Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

By Our Wounds We Are Healed

Written by: on March 14, 2024

“I’ve watched my dreams all fade away
And blister in the sun
Everything I’ve ever had is unraveled and undone
I’ve set upon a worthless stack
Of my ambitious plans
And the people that I’ve loved the most
Have turned their backs and ran

This is the good life
I’ve lost everything
I could ever want
And ever dream of
This is the good life
I found everything
I could ever need
Here in Your arms.” (Lyrics from the song, “Good Life” by Audio Adrenaline)

I’d like to tell you how I’m famous.

In resistance to “impression management” I want to share with you that I hold the record for the most points given up in the least amount of time in ALL of American college football history. ALL of it. All the college football games, in all the divisions, in all of its history.

27 points in 79 seconds. 79 seconds was all it took for my college football career to end.  While I wasn’t the only one on the field when all this occurred, I was the quarterback (ironically or gracious unnamed in the article), the one primarily responsible for the success, or failure, of the offense on the field.

I had worked hard to recover from a devastating knee injury to return to the field of play, and was having the game of my life, until those fateful 79 seconds. I was splitting time on the field with my younger brother at quarterback, a whole other story. But after a fumble and two interceptions, my football career was essentially over. I vividly remember sitting on the sidelines with a towel over my head, reflecting on the 15 years of football I had played up until this moment and all the dreams and aspirations I had that would no longer be a reality.

It was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

I wanted to be a leader. I wanted to follow Jesus with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength. But I was unfamiliar with suffering.

What I didn’t realize in the loss of my dreams and hopes and the reality of my failure as a college athlete was that God was shaping in me a deep reservoir of acquaintance with grief and sorrow. I grew up in a loving home with tremendous privilege and was successful in school, sports and in life. I had built my identity around my success in those things, and my Defining Ego was driven on the Front Stage of success and a bright future and driven Back Stage by hard work and a loving home. But I was unfamiliar with suffering, and unfamiliar with pain. This experience was one of many that introduced me to suffering and loss in the next ten years of my life. I was invited, as Walker states, “to discover the freedom to fail, to learn that they can fail and survive. They need to acknowledge their failures rather than burying them in denial as they are tempted to do.” (107)

The Undefended Leader is a treasure trove of leadership development and understanding, tracing what forms us as leaders and how we embrace an undefended leadership posture in our daily lives. It is a book that I will return to often for many different insights, but it was this insight on suffering and leadership that was most compelling to me. Walker articulates well how a Defining Ego strives for success in every area of their life. (71) And he competently and persuasively articulates the power of suffering and loss in the shaping of a leader’s moral authority. Walker states that, “Moral authority…has to do with the kind of life one has lived. Very often it is only acquired through personal struggle and loss. “(7)

As I’ve learned to navigate the role of pastor in a faith community over the last 15 years, I’ve realized that what faith communities need are vulnerable and transparent leadership. In Dan Allender’s book Leading with a Limp he reminds us that, “This is the strange paradox of leading: to the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose—prompting the ultimate departure of your best people. The dark spiral of spin control inevitably leads to people’s cynicism and mistrust. So do yourself and your organization a favor and don’t go there. Prepare now to admit to your staff that you are the organization’s chief sinner.”

Leaders that are willing to embrace their weaknesses and be appropriately vulnerable and transparent give the people around them permission to do the same and keep themselves in a right relationship with a God who lavishes grace and mercy upon anyone who is humble enough to ask for it. The death of my dreams, the vulnerable engagement with the suffering and loss I’ve experienced, the confession of failures and mistakes I’ve made in leadership have been the rich soil in which God has produced the best fruit in my life and my leadership. I realize now that I am living out Walker’s articulation of a Definer’s journey with pain: “For the Definer, the pain of failure…can be the catalyst for monumental life change. Often, they will perceive such moments as ‘conversions’ that turned their lives around. These can fill their lives with purpose and meaning, as they become evangelists for the new reality they’ve discovered.” (143)

The death of my dream as a college athlete birthed in me a new closeness and intimacy with Jesus, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” (Is. 53:3) It has brought me closer to others, and closer to my true self. It has given me a deep appreciation for the people in my life that love me unconditionally and the joy that comes from each day’s opportunities and challenges. I am learning to become an undefended leader, by the grace of God and the mercy of those who love me. This really is the Good Life.




