Podcast: Caring For Ministry Workers Part 1


Lindsey and therapist/co-founder Christine Schlottman discuss the unique challenges and needs of ministry workers with an emphasis on international missionaries.


Host: Lindsey Steffen, LMHC
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Christine Schlottman, LMHC, Co-Founder
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Welcome to wellspring on the air where professional Christian counselors share practical life and Bible insights. Why? Because hearts and minds matter. We're glad you joined our show today to hear from our host Tova Kreps, president of wellspring counseling in Miami. Tova is a licensed therapist with many years of experience as a Christian counselor to have a teacher's rights and consults and life of is pleased to have wellspring counseling, restoring hearts and minds in our community.

Lindsey: (00:27)
Hi there. I'm Lindsey Stephen, a licensed mental health counselor at wellspring and Co host for today's wellspring on the air. Tova is out today, but I'm excited to talk with wellspring Cofounder and Therapist Christine.. Welcome Christine. Hello Lindsey. It's great to be here. Yes. So today we're going to be doing a two part series on caring for people in ministry, but today we'll be focusing on the experience in particular challenges of people in Ministry and then the next week we'll focus on how churches and individuals can care well and meet the needs practically for people in ministry and their families. All right. Well. Christine, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself before we get started? Okay. Well, I've been, my husband and I have been with Cru, which is was originally campus crusade for Christ for, Oh gosh, many, many years. We started in 1981 and have been in different countries and different places over these years.

Christine: (01:29)
In 1983 we went to Ecuador, South America for eight years. And during that time I learned many, many things about the missionary life and world and I didn't grow up in a Christian family. So this was all a very new experience for me and it really helped me to broaden my view of what it means to be in Christian ministry full time and how to not only understand that for myself, but how to help other people that are in those situations. During that time we had our three children. Wow. And we were completely culturally immersed. Our mission at the time and still really is the mission of national missionaries. So we were the only Americans for the first probably four or five years we were there and are Ecuadorian staff initially. Didn't know quite what to do with us because we are the first ones that went, but eventually any pigs, we were the Guinea pigs.

Christine: (02:32)
But in retrospect it was really a great experience because as I said, we were fully immersed in the culture and really forced for me especially to learn the language, the culture, the people, how people saw lived and just all of those things that had I been probably more with an American mission group in that country, I would have had less exposure to that full immersion experience. Yeah. Well you really, yeah. It wasn't like going to another country and then you stepping into kind of an American bubble there. You were just fully one of the people, it sounds like an adopted their culture and maybe customs even. Yeah. Learned how to cook their food. Wow. And I learned Spanish there. We had an Ecuadorian single woman doctor that lived in our home with us and I learned her Spanish. Her brother said, I speak like her.

Christine: (03:29)
Okay. So I had my inhouse, um, language helper, which was really amazing. That's a very unique experience. And I think you've talked to me before a little about your experience and she was even just like a friend in that time. Right. And someone, cause yeah, we'll kind of, we'll go into some of the challenges of being a missionary or a person in ministry, but I know we've talked some just about feeling separated or some of the loneliness that can come. So we'll dive into that today. Well before we do go forward, what about the different types of missionaries? You mentioned there's different kind of categories I guess. Right? Well we have in the missionary arena, there are those that are longterm international missionaries who go from their own country to another country and probably are there anywhere from four plus years would be considered more longterm.

Christine: (04:24)
And then there are missionaries that go short term. We have many, many short term missions that go out for anywhere from a week to a month or two months, sometimes a year or two. And depending on the needs, depending on the mission, et Cetera. There are missionaries that are in the u s that are ministering to people here in this country. And our current situation is we live in Miami, but we travel and on short term trips into Latin America and the Caribbean, so there's all sorts of types of missionaries. There's missionaries that do evangelism, those that do church planting and those that are more behind the scenes doing administrative work, doing operations, crisis management. So many needs. I hear as you're listing all the, so many needs, all the workers is, yeah, there's so many needs obviously that need to be met. Yeah, and I think too, it's just important to mention that the people that are doing the work behind the scenes are just as important as the people that are out in the front lines.

Christine: (05:27)
Yeah, because were they not, they're holding down the fort, so to speak. Then those that are out on the front lines wouldn't be able to do what they do. Absolutely. That makes me think even here, maybe more practically for our listeners living here in the US and likely in the Miami area, just maybe thinking of our pastors, youth pastors, worship leaders, that they're kind of the front line people, but all the staffing and volunteers that go into keeping a church or ministry running. Exactly. Everyone has an important role. Yeah. Even at wellspring, we have our counselors kind of on the front lines, but then we think of our billing manager, office managers, and without them we would crumble and we know it. So yeah. Okay. Well, what do you think are some of the particular challenges that people in ministry, or even more specifically missionaries from your experience, what do they face as a Christian counselor?

