What I’ve Learned Since Leaving the Ministry

ministry

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On June 12th (2016), I officially retired from the ministry after being a pastor since 1994. It’s still very new, this being a layman business. But I love it. In fact, I don’t miss the job one single bit. I do greatly miss the wonderful people in my former congregation at Wildwind Community Church, but those are human beings. I reiterate — there’s nothing I miss about the job. That doesn’t mean it’s a terrible job or anything, but it had been getting increasingly difficult and stressful for me for several years before I left. It was past time for me to be done, and I’m sure that’s why I don’t miss it.

As new as the experience is of not being a pastor, I am learning some important things about myself and I want to share them with you because maybe at times you’ve had some of these feelings yourself. If I can help you normalize them, feel less guilty, or otherwise not worry too much about them, that’s valuable to me.

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“Christian” and “Counseling”

How do these fit together?

christian counseling

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I recently completed an interview for several of my graduate students about my perspectives on the integration of faith and counseling. I think my answer to one of the questions is something some of my readers might appreciate.

Question: How do you distinguish between secular counseling, Christian counseling, pastoral counseling, and biblical counseling?

Secular Counseling

For me there’s no such thing as secular counseling. I’m not capable of doing it because God is always in my perspective, even if I don’t share that with the client, and oftentimes I won’t, depending on where the client is coming from. I don’t feel any need to make this part of therapy if it doesn’t speak to the client.

Christian Counseling

The most important word in “Christian counseling” is “counseling,” not Christian. In other words, if a therapist is good, sensitive, caring, and intuitive, they can do enormously healing work (which I believe is the work of God). This is true whether or not the therapist acknowledges God in this work. So being a good counselor comes first. If that’s taken care of, the work can be incredible.

The “Christian” thing is a distant second.

Any client should seek a good therapist before seeking a Christian therapist. If they can find a therapist who is both good and Christian, that’s fine.

In my view God is in the act of healing all of creation at this very moment and every human being as part of that creation. Healing is on the way, in process, a given, something that will happen naturally, in God’s ordained order, if we learn how to get out of our own way and let it happen (which all good therapy helps us do, Christian or not).

Healing was a huge factor in the ministry of Jesus, who healed, but usually did not heal and preach at the same time. Healing was his ministry in those moments. He didn’t angle. He didn’t “integrate.” He just acted, in God, from a place of faith, confident that healing was inevitable from that place. I do my work from that place.

Biblical Counseling

When I think of “Biblical counseling” I think of the “nouthetic” counseling movement. NC insists that the Bible contains everything human beings need to know about psychology and uses it as their sole source book. I see this as fundamentalist, deeply flawed, and therefore dangerous.

Pastoral Counseling

I see pastoral counseling kind of like spiritual direction. I help people discern where God is moving/working in their lives, and how they may be getting in the way. I help them work through personal issues that may be affecting their spiritual life or vice versa. Anyone who has read the work of the Desert Fathers and Mothers knows they came up with many psychological insights out of their spiritual communities that were confirmed by studies in the 20th century.

The best spirituality is often psychological and the best psychology is often spiritual.

The God of Kim Davis

Why Kim is not free to love

Kim Davis

image from gawker media

We used Newtonian physics to formulate the laws of nature. For hundreds of years, that is all there was. Objects could not be in two places at the same time. What goes up must come down. We understood these laws as defining reality itself and believed nature did not, and could not, work outside of them.

But Einstein’s theory of relativity changed all that, introducing physicists to the quantum world. Suddenly we began to discover that an entire universe existed that we had known nothing about, where the laws of nature that we believed to be immutable simply did not apply. The movement of one particle could affect the movement of another particle millions of miles away. Particles could disappear from one place and pop up again instantly in another place. Seriously. That’s what we have learned through the discipline of quantum physics.

And so what we in effect discovered was reality operating on two levels at once. But did quantum physics nullify Newtonian physics? In other words, did we have to throw the old physics out the window once we began to understand the rules of the new physics?

Of course not. Newtonian physics applies in all of the observable world. But quantum physics takes us into another world entirely, where the rules of Newtonian physics simply don’t apply. There are rules in quantum physics, but they’re very different from what we learned about the world through Newtonian physics.

The law of love as modeled and taught by Jesus is like quantum physics. It takes us into an entirely different universe, where our previous understandings of things, typical conceptions of morality and immorality, simply do not apply any more. This is obvious because one of the things Jesus did most often was show the Jewish leaders that their skillfully honed conceptions of God and love didn’t even come close to reaching far enough.

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“The Sky Is Not Falling!”

...even if the world is getting worse

Chicken_Little

image ©Disney Corporation, 2005

If the line that we see the world not as it is but as we are is true (and I’m convinced it is), there are a lot of dark, fearful, negative, cynical people in the world who look around them and see only despair, only things to fear, only the sky falling down around them.

I find myself affected by this. It’s hard work running around crying “the sky is not falling” to a world that is curiously convinced that it is, that there is no hope, that we have reason to despair in this generation, that America and the world are going to hell in a hand basket. The dreariness and hopelessness are penetrating. They get under your skin and drag you into this gloomy world, where everything is wrong, everything is a cause for outrage, everything cries out, “Don’t be naive — it’s awful and it’s only going to get worse.”

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Game-Changers

gamechanger

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When I was younger, I had a lot of answers. Now I’m older, and I have a lot of questions. The few things I feel like I know, I know with more confidence than before. Here are things I know from experiences I have had that have radically changed my view of God over the years — my real game-changers.

Most people who get diagnosed with terminal cancer are almost certainly going to die.

No matter how much you pray.

If you’re not aware of this on some level, I’m so, so sorry to bear the bad news. But it’s critical that you know this.

There will be exceptions, of course, and I’ll pray as hard as anyone, but if your theology depends on God healing some particular person, this is probably going to get harder.

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