Stuck At The Wall (Part 3)

This is the third article in a three-part series. These articles were meant to be read in their proper sequence. Please do not look at this article this until you have read parts 1 and 2. No peeking!

Now I’m going to get very personal. Not because I’m eager to talk about myself. On the contrary, what I’m going to say is uncomfortable, and it would be far easier to keep quiet. But I will go ahead and tell this story, because it may be helpful for some of you to hear it. (By revealing these things, I am making myself vulnerable. There is plenty of ammunition here for anyone who wants to gossip about my family. Honestly, when I hear some of the rumors that have been circulating about us, it is remarkable how wrong they are. Instead of listening to rumors, you can now hear it directly from me.)

In the first article of this series, I mentioned that for several years I had been languishing in a state of spiritual malaise. When I had seen other UBF members experiencing similar things, it was usually said that they were “becoming difficult.” It was diagnosed as a personal problem, a failure to live up to the ideals and disciplines that they had been taught, and it was supposed to be curable by personal repentance, prayer and Bible study. Sometimes the blame was placed on a spouse: “He’s acting that way because his wife didn’t do such-and-such.” Knowing full well the kind of things that people could say about me, and not wanting to subject my wife to this kind of gossip, I was reluctant to talk about what I was experiencing.

And, truthfully, I did not know what I was experiencing. For a long time I had been denying and suppressing my emotions to the point where I could no longer identify what I was feeling or why. Gradually, I succumbed to emotional deadness which could easily have been diagnosed as clinical depression. In public I tried to maintain a cheerful appearance, but in private I became irritable, moody, hypersensitive and despondent. Trying to carry out my duties as a teacher, researcher, chapter director, husband, and father, and trying to live up to the overwhelming expectations placed on me in each of these areas, I felt as though the whole world had turned against me. The slightest criticism from my wife would set me into a downward spiral to the point where I no longer wanted to live, and several times I literally prayed that God would take my life.

Despite all this, I refused to acknowledge what had become painfully obvious to Sharon and to others around me: Something had gone terribly wrong in my life. I was a very broken person.

My turnaround, which is still in progress, began during the spring of 2009. God began to work in my life in new, unexpected ways to help me break through this particular instance of The Wall. My breakthrough started in the following manner.

First, I began to read Christian books. Although my wife has always been an avid reader, I had essentially stopped reading. If you know me, you understand that I am introverted (nerdy?) and intellectual. My vocation as a scientist is to observe, think, understand, and synthesize. But in the hectic business of life, I stopped thinking about God. I continued to study the Bible and prepare Sunday messages as part of my ministerial duties, but this interaction with scripture had become mechanical and formulaic. I no longer spent any significant time contemplating and reexamining the fundamental issues of life and faith. My life had become an endless whirlwind of activity with no pauses to reflect, and the intellectual components of my faith had been withering away.

However, after I became a regular reader of the daily blog of John Armstrong, my intellectual curiosity was gradually rekindled. During Spring Break of 2009, Sharon and I got into a car, drove to a Christian bookstore in York, Pennsylvania, and returned to State College with several armfuls of books. For the rest of the week, I sat motionless on our living room couch, soaking in new perspectives on things that I had never really considered before. Worship. Trinity. Ancient Church traditions. Relational apologetics. The person and work of the Holy Spirit. Experiencing the presence of God. None of the books made a deep, instant impression on me. There was never a moment when I shouted, “Eureka! That’s exactly what I have been missing.” On the contrary, I tried to keep an open mind, approaching every book with a mixture of hope and skepticism. I was not so naive as to think that any of these authors, who came from diverse Christian backgrounds and denominations, had all the answers. But neither did UBF have all the answers. The collective wisdom and disciplines that I had learned from nearly three decades in this ministry were insufficient to sustain my long-term spiritual growth, and I desperately needed fresh input from other parts of the Body of Christ. The insights I gained from reading these books greatly refreshed my own personal Bible study. My Sunday messages began to improve, and the members of Penn State UBF could see it.

