Wounded Leaders

Recently on a trip to the United States I was able to attend the first night of a weekend conference. In a church building that seats maybe 300 half the seats were occupied with pastors and church leaders from that area and some from even 4 or 5 hours away. The night I was blessed to attend we had two separate worship sessions. And, as pastors do, they engaged fully in the worship, worshipping with their whole hearts. 

As I watched and listened I realized how wounded so many of them were. I wasn’t amazed by what the Holy Spirit was showing me. I work with leaders and pastors in a number of countries overseas and across Canada and the United States. I know that leaders are wounded. They are wounded by the people they lead, pray for, and teach. They are wounded by those who call themselves ‘friends’ and often turn on them and become enemies. They are wounded by the traditional structures they work within – denominationalism. And, if they are a more non-traditional version of the church they are often wounded by their church board. They become wounded because of people’s expectations – spoken and unspoken, met and unmet. 

But, here they were raising their hearts and hands to worship the Lord. In their woundedness they sought to worship the Healer. Not to be healed although that would be great and an added bonus I am sure. But, simply because they sincerely and deeply love Him whom they serve. But, I was overwhelmed spiritually and emotionally by the depth and severity of their woundedness. There were likely few there who would admit that they were deeply wounded but there were very few who were not. 

We need to be praying for our Christian leaders – the pastors, the teachers, the elders … and, if you are so blessed to have the fullness of the ministry of Christ in your local church then for the apostle, prophet, and evangelist who are leading and blessing you. Our leaders need healing. And, most times they will not tell you they do. They don’t trust you. 

Because they have been wounded by ‘the Church’ they have a hard time trusting ‘the Church’ – believers. And, so they go along silently hurting and trusting no-one. But unless they admit that they are wounded and need healing it only gets worse until they find themselves either indulging in what is neither healthy or wholesome leading them into sin or they simply walk away from the full-time ministry. Often never to return to ministry or the church. Our leaders are deeply wounded and are often unable to share with those around them because of the lack of trust and the structures within which they operate and work.

This is a sad fact. That the Church and, dare we say it, the Christians, are simply not safe. The Church is not a safe place to be real, open, and honest. Leaders are overwhelmed with unrealistic expectations and demands. They are crushed by betrayals, criticisms, rejection, judgments, and gossip and most often have no one to turn to for help. So, they suffer in silence unable to personally find freedom and wholeness. Not only do they find it dangerous to be real with their own people but because of the design of the system other pastors and leaders are not called upon in time of need. There is a sense of competition between leaders and the leader needs to protect his image and reputation. There is a need to come across that everything is all right and we have it altogether. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, pastors and leaders need to take action to build healthy relationships with two or three people who can be their support team and accountability partners. These people need to be healthy themselves. They need to be trustworthy. And, they need to treat the leader with dignity and respect. It will take time to build these healthy relationships but they are essential to bringing health back to the leadership of the Church. And, then, with healthy leaders, we can begin to restore health and vitality to the local church as well. 

It is time for wounded leaders to make time to care for their own health and wellbeing. It is time to build healthy and open relationships with others who can support and encourage them. True friends. And, it is time to return to the pattern of the ministry of Jesus where people were loved unconditionally, accepted as they were, and forgiven if and when needed.

If you are a leader, I commend you for sacrificially helping those that you lead. But, first priority should be to become healthy and whole yourself so that you can, once again, continue to lead in the long term and be more effective.  It takes time. You will need to be intentional as it won’t happen by accident. And, you will need to be real and open. It will be risky but it is worth it.