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Reaching the Hurting

By Cecil Murphey
Guest Writer --“Let’s reach out to the hurting.” We say that all the time. It’s easy to see the obvious hurts, but too often we don’t reach out to the hidden pains or we wait for someone else to do it.

While I was still a pastor, I was on the council of our local denomination. The heads of the various committees stood up to give their verbal and written reports. One pastor I’ll call Michael reported on the work his committee had done the previous month.

“But that’s not all I have to say,” Michael added. “A third of the elders in my church want me to resign. I’ve never faced such opposition in my life.” The man probably talked less than five minutes, but he told of five or six huge problems facing his congregation, one of which was a declining membership. Another was that his daughter was going through a divorce from a physically abusive husband. He added, “I don’t know how much more I can handle.”

Michael wiped his eyes, obviously holding back from breaking down in front of us. Then he sat down.

No one said a word.

I made no effort to do anything. Instead, I looked around. Among the forty-two people present, I spotted two pastoral counselors and two dozen ordained ministers.

No one said a word.

I stared at our executive, who busily scratched notes on a piece of paper. One of the professional counselors seemed absorbed in his coffee cup, and the other stared at the ceiling.

No one said a word.

“Let’s have the next committee report,” the executive said. The person got up and presented her report. I couldn’t keep my mind on business. I kept my attention focused on Michael. Why doesn’t someone say something or go to him? He’s hurting. He needs somebody to care.

We sat at tables that were arranged in a large square, and Michael sat quite a distance from me. I thought of going over but then decided that I didn’t want to embarrass him or anyone else by getting up and going across half the room. (I assumed the others probably felt the same way.) I had no idea what to say, but that man hurt. We were spiritual leaders and we made no attempt to reach out to him.

Twenty minutes later, Michael put his papers in an attaché case and left. I thought of chasing after him to say how sorry I was about his problems, but I didn’t move.

For the next two days, I kept thinking about him and his situation. His pain had to be so severe that he couldn’t hold back. I was sure he felt embarrassed. Somebody needs to reach out to him, I kept thinking. When I remembered that the executive presbyter had been writing something, I thought, He’s probably making a note to contact Michael. I had never talked to Michael except to shake hands and say hello at business meetings. I was virtually a stranger. “If I were a friend,” I told myself, “I’d go to him. But he doesn’t know me.” For a few minutes that rationalization satisfied me.

But only for a few minutes. I couldn’t shake my concern for Michael. At 8:30 that evening I called him at home. He answered and I told him how sad I felt over hearing how badly things were going.

We must have talked half an hour — or rather Michael talked. I had no idea how much he was hurting. He struggled with rejection and problems. Six of his prominent members threatened to leave. “I just don’t know what to do,” he said again and again.

I had no wisdom to offer, but I listened.

Just before I said goodbye, Michael thanked me and said, “You’re the only one.”

“What do you mean — ‘the only one’?”

“All those people in the meeting — and some of them are my golfing buddies — none of them has called.” He went on to say that he’d never forget my taking time to care.

I didn’t confess how hard it had been for me to make the call. I didn’t admit that I assumed others would contact him and encourage him. My shock was such that I could only say, “I’m sure many of them care. They probably don’t know how to respond.”

“So far, you’re the only one.”

Michael and I talked by phone a few times after that. He told me later that no one else ever called.

Within four months, Michael resigned and accepted a call to a church in Michigan. I heard from him twice after that. Both times he wrote me a short letter. In essence, he said, “When I thought no one cared and that everyone had deserted me, you called.” He told me in his first letter that if I had not phoned and encouraged him, he would have left the pastorate in discouragement. He had just finished saying, “God, unless someone reaches out to me, I’m leaving the ministry forever.”

Then came my phone call.

I played the hero in that story — okay, a reluctant hero — but I learned an invaluable lesson too. For the next few years, until I resigned to write full time, I made it a point to contact every pastor I heard about who was having problems. I didn’t do anything outstanding. I called; I listened. Nothing more.

One church leader called me an “angel of light.” To my surprise, most of them volunteered the information that no one else had reached out to them. This statement isn’t meant to blame others. It is to say that until Michael broke down in public, I had thought little about reaching out to other ministers. After my experience with him, I felt bad that I had been insensitive to hurting clergy and other leaders.

“Let’s reach out to the hurting.” Sometimes those hurting are right around us. Sometimes they’re our church leaders.

—Adapted from Committed But Flawed by Cecil Murphey, AMG Publishers, 2004.

Order your copy of Cecil Murphey's, Committed But Flawed on

Read part one of this series, I Am Jacob

Read part two: Yearning for More

Cecil MurpheyCecil Murphey has authored and co-authored more than 90 books in such wide-ranging fields as health and fitness, motivation, travel, business, and inspiration. Some of those books have included ghostwritten autobiographies for singer B.J. Thomas, Franklin Graham, pianist Dino Karsanakas, Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, ultra-marathon runner Stan Cottrell, and Dr. Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins Hospital. You can learn more about him at


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