Second, I began to acknowledge that a great deal of emotional pain and stress had been accumulating in my life. This stress came from three sources. (a) The pressure of being a faculty member at a high-powered university where tenure and promotion literally requires you to be an international leader in your field of research. (b) The difficulties in caring for our eldest son, who is autistic and borderline mentally retarded, along with three other children whose needs were often neglected because of him and because of our ministry. (c) The internal and external expectations placed on me as a UBF senior staff member and lay chapter director. Now this may well get me into trouble, because UBFers have always been reluctant to speak publicly about problems in our ministry. But it is undeniable that we place very high expectations on ourselves and one another, “encouraging” one another in ways that can be crushing. Rather than try to write about this now, I will quote from report that I wrote and distributed to North American UBF leaders last year:

UBF chapter directors tend to be disciplined, hard working, high achieving people. And we hold up as our ideal the person who is successful at everything, the person who can “do it all.” Let’s face it: the ideal UBF leader is a man of steel. He gets up by 5 am and always attends early morning prayer, never missing a single day of Daily Bread. He has a Ph.D. from a top university and is highly successful in his career. He has mastered numerous books of the Bible and has dozens of binders of Bible study notes arranged perfectly on his shelf. He exercises and plays tennis every day. He is not “family centered,” yet he pays close attention to his family. He never argues with his wife and always praises her as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” His children are well behaved, get excellent grades in school and play musical instruments. He himself takes lessons to play a musical instrument. He stays well informed about current events and reads many books each year. He keeps close watch over each of his chapter members, knows about their problems and struggles and helps them with personal spiritual counsel and 1:1 Bible study. He maintains close ties with UBF chapters in his region. He sends regular reports to UBF headquarters along with generous tithes and offerings. Although he takes good care of his chapter, he knows what is going on in UBF chapters all around the world. And he does all of these things with gladness in his heart because, apart from all his outward activities, he prays intensely and maintains a close personal relationship with God.

Yes, that is the UBF ideal. But an actual UBF chapter director is made of flesh. Because he cannot live up to these implicit expectations, he feels like a chronic failure. He is reluctant to attend national staff conferences because his chapter has not grown over the last ten years and he feels ashamed. He doesn’t want to hear any more reports, panel discussions or presentations by “exemplary shepherds” whose ministries are growing, because he does not share their talents and feels that he will never be able to do what they do. He does not want to hear prayer topics like “every chapter director should maintain five 1:1 Bible studies each week and master one book of the Bible” because he feels it is hard enough just to finish his Sunday message on time. Expanding his chapter does not seem realistic; his only goal is to survive.

When I wrote this, I was using comic exaggeration. You may disagree with what I wrote, and that’s fine; I don’t claim that this has been the experience of everyone. But in my case, the expectations that others placed upon me, and which I also placed upon myself, were very strongly felt, and my failure to live up to them has been a major source of tension in my inner life. Honestly, I have no regrets or bitterness toward God or anyone else about the way that I have been living. I feel truly blessed to be where I am. But honesty also requires me to admit that this was my experience. Without becoming honest about this, it would be impossible for me to move forward.

I publicly shared some of this pain and stress in February 2010 when I delivered a message on Acts chapter 2 at the North American staff conference. While preparing that message, I vowed to myself and to God that I would put aside all pretense and strive to be utterly honest. Some who attended that conference liked my message, and others did not. Ironically, it was about that time that people began asking, “What’s wrong with Joe Schafer?” When I was truly at my lowest point, languishing in spiritual depression, no one in our ministry (except my wife) saw it. But when God began to lift me out of that dreadful state, as I was becoming more honest about myself, wrestling with God and experiencing his work and presence in my life in new and exciting ways, it was then that rumors began to circulate that I had a “spiritual problem” and that I was “becoming difficult.” (Now I do not want to hold anything against anyone. But I would like to point out that our ability to diagnose one another’s spiritual problems is very limited. Please understand that things are not always as they seem. When someone appears to start “becoming difficult,” they could actually be getting better.)

Third, my wife became honest with me about the mistakes and trauma of her past. Before we were married, Sharon had hinted to me about some of the things she had done in high school and college. But she hadn’t told me the full story. In fact, her shepherds had explicitly advised her not to, saying that if she did it could “ruin” our marriage. I believe that the advice was well intentioned, and perhaps it was even appropriate at the time. But keeping those things bottled up for many years prevented her from addressing the pain and guilt that were a very real part of her inner life. And it was driving a wedge between us, keeping us from knowing and accepting one another at the most intimate levels as a husband and wife should. Subconsciously I knew that she had not been open and transparent with me, and I was not open and transparent with her.

So Sharon finally told me the truth: While she was in college, she had immoral relationships with men, and the consequences were devastating.

