Transforming the Soul—What We Didn’t Learn in Seminary

An Interview with Chuck Swindoll and Steve Fischer

Life has a way of teaching us unforgettable lessons. For example, we’re told a thousand times, “Don’t touch that!” or “Put on your coat!” but once we experience a burned finger or a touch of frostbite, we don’t have to be told again . . . lesson learned. In many ways, life is like a classroom. Parents are our first professors, and in spite of their best efforts, life experience often leaves its deepest marks.

Chuck Swindoll and Steve Fischer
Chuck Swindoll and Steve Fischer

Chuck Swindoll and Steve Fischer hold excellent, respectable graduate degrees, and their ministries reach around the world. But both men will say it has been life experiences—not seminary training—that has best prepared and qualified them for their work. Both men agree: strong theological training is vital for ministry, but to be qualified for soul work requires first-hand, personal experience with pain. Regrettably, many people in ministry today have adequate knowledge but cannot connect with those in their care. Reason being: these ministers haven’t been crushed; therefore, they often cannot fully relate to those who have been crushed.

Here’s how we can learn to care for the soul—lessons learned in the crucible of life.

Watch the Interview

Interview Questions

  1. What are the circumstances that led to the loss of your daughter?
  2. What happened when you and your wife agreed to stop trying to find a diagnosis to your daughter’s condition?
  3. Chuck’s additional question: Did you find when you were at seminary—having had that background experience for so many years—that it played a special role in the direction you were going?
  4. How are things different for your family after the death of your daughter?
  5. Chuck’s additional question: Did loosing Payton make you a different parent?
  6. Does your personal tragedy make you a better pastor?
  7. What should a Christian do for someone who is grieving?
  8. What is the value of establishing a relationship with someone while counseling him or her?
  9. Why should biblical counseling avoid being formulaic in its approach?
  10. Colleen’s additional question: How can a pastor incorporate compassionate, healing presence into his or her ministry without the experience of deep pain?
  11. How is the fact that we are all broken by sin actually freeing for us?
  12. How should the church come alongside those who are hurting or caring for someone with special needs?
  13. How has having a grandchild with special needs changed your perspective?
  14. What does it mean to accept one’s situation with hope?
  15. Why must we accept the truth even when it is painful?
  16. What words do you have for someone suffering today?
  17. How is the knowledge that God is sovereign a comfort to the hurting?

Not one time in this interview did we hear the words easy, simple, smart, knowledge, and the like. What we did hear repeated were soul words: crushing, honesty, compassion, quietness, silence, God’s work, God’s will, God’s way, brokenness.

The truth is, soul change begins when we let go of trying to be impressive and get honest about our lives. You may be running from pain; stop running . . . or stop trying to fix someone you know who is running. Sit in the storm, allow it to rage, and ask God to help you hang on. You may know the Bible through and through, be a great teacher, seem to have all the answers but have never listened to your soul or it’s pain. Maybe the reason that those who are disabled or different bother you so much is because you have yet to accept your own weaknesses and brokenness.

Stop. Stop doing. Listen.

Listen to what your soul says when you ask yourself . . .

  • What if they really knew this about me?
  • Why do I think I have to have all the answers?
  • Am I willing to give and sacrifice when no one is looking?
  • Why can’t I sit with those who are hurting?
  • What if I was in that wheelchair? (You might be someday, you know.)
  • When was the last time I embraced someone hurting and said nothing?
  • What has God used to crush me, and have I asked for help to heal?

Let Me Hear from You

To reach a lost world, we must have to experience being “lost” a time or two. If God is working in your life, if something said in this interview touched you, it’s time to reach out. If you have been wounded by an insensitive or arrogant leader, I’m so sorry. There’s work to be done in your soul too. Isn’t it time to get real . . . to recognize you don’t have all the answers.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

About Steve Fischer

Steve currently serves as the pastor of Care Ministries at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. Prior to serving at Stonebriar, Steve was in private practice in Plano, Texas, as a licensed professional counselor. In 1998, Steve earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Steve also has a Master of Science degree in Physiology. Prior to entering the ministry, Steve worked as the director of Health and Wellness for the Texas Association of Texas Instruments and the director of Outpatient Cardiology Services for Methodist Hospitals of Memphis, Tennessee.

