Dr. Langberg: Thank you.
This evening, in terms of the lecture on "Leadership and the Abuse of Power," we'll be looking at the power that is inherent in the position of pastor, which I think is something that is often not discussed -- I've certainly worked with a lot of pastors who felt that they didn't have any power -- and the potential to influence in ways that are both good and harmful when you work with the sheep that follow you, and how the pressures in the Christian community today and the expectations that are placed on leaders, which often reflect more of the secular community's values than the Word of God -- when you combine a position a power with those expectations and pressures, how often it leads to what I call a split between a public and private self. And so the struggles and difficulties and sins that those in the pastorate often have go underground. And over the years that split erodes, and then erupts in ways that, very sadly, ends up bringing those in leadership into my office after they have blown up their lives. And so hopefully, as we walk through some of those things this evening, we can prevent some blow-ups twenty years down the road.
I'm going to talk to you this morning, and give you a profile of what I call a shepherd-counselor. And I think that these things are applicable both to those in the field of counseling and in ministry.
Knowing Christ and caring for others have been inextricably woven together for me ever since I can remember. I came to know Christ at the age of eleven at home through the teaching of my parents, and it was not long after that that my eyes began to see the needs and troubles of others' lives.
My father was a colonel in the Air Force, and it did not take a degree in psychology to pick up on the fact that most of my friends' mothers were alcoholics. My friends liked to come to my house after school, partly because my mother was sober and she made good cookies. And I found myself about the age of twelve beginning to tell them about this Jesus that I had come to know, and eventually ended up teaching a small group of girls in a Bible study some of the truths of Scripture. And I remember very vividly going home with one of these girls one day after school just to pick up some things so she could do her homework at my house. And when we got there, we found her mother still in bed in a filthy nightgown, and drunk, and hanging very tightly onto a bottle of something. And that moment gave me a glimpse into the pain and horror of my friend's life, and I wanted to help. And little did I know, at the age of twelve, where the eyes to see such troubles and the heartfelt desire to help would lead me, and how like our God it is to use the broken lives of some twelve-year-old girls to reap fruit decades later in the lives of others.
Now, many years have passed since I was twelve -- decades, if I'm honest -- and I still have eyes to see and a heartfelt desire to help. And these two things, plus a few degrees and some training, have given me access into many lives not unlike those of my twelve-year-old friends. I have through the years been the witness of a great deal of pain and horror, and I believe have been called by God to tend those whose lives have been so marked. I have nurtured many who, as little girls, were repeatedly raped by a man they called "Daddy," and I have worked with many men who were repeatedly molested by a woman that they called "Mommy." I have sat with women, whom I greeted in my waiting room, to see their shattered and black-and-blue faces give testimony to a very twisted form of husbanding, and whose minds are very confused as to whose fault the broken bones are. I've sat with parents as they have sat by the bedsides of their dying children, and who are desperate to be tended. I have walked with those whose lives are slowly being destroyed by cancer, until the day comes when I must stand by their grave. I have worked with missionaries who have been raped and robbed. I have worked with missionaries who have been kidnapped and tortured by terrorists, and have come home for care and healing. And I have worked with many pastors who are weary and broken by divisive and persecuting churches who have needed pastoring themselves.
But there has also been a different kind of tending -- one that, frankly, never entered my mind when I first began in this work. Because, you see, I have not only tended women whose faces are black and blue, but I have had to learn to tend the men who batter them. And I have cared for missionaries who have left the United States to proclaim the gospel, and have come home because they have molested those that they went to serve. And I have walked with pastors who have been called to shepherd, and who have instead ended up feeding off of their sheep. And I have cared for those who entered marriage with hopes and high ideals, whose marriages are now ravaged because they cannot get their faces out of pornography.
And so I find myself not only tending those who have been damaged by others, but tending also those do the damaging. Sometimes they are one and the same.
