On August 31, 2004, at 5:00 am, a Burger King employee in Richmond Hill, Georgia, found Kyle unconscious, naked, and lying on the floor behind a restaurant dumpster. Kyle’s skull had several trauma injuries from the punches he had received. He was taken to St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital’s Emergency Room in Savannah. He did not have his identity document with him, and he was admitted to the hospital as “Burger King Doe”. Kyle was diagnosed with severe amnesia. He did not remember anything about his own identity. Eventually, he remembered his name, it was Benjamin. But he did not remember anything else. He did not remember his social security number, or anything regarding his family, background, or job. His entire life was erased in the blink of an eye. There was no report of a stolen car, hotels in the area had no recordings in which he could be seen. Two weeks later, he was transferred to the Memorial Health University Medical Center.
This case was known throughout the country and it could be seen on several television programs, hoping that someone would claim who he was. The FBI intervened without any luck. Dr. Phill had a whole TV episode with him, and also launched a private investigation to find out who this man was, but it did not throw any information. Only a nurse who had taken care of him at some point could identify him, took him to her home, and began to help him. Kyle could not work nor receive social welfare because he did not have any type of identification. Several requests were made to the state so that he could get a new social security number, but it was all in vain. For many years he was a homeless person.
In 2015, a forensic genealogist started to gather clues regarding Kyle’s family and located several relatives in the Carolinas. He was the descendant of a man who lived in the 19th century, called Braham Lovely Powell. In September 2015, it was announced that Kyle’s relatives had been found and that his name was William Burgess Powell, born on August 29, 1948.
Now imagine if this happened to you, that your whole identity was erased; that one Saturday you went to church to minister, something dramatic happens and you lose all knowledge of who you are; that you had an identity crisis in which you lose the sense of what your past was, what is your present and what your future will be. Imagine if that happened to you for 9 years. This is exactly what Satan wants to do with us. He wants to distort our identity, to break it. Satan cannot destroy God, but how does he attack and destroy what God has created? Attacking His creatures’ identity, since, if he distorts it, he will destroy the essence of who they really are, especially when we talk about pastoral identity.
We are living unprecedented times. The pandemic has changed our history, it has influenced our identity as people, Christians and professionals. Pastoral ministry has never been as difficult as it is today. Pastoral ministry today requires you to be a CEO, counselor, coach, conflict mediator, theologian, husband, father, friend, community leader, preacher, online program producer, social media expert, because that is the place where you your ministry takes place so that you can reach out to parishioners.
Never in the history of pastoral ministry has the pastor had to wear so many hats in order to minister to the society of his time. This is without considering other responsibilities that a pastor can have as pressure or demands on the part of the members and the administration. All of this has created great confusion in the pastor’s role and identity.
Craig Barnes says, “Only in the last two generations has a pastor been forced to bear an additional burden that is far from being light: confusion about what it means to be a pastor”.
Many pastors are experiencing an identity crisis. They are not clear on who they are or what their functions require. This lack of clarity jeopardizes both pastors and their congregations. Currently, pastors are shepherding on what we call a broken identity.
In these series of posts dedicated to the pastoral ministry, I want to address the concept of identity, the impact stress has on it ,and, at the end of this article, we will talk about how to lead with a broken identity.
What does identity mean?
In order to understand what I mean by “pastors ministering with a broken identity” we need to understand what identity is and how it works.
In its simplest form, we could say that “identity” is the way people see themselves in several contexts. It is from this concept that people have of themselves, that they act, re-act and behave.
Identity theorist psychologists Peter Burke and Jan Stets define identity through that set of meanings that define what a person is when he/she plays a particular role in society, when he/she is a member of a particular group or claims to have particular characteristics that identify him/her as a unique person.
God has given us an identity in Christ, one to which we can continue giving shape day by day on our journey to heaven. If in the process of the identity formation we ignore what God says about who we are, then we can expect to experience existential confusion and crisis.
Immediately after our birth, we were given an identity. The formation of that identity, however, is a longer process and is under the influence of many factors as we will see in this post. It is interesting to see that when Jesus was approximately thirty years old, the Father mentioned His identity at His baptism, just before entering completely into His pastoral ministry. In the same way, identity in Christ must precede and support our call to go to Christ.
It is in this sense that Satan challenges each one of us, the same way he did with our Lord, so that we have an identity crisis. The first attacks of the devil against Jesus were directed to His identity: “If you are the Son of God”. This, since once we accept the false identity that Satan wants to impose on us, our performance in the ministry will be clouded and we will develop a broken pastoral identity.
Your life script influences your identity. Your life script was written in the first five years of your existence and was under the influence of the mandates, orders, emotional dynamics and the psychosocial environment in which you grew up in your family of origin.
Your life script is the foundation of who you are as a person and defines your identity.
Your identity can be conscious or unconscious, but the truth is that it has a very strong influence on your behavior. Your behavior, your emotions and reactions come from the sense of identity you may have, since they are part of the life script you have stored in your unconscious.
Identity is developed on three levels. First, pastors have a personal identity. This type of identity is centered on who we are in Christ, as children of God and stewards of His kingdom. Second, pastors have role identities related to their jobs or responsibilities. That is, a pastor has a pastoral identity. That pastoral identity is defined by the word of God, but it can be under the influence of the pastor’s life script, the context in which he develops his life and his culture. Third, the pastor has a social identity that is developed around the people close to him.
If we look at it from this perspective, we can say that a pastor has multiple identities, but there is one identity that is the foundation of the other identities he may have. That identity is the one that he receives in Jesus, he is a human being created by God, redeemed and a citizen of His kingdom.
 M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), 4.
 2 Peter J. Burke and Jan E. Stets, Identity Theory (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009),