(Now if anyone who reads this has the urge to start gossiping about my wife, I have just one thing to say: Shame on you. Gossip — even if it is true — is hurtful and terribly wrong. If you have the perverse desire to start wagging your tongue about this, then at least do the right thing. Instead of telling others what I just said, urge them to come to this website and read my articles, all three of them, so they can hear it from me, not from you. )

Now for the surpising part. After Sharon opened up and told me the painful details, it did not damage our relationship at all. Quite the opposite. Suddenly I began to understand her, know her, and empathize with her in ways that I never had before. In fact, something amazing took place inside of me. An emotional floodgate was opened, and I began to feel an overpowering affection for her at every level: physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Again, don’t get me wrong. I have always been attracted to Sharon. Ever since we met, I have liked her and felt so fortunate to have married her. But because of my own emotional immaturity, I could not properly feel, process or express the love that a husband should have for his wife. For example, I could never look directly in her eyes and say “I love you” without a great deal of self-consciousness or embarassment. But things are truly different now. After twenty years of marriage and four children — and actually for the very first time in my life — I can honestly say that I have fallen in love. Not a superficial hormone-driven crush, but full-blown, electrically charged, head-over-heels love. And not with some fictitious woman of my imagination, but with an actual flesh-and-blood person who stands before me, whose merits and flaws I already know.

Do you have any idea how wonderful it is to suddenly fall in love with the one woman who happens to be your wife?

For the first time, I think I am beginning to understand something of what God intends a marriage to be. I think I am beginning to taste something of the affinity that God has for the people he created in his image, the love that Christ has for his church. This understanding is not doctrinal but experiential. Because of this precious gift that God has given me — the gift of an amazing woman — I know that God loves me, and I want to thank and praise him from the depths of my heart.

Don’t think that people haven’t noticed. Earlier this month, when we visited Sharon’s parents, her father took me aside and told me that something very different, and very good, was happening in our family. When Sharon’s mother saw the two of us sitting together at the dinner table, noticing how affectionate we had become, her eyes lit up and her face started beaming.

Something significant is happening in my life. I am starting to become a normal, healthy person who is capable of feeling and expressing love.

This story is just beginning. While God has been bringing me through this crisis, I am not so naive as to think that there will be no more crises ahead. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). But one thing I have learned is this. There is much more to spiritual maturity than self-denial, discipline, effort, and perseverance. There is life on the other side of The Wall. There is real joy. There is unmerited grace. And there is true love.


  1. Joe, thank you for your breath-taking honesty and for sharing your very personal experiences.
    i guess that i am still stuck at the wall and will need time to get over it. As a 2nd gen i grew up with the notion that feelings are fairly unimportant. i also thought that facts and faith are the only things that matter. An eye-opener to me were the teachings of Pastor John Piper on Christian Hedonism. God’s word repeatedly challenges me to be joyful at all times. But isn’t joy an emotion, too? And if i am supposed to have joy at all times, why is that kind of feeling lacking in me during vast periods of times?
    And i realized that i had not given Christian joy the kind of attention and importance it clearly deserves. For having joy in God is the same as glorifying God with my life. Only after hearing that repeatedly in John Piper’s messages did it dawn on me: emotions are CRUCIAL! They are not peripheral but central to my Christian life.
    but you know, it’s so hard to change…

    • Hannah Love

      I feel that I can relate to your post as well. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being full of joy if I knew who Jesus was. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so low and unsettled all the time.
      I think that HEALING is so crucial to experience joy and the life that Jesus intended for us, as we can see through Joe’s post here. There are so many barriers that just prevent us from fully experiencing joy and other real emotions given from God.

      I remember reading a sermon about how when we are spiritually bored we become fascinated and joyful by other things that lead us to become spiritually/emotionally dead. When we are fascinated by God and all that He is, then we experience joy.

      Anyways, this is hard because we’re full of so many different emotions, we experience so many different things in our personal lives and react individually to them.

    • hi Hannah, thank you for your post. i agree with you that healing is mandatory to enjoy God.
      But i guess that my greatest hindrance of fostering a joyful relationship with God was that for most of my Christian life i didn’t think that joy was so important. i agree with Joe that the type of Christianity that had been promoted in our ministries was that of obedience, discipline, soldier spirit etc. Feelings didn’t have much room here and i just didn’t think of them to be important.
      What i just recently started to realize is the centrality of joy in Christianity. To pursue the joy in God is the same as to seek to glorify God because God is most glorified if i am most satisfied in Him as John Piper put it. That makes joy absolutely essential and indispensable. Altogether it is a huge paradigm shift for me to foster “religious affections” and to pursue them by growing in my relationship with God.

