Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, I would like to say that yes, there may be many pastors throughout our territory who have been arrested…and no, not for the reasons you might imagine.
We are all susceptible to being arrested. Nobody gets immunity on this one. It is part of the condition we experience with lives outside the Gate (see Genesis 3). Indeed, being arrested can lead to a lifelong prison sentence. And everyone in the pastor’s life can be impacted. Families experience grief. Congregants sense distance. Conferences are left speechless. Pastors arrested and imprisoned destroy hope and trust. The pain is real.
As I’ve begun my travels throughout our territory, I’ve been privileged to hold conversations with a variety of pastors who’ve shared their arrest stories. And here is what I’ve found so amazing: these pastors have shared that their imprisonments have led them to a deep, gnawing hunger they would not have experienced otherwise. They discovered their soul going on high alert. Their arrest became their path to freedom.
I’m guessing by now some have a twinkle in your eye. You know the kind of arrest I am discussing. This kind of arrest goes beyond prison walls and cell bars. The insidious nature of the arrest can suddenly sabotage a powerful ministry. Without any warning, the soul of the pastor has been hijacked. You can wake up a year or two after ordination and wonder what’s it all about. You can sit in a board meeting in your third decade as a pastor and no longer see people—only faces and wheels. You open the Bible study guide to a prospective baptismal candidate and you find yourself mindlessly reciting passage and meaning—totally unconnected with the person on the other side of the table.
Being behind bars while standing in the pulpit, sitting at a member’s home, or walking with a possible candidate for baptism remains part of the insidious nature of the arrest. The arrest creeps into the inner world of the pastor and without warning, the pastor finds themself behind bars wondering how they got there. There is nothing so dangerous in all the world as a walking, imprisoned pastor. And I know by the testimony of Scripture and the text of my inner world, I am as susceptible as the next person.
Okay, John, cut to the chase. Of what do you speak? Allow me to quote two statements that ring in the chambers of my heart. First this: “Anger in particular seems close a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.” (The Way of the Heart, pages, 23, 24)
When I first encountered this quote, my inner world ran fast away. I did not like the anger. I did not like the expression. I did not like the truth. And yet, I stood at a mirror and wondered. How had I become this person? What had I gathered on the journey of ministry?
Yes, through all this I am speaking about the world of the arrested development that we all are susceptible to if we are not intentional in our development and growth as a person first and a professional second. The disciple Peter, when recording his last Spirit-guided thought, left his hearers with this challenge, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3.18) This effectively is his last will and testament to the people for whom his heart yearned. Of such significance was this thought that he made it his last.
It is my intention that for all of us who profess to be Christ-following leaders, this will be our first thought—in response to the magnificent and undeniable grace of a passionate Savior and Lord. We can never settle—not with ourselves, not with our families, not with our congregations. There is not a person reading this screen who cannot develop in some facet of their life, of their profession. We can be free from the bondage of stagnation and open to the world of growth. I am reminded of these words:
This second statement alerted me to the path to which freedom commenced. “When Adam came from the Creator’s hand, he bore, in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature, a likeness to his Maker. ‘God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1.27), and it was His purpose that the longer man lived the more fully he should reveal this image—the more fully reflect the glory of the Creator. All his faculties were capable of development; their capacity and vigor were continually to increase.” (Education, p. 15)
This column serves as the alert that freedom for growth is available to all. This column serves as a constant reminder to the Christ-leader who is passionate about possibilities for personal and professional growth. Every month there will be an attempt to capture a story, a means, an insight into our growth. Growth does not occur without intent. To experience life does not necessarily mean growth occurs. There are plenty 14 year-olds in the body of a 50 year-old Christ follower. Thus, to fall into the trap of believing that age automatically brings growth is dangerously seductive.
My prayer is that this column will make you gratefully uncomfortable—uncomfortable because the bars that have held you arrested in your growth will begin to bend and the fresh winds of freedom will begin to blow and revitalize your leadership.
John Grys is the North American Division Ministerial Department Associate Director for Pastoral Professional Development