Margie Bryce

Your leadership coach
and self-care advocate

104: The Post-COVID world: deconstruction

The Crabby Pastor
The Crabby Pastor
104: The Post-COVID world: deconstruction

Join Margie Bryce and special guest Michael Bischoff from Soul Leader on The Crabby Pastor podcast as they explore the delicate balance of ministry and self-care. 

They discuss the transformative process of faith deconstruction, likening it to a messy yet rewarding kitchen renovation. One way to become more resilient can be through questioning and owning our faith. 

The episode also addresses the crisis of immaturity of faith in North American Christianity and offers practical strategies for recognizing and preventing burnout in ministry. Tune in for inspiring insights on leading with grace and nurturing a thriving ministry.Support the show

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Margie: 0:01

Hey there, Margie Bryce here bringing you the Crabby Pastor podcast, and I don’t think you’re going to be too surprised to know that it’s too easy today to become the Crabby Pastor. Our time together will give you food for thought to help you be the ministry leader, fully surrendered to God’s purposes and living into whatever it takes to get you there and keep you there. So here we are talking about sustainability in ministry. So how do the pieces of your life fit together? Do they fit together well and things are humming along just fine, or are there some pieces that are tight or absent or just not fitting the bill?

This is your invitation to join me in my glass workshop for a video series where I am going to do a stained glass project while I talk to you about sustainability and building sustainability into your heart and into your life. So I am going to be doing my art, a self-care, and I’m going to invite you into that space with me and I’m going to chat. and to about and I’m going to show you how I create, and there’s a nifty, nifty analogy. Stained glass seems to be a very good metaphor for what I want to talk about. So I’d love for you to join me. To do that. To opt in, I’ll need you to email me at Crabby Pastor at gmail dot com. So you won’t want to miss this. You definitely won’t want to miss this. So make a plan to join me in the glass workshop.

Margie Bryce, here again as your host of the Crabby Pastor podcast, and I think this topic kind of fits with the title of the podcast a bit, you know, because it seems like deconstruction is a hot topic right now. I’m hearing a lot about that. You see a lot about it on social media. I’ve had friends kind of deconstructing, you know, or at least that’s what they’re saying it is. But I’m here again with Michael Bischoff of Soul Leader and we’re going to chat some about deconstruction. I’m sure I’m going to learn a few things along the way. I have impressions about what all is taking place. But, Michael, so you want to weigh in? Do you have an official definition? You know we’ll be Augustinian, isn’t it? No, Aristotelian. That’s what it is To give the definition first right.

Michael: 3:04

Yeah, that’s good, Margie, thanks. I don’t know if I have an official definition. I know that deconstruction in its purest sense comes out of postmodern philosophy, but it’s moved to the place over the last I would say 20 to 25 years where it began to be discussed in faith circles, and that’s why I think there’s a lot of fear around it in many places because of it coming out of postmodern philosophy. Many people don’t know what to do with that or they’re worried that that’s so tied to secularism or is going to lead people of faith down a bad road. I don’t see it that way. I mean, of course it could, but I just don’t see it that way. Literally, it just means to take something apart, right, to deconstruct something, I mean. And if you think about it in a fun way as children we love to take things apart, in fact, especially when little boys love to break things then you don’t take them apart, but in a good sense. Maybe Legos is a better example. You might build something, but then you’ll take it apart and you’ll put it back together. So if we see it that way, there’s something good in it, or even something like a kitchenery model. You realize, when you buy a house. That kitchen is dated, you know, was built at a certain time and at some point along the way it’s going to need to be deconstructed and something new is going to be put in its place. Most people are okay with that, but I think that the danger comes, or the fear comes, when the assumption is that what if it doesn’t get put back together? What if the person has a crisis of faith and it takes them away from their walk with Jesus? Or it doesn’t get put back together and then damage is done. And I just don’t see it that way. I started deconstructing way back in 1991. I went through a time of eight months of clinical depression that you and I had a chance to talk about on previous podcasts, and that was the hardest time in my life. But it was also the best time in my life.