    • That’s a really good point about the centrality of joy in Christianity. If joy is missing, it’s a sign that something is seriously wrong. Paul says in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”

      I also used to think that the “right” kind of Christian was a soldier, invulnerable to his/her own emotions. To me, emotions were equal to sinful desires. But, as Joe pointed out to me, many of the fruits of the Spirit have a strong emotional component (e.g. love, kindness, self-control, joy…). Unless I’m in tune with my emotions, I’ll never be able to truly diagnose when I’m not living a spirit-filled life, and when I am. I think that’s a key: deep emotional change does not come from doing this/that. It comes from living by the Holy Spirit.

      Joe, I’m thankful for your series on The Wall. I think I was stuck at the wall without even knowing it; so dead to my emotions that I did not realize the stall in my spiritual life. Such a refreshing wake up call.

      My key verse for this year came from Galatians 5. But I am newly realizing how liberating and wonderful the direction to “live by the Spirit” is. No more legalism! No more dutiful soldiering on! I realize now that deep, personal, and emotional change doesn’t come from anything I do, but only when I really truly surrender, admit my own weakness and incapability, and let the Spirit take charge. This requires, as Joe demonstrated, complete honesty.

      I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing the other side of the wall, along with all my UBFriends :)

  2. Dear Joe, thank you for sharing your experiences as a chapter director, father, husband, messenger, bible teacher, professor, friend, believer, leader, researcher — the list goes on. When your roles and responsibilities are listed out like this, I am astonished. I appreciate your honesty and I thank you for sharing.

    There is a lot I can learn from your experiences, and I’m sure many others in our ministry will agree that they can learn from them too. We all have past sins that we regret, including those of mine and my husband’s pasts, but thank God for Jesus’ blood that doesn’t just cover our sins but WASHES them completely clean. While I do not have any specific insights into improving our walks with God, I’ve suddenly found myself very humbled after reading your article and am deeply thankful for the grace of God upon sinners like us; that without His love, we would be drowning in sin and darkness.

    Praise Jesus! And thank you, Joe.

  3. Joe, thank you so much for sharing. I know this “Wall problem” too well. I just began to overcome it. And imagine – me too, I began to read one book after another, not having read books (except the Bible and References) for many years, almost decades. And I got much more motivation to read the Bible personnally. God is already more present in my life. Sometimes, I tend to loose hope for myself, but I feel very much encouraged seeing you walking in front of me. I’m excited to discover, where God will lead me. Best regards to Sharon. I respect her very much.

  4. Abraham Jeong

    It is sometimes painful and shameful to open up ourselves, honestly acknowledging who we really are. And as the praises and recognition from people vaporize, we may feel we are awfully distant from God. Ironically, however, that might be the time we truly come closer to him, and maybe the only way to come close to him.

    It is somewhat irrelevant, but your story reminds me of an excerpt from the Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.

    “We must distinguish two things which might both be called ‘nearness to God’. One is ‘likeness to God’. God has impressed some sort of likeness to Himself, I suppose, in all he has made. Secondly, there is what we may call ‘nearness of approach’.

    We see that these two do not necessarily coincide.

    Perhaps an analogy may help. Let us suppose that we are doing a mountain walk to the village which is our home. At mid-day, we come to the top of a cliff where we are, in space, very near it because it is just below us. We could drop a stone into it. But as we are no cragsmen, we can’t get down. We must go a long way round; five miles, maybe. At many points during that detour we shall, statistically, be farther from the village than we were when we sat above the cliff. But only statistically. In terms of progress we shall be far ‘nearer’ our baths and teas.

    At the cliff’s top we are near the village, but however long we sit there we shall never be any nearer to our bath and our tea. So here; the likeness, and in that state nearness, to Himself which God has conferred upon certain creatures and certain sates of those creatures is something finished, built in. What is near him by likeness [or resemblance] is never, by that fact alone, going to be any nearer. But nearness by approach is, by definition, increasing nearness.”

  5. Hannah Love

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. I especially loved this “When someone appears to start “becoming difficult,” they could actually be getting better.”
    I am so encouraged by your honesty, by Sharon’s honesty and your ability to share in order to provide us readers with insight into our own lives.
    I also thought a lot about my own, personal brokenness and bitterness and darkness but never felt comfortable enough to share due to the fear of being seen as “becoming difficult”. When someone is labeled as such then all these solutions are thrown at them which may not exactly cater to their situation. I agree that there really is more to spiritual maturity than self-denial, discipline, effort, and perseverance. These definitely work but not for every person in their personal situation. This is clear through your personal story. Like Mary, I am also humbled and am realizing how great our God is through reading this article. I thank God for your genuine words :)

  6. Brian Karcher
    Brian Karcher

    Thank you yet again for sharing, Joe. The journey of faith is truly amazing. I have been quietly experiencing going through several walls the past six years.

