My best friend in the world/cousin just called me. Girl troubles. It’s not an uncommon occurrence. Every guy deals with the terrible reality of inter-gender communication. In his case, though, the problem is a bit more acute. A horrifying former lifestyle that seems to be relentlessly beckoning to the girl he loves, and he feels utterly powerless to stop it. I talked to him for as long as Skype and my battery life would allow me, and I can only hope he left the conversation feeling a bit better about his situation. Afterward, I IM’ed with a former intern. School troubles. I did my best to reassure him that the way he was feeling was only for a season, and that he’d come through the other side feeling refreshed and full of purpose. He’s also a burgeoning writer, and I tried in my limited capacity to advise him how to use the raw materials he has to achieve the fierce greatness I see in him. I ended the conversation by promising to read a piece he wrote and provide detailed feedback on it.
I haven’t been involved in full-time ministry in about five years, but I still find myself constantly wanting to pastor people. When my friends have a problem, I like to be there for them. My heart is to provide them with words of encouragement and affirmation. To listen to their problems, and through listening, help them arrive at a conclusion. My hope is that I can be a person that other people feel safe bringing their troubles to, and that I can offer some kind of wisdom or solace. Old habits die hard, I suppose. But more than that, there’s a particular heart and passion that I feel is God-endowed, and I don’t believe I’ll ever lose that. The desire to pastor those around me will burn in me with a savage intensity that I cannot—and would not want to—extinguish.
The interesting thing I’ve found is this: For those of us with a heart for pastoring people, being pastored can be very, very difficult. I went through a time in my life a year or so ago where I was not in a position to offer anyone advice. The particular journey I was on was one of learning, not teaching. That’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re used to being the one with all the answers. There’s a kind of bent pride that comes in being the guy who has it all together. The guy who is a rock of dependability for people tossed about in a sea of emotion. If I’m truly honest, my pastor’s heart can quickly devolve into pride. When I need other people the most, I have a difficult time humbling myself to admit it.
Many of us who have been involved in full-time ministry feel this way. We are used to being some kind of holy and inviolable figurehead. A self-assured monument to reliability and steadfastness. However, if we are to truly glorify God in what we do, we must come to terms with the fact that we are broken people who need help every bit as desperately as the people to whom we minister.
A friend of mine who pastors an amazing and vibrant church recently told me an encouraging thing. He’s been going to professional counseling for an issue that has plagued him for most of his adult life. Not only that. He’s been honest about it before his entire church. His rationale is this: No one can accuse him of hypocrisy when everyone already knows his dirty laundry. His transparency has had an interesting side-effect. His church is one of the most refreshingly authentic I’ve ever experienced. People in the congregation willingly share their struggles with the entire community, even when it means achieving a tremendously humbling level of honesty. That’s the standard that has been set by the leadership, and it has trickled down to every level of the church. If the Bible is being serious when it says to confess our sins to one another, this is one of the only churches I’ve seen truly living out that mandate.
It’s a beautiful thing when we as servants of the bride of Christ can exercise complete veracity in front of our brothers and sisters. Sure, we’re used to being the ones with all the answers. We’re used to being the rock of dependability in the lives of those to whom we minister. But it’s time we remember that Christ is made perfect not through our strengths, but through our weaknesses. It is in those we boast, because it draws into beautiful contrast how holy and flawless God truly is. We should not revel in our failures, but we should always be honest in them. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to set aside our pride and admit that we are deeply flawed human beings. The payoff, though, is that our communities become ones where authenticity reigns, and where Christ receives more glory than us. We may be pastors, but we all have a deep need to be pastored. Let us accept ministry even as we seek to minister.