Christine: (06:21)
What do you see maybe mental health wise or just other kind of practical needs that they need met? Mm, well I think one of the big things that I've seen, particularly in the missionary community is that lack of consistency of where you live. Often people are moving different homes within a country or different countries, and if you're not moving those around, you are moving. So there's a great period often of transition of rootlessness feeling separated from friends, the loss of relationships. And I think honestly, even in our transient society here in the U s we're seeing that very commonly also in our churches and pastors and leaders coming and going and then church members coming and going. So there's this sense of we are in transition and we're often always saying goodbye to people and then meeting new people and starting again so that that creates it's own level of often anxiety.

Christine: (07:21)
Loneliness is a big factor. I'm like grief as you describe it, you actually may be a lost, hasn't happened that you think of like someone has died, but really you are, you're losing a community or close friendships and I think it can be experienced in the same way as the death of someone right? Times, right? So that is a very, very common experience. And, and I think of leaders in our churches then when people leave that are leaders and volunteers and they leave the church because they move away or for whatever reasons, you go through a period of loss and grief. And because someone that was there that was important is no longer there. Okay. So there's, it's not just Christian workers that's in general, but I think particularly in this population, yeah, we feel that. Yeah. And what else? Anything else that stands out to you for missionaries or even just Christian worker?

Christine: (08:19)
Some of the challenges they face? Well, again, if we were to go into the international realm, the, the missionary realm, there are many depending on where you are possibly physical challenges as far as your physical safety. Maybe at risk, depending on what your mission is or what country you're in. I remember there was a situation when we were in Ecuador where there was a political situation that happened with the US and a country that was in the region and we were told, do not go to the malls, do not walk in the streets if you're an American or North American and you just need to lay low because there are rioters, people are very upset. So I felt for the first time living in that country because I felt very safe there. But suddenly I felt unsafe because of where I was from. So that was just an example of, and it was very minor and it didn't last a long time, but I think about people that are living in unsafe places day in and day out and what that does to them.

Christine: (09:21)
A level of trauma being trauma off, you're in survival mode. Exactly. Hypervigilance. Of course. We have many people in the world that are, their lives are at risk because of their faith and I pray often and I encourage our listeners to pray for those that are in persecuted places, the believers who are suffering for their faith and there are many and there are organizations that really provide insight and information to inform our churches here in this, the Western world of how to remember those that are suffering and be in prayer for them and give to them as well. Right. It helps support them. Well, I think here in the US we don't as often experience that physical risk, but I do, I think of how our church leaders and people in ministry and then abroad as well experienced spiritual warfare. I wonder, do you have any thoughts on that from your experience?

Christine: (10:17)
Yes. This is, this is a huge area of, and we really need to be informed, I think as all of us as believers in Christ of that we are in a battle and the enemy hates us, hates what we do, hates who we are, and we'll try to kill and destroy that which we do. And I just think it's so important to remind each other of that and to also be in prayer and have that awareness for our leaders were told in the word to be praying for our leaders and to support them in those ways. I think that the reality is we're often targeted those that are in Christian ministry, where are a target for the enemy? If he can bring us down. And one of the biggest ways that happens is through discouragement, depression, possibly through our children, our families, or extended families for single people.

Christine: (11:17)
We see that there are a lot of things that can go awry that the enemy might want to use to distract us from God's calling us to do so. That awareness that we yes, are in a battle is really important and to be praying and supporting one another and reminding each other that we are not alone and we need to really stand together in that battle. Yeah, I guess and in prayer and also just almost with an expectancy. I think of the verse, how in the world you will have trial, but take heart, I've overcome the world and just know that if you are someone in ministry in particular that likely there will be hard circumstances that come because as Christians, whatever we're carrying out as unto the Lord is important work, but this work especially of evangelizing and carrying the Gospel. Of course Satan wants to stop that, so just really having your prayer team and your support system and and being ready when those trials come, we should not be surprised. Right, exactly. Almost expecting that thing as you said. Yeah. Okay. Well thank you so much Christine. We're going to take a short break and I'm Lindsay Stephin with wellspring on the air. We'll be right back.

Speaker 1: (12:31)
Wellspring now offers professional Christian counseling at six locations in Dade County. Therapists are now taking clients at toony locations when at Crossbridge, Miami Springs, and key Biscayne for more information, (786) 573-7010 or wellspring, miami.org for more information.

Christine: (12:52)
And we're back. I'm Lindsay, stuff in with wellspring on the air and I'm here today with our co founder and therapist Christine Slot men. We're talking today about caring for people in Ministry with an emphasis on caring for missionaries, international missionaries. We're doing a two part series, so make sure you tune in. This is part one, we're talking about the particular challenges people in Ministry face and some of the experiences that they have. And next week we'll be talking about how individuals and churches can really support and come around these Christian workers and people in Ministry. So we have been talking about some of the challenges that missionaries and people in Ministry face and we've talked about having separations, loneliness, the cultural stresses, physical risks, spiritual warfare. Um, and we'll just continue that discussion. Christine's, so what, what comes to mind when you think of some of the particular challenges people in Ministry face?

