner was so anxious. In fact, my friend said that he felt as if the preacher was looking for a fight. Yet, he was preaching on the grace of God.

I can’t overstate the importance of managing myself because to not do so, impacts not only myself but others as well.

Question:

Do you have someone in your life who tends to dump their anxiety? Do you know someone who magnifies their anxiety? What helps you in dealing with such people?



Book Nuggets: Leaders Who Last

“We can in fact manage ourselves, if we choose to. We cannot control others. But we can offer our point of view, challenge them, and give them room to respond.”leaders.jpb.jpg

Not long ago, I read Leaders Who Last by Margaret J. Marcuson. The book is helpful, not only for those in a formal leadership role, but for anyone who is in a church environment and trying to navigate the various relationships. The book is a fine discussion of Systems Theory as applied to a church context. However, the principles in the book are applicable to many other contexts as well.

The following are some quotes which I think are particularly meaningful:

Here is the heart of what it takes to sustain leadership. We move from the impossible — controlling others — to the merely difficult — managing ourselves. When I hear leaders begin with a question like, “How can I get them to . . . ? then I know that different questions need to be asked: “What is my part in the problem? How can I clarify what I think on this issue? How can I clearly communicate my own point of view?” We can in fact manage ourselves, if we choose to. We cannot control others. But we can offer our point of view, challenge them, and give them room to respond.” (p. 3-4)

We need a sense of self apart from the response we receive. When we are less dependent on the approval of others, we can be more effective in our ministry. (p. 6)

Learning how balance is maintained in systems, how people create triangles, and how ways of relating are passed down through the generations will help us sustain our leadership with less frustration and more clarity. (p. 6)

When leaders take a stand, people react automatically. But over time chances are most will come along if the leader calmly stays on course while nurturing relationships with the congregation. (p. 13)

An overfunctioner takes too much responsibility, while an underfunctioner does not take enough responsibility. (p. 13)

Overfunctioners are common among clergy and lay leaders. They look at underfunctioners and think, “If they would just shape up, everything would be fine around here.” (p. 14)

Leaders make a difference by the nature of their presence in the system, not by anxiously trying to fix everything and everyone. (p. 16)

Burying Those Feelings Never Works

There is often a high price to pay when you bury your feelings.

Feelings exist.

I may not like these feelings.

I may not feel comfortable with these feelings.

I may be very uneasy by what I am feeling.

I can try to bury my feelings but they will not stay buried. At some point in time, they will surface again. Quite often when they do surface, they impact us in negative ways.

Consider:

*Your father dies of cancer. A few months after his funeral, you lose your job. Then, to top this off, your daughter files for divorce. One day you say to a close friend, “I don’t think that I have really begun to grieve the death of my father. So much has gone on in the last few months. There has been so much loss.”

*You are a minister in a church. You are so tired. It seems like there has been loss after loss. You have done one funeral per month in the last twelve months. A few of these were people you knew well and loved. You really don’t feel as if you ever grieved any of these deaths. You were too busy trying to deal with the conflict in your church. You’ve experienced conflict before in churches but this was particularly hurtful. You learned that a man you thought one of your best friends in the church was being openly critical toward your ministry and was accusing you personally of lacking integrity.

*You dated this girl while both of you were students at the university. To this day, you can’t figure out why you stayed together so long. She was manipulative and untrustworthy. Again and again, she cheated on you with other guys. Now, several years later, you find yourself in a similar relationship. You wonder what you are doing to attract these kinds of people. Some very negative feelings are starting to surface that you thought long ago were buried. You never went to counseling after this traumatic first relationship or even process these feelings with another person.

Feelings may be buried for a time but eventually they will bubble up and surface.

Recently I was reading a post by Anne Jackson in which she mentions an important lesson she learned in an English class regarding feelings and expressing them:

feelings.jpg

As I entered into my last semester of high school in the spring of 1997, I was in an abusive relationship, was still lonely from moving, and had nowhere to turn.

It was also that semester when my senior English class had a student teacher from a local university. His project for us was to keep a journal every day for that semester.

My journal entries started out more like a diary:

“Went to school. Skipped third and fourth period. Went to work. Did homework. Went to bed.”

“It’s my brother’s birthday. I forgot.”

However, we didn’t just keep the journal in class. We read literature and we studied grammar and we wrote an endless amount of book reports. And I don’t remember the context, but at some point mid-semester, the student teacher said something in class that I’ll never forget.

“When you feel something, no matter how good or bad it is, feel it as deeply as you can. And remember it. Write it down.”

Now that last line really struck me. In fact, I read it several times. This is so much healthier than doing what I have done on far too many occasions when I have attempted to bury feelings.

So what prompts us to bury our feelings?

  1. We may hear old messages from the past. “You really shouldn’t feel this way.” “If you really loved the Lord, you wouldn’t have these feelings.” On and on it goes. Such messages can encourage one to bury feelings.
  2. We may decide that being “nice” is a primary value. Consequently, being nice is placed at the front of the line. If feelings don’t seem to harmonize with being nice then they are buried. Some ministers particularly get into trouble with this one, thinking that they are called to be nice (even toward someone who is rude, ill-mannered, and behaves like a jerk). Note that Jesus does not model being nice. He models what it means to be a loving person.
  3. We may be afraid of these feelings. Some feelings like grief, shame, and loss are very painful and quite difficult.

Question:

When have you been tempted to bury your feelings? Have you experienced the futility of attempting to bury your feelings?

  

When You Are In a Dark Hole and Can’t Get Out

I was nervous.depression2.jpg

I sat in a chair, of a large counseling center located just off the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. I had begun seeing this counselor just a few weeks earlier. I was there because I was struggling with depression.

I was in the middle of a church situation that was tough – very tough. I wasn’t handling it well emotionally. (To think of this in terms of systems thinking, I wasn’t “managing myself” very well.)

Life at this church was not good. Oh, there were some wonderful people at this church. The conflict at this church was by no means a reflection on most of these people. Yet, deep – seated conflict existed in the underbelly of this church. It was present before I came, and it was there after I left.

Whispering.

Gossip.

Ungodly attitudes and words.

I wasn’t sure whom to trust. I felt betrayed by a few people I thought were friends.

Meanwhile, I was second – guessing myself on a number of fronts. I second – guessed my preaching, my decisions, and my conversations. I wondered if life would ever get better. I felt as if I was in a dark, deep hole and unable to get out. Quite often, I sat in a pool of self – pity, condemning the situation and then feeling less than for not handling it better.

I decided to see a counselor after a push from my wife and our family physician. This counselor was male, about ten years older than I. He had a relaxed easygoing manner. I liked that he didn’t have that therapeutic voice. No, he seemed more like a regular person whose job it was to help someone like me who felt stuck. As I returned for numerous visits, I felt more and more free to talk openly. I realized that if was going to be able to serve in a church, I was going to have to learn how to do so without it destroying me.

That was some years ago.

Right now I am thinking about ministers who are in this same situation and who wonder how it will all play out.

I also think about the spouses of these ministers who watch their loved one in such situation lose their spirit, confidence, and who now feel such discouragement.

Question

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you experienced such difficulties in your life? Have you known others who have? What was helpful?