By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments
While completing an article on narcissism and leadership, I wondered if the title, “The Dark Side of Narcissism,” was too strong. It almost seemed too extreme, too radical, and too controversial a title for a mainstream evangelical article on Christian ministry.

Could it be true?

While wavering on the final decision on the article’s title, I happened to come across Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima’s book Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox Of Personal Dysfunction (Baker Books, 1997). Maybe it wasn’t too radical an idea after all. Maybe there really is a “dark side” to leadership.
Why should pastors and Christian leaders be immune from this phenomenon? Like the rest of the world, we too have “fallen short of the glory of God.” Prominent examples in Christian media such as Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Bakker signal to us that even the most successful and prominent Christian leaders have a dark side.
Don’t be mistaken. It’s not just the “big fish” of evangelicalism who have a dark side. Whether you know it or not, whether or not you’ve been torn apart and run through the excruciating existential struggle, you soon will be. The dark side is there…to be controlled or to control you.
   Who’s Susceptible?
The dark side resides in all of us. It is our inheritance from the original sin of Adam and Eve. Certainly if holy Jesus experienced true temptation to succumb to the dark side, how would any of us who are not sinless expect not to somehow, some way, sometime have to wrestle with the sudden, unexpected emergence of the dark side?
We may have been able to keep it at bay. Perhaps our drive for success, our ambition for lofty goals, our never-ending pursuit of recognition, or our desire to single-handedly bring order out of chaos covered its existence. As we strove tirelessly for these amazing, unprecedented, God-pleasing goals, our focus was diverted from the dark side.
The dark side was there. It was feeding on the unquenchable desire for success, recognition, advancement, growth, mastery, control, respect, success, acceptance, and reward. As the dark side continued to grow, it began to prepare for a sudden unexpected attack. As soon as any of these desires were severely frustrated, the dark side erupted, pouncing on its prey.
What Triggers The Dark Side
It is the deep inner wound which triggers the dark side. The wound can be nearly any traumatic life event in the family, in the church, or in one’s “flow” of life. McIntosh and Rima definition explains its origin.

“The dark side, though sounding quite sinister, is actually a natural result of human development. It is the inner urges, compulsions and dysfunctions of our personality that often go unexamined or remain unknown to us until we experience an emotional explosion…or some other significant problem that causes us to search for a reason why….denial and repression along with the resulting emotional explosion are particularly common among religious leaders who feel the constant need to be in total control of their lives so they can minister effectively to others. Regardless of how sudden the explosion may seem, it has been in the making since childhood.” (Overcoming…, p. 22-23)
What’s Your “DSSQ”?  
How can you tell to what degree you’re susceptible to the effects of your dark side? Your “Dark Side Susceptibility Quotient” (“DSSQ”) can be computed by the following basic formula:

Drive to Achieve + Unmet Needs + Existential Debt + Direction =   DSSQ

DSSQ Components
1) Drive to Achieve: This refers to the degree to which one strives to excel, to lead a congregation to superior ministry, to be an over-responsible, recognized, overachiever. The drive to achieve is also demonstrated by a total immersion in the desire to completely and perfectly satisfy congregational expectations at the expense of your own. The stronger the drive, the more insatiable the need, and the greater the susceptibility to the dark side.
The fact that you don’t believe this can be you now doesn’t make you immune. It simply demonstrates how strongly the dark side can be repressed. That is specifically why it is a “dark” side. You think you’re totally and absolutely committed to ministry. Perhaps you’re offended by any suggestion that your undifferentiated sacrifice is anything but God-driven. But you may be wrong. Very, very wrong. Watch out! The dark side is ready to overtake and overwhelm anyone who might be vulnerable…even you.
2) Unmet Needs: What are the deep, inner emotional longings that you are working so tirelessly to satisfy? What is the energy within that makes you so desirous to avoid rejection, failure, disagreement, chaos, confusion, frustration, and rejection? No matter how zealously one covers up these needs by supererogation, the “Dark Side” must be attended to. It can’t be ignored. Sooner or later it will surface as depression, loneliness, sexual promiscuity, alcoholism, intimacy crises, etc.
Ultimately the entire focus of every human being is to fill the longing and restlessness of that which is missing from childhood, adolescence, or any developmental phase.
3) Existential Debt:
James MacGregor Burns refers to “existential debts” as
“the belief that our unmet need is our fault and we must somehow satisfy it. An existential debt is created in our life as the result of a particularly traumatic event, again usually experienced in childhood” (Overcoming…, p. 58).
Why were you always abused, rejected, humiliated, shamed, unrecognized and neglected? Who really caused your parents’ divorce? Why did a family member become disabled or die? Why did your real parents reject you? Why was anything you did never good enough? Why did they make you think you were so ugly?

