My fellow-laborers in this kingdom work,
I’m sure that most of you have heard about the tragic loss of one of our brothers who ended his life on this earth this past weekend. He was, by all accounts, a gifted, successful, and fruitful servant of our King. But he was also a man embattled with things that a good many—perhaps even most—of us face in our often lonely lives in full-time ministry.
I didn’t know the man and I am not trying to draw conclusions about his life or his death. But I understand how even a faithful child of God could find themselves at such a desperate place.
My last pastorate ended over eleven years ago soon after a diagnosis of a severe depression. I learned many difficult and painful lessons in that season. I learned that sometimes the intense and overwhelming feelings we can experience are so unbelieveably loud while the foundational truth that we know is very quiet. When what we know and what we feel are so greatly at odds, our whole being is in conflict. It is agonizing at best.
When you couple that with the responsibility we all feel to lead and feed the flock we’ve been called to serve, the guilt can build up in a weight under which many a soul will indeed collapse. And, in most cases, there is no one who knows what is going on inside of us.
I was taught in my early days of ministry life that we pastors must keep a degree of separation between us and the people we serve. I was told that I must not share my sin struggles and such with people in the congregation.
I have a word that I simply cannot bring myself to type here that I would apply to that concept. Suffice it to say that I “count them as rubbish,” to borrow Paul’s expression.
You see, in that separation, I too easily sank into isolation. In that separation, I set up the people I served to count on me to be well. I failed to teach them that I needed them just as they needed me. And then, in my time of greatest need, they pulled away in fear when they should have rallied around me. It’s not their fault. I never taught them any differently.
But, having gone through that, I walked into my next ministry position by laying all of my cards on the table—my brokenness, my sin, my need as well as my gifts and strengths and passions. And we began this journey together with our eyes wide open that I needed them and they needed me.
By the great grace of God I have been able to build the support system here that I never had before. I have people that will come and get in my face and ask what’s up long before I’m in a pit that I cannot climb out of or in a mess I cannot escape.
But I know that many of you don’t have that—at least not yet. I cannot build it for you, but I can tell you that, no matter how much or how little you and I may agree on biblical interpretations or ministry practicalities, I am here for you and I will listen. I understand the struggle.
Please, know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
And, for those of you who think this whole thing is ridiculous and that a genuine servant of God could never fall into such a place, I would beg you to consider this one grave warning:
“Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10.12)
I’m a mess too. But I’m here for you.