Recently, I went into my pastor’s office for advice. I was a little frustrated, a little unsure of myself, so I went to him because he has had some experiences that I thought would give him insight into my malady. Of all the good things he imparted to me, one has risen to the top. He said, “Sometimes we minister from our hurts and that ends up hurting more people.”
Or something like that. I’m terrible at verbatim quotations… much to Radene’s frustration.
I’ve spent several days ruminating on this, and I think it’s a gold mine. I’ve been in some kind of ministry in the Church my entire adult life. When I was 21, I never saw myself doing what I’m doing now, but I knew that God had called me to make myself available to minister. That has taken different forms over the last two decades, but my bottom line has always been that I want to help people. No matter what form the ministry takes, I want to leave people better off than they were before they knew me. And of course, for Jesus, not for me. Right?
Yes, for Jesus. I mean, he’s definitely the one who led me into ministry – no doubts about that. I had completely different plans for my life when I first stepped foot on a college campus. BUT, that isn’t to say that every time I ministered to someone that my motive didn’t shift to something a little less than Jesus. Actually, something far beneath Jesus. Sometimes I would reach out to people to actually be their savior. It was under the guise of Jesus being the Savior, but really I felt compelled to fix this person so they would appreciate me, or worse, so that Jesus would appreciate me.
Is that too honest?
The clinical word for that is codependency. But let’s keep it in laymen’s terms. For a long time, I wrestled on and off with a desire to become valuable to people by helping them. Not for the sake of God’s kingdom, but for the sake of my small kingdom – that only existed in my head. Now, fortunately, I have a very loving wife who helped me gradually see the light about this. I had a savior syndrome and the way I medicated it was by offering myself to people as a problem solver. Part of that was young and dumb arrogance resulting from too little life journey in the rearview mirror. But part of that resulted from my own hurts and wounds, suffered in my childhood and adolescence. I can say today that I’m very aware of this tendency in my flesh to be a savior, and because I’m aware of it the Holy Spirit keeps me alert to it.
Ministers with a savior syndrome are ministering to others out of their own hurts. Their motives get veiled in some noble disguises.
- I don’t want people to make the same mistakes I made.
- I don’t want sin to get a foothold in people’s lives.
- I don’t want people to fall prey to the schemes of Satan.
The list of disguised motives is practically inexhaustible because if our flesh can do anything, it can keep coming up with reasons and excuses to keep doing what it wants to do.
So, just based on my own journey, from my own mistakes, and even from being on the receiving end of this kind of ministry, here’s a few tips that might let you know if you or a minister you know is leading from their hurts.
- You’re always discouraged with people. Let me qualify that because people actually are discouraging. This is deeper than a conversation that didn’t go the way you hoped. This is a deeply rooted issue that manifests in many ways, but the most frequent ways I have seen it have been in disgust, distrust, and disapproval. You’re always disgusted with people for their sins. You don’t trust others because they don’t fit your model of trustworthy. You constantly disapprove of how people handle issues because you’d have done it differently. And generally speaking, you have no problems sharing your disgust, distrust, and disapproval with others because it’s an opportunity offer your point of view as a better alternative.
- You’re always in the valley. This one doesn’t work as well outside of Christian circles. Outside of Christian circles, you might be dismissed and avoided as a nay sayer, party pooper, Debbie-downer as it were. But in Christian circles, the valley experience is actually held up as a place of blessing. And let me be clear: it certainly is. And lived through in a healthy way, the valley can be a place of incredible learning and growth, and source of future encouragement and reward. However, because the valley has an exalted status in the Christian world, people who minister out of hurt seldom leave it. There will be constant one-upping of everyone else’s pain and an unending sharing their vast wisdom gained from their time there. In fact, they prefer the valley, so they will (either consciously or unconsciously, depending on the level of crazy) create a crisis that sustains their position as the perpetual martyr who by default has the best advice in the room… or at least the most holy advice in the room.
- You’re always saying, yeah, but. Not every yeah, but is bad. But people who are always saying yeah, but have a genuine superiority issue. That plays very nicely with a savior syndrome. Not every savior syndrome minister always says yeah, but, but if a minster is always saying yeah, but, he’s ministering from hurt and trying to be a savior. Yeah, but is an objection. If you are constantly objecting to the thoughts and ideas of others (whether spoken or not), clearly you think you’re ideas are always better than theirs. That can only mean you lack humility which is poison to any ministry, or more importantly, any person’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
- People are constantly hurt by your leadership. I don’t know how to say this one any plainer. If you’re constantly hurting people, something is wrong. I’m not talking about people being offended by the truth of the Gospel. Far from it. That’s an experience every faithful minister endures from time to time. Faithful preaching of the Gospel will eventually offend someone. The kind of hurt I’m talking about is careless words, oppressive leadership, unbiblical expectations, manipulative advice; these are the kinds of things that hurt followers who would otherwise be flourishing under healthy leadership.
