I need a pastor.
Being a pastor myself, I wasn’t one to admit that I did. My reluctance probably stemmed from my pride of self-sufficiency and invincibility. Being a mature Christ-follower—and a pastor at that—meant that I should be able to handle anything that comes my way all on my own, no matter how bad it gets, right? Isn’t that what it means to have a strong faith?
(If you’re already shaking your head at my stupidity, don’t worry: I do, too, at my former self even as I’m writing it.)
No Stranger to Grief
Though I’m relatively still young at 34, I have already experienced a number of things in life that have me acquainted with grief and suffering. Most of those times, I had found that if I could just muster up enough iron resolve, strength of willpower, and laser-like focus, I could out-muscle all of my adversities. It had worked well for me all of my life anyway – and each time that I was able to overcome another one of my problems by applying grit and willpower, it only reinforced my faith in my own strength and resilience.
However, it wasn’t until two tragedies devastated me so completely that for the first time, I found that I hadn’t the strength to pull myself out of it, even to pull myself out of bed on some mornings. I wasn’t sure which was worse: the tragedy itself or the frightening realization that I had finally met my breaking point from which I couldn’t just bounce back up like I had all the other times. I wasn’t the Wolverine I thought I was (an action hero with super-human self-healing powers).
A Sad Goodbye
The first major trauma dropped me to my knees when I was in my late twenties entering into my thirties. I had closed my church plant of three years. Planting that church was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I had given the best of my twenties to it. All of my heart was given to it. My entire future was invested into it. Every waking moment of my life was for the church, and I never once doubted that it would spawn into a movement that would far outlive me. But here I was, burying it in the ground—like a parent burying his child. I was mortified. I had hurt and disappointed so many people. And the guilt of it followed me everywhere, every day. I hated looking at myself in the mirror after that, so I spent the next few years staring at the wall, all the while sinking deeper into depression. My heart was bleeding everywhere, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
My second trauma is one that I am in today. Recently, the stress of it had gotten so bad that I actually lost a nickel-sized patch of hair on my head overnight. (A condition called alopecia areata.) Talk about freaking out the first time I saw that bald spot on my head! I’ve had to get clever about how to comb my hair just right to conceal it from view. Then there’s the waking up in the middle of some nights to shower, having gotten drenched in sweat from the tossing and turning all night in bed.
It was in times like these that my trust in my own self-sufficiency was violently shaken. The man looking back at me in the mirror wasn’t invincible; he was weak. There was nothing I could to help myself. I couldn’t believe God hard enough or pray to Him long enough to feel like I wasn’t still barely hanging on by my fingertips. For all of my striving and wrestling I was doing in private, I was drowning in my ever-worsening sorrow and despair. If I once had the pride to say that I was strong, even that was taken from me now.
When a Pastor Came Into My Life
God knew that it was only when I was at the end of my rope that I was ready to receive His comfort in the form of a very large man. His name is Joe. He’s an older gentleman in his sixties and sports a white goatee. From his towering size and his deep, resonant voice, you would have thought that he might have emerged out of a log cabin on the base of a mountain – and the funny thing is, he does every morning! This strange, mountain man is my pastor.God knows that it was only when I was at the end of my rope that I was ready to receive His comfort - Bryan Staab Click To Tweet
I still remember it like yesterday the moment that Joe won my respect: in our very first conversation, he told me a story about the deepest and most shameful part of his past. It made such a profound impression on me that a man could be so humble and secure in his relationship with God that he could openly tell a young man half his age—and a stranger at that—about the lowest point of his life and his journey with God that led him to healing and recovery.
From that day, I decided that I could trust a man who could be that radically transparent and humble with me. And a man who was intimately acquainted with heartache and brokenness was someone deserving of my respect. An older man with battle scars from life’s heavy hits only made him someone to listen to, especially to a younger soldier like myself. He was a war veteran who had earned his purple hearts in the battlefield of life and warfare against the enemy.
How Is Your Heart
Then my respect for Joe grew into love for him as I became convinced that he cared about one thing and one thing only: my heart. Every time we talked, he would always ask, “How’s your heart?” Nothing else. Never once did he ask about what I was doing or wasn’t doing with the church, what I was achieving or failing to achieve with the church, how many people came the past Sunday, or what I could do better to grow the church. He could care less about any of those things.
With him, I felt seen. He saw me. And when he saw me and paid attention to my pain, I was reminded that God saw me, too. That I had not been forgotten or abandoned by Him. The hardest truth that we all grapple with is the simplest one: remembering how much God loves us. And Joe was put in my life to remind me of it. Such a love and a way of being seen by another human being has a strange way of making you do strange things, like showing him parts of me I had not dared let anyone else see, even to my own mother! Or letting him say things that I wouldn’t normally hear from anyone else, like the many times that he’s reminded me to slow down or warned me of how my intensity is my greatest strength and my greatest weakness.The hardest truth that we all grapple with is the simplest one: remembering how much God loves us - Bryan Staab Click To Tweet
Every Pastor Needs a Pastor
We all need a pastor. And by pastor, I don’t mean someone to keep us “accountable” or someone to “disciple” us. Especially by now, we don’t need someone to lead us or direct us, per se, but to walk alongside us. Not someone to report to, but a friend to confide in.
We need someone who is older and wiser. Someone with deep battle scars and stories to tell about how God had pulled them through the most hellish and unbearable of times. Someone whose sole concern is to care for our hearts. Someone who creates a safe space to be human for once and not a pastor. Someone with whom it is okay to not be okay. Someone to grieve and cry in front of (as I had with Joe only a month ago). Someone who will honor our pain. Someone who will see us and hurt with us. Someone to listen to us and ask us good questions. Someone who will walk the line of grace and truth. Someone who reminds us of the gospel for ourselves, because as pastors, where we can so readily see the gospel for others, we have trouble seeing it for ourselves.
Helping Me See
The older I get, the more I realize what a wounded person I am and how deep that pain goes, some of which are rooted all the way back in my childhood and is triggered from time to time in moments of despair or crisis. Despite the leadership abilities I may have, the personal successes I have seen, or the many ways in which I have grown wiser and more mature spiritually and emotionally so as to counsel others effectively, when it comes to my own pain, I need people like Joe to be for me what I am to others, to see in me what I can’t see for myself.
Truth be told, we all have our wounds if we’re self-aware and humble enough to acknowledge that we do. But maybe if every pastor had a pastor, we wouldn’t default to dysfunctional ways of handling our pain as often, moral failures by pastors wouldn’t be as prevalent, and burn-out rates wouldn’t be as alarmingly high. Perhaps we would lead from a whole and healthier place and we would enjoy a better quality of life, as God had intended.
So tell me: do you have a “Joe” in your life? Who sees you? Who asks you, “How’s your heart, my friend?”
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This article is dedicated to Joe Chambers, a beloved friend and pastor whom I never thought I wanted or needed, but came to me in the direst of times.
“The man of too many friends [chosen indiscriminately]
will be broken in pieces and come to ruin,
but there is a [true, loving] friend who [is reliable and] sticks
closer than a brother.”
– Proverbs 18:24