“When people feel they owe an existential debt of this nature, it is a powerful contributing factor in the development of their dark side. In many instances their entire adult life will be spent in a subconscious effort to repay the debt. Obviously they believe the more significant their activities and accomplishments are…the greater the likelihood of repaying the debt” (Overcoming…, p. 59).
The belief that you deserved the above parental responses are the basis of your dark side. The degree of the intensity of one’s industriousness may well be proportionate to the intensity of the unpaid existential debt.
The greater the intensity of industriousness, the greater the unpaid existential debt. Until you deal with the painful developmental issues presented by this issues, you will find every symptom relief-based strategy ineffective. The pain will remain.
Unconditional love, acceptance, trust and intimacy are vital for our existence. To the extent you have not received or experienced this important basis of self from significant relationships (e.g. parents, siblings, etc.), one seeks to “make up” for the “deficit” by paying it off.
Stellar performances, impeccable behavior, remarkable leadership accomplishments, etc. do spring from faith and dedication. But they are also intricately directed toward fulfilling the deficits we experienced…and continue to experience…since childhood.
4) Direction: This part of the DSSQ equation is the most critical because it determines whether the resulting encounter with the dark side will be directed in positive or negative ways. The greater the degree of intensity of 1, 2, and 3 above, the more difficult it will be to maintain a positive response.
Indeed, the pitfalls of the dark side–illicit affairs, indecent and improper behaviors, illegal and/or improper dealings with the congregation, etc.–may become nearly impossible to overcome.
Eruptive Factors
What things cause the unsettling eruptions of the dark side?
Boundaries guru Dr. Henry Cloud in his remarkable book, Changes That Heal: How To Understand Your Past To Ensure A Healthier Future (Zondervan, 1992), suggests the dark side is a result of severe pain, injury, or trauma during critical times of development. When parents are abusive or absent, or when they force children to take on age-inappropriate adult roles, the developmental tasks are forced underground. These unattended to developmental phases lurk deep in the unconscious as the dark side.
This is often not a conscious process. Instead it is pain and injury which often forces these underground issues to the surface. When “normal” ways of maintaining equilibrium and keeping the dark side down fail (e.g. over-achievement, perfectionism, compulsive control, seeking approval, etc.), adults experience the most intense dizzy reeling of their lives.
They know they are out of control. They know something really, really unusual is happening in their lives. They just don’t know that its the dark side at work unearthing the unfinished business of development.
A Listing Of Eruptive Triggers
The following is a partial listing of some eruptive factors. The greater the number and severity of these eruptive forces, the greater the exposure to one’s dark side…and the greater the potential for succumbing to its forces.

