“For I am afflicted and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” (Psalm 109:22)
"For I am afflicted and needy, And my heart is wounded within me" (Psalm 109:22).
INTRODUCTION: Twenty-two years into the ministry as a Southern Baptist pastor, I was experiencing some problems in the church I was serving. I called a good friend of mine for some council and advice. After hearing me out, without any hesitation, he said, "Resign!"
Needless to say, I was somewhat set back to hear the "R" word coming from the lips of my dear friend. In retrospect, I see now, what he must have seen then. At the outset of his advice, however, I remembered a statement that one of my seminary professors made while a student at Southern Seminary. He said, "Men do not resign without a place to go." During the conflict, I must admit that I really wanted to resign. Nevertheless, God would not give me the freedom to do so.
I. THE SITUATION
After trying several different approaches to conflict resolution, the situation went from bad to worse during the ensuing days following my conversation with my trusted friend. It was not long after our phone conversation that he sent me a book in the mail, titled: Beyond Termination, written by Myra Marshall, with Don McGee (Myra's brother-in-law), and Jennifer Bryan Owen.
Beyond Termination is a book about a spouses' story of pain and healing following her husband's forced termination, as a minister of music, from a well known Southern Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
Both Carolyn and I were surprised that our mutual friend would send us a book dealing with termination. Little did we know, however, that this book would be a source of strength and encouragement as we faced the ultimate reality of resignation.
II. THE CRISIS
I cannot begin to describe the emotional pain that my wife, Carolyn, and I went through during the church conflict consisting of minutes, days, weeks, and months, leading up to the time when I would resign my pastorate. In the best terms that I can use to describe the situation from years of ministering to the bereaved, it was like going through anticipatory grief; knowing that the end was coming. Included in this anticipatory grief process were the feelings of anger, fear of failure, fear of an uncertain future, rejection, doubts, questioning, and other emotions that accompany a terminal illness. These feelings resulted in bought's of depression and the inability to make rational decisions and sound judgment calls during the course of any given day.
At fifty-two years of age and a long way from retirement, the professors words I heard while in seminary, rang loud and clear in my mind. Nevertheless the conflict had escalated into a full-blown crisis situation for my wife and myself. Like David of old who said . . .
"My heart is in anguish within me, And the terrors of death haven fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me; And horror has overwhelmed me. And I said, 'Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Behold, I would wander far away, I would lodge in the wilderness. I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and the tempest'" (Psalm 55:4-8 ) . . . ,
I just wanted to escape from it all even though I did not have a place to go.
On two different occasions I tried to resign, but could never get a peace about it. In my depression and confused state of mind, I could not understand why God would not allow me to get out of the situation in which I found myself. Like the disciple's in the storm at sea, who cried out, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38), I was crying out to the Lord for help.
Needless to say, at this point, resignation would have been the easiest course of action I could have taken. With all my heart, I wanted to do what was best for the church and it seemed to me that to resign would be the best thing to do. It was not until some weeks later; following a full-blown battle at church on Sunday morning, and spilling over into the evening service, that I knew that some drastic action had to be taken on my part.
That night I underwent a struggle of the soul. Without a doubt, it was the darkest experience of my life. The next morning, however, my answer came while going for an early morning drive through the hills. While driving and praying that morning, it was at the very same place where I had cried out to God for help many days earlier that God spoke to my wounded heart and gave me freedom to resign, and gave me the assurance that He did care.
III. THE CALM
Once I made the decision to resign, it was like the calm after the storm. The peace of God filled my heart and soul. It was a peace that I had not experienced for a long time. Not many days later, following my resignation, the book, Beyond Termination, was personalized in our lives when co-author, Dr. Don McGee, visited our city. Through a mutual friend who knew of our situation, Dr. McGee, was asked to give me a call. He and his wife later came by our home and provided for both my wife, and I, invaluable council. In retrospect, I know that God's Spirit sent them to minister to our wounded hearts. I will always be grateful to Dr. and Mrs. McGee, for their care and council, and for their sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
IV. THE CALL
It was out of this heart rending experience that the Wounded Heart Ministry, based on Psalm 109:22, was born while vacationing on a mountain top in The Great Smokey Mountains of east Tennessee, on October 20, 1999.
