Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 1 Thess 2:8
Indisputably, the Wizard of Oz is one of the most popular films of all time, and no film has been subjected to more fanciful interpretations. Philosophers and sociologists, economists and theologians, have all had a speculative field day putting their authoritative spin on the real meaning of Dorothy’s journey back to Kansas.
I’m no film critic, so I have nothing to add to the cinematic soothsayers and oracles. That being said, there is one moment in the movie that captures a critical period when the gospel began to disrupt my life as a leader, and launch me into a healing journey that continues to this day.
Do you remember the scene when Dorothy and her needy friends were huddling inside of Oz’s great palace, and the Wizard’s voice was thundering ominously, and his image was cast larger and scarier than life before them? To say they felt small and distant from Oz is a gross understatement. But all of the sudden, we see Toto, wagging his little doggy tail, strolling behind the curtains which barely veiled Oz, pushing and pulling leavers which projected his imaginary greatness.
Dorothy pursued her beloved pup, and, thus, Oz was exposed for who he really was—an ordinary man, just as weak as a courage-less lion, a brain-less straw man, a heart-less tin man, and a lost little girl. Dorothy invited him to come out into the community of the broken. Nobody needed Oz to be great, just real and present.
The reason why that scene means so much to me is because I pastored way too many years like Oz. I was convinced that my gospel and gifts could benefit a lot of people—and yet I was so insecure about who I was as a man, I developed a very utilitarian pastoral leadership model. My unspoken ministry mantra became: “I can do a lot of good things for you, but trust me, I don’t really have much to offer you as a person.”
I was transparent in the pulpit, but a stranger to vulnerability
I hid behind the curtains of busyness and productivity, theological rightness and relational brokenness, and under piles of shame and fear. I had tons of great acquaintances and many wonderful ministry colleagues; but I didn’t allow anyone to pursue my heart or enter my story. I was transparent in the pulpit, but a stranger to vulnerability. Then, God sent in Toto.
Sometimes God sends Toto in the form of a gentle zephyr of the Spirit; but, in my case, he came in more like Jonah’s giant fish. I didn’t need a nudge; I needed to be nuked by the gospel—the same gospel of radical grace I’d been preaching with passion to others for years. In particular, Toto came in the form of a burnout.
Right after my 50th birthday I hit the wall: emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. I didn’t have any mojo or motivation left to push the buttons and pull the leavers of my pastoral persona. I was toast—burnt toast. Hallelujah, for God chooses to send Toto into our lives.
In my case, Dorothy is actually Darlene—my awesome wife of nearly 44 years. Darlene was both a precursor and companion of Toto. Over the course of several years, she said three things, (as an agent of the Spirit), that I largely ignored, until my burnout.
- “Scotty, I’m not sure I really know who you are.” (Seven years into our marriage and 5 before I planted Christ Community Church)
- “Honey, why do you suppose you’re so much more alive in the pulpit than you are at home?” (After 3 years as an enthusiastic and “successful” church planter)
- “Scotty, I want to get healthy with you, but I will get healthy without you.” (After 10 years as senior pastor of CCC, when the church had grown from 5 couples to several thousand people).
Generously, my elders provided the structure and resources for me to begin the process of dealing with the repairable and repent-able parts of my life. I needed both healing and change—tender care and redemptive kicks. The wounds in my story didn’t justify the idols of my heart, but both needed major attention.
I needed a double immersion – one in the gospel of God’s grace and another in the community of God’s people.
Over the course of the past fifteen years, God has been incredibly kind, tenacious, and gracious. I’ve learned how to share my life and not just my gospel—as scary, at times, as it has been. I needed, and continue to need, a double immersion. An immersion in the gospel of God’s grace; and now, more than ever, an immersion in the community of God’s people.
Indeed, the gospel puts an end to all posing and pretending, all pastoral props and pretense, all Lone Ranger-ing and shame juggling. Come on out and be ordinary, broken, and beloved with the rest of us.