1) Personal dysfunction;
2) Immersion and/or (co-)dependency on an activity or person for happiness;
3) Failure of critical coping relationships with significant others;
4) Severe interpersonal and/or congregational conflict (especially Lea’s Levels IV-V);
5) Failure and/or irrational dashing of expectations;
6) Loneliness;
7) Violation of self exposed;
8) Confronting the reality of one’s true gifts, abilities, and identity;
9) Challenge to one’s personal integrity;
10) Frustration in the realization of one’s significance;
11) Feeling of inability to escape dire consequences;
12) Major breach of trust by others;
13) Unfair, unpredictable outcomes;
14) Sense of total powerlessness in areas formerly though to be “in control”;
15) Breakdown and/or failure of intimacy in key relationships;
16) Relentless searching (“Why?”);
17) Inability to bring grief to closure;
18) Inability to “let go” of the deep sense of hurt;
19) Sudden termination (just or unjust) or rejection of ministry;
20) Recognizing the truth that one’s system role can’t be “faked”;
21) Spiritual breakdown;
22) Ongoing effect of inability to meet expectations promoted by various movements or “politically correct” strategies/programs (e.g. Church Growth, Leadership, Church Planting, para-church interventions, capital fund raisers, denominational programs, etc.);
23) Physical changes (e.g. disabilities, effects of maturity and aging, weight changes, etc.)
24) Emotional changes, especially those due to endocrinal, metabolic and various other diagnosed or undiagnosed disorders (e.g. thyroid, pancreas, estrogen, etc.);
25) Side affects of medications (e.g. allergic reactions and incompatibility of medications to one’s individual system);
26) Mid-life crises (yes, there can be more than one!);
27) Spiritually transformative processes; and
28) Other major changes, especially those one cannot control.

The potential for dark side eruptions is especially strong when family frustrations (marriage, adolescent struggles, death or loss) coincide with deep disappointments in one’s ministry vocation.

