Is your life like the divine revelation of the Bible: unified, cohesive, and quietly, almost imperceptibly, telling one story? Or is your life more like a thousand singular memory verses: fragmented, polarized, and noisily, rather inelegantly, blurring the one story?
There is an Anglican bishop who concludes his interviews with candidates for Holy Orders by asking himself, “Is this a whole person seeking to express his wholeness through the ministry, or is this a person trying to find his wholeness in the ministry?”
As pastors, the unconscious agendas of a painful family-of-origin experience become the anonymous screenwriter for so much of our lives and ministries. Like a ghost-writer of the mega church pastor’s bestseller the unconscious agenda-maker is unseen, unattributed, and unknown, but exacts an enormous fee for his labors. The payment is collected, in this clerical case study, from the pastor and his family, as well as from the parishes, ministries, and associations served throughout an entire career. As an Ebola viral scare causes medical detectives to sketch lines of possible contact from an infected patient outward to the myriad others encountered, so, too, the one counseling an infected minister─infected by his own unhealed wound─has to draw lines from that person to others: from the pastor to his immediate family, neighbors, friends in high school, chums in college, students and professors in seminary, supervisors and parishioners in internships, and, often, multiple churches and ministries filled with hundreds of souls. And what of the infected pastor’s home? What about the wounded pastor’s adult children infected by a virus that they will now pass along to their own children? There will be others impacted by the unhealed wound, the unwritten chapter that demands completion. Some will have been helped by this unhealed wounded healer, but many will have become contaminated. Of course, each of the individuals in the ministers’ sphere of contact would have had their own unconscious agendas. This makes for a cauldron of chaos. We live in a very sinful world. Our congregations are phenomenal Petri dishes of innumerable strains of human sin. But a story is being written in the midst, with plots and sub-plots, themes and dialectical anti-themes, and it is, most often, a tragedy. It is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions given the paradoxical picture that it paints. This is a monochrome picture of a desperate, unseen “spirit” controlling a man of God who lives to help others find what he, too often, misses: life with meaning. As with so many other matters a theological cop-out becomes the only possible answer for this mystery shrouded in idiopathic pain. “Sure, this is,” we say, “God in His secret sovereign council writing this script.” Blaming God is a very popular thing to do in such times. These matters can be terribly messy and confusing to all; and that is an understatement if ever there was one.
The painful and pain-inflicting predicament of the minister’s unconscious agenda, being scripted out by the stalking ghost of an unfinished act from his family of origin can be redeemed by Jesus Christ. The unconscious agenda can be exposed and the unhealed, often festering wound can be successfully treated. Self-care can even be the beginning of healing. This is what I have meant in previous lectures and writings by my oft-repeated phrase, “your vocation is your sanctification.”
As Dr. J. Stephen Muse reminds us in his helpful book, Beside Still Waters, all of this soul clutter becomes “physic graffiti”─layers upon layers of experiences, failures, and even successes that cause us to see the world through defective lens. When Jesus calls us to get the log out of our own eye before we go removing splinters from others’ He is calling the vocational minister to a deeper operation than just “practice what you preach.” Indeed, so much of an infected pastor’s ministry can be as shallow as the axiom itself. Deep reading and deeper learning (and, thus, deeper teaching) are cut off by careless skimming of the text and thoughtless preparation of Sunday’s liturgy, as the controlling agendas push the pastor past Jesus’ words. The unconscious agenda-maker wants to write an ending to the play in the pastor’s life, but never wants the play to end with Jesus. Why? Because with Jesus the play will, in fact, end. A new play, infinitely healthier for all, will begin. But, this clinging to the old, familiar hurt is what we mean when we say, “she doesn’t want to be healed. She carries her pain around like an appendage.”
The hope for healing of the wounded pastor resides in the Gospel passage that must be preached and in the Biblical liturgy that must be led. Through Jesus’ stripes at the cross we are healed. We are healed as the Gospel is received into our stories as the only possible conclusion to those long ago, unfinished acts in our family histories. As Jesus the Lord is enthroned as the Redeemer, through faith in His life substituting for our own (and, in our minds, at least, for our forbearers), the unseen is located, the unattributed is named, and the unknown is discovered. The nocturnal specters of agonizing memories die beneath the dawning sunlight of redeeming grace. And the minister emerges as the one hoped for, who can not only “help people suffer for the right reasons,” but, also, live for the greater reasons. The redemption of all mankind is hardly affected by one pastor healed of the unconscious agendas that seem to control him. But one soul and one family and one congregation might be healed. Generations will follow them in the light they chose to walk in.
Then, will the prayers of endless Sunday services be answered in the healing of their redeemed pastor, renewed─sanctified─ in the same Word of Jesus of Nazareth that first gave him hope:
Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift: Send down upon our pastor, and upon this congregation committed to his care, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that he may truly please thee, pour upon him the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray. Amen.
 As recounted in Thomas Maeder. “Wounded Healers.” The Atlantic Monthly, January 1989, 42.
 I owe a debt of gratitude, as well as proper citation, to Dr. J. Stephen Muse, for his remarkably pastoral and helpful insights in J. Stephen Muse, “Keeping the Wellsprings of Ministry Clear,” in Beside Still Waters: Resources for Shepherds in the Market Place (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 1-20.
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972).
 For a more thorough discussion of ministering in the plots and sub-plots of ministry read M. Craig. Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009).
 See Roy M. Oswald, Clergy Self-care: Finding a Balance for Effective Ministry (Washington, D.C. (4125 Nebraska Ave., NW, Washington 20016): Alban Institute, 1991); and Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley, The Spiritual Leader’s Guide to Self-care (Bethesda, MD: Alban Institute, 2002).
 See, e.g., Michael A. Milton, “The Power to Pastor,” Breakpoint.Org, May 22, 2013, accessed October 17, 2014, http://www.breakpoint.org/wvc-digest/featured-articles/19772-the-power-to-pastor.
 J. Stephen Muse, Beside Still Waters: Resources for Shepherds in the Market Place (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000).
 Ibid., 9-10.
 Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer 1979 (New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2005), “For Clergy and People,” 817.
This post is part of lectures that will be printed together in a new pastoral theology book to be released by Christian Focus Publications in 2015.