A Chemistry Conversation with Trey Finley, eleven:28
Providing avenues for the soul care of pastors and their wives has always been important. And the events of the past couple of years, which included high-profile 'falls', suicides, and the increased pressures brought on by the pandemic and mounting racial and political tensions have highlighted the need to proactively address the spiritual, mental, and emotional needs of those who are called to care for the needs of so many others. In this Chemistry Conversation, Trey Finley, Executive Director of eleven:28, talks about how pastors and churches can take steps toward better pastoral soul care.
About Trey: Trey Finley joined the staff of eleven:28 in 2018 after serving on the board of directors since 2013. A veteran of church leadership, consulting, and coaching, Trey brings a unique professional story to eleven:28 as executive director. Experienced in personal and leadership development, Trey has a passion for the potential for transformation every person has because of the Imago Dei present in every person. Transformation isn’t possible without soul care.
Resources from Trey:
As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Trey Finley: Sure. It’s good to see you Tim, as always. I’m really glad our paths have continued to cross over the years. It’s been pretty cool to watch that happen not once, twice, three times - four different iterations.
Tim Nations: Right.
Trey Finley: So, my name is Trey Finley, and I am the Executive Director of eleven:28. eleven:28 exists to counter the causes and effects of burnout among church leaders. We do so using a suite of skills, if you will, that we call soul care. Primarily we want to work with pastors to create deep and lasting friendships, to create space where they can share wisdom and where they can learn the contemplative practices that have kept our pastors and bishops and preachers and all of our church leaders well over the last 2,000 years. We take a great deal of joy in watching women and men thrive in ministry.
Tim Nations: Boy. I’m not going to use the buzzword that we’ve used describing the last 18 months, but it’s been a season that has included a pandemic, a contentious election, a riot in the nation’s capital, heightened racial tensions across our country. So soul care to me, it’s always been a need. But I think the people’s awareness of it is greater than it’s been in a long, long time. So as you guys have continued to pour into the lives and the souls of pastors and their families during this season, what are some of the things that you’re seeing when it comes to taking care of pastors and their spouses?
Trey Finley: Well, we are seeing an unprecedented number of folks I think are losing joy in ministry. I think of all the things that we see, it’s easy to talk about folks that are leaving, and there are many, even leaving the church as a whole. That also is a significant number. But I think that the number one thing that I see is a loss of joy among church leaders of all kinds. In the midst of that loss of joy, we find a rise in anxiety, we find a rise in reactivity, and we find a rise in the kind of pain that we can cause one another. Yes, that is leading to a lot of ministers that are leaving the ministry. You know, they didn’t sign up for this. In so many ways as a pastor, they didn’t sign up for managing political disputes. They didn’t sign up for having to close doors and trying to figure out how to do masking and social distancing. They didn’t sign up for this. And I think in that is a loss of joy. Some of them are finding opportunities for being a pastor all over again. That’s wonderful, and we’ve seen some of that as well. But in all of those cases, it’s done in the midst of hardship that no amount of seminary or experience really could have prepared us for.
Tim Nations: Absolutely. And I would say, what we’re seeing in the job search space and in the ministry placement space mirrors exactly what you described. We’re seeing a lot of men and women that are stepping away from ministry. Some of them will do that for good. It’s hard to see people making that decision when they’ve had such an effective, fruitful ministry for years and the circumstances were greater than the soul care that was being administered to them during this season. So for any pastors and spouses that might be watching this, what message might you have for them? What would you say to them?
Trey Finley: It would perhaps be too cliche to say “hang in there” or “pray more.” I’m going to give a very practical thing that I think is one way that women and men together in ministry and their spouses can find a way to hold onto some joy and find some sustenance, some safe space if you will. And here’s that one suggestion. It’s not the end all be all, but I think it’s a really helpful strategy. I would encourage you to find something that you love to do outside ministry. Something that is just yours, that doesn’t involve anyone from your church, doesn’t involve anything done for your church, doesn’t involve a program inside your church. It’s yours. It’s yours alone, and you are under no obligation to share that with others. That’s not selfishness or greed. That is differentiation. That’s the ability to say, “I am more than what I produce.” And in the midst of all of this pain over the last 4, 5, 6 years, we have been asked to produce in the midst of difficult circumstances, in a time when I think producing wasn’t what we were needing to do. It was actually helping people be still enough to recognize their own pain and some of the distance that we have created from each other. So I would say, find something that you love to do that you’re passionate about gives you joy, and make it just yours. I think you’ll be surprised how well you will find a little bit more stamina for what you have to do when you have a space that doesn’t belong to the church.