    My turning point was when I watched the Passion of the Christ movie by myself. Watching my Lord and our Lord going through the betrayal, arrest, condemnation and crucifixion jump-started my heart. The reason is that I could see Jesus’ love, joy and hope in the midst of it all, as well as the love those around him had for him.

    After watching that movie, I clearly understood why the first century Christians talked so much about the cross and made it the symbol of Christianity. It is so easy to see why the flame of the Holy Spirit ignited so many people’s hearts. And it become so clear that I had been living my life far from the cross.

  7. Thanks Joe. I pray for you and for all of us in UBF. May God be with us, send us his peace and leading. I really love the Job book and it was many times so encouraging for me to overcome peoples judgment and to be very careful to judging others in their difficulties. But it is not easy. We need God’s help.

    • David,
      thanks for pointing that out. I myself have been the recipient of a lot of hurtful judgment and gossip over the past few weeks. At first I was angry and defensive. Then I realized how impulsively I judge others, and how easy it is to spread hurtful gossip about others. Jesus had a reason when he said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Judging others is a seed for division and breaking of whatever precious unity we have in the Church. It’s something that may be impulsive and second nature, but also something I’ve learned I must ALWAYS watch out against. I don’t want to be part of The Wall.

      Joe, thanks for setting a good example of how to fight against judgment and false gossip: be honest.

    • What a good comment, Sara! I think it is the best reaction when feeling hurtful judgment from others – first thing to repent in personal judging others. And to grow in humility and love, instead of making heart harden.

  8. Thanks, Joe. I was moved to tears reading this essay, especially about your love for Sharon. I also vividly remember reading your Acts 2 message from Feb 2010, where I felt that we, as a church, may be at a major turning point by taking a step forward toward genuine authenticiy, especially coming from a senior staff. Those from West Loop also loved it. But since it was “very different from the norm,” the “being difficult” comments were unfortunately expected.

    Surely, rather than be a spiritual “man of steel,” we, and especially I, need to be honest, open, transparent and real, while being prayerful and respectful. I think that a man of steel can’t really repent, because he is “better than that.”

    May God bless this website to be a website for broken, wounded, vulnerable, helpless, sinful people, so that we may truly express how much we need Jesus, and Jesus only!

    • Brian Karcher
      Brian Karcher

      Well said, Ben! I fully enjoyed hearing Joe’s message at that staff conference. I too tried to be a “man of steel”… I am thankful to hear the comments here. May God protect us from becoming like Pharisees. They started out as a wonderful work to produce pure, God-fearing disciples but ended up blinded by a desire to kill Jesus and anyone associated with him.

      Recently my heart was renewed when I found some old Christian music that I used to listened to in college, such as:

      Psalms 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (NIV)

  9. Tim Fitch

    Joe, thank you so much for your honesty and openness. I strongly agree with everything that you said. I too fell into spiritual depression (because of my lack of “spiritual growth”, inability to faithfully feed 5 sheep a week, lack of inviting students to Bible study, not meeting our Sunday Worship service expected numbers, not praying the right things, and so on). I don’t put the blame on anyone but myself. I was always too afraid to share how I really felt, in fear that I would be reprimanded or looked down upon as being difficult. This past year we studied Galatians and I’ve been listening to a lot of audio books, sermons, and lectures in my car (I have a long commute to work). And for the first time, I could see that the only thing that really counts in our Christian life is what Christ has done for us on the cross, not what we have done or failed to do. Of course, I still have a long way to go in fully understanding and grasping this.

    Thank you also for your sharing your love between you and your wife. It’s amazing that your love grew even more. I’ve been learning over the years, and through your blog, that what God really wants from husbands and wives, children and parents, friends, churches, and everyone is to be honest and open with one another, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are honest and open with one another. Thanks again.

