I remember where I was at the exact moment I read the words below by Rob Bell in his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. I was sitting on our couch in Pasadena, CA and as I read each word the resonance grew deeper and deeper within me until I finally felt like I was hit by a ton of breaks…but at least understood. At least there was some pastor out there I thought, this one in Michigan, who put words to my feelings and thoughts in ways that I was not able to at the time. Bell says,
Once again I am going to give you some numbers, and I hesitate to do so, but it is part of the story and it helps to explain the rest. Two years into it, there were around 10,000 people coming to the three gatherings on Sundays.
In the middle of all this growth and chaos was me, superpastor. I was doing weddings and funerals and giving spiritual direction and going to meetings and teaching and dealing with crises and visiting people in prison and at the hospital–the pace and the workload were unreal.
I can’t begin to describe what it was like because it was happening so fast. One minute you have these ideas about how it could be and the next minute you are leading this exploding church/event/monster. All of a sudden there are all of these people who know who you are and want something from you and think you’re a big deal, and you are the same person you’ve always been. Everything has changed and yet it hasn’t. It’s hard to explain, but I found myself asking, “Where is the training manual?”
I think of people who never before cared if I existed who suddenly wanted to be my friend. And that’s why I tell you all of this. Because there’s a dark side.
It’s one thing to be an intern with dreams about how church should be. It’s another thing to be the thirty-year-old pastor of a massive church.
And that is why I was sitting there in the closet thinking about how far I could be by 11a.m. The next service was starting, I had just finished the 9:00 service, and I was done. I escaped to the storage closet where I could be alone and collect myself and figure out what to do next.
I was moments away from leaving the whole thing.
I just couldn’t do it anymore.
People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian anymore.
I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a Christian anymore.
What do you do when you can hear the room filling up with thousands of people who are expecting you to give them words from God, and you don’t even know if it is true anymore?
I was exhausted.
I was burned out.
I was full of doubt.
I was done.
I had nothing more to say.
And so I sat there with my keys in my hand, turning them over and over, listening to them clink against each other, hearing the room getting louder and louder and more and more full.
And it was at that moment that I made some decisions.
Because without pain, we don’t change, do we?
I could talk about the dangers of megachurches and life in the spotlight. I could write pages about what is wrong with Church incorporated and the flaws of institutional Christianity, but I realized that day that things were wrong with the whole way I was living my life.
And if I didn’t change, I was not going to make it.
It was in that abyss that I broke and got help…because it’s only when you hit bottom and are desperate enough that things start to get better. This breakdown, of course, left me with all sorts of difficult decisions to make about Mars Hill. The church was alive and people were being transformed and the stories never stopped coming. Who would leave all that? I decided to be honest about my journey, and if people wanted to come along, great. But I was still going to have to go. And a new journey began, one that has been very, very painful.
And very, very freeing.
It was during this period that I learned that I have a soul.
Have you ever come to that place where you feel like you just can’t go on? When you aren’t even sure you know what you believe? Or you aren’t even sure you have deep within you the words to speak…even if God is present?
This is the turning point. It’s the fork in the road, where we have the option to either to surrender and get help, or push on, potentially into dangerous waters if we are not careful.
If you have gotten help (counseling, spiritual direction, prayer partners, etc.) when did you know it was time?
And if you haven’t gotten help yet, why not? What are you waiting for?
Now is the time for us to get honest about our journeys. That is where it begins. With honesty. It’s the same principle that Alcoholics Anonymous begins with in their 12 Steps. Step 1: 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. It’s an act of surrender, an act of admittance, an act of honesty with ourselves.
Alcohol may not be part of your equation, but dealing with depression and burnout in our lives and in the ministry begins with honesty. It begins with being real.
And sometimes being honest and real, and admitting that are lives are unmanageable, that we are burned out and depressed is more than we are willing to admit, and often it’s more than the congregation and the people we serve is willing to hear or tolerate.
But let’s just start here…let’s get honest about our journeys.