Monday, September 2, 2013

Dennis Muses: 12 Step Program for Ministry

Mor-On and On Anonymous


A Twelve Step Program for Church of God Apostles Prophets and Plain Old Pastors


 Why the Biblically Based 12 Step Programs Work - One Day At A Time

I doubt it matters much at all which church a man pastors in as ministry is filled with weird and strange kinds of anxiety and stress.  As we know, in the Churches of God, it is also filled with weird and strange ideas but I am sure that if any minister got off into those, even if he wanted the congregation not to, the people would call him out on them.  Yes...I am sure they would.  If he warned them ahead of time that he was prone to weird and strange ideas, they would remember he warned them and would confront his weirdness. 

But another  reality in ministry seems to be as follows.

Pastor burnout
  • 50 percent of pastors reported being so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could. (June 2000)
  • 70 percent of pastors report constantly fighting depression.
  • 80 percent of seminary graduates who enter the ministry will leave in five years.
  • 80 percent of pastors' wives wish their spouses would choose another profession.

Aside from the never ending saga of whose True Church of God is the True Church of God and which knuckle head is really an Apostle, Prophet, Priest or Reincarnated Bible Guy,  I have a Twelve Step Program COG ministers might consider.  I know the stress and anxiety they faced and face.  As a pastor, with WCG it was one drama, scandal and rumor after the next.   I got to where I was regretting ministry though I loved the people and at the time, believed the WCG perspective on the Bible.  The organization and administration was another thing.

 I spent a lot of time in various forms of denial or did what most do and called it persecution or Satan "trying" to discourage the church and myself.  It was working very well from what I felt inside.    I disliked going to "Refresher" seminars in Pasadena because they were so freaking exhausting.  I realized they were more "where do you stand" environments than I wanted to believe.  And there were always the weird and strange ideas PLUS the mind numbing and boring presentations that seem thrown together by men who would say "I am too busy to meet with you , but I will."  Busy...bullshit.  I just didn't think they liked to open things up to questions.  In my personal experience I asked just two direct questions to those at "God's Headquartes," and got blown out of the water both times.  That's when I put on my mask.

There were years of Ambassador Reports in the mail and members getting them.  I threw mine out, in hind sight because I was afraid they would be right and what would I do.  I was torn between thinking I was in a place I could not move from and a "calling" that was set in stone and wishing I had never heard of it.  Of course, back then, there was no real place to go in my mind save for the organizations of a few rebels who were more weird and filled with strangeness than where I was.  Walking away, for me, was not an option.  I was young.

Dr. Dave Albert, who I always considered a friend in ministry and went out of his way when I was a WCG ignorant freshman to try and get my New York girlfriend accepted to AC  (thank God that didn't happen)  told me once way back that he never thought I was a good fit for the ministry.  That really threw me.  I thought I was.  In review of that I think he meant I didn't think like most of the ministry he knew and perhaps even like he did.  He tended towards black and white rules and regs.  Those were never my strengths or perspectives.  Life is not all that way nor are people no matter what church they have or church they attend. We were a lot alike when the masks came off.  All ministers wear them you know.  I did and know all others did as well which made me feel better somehow.  I have since upgraded to knowing all humans wear masks. 

So here is my 12 Step Recovery Program for Church of God Lurking Ministers.  What are we recovering from?


Our Own Choices in Life
The Myth of the One True Church
The misunderstanding that men can hold positions over us to control and limit the kind of theological information given out
Compliance to ideas that we actually had choices to accept or reject
Going along to get along
Spokesman Club where being evaluated for thought content was the norm
Doing what one was told from on high and not being willing to simply take opinion under advisement instead as taking it as God's Law
Being the baloney jammed between the White Bread of Church Leaders and the members of the Church and smothered in drama sauce and title taking, untrained and small minded non theologians
Theological fairy tales
Education by Booklet
A closed education system
Prove me now here withs
...and the prayer of faith will heal the sick
Send it in
Matthew 24,  Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, Book of Revelation
Leviticus 23  and Jeremiah 17:9
Not understanding the conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christianity in the New Testament
Believing that all the New Testament Players all spoke the same one truth and all got along
"There were two trees in the garden..."
The uni plural word "Elohim"
Allowing improperly trained theologians to tell us what the Bible means
Jesus is coming soon
Not expecting accountability in financial matters
Not knowing the difference between actual meaning and concocted meanings
Not labeling openly opinion, speculation and musings about prophecy as such
Allowing men to take titles without qualification or reasonable assurances they are not delusional
Bad ideas unchallenged

I am sure you have your own lists
12 Steps for Ministry Recovery
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
We admitted were were powerless over the Bible--that our fascinations had become cultic and majoring in the minors of reality.  The Bible was our obsession and we would do anything to refer to it.

