How to step back from being a helicopter leader

I was sitting in our adult Sunday school class a while back while our teacher led us through conversations around the book Doing Life with Your Adult Children by Jim Burns. As you can imagine, we had some lively discussion as we tackled topics like:

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Book Review: Trust by Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud is an acclaimed leadership expert, clinical psychologist and New York Times bestselling author. He has written 45 books, with the Boundaries series probably being the best known. But his latest book entitled Trust may be, in my opinion, his finest or at least one of his most important offerings to date.

The book is almost 300 pages but isn’t weighed down with theory and research that you have to slog through. It’s a practical resource on the importance of trust, and why it’s essential in life, leadership and business.

Over the years Dr. Cloud realized this theme of trust was occurring repeatedly in both his clinical work and in his role as a business coach with CEOs and leadership teams. So, it would be fair to say, Trust has been in the works for decades, quietly taking shape behind the scenes.

As a pastor for over 35 years and now in my role at Focus on the Family Canada, I concur with Dr. Cloud when he writes, “Trust is a key component in every relationship we have.” He goes on to say, “Trust is the fuel for all of life. Nothing in life works without it.”

I think this is one of the reasons why the book resonated so deeply with me. This topic of trust permeates every area of our lives. We want it in our marriage, in our friendships, in our churches, at work and around the board table. Many guests who’ve attended a Kerith Retreat have openly shared about relationships where trust has been broken and they are left wondering how they can rebuild it – or if they even want to try. This book is a timely guide to help them answer those questions.

In this book, Dr. Cloud breaks his material into five sections:

  1. Trust makes life work
  2. The five essentials of trust
  3. Growing in trust
  4. The model for repairing trust
  5. Moving forward

I’ve chosen one or two quotes from each section that were important takeaways for me:

Section 1: Trust makes life work

“We can become better and better at knowing who is trustworthy and who is not. And we can get better at deciding when and with whom we will put ourselves at risk.”

Section 2: The five essentials of trust

“Trust begins not with convincing someone to trust you; it starts with someone feeling that you know them.”

Section 3: Growing in trust

“Remember, trust is the key to life, and the way to have a full life is not only to find trustworthy people, but to be able to enter into relationships with them well.”

“But we do have to acknowledge that sometimes, I cannot trust very well because of my own issues with trust. The great news is that a torn or defective trust muscle can be repaired.”

Section 4: The model for repairing trust

“Trusting again is an open-eyed, informed decision based on good, objective criteria. You will need solid reasons to trust again.”

“When you choose to trust again, begin with little steps.”

Section 5: Moving forward

“Being able to talk about something that bothers us, quickly, keeps problems from growing larger and prevents us from trusting people who are not trustworthy.”

“Learning not to repeat mistakes of misplaced trust is about learning from experience. This is called wisdom.”

Let me add that Dr. Cloud makes it clear that repairing trust is not clean and orderly. As he explains, “[People will] cycle back and forth through these stages in a messy process. At the same time, it is important to not skip steps.” He is also very clear that sometimes when trust is broken you work through the steps to only repair your trust muscle and maybe not to repair the fractured relationship.

In one sentence I think Dr. Cloud’s book can be summed up by its subtitle: “Trust is knowing when to give it, when to withhold it, how to earn it and to fix it when it gets broken in life and business.”

Trust for me will be a handbook that continues to offer both candid truth and hope-filled possibilities.

If you’re one of those people who is making a list of the must-read books in 2024, I highly recommend you put Trust by Dr. Henry Cloud on the top of the list.


Marshall Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with his wife, Merrie. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

© 2024 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

Why your church needs a care ministry (and how Hope Made Strong can help)

Let’s be honest: ministry can be tough. Between sermons, meetings, counselling sessions, and the never-ending to-do list, it’s easy to feel stretched thin and forget about one of the most important aspects of our calling: caring for our flock.

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Ensuring Christmas remains the most wonderful time of the year

Christmas used to be my favourite time of year. As a child and even into my young adult years, Christmas meant family time. It meant vacation. Christmas was about the never-ending stream of amazing meals, baked goods and festivities. There was list of movies to watch and there was the music, of course, which played on a continual loop in the background. It was – at one point – quite literally the most wonderful time of year.

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Why psychological safety is essential for leading teams

When I became a lead pastor in 2008, after 20 years as an associate pastor, I knew I had a lot to learn about leading a large staff team. So, rather than trying to figure everything out on my own, I reached out to one of my board members for some help. Her job, with a well-known corporation, was working with numerous, diverse teams to show them how to have more effective staff meetings which, in turn, would lead to increased productivity for her company.

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Assessing the value of Kerith Retreats: Summary of a doctoral study

The demands that are regularly experienced by pastoral leaders can be overwhelming and soul draining. Studies have shown that the past three to four years have been particularly difficult for most ministry leaders. Today’s leader may find him or herself weary, discouraged and joyless. Yet this is not a post-pandemic phenomenon – King David modelled a godly appeal for divine assistance (a model we attempt to highlight as part of the Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Retreats).

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Reasons I avoided going to a retreat and what I learned when I went

It was 1988 and I was waiting on the tarmac, wondering what it would be like to fly in a 737. I was nervous. I waited until the passenger in the assigned seat next to me sat down and I started a conversation. I was trying to find a distraction, something that would take my mind off the trip, something that would relax me. It didn’t take long for my new friend to take me up on the conversation. Turns out she had a distraction: it was liquid form in a small bottle. She consumed a few of them and it seemed to work for her. For myself, I had no interest in numbing my reality, but rather doing my best to embrace my first flight on a large aircraft. I had been on a smaller plane once before and all was good. Although the bank turns made me grip my seat to make sure I would not fall out of the aircraft. Funny how it made me feel a little more secure. Knees knocking, hands folded to pray, conversation happening with my neighbour who by now had a hard time keeping quiet – I was just nervous to fly. What would make me muster up the courage to get on this flight if I was nervous and afraid?

