by Rev. Everette Chapman
A number of years ago, while working on a doctoral degree at Erskine Theological Seminary, my fellow seminarians and I were required to choose a “Model for Ministry” which would guide our service to God and our people. Some chose the model of “Practical Theologian,” some chose that of “Church Administrator,” and there were other models for ministry chosen by my classmates.
I was lost as to what my Model for Ministry would be until I picked up an amazing book by Henri J. M. Nouwen, entitled The Wounded Healer. In it, he shares an old legend from the Jewish Talmud.
Rabbi Yeshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance to the cave of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai. He asked, “When will Messiah come?”
“Go ask Him yourself,” replied Elijah.
“Where is He?”
“Sitting by the gates of the city.”
“How shall I know Him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unwind their wounds all at the same time and then wind them up again. But He unwinds His wounds one at a time and winds each up again, saying to Himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed; if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay even for a moment’”
Fr. Nouwen then goes on to add: “The Messiah, the story tells us, is sitting among the poor, binding his wounds one at a time, waiting for the moment which He will be needed. So it is with the minister. Since it is his task to make visible the first vestiges of liberation for others, he must bind His own wounds carefully in anticipation of the moment when He is needed. He is called upon to be the wounded healer, the one who must look after his own wounds, but at the same time be prepared to treat the wounds of others.”
I chose “Wounded Healer” as my model for ministry at Erskine more than thirty years ago, but upon serious reflection, I dare hope that such a model of caring, of suffering with my people, and of being with them in their pain despite any pain I might be feeling, is how I have tried to do ministry all these fifty-seven years since my ordination in 1963. If I am to emulate my Master, I have no other choice but to do so.
The ministers I have known who have sought to live out this “model for ministry” have been some of the most effective at being Christ to others. In that regard, I can’t help but remember James W. Crocker, the pastor who ordained me. During the very beginning of migratory workers coming to the Carolinas to help with peach, apple, and cotton harvests, the church he served began a ministry to migrants in upper Spartanburg County. He would go, lead a worship service for them, and share Christ with them.
He told me of seeing this elderly man whose only shoes were two pieces of leather, bound together by some cords. He told the old man that when he came next time, he would bring him some new shoes. It was only as he drove up the next month and saw the old man, glad-faced and expectant, running toward him, that he realized that he had forgotten to bring the shoes.
“What did you do?” I asked. He smiled meekly and said, “I looked down at my own feet and saw the only pair of skin shoes I ever hoped to own. My feet were a tiny bit larger than his, but I knew what I had to do. I reached down, took off his shoes, and put my shoes on him. He was as happy as I have ever seen anyone. He started running and jumping around. Later that day, during our worship service, he gave his heart and life to Christ.”
That was “a wounded healer” following in the footsteps of “The Wounded Healer.” Jesus said, “Even a cup of cold water, given in my name, shall be blessed.” How much more so those expensive shoes, given to a needy man by a loving heart? Let us all, in the name of Christ, be wounded healers, feeling others’ hurts, sharing their pain, lifting their burdens. Our efforts will be blessed by Him whose example we follow.
Rev. Everette Chapman is Pastor Emeritus of Fairfield Mountains Chapel, Lake Lure.