by Diane Langberg
We live in a society that has certain expectations for those in leadership or in the public forum. We expect leaders to be successful, magnetic, powerful, expert, articulate, strong, and on top of things. One of the results is that the pressure on those in positions of power or influence is to hide anything within themselves or their lives that is contrary to those expectations. The fears, inadequacies, struggle and suffering go underground and the person in leadership develops a private self that is different from the public self. The outcome of such split lives is often tragic as we see a sexual abuse crisis chronicled over and again in our papers and magazines. Psychologists, pastors, priests and others in the so-called helping professions have carried on a hidden life that has been damaging, rather than helpful, for the very people they have been called to serve. What are some of the factors that contribute to this ongoing damage?
Elevation of Knowledge
There seems to be more discussion recently among those heading up graduate programs in psychology and counseling about the mental health of the students they are training. That is a good and necessary discussion. Many graduate schools and seminaries focus on imparting knowledge and skills with little to no attention given to the instrument that will be wielding that knowledge and skill from a position of power. That means a young adult, from an alcoholic family, who was physically abused and has coped by means of high achievement and a pornography addiction can come to Christ in college, attend a seminary or graduate program where they Velcro on a tremendous amount of knowledge, make straight Aâ€™s, graduate and enter a pulpit, having never considered the impact of that history or dealt with either the need to achieve or the addiction. It is a tragic set-up and we have done them a grave disservice by not carefully directing them to get the help they need. The person enters the field already living a split life, for the history and the coping mechanism of addiction are hidden away, while the high achievement is lauded. That public/private split must be maintained if success is to be found in the job. If the history, the split and the addictions are not dealt with, that life will eventually blow up. Frequently, it blows up the sheep as well. Those in higher education, particularly those training students for people helping professions, need to recognize that the character of the student is at least as important as the knowledge being acquired. People whose character is not good and healthy (dare I say, holy?) misuse knowledge. Knowledge breeds arrogance, superiority and disconnection. According to the Scriptures, those in leadership are to demonstrate love, humility and service. Let us be clear, I am not denigrating knowledge. It is necessary and good, but it is not sufficient. The character of the person who wields that knowledge is every bit as critical as the information itself.
Scripture says that those who care for the Body of Christ are to be above reproach (I Timothy 3:2). They are to have integrity. They are not to merely appear righteous, but to actually be so, both in the hidden and the public aspects. Integrity, taken from our word for integer, means to be whole, to be the same all the way through. Should not Godâ€™s priority of the character of the worker be the priority of those of us who train others or hire them for positions of leadership? It is true of all of us as humans, that when we do not have integrity and that fact is exposed, we try to hide or justify the discrepancy. Adam and Eve did so and we have continued to respond similarly. I have noticed that often, when hidden sin is exposed, there is a loud outcry, not against the sin but rather against the exposure. â€œWhat are you doing to the Church?â€ â€œHow could you do that to such a fine person?â€ In essence, we want to maintain the integrity of the role, rather than the integrity of the person. We want the form intact even when there is no integrity in the substance. We often see such a response when a wife exposes domestic abuse in a home others thought was good. It is as if we think the worst thing in the world is exposing wrongdoing in someone who previously looked good outwardly. We forget that God thinks that sin is the worst thing in the world. How we must grieve Him when we work hard to preserve the appearance of godliness without the substance. Do we think He cannot see? Do we think He merely wants us to look good to ourselves or to others? Do we really think we are honoring and pleasing Him in the work we do while performing without integrity? Do we think our numbers, our reputations, our book signings and our accolades serve Him who is holy and who desires, not our success, but humble and contrite hearts?
Power is the ability to make something happen, to have impact. We were given power to impact at our creation for we were told to rule and subdue the earth. We all have it. It is, however, not a fixed trait. An individualâ€™s power varies with the context. I have power to influence the clients I counsel. I do not have power in the Department of State. The other side of power is vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be susceptible to injury or attack. It comes from the Latin word meaning â€œto wound.â€ A client in a counselorâ€™s office is vulnerable. A parishioner in a pastorâ€™s office is vulnerable.
Whenever power is used in a way that wounds the vulnerable, then trust has been exploited and abuse has occurred. The word abuse simply means to use wrongly. When a person in a position of power uses another who has come for help to meet his/her own needs, then abuse has occurred. The shepherd has used the sheep for food. We can hold great power and not feel powerful. You can feel tired, needy, fragile and even powerless, and still wield tremendous power. Such things do not remove or dilute our power; they make us more likely to use it destructively. The more needy we feel in a position of power, the more dangerous we are because we are far more likely to use the sheep for food. It is easy to see how someone who enters a helping profession living a split life because of issues and struggles that have never been dealt with could easily slide into the position of using a vulnerable person to help make them feel better.
