Jump directly to the Content

Broken People Can Become Whole Disciples

The challenge for today's church is how to make whole disciples out of broken people.

Some people's brokenness is obvious. Abuse or abandonment has left scars. With others, beautiful exteriors have been carefully crafted to hide what no one really wants to see anyway. Sometimes only their eyes betray them. Or the unsteadiness in the voice, or the almost unnoticeable trembling of the hands.

That was Sarah's case. Who would guess this young wife with two children had just had a lesbian affair? Sarah's infidelity masked a deeper internal fragmentation. How could her husband Michael have known that his emotional inaccessibility would lead to this kind of alienation? Though he loved Sarah deeply, his own background made the prospect of intimacy something he feared almost more than abandonment.

Their marriage was fragile, their future uncertain.

Can you make disciples of such people?

The road was difficult, but now, 10 years later, Michael and Sarah have a strong marriage and a ministry to others. The ingredient critical to this story is the role of the local church.

Discipleship is rapidly taking on new textures in today's post-modern context. The modern church saw discipleship primarily as doctrinal training. A mature Christian was someone who knew his Bible. Good citizenship was expected of everyone. This was not an unreasonable paradigm, but it was a dangerous one.

Before post-modernism, the church enjoyed the positive influence of a culture shaped by the Christian faith. Life change became a lost art because most people appeared "together."

As the society around us declined, so did the emotional health, relationships, morality, and overall well-being of everyone—inside and outside the church. We became functionally powerless to help those whose lives are crashing, devastated by the power of sin.

Restoring broken lives requires conviction, commitment, and community. Unfortunately, even when the church wants to help, often it assumes it doesn't have the power to heal. We profess that Jesus changes lives, but with broken people we tend to rely on psychotherapy. We'll entrust Jesus with the small stuff, but we refer out the really big problems to Freud.

How do we begin to reclaim the power of making fully functioning disciples out of seriously flawed people?

The power of ethos

It begins with a culture of expectancy. When my son Aaron was three, he became a follower of Jesus Christ. This was new for me, since I came to Christ as an adult. Nothing shocked me more than his first bedtime prayer at the age of four. I always prayed for him, and now it was his turn to express his requests to God.

"Jesus, make me a leader of men. I know I'm too little now, but move me into leadership." I was in shock! Moments later my wife Kim reminded me that this is what he is around all the time.

Ethos, environment, culture—this is key to holistic life change.

For the last 20 years, those most committed to discipleship overwhelmingly moved toward intense "one on one" relationships. While a great help to many, it hasn't captured the most significant ingredient of personal and systemic change—the power of ethos.

Wholeness is simply
"giving more than you take."

Webster's defines ethos as the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group.

Remember when the seat belt law was first implemented? Most of us resented it. We knew it was good for us, but it was a hassle. We never saw not buckling up as immoral. Illegal yes. But they took our freedom from us!

Now, when people drive with their kids unbuckled, what do you think? Probably that the parent is negligent, putting the children in danger. We've come a long way from throwing eight kids into the back of a truck!

The law can inform your actions, but ethos informs your values. Ethos is more powerful than rules, methods, strategies, or even laws. Don't underestimate the spirit of a healthy community in shaping an individual into a disciple.

Our church expects people to invest themselves in serving Jesus by serving people. We insist that isolation and individualism are a part of the problem, not part of the solution. Relationships are essential to health and maturity.

This conviction is so strong that we actually changed the name of our church to accentuate this. A mosaic is an art form made up of broken and fragmented pieces of glass, tile, or other material.

Through the mastery of an artist, they're formed together into something beautiful and meaningful—especially when light strikes it.

Calling our church "Mosaic" is our declaration that we are a community of broken and fragmented people formed together by the master artist to reflect his beauty—especially when his light strikes us!

Here in Los Angeles, effective ministry is impossible if you cannot make whole disciples out of broken people.

This is exactly what our church is about. Our theme: this is a culture that heals.

We found the self, and fractured it

There was a time when people did not think of "myself." People had an assimilated view of self—a person's only sense of "self" was as part of the tribe. It was "we" before "me." An isolated individual? Inconceivable.

Then we developed a conscious self. Though the concept developed long before Descartes, it was solidified with his "I think, therefore I am." The study of personal identity is a fairly recent phenomenon. This sense of self is in many ways the gift and curse of modernity. Ever since, we have been trying to figure out who we are!

We no longer see our identities as assimilated; we try to strip away external influences so we can know who we really are. Our view of ownership exhibits this shift. Once men were the property of the state or king. Once tribes belonged to the land and not the land to any person. Once most people did not think in terms of their personal rights or choices. Anything we possessed was a gift of the gods.

The conscious self quickly developed into the idolized self. We not only began seeing ourselves as the reference point for everything around us, we understood reality as an extension of ourselves. Now we own not only possessions, like cars and houses, but have "my style" and "my preferences." Sometimes it goes to absurd extremes: "get out of my space," "you're breathing my air," or "I have my own personal truth."

