29 January 2009

Pastors, Get Thee to...

And good lay people, encourage, urge, and insist that your pastor enroll in DOXOLOGY, support him, provide registration costs for him to attend, etc. Do whatever you can (except force him against his will, of course) to be nourished, edified, and fed on Christ's life in the forgiveness of sins and to grow in his spiritual care for himself, for you and for the rest of the flock.

Pastors, I cannot recommend DOXOLOGY highly enough. You will grow and benefit immensely--in being fed via the many opportunities for prayer (the Prayer Offices of the Church replete with great music and excellent preaching), in being renewed in the purpose and calling of your vocation as "shepherd of souls," and in learning many good First Article things in the area of psychology and counseling, and from a uniquely Christian, Gospel-centered perspective.

As you can probably tell, I'm rather impressed with the DOXOLOGY retreat from which I returned last evening. After four days of worshiping with brothers (simply being fed) and learning at the feet of Dr. Harold Senkbeil and Dr. Beverly Yahnke, Executive Directors, my own sense of being a "pastor," a "shepherd of souls," a "physician of souls" has been greatly restored. My own sense of tending to things that really matter--relying on God's grace in Christ, taking care of self and family, and shepherding the souls given by God--has been greatly refreshed.

I must admit, though, I had to be pushed. I had to hit the brick wall of depression and burnout. (I guess God really does need to hit me over the head to put some sense into me! :-) But I also had the benefit of one caring layman, an elder, who insisted that I enroll in as part of my sabbatical rest, renewal, and rejuvenation. I thank God for this faithful Christian man who wanted me to be restored--and returned to--my proper sense of vocation.

As I waxed poetic on Tuesday evening of the retreat at Chiara Retreat Center in Springfield, IL (more about that wonderful site another time), I just had to jot down this little reflection, to which I've added a little spit and polish this morning:

I have just (re-)discovered first hand the salutary intersection of Theology Highway and Psychology Boulevard. DOXOLOGY is the intersection of Theology and Psychology as it trains pastors in the art of spiritual care for the soul and opens their eyes to the world of dealing with the psyche, the emotions, mental illnesses such as despair and depression, and the new term and art of discerning “emotional intelligence” (a.k.a. EQ), all in service to our new life and healing in Christ Jesus. As the traffic of spiritual life (repentance, faith, sin, forgiveness, prayer, blessing, etc.) and personal life (emotions, depression, conflicts, crises, etc.) pulses through this intersection, the pastor learns how to work much as the traffic light in a busy intersection. (No, the pastor is not “traffic cop,” as we have heard and learned.) He learns how the traffic of spiritual life and life affected by so many physiological and psychological factors can merge and be brought to order by God’s grace and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, both for himself and for his people. And when we remember that this intersection is cross-shaped, we also remember that the Cross of Christ itself is what gives the only true, beneficial shape to our spiritual life as well as our daily life affected so much by the disease of sin.

The Doxology website
gives this overview of the whole program:

DOXOLOGY seeks to restore and recover the classic Christian legacy of the cure of souls for contemporary times. The Center provides training, mentoring, and consultation services for those who seek to improve their ability to provide spiritual care and counseling.

The primary purpose of this organization is to provide ongoing spiritual care opportunities for Lutheran pastors. Participants will be refreshed and equipped as a result of their participation in a program of soul care grounded in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The Center provides an excellent setting for clergy to reflect on their own spiritual health and offers a program carefully crafted to help them review and enhance their professional competencies and skills. DOXOLOGY strengthens pastors so they can more faithfully pastor others.

You can also preview the program's curriculum and objectives at the Doxology website:

The program curriculum:

  1. Provides resources, insights, teaching, admonition, encouragement, new tools and strategies needed to move beyond “survival functioning in pastoral ministry” to joyful service in the pastoral life and calling.
  2. Provides opportunities for immediate and ongoing care to nurture and encourage pastors whose personal lives may have been burdened by stress and isolation or wounded by sin, depression, conflict, fear, or hopelessness.
  3. Yields critical insights to enhance the practice and pedagogy of spiritual care and counsel.
  4. Benefits from team casuistry and the experience of fellow pastors enrolled in this renewal experience.

