Driven Ruthlessly or Growing Joy?

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pastor family

It isn’t always easy being the pastor…or his/her  family. Church (God’s house), and God’s family should be a place to find joy and healing. Yet  we find lonely, hurting people putting on a smile, hiding pain, fears or doubts for fear of rejection if they to express anything other than a  victorious life and often the pastor is one of them.

Hiding my hurts from The Healer? Hiding from The Healer’s servants? There’s something wrong about that. But…

The pastor or his family best not share their weakness…what would happen? People have expectations. They look to him (them/us) as models and hold us to a standard they do not keep themselves but because Pastor and family do, they are somehow excused? “Oh, I couldn’t possibly…”  I. have. encountered. this! (In case you are wondering.) Leaders can’t share a weakness…people depend on them. Sunday School teachers can’t have a weakness…they are an example.

The problem is that we have allowed culture to spill over into the church and divide it into segments just like the society.  After WWII families sort of exploded; they left the farm and became mobile. Schools were divided according to ages/grades. Elderly are placed with elderly because they can relate…which is true, but is it best? Young moms with other young moms…who need Grandma’s wisdom and experience! Teens are not interested in relating to adults anyway. Division may be just fine with them…but is it what they need? What we have is age groups each sharing their mutual aches and pains or mutual ignorance without input from other ages, strengths or capacities!

At one time families were together all the time—they worked together, played together, did everything together. So at times adults did need a break but now there is so much division that adults and children are rarely together. How then are the skills, values, wisdom and history to be passed on? Sharing joy is both a skill and a value…how do we nurture it, grow it, pass it on, spread it?

The Solution–Grow Joy, Be Relational

 JOY grows best…when the weak and the strong are together and interacting and…when there is a tender response to weakness.

We have come full circle and need to put together what we took apart. Churches need to put little ones, big ones, old ones, new ones and not so old all together, doing and being. This way on a good day, you can be the strong one and on a bad day you can be weak but that’s okay because there is another strong one to step in and pick up the slack. For joy to flourish it needs to be okay to have weak and strong moments or areas in our lives. You want to strengthen these areas, of course, but not hide them. If they remain hidden how can they be strengthened? The old or slow ones and the strong and fast and not so strong can all help the new ones learn how to do this “Christian Stuff.” They can pass on history and values and wisdom to the “newbies.” And the strong and fast can do the heavy lifting!

Sad to say it isn’t safe for pastors and leaders assigned the role of “strong and fast” to acknowledge a weakness. I learned the hard way that no one appreciates the pastor (or his wife) having a struggle. Nobody enjoys it, and nobody wants to hear about it. Which leads to the next condition for growing joy…having a tender response to weakness.

As a young pastor’s wife I would have appreciated a tender response as I struggled with the weight of my husband’s office! The first response to weakness needs to be one of tenderness and care rather than finger pointing, sucking in the atmosphere or slamming the window down on your fingers! Whether pastor or congregant you need to be able to be real, and be included; you need to belong, to become—and everyone needs joy to become.

God Has An Opinion

In Ezekiel 34:4 God is talking to the shepherds of Israel which is basically equal to pastors today. He is addressing what they are doing wrong:

“You have not encouraged the weary, bandaged the hurt, tended the sick or covered the straggler or searched for the lost.”

What He is looking for from them is a tender response to weaknesses …encouraging the weary, tending the sick, bandaging the hurt, recovering the straggler…those are all addressing weakness with tenderness. And then, look at this next comment, “and even the strong you have driven with ruthless severity.”

Isn’t that a description of many a pastor’s life? He/she is supposed to be the strong person in the church and the needs of the church and demands of the whole ministry tend to drive the pastor with the sense of ruthless severity. You have to get all these things done one way or another.

Compare that to what God says in verse 16, from His point of view, this is how He is going to do things: “I will search for the lost, recover the straggler, bandage the hurt, strengthen the sick and leave the healthy and strong to play.

Pastor, when was the last time that you felt that you and the healthy and strong could take time to play?


It seems to me that if this is how God is going to do it that this is what He expects from His shepherds. We should have a priority on correcting the problems of the culture not just to be  searching for the lost, recovering the straggler, bandaging the hurt and strengthening the sick …but also leave the healthy and strong to play instead of driving them ruthlessly!

That is particularly important when you think about your own staff and families and people around you. It is going to be up to pastors and leaders and Sunday School teachers to teach the people that driving the strong ruthlessly is not the biblical way, even if it does fit with the culture. Giving a tender response may be completely against the grain of our culture but it is the way of the Kingdom. It is also the way of the Kingdom to allow the strong and healthy to play! I for one really don’t want to get on the wrong side of that verse!

Dr. Jim Wilder of Shepherd’s House observed that now with 30 years experience watching pastors and leaders crash and burn—it is the ones who let their joy levels get low and do not pay attention to it who become the casualties. It would be like a pilot not keeping track of how much fuel he had on board. If you stop monitoring that you will start crashing. The fuel that our minds run on is joy. It is what keeps our relationship with God strong and what makes us stay closely connected to our spouse. All the good stuff runs on joy so let’s build it in each other and not let it run low.

When thinking about starting joy, we become creative and find ways to:

  • Have tender responses to weakness
  • Have the weak and the strong together so that when one is weak another one can be strong and back and forth. The load is shared that way, but not just so all the work gets done. This is so that you will be healthy and strong and play rather than be driven ruthlessly.
  • A complete shift in how we tend to look at work.

It is easy to drift away from this pattern  of ministry that includes play that God is trying to get us to establish. Not only for the church, but for the culture around us.

Action Step: Ask yourself and staff:

  • Are we practicing appreciation and gratitude?
  • Do we do little things to make someone’s eyes light up when we are encountering them in the work environment? From simple things like remembering what is going on in their life to bringing them their favorite coffee from time to time.
  • What changes in staff policies can we make to come closer to this goal?
  • How tired are we and how much do we feel like we are driven with ruthless severity?

If we as leaders cannot begin to practice this kind of lifestyle of looking to increase the joy and the sense of rest in people around us, we are not likely to spread it to our congregations. We have to fight this battle first and set an example of how to do that. I’d love to hear how this goes for you. This blog is adapted from a talk given by Dr. Jim Wilder for Pastors Weekly

Blessings, Carol Brown B.A., M.A.C.I.

Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                

This blog is based on a talk by Dr. Jim Wilder for Pastor’s Weekly.

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