Margie: 5:06

You were deconstructing then before it was cool to deconstruct.Michael: 5:09

Exactly yeah, the word wasn’t even really used.Margie: 5:12

Is it really cool to deconstruct? Because I know some people that have gone through a process or still are in the midst of a process and it don’t look fun.Michael: 5:22

Right. Yeah, no, it’s often not fun, especially in those very early days. My eight months of clinical depression was not fun, but I had come from a background that was very legalistic, very rigid, very controlling and that had sent me down a very bad road. In fact, that was one of the causes that set me up for my eight months of clinical depression was that rigid background. So if I hadn’t started deconstructing that, if I had stayed in it I have not I have no idea where I would have ended up. I don’t think it would have been a good place. I know I wouldn’t have stayed in ministry, I would have been gone. I don’t know if I would have been able to keep my marriage or stayed in my marriage. I already changed tons of my friends because certain friends didn’t have the ability to. I don’t want to say keep up with where I was going, because it sounds like I was doing it right and they were doing it wrong. It pulls people apart. It has a tendency to do that. But I became so thankful for new friends that felt maybe more safe for me. They had the ability to give grace, they had the ability to listen and have compassion and empathy for what I was going through. I needed that. Those are all really good things that came out of my deconstruction. The other one was with Scripture and the Bible. I came from a background that was highly committed to the authority, inspiration, infallibility inerrancy.

Margie: 6:48

I was going to go there. Are we talking inerrancy?

Michael: 6:51

All the above, and so I love studying the Bible, I love God’s word. But when you come from a background that’s too rigid, you don’t have the latitude sometimes to see scripture with a different lens. And there are multiple ways to interpret scripture. I mean we call that hermeneutics, right? Those of us pastors that do the science of hermeneutics, we know that, but many of us at least. I was only taught one method of hermeneutics literal interpretation. I didn’t realize that there were upwards of seven different methods of interpretation since the early centuries of the church. So it wasn’t until I started deconstructing that I had some freedom to realize that scripture is so life-giving. But scripture means far more than just what one person’s interpretation of it is, and so that’s what caused me some curiosity about the road I would go down and what would deconstruction look like. And I was thankful that I got a chance to do that with some wonderful people, some wonderful leaders who were several steps ahead of me in doing this. So when I think of the concept of deconstruction in my own life because I’ve been doing it now for over 30 years I have nothing but positive thoughts about it?Margie: 8:09

Sure, and I do know, like I said, I know some people who are just struggling away with pulling it all apart and kind of looking at the pieces and then putting it all together. But the big overarching picture that you are painting here, then, is more life-giving than what some people and sometimes this was something that I found in my dissertation work where pastors like the idea that we are servants of Christ and they like the idea, they love the idea of being an authentic representation of Jesus. The challenge is to get from point A to point B. To get to the authentic representation of Jesus, you have to go through the muck and the mire and I guess you would say struggles and trials and challenges. And as I listen to your life-giving deconstruction piece, I’m thinking could it be that people will step into a deeper and richer faith? Or could it be? I remember a professor I had at Ashland in my doctoral studies, terry Wardle. I think it was page two of his book. I knew I was going to just love this material because he was very honest. He said Christianity in North America is in a crisis of immaturity. And so, as I’m listening to you, with the shifts and changes that have gone on as things get pulled apart and people have said in some instances the faith that I was raised in as a young person and the things that I was told and sometimes those things were platitudes or little sayings that Christians say to one another that in certain instances kind of fall apart or they seem pretty lame. Or like a ministry friend that I had and I’m not in connection with him anymore, but he had a child that was born with pretty severe autism and the church I think they intended to be helpful, but some of the pious platitudes that they offered to him as a parent who was very challenged with the situation, just seemed very insufficient. Right, that’s so true?

