There is a common story and I’ve lived it. There are things they don’t tell you when they play the emotional praise songs and try and convince young folk that if you really were serious about your faith that the only option is to go into full-time ministry and then you’ve arrived in spiritual seriousness. What they don’t tell you at church camp when your dehydrated and sleep deprived and then encourage you to come forward to throw your stick in the fire because this time you REALLY mean it and will give God your entire life in order to save the entire world . . . etc. There are things they don’t tell you when you are buying your sweatshirt at the bookstore from “Jesus loves you” Univeristy (tip to the hat to Bishop for that phrase). What they don’t tell you is how incredibly hard, lonely and isolating a life in ministry can be. You have no stated work hours if you’re really spiritual; the unwritten expectations are that you give your mornings, afternoons, evenings, late nights, weekends, whenever anybody calls, summers etc., you are always on call and need to be ‘on’. When spirituality is your job, you rarely take time to take care of yourself . . . so I didn’t.
For years I ran as hard as I could, I gave as much as I could, I served as much as I could, I taught as earnestly as I could, I planned as diligently as I could, I lead as dynamic as I could and at 26, I found myself crumbling inside. I had no category for it, on the outside I had all the successes one would look for, on the inside I was absolutely dying. I had no center, I was depressed and heading towards despair. I didn’t know who I was in the grand scheme of things, I felt utterly lost. There were some leadership challenges that were happening behind the scenes and I lacked the rooting, the foundation or the energy to cope with the storm well. I kept most of this internalized because I didn’t have a category for being weak and falling apart. I was afraid of letting everyone down, afraid of beling left alone if I wasn’t valuable to run the show anymore, I feared I had become a failure and eventually all woud find out. I got kudos for being strong and dynamic, so I kept that impostor up front. I was a train wreck waiting to happen and my prayer was that when I wrecked, it wouldn’t hurt anyone else.
**Disclaimer: The churches I worked at didn’t do this to me, I did. I didn’t know it at the time, but my sickness was within me, it wasn’t without. The common story in evangelical stories though is we hire young leaders and profit off their dynamism and when they get used up, we replace them. I’m not at all alone in that story. In fact many of my closest friends today are that story.
I decided I would go to seminary to leave the ministry. Yes, you read that right. I figured if I left ministry to go to school that everyone would assume that was natural, i was getting really serious now about becoming a ‘real’ pastor. The reality was that I didn’t want to hurt any of the young people I had worked with for a decade and had the privelege of leading. If I was a role model to them I did not want to disappoint them but I couldnt’ do it anymore. I was broken and needed saving myself. Nicki and I scrounged up whatever money we had and maxed out a credit card for me to fly to Colorado by myself to visit Denver Seminary because I liked their website and philosophy. They believed as much in character and competency as they did in content. I visited Denver Seminary in a 1/2 day and quickly realized it was not where I could see msyelf figuring my life out. I still had 2 days or so left so I headed for the mountains.
I drove up to the mountains to find myself and pray every honest prayer I could. I needed God to speak clearly and tell me what to do with my life. I hiked, i drove, I stomped through 4 feet of snow, I skiied, I walked, I thought, I listened . . . nothing. God had nothing to say. So I remember sitting in my hotel room my final night all packed up to catch an early flight home. Here I came to the Rockies to find myself and hear from God and I failed, he had nothing to say. I was not only lost, I spent our last pennies, we were broke. So I turned on the news in my hotel room and the footage was rolling across the screen of the latest school shooting massacre, the one in Arkansas that time. I watched the dead count of teens, I watched the horrified look on the faces of students and parents, I watched the blood stained bodies being pulled out of what was supposed to a place of safety and fun. Personified evil had stolen what was not an intended part of Creation, innocence was lost.
To say that I wept would be an understatement, those images completely undid me. My heart broke that night in deep, profound and haunting ways. I could no longer do church the same as I had. If God was true, if God was the center of all reality, if God’s Kingdom was actually the hope that we claimed it was, I could no longer do church the same because the church I was doing could not touch that dark world. Everything I had been taught was how to convince people to go to church, I wasn’t interested anymore. I became convinced that church needed to be sent to where people were. I had no idea how, but business as usual was broken for me. At 26, I was completely unsatisfied with church as usual, it simply wouldn’t do. If these are the issues of my generation, of my culture, things needed to change. Through a desperate weeping prayer, God spoke. He didn’t speak in the beauty of the snow capped mountain, but he spoke in a cheap and lonely downtown Denver hotel room. I asked him what could I do, and he said: “Chris, what do YOU want to do? What do you dream about, Chris? What do you long to do with me, Chris? Tell me everything on your heart, I will listen.” I don’t know about you, but in the deep and desperate times in my life, when I pray the honest kind of prayers, God calls me by name and it undoes me.
I got out the cheap hotel notepad and ballpoint pen and started writing and crying. I did that for 4 hours, I counted. When I read over what i wrote I realized I just wrote the business plan for a church start, but not one I had any experience leading or even knew if anyone ever attempted before. God said dream, so I did. The dreaming became a longing, the longing became a vision, the vision became a virus that I’ve never been able to rid myself of. That dark and painful night on March 24, 1998, in a lonely hotel room, through tears, my honest prayer turned into a dream statement that eventually gave birth to Ordinary Community Church in May, 2001.
My train wreck was resurrected, isn’t that the way God works? #elpida