One of the things that I do during my week is supervise a whole bunch of other counselors. And I repeatedly find myself reminding them of the tremendous significance that they hold in the lives of those they care for, and the power that they have to damage them. Whenever you enter the broken life of another human being as a shepherd, you become extremely important to them. And to have such potential to help means also to have great potential to harm. And so I want to just mention a few things about what it means when you enter a life as a shepherd to be an unfit shepherd. And then I would like to spend the bulk of our time giving you four lessons that I have learned through the years from the Great and Good Shepherd.
Now, there are a lot of things that we could say about being unfit shepherds. But I think one of the foremost characteristics of unfit shepherding is given to us in Ezekiel 34, where we hear about the shepherds of Israel feeding themselves on their flocks. These were people who were commissioned by God to take care of His sheep, and instead they used these sheep for themselves. And we are told that they drank the milk of the sheep, they wore their wool, and ate their flesh. In other words, they took whatever it was that the sheep had to offer, and they used it for themselves.
Now the most obvious example of this in counseling and pastoring is when a therapist or a counselor uses the sheep they are helping for their own sexual satisfaction. But it is very easy to do this in far more subtle ways. It is easy for us to feed off of others emotionally in order to feel loved or important or wise. We can ask questions of someone in order to titillate ourselves or to gain information about a third party. And anytime a shepherd orchestrates a relationship so as to feed some appetite or need in him or her self, he has behaved as an unfit shepherd.
Another way you and I can be unfit shepherds is when we encourage others to feed on us alone. Now, certainly those who come to us for help will need to feed on us. They will, in essence, need us to be broken bread and poured-out wine for them. The weak need us to be strong; the foolish need us to be wise; those who doubt need us to have faith. And these are good and right things for us to be and to give. But I find that such work can be very seductive, because it can lead us to think that we alone can give such things adequately, and somehow the gifts of others in the body of Christ begin to pale by comparison. You see, there is a very, very fine line between understanding how important we can be in a broken life and thinking that we are necessary.
When we begin to think and teach that we are necessary, we take the place of the One that we have been called to follow. We are never to steal the hearts of others for ourselves, but hand them over to God. People come to us hungry for things like love and hope and truth and faith, but it is not us who awakens such desires in them, and we ultimately cannot fulfill those desires. We can, by our lives, give them a taste of the One who is using us to draw them to Himself. God help us if hungry sheep only find us at the end of their journey. You and I are servants of the Good Shepherd, and we are unfit servants whenever we fail to point ultimately to the satisfaction that resides in Jesus Christ alone.
A final way in which we can be unfit shepherds is when at any point you and I misrepresent the Good Shepherd. In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus speaks about Himself as the Good Shepherd. And such a statement follows many examples in that gospel of unfit shepherding by the Pharisees. They were unfit because were opponents of Jesus and His message. They attempted to destroy the influence of Jesus in the lives of others. And wherever you and I misrepresent the Good Shepherd, we too have become opponents of His message. Wherever you and I feed on things like status or reputation or praise or money or power; wherever we fail to speak the truth, where we neglect mercy and compassion, where we do not tend to our own obedience, we destroy the influence of Jesus in the life of another. And the word of Jesus to the unfit shepherds of His day was, "Woe," which is essentially an expression of grief. So wherever you and I function as unfit shepherds in the life of another, we bring great grief to the heart of the Father.
Now, I would like to go on and give you some lessons that I have had the privilege of learning from this Good Shepherd. I am going to give you four; there are many more.
But the first lesson that I have learned from this Great and Good Shepherd is the lesson of humility. Scripture says this: "This is the mind of Jesus. He was in very nature God, but did not think of His place, rank, or nature as something to be held onto. But He made Himself nothing. He took on the nature of servant. He became like His sheep, and humbled Himself to the point of identifying with them in a vile and accursed death." The Lamb of God identified with and served those who were cursed.