Defense Against The Dark Side
Given the congregational havoc and personal and familial devastation the dark side can wreak, defense against the dark side is essential.
Prevention, of course, is always better and easier than the cure. Unfortunately, the sudden eruptive nature of the exposure to the dark side frequently defies prevention. Since the dark side often is unnoticed until it surfaces, one may not recognize the need for defense until it’s too late. When the dam breaks, it breaks suddenly and overwhelmingly, sweeping away nearly every spiritual, emotional, and physical resource available.
No wonder that those surprised by the dark side experience negative mega-shifts in energy, motivation, outlook, vision, and purpose. Getting these back is not just a matter of “attitude.” It’s a matter of recognizing and participating in the long-term growth process. It’s a matter of making a rigid scrutiny of one’s self and then totally rebuilding one’s self fragile piece by fragile piece over the period of months or years.
Truth be told, one never can “go back” to the way they were. When the developmental issues of the dark side are addressed, you will be changed. If one resists dealing with the developmental issues, one will stagnate into a lonely emptiness.
“Stagnation is seen often in people who abuse substances such as drugs and alcohol. Their emotional development likely stopped at the age they began to escape life through substance abuse. One cannot grow when one no longer participates in life” (Changes That Heal, p. 39).
Leadership Styles Susceptible To The Dark Side*
Certainly everyone is susceptible to their dark side issues. Christian leaders are certainly not immune. These issues can be reasons for remarkable ministry effectiveness and success. They can also be the reasons behind staff conflicts, leadership ineffectiveness, loss of vision, and various breakdowns of professional and personal life.
McIntosh and Rima identify and describe the following commonly found susceptible leadership styles in Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, pp. 85 ff..
1) The Compulsive Leader
Seeing little or no differentiation between the leader and the organization, the compulsive leader “considers the organization’s performance to be a direct reflection on his or her own person and performance” (Overcoming…, p. 87). Driven to attaining reassurance and commendation from their superiors, they often go out of their way to gain their superior’s attention, recognition, reassurance and favor.
Marked by a passionate, perfectionistic drive for excellence, their outward appearance of order, perfection, morality, and rigidly planned life simply mask the inability to share the rebellious feelings of anger and frustration.
2) The Narcissistic Leader
This is the leader who is “bigger than life” in his or her own mind. Like King Solomon, they are not interested in simply “succeeding” their predecessor. They are out to make a legacy of world-greatness. No price is too large to subsidize their grandiose, insatiable yearning for eternality. McIntosh and Rima note,
“When image is everything, no price is too high–especially when being paid for by others” (Overcoming…, p. 97).
Getting the job done–in spite of traditions or laws and at any cost regardless of the consequences on others–is the most crass manifestation of the narcissistic leader at work. It is, in the final analysis, the manifestation of the dark side.
3) The Paranoid Leader
Though some may be extraordinarily gifted, paranoid leaders are driven by irrational fear and suspicion. Highly sensitive and prone to over-reactivity, they “are constantly attaching subversive meanings and motives to the most innocent actions of others in their organization” (Theodore Millon, Disorders of Personality, New York: Wiley and Sons, 1981, p. 373).
Paranoid leaders tend to be detached and avoid intimate relationships. This inability to trust manifests itself in distrust of other leaders, staff, and well-intended ministry supporters. When distrust occurs, often it is when others start receiving recognition and approval the paranoid leader desperately craves and monopolizes.
Rigid organizational structures and extensive systems of control defend the paranoid leader from the authoritarian threats. They also give a legalistic justification for retaliation for whatever suspicions might arise. Lastly, such authoritarian structures limit others’ exposure to affirmation, support and approval.
4) The Codependent Leader
Referring to his traumatic childhood in a torn and traumatized abusive, alcoholic family in which his father was absent,  United States President William Jefferson Blythe Clinton remarked, “I was the father.” (David Maraniss, First In His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, p. 30).
Codependent leaders are most marked by an heroic, extensive and incessant use of coping mechanisms to sometimes destructive and self-destructive extremes. Denial, projection, counterbalancing pain, lying, redefining, covering up, keeping secrets, “blocking out” and the ability to justify virtually any behavior are just some examples. Whatever the coping mechanism used, the dark side is that the codependent leader “was never given an outlet for the painful and confusing emotions [they] doubtless felt” (Overcoming..., p. 116).
