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Brokenness and Leadership

Lately, I have been recognizing the profound link between brokenness and leadership and it has been blowing me up—in a completely good, leadership-style-transforming way. But before this idea was good-blowing-me-up, something else was wrecking me—in a completely heart-breaking and shake-your-fists-at-God way.

God repeatedly, intentionally, aggressively closed some doors in my life that I REALLY wanted open. And I was wrecked. I spent the better part of a couple weeks crying to God from the deep disappointment and despair lodged in my heart.

Ever noticed how even when you hurt, life marches on? Well, in addition to being a full-time seminarian, I'm a Student Ministries Director at a brand new church campus plant, and there was no time to stop and wallow in my hurt. So I bumbled and cried as I worked.

In the midst of all this, my boss asked me to pray before a team meeting. That day, the Holy Spirit was powerfully present through my prayer in a way that surprised and moved me, and then I realized that He was there not in spite of my brokenness but because of it. And that was when this idea sprouted in my heart: personal brokenness is essential for effective leadership.

I am not talking about brokenness for X,Y,Z injustice in the world (though having one of these is important). Neither am I talking about brokenness in the form of a deep unconfessed, festering sin or a long-standing addiction (though one of these things can be the root cause of the brokenness I am talking about).

When I say “personal brokenness,” I mean a vibrant and sincere awareness of the heart-wounds nearest and dearest to us that no matter how hard we stuff, ignore and deny, just reappear in the form of fresh lacerations for which there is no balm except the breath of God.

I am learning that for effective (read: compassionate, sincere, powerful) leadership, there has to be something personal that you are on your face in prayer and pleading with God about. You may not feel the hurt of that brokenness forever—but that is certainly where effective ministry must start.

Because when you are on your face before God, not only praying but also crying because it hurts and you don't have enough, grace prevails in your life. And when you are on your face limp from hurting before God, and yet there are people entrusted to your care, the Holy Spirit moves…in spite of your brokenness!

And when the Spirit moves, all (you included) meet God, you are surprised, and then you remember and relive the vital truth you forgot in the midst of all your reading, preparing and duck-aligning: the heart of the gospel is hope because of a broken (and resurrected) Body.

So, don't run from that persistent hurt—it is likely the very location of God's greatest work in and through you!

This post originally appeared on Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's "Voices" blog. The original post can be found here.

What I Fear Most

What I fear most is despair
for the world and us: forever less
of beauty, silence, open air,
gratitude, unbidden happiness,
affection, unegotistical desire.

-Wendell Berry, from Given

Like Berry, what I fear most is despair.  I fear it for the world.  I fear it for those I pastor.  I fear it for myself.  That is not to say I am only after a life filled with elation and laughter, happiness and hoorays.  For to live like that is to know only part of the story—to get only a glimpse of the human condition in relation to God.  Rather, I fear the despair that looms like a guest who has long overstayed his welcome.  The unshakeable, uncontrollable, unlivable despair.

Despair like this accompanies me every so often, and makes me question if it will ever go away.  It arrives after listening to the stories of the beaten-down and left-for-dead.  It finds me when my hopes for something more, result in something less.  It hunts for me like prey any time I let my guard down and allow myself to feel the deep brokenness, injustice, hollowness, and ache of our fallen world.  Yes, there are seasons to “break down,” “weep,” and “mourn,” but there are also times “build up,” “laugh,” and “dance” (Ecc. 3).  And I fear for all those, including me, who sometimes find the latter hard to imagine.

But during despairing seasons, I find great consolation in knowing that God is still making known to me “the path of life.”  That in His presence is “the fullness of joy.”  That at His right hand are “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  It is assuring for me to realize that somehow, paradoxically, joy is OK keeping company with despair.  And why is that?  Because joy, as Dallas Willard defines it, is “a pervasive sense of well-being.”

Last February, my wife and I attended the “Knowing Christ” conference in Santa Barbara, CA.  During one of the Q & A sessions, John Ortberg asked Dallas why he defined joy as “a pervasive sense of well-being.”  Dallas replied by saying that joy is consistent with terrible circumstances.  It is consistent with sorrow and despair because it is a realization of what is really going on.  Joy says that even though things in my life are not OK, I am OK.  I know what’s really happening.  I know Who is in charge.  Perhaps Paul captured this paradox best when he said he was “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).

So how can we best approach the stretches of life when the fear of despair has us by its teeth?  For starters, we can embrace these times—as Willard would counsel us—as “tests of our joyful confidence in God.”  In these trying circumstances, we can believe that God is doing a work in us that we cannot yet see.
We can trust that He is with us.  We can enjoy and give thanks for the ordinary gifts Wendell Berry fears we miss most: beauty, silence, open air.

And the more gratitude we have for the seemingly “little” things of life, the more “unegostistical desire” we will have.  And the more “unegotistical desire” we have, the less we will despair.  More self leads only to less joy.  For the pursuit of self-satisfaction is the grip of despair.

While despair may be what I fear most, I fear it far less knowing that “the fullness of joy”—God Himself—is always with me.  Which means I am OK.

Fear not, O my soul.

What do you fear most? How have you handled despair?