Now, in my field, we would say that to identify with an accursed thing is abnormal. And I suspect that, like me, you prefer people for whom you have what we might call a natural affinity. When you are in a group of people, you prefer, if given a choice, to be aligned with those who take baths, who are relatively bright, and relationally adept. Jesus Christ identified Himself with those whose personalities or abnormalities cut them off from others. He identified with the demon-possessed, the blind, the diseased, and the dead. In order to reach those who feel cut off from the living, He Himself was cut off out of the land of the living. It is not our nature to do this. You and I see the afflicted, and we back up. We are repulsed by crime and disease. We have an aversion for the tormented, the odd, and the unacceptable.
I remember many, many years ago when I first began see clients who had been chronically sexually abused as children. Now, I have never been abused by anyone. And I know now that I have the phenomenal privilege of having a mind that is completely free of any personal memories of any kind of abuse. I can walk through life and never have to worry about such a memory floating to the surface of my mind or being triggered by something in my environment, because it doesn't exist.
One of the women that I saw in the early years of my work as a therapist had been repeatedly and sadistically abused by many throughout her childhood. And as I began to let myself down into her memories with her, I found myself having nightmares, and my husband would have to wake me up because I was crying in my sleep. Now, I didn't like the nightmares. And I didn't like wrestling with the memories and pictures that I had in my mind. And I very distinctly remember wrestling with myself about whether or not I could continue to do this work. I was thinking, "I don't have memories like this! Why would I want this in my head? I don't want these pictures in my brain. I don't want them disturbing my sleep. I don't have to do this."
This is the mind of Jesus: He who was God, untouched by the muck and the mire, did not think of what He had as a thing to be clutched, but became like a servant and let Himself be made like those He served.
I had a woman that I see ask me several years ago ask me what I thought was a very astute question: "Diane, after all these years, does your head ever get mixed up about where your memories stop and others' begin?" And I have to say that after 28 years, the answer is yes, sometimes my head gets mixed up, and I think or feel things that rise out of my identification with survivors rather than out of my own personal history. It is only through the power of Christ that you and I can humble ourselves and identify with those whose nature or experience or history is different from our own. But if are to follow this Good Shepherd, we must go here; for this is the kind of shepherding He did: He so identified with the objects of His redemptive work that He became a lamb.
Now, there's a second arena in which I have learned this lesson of humility. The Shepherd that we desire made Himself of no reputation. He emptied Himself of those things which elevated Him. He demanded no recognition, and He did not complain that Nazareth was too limited a sphere for His great abilities. He never dominated those under Him.
It is very grievous, but nonetheless true, I think, that in recent decades in the Christian community, we have been infiltrated with the idea that bigger is better, more means more important, and worship belongs to things like status, money, and power. Now, I am not foolish enough to say that bigger is always worse, or that more is always bad, or that status, money, and power are inherently evil. What I will say is that such things are of this earth, and they are transient, and certainly not worthy of our worship.
I remember my struggle during the years when my two sons were quite small. They were born shortly after I finished my Ph.D. and received my coveted license as a psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania. And I was in private practice for a very short while, and the practice was at that place where you know that it's about to take off in terms of referrals coming in. And I had an infant and a three-year-old. And God called me at that time in my life to essentially make myself of no reputation. And so I kept the practice open to a very minimal degree, and sent most of my referrals elsewhere, while I sat on the floor and played with Legos and Matchbox cars -- not a subject I studied in graduate school! Now understand this: I adore my sons, and I loved the years I that I spent on the floor with them -- they are now 19 and 22 -- but I also love my work. It was not an easy thing for me to do. And I also struggled with the fact that I knew that God had gifted and called me to do that work, and it seemed rather puzzling that He would ask me to lay down that which He had so clearly given.
