Longing for Intimacy as a Motivation
Longing for Intimacy as a Motivation
So the need for approval and the desire for validation are wrong motivations for entering upon a preaching ministry. Longing for intimacy as a motivation for preaching is also a wrong. We’re going to explore that in this post.
Explanation of a Longing for Intimacy
I had been in ministry for about 3 years when I first began to look carefully at my motivations for becoming a preacher and pastor. It was in a training seminar where I was learning to help others discover their spiritual gifts. I remember feeling some amazement that all the men at the seminar (at that time ministry in my denomination was limited to males) spoke negatively about ministry and the impact of preaching. All of them had more ministry experience than I possessed, and, it seemed, most of them were pretty cynical. After a couple of days interacting with them, I began to take on the atmosphere of negativity that pervaded the group.
I am thankful today, all these years later, for one of the people leading the workshop. During a break he asked me to join him in a stairwell. He confronted me and said something like, “Bruce, you have some gifts for ministry and could do good things in the kingdom. But if you become negative, you will become ineffective in channeling God’s love and power. You should look at your motivation again for entering this work.”
At first, I was shocked. Then I became angry. And finally, I thought about what he said. What was my motivation for ministry, for preaching? I realized that several things drove me to prepare for ministry. A sense of calling, certainly. A desire for approval and validation, as I reflected in the previous posts. But most of all, I wanted to make a difference with people. I wanted to connect with people, to be a channel of healing in lives, to see people become Christians.
A Wrong Motivation
Most people who enter ministry want to connect with people. This is not true for all of us, certainly, but a large portion of us are drawn to the connect with people and help them experience meaning in their lives, as well as correction when needed.
Many second career people in ministry will verbalize this reality. They no longer are satisfied with creating widgets or selling them. They want to be involved in the lives of people. Maybe this is you!
On the surface, it doesn’t appear that anything is wrong with this motivation, but let me say it again: the longing for intimacy as a motivation for preaching and ministry is wrong.
So, what’s wrong with it? Again, this focuses on your need to connect with people, to assuage the loneliness and isolation that you may be experiencing.
Longing for Intimacy is a Dangerous Motivation
If you are someone who has an intimacy deficit, this motivation can become dangerous. It can lead to the downfall of preachers and pastors. As you preach, you connect with people. Those people then may come to you with their problems, and the results can be devastating if you don’t understand personal boundaries. Here’s a lengthy quote of how this happens from familyfire.com describing how this can happen:
For all of us, intimacy has several facets, or doors. In every relationship at home, work, or play, we open those doors a certain amount as we build trust with one another. Sometimes, we open them inappropriately. We might name four doors of intimacy: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual, and these are all connected.
In our daily interactions, we continually open and close each one an appropriate amount, depending on the type of relationship… Solving a problem with a co-worker opens an intellectual door a bit. At home, however, we strive to open these doors widely so our marriages and families stay deeply invested with one another.
Pastors, as an occupational group, can face unusual pressures in maintaining intimacy in the right places. Some fall into sin by practicing bad boundaries and betraying their flock. Some abusers use intimacy in one area to manipulate their victims, using power to prey on emotion and take sexual advantage.
Emotionally, the minister is often the first person to hear about the concerns and heartaches of his congregation. That requires an unusual amount of emotional investment as part of the job. Furthermore, because of confidentiality, he or she often cannot share those emotional burdens with their spouse. That raises natural but definite barriers at home. The minister may also be emotionally fed and affirmed by people who share intimate details and personal emotional concerns. A pastor may begin to reciprocate that emotional investment. Barriers at home and affirmation on the job present a self-reinforcing danger to pastors. They must be very careful where they invest their emotional energy.
Spiritual intimacy happens when we pray together and look to each other’s spiritual needs. This kind of care for
others is at the heart of the minister’s role. Spending time with the spiritually fragile, praying over hurting or frightened parishioners, wrestling through hardships or hard questions, these are all part of the job, and all push the doors of intimacy just a bit wider. Spiritual intimacy in the home, praying for and with your spouse and family, are valuable ways that spiritual intimacy is built. Yet, a pastor’s spouse often sits alone on Sundays and misses the blessing of shared spiritual practice together. Building spiritual intimacy in the parsonage takes an intentional effort, especially when it’s your day job.
Physically, a pastoral role constantly calls for some level of physical presence. It might be a hand on shoulder during prayer, or a closed door for private confession and conversation, or even just being a leader who stands in front of people and is constantly seen. Being physically present is an important part of spiritual care. But, escalating physical privacy or finding excuses to spend time with someone who is already intellectually or emotionally close should be a major warning sign that a relationship is becoming inappropriately intimate.
Serially abusive pastors may start with apparent emotional vulnerability and then escalate slowly to increasing physical interactions, often with apologies and prayers even as they continue to push sexual boundaries that should be sacred to their office.
So how do you remain connected with people, but avoid the problems?
- Develop intimacy at home as much as possible. Keep those doors open.
- If your marriage (if you are married) is unhealthy, get help.
- Cultivate a deep intimacy with God.
- Be aware of your motivations.
This is an area where many people need professional help. Please consider it as you look at longing for intimacy as a motivation for your own preaching ministry.