     2.Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

We came to believe that the God of WCG/COG was not the only God there was and the Church was not the only church there was.  We came to see there were many ways to understand the Bible and parts that no longer matter no matter what we thought.  We know our sanity can be restored if we just listen listen to the feeling in our stomachs and not the voice in my head.

     3.  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God because it is ok to understand Him/Her/It as we do ourselves and not just as others told us it all is.  We made a decision to trust our own judgment when we heard bullshit. As I understand God is OK and doesn't have to be as YOU understand God for me.     (Very difficult for RCG members evidently)

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     4..Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

We made a searching and fearless moral and theological inventory of ourselves and came to see it is just fine to draw different conclusions from the same Bible everyone else uses as anyone can use it unskillfully proof texting their way into any belief they wish.  We are content to get to know ourselves and be ourselves before we ever let others tell us how they believe we should be.   We don't should on ourselves or must-rabate as this is immoral.

     5.Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Admitted to ourselves first, then to others and then to God the exact nature of our wrong doings, fears, anxieties, doubts , depression and concerns.  (I say in this order  in light of the fact that some ministers have the cornball idea that God corrects them and it is none of your business.) 

     6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

We are happy to have God remove all these defects of character, but we also realize we have to do our own hard work.  WE have to do the hard work of being authentic in the face of the expectation of compliance.  WE have to do the hard work of defect removal but sometimes have to realize one man's defect is another man's strength..  WE have to listen when others are hurt, offended , puzzled or irritated by our words, sermons, ideas, views and title taking proclivities.

     7.  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Humbly do everything.  Not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.  Not think we are special in any way.  Understand the heart of a shepherd and a servant does not mean demanding no one disagree with us. Never uttering the crass and insane words, " have no say,"  "Pull Big Triggers," "You don't tell God how to spend your money, or his servants,"  or "I am a type of Jesus...." or _____________ (fill in the blank).  Humbly ask those I pastor to help me  stop being fool. 

     8.  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Admit there ARE humans we had harmed and being willing to make amends is not the ministers choice to exempt himself from.  Admit it is difficult as a minister to utter the words,  "I am sorry,"  "I was mistaken,"  "I was wrong,"  "I don't know everything,"  "I have the same doubts, fears and questions you do,"  and "I was ill trained."

     9.  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  Never just say "God knows I'm sorry so that covers it,"  or "I meant to call but..."

     10.  Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Continued to study the concept of "when we were wrong, promptly admitted it," all the days of my life and don't retract apologies the next day when your go back to "hey, I'm God's minister, they can't talk to me that way."

     11.  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

With all respect to prayer and meditation, sought to improve our conscious contact with reality, theological education, the psychology of human beings,  books written by others than ourselves, ideas we did not come up with and observations we did not personally make.  We make a personal effort to understand our world of thought is not THE world of thought.  

     12.  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Having had a religious and spiritual epiphany as a result of the Wild World of God experience, we try to carry this message to the God Haunted Guru Following souls still stuck in the mud and assure them it is just fine to think for themselves, be authentically who you are and vote with your feet to the saving of the soul.  We try to carry the message that you are not defective, your views are valid as well, your concerns are well placed, your doubts are ok and maybe you were actually born right the first time after all.

At any rate, lots of stories, feelings, anxieties and emotions went with ministry for me personally.  It's hard to believe all that is behind me at times, but life is only 15 minutes long when you look back as far as I can tell and how it seems. 

"One can always serve as a bad example," applies to all of us at various and sundry times.  But theologically and in ministry, we have ministers, falsely so called, like the Dave Packs, Ron Weinlands, Gerald Flurry, Bob Thiel and other leading but lessor player goof balls to thank for the specific Wild World of God experience.    Recover is possible.  We're all hear to learn and welcome to Earth School...


Byker Bob said...

I read a newspaper article on this topic probably about 15 years ago, and I certainly saw many parallels with every job, or every career that one could consider.

