The health of a leader’s soul matters more than any amount of success, education, following or charisma. While it would be hard to find someone who would push back against that statement, it seems like every week another news story is breaking about a pastor or ministry leader whose secret double life has been exposed. In the words of pastor and Christian counselor, Chuck DeGroat, “I’m not surprised when the secret lives of Christian leaders are exposed. I am so sad that we keep elevating them. I’m even more grieved for the countless ‘followers’ who feel betrayed, confused, maybe even shattered by the news.” The problem is Christian leaders were never meant to be worshiped, promoted and elevated to something short of celebrities. It goes against their divine design, feeds their idols and in the end, distorts and crushes their soul.
Front Stage vs. Back Stage.
You see, our desire to be led by someone – to elevate someone – to follow a strong charismatic, communicator and leadership figure exposes our inward, God-given desire for a savior – for Jesus. The problem is we are quick to give our time, attention, loyalty, devotion and resources to someone because they have an incredible “front stage” gift. However, in so doing we make MASSIVE assumptions about their “back stage” life – their character, state of their soul, accountability structure, family life and personal walk with Jesus. We interact with a leader for a few minutes, watch a Sunday sermon, observe their success and accomplishments, read a book or tweet, and assume that their front stage gifting matches their backstage realities. The more a leader is elevated, retweeted and celebrated, the more that leader will feel the need to hide and pretend. It’s human nature that traces back to the shame Adam felt in the Garden of Eden when God asked him, “where are you?” after he ate the forbidden fruit.
Pastors are no different from anyone else, or as my friend Jimmy Dodd of PastorServe would say, “pastors are people too.” Their only hope is Jesus – his resurrection and grace. Pastors and Christian leaders need the gospel just as much as anyone else. They need community. They need accountability. They need a safe place to be real and authentic – to struggle, repent and grow in grace. Elevating them hurts them and works against the very thing they so desperately need: the freedom the gospel brings to be authentic and real. To be clear, I am in no way giving any leader who has fallen in sin a pass, nor am I downplaying the devastating hurt and pain their failures have caused. What I am saying is that our promotion, elevation and celebration of them is part of the problem.
Changing the Narrative
If there has been a “secret ingredient” to the movement of Church United, it has been our focus on holistically caring for pastors – a belief that if our leaders find emotional, spiritual and social refreshment, their capacity to partner and unify alongside other Christ following pastors and churches will be greatly increased. We’ve created something of a “safe third space” for pastors to journey together, bond as brothers and move from surviving to thriving. It has been said that the emotional, spiritual and relational health of a pastor and the pastoral team of a church, affects the life of a congregation and spiritual vibrancy of a city more than any other factor. At the end of the day, it is healthy leaders who will lead healthy churches and healthy churches that will change the fabric of their regions.
Because we believe that a pastor’s backstage is more important than the front stage, we have developed a “continuum of care” for Soul Care within our region. With a focus on preventive care, the continuum also includes intensive care and education as we seek to create an environment in South Florida that fosters healthy leaders who lead healthy churches. As Church United, we focus primarily on the preventive care while partnering with key, best-in-class local and national ministries to lead and provide care within the areas of their expertise.
We believe that as leaders find health and wholeness, their capacity to lead and care for those within their congregation exponentially grows and has cascading effects. What we need more than ever in South Florida is a beachhead of pastoral care – a place where pastors can bond as brothers and sisters, move from surviving to thriving as they work to close the mental, emotional and spiritual gap between their front stage persona and back stage realities. By God’s grace this dream is slowly becoming a reality. Have we had our share of church pain and trauma? Without question. However, God is powerfully on the move in South Florida and is continuing to turn stories of pain, hopelessness and despair into stories of hope, healing and transformation.
Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida. To learn more about Church United, visit churchunited.city