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The Path to Healthy

How to move forward when you feel stuck in dysfunction

My youngest daughter hates wearing jackets. Getting her to put one on is always a struggle. On the other hand, she loves playing with dolls and tiny figurines. These two things collided recently when the sleeves of her coat got stuck around her hands that were each holding toy dolls. She couldn’t get the jacket off, which made her upset, and she also could no longer play with her toys, which made her even more upset.

Here’s the problem: she would not let me take the toys out of her hands so the jacket that was keeping her from playing with her toys could be removed. As long as she was not willing to let go of the toys, she could never really be free to play with them.

My daughter’s conundrum with her toys and jacket is how we can be in many areas. It is also an accurate way to describe codependent relationships and unhealthy environments. We feel stuck, but we can’t get out, because there are things we don’t want to be removed from our hands.

If we want to move forward on the path to healthy then there are things we have to let go of first. What are you holding on to that is keeping you in a relationship or position that you know is not the best for you? Usually, the thing we think we are going to lose by letting go is the very thing we are sacrificing by holding on.

Three Options

Letting go is scary. That is why so many people choose a different response. We shouldn’t be a turtle that hides-a-way in our shells and hopes the problem goes away. Avoiding an issue never solves it, and it almost never gets better on its own. Action must be taken, but it has to be the right action.

We also shouldn’t take on the role of crusader and cut down everyone in sight with the sword of truth. It is in this situation that we must be sensitive to building up the Kingdom and not tearing it down. While steps should be taken, they should be done through the lens of humility. This is the only way to guard our hearts and protect those we want to help without responding out of offense or hurt.

The third option is to be a responsible spiritual leader who puts your own health and that of your family (or future family), ahead of your pride, position, influence, and ambitions.

A Biblical Solution

Think about what David did when he left Saul. He didn’t raise an army and split the kingdom. David didn’t harass the king and the people with reports of his mistreatment. Instead, he moved on and allowed God to settle the matter in His own time. It was many years before David was elevated from the time he was mistreated. It took even longer than that if you consider his journey to becoming king from the time he was anointed. The wilderness seasons of his life that caused him to wrestle with God and his soul allowed him to become the great leader he was.

If you find yourself in an unhealthy situation, then the odds are you have become unhealthy in at least some small way yourself, and are probably unaware. That is why, instead of putting your hope in man, you must put your confidence in Christ. That may sound a little cliche, but let me help make this practical. Instead of pointing your finger at others, be willing to expose yourself – to the right influences. You should ultimately find your value in who you are in Christ and not a title or position.

Most of what I have had to say revolves around taking responsibility yourself, and allowing God to handle the dysfunction in others. This may not be what you hoped I would advise, but I promise you this is the best way to protect yourself, the people in your circle of influence, and leave the door open for reconciliation. I am convinced reconciliation is much more of a priority to God than we realize.

Reclaiming spiritual health after experiencing dysfunction in a church or ministry can be tough. With God’s help, and if we are willing to do some soul gardening of our own, then an enjoyable, meaningful Christian experience is possible.

This is my final post in this collection. You can read the entire group of blogs by selecting the “Soul Gardening” category.

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How to Make Assumptions and Ruin Your Relationships

What to do if your ministry leaders are driving your crazy.

Have you ever adopted the philosophy, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness then it is to ask for permission?”

When we become convinced we are not going to get the answer we are looking for, it can become easy to attempt to avoid the unavoidable. I did this over and over as a kid. If I didn’t want to risk, because I already knew what my parents were going to say, I would just venture out on my own without them. Of course, memorable consequences were always the result.

There have been times when I have brought this mindset into adulthood. Maybe you have as well. These situations seem to happen frequently when a transition is a possibility in a church role.

Avoiding the Unavoidable

We delay, until it is too late, or avoid, while the issue only grows because we assume we know how our leaders will respond. We try to be faithful to people who are secretly driving us crazy, and somehow believe this is what God would want us to do.

When we do this, we rob the other person of the opportunity to redeem the situation. We short circuit the possibility of reconciliation. When we have an issue with a friend or leader but are unwilling to address it, we become un-Christlike. Jesus addressed the problem with us head-on. He dove into our mess and created a masterpiece. Jesus is not an avoider, and neither should you be.

“Assumption is life’s lowest level of knowledge.”

— Edwin Louis Cole

It is best not to assume, but if you do, assume the best. You need to be willing to hear people out on issues that concern you, and not just think they are aware of what is making you so unhappy. Isn’t that what you would like others to do for you?

Judge and Jury

Have you become the judge, jury, and executioner for your leadership, or are you willing to hear them out? Have you argued your case in front of so many other people, that you are convinced your leadership is the enemy no matter what? Or have you brought the situation to God in prayer and can now bring up your issues with the right heart?