But it was in that place that I learned something of the setting aside of what is a good thing and rightfully mine for the sake of others. It was in that place that I learned that yes, God has indeed called me to do some exceptional things in my life, but He has also called me to be exceptional in the ordinary, to be holy in small places, to be loving with little people, unrecognized and unapplauded. And it is a lesson, frankly, that I have had to learn again and again, not just with little people, but with slow people, and mean people, and difficult people, resistant people. But if we would follow the Shepherd, we must like Him learn that greatness resides not in what we have, and not in what we do. True greatness resides in the freedom to set aside what we have and what we do at His bidding, in order to love whatever sheep He has placed in front of us with a taste of the love of God.
A second lesson that I learned from this Shepherd over the years is the lesson of restraint. Now, restraint basically means a voluntary limitation of oneself.
The place where I grocery shop at home has a policy about hiring several employees who are intellectually limited. One particular man has been there for ten or twelve years, and it is his job to help people put groceries in their car. He's very hard of hearing and, frankly, quite lacking in social skills. When he first came to the store, I had him put my groceries in my trunk, which he did. He was very slow, and he threw the bags, eggs and all, into my trunk in great disarray. I decided that I preferred doing it myself. He didn't do a good job; he was very slow; I, after all, am a very busy woman; buying food is a necessity in life, but it is not one of my preferred ways to spend my time. He would ask me many times as I went to my car if I needed help, and I would rush on by and very politely say, "No, thank you."
One day, after I had said no to him -- he's a quite small man, and he always tilts his head when he speaks -- so he tilted his head and he looked up at me, and he said, "Are you sure, Ma'am?" And there was a pleading in his voice, and I stood there for a few minutes, I noticed that everybody was rushing by and saying "No," sometimes not very politely. And I felt that very quiet and very certain tug of the Spirit of God on my heart. I was, of course, in a hurry. It was raining very hard. The tug came again, and I said, "Yes, you may help me put my bags in my car." And so I stood in the rain without an umbrella, carefully made some suggestions about how one should put bags in the trunk of a car, and together we finished that task. And when we were done, he cocked his head again, and he looked up at me and he said, "Ma'am, did I do a good job?" And I said, "Yes, you did a good job." And he said to me, "Lots of ladies get mad at me because I don't do so good." And I drove home that day weeping with this guy, asking God to teach me what the lesson was in that little scene, for I knew that that was the voice of God speaking to me. This man suffers in ways I have never experienced in my life. He is treated daily with anger, disregard, frustration, and annoyance. And God called me that day to restrain myself -- my adequacy, my quickness, my skill, my powers, my independence -- in order to bestow dignity and value and esteem on one who suffers. And as I pulled into my garage that day, it was as if God said to me, "Diane, is that not a picture of My incarnation? Is that not a tiny taste of what I did for you? God of very God, a baby; infinite Wisdom, a little boy; Creator of the worlds, a carpenter; Master of the Seas, riding in a boat; Eternal Life, dead and buried" -- and I didn't to stop myself for a retarded man.
Jesus says to us, "Why do call me Lord, Lord, but you do not what I say?" I say I love Christ. I say I am a Christian psychologist. And then I turn around and am impatient or intolerant or frustrated with a darkened, confused, or frightened mind? I will not wait for a trauma survivor to speak the unspeakable unless I have learned the lesson of restraint. I will be intolerant with the repeated failings of an addict unless I have learned the lesson of restraint. I will refuse to walk through the valley of the shadow of Death with one who is sick and dying unless I have learned the lesson of restraint.
The work of shepherding often requires that we limit our words because people who suffer cannot manage barrage of words. We will have to restrain the loudness of our voices, the suddenness of our movements, and the intensity of our emotions if we are to make room for the scared, the suffering, the traumatized, the ill, and the dying. Often when faced with the need to restrain ourselves in some way, we say, "That's not me. I can't do that."
I'm not sure where we get the idea that we should only do those things that come naturally or easily to us. I have a quick mind and a quick mouth. I have a high energy level -- though Covenant Seminary seems to be doing everything it can to deplete it this week! They make jokes about me in the office about running through the halls on roller blades.
