The sun rose above him [Jacob] as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
-Genesis 32:31, NIV
While I was working as a security officer before I was ever married, I remember listening to a teaching on the Christian radio about leadership. Some prominent pastor, I do remember who, was quoted as saying,
“Never trust a leader without a limp.”
He is referencing the Genesis 32 story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of God. Jacob refuses to let go of this angel and is blessed in the end. However, he is touched in the hip and walks with a limp for the rest of his days.
It was a lesson in humility. The Jacob, the “grasp-er,” is taught through this metaphor that he is not all powerful and cannot always gain what he wants through sheer force. As Pastor Bob Sorge pointed out in a subsequent sermon I heard many years after that radio show, Jacob is no longer able to push as an out of joint hip is extremely painful. He must be more gentle.
I have perceived the absence of such a limp and its spiritual fruit in too many pastors and authors who write on divorce and infidelity. They have not personally experienced adultery or divorce in their own marriage situation. And this lack of a limp is telling in the arrogance in which they pontificate to infidelity survivors including to fellow pastors suffering such marital tragedies.
Denominations and churches are quick to “shoot” the limping divorced pastor or–at least–set up barriers difficult for a limping pastor to clear in order to stay.
What a tragedy!
The very thing that God is using to qualify this pastor to minister to hurting sheep is used to disqualify him or her in the eyes of “man.” Instead, the Church is filled with limp-less leaders* arrogantly pontificating on how the limping sheep really ought to be sprinting right now! They have not experienced or learned from life’s sensitizing losses and griefs. The humility and gentleness is not there. I cannot tell you how many pastors I encountered in my experience who were too willing to proscribe “care” for me without ever asking me how they may best help me. They did not see that they could learn from a pastor with a limp.
Such pastors foolishly believe or–at least–teach that they have the power to keep their spouses from choosing infidelity and/or abandonment. They think they–like Jacob before wrestling the angel–control their destiny. Just grab your marriage by being a good leader or perfectly submissive wife. Too many push “The Shared Responsibility Lie” dressing it up in “god” language. Recognition of true vulnerability is to be avoided at all costs!
It is tragic.
And the sheep suffer.
Give me a Christian leader willing to show me his scars and life wounds any day over a cock-sure leader who thinks he knows what “I need!”
Today, I do not see sharing that I survived my first wife’s adultery and divorce as detriments to my ministry. They are at its heart here on this blog and elsewhere.
Those are my scars.
They tell fellow suffering sheep that this is a safe shepherd who can relate to their pain. Who has experienced life’s humbling curve balls. And who can help them in their desert experience as this shepherd has lived in a similar desert himself. And survived.
The experience of getting these scars have humbled and changed me. I do not look at divorce and infidelity like I once did. And I never will.
But I am not ashamed!
*I want to be clear that pastors can use other difficult experiences to build humility and empathy. It does not have to be the experience of marriage loss or surviving infidelity to learn these important lessons. Maybe they lost a child? Maybe they struggled with an illness? Maybe a friend or family member died by suicide? These sort of trials can produce humility if the pastor allows God to redeem such tragedy. They can teach the lesson that we are not God and are not in control of everything. That is an important lesson and perspective a leader needs to master, IMO.