Bringing criticisms to others puts us so far out on a limb that we can’t come back even in the small chance (tongue in cheek here) that we may be wrong. On the other hand, bringing concerns to God in prayer prepares our hearts to bring up issues with humility and a heavenly perspective.

If you do feel like you are stuck in an unhealthy church situation, then you need to be willing to talk to someone in leadership about your specific concerns. To hear someone out, you must approach, even something that has genuinely upset you, with humility. If you walk into a room and say, “Why are you a terrible leader that is so committed to ruining the lives of others?” Then you are probably not genuinely giving that person a chance to be heard. If something specific is bothering you, then you need to be willing to bring it up to someone in leadership, or you do not need to bring it up at all.

Still, this does not solve every situation. That is why I want to talk about “the path to healthy” in my next post.

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How to Spot Dysfunction

The Hard Reality of an Unhealthy Church Culture

By: Josh Roberie

Falling for Autumn

What season has your favorite weather? For me, it is Fall; hands down. Maybe if I had better abs, I would enjoy pool weather more. But as of now, I and my potbelly LOVE the feel and smell of cool crisp Autumn air.

The leaves are falling in Birmingham, and I could not be happier. My oldest daughter loves to collect these firey snowflakes. As she was showing me the best of her picks yesterday, I noticed each had dazzling color, as well as brown spots, and bits where bugs had chewed through their delicate wings.

If we are honest, it is the same with our hearts. Every soul has its bright spots as well as scars from disappointments, brown spots from being burned by a relationship, and even areas where life has eaten through our hopes. If this is true for each person, then it is also true for where people gather in deep relationships, like church.

The Real Danger

It can be hard to know what to do when the hard realities of an unhealthy church culture or ministry leader impact our lives. We can start, though, by being honest with ourselves, before we focus on what others can do better. There is a scripture in Psalms that has helped me get perspective on this:

“Its walls are patrolled day and night against invaders, but the real danger is wickedness within the city.”

Psalm 55:10

One of the keys to surviving a dysfunctional church culture or leader is not being able to identify what is unhealthy in someone else, but the ability to be honest with yourself.

Like Psalm 55:10 says, it can be easy to focus on problems outside of the city while ignoring the threat within the walls of our own hearts. In other words, it’s easy to point out what others are doing wrong instead of taking responsibility for what is wrong inside of us. Successfully navigating these turbulent waters of the souls takes a level of self-evaluation, many are not willing to accept.

A Difficult Question

I have had many conversations with church members and leaders who say their pastor or church culture is toxic or unhealthy in some way. If you are in a similar situation, then let me ask you a difficult question others and have asked me. It is a consideration that is essential for everyone in the process of reclaiming spiritual health after experiencing dysfunction.

Can you be honest about what attracted you to a place that is unhealthy? Are you able to come to terms with what is keeping you there even though you know it is not the best place for you? If you do not first identify what is going on in your heart, then even if you are in an environment you need to leave, you will find yourself in similar circumstances in the future.

That’s a tough one, but it is vital to moving forward in a healthy way. I can often tell how ready someone is to forgive and begin writing a new future for their story by how they are able to process this “honesty principle.”

Soul Medicine

Blaming others will never lead to growth in your life. While there may be people who are not doing the right thing, you always have a choice to take responsibility for yourself or blame others. Complaining and criticizing without adjusting on our end only covers up in pain and unhealth in ourselves. It doesn’t do anything to resolve the real issue. Unhealthy people blame others for their dissatisfaction in life. Healthy people take responsibility for the change they need.

If you have been hurt, you may not be able to tackle this issue right away. But doesn’t most medicine taste a little sour at first? To truly get healthy, we should be willing to take the medicine we may not like at first but will bring about the desired result in the end. We have to face the dysfunction in ourselves, so the unhealthy habits and perspectives we have developed in an unhealthy environment do not continue and impact ourselves and others down the road.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you about this! Please leave a comment on Facebook, Instagram, or this post.

Further Reading on this topic:

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Digging Ditches

Inspiration to Reach Your Mountaintop

By: Suzannah Driver

What could go wrong?

If you can do any other job other than church planting and pastoring, do that!” Joe and I looked at each other and joined the chuckles coming from other future church planters sitting in the room. We had a combined twenty-two years of ministry under our belts and knew God had called us to plant a life-giving church in Pensacola, Florida. So, what could go wrong?! The short answer is: Everything

Nearly three years into leading and pastoring Echo Life, I think back on the cautionary statement spoken to the eager church planters. Would we have ever chosen a different route? No. We know through and through this is exactly where we are supposed to be and what we are called to be doing. But this has single-handedly been the most challenging and difficult three years we have experienced in ministry. 

