Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bob Buford: The Tragic Flaw

I received the following article in the Church Leader's Intelligence Report. You can find the original post here.  I know that it is not kosher to simply duplicate an article in its entirety, but I believe that it is important for all preachers to read.

Particularly take note of the three questions at the end. 

Buford writes:

I’ve always said, “Better is always better.” But lately I’ve been asking myself, “Is this really true?” Ambition is a good thing. Hard work is a good thing. Leisure, rest and play are good things. But there are limits to each. This is a true story of two good men, men whose work I know and respect, virtuous men whose lives have been spent serving God’s purposes and serving others. Both found themselves out beyond their limits.

We have a ceaseless barrage of TV news about bad guys who lie, cheat, steal and break the rules in a variety of nasty ways. But what about the good guys? Most of the people I know mean well. They lead purposeful lives and intend to do so until their last breath.

image This is a tale of two of the good guys. I’m disguising the names and situations, but believe me, I have firsthand knowledge of each. Both men are senior pastors of megachurches. Both are very gifted communicators and are loved and respected by the people they serve. Actually, they are held in awe. Both of them are in their fifties, leading churches with more than two thousand attending each week. Think of the pressure of that job—preparing and delivering a message to thousands of people each week and being very much under the spotlight. Combined with the leadership responsibility of what is essentially a very large service enterprise, the job must be enormously demanding.

The first person leads a church in the western U.S. He began the church himself, is a well-known writer, and does leadership seminars for many other pastors. Not long ago, I heard him give a message to pastors describing his experience of burnout. He said he had gotten to a point where he felt like he was faking everything. He said, “I felt ‘fried inside.’ I lost enthusiasm for what I was doing. The work that had been a great passion for me had become just a job. I was dragging myself through each day. I knew something was wrong, talked to a couple of friends about it, and finally sought medical help. The doctor diagnosed burnout and prescribed six months of rest– absolutely no work. It was that bad.

“I said ‘No way,’ but I did book a short (not six months) silent retreat in a Catholic monastery right away. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave me enough relief to at least think deeply about what was happening to me. I could take steps to make myself accountable to my family and co-workers for a much easier schedule. I delegated responsibility for all manner of things to subordinates, who did a terrific job.”

The second story is not as pretty. In this case, this pastor who also had a large church in a different part of the country began to experience burnout as well. A number of people had predicted it. This pastor was very detail-oriented and reluctant to delegate anything. He was operating a large church as if it were a small parish church—doing lots of pastoral care and preparing messages each week. He was a micro-manager. He began to feel some physical pain, so he took pain killers that soon led to a serious addiction to prescription drugs. As it was discovered later, multiple doctors in his congregation prescribed him strong and addictive prescription drugs, not knowing others were doing the same. In each case, the pastor told the doctor involved not to tell his wife about it. He was like a duck that appears calm on the surface and paddles like crazy underwater just to stay afloat.
The people on his Board felt that something was clearly wrong and tried to hire more help for him. One of them later told me, “We were treating the wrong disease in the wrong way, but how were we to know?”

Things finally came to a head, and this story found its way onto the front page of a local newspaper. People were shocked. The minister was temporarily relieved of his duties and, as we speak, is undergoing a six-month regimen in a treatment center and halfway house.

I had an opportunity to speak with his wife, who told me she was deeply wounded. She was living with a person with a secret life, a dual existence. She felt utterly betrayed, not so much from the addiction itself, but by her husband’s instructions to his doctors not to say a word to her. Being the most intimate person in his life, she would have wished to have been involved.

In the first case, the pastor is fully recovered and has restored his spiritual vitality, passion and energy for work. The jury is out on the second case. But there’s hope. He is a very intelligent man who has taken steps to restore his relationship with his family and others with whom he serves. He still has the love of members of his congregation, but he’s not out of the woods yet.

I asked Dr. Larry Allums, my “personal trainer in literature,” about this issue. He told me that a great deal of literature and drama turns around “the tragic flaw,” characters not admitting their limits to themselves or others. In Shakespeare, Julius Caesar is a great general and a very poor politician. King Lear is so blinded by his own self-absorption and desire to take it easy that he is careless about putting his kingdom and his own future in good hands.

The tragic flaw in the case of the two pastors could have been not admitting their limits. They failed to acknowledge their need for others as the demands of their work scaled up dramatically.
So what about you? Do you think everyone is at risk of being brought down by a tragic flaw? A blind spot they refuse to see? Think about your life. Have you ever experienced burnout? Do you have a tragic flaw that makes you vulnerable? A secret life—so far undetected?

  1. Do you think everyone is at risk of being brought down by a tragic flaw? A blind spot they refuse to see? 
  2. Think about your life. Have you ever experienced burnout? Do you have a tragic flaw that makes you vulnerable? A secret life –- so far undetected? 
  3. The Aspen Times (where I summer) has on its front page each day: “If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t let it happen.” Good advice. What would you not like to see in print? 
Adapted from Bob Buford, Musings for Friends... Year 2, Chapter 18, 10-27-06

No comments:

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007