Driven by their past painful experience and familiarity with dealing with the chaotic, codependent leaders are most readily identified by their drivenness to keep peace and easing pain. Frequently codependents will operate by oppressive rules which restrict communication and open feelings–and preclude healthy passage through developmental stages.
Whereas the narcissist’s vision may be radical, cosmic change, the codependent’s vision is maintenance, peace, predictability and painlessness.
Reactivity is especially characteristic of codependents. Used to self-blame and taking responsibility for everything personally, “They react to the pain, problems and behaviors of others in an effort to balance the family system, cover up the family problems, and maintain peace in their relationships” (Confronting…, p. 121).
Failure to confront and deal with inappropriate behaviors, fear of hurting others’ feelings, people-pleasing, and being too willing to take responsibility for others often cripple the codependent leader. Failure in these areas can–and does–trigger the explosive emergence of their dark side issues.
5) The Passive-Aggressive Leader
The catalog listing is in no way complete. Other leadership categories such as “dramatic,” “depressive,” and “schizoid” may also be suggested as well as others. McIntosh and Rima in Overcoming… provide a series of inventories to assist those wishing to further identify their identified dark-side-susceptible leadership styles. Ministry Health‘s “Dark Side Inventory” , article 276, contains a similar analytical instrument.
Other Observations
These leadership styles are not unique to pastors and other Christian leaders. They are also characteristic of lay leaders and congregational members, and typify congregational personalities, too.
Could it be that a matching of developmental needs is one of the predominant factors influencing congregational life? Could it be that a narcissistic pastor in a narcissistic congregation may have enormous potential for world-wide evangelism while a compulsive pastor in a paranoid congregation may be forever entangled in frustration and conflict? Could it be that ministry growth and effectiveness is less than a “how to” proposition and more of a “dark side” phenomenon?
In a statistical study for completion of my M.S.A. degree, I studied a random sample of 35 congregations in Michigan District-LCMS congregations, seeking to find what relationship, if any, there was between the number of leadership training events held per year and growth in worship attendance and offerings.
Statistical analyses demonstrated there was no correlation or significant relationship at all between training events and worship attendance and offerings. Though the results of this study are much too small to generalize, it does raise the greater question: “What things really influence congregational health?”
Healing The Dark Side
Healing the dark side begins with the painful enlightenment of its existence. Unfortunately, this generally occurs only through excruciating traumatic experiences. Once experienced, what things can be done to give relief and work towards healing?
1) Recognize The Nature Of The Pain–It’s Spiritual!
The most intense emotional pain is often spiritual pain. Such pain permeates the entire essence and soul of one’s being. This pain also prompts the body’s normal healing processes. The initial stages of this process, marked by what M. Scott Peck calls “therapeutic depression,” is an identity crisis marked by anxiety, confusion, loneliness, and depression.
It is also marked by a breakdown of normal intimacy patterns affecting virtually every important relationship, including that with God. Nurture this pain with food for the soul. Such food may include healthy doses of transcendental literature and Christian mysticism. Insights from Scripture and elements of the great religious teachers which do not conflict with the tenets of Christian faith will also be helpful to understand the paradoxical healing that comes only from pain.
Numerous Ministry Health articles deal with these sorts of issues, including…
There Is A Time (Article #17),
The Second Half (Article #59)
Your Strength Is Your Weakness (Article #67),
Leadership Insights From The East (Article #89),
Don’t Kill The Dragons, Tame Them (Article #103),
* God Knows (Article #122)
Twenty-One Steps Toward Spiritual Transformation (Article #146),
Recovering The Contemplative (Article #157),
Ministry In The Fourth Dimension (Article #172),
* And a host of many other others.
A careful perusing of the continually expanding Ministry Health’s voluminous archives can help point you into the right direction of therapeutic healing.
2) Let Time Work
The worst thing one can do while dealing with the dark side is to seek shortcuts. Though enticing and offering short-term relief, the get-well-quick shortcuts often spell long-term failure. This is Satan’s goal. The old proverb is right: “The longest distance between any two points is the shortcut.” Dr. Henry Cloud adds,

