The true reasons people go into ministry are manifold. We’ve written at length about the need for divine calling. But not surprisingly, there are human factors as well.
One major human factor that is widely unacknowledged is personal brokenness. I’ve never met anyone in ministry who didn’t have some level of emotional wounding in their lives. In Henri Nouwen’s words, we are “wounded healers.”
There is an upside and a downside to this. Emotional wounds make us more sensitive to and responsive to the working of God in our lives. Like Jacob, the wound causes us to stop wrestling and start clinging (Genesis 32). Properly acknowledged and brought to the feet of Christ, our hurt can be a great vehicle for blessing to others (2 Corinthians 1).
These wounds come in many shapes and sizes. Here are some I’ve seen:
- Strained relationships with parents, especially those who are physically or emotionally absent
- Alcohol or drug abuse, in us or our families
- Traumatic experience
- Early or unexpected loss of a close friend or relative
- Sexual abuse
- Experiences of rejection, isolation or loneliness
- Some other addictive habit or besetting sin
- Physical handicaps
This list is not exhaustive, obviously. We could add more to the list. My first question I would pose to you is: what is the primary place of brokenness in you?
It’s possible that some of you will read this and say “This must be wrong, because nothing like this has happened to me.” Maybe not. It is possible that you are in denial, but I’m content to admit that you may be a happy exception to the rule.
But for the rest of us, whom I’m convinced are in the majority, it is critical to the success of our ministries that we learn to be stewards of our brokenness.
Brokenness has a couple of snares. First of all, the same emotional need that drives us to God can easily drive us to sin. The temptation is to find quick satisfaction and relief from pain in a forbidden distraction. Many people in ministry flip back and forth between pursuing their healing in Christ, and pursuing some relief in alcohol, pornography, relational dependency, or escapism of other kinds. Unchecked by healthy accountability, this snare can easily lead to moral failure and an ignominious end to your ministry.
The second snare is far more pernicious. It is very possible to be driven to Christ by your emotional wounds, and then fail to fully acknowledge and address them and apply to gospel to them. Ministry can become a cloak to hide behind. When our wounds are not properly acknowledged and addressed, they will fester, turn poisonous, and seep out everywhere. There are plenty of people like this in the church and in ministry, who are inadvertently damaging the church.
I remember the first time I recognized this. I knew two individuals in one church whose passion for the Lord was very apparent. Casual visitors to their church would have said that these two were the most spiritual people in the congregation. One was a man who was deeply committed to prayer, ready to serve, and always very enthusiastic. As I got to know him I discovered that his prayerfulness was a cloak for a massive spiritual pride-entirely unacknowledged by him-that annoyed his wife and drove his children away from Christ.
Another was a woman-passionate, eager, hard-working, and idealistic. Her fervor covered a deep father-wound that came out in manipulation, undermining authority, and a need for control that bordered on insanity. These two people, who on the surface appeared most spiritually together, were in reality the most emotionally messed up people in that church. Their loud display of commitment to Christ was not sufficient to counteract the bitter poison of an untreated wound.
I heard this week about an associate pastor whose insecurity and control issues are about to cost him his job-for the third or fourth time. If we are to have an enduring ministry, we must steward our brokenness well.
The gospel of the love of Christ is the ultimate solution to our emotional wounds and our proclivity to sin. Stewarding our brokenness means
- Fully acknowledging our wounds
- Pursuing our healing and satisfaction in Christ
- Submitting to regular accountability in healthy community
A few questions:
- How are you emotionally wounded, and how does it affect you?
- How are you pursuing your healing in Christ?
- Who is asking you about it on a regular basis?
It’s important that we come to clear and definite answers on these questions.