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Shepherding a church or ministry inevitably means dealing with difficult personalities. How can leaders handle hard relationships without buckling under the pressure? Chuck DeGroat, professor of pastoral care and counseling at Western Theological Seminary, as well as a pastor and therapist, tackles the question in his latest book, Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life—Including Yourself (Eerdmans). Daniel Darling, a pastor and author, spoke with DeGroat about embracing vulnerability and avoiding the pitfalls of the church-based "hero culture."
You write candidly about having nurtured suicidal thoughts, even while serving in ministry. Should church leaders publicly share their struggles this way?
I've done research on seminary graduates who had been in ministry five or more years. They were excited to study the Bible, read deep books, and preach. But they weren't prepared for the barrage of criticism, gossip, triangulation, stress, exhaustion, and more.
Throughout my own time in ministry, there have been dark times. I've felt worthless, like it just wasn't worth it, like my wife and I were a thousand miles apart. I've had times when I felt like everyone was against me, when my inner critic was so loud I couldn't think. As leaders, we need greater permission to tell stories that include the darker edges. Every good story involves suffering, death, and resurrection—that's the pattern Jesus set! Why pretend we're superhuman when Christ was fully human?
I distinguish between openness and vulnerability. Vulnerability is saved for a few close friends and one's spouse. Openness is for larger audiences. Good leadership avoids both hypertherapeutic oversharing and fearful undersharing.
Why is personal spiritual health so important for leaders?
I was fortunate, in my own life, to have a bold counseling professor tell me what he saw—immaturity, arrogance, ...