Jim Herrington, Co-Founder of The Leader's Journey, joins us to discuss self-care in a time of crisis and best practices for pastors and those shepherding many people at once.
" This is hard. Grief is real. You don't have to pretend like you're okay when you're not okay. Church is a safe place for you to lament, for you to grieve, for you to process your feelings."
Hello. Today I'm joined by Jim Herrington from The Leader's Journey is, he has been a Houston church leader for many, many, many years. A good friend of mine as well as a good friend of Houston Responds and I'm very thankful to get his insights today. Jim, thank you for joining us.
Hey Tommy, good to see you. Thanks for having me today.
You bet. Tell us just a little bit about your background and your history here in, serving the church community, especially here in Houston.
Yeah. I came to Houston right out of seminary about 35 years ago. Pastored a local congregation on the near Southwest side of the city for six years. For 10 years was executive director of Union Baptist Association, which is the association of 500 plus Southern Baptist congregations in the Harris County area. And then I think it was in 1998 that I was the founding executive director of mission Houston, which was, is a 501C3. That was whose primary purpose was to, work in geographic communities to get a local congregations to work together across the lines that would normally divide things like denomination, culture, gender, generation, language, where clusters of congregations could begin to not only do church planting within a geographic area who were the unreached people groups, but also to ask what were the unmet needs. And I worked in that ministry for about 17 years, actually Houston Responds is kind of the next iteration of Mission Houston. And so yeah, I've been doing work for the church in the city, both at the local and the, at the city level for 35 years.
And now you're working with churches across the country coaching pastors. And so you have had many conversations with churches all over the country about COVID-19, talk to us a little bit about what you've been advising to some of these pastors and what you've been hearing.
Yeah. So, I do service coach have a partner named Trisha Taylor and we've got clients all over North America. And right after the, after we were, kind of ordered to stay home, we began to just talk to as many of them as we could. And what we discovered was two things. We discovered that they were in crisis mode. They were like hustling as fast as they could to figure out how to get everything from online services to how do we care for people in our congregation when we can't make face to face contact with them. So the early on there was just this whole series of what do we do? How do we do it? Who's going to do it? Is it being done well? How are we going to monitor this? There was a whole set of what I would call crisis questions.
And as the conversations began to unfold, what the kind of the next ripple of what we heard was they were beginning to realize how fatigued they were. They were beginning to get in touch with how much grieving they were doing. On one of the first Sundays when every, when nobody was meeting in their worship services, I bet I saw 10 pictures that pastors took from the front or the back of their sanctuary. There was a picture of an empty sanctuary and then in their Facebook or their social media posts, they were just giving a really painful expression to how much grief they were experiencing. Their world, and the world that, they had, you know, served in all of their lives had changed so fundamentally. And what that led us to was, we recently, we have a podcast that we do on a, about a twice a month basis.
And that lead us to a podcast about caring for yourself in the midst of crisis. I think that if I could say anything to pastors, congregational leaders, leaders of 501c3's, businesses, I would say that that perhaps the most important thing among all the things that you have to do is to grow your capacity to focus on and to take care of yourself. Uh, that seems counter intuitive because you know, the Christian faith calls you to this selfless life. And so we may be using the biblical language and the family systems language that we use may be using self in a different kind of way. But another way of saying it is the most valuable gift that organizations, congregations have in the midst of crisis is a calm, thoughtful leader. When we face a crisis, what happens is this, is a little neuroscience, but it's real helpful.
What happens is your brain, the feeling processes of your brain get all stirred up and simultaneously the thinking processes in your brain gets begin to shut down. And so rather than making thoughtful responses to whatever the circumstances are before us, we do the stereotypical fight, flight or freeze. And, my partner Trisha would say, anxiety makes us stupid. I would chime in and say, she didn't just say you were stupid, but she, but when anxiety sets in and the feelings get stirred up in the thinking gets shut, stack and get shut down, then what happens is you can't get access to your bank of best thinking. And more than anything in the midst of a crisis, what we need is a leader who can get access to the facts, who can, you know, kind of sort out what the competing challenges are, uh, and then can help the people that are, that follow him or her that can help them begin to figure out how do you get an action, what are the most important things to do?
And if a leader gets fatigued or if a leader is overwhelmed by grief that they're not processing, or if leader is, taking a responsibility for everybody in their congregation. One of the byproducts of that is they will become less and less effective, in the work that they do. And so that, that's at a high level. I think one more thing I would say, uh, is the ministry tends to, a ministry tends to attract what we, what Trisha and I in the family systems world would call overfunctioning. And so let me see if I can distinguish that. So, I've got a congregation of a hundred people and the coronavirus thing comes along and we're all grieving. We're scared, we're confused. We don't know what to do. And a person who's overfunctioning begins to believe in their head and act as if your feelings are my responsibility.
And so not only do I have to make myself feel better, but somehow I've got to take on the unbelievable task of making you feel better. The difference in caring for someone and taking care of someone is the distinction that I'm making there. So as a pastor, I am responsible for caring for the people in my congregation, but not only am I not responsible for taking care of all my members, it is not possible for me to do that. And if I've got more than 10 or 12 people in my congregation, that just multiplies exponentially in a crisis because everybody's scared. Everybody's angry, everybody's grieving. And what will happen is that pastor will burn out. And so we're, we're working real hard to try to help pastors and distinguish between what does it look like for them to responsibly care for the people in their congregation.
I heard the pastor, one of the largest churches in the city say today if they've got 85,000 members schedule, you know, all over the city. And, they're like, that's one of the mega churches in the city. And they're finding a way to contact every member of the church. And I thought to myself, what a great thing to do. And then I wondered, I wonder how many people he's contacting. I guarantee you he hadn't taken on 85,000 people. There's probably 10 or 12 or 15 people, that he's taken on, have been taken on some people, who've been taken on some people. So, that watching the tendency to over-function becomes an important,
You know, in this season where, you know, we've had to deal with switching from having services to not servicing, you know, we had one week where we thought we'd be able to kind of meet smaller, cleaning up, and then all of a