  10. Jennifer Espinola

    Joe, I’m so happy to hear about God’s beautiful work in your marriage and family. Your testimony reveals God’s transforming work in an individual to make him more Christ-like, bearing his attributes of love and humility. I think this is more valuable than “growing a ministry”. To share my story, my husband and I were recently labeled as “trouble makers” for proposing different ideas to make our worship better. Though my husband does not let people’s opinions discourage him, i have found it difficult to brush aside. Since these words came from our coworker, it has strained our relationship and made it harder to continue “as normal”. I wish i wasn’t so bothered by other people’s opinions, but perhaps God is using this to shape my own life to be a better Christian, to be more loving and humble like He.

  11. Thank you so much Joe, for sharing with us the way God is working in your life and in your family. These days I have been thinking about the beautiful love story of Mary of Bethany and Jesus and of Jesus’ love for God and for sinful people like me. God’s love for you and Sharon and your family and your love for him and for one another touched a cord in my heart that makes God’s love for me very real.

  12. Dr. Joe,
    You and Sharon have always been a great example to me and this out right honesty and transparency into your life will be so helpful for everyone who reads this.

    When going through a phase of depression recently in my life, one of the things that was most helpful for moving through it was talking about the feelings, interestingly enough. Talking about the past, the repressed thoughts and feelings, the “forbidden secrets” and being transparent to those around you. Being able to admit that maybe something is wrong changed my whole life and path that I was going in.

    I too really liked the line “When someone appears to start “becoming difficult,” they could actually be getting better.” And by becoming difficult we could really just say appears to be hitting the wall. Too often we don’t notice anything wrong with the people around us who we are close with until they are already working through it. Even when we do notice things, we are not bold enough to approach them on a situation, because we are too worried about how they might judge us for approaching them or what if they are wrong. In Psychology classes we are always taught “intervention always works” and I feel like Sharon noticing the changes and beginning to state things to you, started to change you. Although maybe not noticeable, it did make you question things. Very similar things had happened to me, where one particular person would tell me that I was not myself anymore and then I would question myself a lot after words and really attack my own emotional state. Ironically enough, the person who approached me was not a person I was close with, just a person I saw and said hi to regularly. A classmate who approached me and said that I didn’t seem like myself, but no close friends would admit to it.

    Your article(s) on hitting the wall have really touched me and made me examine my own personal brokenness that I am currently faced with in a new light, a different light than the “this can’t be” borderline depression path I was beginning to face. Although not a leader in a church, I find myself going through the emotions or comparing myself to others in faith and feeling “stuck” with where I am at.

    I am also, like many have said, encouraged by your honesty, by Sharon’s honesty and your ability to be transparent to the world.
    Your transparency has given me hope and encouraged me to become more transparent in my own life to the people around me. I am thankful for you sharing this with me.

    The biggest blessing of all of this is God is making us stronger and loves us through it all!!

    • Joe Schafer

      Shelly, thank you for your kindness and friendship. But please allow me to disagree with you on one point. I believe that you are a church leader. Hearing about the things that you have done within the Lutheran church, and listening to your observations and honest assessments of our ministry, I have been continually impressed and edified by you. And so has Sharon. You have taught us many important things that we will never forget.

  13. Greg Impink

    As a young person, it’s important to hear things like this. I respect Joe very much and have set him as a top role model. We need to realize that even our top leaders are real people too. Trust me, I’ve tried the whole stoic approach, and my girlfriend does NOT like it. We are real people with real emotions that need to be acknowledged. As a typical guy, this is very difficult for me. I want to just supress. But to my surprise, my relationships are exponentially better when I am honest. We need the courage for more talk like this.

