I have back problems. Natural, literal problems. They aren’t caused by having been tortured or imprisoned for my faith, either. Some of them were accidental because I think I’m stronger than I am. Some of them were dumb, like cutting a frozen ice cream cake (true story).
When the pain was at its worst, I could barely sleep without knocking myself out with muscle relaxers. These days, it’s manageable.
But my messed up back had me thinking of a conversation I had with a pastor friend during my time shepherding. I was complaining about the barrage of arrows that fly at those of us in the pulpit and the pain of pulling said metaphoric arrows out of our backs. I was complaining that our people shouldn’t be at the ready, arrows-nocked, anxious to let loose into us.
But now, years later and wounds mostly healed, I am beginning to wonder at my own resistant heart in that time. I complained because I was hurt. I was hurt by letters that accused me of actions I hadn’t taken or words I hadn’t spoken or, if spoken, that I hadn’t meant the way they had been received.
I thought I was justified in being hurt.
And yet, as I sit here writing, I realize the posture of a shepherd can so easily become distorted, both from his own perspective and the perspectives of those he shepherds. Shepherds are granted a modicum of power within the church - a kind of authority is gently loaned to them by the Chief Shepherd.
Power and authority have peculiar effects on even the most godly of us all. Even when we can say, and have it confirmed by others, “I am called to do this work,” we can find ourselves looking down on those God has called us to shepherd. We do so naturally enough. It’s the tilt of our sinful pride. It just leans that direction without any help from us.
I have sat under abusive pastors before. Not just in their presence, but as a covenant member of their body. I once was asked, even, if I thought I had to obey the elders of a body if they didn’t like what I was doing. And the matter was of grave significance for me, because it wasn’t a sin issue. Not by a country mile. It was a matter of preference, heavy-handed preference, that would protect the abusive pastor’s ego. It caused a rift between that body and myself. It was beyond painful.
But I am just as guilty.
And where I sit, now, I see the authority loaned to that pastor, those elders, and the way it was twisted and used against me. But I don't see it in the way you may think I do. I see that abuse of power as having carried over into my own time of pastoring. I was just as culpable. I was just as guilty.
How can I say that?
Because I expected my ego to be respected. I expected to be unhurt, unscathed, and thought well of. I wanted my reputation to be glowing and to be lauded with praise for my work. Why? Because I knew pastors throughout my life I loved deeply for the work they had done in me.
See, it’s beyond easy to say, “I deserve respect.” Why? Because we think pretty highly of ourselves, even when and maybe especially when, we’re actually riddled with insecurity. My insecurity, maybe with or without the help from some devil, “You don’t deserve to be treated like this. Don’t they know how much work you’re putting in? Don’t they see how good you are at the most important things? They’re just ungrateful.”
The humility of Christ calls us to lay down our egos. It calls us to let His loaned power rest in our hands, but never to close our fists around it. We all are beggars and that Jesus would entrust any of us with that service to Him should drive us to our faces on our office floors. I must repent for how I have stoked that hurt within myself, and how I have justified my own ego-driven reactions.