The idolized self quickly becomes the fragmented self. The more we look inside, the more confusion sets in. We've lost touch with what it looks like to be whole, but we're more than clear on the many facets of brokenness. This has spawned the entire science of psychiatry.

The question then becomes, "How do we move would-be disciples from brokenness to integration, wholeness?"

Reverse disintegration

As a child living in El Salvador, I never learned the word for snow. My years growing up in Miami gave me a singular meaning for snow. Once I moved to North Carolina, I gained an increasing vocabulary—snow, sleet, flurries, hail, ice, slush.

With experience came language. In Alaska, I'm told, there are nearly 100 words for snow. I hope I never need to know them!

Remember when the word dysfunctional was not an everyday term? Neither was neurotic, psychotic, manic, bi-polar, phobia, stress, addiction, breakdown, therapy, 12-step, recovery, burn-out, mid-life crisis, hyperactive, repressed, depression, disorder, A.D.D., A.D.H.D. …

Our language reveals what we wish we could hide—the fragmenting of the human spirit. At the same time, we've seen an obvious decline of personal character. Yet rarely are these understood together. Wholeness and integrity are a matched set. They both emerge from a life experiencing the power of integration (from integer—meaning a complete entity, a whole number, undivided). An integrated person has both integrity and wholeness. Producing godly character takes us though this journey into integration.

What wholeness looks like

Don't confuse wholeness with perfection. My functional definition of wholeness is simply "giving more than you take."

A person who is emotionally broken tends to see others only for the support they can provide. The greater the brokenness, the less a person contributes to the relationship and the more they demand. Emotional wholeness is seen in what you can contribute to others. The spiritually whole consider others more important than themselves.

The first step on the pathway to wholeness is to develop gratitude.

Selfishness and greed pull at all of us, but they find justification in our pain. For broken people, this first step is counterintuitive. Our natural inclination is to attempt continuously to meet the needs of hurting people. Normally this is a good thing—Christian faith means compassion. The danger comes when we find ourselves reinforcing an ungrateful spirit.

Servanthood, over time, reveals integrity.

Spending nearly ten years working among the urban poor, I faced unending crises and expectations. I felt obligated to meet needs on demand.

While we did a great deal to serve people, it became clear we were not helping them get better. The same people would return with the same issues again and again.

I will never forget the insight a homeless man gave me one day. He approached our car asking for money or food. Kim offered him my lunch, consisting of a sandwich and chips. Without hesitation he looked into our car, pointed to my soup, and demanded that also. Not one ounce of gratitude. I gave him my sandwich, but I kept the soup.

He helped me see the relationship between gratitude and wholeness. Jesus explains to Simon the Pharisee that where there is more forgiveness, there is more love. This is the work of gratitude. Gratitude expands both our capacity to love and to experience love.

Helping someone grow in gratitude is relational art, requiring firm but gentle strokes of the brush. This is not a work for those who prefer hammers and nails. If a person is a believer, a good place to begin is the cross. Considering His sacrifice for us, how much more does Jesus need to do for us to be eternally grateful? Discipling begins with the fact that what we deserve is nothing.

Every year we have interns come out to work with us. For several weeks every assignment feels thankless and beneath them. They are often educated, bright, and used to being lavished with public praise. But here, no public ministry is made available to them. Then we begin to promote the ones who respond with continued gratitude, not those of superior talent.

About mid-summer we usually have a crisis! When a person is ungrateful as a pattern, we tell them to focus on three areas.

  1. Listen to your life stories and note how many negative memories you have. Find something in your history to thank God for.
  2. Even when life is tough, there is something of beauty to see if you look hard enough. Don't let pessimism create pervasive despair. Thank God for the flowers, the sunrise, the air you breathe, or something.
  3. Sacrifice for and serve someone more needy than you are. I know when my little girl Mariah wept over the poverty in Indonesia she had an entirely different perspective of how rich we were.

Brokenness can be the result of many things—abuse, neglect, abandonment, trauma, or sin. We could be either victim or victimizer. Most often we have a dual role. Hurt people hurt people.

When brokenness is the result of being victimized, it makes the road to recovery more difficult. Why? Bitterness. Bitterness that has good cause is difficult to release. Yet bitterness is a guarantee for depression and despair. Bitterness forces you to live in the past. Hope requires you to focus on the future. Only forgiveness sets you free.

Forgiveness is the response of a heart that knows gratitude. Bitterness breeds ungratefulness. Gratitude is the key to healing and wholeness.

Grateful people are thankful for what they have and demand little of others. They see the glass half full and are thankful for what they're given, since they expected nothing. A person who is ungrateful wonders who drank their other half.

