Paul Conneff, an Adventist pastor and marriage and family therapist, has developed a ministry dedicated to praying people free from guilt, anger and addictive behaviors. Spectrum asked Paul what makes his ministry both unique and effective.
RD: What is at the heart of "Straight to the Heart Ministries"? What is your spiritual and theological philosophy, and how do you embody it practically?
PC: Our passion is moving Christians from information about the gospel, to transformation through the prophecies emphasizing Christ as our “Suffering Messiah.” Many Christians accept Christ as their savior based on the traditional gospel most of us have been taught, but continue to live in a cycle of sin and forgiveness, rarely experiencing freedom and victory. Contrast these two gospels in the graph below:The traditional gospel we share as good news:Jesus’ gospel based on him fulfilling prophecies as the “suffering messiah:”An emphasize on the teaching of Scripture over an experience of transformation1. Christ died for our sins2. We repent3. We accept Him as Savior & Lord4. We receive forgiveness5. We receive eternal life and a cycle of sin and forgivenessAn emphasis on Jesus as the healer, in addition to the traditional gospel we usually share“The Sovereign Lord has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor:1. To heal the broken hearted,2. To set the captives free,3. To walk us out of our prison of darkness or blindness (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18, emphasis added).
“Healing the broken hearted and setting the captives free,” to “go and make disciples” (Luke 4:18; Matt. 28:19), is the heartbeat of our ministry because healing and discipleship was the heartbeat of Jesus’ ministry.
During a training session I sometimes ask whether the church focuses more on healing or teaching. There is often a “pregnant pause” before the answer is given: “teaching.” Why do we reverse Jesus’ method of ministering to people and then wonder why it’s so hard to win people to him?
The prophets, gospel writers, apostles and the author of Hebrews made Jesus’ coming as the “Suffering Messiah” an important feature of their writing.“The Son of Man must suffer many things… he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life…. The captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering” (emphasis added).
Why would Jesus choose to fulfill prophecy by suffering abandonment, betrayal, physical and verbal violation, shame, humiliation, attacks, and the temptation to numb his pain and sense of being forsaken by his Father? So that we would know that he knows everything we’ve gone through. Jesus embraced all our sins and our suffering, earning the right to “heal us and set us free.”
In our ministry training, we focus on Acts 6:4, where the disciples emphasized “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” We, also, want God’s Word to go through our minds and hearts as we spend quality time at the throne of grace during times of prayer. As this happens, we can experience freedom in our lives through a personal relationship with a “rubber meets the road Jesus” who identifies with us, heals us and sets us free.
RD: When, how, and why did your ministry begin?
PC: Straight 2 the Heart Ministries began when I started working as a pastor in church settings, seeing girls who had been sexually abused, teens cutting themselves, divorces, affairs, anger, alcohol, etc. I noticed that many lifelong Christians had never experienced freedom or purpose in their lives, and I realized that I did not know how to help people work through their pain and brokenness.
So I began asking the Lord how his cross made a difference in the midst of all the messiness and brokenness of life. His response was that he wanted to begin with me. I just wanted to help others, but he kept insisting that we begin with the brokenness in my own heart. Eventually he won out, enabling me to receive prayer ministry for myself.
Over time, I began to write out Jesus’ experiences of suffering from Gethsemane to Calvary on the whiteboard in my office. As people began to connect with Jesus where he was abandoned, betrayed and abused, etc., hearts softened time and time again.
In 1992 I presented the “Suffering Messiah” as an important part of Jesus’ gospel at the National Association Of Christian Recovery. “Christ and him crucified” has continued forming the foundation of my ministry. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I believe that prayer is the greatest power on earth because it connects us to “Christ the Wonderful Counselor” (Isaiah 9:6; 1 Cor. 1:30).
RD: What kind of people do you help and how do you help them? Do they come to you or do you find them?
PC: Many people, including non-Christians, discover us through word of mouth after someone has shared with them that there really is hope for healing and freedom. When a person experiences the good news of the gospel, that person usually wants to talk about it.
I’m doing a training for a Pregnancy Choice group because someone shared with the leaders how her husband had gained freedom from a twenty-year addiction to pornography and they want to help girls coming into their ministry who have been sexually abused, abandoned, etc. That man is now ministering to other men as well. Others hear me present during weekend prayer and discipleship trainings at churches.
RD: What specifically is the role of prayer in your ministry?
PC: Straight 2 the Heart believes that prayer is two-way communication with God, where we learn to hear his “still small voice.”
The Desires Of Ages affirms Straight 2 the Heart’s main theme, emphasizing the importance of spending time “each day in contemplation of the life of Christ…grasping each scene, especially the closing ones” (emphasis added).
During times of prayer, we ask God to “search our heart and try our thoughts” so he can reveal the negative messages we have learned to believe about ourselves. We also ask God to reveal where in our painful experiences Christ has identified with us, where he was tempted in a similar way during his ministry on earth. This connects his heart with our wounded hearts so that his messages of grace and truth can transform us.
RD: You've spent twenty years in pastoral ministry. What influence has your time in church ministry had on Straight 2 the Heart Ministries?
PC: Seeing all the pain, brokenness and lack of purpose among church members, as well as discovering how many Christians are filled with much “head knowledge” but little “heart knowledge” has motivated me to devote myself full time to this ministry.
It seems like we’ve put the “cart before the horse” by focusing on knowledge about end time prophecy while not knowing the prophecies Jesus fulfilled by becoming the “Suffering Messiah” (even though, according to Jesus, these earlier prophecies are the foundation of all the scriptures, [Luke 24:25-27; 44-46]).
RD: What kinds of training and resources do you offer to pastors and others?
PC: We offer five-day training sessions for pastors and church members, weekend training sessions at churches and a three month discipleship process, with our “Pure Power – Pure Passion” resources.
We have all kinds of struggle and brokenness in our churches. Our passion is to equip local churches so they can have discipleship teams breaking open the “Bread of Life,” to those in need, multiplying more members into ministry.
RD: How can people learn more about Straight to the Heart Ministries?
They can start by browsing our website: www.straight2theheart.com. We have a 120-page prayer syllabus with sample prayers and forty pages of frequently asked questions, audio presentations, etc., available on our website: www.straight2theheart.com/resources.
Read Paul Conneff's Spectrum article, The Prayer of Forgiveness, here: http://spectrummagazine.org/article/paul-conneff/2011/04/05/prayer-forgiveness
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3089