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How Church Can Hurt or Help Faith

“You make the church better, but it makes you worse,” a wife said to her husband. He couldn’t deny it was true so he became an X-Pastor.

He explained to Kristi and me that managing three departments and a hundred volunteers had activated his ambition and ego. He kept pushing and accomplishing for God, but the life was slowly draining out of his soul — and his family.

“It’s a stark reality that organizations tend to eat the souls of their servants” (Journey of the Soul, pp. 95-96).

Kristi teared up as he shared that his wife and children had been learning not to depend on him. Dad had an important job at the church and even when he wasn’t there his head was there so it was hard for him to be emotionally present.

But now he was in an extended season of rest and building into his marriage and family. To facilitate this some donors supported him in a nonprofit ministry. Mostly he was meeting with younger pastors to encourage them and talking with ministry leaders on how to help churches be healthy.

Kristi looked him in the eye, “You made a courageous decision.” Then she handed him a copy of Journey of the Soul, our new book that cultivates healthy faith and feelings.

As she put words to his experience this shined a light on the map of his soul. The Holy Spirit was drawing him into the Inner Journey. After many years of serving God with more and more responsibilities and carrying more and more weight and trying harder and harder to believe and do all the right things it was past time for him to attend to his heart and soul.

The Inner Journey is the I Stage in the CHRIST stages of faith that form a discipleship path for emotional and spiritual growth in Christlikeness.

The I Stage is an opportunity to participate in “the Father and Son intimacies and knowledge” (Matt. 11:27 MSG). We cry out to the Lord and our community, “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer… I call as my heart grows faint” (Ps. 61:1-2).

You might be in the I Stage or are being drawn there. Here are some Trail Markers:

  • Needing to feel your emotions
  • Wrestling with questions about your life and faith
  • Setting better boundaries on your work, ministry, and serving
  • Learning to rest, breathe, and be present to God and people in the moment
  • Benefiting from quiet prayer
  • Receiving and giving empathy
  • Seeking a deeper experience of God’s love

Church growth feeds off of having staff and volunteers who are using their gifts in the stage of Responsibilities in Ministry (the R Stage). This is a wonderful stage, but often after some years in the R Stage we hit a wall of burnout, faith crisis, compassion fatigue, depression, or spiritual dryness.

Tragically, at The Wall many people leave church or stop trusting Jesus.

Churches need help making space for people who are at The Wall and being drawn by the Spirit of Jesus into the I Stage. People need care and teaching on inner hurts and needs, relational conflicts, and longings for God’s love.

Here are some church ministries that help people get through The Wall and love one another with I Stage spirituality:

  • Emotionally honest small groups
  • Grief support
  • Recovery from addiction
  • Training in spiritual disciplines and soul care
  • Spiritual retreats
  • Meeting with a spiritual director who offers prayerful empathy

To learn more about how you or your church can cultivate healthy feelings and faith visit journeyofthesoul.org.


Listen to this week’s Soul Talks podcast: “5 Practices of Healthy Churches” We continue our series on Feelings & Faith with a Soul Talk centered around the 5 practices of healthy churches, and how to develop more emotional honesty with God and others. Listen in to hear Bill & Kristi share insights on the healing pathway of sadness, allowing God to meet our needs, and ministering God’s presence to others through our empathy.


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