Empathy. Tender-hearted concern for our feelings. We all need it — especially when we’re hurting. But sometimes we lose touch with our heart’s need.
“I was burned out and didn’t know it,” lead pastor Ken Baugh reflects. “I was so depleted of my own energy that I had just enough to get from weekend to weekend… I came to the point where I just hit the wall.”
That’s how Ken begins my video interview with him and Matt Kearn, the co-chairman of the elder board of Coast Hills Church in Aliso Viejo, CA.
Ken describes the tipping point as occurring when he was leading a church programming meeting, “I had nothing. I had no ability to be creative. I was just locked up. That had never happened to me before… I was having an anxiety attack.”
The meeting didn’t go well and afterward he let his feelings spill out to his leadership team and as he did he thought, “Wow, that’s bad. Did I just say that? This could end in my demise.”
That’s when the church elders got involved. “Things were broken and they needed to be fixed,” Matt explains. So they “put Ken on Sabbatical” and tried to figure out what to do.
But Ken didn’t feel he was being given rest, he felt he was being disciplined. He’d lost his pulpit. He’s lost his power as leader of the church. So he and his wife Susan met with Kristi and me. “I remember sitting in your backyard and feeling like you and Kristi got it, you understood how we were feeling. You validated our emotions without taking sides. You listened to us.
“That’s what was missing throughout this whole process. I had lost my voice. It was confusing, it was maddening…
“I felt ignored and betrayed… It was paralyzing and created a fight response in me to protect and defend, but that wasn’t even working.
“Coming to see the two of you, it was like, ‘Finally, somebody’s listening to me!’”
Then after a few weeks out of town, Ken asked me to join him as his advocate when the elder meetings resumed. We had a series of very difficult meetings that ended with misunderstanding, division, and pain.
Ken admits to Matt in video interview, “I’m locked up in fear and defensiveness and anger, feeling paralyzed and having no voice, no say, and I didn’t give a rip as to how you guys felt at that time. I’m just trying to protect myself and my family.”
Matt replies, “We had different perspectives… It was broken… My priority at that point was not, ‘How is Ken doing? Always I care for Ken… but we have problems. We have to fix this.”
“You’re a failure! Your career is ruined!” The devil seized on Ken’s internal critic and accosted him.
But Ken didn’t fight his battle alone. He engaged in intensive soul care and he and Susan journeyed with a community of friends. He let his defenses down and received empathy to fight off his shame bully and his fears. Slowly, as he shared the stories and emotions of his pastorate and his life history, learned to grieve and absorb empathy, and did forgiveness work his discouraged spirit was revived.
During this time Ken met individually with each of the elders, which surfaced more material for self-awareness and prayer. He balanced his soul care conversations with lots of time in solitude at the beach in which he journaled and soaked in Scriptures that help him to more deeply experience the message of God’s love and grace that he’d been preaching for over twenty-five years.
Meanwhile the elders were doing their own processing with their interim pastor Todd Proctor. Then they asked me to meet with them for a series of meetings to help learn how to do a better job of “shepherding their pastor’s heart.” Then Ken and Todd met with the church staff and Ken and I met with Todd and the elders. Finally, the church congregation was brought into the reconciliation process with Ken leading the service.
Throughout the process there were prayers, tears, apologies, vulnerable sharing, empathy, and blessings!
God brought a redemptive surprise for Ken by bringing good out of what started out being so bad. Yes, Ken lost his pulpit, but he found his heart!
We’ll continue with this series on “Repairing Torn Hearts and Relationships” in the next three Soul Shepherding Devotional emails.
Watch the Reconciliation Video
You can watch the highlights from the Coast Hills Church reconciliation service and my interview with Ken and Matt on this Soul Shepherding video: “Reconciling a Pastor and Elder Board.” (This reached 27,000 people in it’s first two weeks!)
Contact Ken Baugh
Ken has a doctorate from Talbot Theological seminary and completed Soul Shepherding’s two-year certificate program in “TLC: Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Ministry.” Today he leads a ministry called “The Institute For Discipleship Training”. You can contact him here.
Soul Talks: Becoming a Wounded Healer
“I was burned out and didn’t even know it,” Ken Baugh says to Bill, reflecting on being a lead pastor. He shares his story of stress overload, church conflict, fear, shame, anger, and how God used this to call him into a new and deeper ministry of being a wounded healer to disciple people to Jesus. This is the first of a 4-week series on “Repairing Torn Hearts and Relationships.”
For help planning and getting the most out of your sabbatical, check out our Sabbatical Guide. It is our hope at Soul Shepherding that through our resources you would find encouragement and tools to help you receive fully, all that God has for you.
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