Michael: 10:31

Yeah, I think often in many church backgrounds and I’m sure your listeners are coming from all kinds of different church backgrounds but we’re often taught what to believe or even how to think, rather than to be taught. What questions do we need to ask? I want to be taught to think, but not told how I need to think, and so I think the whole aspect of asking important questions. What did Jesus do in his ministry? He was so likely to ask someone a question rather than just give them an answer. And yet in churches we get very uptight about making sure we give all the answers when in reality, we don’t even sometimes know the right questions. So there’s a freedom that comes in being able to ask those questions. It reminds me of as children grow up and into those teenage years, and then they get a little more rebellious. Some of the reason this psychologist might tell you children get rebellious is because they need to spread those wings a little bit. They need to start thinking for themselves and they need to start learning how to ask good questions. To me, that’s good discipleship. That’s just what a good sanctification process looks like, when you realize, oh, I thought I knew that, but I really don’t know, and I need to ask a whole bunch of other questions in order to come at this with more wisdom. So if we don’t do that, we stay stuck in a place, and I see a lot of that stuckness, especially in some of the seminary students that I’ve been teaching for over the last 17 years that if there’s a stuckness there, there’s a choice. You either choose to stay stuck or you have to break that open and go. Okay, I’m willing to go on a journey. This might be a little scary, but it could be really good if I start asking new questions, allow other people to ask me questions and realize I don’t have to have all the answers.

Margie: 12:22

Right? Well, what you talked about is knowing as a mental ascent, as opposed to knowing in the fiber of your being. And what I’m wondering is I’m listening to you. I’m thinking, wow, are we talking about people, instead of them just spewing what was spewed to them the Christian talking points, if you will that they are coming from a deeper ownership of these faith values and they’re talking about it from a lived perspective instead of a repeated repeating what other people have said to them. And not that what people are saying is incorrect, but it’s different if you own it for yourself rather than somebody else is owning it, and I’m borrowing it Right.

Michael: 13:19

Yeah, no, that’s really good. If we haven’t thought through it on our own, is it really even ours? And so we need ownership of our own faith and our own belief systems. And if we don’t have that because someone just told us believe that, do that. And then when life starts bumping up against it and you realize that didn’t work, it didn’t go as planned, that’s a real difficult space to be. So that’s where I think, again, deconstruction is one of these post-pandemic realities we’re facing today, because the pandemic opened up a whole new opportunity to rethink things, if we allow it to. And some of us are scared of that, some of us don’t want to do that, some of us don’t have the grace or support in our lives to do that. But when you give yourself the ability to do it, I just think good growth can come out of it, and we don’t have to live with fear. We can’t control anyone else as pastors. I don’t know about those that are listening, but I was learned to be a great controller and literally to manipulate people. And then some say you know, manipulation can be good.

Margie: 14:26

Wow. Did you learn that? Did they teach you that in seminary? Here’s manipulation 101.

Michael: 14:33

Well, and some people would then even say you know, manipulation can be good, right, chiropractors manipulate our spine to put things back into place. So I agree, you know, I love my chiropractor. But I think there’s a line we can all cross in our leadership when it’s more about control and trying to get people to do things, rather than to connect people with Jesus, help people to have the relationship with God that God wants to have with them, and then they, from that place of freedom, are able to walk that journey over a period of time. And that’s the way I see it today as being far, far more helpful. That, as you’re deconstructing, to know it’s just part of the process, right. Often it’s looked at kind of in triads that there’s a time of construction where you’re building something, and then there’s a deconstruction where you have to kind of tear it apart, but then there’s a reconstruction or a putting back together. That’s good. There’s other ways of looking at it. There’s order, disorder, reorder. Walter Brigham and talks about even the psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation. And it’s sole leader, it resources our ministry. We like to talk about formation, deformation and reformation. So I think what that shows is it’s a process, right, we’re never meant to be stuck in a thing called deconstruction, but hopefully we have the freedom over our entire lives to walk a journey knowing that God’s going to be there with us and hopefully we have some faithful friends that’ll be with us as well and knowing that the way through it is going to be rough, but so so, so good, right, if you hang. Like I said, I’ve been deconstructing for over 30 years, but as I look back on the times, places and people that helped me do it, I am incredibly thankful for that process and I’m so glad I didn’t stay stuck where I was in my 20s.

Margie: 16:20

Sure, yeah, aren’t we all? Yeah, aren’t we all? Well, so I have a couple of questions. First off, what troubles you about deconstruction?