  14. Thank you Joe. Was really touched by this. And I really hate the UBF rumor mill. Sigh.

  15. Abraham Nial
    Abraham Nial

    Joe, thanks for sharing this essay solidly grounded in study and attested with deep personal experience. May God bless your life on the other side of the Wall!
    Two things stand out clearly to me. One, honesty. You have dealt life’s issues with honesty. And “honesty” releases fresh air and the hope of restoration and true healing. I can see that even in the comments. If only we begin to deal life’s issues and ministry’s issues not with system and mannerism but with “honesty”, restoration, healing and true worship awaits us at the other side of the Wall. But it is not easy when “honesty” gets branded with “What’s wrong with him?” or “He is becoming difficult!” I think honesty ought to be the highest virtue of Christian life and ministry. If Jesus is the Way, and if He is the Narrow Way, then our life and ministries need to be founded in His way, and not our ways. Many pantheistic religions teach “End justifies the means.” But, Christianity has taught me that even well-intentioned-short-term-beneficial-looking ways are not same as The Way. As a man in Christ, and as a ministry of Jesus–I as an individual/ teacher/ researcher/ shepherd/ husband/ father/ leader and UBF as a ministry need to deal life and ministry issues with honesty, and nothing but honesty. In doing so, we need not be fearful of the consequences, but leave them into God’s hand. In fact, this I believe, is a test of our real faith and opportunity for spiritual growth and experiencing and helping others to experience the other side of the Wall.
    Two, we need other’s help. I agree that the collective wisdom and disciplines in UBF are sufficient to bring Life changing awareness of God, Discipleship and Active life of serving, but not sufficient enough for sustained spiritual growth. About a year back, I realized the need of other’s help (in the Body of Christ) to fulfill my spiritual needs. I began to read spiritual books and listened to messages from other ministries including IHOP, MorningStar and RepentAndPrepareTheWay etc. These are ministries focused on preparing for the End Time. And few months back I could not have dared to mention my interest in their teachings and association with these ministries in a public blog like this, as I was told to keep distance from these ministries, and I was only secretly learning and experiencing from them. But, I should be “honest” to acknowledge the help I received from others in the Body of Christ! I pray that God may bless our coworkers in UBF, and may He supply help from others that we need to experience spiritual growth and to experience the other side of the Wall!

  16. Thanks Joe. I always liked you and cherished what you have offered. After reading your essay, I feel closer to you, a man with flesh and blood. Thanks again for the post.

  17. I’ve been in UBF for 10 years. I’ve been blessed through this church in every aspect of my life, and I don’t want to deny that. At the same time, however, I feel like I need to say something from the reflection of my life as a human being.
    I have been thinking that people in UBF are pretty good at being honest because we have a self-purgatory tool, called “testimony”. It seems like people get used to share their weaknesses and sins through this mechanism pretty well. As Joe pointed out, however, we haven’t been that good at expressing how we feel about our life, which is directly connected to the happiness of human beings.
    Let me give you an example focused on human relationship. People are hurt by people one way or another. It would be great if wounds and scars marked in our heart just go away as time goes. Sometime people are fooled by a famous saying, “Time is cure-all”. But it isn’t. The wounds might be healed, but the scars will be there forever. Unless we let them out in a healthy way, our life and human relationship with other people will be governed by the scars and wounds continuously, making us unhappier.
    I have one bad experience about a human relationship. The people I’ve met through my life, especially, people that were supposed to play a role of my mentor, disappointed and frustrated me in many ways. Well, “disappointed and frustrated me” is a too much suppressed expression. Ok, I will just express freely. They made me humiliated, provoked and angry. For example, one high school teacher, who is supposed to be my true mentor, despised me, and mocked at me for 3 years. I was hurt. Yes I was deeply hurt. I thought I was healed and got over it. That was not the only case. I constantly met people who deeply made me humiliated, angry and provoked. Ever since then, I haven’t talked with people openly, especially, people who are in a leadership role. Of course, I have some friends inside and outside UBF. But I wonder if there is any one person whom I can really trust and believe as a good and a sincere friend except my wife. Probably other people might also think that they can’t accept me as a trustworthy and reliable person because I did the same thing to them. I can’t really blame them because I contributed significantly to who I am, as well.
    My point is that without a healing therapy, we can not be a healthy person. These days, I found that I’m not a healthy person at all. I’m a person who is deeply wounded and hurt, and I need to be healed because it affects my current relationship with my friends in a church, my wife, and my wife’s family, eventually damaging my life of happiness.
    While in UBF, I never was confident about developing a sincere relationship with people. I couldn’t trust people, and people couldn’t trust me. Things may go like that because I was hurt by someone, or someone might be hurt by me. When human relationship goes bad, we might simply decide to silently and secretly pray for our relationship with other people or just pray for other people to grow and change, or pray for me to grow and change. I’ve been doing this, and this helped me a little bit in disciplining me in terms of developing my patience, but this really didn’t help at all to improve my relationship with people. One thing that I haven’t done is to let my wounds and scars out to people so that people understand me better, and let other people express their feelings toward me so that I can understand and love other people better. I believe that UBF church will be better if we can have a open conversation not just in order to gossip but in order to be a true friend.
    Still for now, I’m not 100% ready to have an open conversation with people because I have a lots of doubt and fear that human beings are just human beings with full of weaknesses and sins.
    However, I’m desperately longing for this kind of sincere relationship in our church, and I hope this can happen sooner or later, so that we can establish ‘TRUE KOINONIA’

    • Thanks James for sharing this.
      As you mentioned in UBF we used to be patient and keep silence about our hurts and wounds. I do agree that sometimes trueth and obedience to the word of God is painful. But many times we are hurted one by another b/c we are sinners and we are mistaken. Hovewer the could manner in UBF is to keep silence and to accept everything as a will of God. Though Jesus himself gave us great tool and right and even obligation for expressing our wounds in Luk 17:3, Math.18:15 when it is really needed. But as I saw we in UBF are almost not using it.

