(A Note: Ted is an amalgamation of 10-15 different students I’ve come to know teaching at three different seminaries.)
Ted was a student of mine in seminary, with a theological mind second to none, and a relational winsomeness that won over his fellow students, the faculty, and staff of the seminary.
When Ted graduated, he’d already put in his fair share of time interning and serving, and had been pre-approved to church plant. And he was off to the races, with a supportive wife, an ability to fundraise unlike any other, and a well-crafted vision for an urban area in need of a vital Christian community.
I write about Ted not as a success story, though he made the cover of a seminary magazine. No, Ted is a warning – be careful about who you think is “put-together.” Despite my counseling background and nose for narcissists, I loved Ted. I believed in him. In fact, as one of his committee advisors, I not only approved but endorsed him to donors, to the regional pastors, and to the denomination. And my stamp of approval counted.
Ted looked healthy. He was good looking, as was his wife…and his abilities were well-beyond mine and many others. But Ted had demons. I didn’t ask, in large part because I was so impressed by him. I thought, “Finally, a normal one!” as I passed him through committee. But Ted’s dark sub-text eluded me.
Ted had been sexually abused. His sharp, glittering exterior masked a sad, insecure interior. Despite his seemingly happy marriage, he longed for the affirmation his abusive uncle gave him, seeking it out in people like me. And I (a therapist) couldn’t tell. He was a controlling husband, and his wife (who was dutifully obliged to support him at his church planting assessment) held her pain like a soldier who endures multiple kills to impress his superiors. I had to be convinced, like I’ve never had to be convinced, that he had major issues. And what about my own – why had I missed this? I, too, checked back into counseling, to explore my own blind-spots.
Are you Ted? You see, Ted sensed that something was off in seminary, but he never told me. He felt like he had to impress me – to be approved, affirmed, ordained.
Are you Ted’s wife, holding the pain in a way that feels unsustainable?
Are you Ted’s congregation, impressed by his glittering image but sensing that something is off?
I want to tell you this: that with all of the skill of an MA in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology, I was as duped as you are. It happens. But the gift you can give pastors like Ted is your honesty, that intuitive sense that something is not right.
Ted left the ministry. Ted left his wife. He spent several years in therapy before emerging on the other side, humbled. He now works as a Chaplain (God forbid – isn’t that for pastors who can’t get jobs?). He works in a hospital where he simply meets people where they are, in their pain. No fundraising. No slick package. No success story. So much of what Ted does is hidden some plain sight, the secret treasure of a young girl dying of cancer or an older man fighting for his last breath.
He’s allowed every part of him to feel the redeeming Love of a God who doesn’t seek to affirm the successful, but longs to embrace the broken.
Ted is now a pastor. And I’d gladly give him my seat – the gatekeepers seat – and learn from him the way of humility.