The West-Ark congregation recently hosted Hal Runkel’s Scream-Free seminar. I recommend his seminar for your church or organization. His three books, Scream-Free Parenting, Scream-Free Marriage, and Choosing Your Own Adulthood are simple but profound reads. Check out his website for more great resources and information on Hal Runkel’s work.
Like me, Hal is a graduate of ACU from some time back in the last century. As such, Hal and I have in common a respect for our teacher, Dr. Charles Siburt. Listening to Hal reminded me of my favorite lessons from Dr. Siburt. The CHARIS website and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry are part of the legacy of a man who was known as “The Church Doctor” and his teaching contributed to the health of many churches and church leaders. Here’s a sample of those lessons that have meant so much to me.
- Put your own oxygen mask on first. During the safety briefing on any airline, we are instructed that if the cabin depressurizes, we should put our own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. It seems selfish, but it makes sense. If we aren’t connected to oxygen in a crisis we will pass out and become nothing more than a boat anchor. Dr. Siburt taught us about appropriate self-care in ministry. The title of Louis McBurney’s book Every Pastor Needs a Pastor was the basic rule. All church leaders should be intentional in seeking out someone who will minister to him/her.
- Manage yourself. If you ever called Charlie to discuss a church crisis, he would inevitably ask you how you were managing your own anxiety. If you were not, the church doctor’s prescription was to get ahead of your own anxiety first. This wisdom has saved me from many mistakes I would have made in a moment of reaction. I am also aware of those moments when I did not manage my anxiety, and I can tell you from experience that you will cause the very problem you hope to avoid if you do not recognize your own anxieties.
- Church leaders who are burned out are dangerous. Self-care, accountability, and self-management are not only good for you; they are best for the church. When we are spiritually and mentally tired, we rely on our reactive brain stem rather than the more creative frontal lobe to process decisions and maintain relationships. On the spiritual side of the ledger, taking time out for God calms us down so that we leave room for God and do not get in his way. Charles Siburt was one of the originators of the Minister’s Support Network retreat. Through this program and many others, he helped burned out and beat up ministers and their families get back to being productive for the kingdom.
- In an anxious and conflicted culture, being calm is the most effective strategy. Long before the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters were so popular and parodied, Charlie Siburt was teaching us the importance of the non-anxious presence. When everyone else is losing their cool, the non-anxious leader keeps his/her cool. I remember one occasion (and there were many of these) when Charles was moderating a controversial discussion. During the Q&A an attendee stood up and began a rather heated diatribe aimed at the panel, demanding answers on a variety of topics (which I cannot remember anymore). As all the assembled squirmed and cringed for what seemed like hours, the questioner ended the rant with an open question. All eyes shifted to Charlie who calmly replied, “Thank you.” And then he proceeded to calmly ask the panel a very different question on an unrelated topic! All the tension evaporated. Later I commented to Charles that I was impressed with how he handled the uncomfortable situation. He said, “Well, it just seemed that the questioner said everything that could be said, so there was nothing more to say.” Brilliant!
Who are your mentors who have helped you to grow-up? Be sure and thank them and show your gratitude by practicing what they preached.
Chris Benjamin is the preaching minister for the WestArk Church of Christ in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He previously served as preaching minister for the Lake Jackson Church of Christ in Lake Jackson, Texas, and campus minister for the CCSC on the campus of Arkansas Tech University. Benjamin earned his D.Min. and M.Div. from ACU and his B.A. from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, where he and his wife Karen were involved in the Razorbacks for Christ campus ministry. They have two sons, Wyatt and Ethan. When he is not restoring some portion of his 50- year-old house, Chris enjoys a good story told well—no matter if it is a novel, comic strip, movie, or comedian.