Reaching the Summit

Mount Fuji, though it is a mere 12,388 feet tall, is no joke. I have had the opportunity to summit this mountain twice. On both occasions, we began the ascent at midnight, guided only by our headlamps and a small, braided cord leading to the top. The climb is virtually straight up. The terrain is made up of unstable pumice stones. The air is thin, making it difficult to breathe. Most of my climb was alone, in the dark, feeling light-headed, stumbling my way up, and rolling my ankles at least 30 times. This is also church planting. 

I would love to say that everything has been a beautiful mountaintop experience, but that would be so far from the truth. It has been a lonely uphill climb full of bumps and bruises. For several months now, I have felt like I have been struggling up a mountain and have only seen the light of day for a moment. This is the kind of discouragement that leaves you sitting on your laundry room floor weeping and asking God if this really was the right move (by the way, the enemy is a jerk and loves to kick you while you’re down. Don’t pay any attention to the thoughts you have in these dark moments. Find a friend who can share a light with you and show you that you are still moving in the right direction). 

Kings Digging Ditches

As I have been fighting my way through the deep, dark, discouragement, my time with Jesus has landed me in 2 Kings 3. Three kings have come together to fight against Moab and they find themselves wandering in the desert and completely out of water. They call for a prophet and Elisha shows up on the scene and gives them a word. “Dig ditches all over the valley.”

I imagine these kings looked at each other in disbelief. Surely they knew about the exodus story (kind of a big deal). They knew God had provided water from a rock, manna from heaven, so surely He could do it again! But no, God instructs the people to…digditches.

This is the desert. The sun beating down, the tools are primitive. The prophet continues, “You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you.” (2 Kings 16-19 MSG) 

Can you imagine crying out to God for help and then Him telling you to do some back-breaking work in the desert. “Dig ditches.” How many? How deep? For how long? When is the rain showing up again? How are these going to be filled? The people had no answers but instead had an opportunity to operate in faith and obedience. 

Filling Up the Valley

Like many other believers and pastors, I am in a season of digging ditches. I am asking God for provisions, and I know He will provide, but the nagging question of when and how make faithful obedience even more difficult. Add to that the age of social media and I’m over here looking at other churches wondering why they got the provisions and I’m still having to dig with no end in sight.

This is where I have been the last several months. Many days of tears, frustration, anger, and feeling abandoned by God. Then I remember, “ You won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water…this is EASY for God to do…” My responsibility is to be faithful. My responsibility is to obey. My responsibility is to dig in where I am placed and not check to see whose ditch is already finished. 

Maybe you’ve been digging for weeks, months, or years. Maybe you feel like your ditch is significantly deeper than the people around you. Maybe God is preparing you to be a well of great depth for future generations. Maybe He is preparing you for far more than you could ever imagine. Don’t give up! Don’t keep looking for the wind and rain, but know and believe that He is faithful. He sees you. He will answer you! Keep digging! You are not alone. 

Suzannah Driver

You can follow Suzannah on social media at @SuzannahDriver. You can find out more about the church she pastors along with her husband Joe in Pensacola, Florida, at echolifechurch.com.

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Church Culture Shift

Changing the Atmosphere of Our Faith

*I have previously posted two blogs and making a church culture shift. They have been so popular that I decided to edit them down and combine them into one post. I hope this makes it easier for everyone to get the full story in one post. Thanks for reading!

Sweet or Salty

Do you have a sweet tooth, or are you more of a salty snack person? I’m definitely in the sweet tooth category. My love for sugar was something my college roommate couldn’t help but notice. One day, he opened the pantry and asked, “How can you eat all of this junk?” 

“What do you mean?” I replied with a spoonful of Blue Bell ice cream in my mouth.

“Everything in here is full of sugar. None of this stuff is healthy for you.”

I went to the pantry door and looked in. Zebra cakes, mini chocolate bars, bags of chips, and other highly processed sugary foods stared back at me.

A light went off for me at that moment. Believe it or not, I thought I was eating healthy. This may sound surprising, but it is because of the standard I was comparing myself to. My diet was much healthier than what was typically on our family menu at home. But compared to my friend’s family, which includes multiple diabetics, these sugar snacks were foreign objects.

This situation showed me something significant about perspectives. I had moved out of my family home, but that culture was still influencing my point of view. Was it possible this was happening in other areas of my life as well? Maybe, in more ways than one, I didn’t just need to get out of some of my old environments but also needed to get their influence out of me.