Since that "mountain top experience" The Wounded Heart Ministry has been chartered, incorporated, received tax exemption under the Internal Revenue Code 501 (c)(3), and is up and running on the net under www.woundedheart.org.
This ministry is designed with God's wounded servants in mind. A ministry designed to be a source of strength and encouragement for the pastor, ministry staff member, or anyone else in a place of leadership within the church who may be getting ready to go through a storm, in a storm, or coming out of a storm. The reason for resignation is not important to the providers of this ministry, whether it was self-imposed, church inflicted, or due to some extenuating circumstances beyond one's control. The wounded servant will be treated with utmost care and all stories shared will remain on the highest level of confidentiality.
At present, the Web site is our lifeline to wounded servants for council, referrals, and for a friendly, empathetic, listener. As the ministry grows, however, a ministry goal of ours is to purchase land and develop a Wounded Heart Retreat Center where wounded servants can come to be restored and released again for ministry.
I believe that when God calls us to a ministry, He reveals to us the need. The Psalmist said, "For I am afflicted and needy"(Psalm 109:22b). According to the most recent statistics the need is great. First, I share with you the portion of a letter I received from a fellow minister who shares the same concerns of The Wounded Heart Ministry. He writes . . .
"You may be aware that around 1,000 Southern Baptist pastors are fired each and every year. This number does not include those pressured out short of being fired. It also does not include those who resign burned out or disillusioned. Neither does it include any associate pastor who might fit into any of these three categories, nor the huge number of pastors who remain in their churches but who are weary and struggle every day. Add all these together, along with their families, and it is a staggering number of wounded servants. At the same time, these painful experiences do not happen in a vacuum. Many churches and church members are deeply wounded in these experiences. A lot of churches never recover an effective ministry, and many a member drops out, never to return."
Second, I share with you some startling statistics that were reported on the 700 Club, on October 9, 2001. Here are the statistics . . .
-30 percent of pastors are fired each year. (works out to something like 1 out of every four pastors are fired.)
-50 percent feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
-80 percent believe that pastoral ministry has affected their family negatively.
-33 percent say that being in the ministry is a hazard to their family.
-70 percent say they have lower self-esteem than when they started the ministry.
-40 percent report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
-70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend.
-They also said that 1500 pastors, per month, drop out of the ministry. In the Southern Baptist Convention this works out to 6000 per year drop out and 1200 are fired.
-In churches where the pastor is fired, it is brought about by no more than 10% of the congregation. So this means that 90% of the congregation sits silently by and does nothing to stop it. They brought up the fact that maybe those 10% should be put out of the church instead of the pastor.
Not only does God reveal the need when He calls us to a particular ministry, He gives us the resources to meet the need. The Psalmist gives witness to that fact when he writes. . .
"With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the LORD; And in the midst of many I will praise Him. For He stands at the right hand of the needy, To save him from those who judge his soul" (Psalm 109:30,31).
Not only does He, " . . . stand at the right hand of the needy," according to Revelation 1:20, He holds His pastors in His right hand.
CONCLUSION: I have written in the margin of my Bible, along side this psalm, these words, "During my ordeal at Calvary, He stood at the right hand of this needy one." He will do the same thing for you. One of the goals of the Wounded Heart Ministry is to stand by the side of God's wounded servants during their time of need.
He stands at the right hand of the needy to rescue, restore, and release, His wounded servants. Yes, fellow servants, I have discovered that there is "peace" beyond the "pain" and so can you.
The Wounded Heart Ministries, Inc., is a non-profit organization and is exempt from federal income tax under section 501 (a) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors to the Wounded Heart Ministries, Inc., may deduct contributions and gifts, with no consideration received. All donations and gifts to the Wounded Heart Ministries, Inc., will be disbursed in accordance with the purpose statement of this ministry and all donors will receive proper credit for gifts received. All donations and gifts are greatly appreciated and may be sent to: The Wounded Heart Ministries, Inc., c/o Dr. Benny F. Woods, Founder and President. Click on Contact Us for mailing information.