Steve has been married to his wife Melanie for 30 years. Melanie is the executive vice president of Encompass Home Health. Encompass is a home health company that serves patients, families, and providers with a better way to care for the lives of special needs children and their families. Steve and Melanie have four children: Brittney, Payton, Anna, and Alexandra. Steve’s second daughter, Payton, has lived with our Lord since 1995. Payton was born with multiple medical problems and lived five years before passing away in the arms of Steve and Melanie in their home on the morning of April 19, 1995.

About Chuck Swindoll

Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word and His grace. A pastor at heart, Chuck has served as senior pastor to congregations in Texas, Massachusetts, and California. Since 1998, he has served as the founder and senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends far beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs in major Christian radio markets around the world, reaching people groups in languages they can understand. Chuck’s extensive writing ministry has also served the body of Christ worldwide and his leadership as president and now chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation of men and women for ministry. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children, ten grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

  • Wow, Colleen. I love the vulnerability with which Steve shares. What a blessing to have his perspective of grace rather than bitterness. Thanks.

    • Wayne,
      Steve is an amazing man! I’ve known him at our church for a while now but he was so very open in this interview and offered such wisdom from his experiences…it was very moving. I think Chuck also shared some vital words with us all about the importance of having care and sensitivity for those in need…and how often we don’t even know they are struggling. Steve really represented that well…he looks so typical and yet was hurting so deeply but no one would have known unless they chose to stop, think, and consider maybe he needed some help. A great message to us all. Great to hear from you! Colleen

  • Brittney Fischer

    Steve Fischer, aka my dad, never ever ceases to amaze me with the amount of knowledge and compassion that man has within him. Being the oldest, some might even say “the favorite” daughter, and having lived through the death of my sister Payton and dealing with my own personal “crushes” in life, the acronym “NRT” truly is something that I live by in my day to day everyday life. It works!! Although I’ve heard a lot of what my dad says in this interview many many times in my life already, there’s something about Gods timing and watching this today and not only hearing but feeling the pain yet joy that comes from you three in this interview is absolutely divine and touched me personally. Thank you so much for this and I’m so proud and thankful for you dad, I guess I’ll keep ya! 🙂

    -Brittney

    • Brittney,
      This is a first my friend. To hear you say your dad is the same at home, at work, and as a parent is profoundly comforting to many. I say the same about mine…they walk their talk. I am so very sorry for all you endured, all the moments you may have seen your folks in sorrow but couldn’t fix it…all the seasons you may have wondered if the subject would pass, the questions without answers, the silence and the wishes for your sister to still be here…I can’t begin to imagine. But from your words here, you are a shining diamond in this dark and lonely world. And in fact, I JUST TODAY wrote NRT to a friend. We are sticking by that without having to think it…it’s becoming a habit as we walk through recent changes. Thank you so very much for your precious, authentic, honest words and for being present when many would have turned to bitterness. Your dad is a pretty cool guy … I agree with you and good to know you’re keeping him for a little longer! = ) Thanks again, Colleen

  • Sally

    Colleen,
    This interview was right on time and has profoundly touched me. The conversation is filled with truth and enlightenment. I took notes and will need to watch it again although next time with a box of tissues! 🙂 I am encouraged to start the new year with this message! -Sally

    • Sally, Now I am motivated just hearing your excitement. I’m so glad you enjoyed the conversation…it was enlightening for me too as I didn’t know part of Steve’s story. Yes, I had to use tissue in every interview. Would love to hear what you found enlightening and helpful and perhaps what you would like to hear more of. I really want our audience encouraged and motivated like you are. Have a great weekend. Colleen

  • Amy

    An amazing, transparent interview! So thoughtful and full of wisdom. Lord knows (and He does!) I’ve been crushed and lost…and healed. The NRT can seem like a insurmountable step but so very wise and important. I’ve always said grief is holy ground because of the One we cling to as we clumsily make our way through uncharted territory as we grieve the loss of a child. What a blessing you all are!

    • Amy,
      What a great statement “grief is holy ground”; I’ve never thought of it that way before. I love that! Grief is one of the most powerful life changers isn’t it; but it’s so hard to stay the course when it hits like a brick wall. And yes, it is also a clumsy, messy process; showing up at the most unexpected moments. I have used NRT so many times since Steve mentioned it that day…another keeper. I would love to hear some ways you made it through grief and how it changed your life sometime. Thank you for your words of encouragement and wisdom. Have a great afternoon. Colleen

  • Amy

    I should add I love the title of this interview. My hubby is also a pastor. He was called to seminary in his 40s…after nuclear engineering and medical school. Pastoral care is something very difficult to teach. His life experience is what sets him apart as a pastor. He is not afraid to go “places” because he traveled so many paths, seen much pain and tragedy – and puts up with me! I so appreciate the special gifts these me share!

