PODCAST | Leveraging Your Baggage For The Good Of Your Relationships (feat.Ike Miller)
In today’s podcast, we talk to Ike Miller, Senior Pastor of Bright City Church in Durham, North Carolina, a church he planted in 2018 along with his wife, Sharon Hodde Miller. He frequently writes on the intersection of theology, mental health, and family of origin issues in outlets such as Christianity Today and Mission Alliance.
In this episode, Ike shares insights from his latest book, Good Baggage: How Your Difficult Childhood Prepared You For Healthy Relationships. After confronting the impact of his own childhood, including a family history of substance use disorders, Ike has developed a passion for helping others who grew up in difficult circumstances to better understand how those environments continue to impact them and their relationships now. Learn how you can leverage your baggage for good with his practical advice and exercises that can lead to healthier relationships.
We hope you enjoy this conversation!
Order a copy of “Good Baggage”: https://a.co/d/alxPlzD
To connect with Ike go to: www.Ikemiller.com
Follow Ike on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ikefmiller/
Listen to the Good Baggage Podcast: https://ikemiller.com/goodbaggagepodcast/
Carey Sumner: All right. Well, welcome back to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. We are so excited. You're joining us today. I'm Carey your host of this week's episode. With me, I have Ike. Miller, we are so excited to have him. He leads Bright City Church in Durham, North Carolina.
It's a church he planted with his wife back in 2018. And he's written all kinds of things about the intersection of theology, mental health, family of origin issues, uh, all over the place. And he has a new book out called Good Baggage. How your difficult childhood prepared you for healthy relationships.
Ike, we're excited to have you talking with our leaders today.
Ike Miller: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Carey, for having me on. I've been looking forward to our conversation. I love what you guys do at Vanderbloemen and so excited to get to chat a little bit about stuff today.
Carey Sumner: Yeah, absolutely. I see you got your Duke basketball prominently displayed right there.
Ike Miller: That actually has Coach K's signature on it. Oh, wow. Yeah, yeah. I've got it tucked into a corner of my office that doesn't get a lot of sunlight so it doesn't fade the signature.
Carey Sumner: Yep. Yep. You got it. You got to take care of those things. That's right. That's right. Well, I, we, as we said, we're excited to have you on and especially, you know, we have lots of leaders.
Uh, pastors that, that listened to the podcast every single week. And I think this is such an important topic that you're tackling, uh, in this book, dealing with, Hey, what is our childhood and how did what happened to us? Just today, but then how do we have freedom from that as well as we know the Holy Spirit will set us free from those?
Yeah, so maybe introduce listeners a little bit more than I did to are to y'all's church and and just kind of what prompted you to begin writing this book in this journey.
Ike Miller: Yeah. So, uh, my wife and I, as you said, planted Bright City Church in 2018. And so we will celebrate five years in September.
Congratulations. Thank you. Right in the middle. You know, I feel like just the fact that we're still here is amazing. 18 months old as a church when COVID hit. And so, uh, on the one hand, you're like, how do we measure things? Because the five years and like growth and that kind of thing, you're like, COVID kind of reset all that.
And so are we like two and a half years old, or are we fine, you know, let's. So, um, but yeah, we have three kids, Isaac Cohen and Sadie and, uh, Sadie was eight months old when we planted. So, uh, she kind of fits right with the age of our church, which is awesome. Uh, but we live here in North Carolina. We're both from North Carolina.
We spent a few years out in Chicago, uh, but decided the winters were a little too long for us there. And, uh, Made the move back. And just to be honest with you guys, I never envisioned planting a church. It was not something that I wanted to do. In fact, it was something that I was terrified of, just the idea of it, but God just made it so clear, undeniably clear.
It's what we were supposed to do to the point where it was kind of like, okay, it would be disobedient for us not to. And so, yeah, took that step, launched the church. And in the midst of COVID is when, uh, just the, the difficulty of that time. I mean, I'd say that anybody was in leadership, who was in leadership during that time, making decisions for other people, whether it was around, uh, health precautions and masks, or, uh, are we going to talk about issues around race, uh, all, you know, the, the election, all of those things.
