By Bryan Loritts
Imagine there was a mandatory seminary or Bible college class formatted like a reality TV show. Students would interact with church members who go out of their way to criticize them.
The storyline includes a termination from a church or two, rebellious children, and—for good measure—a long debilitating struggle with some sort of health crisis that inflicts you, your spouse, or your children.
This class would be taught in the practical theology section.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]The redemptively broken person is the one who leans into the grace of God to grapple with the wounds in their life.[/epq-quote]I’m not kidding; I needed this course more than I needed Greek and Hebrew syntax.
I preached my first sermon at the age of 17. Because I’m the son of a popular and proficient preacher, invitations cascaded my way from all across the country.
At 19, I served as an interim pastor in Philadelphia, where, among my other duties, I counseled marriages on the brink.
At 22, I was second in command of a 13,000-person church, preaching regularly and having people report to me who could’ve been my grandparents.
At 25, I became the first African-American pastor at a historic white church in Southern California.
Along the way I was plagued by an eerie sense that my platform was a lot larger than my character infrastructure could support. Or to say it in football language: I was out-punting my coverage.
I was gifted.
But I was also tragically unbroken, and the symptoms of this disorder manifested itself in the following ways:
- An inability to connect with those who were afflicted and beaten down by life.
- A nauseating arrogance seen in the judgmental spirit I nurtured towards those who made mistakes. I would often find myself thinking: What a loser. Why can’t they get it together?
- Intense isolation. Because my ministerial paradigm made no room for those who had been wounded or defeated, I had to become my own personal PR management firm. The truth is we all have wounds and struggles, but no one could see mine.
In life and in ministry you’ll have trouble. You’ll deal with ungrateful parishioners. You’ll have leaders within your church who have one agenda—to get you out.
People will gossip about you, and even betray you.
I had these wounds; I just wasn’t broken. There’s a difference between the two.
Wounds are painful things that happen to us. Brokenness is the redemptive, Christ-exalting response to those wounds.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul—in painfully autobiographical terms—pulls us into his journey of wounds, describing his “thorn in the flesh”. While we can make good guesses as to what it was (probably some lingering health issues from his stoning in Lystra), at the end of the day they are exactly that—guesses.
What we do know is that it was painful, shameful, and constant. Paul prayed several times for God to take it away, and God responded by saying in so many words—no. More accurately, God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
And herein lies the difference between woundedness and brokenness: The redemptively broken person is the one who leans into the grace of God to grapple with the wounds in their life.
Or as Dan Allender says, it’s the person who walks with a limp.
A leader’s response to brokenness
What was the result of Paul leaning into God’s grace and experiencing Christ-exalting brokenness?
- He was able to connect in a tender way with those who were hurting. Writing to the Thessalonians he says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (Thessalonians 2:7).
- He possessed a deep-seated humility seen in his repeated refrain of being the least among the disciples, or the chief of sinners.
- He was transparent about his weakness. We know those who have not just been wounded, but redemptively broken. They’re people on public record when it comes to their weaknesses. This is Paul: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30).
Pastoring in a secular environment like Silicon Valley, I’ve discovered people are drawn to weakness. But this is nothing new. Paul knew that authentically reveling in our brokenness possessed a rare power: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The best pastors I know aren’t necessarily the most gifted, but the most wounded. The most dangerous are the gifted ones who can’t empathize—the ones who lack compassion and the ability to connect with the sheep.
Brokenness is a greater friend to the pastor than giftedness.
Bryan is lead pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California, and the author of six books including Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves us from Try-harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love.