[Trigger warning. This post includes a conversation about alleged sexual abuse and mentions suicide. I chose to include these examples in this post since they are well-documented, in the public domain, and tragic examples of the critical importance of effective soul care].
The Impact of Leadership
The ripple effects of effective and ineffective leadership are generational.
Leadership done well helps people flourish. Leadership done poorly damages the lives of people.
We must live a connected life. We must connect at the deepest part of ourselves.
- What is true about us?
- What did God create us to be?
- Are we living with a connection between the disparate parts of our being?
- Are we showing those we care about the most, our team, our organizations, our false self, or are we showing those we love, our team, our organization, our true self?
- Does our private world match our public world?
I recently retired from twenty-two years of military service: enlisted Marine, Army National Guardsman, and fourteen years as a Navy Chaplain. I’ve also pastored in a Christian drug and alcohol recovery program.
I have been in active Christian ministry for many years.
In my early ministry years, I struggled to live a connected life. Over my years of being a chaplain, especially in the context of being a chaplain aboard a deployed ship, I’ve learned to live how important it is, and what it means to live a connected life.
As I write this in October 2023, three months ago, I spent half a day with the pastors of a prominent local church. This group of pastors spanned the generations. I shared and spoke from my heart. Among other things, we talked about:
- Those who serve in ministry must master the art of soul care.
- We should minister to others out of our overflow (or at least a full well).
- We will not effectively care for others’ needs if we do not care for ourselves
More than ever, I am convinced of the importance of taking care of the souls of leaders.
The Critical Importance of Soul Care
A few days before the soul care workshop I watched the four-part FX Hillsong documentary on Hulu.
The series closely followed the rise and fall of Carl Lentz. In one of the episodes, Carl reflected on his public fall from grace. He said he had contacted Hillsong senior leadership and told them he could not sustain the pace to keep things going in Manhattan. His campus had grown exponentially - and he was tired.
He was effectively told there was no time to rest. He needed to keep pushing. His work for God in New York was too vital to stop. The result is public knowledge. He did not feel permission to take a break to care for his soul and family.
I spent most of my ministry life in the context of a para-church organization and the military. I have not spent much time in the local church. Ministering in the addiction recovery context, one sees firsthand the ravages of addiction and its dramatic destructive impact on the addict and those in their life.
In the military chaplaincy, we work in a secular environment and the daily cauldron of the most complex societal challenges. On occasion, we need to do this in the context of an operational deployment.
In both areas of ministry, if a minister does not effectively care for their soul when thrown into the boiling pot of deployment, his or her lack of soul care is quickly revealed.
Since I have done very little local church ministry, I spent time with a few local church pastors during my build-up to the workshop. I sought to understand the spiritual rigors of pastoring in the local church. One of my pastor friends told me that the rigors of chaplain ministry are not all that different than pastoral ministry in the local church. The challenges are different but no less intense.
One pastor described the pastoral ministry as being a frog dropped into a pot of water. Over time, as the temperature of the water is turned up, the frog allows itself to be boiled to death. He described the slow boil of pastoral ministry. Before you realize it, the damage is done. A family has been wrecked, a ministry has been damaged, and a reputation has been tarnished.
What can be done to avoid this sort of damage?
As leaders, we must embrace a soul care model which addresses the whole of our lives.
A Holistic Model of Soul Care
Not taking care of our souls has profound implications for a minister. Soul care is not simply taking care of the spiritual parts of ourselves. It is that, but it is much more. Soul care is holistic. My four-part holistic soul care model includes evaluation and work on my rhythms in four critical areas:
In her book, From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers, Bethany Dearborn Hiser helpfully defined soul care this way:
Soul care doesn’t just mean spiritual care. It means tending to our inner psychospiritual life, which affects our whole self. The Hebrew understanding of the self is holistic, with the body, soul, and spirit being interdependent. We are complex intertwined beings, with our soul, body, mind, and emotions all amazingly interconnected.
During one of my deployments as a Navy Chaplain, I provided spiritual care for 800 personnel. By all accounts, it was a successful deployment. After the seven months at sea were over, I sought to understand the how of my resilience (not perfect, but resilient nonetheless). This holistic model of soul care was what I assessed.