It was just such a pressure season for leaders. And for myself included, I just found myself. Overwhelmed by that season to the point where I needed to take some time off because I just felt like every decision I made, someone was going to be unhappy. Um, someone's going to be mad, somebody might leave.
And so I had to take some time to really deal with why is this so exhausting? Why is this crushing me emotionally? And that was really where a lot of the book ideas came from was kind of walking through that season and realizing that one of the things that was true for my story. Is I was reading a book on codependency and as I was reading this book and listening at one point the author said A major part of codependency is that you try to manage other people's emotions and reactions with your words and actions and I was thinking about my childhood.
My childhood is a story where my father struggled with alcoholism and a major outcome of that kind of environment is codependency. And what I had done, I realized, is I had taken the codependency of my childhood of working to manage my dad's emotions with my actions and behaviors. How do I keep him happy?
How do I make sure I'm safe? And transferred that to my whole church. Where I was kind of managing everybody's emotions and reactions with my words and actions, and that is just impossible. Uh, you know, with one person, much less, however many are in your
Carey Sumner: church. Let me just say, every pastor that's listening right now, that's, that's, the heart is pounding fast because they're realizing, wait, I feel like I identify with that.
Ike Miller: Yeah. Absolutely. And so I think I shared with you before we jumped on here, some of these ideas were originally around how did our difficult childhood prepare us for healthy leadership? Because I was realizing if this is true for me, I'm sure this is other true for other leaders and beginning to realize there are so many ways that are difficult.
Childhoods are undermining and sabotaging our leadership that we're just not even aware of. And so it's a conversation we need to start having.
Carey Sumner: Yeah, that's great. That's great. You know, as we think about. The leaders on here specifically that are going to be watching, listening, something that can be scary is once you start identifying some of those things within yourself, how do you talk about those in a safe way, you know, some, some churches, if one of the.
Board members, even here's like a hint of, Hey, I may be questioning something that they, they can be released right there. And that's a lot of pressure on pastors, especially, and have even that kind of pressure then knowing what's in the background, you know, you said you took a little bit of time away, like, like, how did you go about that journey of dealing with that pressure of I'm the pastor.
You're for everyone. And yet. I need to take a step away.
Ike Miller: I, yeah. And I think some of it begins with kind of the culture we're creating in our churches. Um, I think that there's a way that we can begin this conversation in a more general way before we begin that work of transparency and vulnerability. Um, and so we have always talked a lot about wanting to be a culture that was more like AA than this perfect place for perfect people.
Um, and a big part of that being. If people can't come and be honest about where they are, then when they really are struggling, they will not be able to be honest because now it's not only am I struggling, but I've had this appearance that I've been keeping up and it's going to be exposed. Yeah. And how do we begin to create environments in our churches through our preaching, through our teaching, through our programs where we say we've all got baggage, we've all got stuff.
It doesn't matter how dysfunctional our childhood was, we've all experienced, uh, a mist, uh, a broken trust of some sort. We've experienced dishonesty, we've experienced rejection and abandonment of some sort. We've all experienced that. And so let's begin talking about. What does that look like when we experience it?
So some of it's the culture. The other piece of it is beginning with just one person. It doesn't necessarily even need to be somebody in your church. It may even be better if it's not somebody in your church. Um, and honestly, the best person would be a counselor. I know that that's another question and there's stigmas around that, but having just one person that you can begin to open up to because there's also a little bit of a fear threshold, as you might say, that we have to break through to realize, like, I think we imagine the first time I tell somebody about this, they're going to be,
I think they're going to be more like, man, thank you so much for telling me that. Like, I'm so glad to hear you share that. And, you know, I've got, I've got some stuff too.
