Looking back over the course of my life there’s one thing that has influenced and shaped my life more than anything else. It might surprise most of you when I say that it wasn’t meeting Jesus and getting saved! What??? Yes. As momentous as that was, it was only a means to what I see now as a more important and beautiful end – coming to know the Creator God of the universe the same sort of way Jesus did, as my loving Father. This next series of posts will be about the biggest breakthrough of my life.
The very first lesson I can remember John Wimber teaching a group of us pastors that had gathered on Staten Island, New York was that in order to lead you have to know where you’re going and to know where you’re going you have to know who you are. More important than a theological education and ministry skills, knowing my true identity – who I am in God’s eyes – is key to effective leadership. He said the person I am is more important than the things I do because ultimately the person I am determines the lasting effect and influence I will have on others. My identity, that is, knowing whether I am loved or not, that I am a person of worth or not, will shape and flavor my life. He said that once this was settled we would know how to live, what to do and how to do it. He said this would shape not just our leadership but our whole life. He was right.
Number one enemy of ministry
When I look over the course my ministry, I can honestly say that the root of nearly all my leadership shortcomings has been insecurity. Insecurity comes in all shapes and forms. For me it was a deep sense of rejection and need to be accepted, the result of a lack of a father’s love and affection as a child. Like many men of his generation, my father never learned to show affection. He was taught that men didn’t display their emotions; men were supposed to demonstrate their feelings for their family by taking good care of them, being a good provider. My father was a musician and out of the house much of the time. He didn’t spend much time with me. He was distant even when he was around. I can’t remember my dad ever saying, “I love you Michael” or just holding me.
This lack of affection left me insecure and starving for the acceptance and approval. My identity formed around feelings of rejection. Who am I? I must be someone who’s not good enough to be loved and accepted.
The little boy in me cried out for love, but I didn’t know where to find it. When I got older I tried to satisfy my hunger with the camaraderie I found in the streets, the warm touch of a girl on my arm, and eventually the elevated sense of well being brought on by drugs. None of these things ever satisfied my need for the love of a father though. It just left me even more in touch with my need – more acutely aware of my emptiness.
You don’t need to have been a drug addict or a victim of divorce to know what I’m talking about. You might come a pretty good nurturing family and still have the need for love that goes beyond the capabilities of your earthly fathers. Novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote, The deepest search in life, it seemed to me, the thing that in one way or another was central to all living was man’s search to find a father; not merely the father of his flesh, not merely the lost father of his youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could be united.
My search in the end led me to God who I met in of all places, a drug rehab program. I gave my life to Christ and experienced a rather dramatic conversion that eventually led me into the ministry. My call was real, my desire to serve was sincere, and my ministry bore fruit yet I still struggled with insecurity.
Failing to connect
The problem was that although I had come to know God as Savior, I hadn’t come to know him as a loving Father. The tender affection of a father was still missing. I knew God’s love doctrinally and confessed it enthusiastically but I didn’t know it experientially. I knew it in my head but not personally, deep inside. The concept of God as affectionate Father was lost amidst the theological and doctrinal language. Teaching about the Fatherhood of God and particularly about his love had escaped me. Even when I came into the fullness of the Spirit in the Vineyard I didn’t easily discover the Father’s love. When I experienced the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, my emotions were touched and my tears flowed. But no one told me that this was the Father on the other end touching me with his love. So failing to recognize the Father in my experiences with the Spirit, I failed to connect with the touch of his love I was desperately searching for. Although I knew God was touching me, I remained insecure.
The biggest enemy of my leadership became my insecurity. It left me angry, impatient and impulsive, sarcastic and prone to jealousy. I’d go into a tailspin when things didn’t go well and could be hard on people that criticized or disagreed with me. It wasn’t long before I was in trouble. As you can imagine I managed to tic a lot of people off and eventually I was in danger of losing my church…
I was created with a need to know God’s love. I would never be secure until I experienced it. Even though I was a leader this experience was missing from my life. I knew theologically and intellectually that God loved me but my deep insecurities told me I needed more than this head knowledge. So after years of following Jesus and engaging in ministry I found myself still searching.
…to be continued