Tim Nations: Yeah, so there’s kind of two sides to that, right? There are things that the pastors and their spouses and families can do to find that safe space, to differentiate themselves. The other side of the equation is the churches themselves, the elder boards, the church leaders. What advice or recommendations would you give to churches that do want to care well for pastors and their families.
Trey Finley: It’s a great question because it addresses both sides of the coin. The first thing I would say is to church boards and leadership, you need to assume that you are acting collectively out of anxiety and pain and that wounded people wound other people. That may seem foreign or strange, and you may be able to say, “I see all these ways we’re responding in healthy ways.” I would say, that’s very possible and likely for every board and every volunteer leadership group in a church. But we are all, all of us, still reeling from the impacts of, as you mentioned, all those things of the last five years, not least of which is the pandemic which has really amplified all of those things. So I would just ask you first of all to assume you’re acting out of at least some level of anxiety and pain, which you may not be able to quantify or even immediately assess in yourself. And the second thing I would say is, as cold as it may seem, lean into healthy policies. Because in moments when we are more likely to be reactive, if we have healthy policies as church leadership, we can lean on times when we were in a healthier space and that allows us to make healthier decisions. That of course brings up the point, check your policies. How healthy are they? Are they staff-centric in a way that manages, maintains, and encourages healthy rhythms of rest and work?
Tim Nations: I think that’s great insight because I don’t think most churches' responses to a season like we’ve been in is to check their policies. Everyone’s shooting from the hip. Everyone’s trying to survive. And it could actually be some of the guardrails, some of the policies and procedures that you set up as a church that can provide the most protection, that can provide the most relief for people that are trying to lead through and coming out of this season. I think that’s fantastic advice. Let me ask you this. You guys are a resource to churches and church leaders in many ways. Is there anything that you guys have out currently as a resource? Is there anything coming up that whether they’re a pastor or spouse, whether they’re part of a church leadership team that is looking for ways to do this better? Anything that you guys have out that you’d like to plug or promote?
Trey Finley: Yeah, thanks, Tim. There are two things I want to point to, one for church boards, one for pastors. One for church boards is we just completed an eBook on both the theology and the practical side of writing sabbatical polities in churches. I make the case there that actually sabbatical rest and work rhythm should be a central tenant of every employee policy or church. You can download that eBook on our website, eleven28.org. The other resource is that we are taking a very realistic approach to what’s about to happen in churches over the next few months. A lot of folks are already leaving. A lot more folks will. So we’ve just begun a resource that we are starting from the ground up that will give ministers resources to both recover as well as restore some of what it looks like emotionally and spiritually to have healthy lifestyles post ministry. Because we feel like the church’s obligation to those in whom they have trusted their spiritual growth should not end at the end of employment. That’s a pretty business-centric model and it’s not the idea that we find in scripture where we are called to mutual care, regardless of who is paying who for what.
Tim Nations: Well, and that really resonates with our commitment and our value to take care of candidates well. Some people find that as a church search firm that is being hired by churches being so candidate-centric may seem a little different, but it comes from that same value, that same care for others that you see in scripture. And we believe that caring well for candidates is caring for churches, which is caring for the Kingdom. So I appreciate you guys really taking some leadership and providing some resources and guidance to help churches see beyond just the employment period and what that means for pastors and their spouses and what that means for the church at large. We’ll be sure to include a link for those things in this post as well so people can find that very easily. Trey, I just want to give you the last word. Anything else that you would say? Maybe a question that I haven’t asked during our time together?
Trey Finley: Yeah, I think I would just close with a word of encouragement. There are a lot of reasons right now to look at the state of churches and the state of pastors and be discouraged. The declining numbers in churches, the few people who are returning to church, those numbers being much lower than they were in the vast majority of our churches. But I also want to point folks to some encouragement. Out of times of death and pain, we are promised in scripture and really throughout the circle of life beyond the scripture that resurrection and rebirth takes place after really difficult times of suffering and death. Make no mistake, we are in one of those seasons that would include the suffering and death of a lot of things that I’ve held dear. But there’s resurrection to come. And that’s a promise in the life of Jesus. That’s a promise in the life of the church, as it understood Jesus’ story. And I think we can look forward to some ways that that will happen in churches and among pastors if we’ll pay attention.
Tim Nations: Well, thank you for that encouragement, and thank you for spending some time with me today. Always good to catch up and connect. We’ll make sure it’s easy for folks to find and get into contact with you if there’s anything they’ve heard that really strikes a chord so they can really get access to your resources. Thanks for being here, Trey.
Trey Finley: Thanks, Tim. Good to see you.