The Wounded Pastor

I’ve been invited to candidate for the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Barnwell, SC, which I will do on July 18.  This appears to be a wonderful opportunity.  The right time for my family, the right location near my father, son and grandson, and the right church, full of good people with good leadership and solid focus on being true disciples of Jesus.  God has shown such kindness to me and to my family through the years of my pilgrimage, and this is another chapter in that great adventure.  I certainly don’t wish to presume anything, but at the same time, if a move is in our future, we have to prepare.  So I’ve been so busy over the last couple of weeks that I’ve scarecely had time to breathe, much less blog. 

But in the midst of my personal excitement and the anticipation of good things to come, I had a conversation this morning with a friend and colleague in ministry which is haunting me this afternoon.  It’s a very dissimilar story to my own.  My mind and heart are so full, and I want to record some of it.

My friend is a fellow pastor who fits the category of “the walking wounded” in ministry.  I’ve known so many over the years.  It saddens me for them personally, but more than this, it just breaks my heart for the kingdom of God in general, because it points to a deep-seated and systemic sickness in Christ’s Church which we seem to be ignoring.

The story goes like this.  A young man longs to serve God in a vocational calling.  He prepares by going to school, making significant sacrifices and asking his family to do so.  But he’s happy to make those sacrifices.  He’s counted the cost of serving God, and he knew this was part of the plan. 

Then comes that great day.  He’s called to serve a church.  He’s filled with hope and anticipation and excitement.  He begins serving with a heart full of joy.  God is in His heaven, and all is right with the world.  He is absolutely and completely jubilant!

Then it happens.  Gradually, here and there, he sees things he would rather not see, learns things that he wishes he didn’t know.  He begins to develop misgivings about the church leadership not being as spiritually minded as he had once believed.  He views his ministry as a calling, but they see him as a professional, and evaluate his “performance” accordingly.  He hides it, maybe even from himself, but in truth he’s no longer jubilant.  In fact, he’s a bit disappointed.

And it’s not just church leadership, of course.  It’s the people, too.  He’s called to teach them, but they want to be entertained, not discipled.  He’s called to lead them, and they say they want to be led, but in reality they expect him to follow their lead.  He begins to sympathize with Moses leading Israel in the wilderness.  And they talk.  Not to him.  About him.  To one another.  Oh, it’s all couched in very religious language – “We need to pray for our pastor and all his deficiencies.”  But we all know what that means, right?   He’s no longer mildly disappointed, he’s discouraged.  This just isn’t what he thought ministry would look like.

Then he learns a painful lesson: sheep bite.  Someone in the church, someone who has a little power and knows how to use it, decides this just isn’t going to work out and tells him so.  His days are numbered.  He moves from discouragement to desperation and depression.

Depressed, he’s vulnerable.  As with Jesus in the wilderness after a forty day fast, the Tempter comes to him at this, his weakest moment, and whispers subtle somethings in his ear.  But he’s not Jesus.  He’s just a servant, and an exhausted one at that.  No, he’s far from Jesus.  He’s more like the man in Jackson Browne’s song:  “Are you there? Say a prayer, for the Pretender.  He started out so young and strong, only to surrender.”  And then he’s not depressed.  He’s done.

Here he is, a shell of the man of God he wanted to be, trying to piece together what’s left of his manhood and his ministry, trying to salvage a fragmented family and future. 

He would turn to his friends, but they were all in the church.  It’s all so awkward, they begin avoiding him.  My friend says that he wants to write a book about his experiences, and he’s thinking of calling it “The Silence of the Lambs.” 

Who, humanly speaking, is there for him?  Our instant response is: “The church.  God’s people are there for him.”  But think about it.  The church is who chewed him up, spit him out, and moved on to the next guy.  It’s neither easy nor natural to minister to your own victim. 

And there’s the image problem.  Why, we can’t have people walking around church being honest about their hurt.  We want the world to see us as “shiny happy people holding hands.”  So people start saying things like, “Oh, we’re sorry things didn’t work out.  We’ll pray for you.”  What they really mean is, “Oh, this is so uncomfortable, would you please just go away?”

My conversation this morning humbles me.  The sad scenario is all too common, but it has not been my personal experience.  I’ve been so blessed.  I’ve pastored two churches who loved me and my family beyond anything I ever had a right to expect.  They have been and remain family to me.  And I already feel that spirit from FBC Barnwell.  It’s already home.

But my talk also moves me, inspires me, lights a fire under me.  We have to stop playing church.  We have to be the church.  We have to stop wounding our warriors.  And we have to get better at binding up the wounds of those who’ve lived this nightmare.

Father, help my friend figure out a way to use his difficult experience for the good of others, to be a wounded healer.  And open my eyes to the walking wounded, to be more attentive to their cries, and to spread the peace that has so permeated my life.  Help me to be more like Jesus and less like me.

gkr1996 posted at 2010-7-1 Category: Personal