I denied that I needed healing from being addicted to ministry, a disease that I’ve seen in many other’s ministries, and now in my own ministry and life. As much as I thought I did not have this problem because I’ve turned down lots of ministry opportunities and speaking engagements, the ministry was nevertheless still too much a part of my identity. At it’s core, it’s not too different from any temptation where one derives own’s significance from one’s job, possessions, status, etc. But among pastors and ministers, the challenges with the temptation are unique and sometimes deathly hidden, and more so if the person is isolated. Thinking back, I recall the adrenaline rush I used to feel speaking and ministering in certain venues. Perhaps it’s akin to what other performers feel (which I have felt too). At its worst, that kind of ministry did not draw me to God, but further isolated me from God, people, and even myself. As one who has studied addiction, lived on a drug rehab island, and even lectured on addiction to grad students, I knew what was going on; I was addicted to ministry. But it took God to turn my world upside down before I could admit it.
The genesis of the problem can be traced back to 9th grade when my then English teacher somehow assessed that this super shy short kid might be able to take on teaching a lecture on diagramming to his fellow 9th grade peers. So he asked me to teach, then gave me the entire module to teach with no orientation nor instructions. So this very shy pre pubescent 4’ 10” kid, who rarely talked, all of a sudden began teaching diagramming to the whole class, for the whole period. I remember thinking at the time, “this is odd, cause I’ve never seen any student get up and teach a class, but here’s my chance, so I’ll do it.” I even assigned homework and graded the papers, colored pen and all. Later in high school, I’d teach math and even computers to teachers in the district, my first big paid job. But also so began my “on stage” persona that derived significance from my teaching and analytic skills. I was accepted teaching. But when I’m “off stage” I’d feel rejected and could not relate to people. When I was “on stage,” I was in my zone, and I was in control, and it gave me a high. Years later, ministry simply gave me a new context to build this “on stage” persona.
I spent years living in this delusion, and educated myself in tools that helped me to go even deeper in this delusion. In spite of this delusion, God was still in the ministry. But that’s because of God. He uses messed up people for His glory. Things turned when God began to let my “bottom fall out” from my ministry. This was catalyzed by my wife’s unexpected bedridden illness. I suddenly had to cancel ALL travel plans, take medical leave (after being convinced by my team) and was caretaker for her. Plus, I was thrown into the role of single parent for my special needs son. We were seeing doctors galore for both my wife and son. My mother’s health also took a downturn; I have taken her to ER many times, and have been in ER for every member of my family in addition to that. This sudden onslaught of health needs was enough to stop me in my ministry tracks. The other big catalyzing element was God’s provision of my teammates in Epic Movement who saw through my “on stage” skills and teaching resume I was known for. By this time, I had accrued a good teaching and training resume that spanned schools, churches, subjects, states, countries, and a variety of ministry organizations. I was not always on the road, maybe once a month. But looking back, I was on the road to destruction. My old Epic team saw behind my persona and inquired where the real “me” was. They knew when I was seeking significance from my work in an addictive, compulsive way. This one time, I had just given a series of talks to help train missionaries to go overseas. The talks went great; I received the highest evaluations too. But my team knew better, and called me on my displaced spirit. Altogether, I knew I simply could no longer perform my duties with Epic Movement given the needs at home; the writing was on the wall to retire from my role in Epic. But such was also the beginning of new chapter in my healing from ministry addiction.
Little did I know it, but God was orchestrating a plan for my healing. It began with leaving Epic Movement, fairly hard for me at the time. I never got to say good bye face to face. When I resigned, I lost a part of my family, my work, my income, and more. But that was just the beginning of the overall picture of letting go of my control, my false identity that was wrapped up in all the things I did.
In my family, the grief continued. My son was getting in trouble at least half his school days, even being suspended at times. My wife was bedridden. I faced my limitations, anger and more head on; I had no other choice. The fact was, I was facing me, a me I did not want to see; but this was the me that God died for. But I just had to keep letting go, letting go of all things I thought I had control over – job, family, ministry, church, and more. I did not experience the surrendering as a gift at the time. But looking back, it was. I had to fast from ministry to discover where my appetites lie. If you’ve ever fasted from food or anything else, you might know what I mean.
When my wife started getting sick right around two years ago, my whole world turned upside down. I had no idea how long she’d be sick, when she’d get better, or anything. It was hard seeing, even accepting the sickness. I was the guy who grew up fixing walkmans, then graduated to fixing stereos, cameras, even cell phones, but I could not fix my wife nor my son. None of the doctors knew what was wrong and there was no prognosis for my wife’s condition. Slowly, the highly trained, able to “fix” many things part of me began to surrender. Instead, I had to face my limitations, my vulnerability, and my brokenness. And I began to accept my circumstances, my wife’s condition, my son, and more than that, the me that God sees.
Today, just about two years later, I feel I could write volumes about all the treasures I’ve discovered after this main season of surrender and uncertainly. The healing that I could not imagine two years ago has resulted in renewed vision, greater simplicity, less compulsion, more authentic relationships, but perhaps most of all, a renewed sense of who I am, and who I am in God.
The healing that’s came from this past season of surrender has been invaluable to my soul. I did not want to compromise that, and initially thought that pursuing a secular job would maintain that. But now that I’m pursuing designing my own ministry, I am discovering that the process itself will be another chapter of healing for me. And it’s not because of the ministry I’m doing per se, but rather, the whole approach, structure, and perspective I’m taking as I step into this. There is healing in the journey.
The treasures I’ve discovered on this side of the “wall” are aplenty. Through this new endeavor, I’ve had to exercise the voice God’s given me more than ever before. I’ve had to trust Him in new ways that were unimaginable two years ago…even half a year ago. Authentic relationships are one of many new treasures. My wife and I know tons of people. But few were those that REALLY knew us. That’s a changing. Surrounding me now professionally and personally are men I’ve grown to trust and love. They’ve been the ones sojourning with me week by week, in prayer and mutual submission. All very reputable ministers in their own right, our times together are characterized by vulnerability and godly brotherhood. When I began meeting with them over a year ago, I came broken, with a thirst for authentic relationships among brothers. Today, they have become ministry and soul comrades.
There is much more healing in store; there’s much more hope and freedom in store. What a tragedy if all those treasures stayed locked up in my “stage persona,” my skills, and my control. It’s been a most difficult season; both me and my wife have hit walls. His mercy and grace allowed us to get to the other side. And I believe this process will continue. Not because of who we are, but because of who He is in us.