REST: Interview with Pastor Mike Osborne

mikeosborneJoining us today is Rev. Mike Osborne, both a seasoned Presbyterian minister and founder of Surviving Ministry – an invaluable resource for those in ministry facing the inevitable pressures and conflicts that arise within church leadership positions. Mike offers both practical advice and an invitation to rest through his own and others’ stories of hardship in ministry. He is working on a book for pastors tentatively titled “Surviving Ministry: How to Avoid, Weather, and Recover from the Storms of Church Leadership”. You can learn more and keep up with Mike at www.survivingministry.com

TRI: Hey Mike, glad you could join us today. I’d love to start by just having you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where are you working? What’s your current position?

Mike Osborne: I am the associate pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida. I’ve been there going on about 14 years. Currently, I am the pastor of discipleship, so I oversee everything our church does for spiritual formation. If you divide the church into worship, mission, and nurture, I’m the nurture guy.

I’ve been in ministry for about 30 years between St. Louis, Easley SC, and Ocala before coming to UPC.

TRI: So what drew you into ministry?

Mike Osborne: At the beginning, I had a genuine desire to equip and disciple human beings with the gospel. I’ve always felt called to teaching and working with people.

But I did wrestle with it. I’m an introvert, but I was a super introvert then. It petrified me to stand up in front of a group. A friend asked me if I ever considered seminary, but I remember asking God that I needed to be sharpened in the areas that he would want me because I didn’t feel qualified to be a pastor.

TRI: So having been in ministry for quite a long time, has there ever been a time in which you felt that you should leave vocational ministry or was there ever a time that you actually did leave ministry due to conflict/exhaustion/burnout/etc.?

Mike Osborne: I have never left the ministry but there was this one church where I seriously questioned my calling. I was there for 5 years. It was all I could do to stay 5 years. I was emotionally spent maybe after three. Several things: I was not a good fit, I went through the interview process too hastily, too idealistically. I didn’t really think, I didn’t really listen to my wife. They were a hurting church. They had had two pastors prior to me and both of them were Type A, charismatic pastors with a bit of celebrity status.

So I come in after the previous pastor had been caught in adultery. Emotions were running really high, and there were still people holding onto the old pastor.

And I come in as this soft-spoken, relational, slow-moving kind of guy. Every red light on my dashboard was letting me know I was in a rough place. I made some changes too quickly, and things fell apart. Every day there was complaining, about me, the elders, the worship service, everything. Tons of stuff started happening, accusations, death of one of our staff, and the previous adultery of the former pastor left us with a lawsuit. So much happened at once, and I’m not really the kind of guy to handle that all that well.

It all kind of came down, and there was what you might call a “splant”– a church plant that was in reality a split. During this, many of the people left. I was left with disgruntled elders, who were mad at me. An elder told me I wasn’t fit to be a pastor. Another elder quoted this thing by John Maxwell which said, “To find out if you’re a leader, look behind you to see if there’s anyone following you.” People were talking about me all the time. I felt such betrayal. I felt such shame about myself. I asked myself all the time, “Why did I do this?”

I often look upon those five years as a failure.

TRI: How did this time of such pressure, conflict, and betrayal impact you physically and emotionally?

Mike Osborne: The main effect on me was a feeling of panic. I couldn’t stop thinking, “What do I do now? What does so and so think of me?” My wife told me I was so preoccupied. I couldn’t stop thinking about stuff. I kept second-guessing myself. I kept looking over my shoulder. I lost all perspective of whether I was called there.

I dealt with sleeplessness as well as intense worry. I was also diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

I never really got demotivated, but it actually hyped me up. I couldn’t stop thinking and generating ideas.

TRI: During this time, did you feel like there were people you could let into what was happening? Did you have any kind of support system?

Mike Osborne: There was one elder with whom I was really close. My wife and I were also in a small group.. But after the split, they all left the church, and they knew I needed to leave as well. My wife was a huge support to me through this whole time.

TRI: In your opinion, what are some indicators of a pastor or clergyman at risk of burnout or drastic moral failure?

Mike Osborne: Being alone. Not having support. Not having friends. Taking himself too seriously. Taking the work too seriously. The guy at risk thinks that he is crucial. Like I did. In a messianic way, I thought I was the answer to this church’s problems. I thought it would just work out – that was a warning sign.

You think your ideas are the best ever. Your sermons are the best ever.

There’s a refusal to get help, to get counsel – “I’ll get out of this somehow”.

Addictions as well, many will find ways to cope with the pain.

TRI: As a leader in ministry, why would you say it’s important to take care of yourself? It seems like it’s a trend for pastors to assume they must give support and not receive any. Did you ever feel like there was a pressure to not take care of yourself?

Mike Osborne: It’s absolutely important to take care of yourself. A guy who can’t stop, can’t rest, can’t Sabbath, that guy is in trouble. A pastor or a person in ministry has to know himself well and like himself. Be comfortable with his own skin. Be able to say, “No, I can’t really do that, that’s not my style.” I think a pastor being interviewed for a church needs to be able to say, “This is what I can do pretty well, and if you’re not looking for that you don’t want me here, and I don’t want to be here.” And I think for me I wanted to be everything to everyone. It’s important to be able to just stop, and not answer the phone call or read that email.

I worry the most about pastors in that we have such great expectations placed upon us nowadays. When I was a kid, I had a pastor who wasn’t expected to be everything: raise money, be a politician, have some grand vision to change the world. And I think this is a trend among celebrity pastors. I think a pastor’s main job is to love his flock. You go to gatherings of pastors and hear some of them say that’s not what you should be doing. You hear that if your church isn’t growing you aren’t gifted to be a pastor. I worry about those who think that way.

Most of us are just really ordinary. We need to just be happy about ordinary and small things. Pastors need to be happy about the small gains.

TRI: Do you feel as though you have found rest as a pastor? If so, what helped?

Mike Osborne: Yes. I really do think I have. Most days, I feel a lot of peace. Other days, there is still a lot of restlessness about me. When I do feel that rest though, it is usually coming to grips with who I am. Realizing I have value in the Kingdom just being me. Not squeezing myself into the model people expect me to be.

I’ve also found it being with friends. I meet with two guys every two weeks just to process life. I also have a life group in which I can be honest. I also try to reward myself. If I’m feeling spent some days, I’ll go to a movie by myself or just indulge in some TV show.

I tell people having a life outside the church helps so much. I play racquetball. I run. I have a little garden in my backyard. So many pastors I know are only about their church. They’re always there. And sometimes that makes me ashamed of myself but it worries me about them.

TRI: Has counseling ever been a consideration for you as you’ve worked in ministry?

Mike Osborne: I would advise counseling for everybody and anybody. That goes without saying. Everyone needs counseling.

TRI: What advice would you give to a person or leader in ministry?

Mike Osborne: Look for support, those who can meet with you and pour into you. Taking the initiative to care for yourself and meeting with someone to process life is really helpful. Reading books that get to the heart is also helpful.

I think the person would need to expose that thing down deep that needs to be brought up to the surface. He needs to feel that pain and express that pain to somebody.

And honestly, probably finding a pastor in another city with whom you can talk from time to time.

This all takes tremendous amounts of courage. He’s got to get in touch with the Gospel. He has to recognize how much God loves him. That is what helps me and continues to help me.

TRI: So with all this being said, how would you define rest?

Mike Osborne: I think rest is the state of knowing how much God delights in you. And not because of all you do but because you are simply His son or daughter. That is the main thing. If a guy can get that, that’ll affect everything. I think rest is the idea, the reality that God is smiling at you right now.

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