Michael: 16:33

Well, I’d say the first thing that troubles me is when people are just reactive against it and throw it out, because then anybody who sees themselves needing it or are in the midst of it, they don’t feel supported. So I mean, I know that’s the mind of me, the direct answer to your question that you were looking for, but what troubles me is when people who are controlling them come alongside and disallow people from deconstruction. That’s probably the main thing that I think that I would feel. The other thing I think there’s a sadness to realize that some people, for whatever reason maybe they’ve come from a spiritually abusive background I had a good degree of that in my early days as well but to realize they might not stay with their faith. And I think that is what scares many people and for me it brings sadness, because I know you can’t just control people into staying in their faith. You have to love them in their faith so that they stay and they feel your support and your grace and your kindness and your compassion and your ability to walk with them over a long period of time. But I know a lot of people are chucking that. I know a book that came out a couple of years ago, brian McLaren wrote a book Do I Stay Christian? And it was an interesting book because, as I read it, he has three sections in the book. The first one is 10 chapters on answering that question Do I stay Christian? And the answer is no, I don’t. Because he gives 10 reasons. And when you read this historical overview of Christianity and all of the incredibly difficult, hurtful things that Christians have done to others throughout history the Crusades being a very popular example, something like that you come out the other end and you just want to go. I’m done, I can’t stay a Christian anymore. Then the next section is the yes section, and he gives 10 chapters why I would say yes, do I stay Christian? And then you read those 10 chapters and you’re like, oh, my goodness, this is the most beautiful religion. God is incredible. Following Jesus is the best way Scripture is in. You go and now you’re stuck with these two tensions of realizing all the damage that’s been done but all the beauty that’s contained in it. And then the third section is how? So no matter where you end up with your answer to one of those questions, how do I do it? How do I walk forward? And I think that really summarizes well the deconstruction journey is for every person to have to face the hard realities of their own religious background, their own religion, their own church, even the things that we have taught. I’ve had to repent of the things that I have taught, because to me, repentance is a great thing. Repentance is just changing your thinking about your thinking. It’s thinking differently. I’ve had to repent of so many things in my life and the things that I’ve taught, but if I hadn’t again, I would have stayed stuck. And now it’s a matter of and I think that’s what reconstruction looks like is to ask the how? Question. How do I move forward with what I know now? So I get worried, sometimes a little bit, knowing that, or maybe more sad, that some will chuck it prematurely and that makes me sad to think about.

Margie: 19:37

Right, because we don’t talk about struggle in faith.

Michael: 19:41

I mean, if you start reading Ignatian.

Margie: 19:45

If you start reading some of the months, a lot of people in that era and time when they talked about struggle in faith and that it’s okay and that it’s true of what’s going to happen in your journey, and asking questions I mean, I’ve been in Christian environments I’m talking about early on in my Christian years and I came to faith in Christ in my mid-20s is asking questions. There were some situations that I was in where if someone asked a certain question, everybody would yeah. I’m like I know for me, as I stepped into ministry leadership, I loved, loved working with what I called the rookies, because they were just ass. They didn’t even have the knowledge that, oh, that’s a question that we can’t ask and we should be able to ask questions and we should be able to struggle together and wrestle together, but one challenge that we have is a little bit of polarization in that, if I’m right about this, that means that people who hold the opposing perspective are wrong, and you know, in the United States of America, we all like to be right. That’s a big deal here, and so it’s a challenging situation to ask those kinds of questions.

Michael: 21:12

Yeah, there is. That’s so good. And you reminded me of something too that we don’t give enough latitude for struggle and we often don’t even know how to name it. About five years ago, I took the first sabbatical I’d ever taken. Thirty years of ministry, I’d never taken a sabbatical.

Margie: 21:27

Yet.Michael: 21:27

I coach pastors all the time. You need to take a sabbatical, I do that. And they’d be like hey, michael, what kind of stuff would you do on your sabbatical? And they’d be like you need to ask Joe about his sabbatical, or Fred about you know, or who has Vivian about her sabbatical or whatever, because I’ve done a horrible job taking. So 30 years of ministry, no sabbatical. I finally take one and this is what I was incredibly burned out and I knew burnout was coming because I deal with burned out leaders all the time. That’s another post pandemic reality we could talk about in the future.

Margie: 21:53

Yeah, for sure.