    • Amy,
      I agree. In fact, my team is putting together a collection of my writings and it includes “what they didn’t teach us in Sunday School”. We like the happy endings, the Disney-like hero stories which end happily ever after. And it doesn’t help that our entertainment industry pushes us to believe that is always possible. The reality is that we will suffer through life, unfairly, unjustly, and unexpectedly. Few pastor’s or people understand how to walk with other’s through the process which is one of the reasons I have chosen to do these videos…because it takes suffering to understand it really. And to help others through I’ve had to learn it a lot through experience. I’m thrilled to know your husband, my dad, and those I have interviewed get it so other’s can be touched and hopefully given hope. So glad you added this note. I would love to hear more about how he helps other ‘suffer’ through. Colleen

  • Cathy Buchanan

    I absolutely loved this interview. My husband worked for Chuck and with Steve for the last 10 years before passing away this summer from brain cancer. I have been walking my own journey of grief with the support of two church families, my personal family and friends. I took away bits from all 3 of you today that really resonated with me and where am I today. I love the 7 Dwarfs, I love the tenets for getting to know oneself, and I love the idea of NRT. The NRT has really hit home with me. Living with cancer has taught our family to live intentionally, and appreciate any good things that come into our lives. However, dealing with grief and the aftermath of illness makes me frequently want to curl up and hide from life. I need to ensure that I do get up, and I do make my bed, and that I do continue to engage in life. Thank you for such an engaging interview with such transparent, and awesome people!

  • Madeline Carr

    Colleen, what a wonderful interview! I laughed–I cried–so much was said that I can relate to. Many things I have observed in my life were validated. The concept of ‘get up’ and do the ‘next right thing’, the ‘invisible dwarfs’, being authentic– these are very relevant in my life. I am thinking about Chuck’s words regarding “listening, learning and accepting”. I am also thinking about accepting who I am. Accepting who I am may be a huge piece I have been missing and no doubt contributes to why I tend to feel defeated. I rarely, maybe never, live up to my own expectations for myself. God’s sovereignty is a mystery to me. His love is something that I have thought I understood before, but I really do not. Suffering is a tough discipline. The Bible says, ‘God loves whom He disciplines’, and it gives me hope and a reason to keep trying as well as hope for my son. Enjoyment in the moment was referred to in the interview. I need so much more laughter and fun in my life with my family–this is my prayer. I think I need to involve my family in ministering to others in the unique and unexpected ways that He has been giving me a vision for but I tend to think it is just ‘pipe dreaming’. On another note, over Christmas, I realized how Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus was given a very humble job to do i.e. pregnancy, travel, birth, feeding, changing diapers, being there through her son’s suffering and early death but yet she is highly favored. It never occurred to me before that she never achieved anything that would be considered by our culture’s standards as a high achievement. Yet her acceptance of carrying out a pregnancy, giving birth and taking on a care giving role for someone destined to suffer and die resulted in the Saviour coming to our world to rescue mankind. This gives me a lot of encouragement that the work that I do in caring for my son has significance. It gives me hope that my son has significance. God highly values care giving–He is in it. When others see the world of families with members who have special needs (or caregivers who do a great job caring for others with special needs) they get a special glimpse of what God is all about. I am thankful for the love extended from the interview and for the personal experiences that were shared. You can know that I am someone who has been encouraged by it and who feels God’s love extended through it.

    • Madeline,
      Oh my goodness, it is so good to hear from you! How are you? How authentic and honest is your note; I love it. It took me many years to accept who I was and I still struggle with perfectionism…rarely do I ‘feel’ like I’ve done or been good enough. However, my son and all his complications has taught me a most significant lesson…that is, I couldn’t love him more, admire him, treasure him just as he is. He has huge struggles, things this world would call flaws; but in my eyes they are gigantic mountains he has to face and walk through every day. I never expect him to be anything more or less, just him. It hit me one day that this is God’s love for us…all our flaws or what we think are flaws, mistakes, areas of weakness, even our broken nature is loved, treasured and understood by our Heavenly Father. He doesn’t expect perfection before He loves us. He loves you and me and all of us more than we can imagine. It is the world that set labels and limits, not God. Yes, we are called to walk in obedience and have a responsibility to be submitted to Him; but it does not mean His love changes when we choose otherwise. How profound. It sounds like the voice you have towards yourself is pretty self critical. I would encourage you to examine those messages and then learn to think differently. I’ve had to work on this and will until the day I die. I have read several books on this and would be happy to share them if you are interested. For now, think of how much you love your family and remember, God’s love for you abounds greater than you can imagine. I’m so glad this video hit home…would love to hear how you are doing in the months ahead. Colleen

