Categories
Church Leadership

The Dark Side of Ministry Life

From the outside looking in, ministry life is often romanticized. “It must be so cool to spend your days advancing the Gospel.” And yes, there are plenty of moments when you feel that.

But there’s a not-so-hidden dark side to ministry life that act as pitfalls, snares, and traps… these are things that don’t seem like a big deal early on in ministry, but over time they build up and eventually take you out.

Here’s three to highlight my point:

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a sin that creeps in out of convenience. You start off by missing a citation or manipulating the facts to include yourself in a good story that you heard. But, over time, since literally no one is fact checking you or asking where you get your content… you move deeper into it.

See, when you are young and brand new, you really can get away with this. You buy resources sometimes (which definitely isn’t plagiarism!) but other times you lift ideas from stuff you see. You build a series here and there ripping off an idea you saw at a conference or on TV. But before long, you stop buying resources and just start riffing off of podcasts you hear or your favorite preacher’s sermons you grab from their website.

That’s not wrong, is it? I mean I make it my own…” Actually, it’s a lack of integrity. You are taking someone else’s work, not giving them credit, presenting it as your own, then getting paid. So you’re making money off of someone else’s work without permission, license, or payment?

That’s plagiarism.

And, over time, it’ll catch up to you. Let’s say you preach a sermon in “big church” and someone notices that a story you shared was on a podcast they listen to… but you didn’t give that podcast credit? They might not say anything to you but you’ve lost credibility with that person.

They know your sin. 

And so do you.

All I’m saying is have integrity. Give credit where it’s due. If you need a resource, buy it. There’s never shame in being honest about where you get your stuff from. Doing so builds credibility instead of bleeding it away.

Burning Out from Going Hard

Like a lot of people in ministry I took notice of Pete Wilson’s recent announcement that he’s stepping away from ministry. Not too long Perry Noble did the same. You could probably label much of what happened with Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll as the same. People who go hard for a long period of time eventually burn out.

And never forget that for every big name lead pastor who drops out because of burn out there are 100 non-famous, regular church staff folks who do the same.

When you see these announcements you hear people say things like, “Pray for pastors. Their life is so hard.” And, of course, people should pray for their pastors because their life is really hard whether you are pastoring in ultra-wealthy Seattle or a very poor city in Haiti like Hinch.

But the thing about burn out? It’s 100% preventable. In every profession you can expect to go through season every once in a while where you go hard. But I think sometimes on ministry staffs “going hard” becomes the mantra.

We make the mistake of thinking we can do a lot to attract people. But don’t forget, eventually those people you are attracting with all that activity are going to look at YOU and ask themselves, “Is this what following Jesus looks like? I don’t want that.” In a post-Christian world how you live is more important than what you believe. If how you’re living isn’t good news to someone they probably won’t listen to the Good News of Jesus.

My thought? Yes, of course pray for pastors. But we need to also expect less from them, too. Ultimately, burn out is about integrity. Do you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially? It shocks me how many of my friends in church ministry have no friends outside of their church life, no hobbies, no life. If that’s you… you’re on Burn Out Boulevard. Make a hard turn at the next intersection or you’re next.

Don’t impress me with your ability to go hard. Impress me with your ability to go long-term by taking care of yourself.

HR Violations

I’ve written about this before. While the local church should be the best place to work in town it’s often the place using it’s tax status to violate an abundance of employment laws that a non-church workplace couldn’t get away with. EOE violations, [Only interviewing men for non-exempt positions… SHAME!] age discrimination, racial discrimination, misclassification of employment status, violating overtime rules… these are all the norm, obvious violations of normal workplace standards. Then there are organizations that foster workplace environments that are full of hostility, nepotism, and intimidation that are ripe for lawsuits.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from church staff that they hate their boss, their job, their church, etc. Yeah… that ain’t good. 

Again, these are questions of integrity. If the only thing that matters is growing a big church than why bother with creating an endearing place to work? But when you look at the fallout, thousands of church workers who leave the ministry each year, you need to ask yourself: At what cost?

Like the rest– this is entirely preventable. But these things creep in under the umbrella of “everyone is just doing the best they can.

So Why Bring These Things Up?

Listen, none of this is news. So why bother talking about it?

Because we need to shine light on the dark places of ministry. We need to work hard on creating space for church workers to take care of themselves, be awesome family members, be active in their community, and be amazing employers. We must give space for this to happen. And, in a lot of ways, we can do this when we lower our expectations to something more realistic.

As I read and reflect on the four Gospels sometimes it just pops off the page to me that their lives weren’t as packed in as ours are. We see being busy as being successful. But is that the measurement we really want for our lives in ministry? I’ll take being faithful over being successful all day, every day. (If I had to chose one or the other! They aren’t mutually exclusive obviously.)

What I see as Jesus interacted with his disciples is that they often times did a lot of ministry… really packed it in… then spent days getting to the next place. Walking for 2-3 days isn’t all that productive, is it? There weren’t strategy meetings or stuff like that… they walked. It was probably pretty quiet sometimes. It was probably sometimes uneventful and introspective. And they took Sabbath really seriously. Maybe even too seriously?

But man, the pendulum has really swung.

Busy is not the answer people are looking for in Jesus.

Again, that’s ultimately about integrity. These are insider things that only people on the inside will ever really know about.

Categories
Blog Highlight Weblogs

How to Blog, Write, and Speak With Integrity

Here’s a quick tutorial for how to blog, write, preach, or teach with integrity.