Michael: 21:54

I was pretty burnt out and I knew I needed this sabbatical. Then, nine days into my sabbatical, my mom died. She had been dying a long, slow death over three years. She had dementia and it was a huge loss. But for some reason she had such faith and was such a woman of prayer and had so much love that when I saw her go through suffering for three years it sent me into a bit of a crisis of faith. I didn’t say that a lot, because when you deal with pastors it’s like not always real popular to be able to say you know, hey, I’m going through a crisis of faith right now as I watch my mom die, a death that seemed very unfair and as a result of that, god seemed very absent in my life for not just months but a couple of years. And that’s often called a dark night of the soul. We get that language from St John of the Cross, the 16th century writer, and people sometimes don’t realize that all of those things are normal Burnout is normal, crisis of faith is normal, dark night of the soul is normal. I just had them all together, which made it really, really challenging.

Margie: 22:54

Asking questions is normal.

Michael: 22:56

Asking questions is normal. Going through that time was so transformational for me because I really did want to come out the other side of that time of deconstruction, which I could call it. I kind of look at that sabbatical it was back in 2018 as kind of maybe not the last phase of my deconstruction, but the most significant, where so much change happened and it did take a couple of years to work through that. I’m still processing it, but I’m so thankful for it because I do a lot of counseling, a lot of coaching, rather, with pastors who are going through burnout, who are going through phases of their life where there’s definitely a dark night of the soul. Pastors don’t know who they can say that to. Like God seems really absent. You can’t say that to your congregation They’ll fire you.

Margie: 23:41

And certainly not from the pulpit.

Michael: 23:43

Yeah, right, yeah. I’m really thankful for that time of deconstruction. I’m thankful for the reconstruction that’s been coming in the last five years as a result of having to go to some of those places. It’s all been really good. For me it doesn’t feel good, but it has produced some wonderful results in my own life and in my own faith.

Margie: 24:03

Yeah, and that is where this authenticity of faith, an authentic representation of Jesus, starts to emerge. I think that’s a helpful thing, because there’s a depth, there’s a maturity, there’s some wisdom from learning on the rough road. What we say is to go to the school of hard knocks. Some Christians think that once you become a Christian, that’s it there’s no pain, no suffering, there’s no big questions. I know I’ve said on this podcast before, my niece’s little boy is like five and he has a brain tumor and it’s something that would be curable, easy, but it’s right in the middle of his head. They can’t operate. And so I’m like, okay, this is going on the list of things I will be asking Jesus about, because we encounter those. That’s real living, real life. I used to look at people that had never been through a lot of stuff and think, well, they just are much better at faith than I am, I guess, and that’s not so. That’s not so at all.

Michael: 25:17

And sometimes some of these big questions really take us to different places and you are absolutely right about then needing people to walk with you, cb, and I still think there are things pastors can do, rather than the extremes of I’m gonna bat deconstructionism because I don’t understand it or I’m fearful of it and I don’t want my people to fall into it. That’s one side, or the other one is many just don’t know what to do with it, so they either just don’t talk about it, they kind of avoid the subject. I say no to both of those things. I say what can pastors do? If it’s your own deconstruction, lean into it. Lean into it. Read some books on it. It’s okay to not feel the same about your faith that you did 10 or 20 or 30 or whatever years ago. Find some faithful people to walk with you. Maybe it’s a therapist. You have some deep things in your emotional formation that need to be addressed. Find a therapist or counselor, deal with it. If not, find a coach that can help you think about it differently and walk with you through it. But just lean into it. If the deconstruction is in your church, I would say or that’s where your fear is. Cultivate an environment that allows people to ask questions that allow people to change and allow people to grow. That’s what you as a leader need to do. And just like children. Then when they reach that stage they will return and have relationship with parents who have allowed them to stray a bit. If you stay too rigid, those are the kind of relationships that people go. I’m out of here. I want nothing to do with this place. So I do think there’s some fear. That’s logical or normal in this. But I think if pastors realize they can cultivate an environment where it’s good to ask questions and so I say in your teaching, then, pastors, in your teaching, don’t shy away from difficult topics, especially those topics that people are struggling with in their deconstruction. But yet those might be the very ones that we feel the most fearful of, like people’s views of God. That seems to be a big one, like the brain tumor analogy. Why does God allow suffering? Why would God allow this in a child? Why does God allow this? Pastors have to deal with those things and while there aren’t perfect answers, you can cultivate an environment of being able to discuss those things, wrestle with them and doing so in a very biblical way, I think. But it’s going to take some work right. So I encourage pastors to engage it, lean into it for themselves in their church, cultivate an environment and even in their teaching, look for ways to discuss these things.

