Serving Broken People Is Beautifully Messy

Broken Guy

“I’m not broken. Get off my Facebook.”

Our church uses a lot of sponsored Facebook posts. Aside from attenders bringing friends, it’s the primary way that people in Northwest Arkansas discover us and check us out on Sunday. One of our posts referenced an upcoming message about brokenness and that comment was left by someone, annoyed that our ad showed up in their newsfeed.

I’m okay with that. I don’t like annoying people so we always apologize and offer a quick instruction for removing us permanently from their content stream. But I have to respectfully disagree with the comment’s author. There are actually two kinds of people in our culture.

  1. Those who are broken and don’t know it or won’t admit it.
  2. Those who are broken and do know it.

There are no unbroken people. Of this fact, Scripture is quite clear. It may help for me to define what brokenness is all about. We’re all broken because of sin. Universally, we’ve walked away from God, which has left a crack in our identity that can only be cured by the blood of the cross via repentance. And almost as universally, most of us are also broken by the sins of others who have hurt us, intentionally or not.

Jesus was pretty clear about brokenness. Just read the beatitudes. Acknowledgement of our brokenness is the only way to get started healing.

Here’s the problem. We don’t like to talk about our brokenness. It’s painful. It’s awkward. It opens us up to judgment and criticism. If we start a conversation about it, things will get… messy.

When we start talking about brokenness and sharing authentically about our struggles, suddenly people start showing up, and they aren’t all the neatly packaged perfect people we’d prefer. And they’ll bring their friends.

And when they show up, they’ll want counseling.

They’ll look for small groups that are safe places.

They’ll expect sermons about real, actual issues with solutions found in the cross and in repentance.

They’ll want to hear from teachers who acknowledge their own imperfections.

Ministry to broken people is messy. And there’s no more beautiful ministry to be involved in! In fact, we leaders, we teachers, we pastors need it way more than we’re willing to admit. It’s the best way to extend the ministry of Jesus through the church as we “bind up the brokenhearted.”

Photo by Thomas Chevalier.

You Need Counseling, And You Need to Give Counsel


Some of the spiritually healthiest people I know are in counseling. There seems to be some stigma around it, but getting help with our mental and emotional issues is really a matter of choosing to grow with the help of others. And the New Testament reveals a pretty neat idea in the mind of God… the church can be a growing body of compassionate counselors. If you’re a Christian, you need counseling from other Christians, and you need to offer counseling to others too.

I believe there is a huge need for professional counseling in the culture in which we live, and there are times for all of us when the the healthiest thing we can do is pay to see a clinician trained in the art of coaching us toward healthier thinking and relationships. But there is also a vast army of counselors within the membership of the church.

Paul challenged Christians to “Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives.” (Colossians 3:16 NLT) He challenged us to admonish and to encourage, to hold others accountable, to help apply biblical truth, and to make each other healthier, mutually.

When I was a Pastor at Saddleback Church, I was amazed at the number of people who had gone through extensive training under Pastor Bob Baker to become lay counselors. One of those trainees even wound up living in northwest Arkansas and joined my church. Saddleback’s website describes the approach this way:

We produce trained counselors who facilitate a free service for individuals seeking guidance for a variety of issues including marital and family relationships, communication and intimacy, parenting, grief and loss, anger and bitterness, inner personal struggles, and spiritual discouragement. Our volunteers receive extensive training, ongoing supervision, and continuing education. The ministry helps fulfill Pastor Rick’s vision for Saddleback Church: “It is the dream of a place where the hurting, the depressed, the frustrated, and the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness, guidance and encouragement.”

It’s an incredible approach that meets real needs for thousands. My wife, Angie, leads our church’s counseling efforts. She’s a trained clinician (LCSW) with a background in offering professional therapy. But she also believes strongly in the power of releasing non-professional lay counselors to walk alongside the broken.

And I would get even more ground-level in my assessment of the church’s need to counsel and to be counseled. We also need an informal atmosphere where people connect with others in small groups, and in one-on-one or two-or-three-sized groups to talk about life, to heal from brokenness, and to deepen one another’s walk.

God has certainly equipped us for this.

  • He’s given us His Word, the Bible, which is His verbally inspired truth for life, infallible and unable to fail as it works its way through our lives.
  • He’s given us His Spirit, to lead us in the moment, to feed us life-giving words to share with others, on the spot.
  • He’s allowed us to walk our own broken roads while learning to draw closer to Him so that we can speak out of our own pain into the lives of others.

So, you need counseling. Professionally? During certain seasons of life, yes! But even more, you need friends. You need a church body, a small group of fellow believers, who can link arms with you to help you heal.

And you need to be counseling others. This doesn’t mean offering unsolicited criticism in the name of prophetic insight. It means that regardless of your level of training, if you know Jesus and you read His Word regularly, you are equipped to encouraged, to exhort, and even to correct in gentle ways those who are hurting around you.