There are many different kinds of power. The combination of verbal power, knowledge, skill, position and emotional sway can all be used in concert to move, manipulate or convince another human being who is vulnerable. Power can be used to intimidate people so they wonâ€™t say no to something they would refuse in other circumstances. Power can be used to feed the person in power with something the sheep has. Sheep are used to feed egos, give a sense of adequacy or importance, build reputations, soothe nerves or feed sexual appetites. When we elevate knowledge, do not require integrity of character and then put broken people in positions of power, the abuse of others is often the result.
Seduction of Ministry
Ministry to hurting peopleâ€”in fact, ministry of all kindsâ€”has a tremendous power to seduce. We think that such ministry will make us valuable, will somehow please God, will give meaning to our own suffering or will enable us to run from our own histories into the lives of broken people whose crises serve as a great distraction to our o own pain. Some of us enter the helping professions for ourselves. We are driven by our own fears of unimportance, inadequacy and impotence. We are seduced into thinking that service to God and others will quell such fears. Sadly, the reverse is true, for the work and expectations of ministry merely increase the fears and anxieties, and so we are driven even more until we end up on a never-ending treadmill, serving our own insatiable appetite for adequacy. Others of us enter such professions truly believing in the significance of serving others only to discover that the line never ends and the needs are relentless. We are seduced into thinking that care for the suffering is the ultimate goal. Not only is the work a never satisfied master, oftentimes the ones we served most faithfully are the most ungrateful. Again, a never-ending treadmill is the result as we discover ministry to be a harsh and insatiable taskmaster that will gladly use us up until it tosses us aside. What is the answer? The media is littered with stories of those who have been abused by people in pastoral and counseling ministry. The secular world has responded by passing laws forbidding such abuse and by requiring three hours of continuing education in ethics for all those who are licensed. That is not a bad thing at all, but it is not a cure. We certainly should have the ethical principles of our various professions continually put in front of us as reminders. However, that too can simply become knowledge stuck onto broken lives. The change we need is far more drastic and deep. It is an internal change; rather than merely conforming ourselves to an ethics code, it is transformational. It is also a supernatural one. No CE credits, no course, no diploma can bring about the change that is necessary if the shepherds are not to continue to destroy the sheep or be destroyed themselves by the work they are attempting to do.
What is the primary call of the Church today? Is it to evangelize, to hold to pure doctrine, to increase in numbers, to be big and successful, to help the sick and suffering of the world? When Jesus first called His disciples, to what did He call themâ€”a profession, a creed, a task? No, He first and foremost called them to Himself. I fear sometimes we have lost that call. Our ears have been seduced away by other things, taking our hearts with them. We are not only hurting the sheep as a result; we are breaking the heart of the Shepherd. He desires our primary allegiance to be love and obedience to Him, no matter the cost. He does not want primary allegiance to ministry, or service, or counseling or suffering. He does not want our goal to be knowledge, or degrees, or books, or money or reputation or success. He wants us to love and obey Him. When we understand this and pursue it above all else, the Body of Christ will be the safest place on earth for the most vulnerable of sheep. If we understand this, then we will pursue love and obedience to Christ in our own lives, both public and private. We will understand that He is pleased when we are conformed to His image, not when we are wealthy or successful or famous. We will know that hidden sin in our lives grieves Him more than any other failure. We will know that He cares far more that we look at the mirror He holds up to us so we can see ourselves in truth, than He does for the image we project to the world. If we understand this, then we will teach it in our graduate schools and from our pulpits. We will teach that degrees and knowledge are of no eternal value without love and obedience to Christ. We will teach that it is better for a student to stop the pursuit of knowledge until the Spirit of God transforms that studentâ€™s character. We will teach budding counselors and pastors that to enter their respective fields without a Christ-like character is to enter the sheepfold in service of the enemy of God. Lessons and articles on ethics, integrity, and power are important and necessary. We need to continue to understand the abuse of power and how it happens.
Knowledge, however, is not the cure. The Body of Christ alone has access to the cure. It is the supernatural work of the Spirit of God in us. May we, who are already in positions of power and influence, lead the way by falling down on our faces, imploring God to make us like Himself no matter the cost to our positions, our programs or our ministries, so that we might work safely among His sheep, looking like Him.