A recent conversation with a hurting pastor prompts me to share this story from my experience…
Almost a decade ago, I was an associate pastor with a lot of responsibility at a large and very fast growing church, and at the same time my marriage was in a bad place. For my part, I was trying squeeze out of my marital relationship a sense of affirmation and worth. For my wife’s part, she was struggling with issues of trust, responding to masculinity, and a general apathy to the idea of being married. Due to my need to prove my worth, I was working very hard to right the course of the relationship.
The lie that I was believing was that if I just tried harder, the results would be different. So I set up opportunities to pray, do Bible studies, go to a conference, and offered to see a counselor. All with no response. I was frustrated, angry, miserable, and feeling rejected. My wife, too, was not in a good place through all this.
It is in this context that I reached out to one of the elders at the church in which I served. Because of my people pleaser tendencies, this was a level of vulnerability that was unusual for me. I was desperate.
This man was someone I considered a friend, so I told him some of what was going on, how I needed help as a husband, and I also asked if his wife would consider being more intentional in her relationship with my wife to help her process what was going on in her personal world. He agreed.
Yet, the next thing I know, the lead pastor of the church is in my office saying that the person I had confided in had gone to the other elders and recommended that I be dismissed as unfit for ministry.
Because. I. Asked. For. Help.
The lead pastor assured me that he was able to convince everyone that because of my excellent performance, I was fit. And nothing else was done. No one talked of it again. In the moment, I thought this was a blessing, looking back it was the nail in the coffin for the health of my marriage and of my ministry. Without marital intimacy, I channeled my energies into my role of church leader. Because I would not risk vulnerability again, my burnout and poor choices were just a matter of time.
I am responsible for my choices. Those leading me are responsible for theirs.
Back to the unfortunate conversation I had with the hurting pastor, his church did fire him because he and his wife were struggling. They wanted help, but an imperfect pastor did not fit the image of leadership this church had.
In Christ and in the Church, vulnerability should first be met with compassion. All of us, leader or not, are broken image bearers and will have seasons of struggle. Particularly in marriage, which is designed to reveal to us our own brokenness and how we attempt to create a false sense of wholeness apart from God. That is how marriage sanctifies. As we release our false self and draw closer to God, we are able to better love.
If leaders are forced to wear a mask, the people they lead will adopt the same strategy. That is the dynamic of a relational system.
How many people could have been influenced to fight for their marriages as they saw one of their leaders admit weakness and invite Christ to be their strength?
If you are not given space to struggle, how can you overcome?
In the case of both myself and the pastor I spoke with, the church system that rewarded (and often encouraged) commitment to ministry over marriage, was the same system that turned its back on the mess it was complicit in making.
Too many followers of Christ – leaders and congregants alike – are trying to measure their worth as people and devotion as followers through their performance.
And evaluating others based on the same. It is a standard that leads to hurt, anger, and ultimately spiritual death.
How would you respond to a friend or church leader who confessed they needed help in their struggling relationship?
How would you hope someone would respond to you if you were the one confessing?
I work with followers of Christ to energize discipleship, improve relationships, decrease anxiety and facilitate leadership development. I am a certified coach specializing in pastoral leadership, relationships, discipleship, life transitions, and Christian identity. Also, I am the author of the forthcoming book Discovering Your Root: Developing Your Identity in Christ.
Services I offer are one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking at organizations/churches, workshops on marriage/discipleship/leadership, and church retreats. For more info, click here to contact me.