“Spiritual and emotional growth takes time. And often a transformation happens over time without the person knowing quite how it happened” (Cloud, Changes That Heal, p. 35).

3) Let God Work
Cloud’s observations regarding the necessity of time give way to a greater realization. As Jesus described how the Kingdom of God grows “though he does not know how,” (Mark 4:27), much of the healing cannot be willed, forced or rushed.
“Does not know” in the original means that the growth is beyond one’s ability or recognition to discern this healing process with any of the senses. Perhaps that is the greatest paradox. The healing for which one so energetically and impatiently strives and hopes for comes completely without our knowing it.
The healing comes spontaneously, unexpectedly and graciously in a time or manner not perceived. But it comes from God. It is this experience which marks one of the key spiritual transitions. When it comes, the pain may still be there. But make no mistake. The healing is occurring. Let go…and let it happen as God desires.
4) Recognize The Healing Is Not An Attitudinal Issue
Attitude is a symptom of the deeper pain. Thus the focus must be on the deeper issues. This is not to say continued “pitiable poor me” attitudes are acceptable. Such destructive “self-talk” can certainly intensify the pain. “If we are depressed…it does no good to be ‘un-depressed.'”
Simply scolding another for their attitude may be a damaging enticement to short-circuiting the slow process of transformation. Indeed, it may trigger a retreat back to the dark side’s repressed state.
Though some Christians  “want every day to be harvest time”, Cloud reminds us that in dealing with the dark side “Christian[s]…[go] through different stages of growth. We must mature in one stage before we can go on to the next” (Changes That Heal, pp. 32-33).
5) Seek Professional Counseling
In order to complete the developmental tasks, one needs a father or mother figure. In this area Jesus had a significant advantage. His unique intimate oneness with the Father enabled Him to flawlessly go through the various stages of development.
Even when His Father forsook Him on the cross, Jesus’ ability to say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NIV) demonstrated, among other things, that He had not succumbed to the dark side of some developmental issue.
Even in His darkest hours, His sense of love, trust and belonging with His Father did not disarm or destroy Him. He knew He could trust His Father not to abandon, abuse or neglect Him…even in death.
Though God is also our Father, we do not yet have that full realization of the unity with the Father for which Jesus prayed in His “High Priestly Prayer” (John 17). Thus, in addition to the Father, those wrestling with the dark side will need the next best thing: a visible “Father” in the form of a Christian counselor (male or female).
“To complete developmental tasks well, we need good parents,” Cloud reminds us (Changes That Heal, p. 38). Counselors often are the best hope to fulfill this role. Required for these “parent figures” is a familiarity and effective experience with key developmental issues, including ACOA/ACDF dynamics, the elements of Psychodynamic psychiatry, an understanding of developmental issues, etc. A keen understanding of the unique pressures and dynamics of ministry may be especially helpful–if not essential–for Christian leaders.
6) Allow The Healthy Re-Integration Of Self
A key consequence of the traumatic exposure to the dark side is the disintegration of self. Self Psychology circles refer to it as “disintegration anxiety.” This anxiety,
“involves the fear that one’s self will fragment in response to inadequate selfobject responses resulting in a non-human state of psychological death… Most forms of symptomatic behavior (e.g. drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, perversions, self-mutilation, binge eating, and purging)…reflect ‘an emergency attempt to maintain and/or restore internal cohesion and harmony to a vulnerable, unhealthy self'”
(From Glen Gabbard, Psychodynamic Psychiatry In Clinical Practice: The DSM IV Edition. Washington: The American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 54).
When the self and the selfobject separate (i.e. when one’s self is separate from those selfobjects which give affirmation, empathy, and those things necessary to maintain our self-esteem), it is perhaps the worst form of death possible. It can lead to suicide.
The process of integration is necessary, slow and painful. But it is the path of healing. For this healing, unconditional love, support and affirmation is essential to provide a safe arena to deal with the wounds. According to self/selfobject theory (cf. Kohut, et al), as the wounds heal the self becomes reintegrated with the selfobjects of the environment. The manner in which this integrative healing occurs and to the degree it is healthy will greatly influence the resulting integration of self. It takes time to “get yourself together” when the dark side has submarined one’s psyche.
7) Expect A Sense Of Emptiness
The “hole” of emptiness exposed by the dark side is not easily filled. It’s difficult, painful, heart-wrenching and soul-searching work. It can’t be rushed. It must heal at the pace resolution of various issues takes place.
It is important that others around who are not aware of this emptiness become aware and understanding of the depth of the pain. Though one ought not get stuck into “poor me” modes,  patience is needed for healing. God’s two greatest tools for healing, His Word and prayer, will eventually bring incremental healing.
8) Learn “Good Endurance”
Henry Cloud indicates that there is both “good endurance” and “bad endurance.” While wrestling with the issues of the dark side it is important to follow the path of “good endurance.”

