Psyche & Spirit TM

_________________Pastoral Support E-Magazine____________________

Clergy Self-Care & the Psychological Aspects of Ministry
brief clergy wellness articles for busy pastors

by Arden Mahlberg, PhD, SC

Psyche & Spirit is an email publication written for church professionals, providing self-care and wellness ideas and addressing sources of stress in the ministry as well as exploring psychological aspects of ministry.  It has been published since 1999.  As a clergy wellness continuing education service, we keep you informed of the latest wellness research.  Articles are brief and to the point, thoughtful and useful.  There is no charge for individual subscriptions.  Issues are published every four weeks. 


Articles on topics such as clergy self-care, anxiety & depression, boundaries, dealing with change, communication, conflict, congregational issues, couples and family issues, and personal growth. 


Look at the feedback we have received from our grateful readers.  Join your colleagues by entering your subscription.  Your first issue will arrive at your email address within 4 weeks. 

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Psyche & Spirit is written, produced and published by Arden Mahlberg, PhD, SC, who provides clergy support services at The Integral Psychology Center in Madison, Wisconsin.  Arden has over 25 years experience working with hundreds of church professionals and their families.

Questions? contact Psyche & Spirit



Psyche & Spirit


Read a recent issue:

Psyche & Spirit - Vol. 15, No. 4


Dear Clergy and Church Professionals:


Welcome to our online publication for church professionals.  Our goal is to bring you brief articles and information that can help with self-care, stress and the psychological aspects of ministry.  Psyche & Spirit is written and published by Arden Mahlberg, PhD, a provider of clergy support services in Madison, Wisconsin.


To change your email address for this publication, please use the “Update Profile/Email Address” link at the bottom of this email.  Colleagues can subscribe at


In this issue:

1.  Teaching How to Love   

2.  The Church & Bullying    

3.  “Quotagious” Thoughts . . .         

4.  Thinking Alike

5.  False Consensus



1. Teaching How to Love 

Mark Yanconelli and Frank Rogers wonder "Is it Harmful to Tell People to Love Their Enemies If You Never Teach Them How?"  Likewise, is it harmful to tell people they need to forgive if you never teach them how?  Is it harmful to tell people they should not hate if you never teach them how?  How do we teach how to love the Lord with our whole being?  How do we teach how to love our neighbor?  How do we teach how to love ourselves?


Without explicit instruction, people can easily conclude that they are personally deficient or that Jesus had unrealistic expectations of us, and that “This radical ethic of compassion seems extraordinary to the point of being unattainable—or attainable only to the gifted few.”  In the face of the Amish and the Nelson Mandelas of the world, we feel “indicted and shamed.”  We don’t really even expect ourselves to come anywhere close to the love Jesus made the Great Commandment and its expression toward others and self.  For somel, if our salvation is not at stake, why bother?  That is exactly where love of the Lord comes into play.  Love of the Lord may be the motivation to love all that God created.  Sometimes, for example, siblings realize that when they love their parents, they want their parents to be happy.  They don’t want to hurt what their parents love because they don’t want to hurt their parents.  And so, they come to love each other.


Yanconelli and Rogers note that some of us don’t believe we have the God-given capacity to love unconditionally.  We personalize it as a personal failure.  But when we examine the way people actually become more loving, we realize that it is through removal of internal barriers.  When the barriers are removed, the “log in the eye,” the capacity to love is revealed.  The capacity is there, given by God.


The barriers are internal reactions we bring to the experience of others, ourselves and the Lord.  These reactions, like internal commentary based on presumptions of ill will, unrealistic expectations of others, fear, jealousy and anger, block our ability to access compassion.  When we quickly recognize these barriers, we can turn away from them and turn toward compassion.


A simple and effective exercise to do so is to recognize our reactive inner response to the other person, breath it in, and then breathe out a blessing toward that person, like “May you have peace; may you have happiness; may you have whatever you need.”  Consider doing this now as you think of someone you are upset with.  Do the process three times and then check if anything has changed in your attitude toward that person.  Usually, it will.  But if not, don’t give up.  There are ways to access compassion in the most challenging circumstances.  Just don’t let shame and feelings of inadequacy get in your way.



2. The Church & Bullying


Newly released research on bullying in schools is expanding the public understanding of who is being targeted.  Aggressors don’t just attack the weak; they also attack those in relatively good social standing.  In fact, the more status a student gains, the more likely they are to be bullied, especially girls who are dating.  The exception is those who make it into the top 5% of status.  In that position, they feel secure.  Short of that, they may feel threatened by someone else’s position and be motivated to find ways of attacking them.  Others may also feel threatened by them and attack them.  We see similar behavior among adults who feel threatened by others as long as they feel they have an avenue of attack that will not come back to bite them.  Spreading rumors, for example, generally feels safe to a lot of people.


The researchers note the surprising finding that students who seem to have a lot of social support can actually be more adversely affected by bullying.  They may be more likely to experience depression and anxiety in response to bullying than those less well connected.  They may have more to loose.  The bullying and putdowns they experience may also not be as clear and obvious as what is directed toward lower status youth.  Adults may minimize these actions with labels like “drama,” rather than putting them in the same category as other forms of attack, put downs, power plays and insults.  Also, bullying tends to trigger shame responses, which quickly make a person feel like an outsider, isolated and unworthy.  A person feeling shame is not always likely to reach out for support.


This research reinforces the value of church youth groups so long as they effectively function to be non-hierarchical and teach youth to interact differently than they usually do in other contexts.  This does not happen without explicit direction, including perhaps compassion training. The usual forms of interaction in society are based on affinity.  We invitingly approach those we know and like, while avoiding those we either don’t know or don’t like or perceive we don’t have much in common with.  Church fellowship is really about the only context any of us have, regardless of age, that can help us learn to relate to everyone the same, so everyone feels included and of equal status. 


The researchers also make the point that the highest status youth are especially well positioned to intervene to protect others without being at risk of losing status or coming under attack themselves.  When a higher status person tries to put a stop to something, the lower status people tend to comply.  One of the concepts that may help our youth and our adults is Jesus’ comment that when love prevails, the last become first and the first become last.  When those on top are filled with compassion, which we hope the church is helping all of us become, they then put the needs of those on the bottom ahead of their own.  The first put the last ahead of themselves.  That’s how love works.  No one else is teaching or modeling that.  If the church is not doing it, no one is.



3.  “Quotagious” Thoughts . . .


“We are in the perpetual care of others.”
-Wayne Muller


“Millions yearn for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
-Susan Ertz


“Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”
-Miguel de Unamuno



4. Thinking Alike

What a relief it is when we find that everyone in our leadership team or colleague group is thinking alike when a difficult topic is raised!  What a drag to be reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s observation, that “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” Quick consensus can mean a lack of reflection.


5. False Consensus

How willing do you think others are to disagree with you?  If the people who are involved in decision making with you are not comfortable disagreeing with you or challenging your thinking, it may be contributing to false consensus.  When false, consensus only exists above the surface, but not below it. Sometimes false consensus is only revealed when others don’t join in implementing a decision, or quickly turn against it when opposition arises. Another sign is that the change does not outlive the pastor’s tenure.  When you leave, they drop what you instituted.  They never fully embraced it but didn’t want to tell you.   


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