Margie: 27:57

I mean, there’s no way you’re going to be able to wave very dust and have deconstruction go away. It’s something that people are working through, dealing with. And you look in scripture where the disciples ask Jesus, that man who was born blind, what sin did his parents commit? We can look at that kind of a passage and go well, that’s a silly question. He didn’t do anything, he just was born blind. So when the people around us are struggling, not to cast aspersions on what might be going on in their life or what did their parents do, or anything like that, but just to embrace them and offer them some grace and support and be compassionate to one another, offer that kind of compassion, saying you know, I’ve been there. Even if you haven’t been there, you still have to offer compassion. I would say CB.

Michael: 28:54

I totally agree, and I often ask pastors this question do you know what the first heresy was in the church? And occasionally I’ll get one person in the group that might know but most don’t know. It was dosatism, which was the belief that Jesus was not fully human. It’s interesting, right, you think it’d be like that he wasn’t fully God, but the belief that Jesus wasn’t fully human was kind of the first heresy in the church that needed to be addressed. Well, I think this is significant in this discussion about deconstruction, because deconstruction helps you embrace and understand your humanness, maybe better than anything else does. My wife and I have had a few conversations about this. In it We’ve said to each other you know, in our early days we were just so given a vision of sometimes perfection in a very unhealthy way, in a legalistic way, striving for something that was unachievable. So we spent so many years, even decades, trying to be perfectly divine, perfectly godly. At the same time we did not understand what it meant to be human. I think God wants us to understand both. God wants us to understand how we strive to be more like God is like Jesus lived with such a wonderful example and at the same time embrace our humanness and humanity, and deconstruction allows you to do that, I think, in some of the best ways.

Margie: 30:20

Yep, and we are mere mortals here, even though we’re walking with Jesus right. Well, thanks for this discussion and I’ve enjoyed it. I really have get to just hash it about and dissect. Deconstruction Isn’t that silly Sort of. But thank you very much for being willing to come on and give us your take and blessings on your ministry.

Michael: 30:48

Thank you, Margie.

Margie: 30:51

Are you wondering whether your fatigue, your lack of motivation, your lack of interest is burnout Maybe? I just wanted to let you know that I have a resource on the website, margiebryce dot com, that’s B-R-Y-C-E margiebryce dot com, and it is a burnout questionnaire, free for you to download and kind of self assess and get a sense of where you’re at. There are questions that not only ask about what you’re going through but maybe how often you’re experiencing it and that’s that’s kind of a key to where you might be, because you have to know where you are in order to chart a course forward. And most pastors who experience pastors and ministry leaders who experience burnout rarely know that that’s where they’re at until they’re well into it. And if you’re unsure about that little statistic, so far, everybody that I’ve interviewed on this podcast who has experienced burnout, when I asked that kind of question, they’re like, yeah, I didn’t know, that’s where I was at. So again, go to margiebryce dot com it’s on the homepage of the website and you can get your burnout questionnaire and kind of see where you’re at.

Hey friends, the Crabby Pastor podcast is sponsored by Bryce Art Glass and you can find that on Facebook. I make stained glass, that’s part of my self-care and also by Bryce Coaching, where I coach ministry leaders and business leaders, and so the funds that I generate from coaching and from making stained glass is what is supporting this podcast and I will have opportunities for you to be a part of sponsoring me and, as always, you can do the buy me a cup of coffee thing in the in the show notes. But I will have some other ways that you can be a part of getting the word out about the importance of healthy self-care for ministry leaders. Hey, thanks for listening. It is my deep desire and passion to champion issues of sustainability in ministry and for your life, so I’m here to help. I stepped back from pastoral ministry and I feel called to help ministry leaders create and cultivate sustainability in their lives so that they can go the distance with God and whatever plans that God has for you. I would love to help, I would consider it an honor and, in all things, make sure you connect to these sustainability practices you know, so that you don’t become the Crabby pastor.

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