“When we suffer, is the true “self” growing or is the false self just enduring pain? If we are on God’s surgery table.. time spent suffering will produce completeness; we will grow up, and we will experience changes that heal [the true self]” (Changes That Heal, p. 41).
9) Let Nothing Surprise You
“If our failures surprise us, it is only because we have too high an opinion of ourselves,” Cloud correctly observed.
“The Lord accepts us fully, knowing that we will need time and experience to work out our imperfections” (Changes That Heal, p. 41).
Working out our many imperfections, especially those integral to our dark side, is a monumental challenge. We can not work these imperfections out by ourselves.
One of the greatest signs of hope along the path of healing from the dark side is the recognition that God’s grace ought not surprise us…even though it surely does. Our greatest ongoing surprise in healing is God’s “Amazing Grace…that saved a wretch like me.”
10) Expect Lifetime Healing And Development
The popular children’s T-shirt “God ain’t finished with me yet” ought to be worn by every Christian pastor, leader and servant.
Of course, the healing from the issues of the dark side will never be “complete.” However, recognition that the healing is a life-long process is, in fact, part of the healing. The best response may be to allow and invite the healing through Biblical spiritual renewal, growing in a greater understanding of self through various readings, and developing healthy relationships in which to share the intimate experiences of pain and joy.
When all is said and done, the most important implication of the dark side is that it raises questions about such statements that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” Simplistic and over-generalized as this statement is, one must recognize that “leadership” is contingent on the leader.
When the focus is on leaders, it becomes more apparent that for the individual in leadership–pastor, denominational executives, professional ministry staff, lay leaders, etc.–the question is not about leadership; it’s about development.
Whereas “leadership” typically focuses on externalities of church life (i.e. the “symptoms” which need to be fixed), “development” focuses on the core internalities which drive and propel individuals and organizations. It is these emotive realities which are the engine of any organizational system–be it church, corporation, or coalition of any grouping of individuals.
One can train others into the “how-to”‘s all they want. One can urge, explain, exhort and otherwise cajole others into “good” leadership behaviors. But whether they drink of these resources–and assimilate them into their being–may primarily be a developmental issue. Indeed, issues of the dark side may be the greatest barrier toward the realization of more effective leadership.
There is a great danger if symptomatic “cures” for developmental issues conceal the real cause for the crisis of leadership. Symptomatic approaches are often marked by inciting feelings of guilt, inferiority, and unhealthy pressures to attain perfection by increasingly intense compulsive behaviors.
When put together, this approach urges an unhealthy undifferentiated leadership lifestyle. In the end both leader and congregation will likely experience more harm than good.
Dark Side…In Biblical Perspective
The dark side is, in Biblical perspective, just another key indicator of the all-pervasive, all-corrupting effects of original sin. There is no escaping it. It affects all individuals born of the natural manner, right from the moment of conception.
Jesus often referred to this “uncleanness” of human nature. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” He spoke in Matthew 12:34 (NIV). More astoundingly, Jesus’ ministry is preoccupied with the heart. He ministered to those with “unclean” spirits, He ministered and forgave those whose hearts were driven by the dark side of sin, and He gave His sternest judgments to those whose hearts were hardened.
His summary of the Commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37 ff.), demonstrated that for Him the issue is ministry to the heart. More specifically, it was a ministry to the heart’s sinful dark side.
Jesus gave that ministry first to those who publicly proclaim His Word of forgiveness and healing. “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you,” He told His disciples (John 15:3 NIV). Indeed, such cleansing gave them the cleansing and authority to overcome their dark side and minister.
It’s An Issue Of The Heart
The painful wresting with–and successfully struggling against–the dark side is what Christian ministry is about. As Jesus’ primary focus was on individuals, not organizations, on people, not kingdoms, it follows that the primary focus of our respective ministries must be the heart.
For this reason, the restoration of Peter was so critical. In spite of Peter’s failure of his dark side, Jesus took the initiative to restore him to the certainly of Christ’s love to Him…and Jesus’ willingness and desire to receive Peter’s love. “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.” What Jesus did in Peter was simply what He had done in His entire ministry. It is also what must typify our ministry to the dark side.
Our Mission: Invade Hearts
Starting with the gracious heart of Jesus Christ, this healing power must invade and renew our hearts. The Word and Spirit which has worked to heal the dark-side wretchedness of our heart then must invade and renew the hearts of others. All this, of course, is ultimately the working of God’s will through His means of grace in the way that He deems best.
But invade we must. This invasion of the heart with the Christian message of Law and Gospel, condemnation and grace, contrition and absolution, death and renewal is the essence of Christian ministry. More than anything, this invasion is what characterizes the Christian change agent.
God has given you His weapons of Word and Sacrament. He’s prepared you to fight. The battle is against the dark side–yours and theirs. Let the invasion begin!
Thomas F. Fischer

* For an inventory of these five leadership styles see MacIntosh and Rima’s inventory in
Overcoming The Dark Side Of Leadership or go to Ministry Health Article 276, “The Dark Side Of Leadership Inventory”

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