Carey Sumner: And I'd love to just talk through that. Yeah. I think there's that compassion within us that, that comes up typically and says, Hey, You know, you're someone I love. I respect as a leader. Like I want that. And I do think the counseling is so pivotal. I know for me going and seeing my own counselor, that's been so pivotal throughout my ministry journey, right?
Uh, there is still that stigma at times and in places. And so finding that one confidant find that's one of my favorite things about what I get to do at Vanderbloemen and is just meet with. Pastors all over the place. And sometimes we're the only voice or ear that they have that can be that neutral place.
And so, uh, it's a pastoral to the pastors and maybe even finding that pastor for yourself outside of you having to be the pastor.
Ike Miller: Absolutely. So good.
Carey Sumner: So when we think about adult. Children of dysfunctional families, as you talk about within the book, you know, one of the things that it can feel like, uh, and you mentioned this, is that it feels like everything depends on you, right?
And you're responsible for making everything okay for everybody, which gets especially dangerous if you're leading an organization. So how do you begin to unpack that, unwind that?
Ike Miller: Yeah, so in terms of kind of where that comes from for us, first of all, and this is true of all kinds of dysfunctional families, it's not just true of children who grew up in a context with alcoholism.
Um, but there was a psychologist named Lindsay Gibson who wrote a book called, um, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, and just a great book. But one of the things that she talks about in there is how, as children, we're not aware. Of other dynamics in the world. We're not aware of how our parents are being affected by their work by the pressures that they're under.
And so when we look at the world, we just think, Okay, I did this. And this happened. I said this. And my parent reacted this way. I did this. And then this, omnipotent.
That we have control over everything.
Carey Sumner: All of those different tentacles reaching in, yeah.
Ike Miller: Yeah, and so we begin to, to believe, okay, well, it's, it, everything will be okay, as long as I just perform the right way, if I say the right words. Yeah. So we grow up and we get older, we realize it's. Not that cut and dry, but that forms in us.
It's such a young age that we continue to work with that mentality. Now add to that something that we'll talk a little bit more about later at some point, but that we respond to our difficult childhoods in one of two ways. Generally speaking, we either. internalize the pain of our childhood, meaning we believe that the solution to our problems in our family is somewhere inside of ourselves.
And if I can change myself, I can change what's going on around me. Others of us externalize, meaning we kind of reach a point where we realize, you know what, if everybody else would fix their junk, then I would be okay. If everybody else would make things better, then I'll be okay. And for those of us who internalize, we internalize that sense of it's my job to make things okay.
If they're not, it's because I haven't worked hard enough. I haven't tried hard enough. I need to improve myself. And so you can see very easily how this plays out as pastors who feel like, well, if anything is wrong, it's my job to fix it and I've got to make it okay. And the buck stops with me. And a lot of times, you know, um, We tend to think, and we describe that as narcissism, and that's a big word right now is narcissism, but there is a sense in which, even for myself, I felt a need to make things okay, not because I thought like, I'm such a big deal, but out of a sense of responsibility.
And so it wasn't this like big ego narcissism, but it was more a sense of if this is going to be anybody's responsibility, it's mine. And so I got to fix
Carey Sumner: it. Yeah, no, and I think especially for pastors, that's true. I mean, we have scriptures that tell us, Hey, pastor, you're going to be held more accountable for the work that you do.
Right. And if we're approaching, you know, that scripture with our own health, we're, we're going to read that in a way that's going to trigger some behaviors in us for sure. Absolutely. So then how do we, you know, first steps, we got to have someone that we can begin talking to this about, but, but then really, how do we go about with healing for this?
Uh, both for us, uh, but then something I want us to get into is sometimes, you know, first I got to get healthy, right? I'm on the airplane, bring the mask. It on me, but oftentimes as pastors, as leaders, it's, it's not us just dealing with us. It's the people that we're charged to lead, whether it's staff or congregationally.
So how do we go about, uh, that process of healing for this?
Ike Miller: Yeah, I think for each of us, it's going to be a little bit different. I think for us as pastors in particular, we've got to reckon with some of our own theology around this kind of stuff. And in particular that, that question of what am I responsible for and what am I not responsible for?
