“I thrived on chaos at work and at home because I felt needed. But when the people in my life were doing well, I was lost.”
“When I was 52 years old, I took a long look at my life and realized I’d spent decades investing in what would never satisfy,” said Jim Word. “Even as I served as a pastor, I ‘abandoned [God] — the fountain of living water…and …dug cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!’ (Jeremiah 2:13) My life was once full of many good things: marriage, full-time ministry, and athletics. But good things become bad things when they become things that rule your life.
“I was born in Dallas and grew up in Alabama. When I was 16 years old, my older brother was electrocuted. The week after he passed away, his acceptance letter to Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) arrived at my parents’ home. Perhaps I patterned my young life in the direction my brother was going, because I chose to pursue Bible college in Alabama after high school, and then went on to DTS.
“My personality is not what people typically think of when they consider the qualities of a pastor. I can be melancholy, sarcastic, and dark at times—the kind of guy you’d find sitting on the back porch smoking a cigar with a group of friends. When I see people with the energy and laughter that fills up a room, I always appreciate it. But that’s not how the Lord wired me.
“When I got out of seminary in 1986, I took a job at a local church that was going through a big, chaotic transition. Seven years later, I helped another church in Arkansas navigate a season of transition, and then returned to Dallas where I did the same thing.
“I was the guy in ministry who was willing to jump in to difficult situations. I enjoyed the benefits of the Lord, but I wasn’t really His man. I knew a lot of Bible facts, but I wasn’t abiding with Jesus daily. My flesh said it felt good to be needed; it filled a need in my heart. But I led out of a fear of failure and a desire to control. My mantra wasn’t about whether you won or lost; it was always about me winning.
Working in ministry became an idol, and I was so dysfunctional as a pastor, that every job I had sucked the life out of my family. In my codependency, I found my value in how the people around me were doing. I had a desire to fix other people, so I was most content when my wife was miserable because I had a solution to offer. I thrived on chaos at work and at home because I felt needed. But when the people in my life were doing well, I was lost.
“By 2006, I was burned out by full-time ministry, and had left it to start a pool company. My marriage was falling apart, and we were going through a divorce. The pain from the unravelling of my family led me to Watermark, and specifically to the re:generation ministry. I took a look at my part in the unhealth of our marriage, from my use of pornography and fear of man to the significance I found in my role in ministry. I had been unwilling to speak truth to my former wife or give her permission to speak truth into mine. I had invested in the lives of other people but had failed to nurture my family.
“I also went through DivorceCare at Watermark. I learned how to find my identity in Christ, rather than in relationships. Over time, I experienced an incredible amount of healing from the Lord. I was able to make amends with my kids, and they told me I didn’t seem like the same person I was before. I also made amends and pursued reconciliation with my former wife. While there was not reconciliation of the marriage, through Christ, reconciliation of our relationship was made possible.
“Up to this point in life, I don’t think I knew that a true abiding walk with Christ was the real source of my purpose, meaning, and value. Now, I am dependent on Christ and the living water that flow from the Holy Spirit (John 7:38). I am surrounded by men like Jay Burns, Dan Frazier, Larry Miller, Jeff Blem, and others who are willing to hold me accountable and speak truth to me. I used to surround myself with weak people who would never tell me no. Community with other faithful men has been an absolute blessing.
“I’ve also returned to full-time ministry as a Watermark staff member, but my approach is totally different. I once took responsibility for fixing people. Now when God calls me to be part of His work, I show up knowing my only responsibility is to be faithful to speak truth in love, and let God do the rest. I can walk away from any conflict or challenging pastoral care situation knowing that God will accomplish what He wants in His timing. I can trust in the Lord for my strength. I am able to love and care for others more effectively now because I know I am just another beggar at the door of God’s mercy.