But my Shepherd has been teaching me that I cannot shepherd His suffering sheep by simply doing what comes naturally. That which is immeasurable came to us in a very tiny package, and if we would follow Him, we too must learn the lesson of restraint in order to bring light and life to His sheep.
The third lesson the Shepherd has taught me is the lesson of service. We are trained to serve others. We counsel, we tend, we pastor, we teach. And in doing those things we are serving others. But I believe that the service that the Great Shepherd calls us to goes far beyond simply utilizing what we have been trained to do. In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of returning in all His glory, and separating the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. When He speaks to the sheep, He describes how he is able to recognize them by saying this: "I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took Me in. I was naked, and you clothed Me. I was sick, and you looked after Me. I was in prison, and you came to visit Me." He is talking about acts of service to particular kinds of people. And I'd like to look at that for a minute.
What do you think it's really like to serve somebody who is truly hungry or thirsty? I don't mean they skipped dinner; I mean they feel like they're starving. Hungry, thirsty people who feel like they're starving are people in great need, and they are very demanding. They do not care about you. They probably don't think clearly. They want their needs met now. They are desperate, they clamber, and they grab.
What's it like to serve a stranger? Well, a stranger is basically somebody who doesn't make any sense to you. Their ways seem alien to you. They seem odd. You don't know why they do what they do. You can't serve a stranger effectively until you take the time to understand them. If you don't bother to understand them, you will serve them in a way that is frightening or perhaps offensive to them.
What's it like to serve a naked person? Well, naked people typically want to hide from us. They feel exposed, and it requires great care if we are to tend to them without humiliating them. They don't want you close, they want you to go away; but you cannot cover their nakedness unless you move in close. Their ambivalence is overwhelming.
What's it like to serve a sick person? Well, sick people focus on their pain, don't they? It's all they can think about. And their interest in you concerns only what you can do to make them feel better. Sick people live in small worlds. Sick people talk about what hurts. Sick people are needy, and very often quite messy. Sick people require constant oversight.
What's it like to serve a prisoner? You can't serve a prisoner unless you go to prison. It means you must enter a place of locked doors and little light. You must enter a place of restricted movement, and a place where you are watched, and where trust is rare. Jesus's redemptive work demanded identification at the deepest level with all the most shocking varieties of human suffering.
As the Master, so must the servant be.
The amazing thing is that Jesus says the sheep who did it for Him. He doesn't say, "When others were hungry, and you gave them food, it was for them," but "When I was hungry" -- and He defines the I -- "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me." You see, the lesson that I have learned about service is not simply that I am called to serve people, but rather that in serving those who suffer, I am, in some way that is still mysterious to me, serving the One that I follow. Every time, you see, that I encounter grief, I am encountering a grief that He bore. Every time that I encounter a stranger or a prisoner, I am encountering something that my Lord endured when He was here. The lesson of service is this: you and I live in solemn trust to the afflicted to mediate to them all that is to be obtained through the life and death of Jesus Christ. And in doing so, we are serving the Lord Christ.
The final lesson is the lesson of leadership. When Jesus speaks of Himself as Shepherd, He said this: "He calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out"; and then He says He goes on ahead of His sheep. The lesson of leadership is this: I must go where I would take the sheep I tend.
One of my clients said that a psychology professor in her college told the class that if they ever decided that they needed to go into therapy, they should be very careful about whom they chose to see, because if they spent any significant amount of time in therapy, they would end up to some degree looking like their therapist.
I had another client come to me a couple of years ago and say that she was at a women's conference, and a group of women were talking. And she said, "As I listened to another woman in the group say some things, I knew that she had sat with you."
