Six weeks ago I began a four-month long sabbatical, for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which was to have the time and space to heal from a couple decades’ worth of bumps and bruises and scrapes and scars caused by the everyday journeys of life and ministry. The break from weekly worship leading has allowed me to slow down, zoom out, and examine myself and my ministry from 30,000 feet. God has graciously, mercifully, and sometimes painfully, shown me some areas that need his attention, and I’m very acutely aware that there are a lot of people praying for me. The Holy Spirit is doing his work of convicting, counseling, and comforting, and even while I’m knee-deep in five seminary classes this semester, I’m feeling refreshed and renewed.
Every single person in ministry bears their own wounds and has their own stories of how they’ve been hurt. And in the last six weeks alone I’ve had the chance to have long phone conversations with several worship leader friends of mine who are burned out, who have left worship ministry, who are thinking about it, who needed a break a long time ago but haven’t had the opportunity, who have been let go, or who feel like a car stuck in the sand, just spinning their wheels and not getting anywhere. They each have their own stories of being hurt while serving different churches, and while they genuinely want to be effective in ministry, they’re finding that it’s difficult to do so when you’re in pain.
A few weeks before I began my sabbatical I had one of those infamous conversations where someone told me something they had heard from someone else, who had talked to someone else, who had conveyed something they heard second-hand from someone, who heard it from someone somewhere. You know the kind of game-of-telephone thing I’m talking about. The particular thing that was communicated to me, and the particular dubious source from which it originated, was not surprising to me in the least, but it still hurt. Why? Because it happened to rub up against one of those wounds from decades earlier. It wasn’t the thing itself that hurt, but it aggravated an old wound.
I explained that kind of scenario to another worship leader friend of mine by likening it to when you walk into a room and smell something that takes you back to an old house or an old memory from 25 years ago. In an instant, you’re transported back in time. She told me that she knew exactly how I felt, and then proceeded to tell me something that had just happened to her the morning before our conversation. For her, it wasn’t the particular “thing”, but it was how it smelled, and what that smell evoked.
Being in a ministry is a wonderful privilege and joy. And it is also an exhausting and painful experience. When the Church hurts you, it leaves a wound. And when we’re not honest about those wounds, to quote an old seminary professor of mine, “it messes us up”.
We get resentful towards the Church. We become hardened. We react to almost everything with cynicism. We lead out of a defensive posture. And in our heart of hearts, we want to run away. It’s all understandable, and every single person in ministry has experienced (or is currently experiencing) these symptoms. It doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with you, but it does mean God is getting your attention.
These are like the check engine lights in your car, and you have to pay attention to them unless you want to wind up on the side of the road. And we all know people who have ignored those warnings for too long, and pushed it too hard, and eventually broke down. To be honest about our wounds, we need to be able to pull over, stop, allow the Lord to look under the hood, and with the Godly counsel of pastors, friends, counselors, and the healing balm of the Word of God, begin to actually heal. Warning: it will involve some pain, some discomfort, some forgiving, and some rest. It might involve some counseling, perhaps a break from ministry, and some difficult conversations. But you don’t need to pretend you’re not hurt, you don’t need to feel alone in this, and you don’t need to burn out.
Yes, the Church will wound you, and then by God’s grace, he will use the Church to help heal you.
We have to be willing to walk that road of vulnerability and healing. Most of us don’t get sabbaticals very often, but all of us can ask the Holy Spirit to help us take inventory of ourselves – and of how we’re really doing – and let God begin to soften hardened places, heal wounded places, and address neglected areas.
Then, in his sovereign wisdom, God will take our stories and wounds and use them for our good and for his glory, that Jesus would be exalted in our lives and through our songs, magnifying the one who bore our wounds on the cross.