Does Your Private Relationship With God Match Your Public One?

When private spirituality does not match public spirituality, the waters are troubled.

Dear Pastor,

One of the more frustrating aspects of ministry is discovering that a beloved church member has presented a false self to the church and who they really are in private doesn’t match what they presented in public.

A professor of mine shared about a church he worked with where a deacon created a situation. In private, the deacon’s life was a mess. My professor, who was also the pastor of the church, knew about this mess because the deacon had confided in him. It was so bad that the deacon had moved out of his home and he and his wife were planning a divorce.

Of course, none of this was shared with the church. Yet, each week, the deacon picked up his wife and children, drove to the church for worship, sat together, and acted as though everything was well. 

My professor finally thought things had gone too far. The church believed this deacon was a scion of spirituality while his life was a mess and falling apart. His family was not able to receive pastoral care because they weren’t allowed to share openly what was happening. So my professor pulled the deacon aside after worship one Sunday and shared with him that he ought to come clean about their family struggles, step down from being a deacon, allow his family to receive care from the church, and find help for himself. 

Predictably, this didn’t end well. As my professor told the story, the deacon erupted at him, threatened him, and asked him for a fistfight out in the parking lot!

When private spirituality does not match public spirituality, the waters are troubled.

But the worst offenders of this, sadly, are pastors. What happens when the primary spiritual leader of the church has a dry, empty well from which no life-giving water can be drawn? What happens when this spiritual leader stands before the church to pray, to lead worship, or to preach the word?

It may seem to us that this is not a big deal. And I’ll grant that, because of the ebb and flow of ministry, most (if not all) pastors will experience a week here or there, or perhaps even a month, of spiritual dryness. But when this becomes a pattern, and especially when it becomes the norm, pastors are in bad shape. They are approaching or are in burnout, and their ministries will suffer and, in worst cases, be destroyed.

Consider the story of King David. As I’ve been reading through 1 and 2 Samuel, I’ve been struck by the origins of David. He came up very humbly, selected by God to be king while he was out tending to his family’s sheep. He earned Saul’s favour by playing his harp, killed the Israelite enemy, Goliath, and befriended Saul’s son, Jonathan. In all things, David showed himself to be filled with integrity.

Things fell apart quickly for David, though, and not through his fault. Saul became jealous of David and turned against him, while at the same time making many spiritual mistakes as king. God rejected Saul as king and chose David instead, which resulted in a long civil war where Saul sought to kill David. But David continued to live with integrity, honouring Saul as God’s chosen one and passing on two opportunities to kill Saul. 

Eventually, of course, Saul would be killed and David would take his place as king. Yes, despite David being known as a “man after God’s own heart,” we know that David’s story takes a dark turn when he commits adultery with Bathsheba, a married woman, and has her husband killed in a twisted attempt to cover up his affair.

The thing I want to focus on about this story is found in 2 Samuel 11:1, where the narrator added this cryptic note: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army…. But David remained in Jerusalem.”

Lest we think that this was just a one-off problem with David, that he got caught up in the moment, or that it was an indiscretion that got away from him, let’s carefully weigh what the narrator actually told us. David was not acting privately as a king would publicly. There was a disconnect between his public and his private self. Kings were noted for doing kingly things like going to war, but David stayed home. Despite being the “king,” David didn’t stay vigilant in doing the things kings did, and it left him room to fall into a lack of integrity. 

Of course, we know that he later repented from all this, but that didn’t take away the consequences of what had happened, and the house of David had a stain on it that lives on to this day.

When we stand before the church in worship, teach the word in a class, or pray with a church member in their homes, we are mediating the presence of God to those whom we preside over. It is sinful for us to pretend to be something we are not. It is dangerous, even, because parishioners are taking stock of what we say we are, and not who we really are. 

And if pastors continue on living out of the false self, it will catch up to them in burnout.

I’ve written a lot about recognizing and avoiding burnout and developing good self-care habits. Where are you in your spiritual life with God? What meaningful spiritual habits are you practicing that are you helping stay rooted in God? 

What next step do you need to take for your own spiritual health?

As always, let me know how I can serve you in this.

Love First,

Jeremy

P.S. I’ve written a book to help you recognize burnout and develop a good foundation of self-care habits. The book is called Soul-Care for Shepherds. For a limited time, I’m offering 25% off my 10-week coaching program that follows the outline of the book. Reach out to me at http://jeremyhoovercoaching.com/contact and mention code SUBSTACK-SPECIAL and let’s get started on your path to wholeness.

P.P.S. If your church is struggling with direction, or your leadership is stuck, check out my new book, Church-Building, designed to help churches build a healthier future.