And one of the things that's been really helpful from a biblical and scriptural standpoint has been able to see, well, if Jesus is our model... Who we follow as pastors. He's the good shepherd. Uh, There are times where Jesus doesn't fix everything. I love the end of, I can't remember if it's Mark chapter one or two right now, but his disciples come to him and they're like, Hey, there are people who are coming out to see you.
And Jesus goes, let's go on to the next town. And you're like, Jesus, there's people right here that need you. And for us to be able to realize, Okay, Jesus didn't fix it all for everybody right there in the moment where they asked him to, we need to be able to say, okay, it's okay if I don't fix everybody's problems right now.
Carey Sumner: That's so hard though, like that pastoral heart that's like, no, I want to Take care of you. But I think as you said, uh, where's that? I want to take care of you coming from, right? Absolutely.
Ike Miller: And so then you get into some of those questions of why am I doing this? Why do I feel this pressure to never stop, to never be able to put up a boundary, to never be able to say no.
And for a lot of us as pastors, Especially if we grew up in this kind of dysfunctional family or difficult context, but it's not even necessarily that I think we all struggle with this, which is when we don't have a clear sense of our own identity and where our value comes from in Christ, then we will not be able to separate how our parishioners and the people in our congregation feel about us from how we feel about ourselves.
And so at the end of the day, how content we can be with ourselves will depend entirely on how happy are my people with me right now.
Carey Sumner: Oh man, there's a, there's some people pulling off the side of the road right now as they're listening to this because, because that's so true as pastors, we get into that place where we've got all of these voices coming in and it can be so hard.
To quiet that to hear the voice of the Lord and what he's specifically speaking to us and over us
Ike Miller: Yeah, and so some of the work there then begins with um a term that I would encourage if anybody's listening and they've never heard this term before but It's a term, uh, self differentiation. Uh, it's this idea of being able to remain emotionally close to people without being emotionally hijacked by them.
So, you can remain relationally close, you can stay connected to them, but when they get worked up, when they are in emotional turmoil, you're able to distance your sense of self enough from them that it doesn't take over your emotional world. Right. And where this is really important is, and I think, I think almost any pastor out there that's listening will understand this.
There is a pressure in high emotional moments where people will come to us with this overwhelming sense of urgency. That this has got to be fixed right now. This is a crisis. This is end of the world kind of stuff. And so you will respond immediately. You will put everything aside and you will engage and you will pour hours.
You will stay up till two o'clock in the morning, whatever it takes dealing with this and the next day or the next week you are, you are exhausted, you are emotionally spent and you see them and they're just good, like. Oh, good. And you're like, I'm still a mess. Like I'm still recovering from that. And so my encouragement to pastors is in those moments to be aware of, okay, how much am I investing emotionally in this? And is it more than they're emotionally investing in this? Because if I'm investing more in this than they are, there's a Uh an inequality that needs to be addressed and is that coming from a place of Um, I can only feel good about myself if I have done everything in my power to make sure they're happy with me
Carey Sumner: Yeah, I think you get into that people pleasing mindset, right? And slip completely into letting other people control you At that
Ike Miller: point. Yeah. Yeah, and with people pleasing it's interesting. I think Especially when it comes to codependency in our childhoods, but people pleasing oftentimes is really not the issue.
It's the symptom of something deeper, which is a loss of self codependency. The best definition I know of it is, uh, it's a trauma related loss of self, meaning we went through something at some point in our life that required us to be someone other than ourselves in order to survive. We had to put on an image, we had to pretend to be somebody in order to ensure our own protection, our well being, our approval, and in that we lost our sense of self.
And so now we go into other contexts, and because we don't have a clear sense of who we are, we... try to be who we think others want us to be so that we can feel okay with ourselves. And so that's where the people pleasing comes in.
Carey Sumner: Yeah. Super hard, super hard. How do you, uh, let's engage, you know, outside of the self now the lead, because as you said, they're going to come at us.