Not long after returning from deployment, I began a doctoral degree while being underway on board the same ship for a humanitarian relief mission in the aftermath of the catastrophic destruction of Hurricane Maria. During my 2019-2020 season of research and writing, several Christian leaders died by suicide, including Dan Patrick, Jaron Wilson, and Andrew Stoecklein. Over the past few years, other well-known Christian leaders (i.e., Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll, James McDonald) were revealed to have disconnects between their public and private lives.
As I was wrapping up my dissertation work, word began to come out about another leader who had spent his adult life speaking of the reality of the Christian God. The speaking and writing of Ravi Zacharias had a profound impact on people over four decades.
A Tragic Example
I first heard of Zacharias while serving as a Marine thirty years ago. He was an Indian-born Canadian-American apologist who founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). He was an accomplished speaker, debater, and author of over thirty books. He completed graduate work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and was ordained minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Through his worldwide ministry, Zacharias profoundly impacted the lives of many. Countless people were confronted with the truths of the Christian faith through his proclamation and his writing. Zacharias died of cancer in May 2020.
Tragically, the story of Ravi Zacharias tells the story of a disconnect between the emotional and spiritual parts of one person's nature. In September 2020, Christianity Today reported that RZIM had
opened an investigation into allegations that its late founder and namesake sexually harassed multiple massage therapists who worked at two-day spas he co-owned. Zacharias was alleged to have touched three women inappropriately and exposed himself, among other accusations, during regular treatments over a period of about five years.
The therapists filed the claims three months after Zacharias’s death and three years after he settled a case against another woman involving sexting allegations.
After a four-month investigation, the ministry released a report that confirmed
abuse by Zacharias at day spas he owned in Atlanta and uncovers five additional victims in the US, as well as evidence of sexual abuse in Thailand, India, and Malaysia. Even a limited review of Zacharias’s devices revealed contacts for more than 200 massage therapists in the US and Asia and hundreds of images of young women, including some that showed the women naked. Zacharias solicited and received photos until a few months before his death in May 2020 at age 74.
When he died, Zacharias was praised for his integrity, commitment to truth, and faithful witness. There was a chasm between his private and public worlds. The RZIM report noted
Ravi engaged in a series of extensive measures to conceal his behavior from his family, colleagues, and friends. However, we also recognize that in situations of prolonged abuse, there often exists structural, policy, and cultural problems,... We were trusted by our staff, our donors, and the public to mentor, oversee, and ensure the accountability of Ravi Zacharias, and in this we have failed.
The report noted that instead of “fostering an environment of truth-seeking and transparency, Mr. Zacharias was strident and inflammatory.” He referred to his critics as “’nasty people’ and ‘lunatics’ who were engaging in ‘satanic-type’ slander and falsehood.’” He was frustrated at having to offer an apology at all and convinced many at RZIM “that he was the victim of malicious ‘evil.’”
One wonders how this could happen. How could he maintain a reputation for truth-telling and a deeply intellectual defense of the Christian faith while at the same time abusing many women in multiple countries? There was a disconnect between Zacharias’ private inner life and his public life. I assume he did not involve himself in a soul care approach encompassing the whole of his person while he publicly carried on kingdom work.
We may sit in judgment on Zacharias. The truth is, we are apt to do the same thing. We want to deny the reality of what is going on in our lives.
Why This Post
My intent for writing this post was to set the stage for why I intend to focus my work in the next few months on writing a book I have tentatively called Living the Connected Life: Uniting the Leader’s Soul Care and Emotional Health and an online course and mastermind around the topic of my book and building effective an effective rhythm for your soul.
I pray this series of posts will provide space for the preventative work of continuous, proactive care of your soul.
To be sure you receive updates when I have posted new content and more information about my upcoming book, course, and mastermind, be sure to go here to sign up for my email list. I’ll send you my free Rhythm of Life Guide when you do.
Now that I have completed twenty-two years of military service, I’ve opened up time in my calendar for conversations about building your sustainable, flourishing life. I’d love to connect. Book your free call today!
I'd love your feedback and comments on what I wrote. Please shoot me an email from here.
Note: this post includes an Amazon Affiliate link from which I will receive a small commission.