I am currently reading a book with the title, The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Read – (But is too embarrassed to ask). It’s written by Christopher Ash and it’s a great read. I have the privilege of interviewing Christopher for my podcast, Before You Quit. I had conflicting emotions jostling for a place to settle in my heart as I read his book. One emotion tugs me back to the five years we served in an amazing church in the Wisconsin, where for all those years we were not just healed from personal family trauma, but we also become wounded healers. I remember so well the moment I could feel the lightness in my step return, and for me a great sign that it is well with my soul again; my humor resurfaced. Several years before this, a friend came to me and said, “You always look so sad.” She said this to me just months after I lost my son to cancer, and saw my wife straining to regain what she lost due to brain surgery. My answer was rather terse. Maybe I offended her, I don’t remember. I replied, “Well, yes I am sad. I just lost my son to cancer, and my wife is still fighting to regain her losses.”
I knew I would come through. Like a storm you know will pass, I, we as a family, hunkered down and found safety in the arms of a loving, helpful community who saw it as part of their mission to care for their pastor and his family.
Several years later we changed addresses, moved south where I pastored a hurting, wounded church. It was in these seven years I discovered how in fact hurt people do hurt people. We swept into this new ministry with confidence, convinced that we could continue to be wounded healers. We also came with an additional burden, one I was sure would qualify us to better serve this community. Our youngest son, recently diagnosed with cancer, and recovering from three months of chemo treatment, took this move hard. Any young teenager hates moving, leaving friends and starting over, but compound it with a serious weakening illness, and we were asking almost too much of him. We moved to this new ministry, assuming the same thing of this church body that we had experienced in our previous church home. Support. Patience. Assistance. Sympathy. Provisions.
But it was not to be.
Within weeks, I noticed a level of apathy when I told my story. People seemed uninterested. Distracted perhaps by their own pain? I never knew. I shared through preaching and through testimony how good Jesus had been to us, in the worst of times, as much as he had been in the best of times. I shared openly to encourage others, to be transparent, but also because it helped me. I’m a verbal processor. I like to write. I like to tell personal stories, sometimes even during the sermon to make the text alive and applicable. There was something thick in the air when I did. Not hostility. Not even apathy. Uncertainly perhaps, of what to do with what spilled out from me. I knew they were still hurting from what their previous pastor had done to them. He failed them and then abandoned them without reconciling. I was the next pastor, but they had never really made room for me in their hearts.
It all changed for me the day an elder pulled me aside and said something that nearly closed me down. His words stung. Slung like arrows that hit the intended mark. My heart took the arrow, and I vowed I would never be hurt like that again. “We’ve heard enough about your dead son,” the elder said. His hand at first did not go for another arrow. I thought this one did enough. I was wrong. He reached behind to his quiver, pulled out a second arrow and it slung, hitting just near the spot of the first. “We’ve heard enough doom and gloom for one year. We need to be up-lifted, not depressed.”
I don’t remember what I said, if anything. We were standing outside when these words, these arrows were flung. It was evening. I do remember walking away, the arrows still in their intended target, and I walked to my car. I’d pull the arrows out later, with Elaine’s help. It’ll hurt less with her around. She’ll use words as a balm, and I know she’ll hug me, but not too tight. I’ll still be a bit tender from those arrows.
I discovered something very intriguing about myself from that conversation with the elder. It surprised me, because it seemed foreign.
It was a gift, I know given by the gift-giver Himself.
It was the gift of grace. Of mercy. Of compassion. I saw these people as truly hurt, damaged in a way. It made some mean, aggressive, but others I know were kind. I discovered, too, that I did not need this community as I had needed the one up in Wisconsin to be my healers. There, I had healed. Here, I found strength and courage to take my elder’s arrows, as well as some others that came my way in subsequent months and years. I said earlier that I shut down with the elder’s stinging comments. I’ve rethought that in the two paragraphs since. I found myself at a new place, where I did not need to talk so much about Travis, Elaine and Brett’s most recent cancer. In a strange, perhaps twisted way, my elder’s two comments were actually helpful to me. His delivery was horrible, but I think he was right. I was trying to process too much with a group who could not handle it. Dare I say that this was my equivalent to Paul’s messenger from Satan?
Since I’ve been in this ministry of helping hurting pastors and ministry leaders, I long to see them supported well by those they serve. I spend most, if not all my time helping leaders, and little time helping the communities they serve to be intentional in their support. In a subtle way, I guess my podcasts have that intended goal. I am not sure of the ratio of pastors versus church members who listen to my podcasts, but I would guess it’s about 50-50. I want pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders to feel supported. I don’t ever wish on any pastor the arrows which were flung at me. I always heard it only takes 2% of a church to bring a pastor down. I think the opposite is true, too. It takes only 2% to lift a pastor up, to prop him up with kind words, loving affirmation and practical help. Don’t assume that others are doing this for your pastor.
Let it be you.
Fill your quiver with soft arrows of love, compassion, support, affirmation and much more. You will keep your pastor there for a long time, and you will benefit from his being a healthy pastor. Christopher Ash writes;
“You and I have it in our power to demotivate our pastors, so that they are gradually ground down into a slough of despond from which they will be utterly unable to do us any good at all. But we also have it in our power so to cheer them, so to put a spring in their step, that they will gladly do for us all that we hope and pray.” (The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Read p.33)
If you are an elder, or a church member, I highly recommend Christopher Ash’s book, The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Read – (But is too embarrassed to ask). Also, please take time to listen to my podcast interview with him when that comes out.
“Our service will not be perceived as authentic, unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which we speak. Thus, nothing can be written about ministry without a deeper understanding of the ways in which ministers can make their own wounds available as a source of healing.” (The Wounded Healer, p. 4 by Henri Nouwen)