- You always need to be in control. More than anything else, people who minister from hurt hate to lose control. Because they have been hurt in the past, controlling everything in their sphere of influence is how they keep themselves from being hurt again. If this fits you, control is your security blanket and having it taken away leaves you vulnerable. The need for control can be both actively pursued and passively pursued. An active control person just bullies his way into the driver’s seat. A passive control person manipulates everyone else into the room into feeling their own insecurities, which leads them to simply give him the driver’s seat. Active control is blatant, on the nose, seldom two-faced, and leaves people either immediately on board or turned off. Passive control takes more time, more smooth talking, more behind the scenes manipulation, and in my opinion, it leaves a deeper wound because of the deception involved. Control can come as a bull or as the sound of sincere adulation.
For sure there are more signs, but these will do for now. Let me be crystal clear: if you are leading people from your hurts, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Many people who lead from their hurts don’t realize they’re doing it. I sure didn’t. It took the prayers and counsel of my wife, of other godly men, my wife’s parents, and some good books to help me see the err of my way. That took time. I’m so grateful that God is patient with my failings. And I believe that his mercy has healed some of those unintentional wounds I inflicted on people along the way. I never sat out to hurt anyone. But when we lead from our hurts, we will hurt others, without fail.
What all of us need to learn is that it’s better to lead from hope. Hope is an insurance policy against hurt. Hurt is going to happen. This is a broken world filled with broken people. The Church is filled with reborn people, being made into the likeness of Christ, yet still broken while we reside in our dying bodies with sinful desires. Hope knows hurt will come. Hope prepares us. Hope establishes us. Hope strengthens our foundation. Hope gives us endurance. If you only lead people away from hurt, you’re leading them into more hurt. If you lead people into hope, you’re preparing them to stay healthy through hurt. Here’s what the list above looks like for the leader who leads from hope.
- You’re always encouraging people. There is no expiration date on encouragement. As a child my mom would always encourage me that God has a plan for my life. That sounds small, but today it echoes very loudly to me and gives me hope when Satan tempts me to doubt God’s calling on my life. Encouragement is the best ministry you can do; and it costs you very little and lasts very long. Some people have a supernatural gift for encouragement, and that’s amazing and very necessary in the Body of Christ, but no one is excused from being an encourager. A hopeful minister (and by the way, every Christian is called to ministry) is always dishing out encouragement.
- You’re joyful through the valley. Valley experiences will come. People who minister from hope don’t lose their joy when the shadows come. It’s not a constant jocular happiness all the way through, but your joy keeps you content through the struggle. Contentment with godliness is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6) and it is never more gainful than when the shadows of the Valley of Death surround you. Hope has given you a buoyancy that prevents you from sinking as low as the Enemy would like to drag you. You can perhaps even still laugh and experience some moments of happiness while you’re surrounded by trials.
- You’re not intimidated by other opinions. People who lead from hope aren’t afraid of the existence of other ideas. They have room in their hearts for loving disagreement on debatable matters and don’t chase off people with whom they disagree. And even when there’s a disagreement on something non-negotiable, they don’t resort to assassinating their opponent’s character. If you’re fearful, you’ll eliminate beliefs and opinions that you imagine may threaten your leadership. If you’re hopeful, you embrace people and engage them through winsome persuasion, so that even if they ultimately don’t agree, you still have an open door for relationship. Gentleness should mark your leadership, not abrasive, my way or the highway, bullheadedness. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
- People are constantly empowered by your leadership. If you lead from hope, you entrust others with responsibility because you’re hopeful that they’ll succeed. Let me brag on my pastor for a moment. I’ve never met a man who is more at ease with letting other people preach in his pulpit. He has more hope for more people from his flock to become effective teachers, communicators, and pastors than anyone I’ve seen. That’s one way that a hope driven minister empowers people. And there are a thousand more, but the bottom line is that people walk away from their leaders feeling empowered to do things they never thought they could do.
- You’re always giving up control for authority. For sure, as a minister, there are domains that you have authority over, but having authority and exercising control are two different things. Authority is something that is given. Control is something that is taken. God grants you authority to lead when he calls you to serve; it’s something given. Control is an abuse of the authority given; it’s something you take. Jesus told the disciples that having control (lording over others) isn’t how authority is exercised in God’s kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28). Kingdom greatness is measured by how you serve everyone, not how you control everyone. Being a servant, by definition, is a rejection of control, but simultaneously it grants you Kingdom authority. Leading from hope embraces authority over control because authority sees the value in serving others and risking the hurt. Control only seeks to avoid the risk of hurt, and serves no one. Authority breeds trust. Control breeds fear.
Minister from hope, not hurt. Hope cultivates spiritual health. Hurt only multiplies hurt. How do you minister from hope? It’s actually really simple.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:13)
Followers of Christ have been born again to a living hope. That hope is Jesus Christ himself. And because he is resurrected, he is a living hope, and is able, in the present, to help us. So ministering from hope is literally ministering to people by allowing Jesus to continue serving people through you. That means HE has control, not you. And through your submission to Jesus, you will walk in His authority. That means you’re going to let him take you places that you wouldn’t go if you were in control. You’ll talk to people that you wouldn’t talk to if you were in control. You’re giving away all control so that Jesus can continue His mission through you (Galatians 2:20).
When I say it like that, I wonder why it’s taken me so long to grasp this.
Minister from hope, and watch God transform your life, and the lives of those you serve, from something wrecked by sin to something redeemed by grace.