I am a pastor and have been a teacher of pastors. I have worked with pastors in at least four countries, taught pastors from half a dozen countries and done pastoral work myself for over 40 years. At the beginning of my pastoral career, I came to an important realization that has been strengthened and deepened by all my experience in pastoral work. That realization is that we pastors are not perfect.
Now, that may seem like a glaringly obvious reality to many non-pastors but it can be hard for we who are pastors to really understand and believe this reality. Our calling puts us in a privileged and important position. We get involved in people’s lives when things are painful, hectic, exciting or confusing. We deal with issues and thoughts and ideas that many people shy away from. We get asked for advice and answers on many things from the trivial (Why do Baptists use grape juice for Communion?) to the profound (How can God love someone like me?). We are seen as being the representative of God–when we are present, people can feel like God is present.
The always present temptation is the temptation to believe that we really are what some people think we are and to forget who we really are. When I am the person to deliver the understanding of the presence of God and his grace, it is all too tempting to believe that something divine has rubbed off on me and that I have somehow been elevated to another level–certainly, in all modesty, I keep the halo hidden but, well, we all know that it is there.
Except that it really isn’t there. I might be God’s representative, I might presume to speak for God twice each Sunday, I might mediate between the hurting world and the graceful God–but none of the holiness of God has rubbed off on me. Or better, no more of it has rubbed off on me that has rubbed off on others–and there may be some who have managed to attract even more.
Very early in my ministry, I ran across Henri Nouwen’s book The Wounded Healer. Without even reading the book, I was and continue to be struck by the insight and profound truth expressed by the title. Reading the book just amplifies and solidifies the bedrock reality that no matter what I think I am; no matter that I wrestle with the things of God as a matter of course; no matter that I can and do bring the awareness of God to the darkness of life, I am still human and approach my calling as an imperfect person who must deal with my own imperfections while I help others deal with theirs. All of us need the grace of God, not just the people I work with.
God calls us in our wounded state and works to heal us. But we will remain wounded and imperfect for the whole of our existence here. We never reach perfection because as soon as we finally deal with one wound, God shows us another one. When we take the bandage off one healed spot, we probably manage to cut ourselves with the scissors God gave us to cut the bandage and so need healing for that new wound.
As a pastor, I long ago realized I can’t really hide my wounds from anyone but myself. And if I can’t hide them, I needed to learn how to do my calling with them. Sometimes, I try to do it in spite of my wounds. But mostly, I have realized that my best work at carrying out my calling comes when I let God work through both my strengths and my weaknesses. Sometimes, the fact that I can get beyond my bouts of depression help people and sometimes the fact that I can still minister even during a bout of depression helps even more people. Sometimes, my wounds need healing from the people I pastor, which is also part of God’s plan for me and them.
I am a pastor, which means that in the end, I am a wounded healer. I need help even as I offer help. Fortunately, the presence and grace of God means that he is willing to both heal me and work through me, just as he heals and works through those I am called to shepherd.
May the grace of God be with you.