The Soil of Our Souls

It is the same with our religious perspectives and church cultures. Our church cultures are the atmospheres of our faith, the soil where our souls are planted. Leading in an unsustainable way, or being rooted in a sick culture, does not wear you out immediately. But over time, the burnout and high turnover reveal that a change needs to be made. 

Often, culture influences our decisions and behaviors without us being aware. This can make it challenging to find a healthy rhythm for our lives after experiencing dysfunction of some kind. How do we make a change when we realize we need to change the atmosphere of our faith?

Five Steps To A Healthy Church Experience

I want to suggest a five-step plan for those in need of a church culture detox. This should be helpful even if your environment is not bad, but you are just looking for a new way of doing church life.

Step 1: Get out of the old culture.

Identifying there is a culture problem does not mean you are not part of it. Sometimes it is easier to see in others what we need to be seeing in ourselves.

That is why the first step is simply to get out of the old culture before you begin pointing out what is wrong in the old culture to others. If you genuinely believe you are in a dysfunctional culture, then the best thing you can do is move on so you can begin to heal in the right environment.

Step 2: Get in a new culture.

Breaking a bone requires a visit to the doctor’s office. It does not matter whether the incident was your fault or not. The same principle applies to making a culture shift. Detoxing from a dysfunctional culture includes slowing down for a season and changing your surroundings, at least temporarily.

Realizing you were headed in the wrong direction for you is not enough. You also need to discover the right path moving forward. A new environment does not only give you a place to heal but also time to download a new blueprint for life.

Step 3: Get the old culture out of you.

A change in scenery is helpful, but it is not everything. Although we may change environments, it also essential to allow God to transform the atmosphere of our hearts.

In the process of reclaiming spiritual health, your old behaviors may return despite your best intentions. We have to remove these old ways to make room for the new culture to take root. This shift is a process, not a switch. It is a wrestling match, not a quarter-mile drag race.

Step 4: Get the new culture in you.

Changing the atmosphere of our faith does not happen after reading a book or attending a conference. There is no course that, in and of itself, can take your soul from toxic to healthy. When it comes to culture, it is what is absorbed in a healthy environment, in-between teachings, and events that is most transformative.

Step 5: Thrive in the new culture.

Some tests are passed, not by your success and performance, but by your healing and transformation as a person. Your growth as a believer should not have a finish line. Instead, we should trust God with each step in our journey to draw closer to Him and become a better reflection of Him to those around us.

Trading exhausting religion for refreshing faith is not an easy process. It takes time to unlearn certain things while holding on to others that are beneficial. I hope these five steps help you on your way to discover a more authentic and enjoyable Christian experience.

Further Reading on this topic:

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Pastors Are Human Too

What to do when your pastor lets you down

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but what should you do if you finally find a church with a perfect pastor filled with perfect people? The answer is simple; leave before you ruin it! There is no such place.

I love to see people thriving in healthy church environments. Unfortunately, every church and ministry staff has one fundamental problem: they all have people in them. The fact that we cannot have churches without people means we will all have to deal with some level of imperfection in our shared culture and leadership.

Great Expectations

Even in the best church staff environments, those you work for, with, and who work for you will have shortcomings. Expecting your boss or pastor to be perfect only reveals a lack of health in yourself. It is an unreasonable expectation.

So what do you do if you find out your leadership is imperfect, unhealthy in some way, or even dysfunctional? There are a lot of opinions on this, but I would say the first step is to remember they are only human. Pastors and leaders are limited by the same flesh and blood you have. They are on a journey and in a process just like you.

Those who have an unhealthy perspective of leaders expect them to be perfect while excusing the lack of imperfection in themselves. Our hope must be in God alone. No human was made to carry the burden of being perfect, so let’s not put something on our leaders that God doesn’t or we can carry ourselves.

Exposing Leaders

I used to pray flawed leaders would get exposed. Now those prayers are a little different. In humility, I now pray they will get exposed to the right things, people, and environments that will help them in their journey. I also ask God to expose the dysfunction in me so I can become a better reflection of him.

But Wait, There’s More

We shouldn’t stop there, though. We also need to consider the following five principles when we encounter dysfunction in our team, ministry, or leadership: 1. Pastors Are Human Too 2. Honor Is a Choice, Not a Response 3. Be Honest About Yourself 4. Hear Others Out, and 5. Find a Biblical Path to a Healthy Soul. This post is part one of five blogs I will be sharing on these principles in the coming weeks.

I hope you continue to join me on this journey of soul gardening. I’d also like to hear from you. Leave a comment on Facebook or Instagram letting me know your answers to the questions I asked in this article. Different opinions are welcomed and encouraged.

Further Reading on this topic: