How I Lost My Mind and Found My Heart
How I Lost My Mind and Found My Heart, by Louis Angone, 2007.
Louis Angone here gives us a “report from the trenches,” concerning the personal life and leadership efforts of a pastor—a successful pastor. He starts, as most do, from the simplified version of life and ministry apt to befall a young person entering “full-time Christian service” in evangelical circles. Then he begins to encounter the personal heartbreaks and ministerial realities that drive him from his pretty pictures of God, salvation, and work for the Lord (in his “head”) to an understanding and practice (in his “heart”) that enables us to be “more than conquerors” in the gritty circumstances of personal and congregational life.
Very few who enter pastoral leadership are exempt from this transition, with its many variations, and it poses a fundamental problem for the Church in our day. The life of the minister and family is very difficult now, and it is no accident that there is such a high percentage of dropouts, personal breakdowns, and people who are just managing to “hold on,” among those who enter pastoral roles. There are many ordained people who are no longer in pastoral roles, and many who are in seminary training with no intention of being a pastor or on church staff—often for quite good reasons, no doubt.
There are two primary temptations besetting those who enter a pastoral role at the congregational level. The first is to rely upon your own abilities and attainments. This is what Paul, in his letters, calls “flesh” (Phil. 3:4-8, I Cor. 3:3-4; cp. II Cor. 3:2-6). “Flesh” is not in itself a bad thing, but it becomes bad when it is taken as ultimate recourse (Rom. 8:5-8, Gal. 5:19-21). The leader in a congregation is expected to perform, and that is easily understood as “taking charge” and making “it” happen. If they have not already learned how to proceed in the power of God, serving under the Trinity-in-action, then frustration, failure, and eventual breakdown or burnout is almost certain. Either that, or they have to go through the transition from head to heart which the author describes. It is a rough but hopeful transition, once you know what is happening.
The second temptation is to forego character transformation into Christlikeness. As a pastor once said to me, “They don’t pay us to grow spiritually.” And often “they” don’t even know it is an issue—in spite of the widely publicized character failures of which everyone must know of nowadays. The pressure on performance and the idea that a pastor must, somehow, already “be there,” conspire to blind both pastor and congregation to unhealed sources of weakness and sin in the leader’s life. Real issues of spiritual formation and failure are thrust aside, sometimes “for the sake of the ministry,” sometimes because of a theology that says people don’t really get better until they die.
Moving from the “head” to the “heart”—to who you really are, whole life, minister and person all of one piece—is not really a necessity that our congregations recognize or that our seminaries (with very few exceptions) make any provision for. They are almost entirely into “head” stuff as the essentials. They show little care or competence for the messy business of real life: even real “Christian” life. The words of the prophet Jeremiah to Israel have a timelessly contemporary ring to them: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (2:13). This is not to scold, but the diagnose, to help us understand what is happening in our congregations and their leaders: why things go as they usually do in church-life.
Louis Angone gives us an intense personal testimony of his trip from the head to the heart. He speaks eloquently of the emptiness, powerlessness and pain of the “head” life, of how the Holy Spirit moves in the seeking soul, of the centrality of “thought dynamics” to how our life goes and how to deal with them, of venturing into God’s actions for ministry, and of the stark realities of church life as a concrete reality. With imagination and ingenuity, he sets before us not only his own transition, but how anyone can follow the Lord on the path of personal transformation and of working in Trinitarian power. Not only leaders, but also all who are seriously engaged in congregational life will benefit from a thoughtful and prayerful reading of this book.
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