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Pastors Need Biblical Soul Care

Pastors Need Biblical Soul Care

by Pastor Neal Grogan, OEF Marine Combat Veteran

Epilogue by Mike Ruff, Colonel, USAF, Retired & ACBC

To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
 - Ephesians 4:22–24 ESV

When I was nine years old, I was being bullied at school. They hurt me, disrespected me, and treated me like an outsider. One day during recess one when of these kids started to throw rocks at me, I snapped. I punched the bully and stopped him in that moment.

Recognizing that anger had provided my desired result, I submitted to a pattern of life in dealing with my issues from then on. If I felt hurt, disrespected, or attacked, I would respond in anger and stop the thing I didn’t like. I would have control at all costs. This cheap and reliable fuel source served me as a child to get what I desired ( control and approval) and it would further serve me in the United States Marine Corps. Tapping into my desire for control and approval, I used anger to deal with whatever issues I had. In Afghanistan, I exacted rage on my enemies. With my Marines, I would use anger to get them to do what I desired. Anger is a cheap and reliable fuel source, but it destroys the engine it powers.

Returning from Afghanistan, I used anger in the same ways. Instead of loving and caring for my bride, I used anger to try to manipulate her to do what I desired. This, of course, did not bode well, so I tried to suppress whatever I was feeling with alcohol. This led to a broken marriage—we spent a year and a half separated.

God finally dealt with my idols, desires, beliefs, and behaviors. I tasted the grace that Jesus provided on the cross. I found freedom in drawing near and a new heart of joy, love, faith, and hope in Christ. Galatians 5:1 (ESV) explains, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Through the help of some godly men, I began to wage war against my flesh and stand firm in Christ.

God began to restore my marriage as He taught me from the Word how to love my wife (Ephesians 5:25). My relationships that had been ruined by my need for approval and control were healed. God did all this and beyond what I could ever have asked him or imagined.

One tool God used was my vocation. He moved me from my career as a Marine and called me into a life of ministry. I ultimately became a pastor and even began working with other veterans and first responders with Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs. My church is next to Fort Hood, Texas, where I have the privilege of shepherding active-duty soldiers and sending them to new places on mission for the Lord. God has done exceedingly more than I could have ever thought.

One aspect of the Christian life we cannot neglect is putting off the old self. Being renewed in the Spirit of our mind and putting on the new is a continual process. On a particular occasion, I encountered some extreme relational strife and stress, and my response scared me. I responded in anger toward a fellow brother, and I yelled. I did not reflect Christ or treat my brother in Christ with the dignity and respect he deserved. I saw my old self very clearly in that moment. Immediately, I tried to reconcile by seeking forgiveness from both God and this brother. Then I called the other elders in my church. They counseled me and reminded me of God’s goodness and grace. But I was terrified. I believed in that moment the man I thought had died had come back. I was flooded with memories of destruction and sorrow I had caused in my pursuit of control and approval. The enemy continually hammered me with condemnation even though I was justified through Christ.

Working for Mighty Oaks, I often send our alumni to Fallen Soldiers March for biblical counseling. I encourage, believe in, and support biblical counseling. (I have even almost finished my M.Div. in biblical counseling at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.) After responding with old habits to my Christian brother, I was so scared and full of grief over what had happened that I knew I needed some additional support, and that Fallen Soldiers March could help me. I began counseling with Mike Ruff, a fellow shepherd who would remind me first of the hope I have in Christ. Romans 8:1 (ESV) says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." While I was spending my time sitting in condemnation, I had been forgetting I am in Christ! I am justified. I am no longer a debtor to the flesh!

Next Mike reminded me of Romans 7. I was in good company of men who wrestle with doing the things they hate and striving forward toward Christ. I had done something I hated, but that isn’t uncommon to man and there is always a way forward. Put off, renew, put on. This is what I began to engage in as I read Jim Newheiser’s book on anger and to interpret my circumstances and heart through a biblical lens.

Finally, Mike reminded me of the freedom I have in Christ and encouraged me that when I sin, I need to respond again in repentance and faith. He also reminded me that I must trust the Lord to work all things according to his good pleasure.

Why write this article?

Because pastors struggle, sin, and fail. There is an unspoken and unbiblical belief among pastors that the pastor cannot fail and when he does, he can’t go for others for help. This is a lie. I believe with every fiber of my being that pastors need to practice biblical counseling, but also to engage in it for themselves from time to time. I am so grateful I did, and the fruit it has borne in my heart is a treasure. If you are a minister of the Word and you hit a stuck point, there is a way forward. It is done in community and is Christocentric and Word centric. Therefore, take off, renew, put on.


Epilogue by Mike Ruff, Colonel, USAF, Retired & ACBC

I considered it a great privilege to walk with Neal for a brief season to biblically assess and work through the episode he describes above. It speaks to his humility that he did not mention he has a distinguished service record and experienced tough combat environments during his deployments. I am thankful for warriors like him who risk everything to serve their unit and our country. God had plans for him, and by the time I met Neal, he was well along the path of commitment to following Christ and serving His church.

As a counselor of God’s Word, the task of counseling another shepherd is often just one of reminding. It speaks volumes that Neal recognized his outburst of anger as an artifact of the old man. Although he handled the specific incident in biblical fashion, his earnestness of repentance (2 Corinthians 7:11) was made even clearer by his desire to seek counsel to take a closer look at it. If only all my counselees had this type of zeal! And as he notes above, the major truths we reviewed together included that the old man dies hard (Romans 7:13–24) and that the same gospel truth that saved him at conversion will continue to save him as he is shaped more and more into the image of Christ (Romans 8:1, 28–29).

It is my experience in counseling, and even in my own life, that besetting sins can be fiercely resilient. Sometimes even long after a person has experienced significant change and growth in righteousness, they may see that sin rear its ugly head again. When it does, it is important to remind the counselee that one incident does not define their identity, and to point them to Christ and the gospel. One of the most hope-filled verses in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 6:11 (NKJV): "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

Co-laboring with a fellow minister of God’s Word is a great blessing, and I am thankful to have sojourned a bit with Neal. I am excited to watch how God will continue to use him in kingdom work.

  by Mike Ruff


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