  • donna

    wonderful interview full of information. I have watched it twice and still trying to process it all! I love the acceptance with Hope, but wondering if you can expand on what it exactly that means or how that would look. Also can you share the seven dwarfs in print ?

    • Donna,
      The Seven Dwarfs may become a blog…depending on permissions. Wasn’t that a great part of the interview. It came from a small caregiving book I found at a Hallmark store years ago and it’s been the best. The ‘acceptance with hope’ means we accept what God allows knowing heaven is our eternal home; should the Lord choose for us to suffer in any way, we can accept the suffering with hope because heaven is our home. While we will have much pain on this earth, in heaven all will be made right, whole, healed, and perfect…that gives me tremendous hope! It’s what Hebrews 11 speaks of…even though there was so much horrid suffering for those mentioned there and others, their focus was not on this earth, they were not worthy of this earth in fact. They endured with expectant hope as they focused on God’s promises of eternal life with Him. I hope that makes sense. If not, let me know. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and again, I am so thrilled that you felt moved in your heart…hopefully greatly encouraged. Great to connect with you today. Colleen

  • jean

    I could have been caring today for two humans with special needs.I thank God for sparing my son.It was in two instances of my pregnacy that my husband in an episode pushed me twice making me fall with my pelvic down on my fourth month of pregnancy the second was in my 9th month when my husband during an episode pushed me down the road and i know it was the angel of the Lord who prevented me from falling,the two falls are both fatal and dangerous,that could have caused a defect in my son physically if not fatal.My husband is a work psychopath.What i did during those distressing pregnancy is pray hard to God like Hannah did while asking for a son (who is Samuel).I felt my neck’s veins are expanding in my grief in begging God His mercy,that if i sinned in marrying my husband i asked Him to please do not let any physical mark of it to my son to remind me of my sin,but that he will make my son be born perfectly normal.body soul and spirit.Which God Heard.Now with the help of books about people with mental disorder that God lead me to to read,one of it was entitled Snakes in Suit,helping people by Gary Collins,freedom from darkness by i forget.Stress fracture by your father pastor Charles swindoll,emotional vampires by i forget and many more.And your forum colleen,are all the resources God is leading me to to care for my husband who has a mental disorder.I thank you for this interview.I lost my password due to misuse colleen.I now created a new one.

    • Jean,
      What an incredible note. I have heard of all the books you mentioned and read a few of them as well. God certainly has protected you and in such a tangible, life protecting way. I’m so very thankful you sent your comment. I would love to hear more about how you have endured many years of physical and emotional abuse; that is a huge area very few talk about…but it’s everywhere. I’m glad you had the courage to share; more women need to know they are not alone. Also, if you need help with your Insight for Living account, let me know. I have an incredible team who could help you get back into it and you wouldn’t have to worry with finding passwords but just make up new ones. Hopefully that would help. I am also glad you are able to watch these videos and they are an encouragement to you. You probably have much grief but God has and will remain faithful. Hope to talk with you soon and do let me know if I can help with your account in any way. May God’s peace fill you today and everyday. Colleen

      • jean

        Yes colleen as the word of God richly dwell in me that shielded me to be overcome by bitterness,discontent,fear and many more emotions,the word of Jesus helped me to overcome evil with good instead.If dying to self is the cause of me gaining the resurrection power of Christ,i consider this marriage my weakness that i glory into for in this difficult marriage Christ’s strength is made perfected in me.And to quote one of my favorite pastor teacher too aside from your Dad,He said i would rather suffer for Christ’s sake and be in fellowship with Him,than be in comfort and be out of fellowship with Christ.I think our life as Christians colleen will never be apart from what Christ’s suffering are.And this suffering we carry will merit a reward that is so nil in comparison.Thank you colleen for your encouragement.