Church leaders, if you don’t already, it’s time now to encourage people to counsel and to seek counseling. Yes, preaching is primary to your responsibility to shepherd the flock, but a half hour on Sunday of speaking as one to the masses will never afford you enough opportunity to dive into the specific issues and problems that individuals face on a daily basis. You need to empower and release people to go be the church for one another.

photo credit: dharder9475

Sometimes I Wish You Knew

I define myself with clear priorities. I am first and foremost a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, a born again child of God. I’m also a husband to an awesome wife, and a Dad to a wonderful daughter. Then I’m a Pastor to a great church. Sometimes I’m also a web and graphic designer. I love all of these realms of life and appreciate the people I’ve come to know in each.

As a Pastor, and I’m sure other church leaders will identify with what I’m about to write, I can say that there is tremendous pressure that few people realize. I don’t talk about it much but felt the need to clear my heart this morning. I hope you’ll appreciate the transparency here.

A congregation of a couple hundred people wait for me to speak each week. Right now, I’m speaking five times per week: two Sunday morning services, an evening service, a Tuesday morning Men’s Bible study, and Wednesday nights. I try not to acknowledge it much, but there is the pressure to be thoroughly studied and prepared to deliver a message with excellence and passion every time up. This is how it should be.

Families count on me to provide counsel. I have couples whose marriages I can’t seem to fix, people in financial need I can’t always provide for, and people dealing with huge questions and struggles for which I can’t always come up with an answer. I love them all and on a week with an intense amount of needs (like this one), I feel emotionally drained and exhausted. This is how it should be. No complaints.

A staff and organization waits on me for vision, direction, and leadership. Multiple ministry leaders need my input about spending money, starting projects, placing volunteers, and taking care of business in general. Tension in relationships is brought to me. I’m the leader, and I gladly accept it all. I love it. It’s how it should be.

All of these folks are not only looking for teaching, wisdom, leadership, and counsel, but for me to live my life as a godly example, walking with Christ. I must keep my walk and my mind clean. I must be prayed up and Spirit-filled. My message on Sunday needs to be the incarnation of my life throughout the week. And yes, this is exactly how it should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But sometimes I want you to know that I’m weak. Sometimes I want you to know I cry at the end of a counseling session when I couldn’t fix a problem. Sometimes I want you to know I get to Saturday night and think of all the people I didn’t get to, that needed serving. I want you to know that sometimes I go home and think I did a pitiful job of presenting the Word. I want you to know I don’t feel capable or adequate sometimes.

Sometimes I just want you to know I’m not always the super-confident and ultra-positive guy I am when my task is to inspire others. I want you to know that while I’m hoping to help everyone else with the issues of their life, I still long for another child God hasn’t chosen to bless us with yet… I’m patiently waiting on God, but it hurts sometimes.

Sometimes I really need somebody to know just how weak I am so that the pressure will be off. And I think thousands of other ministry leaders are probably dying on the inside to say the same thing.

But here’s what I want you to know, even more than how weak I am – it’s just how strong God is. Paul did battle with some infirmity, either physical or spiritual, and begged God to just take it away. God’s answer was “no” on at least three different occasions. What did Paul learn from God’s denial?

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV

When I am weak, God shines. When I am weak, I’m finally available to bring glory to God instead of myself. When I am weak, others see themselves and what God can do in, around, and through a weakling like me. This is definitely how it should be. It’s my calling, and I gladly and humbly accept it.

God has chosen to take “earthen vessels” (okay, cracked pots) and the “base things” of the world to absolutely confound the mighty and to carry His perfect and powerful message. He’s not looking for superstars, but for weaklings… like me.

I’m not complaining. In fact, I haven’t really been through much compared to the apostles and martyrs of history, and especially in comparison with Jesus’ suffering, so I gladly accept this calling and responsibility. I gladly take the pressure for the kingdom’s sake. I just wanted you to know how I feel sometimes, and how much I praise and appreciate God’s strength and power to see me through.

I wonder, do you ever feel weak like me? I can tell you all about the One who makes the difference.

Update, October 14, 2015: 

I wrote this post six and a half years ago in the middle of one of the deepest valleys I’ve ever lived through. I was struggling with depression (though I didn’t realize it for a year or so), frustrated with leadership, walking with my wife through secondary infertility, and headed for burnout.

Today, my soul is healthy (thanks to repentance, counseling, a sweet wife and good friends), as is my marriage, we’ve added two wild and awesome boys to the mix, and I get to lead a wonderful, grace- and joy-filled church. But I talk regularly to pastors all over the place who struggle with this inner turmoil.

You’re not alone. Someone does know. I understand. But way better, Jesus understands, and offers himself to you as the ultimate refuge and best friend. Keep leaning into him, into your spouse and friends, and into the Word.

Click here to read an important follow-up post with some hope to offer!