Christine: (13:53)
Well, I think the one that stands out, another one that stands out to me is the area of interpersonal relationships. And actually this is statistically stated and proven that the number one reason that missionaries returned from the field is because of conflict on their mission teams. Okay. That's the only thing to me. Yeah. So you see how that's even used, which should be a force for good and kind of binding together and being strong. But even that can be divisive I guess. And again, when we talk about spiritual warfare, this is one of the areas the enemy works. And uh, what happens is people have misunderstandings. They don't really communicate well. Okay. Or they hold resentments and don't forgive. Yeah. And in the cross cultural setting, again, there's the cultural issues sometimes get confusing. Okay. Like we in our country, we would do it this way, but this country you would do it that way.

Christine: (14:52)
Yeah. I was speaking with a missionary team, uh, several years back who had people from five different countries on the missionary team and yet six country. Oh my goodness. So they were having a lot of challenges and difficulties. I can imagine. Yeah. The cultural dynamics there would be so hard cause yeah, you don't have kind of that commonality and you don't have an understanding of each other's communication or even just cause tone, you know, country to country. Some people I think sometimes in Spanish you just say, give it to me. You know, and that's not rude. But if I said that to you at work, that would probably come across as rude. And I think too, that's again true even in our own churches, um, and missions locally, right? That we don't even have to be from another country to misunderstand each other speaking English. The same link.

Christine: (15:44)
Exactly. Yeah. It's a common theme in our human relationships is that we will, because of what we're bringing into the relationship primer, own past our own experiences, we will interpret things from our own filter. Yeah, I hear that. So kind of, that's so important. Thinking of missionaries on the field or in Christian ministry here, even in this states is knowing your past and having dealt with that. So of course as counselors, that's a big rat, a big topic that we would definitely have a bias towards. But I do, I hear it. Let's say if you are conflict avoidant and growing up you didn't see arguing or even conflict dealt with, well you're probably not going to do that well as an adult if you haven't learned, and so then we have things come up really big issues and church or on the field and people don't know how to deal with it or talk about it.

Christine: (16:38)
Exactly. That's, that's a good, good point. And I think to be able to understand ourselves well is, as you said, important. So I encourage people to think about what is triggering you in this situation of conflict. For example, you have a strong reaction to a situation with a, in a relationship or in a church or with your leaders, whatever it is. So you have to be able to step back and say, what is happening right now? What are my thoughts about this situation? What are my emotions? Where do I feel it in my body? Yeah. How disturbing is this zero to 10 given a number? 10 say tends to worst. So you actually are doing some self analysis about what's happening in me and then what did I do to cope with that situation and how does this feel familiar to me? I'll often ask that question of people when they're in a conflict, does this feel familiar?

Christine: (17:33)
Have you ever had an experience like this in the past? At least something comes up, I guess. Yes. So as we say, as we understand that, then we can say, okay, so yeah, my mother was like this leader, or like this church member, they remind me of blank. So then we can begin to say, okay, that's probably connected. The past is connected to the present, which is leading you to this place of interpersonal conflict and maybe a stronger reaction than normally I would expect. So it's really this conflict we're having, it's all my emotions about that. Plus all these emotions from growing up with my mom. So it's a lifetime of emotion coming out and you're not really just dealing with the present issue at hand. That's a great point. And I think that even outside of Christian ministry, just in general to our audience, I think that's a lot of our triggers and high anxieties and areas that we just can't seem to get unstuck from it.

Christine: (18:33)
Usually it is rooted in something from the past that's familiar and is being triggered now in a present situation. So that's great. I think you're just talking about self awareness. Exactly. Knowing why do you think, feel, behave the way you do and at wellspring counseling. That's definitely something we love to work on with people and explore. So we always give a plug that if you're someone who is experiencing some of these issues that we're talking about today, you know, look us up on our website wellspring, miami.org and maybe um, there's some things you can get unstuck from in your life. So I think to the, if I would call it the tragedy maybe of this, when it's unchecked and we don't really understand and we're not self aware, this can be divisive in our teams and our churches in our missions and missions and churches and groups that have amazing vision and God is doing amazing things and then we get tripped up in these interpersonal situations that we're not dealing with and that moving forward with and this can destroy it.