Let’s say you’ve came across a blog post on Adam McLane’s blog that you really enjoy. In particular, you like something I’ve written to the point where it has inspired you to write your own blog post, magazine article, book, lesson plan, or sermon based off of the thoughts you had in reading my post.

For example, let’s say you read my post The Personal Preference Sin:

I’d like to talk to some people about a rabid sin running rampant and unchecked throughout the American Evangelical church. Maybe if you’re reading this today I’m meant to talk to you. This is, I believe, one of Satan’s most powerful devices for separating our people. And yet, this sin runs so deep and is so approved that it carries back to some things we hold sacred such as denominations… probably 50% of non-denominational churches founded in the past century are the result of this sin.

That sin is personal preference.

I love that post, too. It’s one of the most popular things I’ve ever written.

It’s been quoted, remixed, preached on, etc. Which is all awesome and humbling.

Now, how do you handle my intellectual property in a way that both you and I can be satisfied with?

And how do you handle it if you’ve been paid to write, teach, or speak and you’d like to use something I’ve written?

For blogs: (easy, peasy)

  • Do: Mention in the post where the idea for the blog post came from. “I was reading Adam McLane’s blog yesterday, and I came across this statement that I’ve been thinking about.” Or find a phrase to link to like, “That sin is personal preference.” Or even “HT to Adam McLane” with a link.
  • Do: Link to the original post, this helps your reader know how to find the source. And it helps my blog’s page rank with the search engines.
  • Do: Feel free to link directly to my post for whatever reason you’d like. You don’t have to ask permission for that. That’s awesome, thank you.
  • Do: Feel free to write a response or debate my posts. Just link to the source.
  • Don’t: Beat around the bush. It’s not fair to me for you to use my ideas/thoughts/words and not mention my name and link to me as the source. Don’t say, “a blog I read said…” or “a friend of mine recently wrote.” That’s not fair and it lacks integrity.
  • Don’t: Write the post without linking to me in the post or mentioning me and then privately email me a link thinking I’ll somehow be flattered. I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you use my thoughts as your own so that you can look good I don’t find it flattering. I think you’re a thief.
  • Don’t: Worry about any advertising revenue your post makes. As long as you properly cite my work for your blog, I don’t care that you make money.

For magazine articles & books: (not as easy)

  • Do: Mention my name and properly attribute my blog in the work.
  • Do: Ask me what I think about the idea before you submit it to your publisher as a remix. I have a contact page, I’m pretty easy to work with. I’m not trying to be a jerk, at all, I’m just trying to make sure that if you use my idea to make money, that I’m properly attributed and/or compensated.
  • Do: Allow me to have a look at what you are saying about me, my blog post, etc. before you submit it.
  • Do: Ask me in a way where it’s OK if I say no. Chances are pretty good we can work it out. But it might be that I need to say no and it’s helpful if I’m being asked to know that I won’t be seen as a turd if I say no.
  • Do: Spell my name correctly, that’s a pet peeve.
  • Do: Expect that if you are going to treat me like a ghost writer for work you intend to publish for profit, that I will expect some level of compensation. That’s only fair.
  • Don’t: Think you are going to get away with it because we don’t know one another or you think your sphere of influence and mine don’t intersect. It’s embarrassing for everyone when I get a Facebook message from someone who read something that sounded just like a blog post of mine in a denominations magazine or something like that.
  • Don’t: Pull the “it’s Kingdom property” line on me or “there’s no new ideas out there.” Particularly if you are going to get paid for work you forgot to attribute to me. We all learned in middle school that plagiarism is wrong. I’m not out to make money on my blog (notice there are not ads) but I’m also not out to make money for someone else. If I write something and then two months later the exact same idea and outline is in a magazine, that’s not a coincidence.
  • Don’t: Assume that because this is a public blog that this is somehow public property and you can just harvest my ideas, change some words around, and then sell it.

For lessons, sermons, and classes: (easy, peasy)

  • Do: Acknowledge my work. If you publish your notes, just attribute my work like any other book or website.
  • Do: Proceed without asking. As long as you aren’t pushing off my work as your own, we’re cool.
  • Do: Share with me your notes, how it went, etc. I’d love to see how you turned a blog post into something else. Maybe we can even agree to put it in the free downloads section of my blog?
  • Do: Feel free to print off a blog post to share, just attribute the URL so that people can know where to find me.
  • Do: Contact me if this is going to be a regular thing. If you are going to take something I’ve written, turn it into a lesson, and then take it on the road to make a living… that’s different. We should talk about.
  • Do: If you feel like I should be compensated because you were paid an honorarium (or salary) for work that was essentially mine, please make a contribution to my church.
  • Don’t: Try to pass off my thoughts as your own in a sermon, lesson, or class. It is embarrassing when people in your audience/class contact me and tattle. The internet has made the world pretty small.

Postscript #1: It’s obvious why I’ve written this post. I’m tired of seeing my work ripped off and unattributed all over the place. It’s not right. And it certainly isn’t fair. Most of it is just sloppy so I am assuming its because people don’t know that they are supposed to attribute things or they don’t know how or that content written on my blog actually is my property and they are not free to generate revenue off of it. Now you know.

Postscript #2: Why are people in ministry the worst ones? Shouldn’t Christian leaders demonstrate integrity in all areas of their lives? Especially intellectual property?

Postscript #3: These are pretty much the same rules you should put into play for any blogger. So while this post is about me and my content, you can safely use this as a guideline for most blogs.