Spiritual, Psychological, or Both?

If somebody said that two plus two equals five, would you say, “That’s not the right answer, but if you take this pill it’ll change your mind.”? Of course you wouldn’t. Why not? Because their body isn’t the problem. Their thinking is incorrect, which means their mind needs to change.

If somebody had the flu, would you say, “Just imagine yourself feeling better, and your health will improve”? That’s nonsense. Why? Because it’s the body that’s sick, and the body that needs to heal. The mind isn’t directly involved.

Hopefully those two cases were obvious. But sometimes the mind and the body are interrelated. Our thinking is often influenced, or even governed, by chemical reactions. A chemical imbalance (a body problem) can interfere with sound thinking (a mind problem). And we train ourselves to react to certain thoughts in specific ways. For example, we sometimes deal with fear (a mind problem) by taking a deep breath (a body reaction).

Why am I talking about the mind and the body, when the original question was about the mind and the spirit? Because the relationship between mind and body is akin to the relationship between mind and spirit.

People are composed of four distinct but interrelated parts: body, mind, spirit, and soul (aka emotion). Each of these four can have problems of its own, and each of these four can have problems that are interrelated with one or more of the others. And sometimes a problem in one can manifest symptoms in another. We can see all four at work in Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal {to your emotions} … by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV, emphasis and bracketed text added).

So to ask “spiritual, psychological, or both?” is like asking, “If I feel a tingling in my feet, should I see a cardiologist or a podiatrist?” The answer is “either, neither, or both, on a case-by-case basis.” Maybe you have a problem with the nerves and muscles of the feet themselves, or maybe heart disease is inhibiting blood flow to your extremities. Or maybe you’ve just been sitting on your feet on the floor for too long, and need to get up and walk around a bit.

It sounds like the pastor in the article from Leadership Journal initially faced a situation about his spirit. He wasn’t seeing the connectivity with God and the growth in his church that he was accustomed to. He thought that he should expect big results all the time, which is incorrect (in other words, a problem with his mind).  Seeing himself as a failure, he felt bad (a soul problem) and sought to deal with his pain by medicating it with a drug called pornography, and by retreating from the source of his pain (in his case, anemic church life) and into something else (in his case, fantasy sports). These sins created distance between him and God, resulting in passionless prayer for himself and spiritual stagnation in his church. This completed the loop, creating a vicious circle and feeding a downward spiral.

With so much going on, where to begin? My guess (keeping in mind that I am not an expert or a therapist, and that I have neither met nor talked to the pastor mentioned in the article) is that the pastor is burned out. No pastor can maintain vigorous church growth all the time without help.

First, I would look for a way to gently suggest that the work of God in a church is too important and too exhausting to be carried by any one man for very long. Therefore, he should hand off his leadership responsibilities temporarily and take a leave of absence so he can focus on his many issues instead. In my opinion, it would be wise for any church to plan in advance for its pastors to take leaves of absences according to a predetermined schedule.

Then, let’s be honest about the pornography. Does anyone reading the article really believe that this pastor is merely tempted with pornography? In this Internet age, so much content is so readily available that I’d be less shocked to hear a confession of pornographic sin and more shocked to hear of any man in this nation who is so bold as to claim that he remains unaffected by our increasingly pornographic culture. This pastor needs to confess his sin (not just the presence of it, but also the extent of it) to another pastor more senior than he, and submit to that pastor’s determination as to whether counseling is sufficient or therapy is advisable.

Either way, this pastor’s mind and emotions both need healing. Pornography is a huge lie, and his mind fallen under its spell. The lie needs to be exposed and disavowed, and the truth needs to be actively understood so it can take root. Just as healthy grass in a lawn is the best prevention against weeds, in the same way believing the truth about God’s plan for sex is, in my opinion, the best way to dispel the allure of pornography. And what is that plan? Here’s a clue: “… as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … In the same way husbands should love their wives … ” (Ephesians 5:25-28, ESV, emphasis added)

My hope and prayer is that this pastor will quickly seek the help he needs. Perhaps, once he properly understands that church growth and depth don’t depend entirely on him, and he confesses and repents of his addictions, then he can eventually be restored to ministry even stronger than before. But if he does not, then his sin, when it is full-grown, will lead to the death of his pastoral ministry and may even cause literal death to himself and/or others (James 1:15).

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