About the Author


Ryan Thorson

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Pastor. Coach. I am passionate about helping people discover the gift of Sabbath and slow down spirituality in the context of our busy world.

11 responses to “By Our Wounds We Are Healed”

  1. Diane Tuttle says:

    Thank you for sharing you journey Ryan. What a gift for the people you are closest to and the people you serve in your congregation that the watershed experience was given to Jesus. Do you think this was a once and done or does the Lord conitnue to call you through difficult experiences?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Diane! While this was a watershed moment for me, there is, I think, a continual dying to self and embracing resurrection that goes with Christ-centered leadership.

  2. Chad Warren says:

    Ryan, love your post. Thanks for telling us a little about what has helped form you as a leader. I really appreciate your focus on the role of suffering in leadership. That was not something that stood out in Walker’s work until your post. I also appreciate the introduction to Dan Allender’s book! I am on the front end of my journey with a new congregation. As you recommend sharing weaknesses as a leader, do you have any practical recommendations for introducing our weaknesses to those we lead?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Chad! I think the one of the temptations when leading a new congregation is to downplay our mistakes or when we get it wrong. We want to appear competent and build trust and equity with our new congregation, so we minimize our mistakes or downplay our faults. While I think the goal is always to grow and learn, I think acknowledging to our team when we got it wrong and learning through failure actually builds more trust and equity then if we always got it right. Hope that helps!

  3. Nancy Blackman says:

    Thank you so much for your vulnerability. I felt like I was sitting with you on the bench letting you know that you are not a failure, just like the young man in Simon Walker’s parable of the party, except I wasn’t with you when you were born … but God was and still is :-).

    So, as you continue your journey as pastor and leader of many souls, how will you share your chief sins with your congregants? And, how will they receive your vulnerability?

    Your end paragraph reminds me of a Spiritual Leadership class I took where our professor, Dr. Deborah Lloyd, said that our sole purpose is to recognize our deepest pain and figure out how that meets the needs of the world. It forever changed me and how I view my role as a leader, and how I was being invited by God to sit with others.

  4. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Ryan! Thanks for letting us into your football career journey and the highs and lows. As we all can attest, God’s plan for your life has ushered you into greater. As you shared the question came to mind, how many people you have been able to influence through your failures, (back stage) and how has that impacted your front stage today?

  5. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Ryan – thanks for sharing your personal story of how the Lord used your football career to grow your dependence on him.

    I can sense that you are an undefended leader. I can see your humility and grace towards those around you.

    How do you handle the pressure put on pastors to be perfect?

  6. Debbie Owen says:

    Ryan, thank you for sharing so openly about something so personal. Clearly you have come a long way. As a high Enneagram Three, I struggle to name my failures, especially so publicly! But maybe because someone else did it for you, that was a gift. You couldn’t hide. God is good… it just takes time to see it sometimes.

    With regard to leaders learning to suffer, I have a book recommendation for you. This was the book I picked up on Amazon “by accident” (by God) that first called me out on my dependence on my own competence. God called on me to surrender that to him. Maybe parts of this book will be useful to you too. God bless.


  7. Elysse Burns says:

    Ryan, thank you for sharing this part of your story. I appreciate how you were able to parallel your experiences to Walker’s ideas on suffering. What helped you heal from that season of loss? What does “freedom to fail” look like for you in this current season of life?

  8. Noel Liemam says:

    Hi Ryan, thank you for your post. You have shared a real life-long lesson that is mostly difficult to accept. Thanks for sharing about vulnerability and transparency with regards to leadership. And not only that but how you tied in ‘moral authority.’ How would think of moral authority with respect to vulnerability? Thanks.

  9. mm Kari says:

    Ryan, thank you for the vulnerable post. It was an encouragement and inspiration to me in dealing with my own sufferings. What has become some of your undefended practical approaches when you are facing suffering or challenges?

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