        • Jean,
          It is only through Christ and His provided, abundant, promised strength that you have survived. Any kind of personality distortion that carries abusive messages can rip one to the core if they are not strong in so many ways. That strength and wisdom can only come from our Lord Jesus Christ. May He bless you and keep you, preserve your heart, mind, body, and soul as you take life one day at a time. You are so encouraging to me my friend. Thank you. Have a blessed day. Colleen

  • Cathy,
    Oh my goodness, what a joy it is to hear from you. The loss of your husband was sad for all of us…dad and Steve were deeply moved by his challenges and your loss. However, the aftermath of it all can be a vacuum…wanting to curl up and no live because of fear, wishing it away, or making the colossal choice of moving forward with hope and support. You have chosen the last which is the most wise and healing choice to make…and probably the hardest. I love your words about intentional living, taking each moment and making it golden, knowing that we never know when our last breath will come. It makes all of life precious. I am glad you have found good support; I have a lot of “grief” works I could recommend should you want them. The only one I will mention here is titled “Experiencing Grief” by Norm Wright. He lost his very disabled son and his wife and write in a way that grievers can understand. He makes the enormous, pounding process make more sense…even when he says grief makes no sense and has no single path…it’s all over the map. It’s okay to be as well. I would love to hear how you are doing as the days pass, if there is anything you need for support, or whatever. The NRT thing was genius! I’ve used that so many times…and in the next interview in February, Patsy Clairmont speaks about getting up and making her bed was the beginning of her healing. So that’s what we do around here on hard days…get up, make the bed, and pray for what the NRT is. So good to hear from you and I hope you are doing well this weekend. Please stay in touch should time permit; I would love to walk along side you. What most don’t understand is that grief and death are two of the most disabling conditions we ever experience. Grief alters brain chemicals, sometimes brain chemistry, and death puts us into a whole other orbit of challenges. So you are not alone in this. You will make it through and become more full and whole of a person than ever as you stay the course. I pray you have a good weekend and hope to connect again. Thanks for your kind words of support. Colleen

  • Jolene Philo

    This post and interview remind me of something I tell parents of kids with special needs often. They are the experts on their children, more than the doctors and teachers and therapists. When they remember that, they can advocate with confidence, especially when they also remember God equips those he calls to serve. Thank you for adding this post and this remarkable interview to DifferentDream.com’s Tuesday link up.

  • Jolene,
    As always, it is an honor to write and share encouragement across mainstream ministries. Thank you for the opportunity. I think we all need to be reminded that we are the experts on our kids. It’s hard to remember when so much information is out there and our love runs so deep…whatever one may suggest, it’s easy to fall into the trap of finding a cure rather than loving our little ones. Great to hear from you and thanks again for allowing us to share on your link line up. You offer so many great posts! Thanks! Colleen

  • Gina Marie

    Hi Colleen, haven’t been able to get this to play…tonight, success!! This was such a great chat. I was reminded at the end of something Jeff McNair said in Oz with CBM in July 2014, as you all considered the sovereignty of God. He said that God’s sovereignty can make life somewhat easier for some people and somewhat more difficult for others, giving some of us an opportunity to give from that which we have been given. Enjoyed hearing and seeing you too after not being very present here for a while. Presented my paper at the South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment last week, gotta pack now. Off to the UK with child number 3 for 9 weeks (6 of school for her). Hopefully have some contact while away. Love to you and your family. Prayer for peace, discernment and rest from your work so that only our Lords work gets a ‘look-in’! Gina

    • Hello my dear friend Gina,
      I LOVED hearing from you!!! And I also love the quote you sent. How that fits our lives…sometimes it’s a comfort to rest in God’s sovereignty and other times it can be a total mystery and challenge to release our lives (daily challenges) to Him. You may be this way too but what I realize it that the circumstances are there to bring out what is inside rather than for me to get stuck on trying to understand them. When I do that, its usually due to discomfort and wanting relief. It’s funny, we easily embrace sovereignty when life seems secure and simple but toss in those complicated things and accepting what has been allowed is more difficult. How we both understand that. I will be praying for your trip…that is a long time to be away so I will pray for traveling mercies and many moments of peace for your whole family while you are gone…and for your kiddo as well. I’m so glad you were able to connect and found comfort in the interview. We had a great time doing it together. Hope to hear from you as you are on the road and when you return. Colleen