I was an angry man. But I didn't know I was an angry man. I didn't think I was perfect, and, yes, I knew I needed others in my life, but I lived as though I didn't. When my wife, Luella, would approach me with yet another instance of this anger, I would always do the same thing: wrap a robe of righteousness around me, activate my inner lawyer, and remind her once again of what a great husband she had. I would go through my well-rehearsed and rather long list of all the things I did for her, all the ways I made her life easier. On one occasion, I got on a roll and actually said, "Ninety-five percent of the women in our church would love to be married to a man like me!" Luella quickly informed me that she was in the five percent.
I was a man headed for disaster. The gracious and patient pastor our congregation saw in public ministry was a very different guy from the irritable and impatient man at home. I was increasingly comfortable with things that should have haunted and convicted me. I just didn't see the spiritual schizophrenia that personal ministry life had become. Little did I know that God would expose my heart in a powerful moment of rescuing grace.
My brother Tedd and I had been on a ministry training weekend and were on our way home. Tedd suggested that we try to make what we had learned over the weekend practical to our own lives. He said, "Why don't you start?" and then proceeded to ask me a series of questions. As Tedd asked me questions, it was as though God was ripping down curtains and I was seeing and hearing myself with accuracy for the first time. I couldn't believe that the man I was now looking at and hearing was actually me. It was a pointed and powerful discussion, a bigger moment than I was able to grasp at the time.
There are three underlying themes that operated in my life, which I have encountered in the lives of many pastors to whom I have spoken. These themes functioned as the mechanism of spiritual blindness in my life, and I'm convinced they also do in the lives of countless other pastors.
Letting ministry define my identity
No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do. You are in an unending conversation with yourself, and the things you say to you about you are formative of the way that you live. Smack-dab in the middle of your internal conversation is what you tell yourself about your identity. There are only two places to look for identity: vertically, from who you are in Christ, or horizontally, in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life. This is true of everyone, but I am convinced that getting one's identity horizontally is a particular temptation for those in ministry.
Ministry had become my identity. I didn't think of myself as a child of God, in daily need of grace, in the middle of my own sanctification, still in a battle with sin, still in need of the body of Christ, and called to pastoral ministry. No, I thought of myself as a pastor. That's it, bottom line. The office of pastor was more than a calling and a set of God-given gifts that had been recognized by the body of Christ. "Pastor" defined me. It was me in a way that proved to be more dangerous than I would have thought.
No one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it. But in ways I now find embarrassing, ministry told me that I was not like everyone else, that I existed in a unique category. And if I was not like everyone else, then I didn't need what everyone else needs.