  18. Maria Peace

    David thank you for this insight. Gossip does a lot to ruin and destroy trust and friendship. Jesus gave us the answer to go to the person we have problems with instead of talking about them behind their backs. Joe thank you for your honestly. It takes great courage to share ones hurts, failures and mistakes. But it brings great glory to God, when one can overcome them and become refined in his glory. UBF is not perfect. I can attest to that. But what church is? Only Jesus is perfect and he gave us a command to love one another so that through this all can see that we are his disciple. But I think we need a panel in UBF to address all the people who are getting hurt in our ministry by co-workers or even by the leaders themselves. Do other churches have a complaint board? How do other churches manage complaints? We can’t just keep labeling people trouble makers or being difficult when they just hurting or just questioning?

  19. Joshua WH Yoon

    Joe, I finallay found time to come back to this website and read the articles you mentioned in your email. I am one of many whose hearts have been touched by your story and journey. As you know, I am one of some who liked your message on Acts 2 at the national staff conference. Your talk was different. Your “coming out” story touched and stirred something deep in my soul. Your speech was not a message performance. It was your story about yourself and the word of God was made more real and relevant. Honesty spoke louder to me than good performance. I was one of the “coworking and networking” workshop committee at the conference but I had a question bothering me. While dealing with these issues in serving the ministry, where can we find true friendship? We especially directors talk about many ministry business related stuff alike raising disciples and raising Bible teachers and “shepherds.” We hardly share our feelings and emotions as human to human. Once, my daughter asked me, “Do you have a friend in UBF?” I could not answer right away. I had many “coworkers” who work with me but there was no true friend with whom I share everything in honesty except for my wife. I saw openness and honesty and humiliy in you while you shared Acts 2 messge so I wanted to be connected to you as a friend. That is why I emailed you the next day calling Joe, not Dr. Joe and visited you in July. I am very blessed to make friend with you. Your story has been such a blessing to many including me that many people desire to experience the same healing and joy you have experienced. People need good friends almost as much as they need the Lord. Without true human to human relationship, without sharing with each other what is deep inside, coworking relationship will reach its limit soon. Since Ubfriends website launched in August, many people have brought what was on their minds. We are slowly becoming friends in Christ. I am even more connected to Maria Peace who is far away in Kiev. I wonder how you handle so many writings in the midst of your busy life. I just ask God to provide you with strength and wisdom and insight you need as you oversee this wonderful website. Thanks again for sharing your experience, especially your beautiful relationship with Sharon.

  20. Hi! Dr. Joe,
    I saw this article whenever I opened this site but didn’t bother to read it. Today I just went through from part 1-3.And I found a wonderful profound spritual truth in your writing. I feel that God is truly working in your life and this article is the fruit of that. I myself went through the same experience,  could not find any  solution, so I blamed the ministry and  left. I don’t really know till now whether such a time if hiting WAll happen due to the system that we are working, I mean UBF or it is a natural process for  a person’s spiritual maturity-I am still wandering. But since I have come out from the four wall boundaries of organizational rules and regulation, I found some fresh air and relaxation at the moment  and I feel ok, but do not know how long will it last. I love UBF since I recieved so much blessing from it but at last I quit it due to very reason I mentioned. I wish that you should circulate your article to all coworkers, UBF, around the world because I am sure that many would be facing the same problem and find comfort and some solution by reading your experience.  

  21. Sarah Jeong

    Dear Joe,
    I realize this comment is very late.  I’m not good at keeping up with the web.  But I wanted to thank God for the spiritual breakthrough he has performed in your life and family.  It is very precious in His sight.  I can only imagine how hard it has been to maintain your academic position while leading a small chapter.  Being part of a small chapter seems like walking through the fire of spiritual purification.  I feel like God has been using this time to pull out my craving for people’s praise from the root.   But whenever one root is pulled out, I see another starting to grow already.  But I’ve found that God is faithful.  He has helped me every time I asked for help and waited on his answer while also examining my heart.  God bless your family and ministry.