All of us struggle with selfishness, but brokenness justifies it. Whatever is received is expected; it is never enough. An ungrateful person cannot be made grateful by meeting their demands. Until a person is willing to appreciate life, serve others, and even sacrifice something of themselves, they will never find the healing they long for.

Integrity comes via humility

After we see hints of a grateful spirit, the next step toward integrity is humility.

Humility is an elusive trait. How do we know we are humble? Doesn't that observation immediately make us proud? How do we walk in humility?

Note that God calls us not to pray for humility but commands us to humble ourselves. When we leave it to him, it's called humiliation. Jesus humbled himself and became a servant. I think it's this simple: humility looks just like servanthood.

Eric Bryant is our pastor to students. Even though he had a degree from Baylor, a master's degree from seminary, and church planting experience in cutting-edge Seattle, when he moved to L.A., he came to Mosaic to learn and to serve.

He got a job at a car rental place and began volunteering as a security guard on Sunday morning. I kept seeing this young man serving. He was always there in the lot or street helping people find parking. One day I asked him why he was there so early.

"It's a great way to meet people!" he said, and told me how much he appreciated serving on the security team.

A short time later, I asked Eric to become our youth pastor. I told him and his wife, Debbie, "I'm a sucker for servanthood."

You can trust the heart of a person who isn't too good for any job.

Again, integrity does not mean perfection, but it is absolutely tangible. Can this person be trusted? Can you entrust other people to this person? Will their leadership lead others closer to Christ?

Perhaps the ultimate statement of trust is entrusting your child to someone.

In ministry, the greatest enemies of integrity are usually selfish ambition and pride. It is not enough to be gifted to lead—you must have the moral compass to take people in the right direction.

The difficulty with integrity is that up front it can be so easily misdiagnosed. It can be confused with talent, savvy, attractiveness, or knowledge. We are well skilled at pretension and deception. We work harder at making the outside look good while leaving the inside untouched. All too often we do not discover the true nature of a person until after we have placed them in a position of power and influence.

We don't have attitude problems; we have pride problems. Humility is the only cure. It is the also the most significant qualifier for spiritual leadership.

Jesus humbled Himself and gave His life on our behalf. Only those who humbly follow Christ should be trusted to lead. Integrity is seen most often by the willingness to humbly serve.

Like Michael and Sarah, Robbie and Missy remind me of God's power to make us whole. Gifted and talented, they could serve as poster children for human potential. Yet, especially for Robbie, a pain-filled childhood and rebellious adolescence left him emotionally broken. Coming on staff prematurely, he had to work out much of his struggles while in the heat of vocational ministry.

I was the brand new senior pastor and he was the home-grown youth pastor. Our first year was tense. Here was a young man who had at one time flipped his car out of control on the highway in an attempt to end his life. Every Christmas he would struggle with depression. From his youth Robbie's heart had been filled with violence and anger. The product of divorce, he hardened his heart to survive, and now he needed that heart tender to serve others effectively. He saw anyone who worked for "the institution" as the enemy, and that included me.

At times I wondered if the past would haunt him forever. It took a lot of prayer and patience to earn his trust and respect, but over time, in community, we saw him shift from building his future through power and intellect to humility and gratitude.

We probably fought every week for two years, and I can't tell you how many times I wanted to dismiss him just for irritating me. Yet today he is one of my greatest friends and there are few people I trust as much.

I don't know anyone who works so hard to serve others. No matter how many times he makes a mistake, he is always there seeking forgiveness and making things right. He and Missy are the kind of models I hope my children emulate. Now, six years later, Robbie is the lead pastor for one of our most promising church plants.

There are many like Robbie and Missy at Mosaic. Our leadership is made up of broken people who have become whole disciples.

Including me.

Erwin R. McManusis pastor of Mosaic
716 S. Brady
Los Angeles CA 90022


At a Glance
The Discipling Cycle

Whether a person starts from brokenness or not, the steps of a disciple follow a well-marked path.

  1. Gratitude. Everyone has to start out with the elemental Christian trait—thankfulness. It's not a natural tendency, but the ability to receive grace begins with the ability to be grateful for undeserved gifts, even amid painful circumstances.
  1. Humility. When a person gratefully receives what he hasn't earned, it's humbling and leads to acts of service.
  2. Wholeness, which can be defined as "giving to others more than you take." And wholeness demonstrated over time is …
  3. Integrity. And when a person has demonstrated integrity, they're ready for …
  4. Leadership. In fact, they are probably already taking responsibility for guiding others. Now they're ready for that leadership to be recognized.

Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month

Homepage Subscription Panel

Read These Next

From the Magazine
Disasters Often Bring Revelation Rather than Punishment
Disasters Often Bring Revelation Rather than Punishment
An 18th-century earthquake and a 21st-century pandemic can teach us about enlightenment and judgment.
Editor's Pick
When Churches Put Love at the Center
When Churches Put Love at the Center
How "beloved community" helps us envision tangible ways to embody kingdom values.