Christine: (19:40)
Yeah, I've seen it happen. Sure. Destroy full ministries. I mean even I've experienced hearing of things shutting down ministries and nonprofits, you know, here or yeah, broad teams breaking up. I was a part of that and I know it's very painful and the people I think that who are also are affected of course are the nationals and people who have been ministered to and loved by these Christian workers, people in ministry, and then when it falls apart, that's very painful for not just of course the missionaries, but the people they were serving. So we love if before going to the field, I know Christine would definitely agree with this from our conversation, that you need to do your own work. You need to, before going into ministry or becoming a missionary, you need to know yourself through and through and be able to identify quickly your issues and your own baggage coming out because the people you are affecting, I mean that that goes out.

Christine: (20:37)
Why'd you might be some of the few Christian workers even in a country. And so you are wanting to of course bring a healthy, um, positive experience and really introduce them to the gospel without baggage and emotional things getting in the way of the work. And I think as we think about our church situations to the, even if you're not involved in the conflict that you're a witness to you two are impacted. Yes. Okay. And so there's secondary losses here and I know people that have left church never want to have in a church experience again because of the conflict and the unresolved and the things that were never really addressed. Right. And that's, that's heartbreaking. It is. It really is that you would leave church and, and even at times walk away from the faith because people couldn't resolve conflict, which is really, it should be an elementary, basic life skill we have, but it's amazing how many of us don't have that as adults and have to learn it in our twenties even thirties.

Christine: (21:42)
Yeah. Right. Okay. The Bible talks a lot about how to interrelate with one another. How many, I forget how many one another versus there are in the Bible specifically. Yeah. About loving one another. Speaking the truth in love, forgiving, having compassion. Right. So I hear that these things are not just things that would be nice for us to do, but we're actually commanded to do and that's a convicting, but wonderful reminder. Yeah. Well, let's move on and maybe talk a bit. We've talked about Christian workers and missionaries, but what do you think, uh, the differences in their experience? So we can go even a little more specifically on the international missionary side. What do you, what do you see for them that's different than our local domestic Christian workers? Well, I think we've touched on a little bit, but certainly the cultural differences that's, I remember having a, him a couple images when I first went to Ecuador that God gave me to describe how I was feeling.

Christine: (22:46)
I often think in images and creative, you know, ways of what is it that I'm really experiencing right now. And I had this, this thought about a table that is beautifully set with all the silverware, plates, glasses, food, and it looks so perfect. And then someone comes along and pulls the tablecloth out and everything goes flying in the air. Okay. That's how I felt that I fit in and I knew my culture and how to live in my culture. Right? I went to this culture and I was a fish out of water. I had no idea. And everything that was familiar was now not familiar. So it was that sense of chaos and confusion. Yeah. I think of the big things like the language, cultural norms, that's all different. But then we get down to the little things like just maybe I have to boil my water now, or, um, just these, these little things about everyday life that you relearn and you don't know your grocery store anymore.

Christine: (23:47)
Just having to learn a whole new city, which is hard any way, but then doing it when you can't communicate with people. Maybe it's the most humbling experience of my life. Truly. Yeah. As I was learning the language, I was 26 years old and I felt like a three year old and I thought, oh my goodness, does anyone ever get to know me here? Am I ever going to know them here? Yeah. You feel, I think that loneliness that you talked about earlier, that separation that I can't even communicate with people. They can't know me or even know my personality. Maybe. Cause that's hard to come out when learning a language. Right, right. The other illustration really quick. Yes. The idea and these are very old fashioned washers, that we're the kind that you had to push the clothes through and then it just rung the clothes all out and they were completely [inaudible].

Christine: (24:37)
I felt completely wrong out and completely worn and not myself. That was the other image. And again, I love that now you having this experience and honestly learning the hard way, maybe going before ministries and mission organizations knew what they know. Now I hear that you, you learned the hard way truly. And so now I imagine you speaking, you know, I know you travel and speak to missionaries and people abroad and I just imagine that you can empathize to the highest degree, which is, you know, I think God using some of your suffering, even to let you relate and now help people in their own healing journey in these arenas so it's not wasted. But I'm sure you're glad. Maybe that season's over for now. Yeah. Okay. Well thank you so much for being here today, Christine. We're going to do. We're going to wrap up our first part of our two part series on caring for people in Christian ministry with an emphasis on our international missionaries. So we've talked a lot about the practical needs and challenges that people in Ministry and Missionary Space and tune in next week to hear about how churches and individuals can care for these workers well and practically meet their needs for Christian workers, missionaries and their families. I'm Lindsey Stephen with wellspring on the air because hearts and minds matter

Speaker 1: (26:02)
well, spring on the air as a production of wellspring counseling, a nonprofit professional counseling center with multiple locations in Miami Dade County. Wellspring therapists are licensed by the state of Florida and Christian in their world views. They have wide ranges of clinical expertise including marriage, family, anxiety, depression and trauma. They're diverse. Group of therapists includes several who speaks Spanish or Portuguese.