Pastors participating in DOXOLOGY will:

  1. Prize and embrace their identity as called and ordained servants of God.
  2. Explore the art of spiritual care and enhance their skills as physicians of the soul so as to help those entrusted to their care to find health and healing in God through His gracious Word and Sacraments.
  3. Have an opportunity to benefit from receiving individual spiritual care and personal counsel.
  4. Establish and maintain meaningful professional relationships with peers through personal interaction.
  5. Return to their parish renewed, strengthened, and equipped in their vocation to preach, teach, and administer God’s Holy sacraments faithfully.

So, brother pastors, give some good and serious consideration to enrolling in DOXOLOGY in order to be refreshed in spirit, restored in your vocation, and prepared to give "spiritual care" to your flock. And faithful layfolk, know that this is a great way to support your pastor and to benefit from his renewed zeal to feed you on Christ the living Bread. Check out the DOXOLOGY website for much more information.

And just in case some are worried about the intersection of Theology and Psychology, know that the Psychological training does not at all trump the Theological. The *psychologist* who serves as one Executive Director won't let it. :-)


  1. Thanks for your thoughts. They echo my own, so I'm certain they are excellent!

  2. Right on, Brother Randy! Doxology is life changing and ministry changing. I can't recommend it high enough.

    DMJ (Doxology Wisconsin)

  3. I'm still trying to come up with words to describe this week. Juhl is right, life changing. It was an absolute joy to go out and see God's flock today... even my confirmation kids noted I was a bit different tonight.

    great to see you, even if we really didn't get to chat much. Maybe I'll get up to St. Louis one of these days. Please send me whatever pics you took of that church... wow. if you didn't see the crucifix in the stairwell up to the balcony on the east side, you'll have to see it in June. I told Weedon he needed to stop in there sometime.

  4. Randy (and any other Doxology Springfield brother reading this):
    I forgot to mention that if you have the Treasury of Daily Prayer and were not using it during the retreat, make sure to go back and read it. Ordinarily I take Weedon's advice about picking up on the day, and just skipping the readings I missed. But in this case, each day of the retreat had at least one verse in one of the readings that went hand in hand with Doxology and our callings as pastors.

  5. Thanks, James. I'll have to check it out.

  6. For what it is worth, here's what my (non-Lutheran) priest said when I shared some of this info with him:

    "I've never even seen a therapist -- the more you delve into the psyche using conventional psychiatry/psychology, the more you sometimes stir up (power of suggestion?). An application of the Gospel and a sincere confession can be more helpful -- and an sabbatical at least once every ten years. I am 5 years overdue."

    He also noted a completely unscientific observation:

    "I know at least four Lutheran pastors who have major nervous breakdowns -- wonder how much these types of thing help."

    This would, of course, be dependent on how prevalent resources like Doxology are in the Lutheran churches - and how often they are used by ministers in those churches. (FWIW, I think most of the Lutheran pastors my priest has known have been ELCA, not LCMS, WELS).

  7. I think what he was getting at with the reference to "power of suggestion" is this. There is an order of prayer for those dealing with sexual temptation. Some/many claim that praying such an order actually brings up more temptation than they had before. The same idea is found in the ascetic breakdown of the stages of sin. Suggestion, Conversation, Assent, Action, Passion - there are many such delineations of the 'growth' of sin. By bringing up and discussing 'things', it is possibly to have a sin Suggested, to Converse with it, to gain pleasure mentally from it in Assent, etc. Doing all of that within the context of sacramental Confession or with one's experienced (personally) Spiritual Father is the proper context to raise and address such problems.

    I can see what he's saying, though I don't think everyone would agree with him. Similar openness to discussing the most shameful movement of the soul and body is to be found in acting, and it is only the very healthy that can be exposed to such and not be 'suggested' to - this is even more difficult when one's pet sins (including accidie and depression, the demon on noonday) are the topic of conversation. The patient need not always be a part of the deliberation over treatment, which may be the way in which a starets would have to 'treat' an especially pernicious spiritual malady (i.e., all of them).

    At the same time, this is all very different from medical depression and other mental or emotional sicknesses. They musn't be mistaken for one another, which they oftentimes are by the inexperienced (me included). 'Father Maximos' talks about this in Markides' book, "Gifts from the Desert".

  8. I meant to say exactly what you did (more clearly) regarding the example of the 4 pastors that had nervous breakdowns: clergy care programs are very new and not all that prevalent, so it's no wonder clergy (of any denominational stripe) break down - goodness, there are all sorts of stories re Orthodox clergy and hierarchs, so it is more of a general 'clergy' or 'care professional' thing.