Uh, and then the, even if we have staff, right, you know, staff and congregational members a little bit different. They are in that. Congregation, you know, probably some good distance there from a staff standpoint, though, often we're charged as the pastors to be helping them through that. And if they're really experiencing some difficulties with this, it's probably what's at the root of some performance issues that are going on in the workplace.
And I think this is a healthy place. For us to be able to explore and think about what you talked about earlier, what else is going on? That was kind of always one of my first thoughts when I was in my executive pastor chair, and I'm working with the staff member is, Hey, how's home, right? Like, what else is going on there?
So how have you tried to deal with that, uh, to, to help from a discipleship standpoint in your staff and in, in your congregation?
Ike Miller: Yeah, so each of those is a little bit different. Obviously with your staff, uh, there's going to be a more intimate kind of connection with them. You're working with them day in and day out.
And so there's two pieces that I would encourage, uh, pastors as they're working with their staff. The first one is to have a consistent part of your meetings with your staff that is strictly relational. That you're connecting with them, um, you're checking in kind of what's going on in your world beyond just ministry.
Um, and a big part of that is, um, there was a study done several years ago where it's really fascinating. They, took a piece of paper and they wrote on it kind of three lateral X's representing, you know, you and your coworkers, your lateral coworkers. And then above that, they put another X that represented your boss.
And they went to the team and they said, okay, draw a circle around your team. And they drew a circle around the bottom three X's, but left the boss out. And they went to bosses and said, draw a circle around your team. And they drew a circle around themselves and their whole team. In other words, what's going on there is there's a gap in trust.
I trust my coworkers, but this power gap leads to a trust gap. And so the only way that we lessen that trust gap is through good communication. I mean, you care about me beyond just what I'm producing for you as an employee. And when we take time beyond just the crisis moments to connect, it says, I care about your whole world, not just what you're doing for me.
So that would be the first thing is having consistent relational connection with your team to know kind of their world more generally. And then that serves two purposes. One, you know, what's their baseline and when are they off? Yeah, they're kind of normal operating world. And then when are they off? But the second thing I do then and working with your team.
Is as they're processing something, if there's something going on, then I encourage pastors and leaders to what I would call follow the pain, meaning don't just address the presenting symptom. Sure. But work down a couple of layers and pay attention to what are the, what are the moments where they are feeling the most pain?
What are the moments that trigger pain for them? Is it certain conversations? Is it, um, certain relational dynamics? Is it certain ministry responsibilities? And being able to follow the pain down through that a little bit to be able to get to some issues? Because there are all kinds of things that play out in ministry that Are a symptom of something much deeper.
Carey Sumner: Yeah, that's great. That's great. Well, I, it has been great to talk with you a little bit, be able to kind of journey in, uh, those of you that are listening. We hope that, uh, if something here, uh, the Holy Spirit's just nudging on you and pressing on you that. Find someone to talk to, uh, get past Eric's book, uh, start exploring.
What does God have for you? Cause he's put a special call on your life. Uh, and he's put a call for you to pastor, to shepherd, to lead people, to, uh, Fruitful growing relationship with Christ and we need you guys healthy. The kingdom needs to be healthy and we want to help you get there. So, uh, pastor, I tell us, uh, where can people, uh, find you follow you and just see more about your contribution to the kingdom.
Ike Miller: Yeah, so there's a couple places. Ikemiller. com is my website. Uh, the book is, will be available wherever books are sold. A couple of things I would point them to is I've written a couple of articles for CT pastors around these issues, around codependency, around kind of navigating the challenges of being present with our people, but not being overwhelmed by them.
Um, and so I think that's a great resource for pastors. And then lastly, uh, I'm doing a. A series of podcast conversations on good baggage in the book, kind of introducing people to the idea. So good baggage podcast.
Carey Sumner: Awesome. Well, great to meet you. I'm so thankful we got to have this combo. And for all of y'all, thank you for being here, listening to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast.
We will catch you guys next week.