When I was in college, one of my favorite things to do was crawl into my dorm room bed and turn on sad music. There was just something about Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” on repeat that seemed to be the perfect cure for my feelings of longing, loneliness, regret and heartbreak. I happen to be a 10-0 “Feeler” on the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test. I tend to be all or nothing, but in recent years as a ministry leader I quit giving myself permission to feel anything that wasn’t pleasing.
In my attempt to fit a more acceptable mold as a leader, I came to the conclusion that I should shut off my feelings in order to be a more “inspiring.” Instead of being open about my feelings and struggles, I convinced myself to grow numb.
To be honest, I lost myself somewhere in the ministry world. I, like many other ministry leaders, put immense pressure on my shoulders to hold it all together. I devoted everything I had to it while denying my heart of true connection to God and others. Towards the end, I could barely get out of bed because I was serving from a long-time empty bucket.
Don’t get me wrong, there is honor in this work. Some of the most transformative moments of my life have been because of the sacrifice of the local church and the people in it. In many parts of my journey, the belief the church had in me often far outweighed the belief I had in myself. It was in the local church where I found so much confidence and purpose. I am thankful for the opportunity.
But, as with any profession or passion, we can so easily lose ourselves to the work of ministry.
Maybe growing numb was due to the fact that I personally felt the need to be “on” all the time? I walked around with a smile plastered on my face, hesitant to reveal that I was emotionally imploding. I thought I had to project constant joy – even if it wasn’t present. I traded permission to feel for an unyielding drive for performance.
Maybe losing my feelings resulted from a need to constantly apologize for being loud, dramatic, long-winded, a woman, Southern, or raw in my speech? I was once told that I was too “raw” for the politics of ministry and that I needed to play the game a little bit better. Another person told me that I should keep my marriage story quiet because “people don’t like to think about those types of things”. I traded permission to be honest for a need to feel accepted.
I don’t believe that Jesus intended for the leaders of His church to be without fault to be qualified to lead. We have created a modern day measuring stick for ourselves and our leaders in the church to look, act and be perfect; which actually widens the gap between the church and the world.
It seems we forget that Jesus entrusted His ministry to a motley crew of underdogs to be the foundation on which He would build His church?
The group that Jesus chose were a bunch of dysfunctional, sinful, prideful, argumentative, emotionally unstable, unreliable, lustful people who were prone to betrayal and selfishness. Still, he saw them as they were and chose them anyway. We must come out from behind our shiny veneers and unrealistic pressures in order to last.
As a church, we have a responsibility to stop being filtered and start being raw – all the time.
I don’t believe the next generation will tolerate a curated performance to be passed off as authentic connection. They are being raised in a filtered world and they understand how to use the filters. Our churches will be left behind by the generations coming in search of meaningful relationships with substance and safe places to feel everything without having to be “fixed” to be in the inner circle. They don’t want perfect, they want raw. Your ministry may not be able to compete with smart phones, but you can compete with the level of depth people are getting from this world.
BE REAL. BE HUMAN. BE HONEST. REPEAT.
Love Jesus and give yourself permission to mess this up — fail hard, feel everything, fall down, and find freedom in being raw. Hold yourself to these convictions, and have real grace for your friends and ministry leaders when they do the same.
It can be scary, it can be painful, it can be difficult to admit. But the payoff is that we find true connection, not isolation. Mike Foster says in Wonderlife, “People may be attracted to your strengths but they connect to your weaknesses.”
When we trade perfection for connection, we are leading people into a relationship with Jesus that seems attainable. We we are honest and we are saying “me too” to a numb world in need of hope. It might irritate some people, but they are probably the ones in need of it the most.
What would change about our churches if we really believed and lived with the truth that we are all wired for struggle, even our leaders in ministry?
Which parts about the story of your whole-self will you start to own today?