As the shepherd goes, so the sheep go; and only those who are faithful disciples will make good undershepherds for the sheep. Remember, the Good Shepherd Himself became a lamb. Do I really think that I can lead another out of a life of deceit if I live with ongoing hidden sin in my life? Do I think that I can lead another away from bitterness and revenge against their spouse if I harbor such things in my heart against my own? Do I think that I can lead somebody out of the captivity they have to an addiction if I in my own life am enslaved to something else? Do I think that I can lead someone in my public and professional ministry with grace and love when I do not deal graciously and lovingly with those I live with in private?
I was working with a woman recently who has committed herself to loving what we might call a very difficult man. Her husband is a very fearful man, extremely selfish, very controlling and demanding. The promise of reward in this marriage is not great. This woman has chosen to learn to love him rather than to leave. One session, when we were beginning to talk about what love might look like in that marriage, she stopped me in my tracks with a question: "Before we proceed, Diane, I have one question I would like to ask you. Do you work to love your husband like this?" It was a heart-searcher, and I knew that the question was not just from my client, but from God Himself. Now, understand something: my husband is a very easy man to love. And the rewards of our 28 years of marriage have been, and continue to be, great. My circumstances are nothing next to hers. But the question still stands. If I am going to teach this woman Christ-like ways to love the man she lives with, then I must be the kind of shepherd who goes before my sheep. And I need to love my husband in the same way I am teaching her to love hers.
The lesson of leadership is that shepherding is not about imparting knowledge or information alone, but about going on before in order to impart life. And isn't that exactly what the Good Shepherd did for us? There is absolutely nothing that Jesus asks of us that He Himself has not exemplified. He calls us to walk in the truth; He is Truth. He calls us to love one another; He has loved unto death. He calls us to carry the burdens of others; He was broken by ours. He calls us to enter the muck and mire of others' lives; He entered the muck and mire of ours.
It is said that the Eastern shepherd uses his pet lambs to gather in his lost sheep. The pet lambs are those who are so fond of being near the shepherd that he takes them and scatters them around the hills in various places. And in the evening, when he returns home, he calls out to the pet lambs, and they immediately run to follow the shepherd, and the lost lambs follow the pet lambs.
Our Shepherd goes before us. Those of us who would serve in leadership positions as His undershepherds are to be so attached to Him that, no matter where He places us out on the hills, others will be induced to follow Him because we have gone before and shown the way.
The redemptive work of Christ, again, demanded identification at the deepest level with all the most shocking varieties of human suffering. As the Master was, so must the servant be. He who dealt with the enemy occupation of the human heart has called us to do the same. And as we follow, lessons such as these, and many more, will be taught to us. As we are taught the lesson of restraint, we will remember the Lamb who is God in the flesh. As we are taught the lesson of humility, we will see eternal glory setting aside rank and honor. As we are taught the lesson of service, we will remember the Sovereign over all washing feet and touching the untouchable. And as we are taught the lesson of leadership, we will see Him going before, being and doing what He calls us to be and do.
For you and I, to follow the Shepherd is to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings. It means, like Him, you and I must get down into the muck and mire of this world. To enter into the fellowship of His sufferings is to little by little know Him more fully and love Him more deeply. And the more we are willing to follow Him into the dual mysteries of iniquity and suffering, the more of His beauty we will see. And the more we follow Him into the fellowship of His sufferings, and see His beauty, the more we will find our way to that place that will eventually lead us to the throne of God, where you and I will see the glory of God not in the flesh, but in its fullness. And there we will hear the mighty angel proclaim, "Who is worthy to break the seal, and open the scroll?" -- or even look inside. And we will hear the answer: "Behold, the Lion, He is able." And on that day we will turn to see the Lion, and we will see a Lamb, looking as if He has been slain, standing in the center of the throne. And we will hear the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand, and hear them encircle the throne and sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise." And then you and I who have been willing to follow this Lamb into the fellowship of His sufferings, will be able to join with them and sing, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever. Amen."
CTS Official: Let's stand together and sing number 87, the 23rd Psalm, as we reflect on our Good Shepherd. [recording ends]