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When forced, unexpected termination comes knocking

I sat quietly and listened as the pastor shook his head in both grief and bewilderment. He was desperately trying to make sense of his unexpected, forced termination from the church he had pastored and loved. To add insult to injury, he grieved that there was no effort for a biblical resolution, which, in his opinion, would have addressed some of the issues that the board threw on the table for his dismissal. It was painful to watch as the reality of what he was facing washed over him.

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Saving Christmas by setting boundaries

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)

Pastoral ministry is intensely rewarding but can also be highly demanding work. In the process of exercising the unique call that God has placed on your life, you have – and will – experience pressure and stress along with myriad blessings.

Such pressures may push against your emotional and temporal boundaries, sometimes asking more than what you are willing to give. Your deepest desire is most likely to point people towards Jesus, yet sometimes you may feel like you are a performer whose every move is scrutinized, every boundary pushed. Parishioners call you in the evenings. Meetings abound. You feel pressure to captivate with an immaculate sermon. There is no such thing as a 40-hour work week.

And that’s just during the regular season.

A blue Christmas

The Christmas season often compounds those issues. The broader community, who attends one or two times a year, pops in on Christmas Eve expecting much. You are invited to just one more evening event, however genuinely friendly the invite may be. Maybe there are service projects – shoes boxes, hampers, and the like. Depending on the size of your church and your role, you may just juggle these as an overseer, or you may be directly involved; either way, stress has a way of building at the end of the year.

If you aren’t careful with your boundaries, the Christmas season can become a whirlwind, spinning you until you realize that it’s January and you didn’t quite get the time for yourself – or your family – that you wanted. That you needed. Pastoral burnout is a major issue within our churches. Unfortunately, pastors are poor at setting boundaries – because people are poor at setting boundaries.

Taking care of yourself

Matthew 22:39 tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves. It does not suggest that we must first learn to love ourselves before we can love others. The author simply assumes that you do, in fact, naturally love yourself and care for yourself accordingly. Many have never been taught, or they simply neglect the basics of what it means to love oneself during a ministry of ongoing giving, especially where boundaries are concerned.

So, Matthew 22:39 can serve as a reminder to care for oneself in order to continue in effective ministry. God does not desire to see his shepherds burned out. Stretched? Yes. Challenged? Certainly. Those bring growth. Burnout not so much – although we know that God can use even the hardest of crashes as a crucible.

Here are some suggestions to consider this Christmas.

1. Making a list

What are your seasonal boundaries – evenings or events that you carve into your calendar that stand resolute? If something comes up that threatens them, do they remain unshaken? Find out what the non-negotiables are, the things that are supremely life-giving and energizing – traditions, events, evenings – and defend them.

Ask your spouse, too, or whoever it is in your life that will be desiring time with you that you desire to invest in, for their feedback – children, parents, friends, and so on. They will notice if you prioritize others over them; likewise, they will notice when you bring them into the process. The simple act of bringing them into the discussion demonstrates your heart for them.

2. Checking it twice

You’ll know a boundary has been crossed because you will feel it. There will be frustration towards the person who requested something. You will look at your schedule and feel disgruntled, victimized. You’ll be defensive. You’ll be exhausted.

Use all of these feelings as information. If you were walking through your house barefoot and stepped on a broken ornament, your body would tell you by way of pain. You would stop, sit, and look at the source of the discomfort – and then do what was necessary to tend to it, heal it. You would walk with a slight limp for a time so as to not put too much weight on the cut. Basically, you would do what was in your best interest, just as Matthew 22:39 assumes.

Treat boundaries the same way. When you feel emotional discomfort, or distress, see it as a pain signal. Stop. Sit. Look at the source of the pain, take steps to ensure you tend to it. Then take care when walking barefoot around the Christmas tree.

3. Parting gifts

But let’s say this Christmas season has already gotten away from you. Maybe things are set in motion that cannot be changed. I would encourage you to reflect on this, and continue to reflect on this throughout the season after Christmas. Where did you feel a boundary crossed? Was there something you said yes to that you wish you hadn’t? How did it affect you, and perhaps your family? There may also be value to reflect on this, as appropriate, with your family. What would they like to see change? Take ownership of the boundaries you didn’t defend, and be prepared for next year.

Finally, if you find yourself struggling to say no, ask yourself: What is it about saying no that I find so uncomfortable? Is it because I hate disappointing people? Don’t like being seen as incompetent, not good enough? Feel like it is a godly sacrifice, a cross I must bear? Spend some time reflecting on the reasons why you make the choices that you shouldn’t, or don’t make the choices that you should. The answer to that question is at the root of all of those decisions – and you may discover that some of these reasons are not actually healthy or even biblically true.

Silent night

It is my hope and my prayer that you will find rest this Christmas season, whoever it is you are spending time with, and whatever it is that you are doing. Remember: Jesus came to earth as a baby to save the world – and that does, in fact, include pastors. Don’t get so entangled in your work that you miss the gift of grace to you. Take time for yourself and those around you – to rest, breathe and marvel at the wonder of the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)


Luke Campbell is a counsellor with Focus on the Family Canada and a lifelong PK.

© 2022 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

How a season without a pastor helped me appreciate pastors even more

I almost hugged the new furnace when it arrived at our home. We’d been without heat for about eight days and it was the middle of winter (OK, a Lower Mainland winter but for us in BC, it was cold). My husband, son, dog and I had all been sleeping in the same room in the hopes that our collective body heat would keep us warm throughout the night. While the hardwood floors creaked as our townhouse heated up quickly, I appreciated not wearing various layers of clothing to keep my teeth from chattering.

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