The basic complaint exposed in the article was that most who graduate from seminary or Bible college have a core concept of what it means to be a pastor. Most report these duties as preaching sermons, and ministering to congregation members on a one on one basis. Sometime during the course of their first pastorship, they discover that their "calling" has been stacked, or loaded up with important duties which fall outside of this core. Church finances, endless board meetings, and public relations are aspects of a successful ministry for which most had no classes. To say nothing of personal crises in faith, inner conflict over certain points of doctrine, or raising one's own family.

Most parishioners are unaware of these factors. They simply see a leader leading, and unless someone confides in someone, nobody would suspect that pastor burnout even existed.

This is one complex area in which we have to say "Score one for the Jews!" Rabbis seem to be an obvious exception possibly because in the Jewish tradition, dissent and argument are actually encouraged. There is also wide acknowledgement around the world that the Jewish people have better than average financial skill. And although known for frugality, they practically wrote the book on charity.

I've often wondered why people who love Jesus, the sabbath, holydays, clean meats and tithing don't simply jettison the ridiculous extrabiblical theories and prophecy nonsense, and hook up with a Messianic church.


Anonymous said...

In hind sight, the COGs are founded first on prophecy and end of days foundations. Thus the disconnects with reality as time marches on and glorious speculations fall flat. It is , to me, a sign spiritual childishness that they never can much less will outgrow.

Head Usher said...

Dennis, thank you, obviously a very heartfelt post.

I think your recasting of the 12 Steps is describing a road to recovery from being not just a WCG form of fundamentalist "minister" but in fact, any type of biblically inerrant fundamentalist, whether minister or laymember, toward something closer to a Unitarian if not an agnostic (which is where my recovery has take me.) The difference being that to be a "minister" (in good conscience) requires a higher degree of emeshment with the organization and the dogma, and thus a much higher degree of cognitive dissonance to deal with. Throw in that your financial wellbeing is tied to it and you've got a perfect storm.

I don't doubt that being a fundamentalist minister is depressing. Ironically, the very thing that caused me to lose my faith was when I decided to stop bullshitting so much (masks and such) and try to actually become a better xian. If being a xian were my livelihood into the bargain, I am sure I wouldn't have lasted much more than five years, not only as a minister, but even as a xian at all.

When Dave Albert said you weren't a good fit for "the ministry" I don't think he meant you weren't a good fit for "ministry" in general, just that you weren't a good fit for the "COG ministry" as those are two very different animals. I don't think Dave Albert knew he meant this, because probably his only conception of "ministry" was the COG conception of it. I don't see how anyone who was naturally well-suited for "ministry" in general could ever be a good fit in the WCG "ministry" because being a WCG "minister" as intended by HWA and RCM meant being something closer to a policeman enforcer for HQ, and had really nothing to do with "ministry" as most everyone else on the planet would conceive of it.

A good WCG "minister" owed a duty only to HQ to keep the tithe cows in their stalls and producing milk, but owed little or no duty to the members themselves as human beings in their own right, individuals with equal value and rights as any other (including [*gasp*] HWA himself), beyond that which was necessary to ensure their successful long-term exploitation. I am sorry if this does seem like a dark interpretation of the facts, and I am not saying that Dave Albert subscribed to this view at that time, nor even RCM today.

But I do suspect that this was EXACTLY how HWA perceived things, if not at the beginning, certainly before his end. The human species totally exploits other species we call livestock, and nobody cares, not even me, but when one man treats another man as though he were literally a member of another species to be exploited such as a cow, a goat, or dare I say it, a sheep, there's something wrong with that. In America we fought a war to put an end to that. In the year the Titanic went down, I don't wonder if a 20-year old narcissist from Des Moine didn't survey the entire human race, but instead of seeing others like himself, he saw great herds of livestock, like the buffalo upon the prairies appeared to an earlier generation. And much like that earlier generation recognized that each of those stupid animals was a gold piece on 4 legs, HWA saw other people as gold pieces on two legs.

Glenn said...

Amen, Usher. To HWA, we were all just "resources" that God had created for his (HWA's) use. Other than for that, we counted for nothing, as HWA made clear many, many times.

Glenn Parker

Anonymous said...

The "12 step" program has been a pox on humanity. It's been proven that, with alcoholics, having 'no treatment at all' usually yields better or equal results compared to "working a 12 step program".

Dennis, I hope your "12 Step Program for Ministry" does better than that!