Eight months ago I stepped away from the public ministry of the Word.
Last March I announced to the congregation of Christ Community Church that I had come to terms with the fact that I was burned out, depressed, and dealing with a host of medical issues that needed attention. The only thing I could see in front of me at that time were storm clouds and disaster. If something didn’t drastically change I was going to cause more harm and damage, not only to myself, but to the ones I loved a great deal and served.
Anticipating a lot of disappointment and confusion, I braced myself to the point of physically shuttering and shaking. However, nobody in that room threw anything at me, no one stood shaking their heads and wringing their hands, the exact opposite happened. I was met with loving concern and support. Some grieved that they did not know the extent of my pain. Others gave of their resources to support my family and I, immediately. One man walked up in the middle of my public meltdown to stand next to me and hold me up. He said I had done the same for him and he would be there for me now. I was not met by the angry mob I envisioned in my head, but by the loving embrace of a gospel-saturated community.
It has taken me this long to reflect and see what was taking place in that moment, I am a slow learner, but in the middle of my darkest moment the light of Christ was piercing through all the broken places of my heart through the ministry of his body on earth.
Here’s what I was saying in that moment: I am a broken man. I am unfit for the work. I am tired. I have lost my way.
Here’s how the congregation responded in that moment: We know. We all are. We can see that. There’s a way back.
Every Sunday we heard these words, that I borrowed from Ray Ortlund at Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN, before the Call to Worship from the Scripture,
“To all who are weary and need rest,
To all who mourn and long for comfort,
To all who feel worthless and wonder if God cares,
To all who fail and desire strength,
To all who sin and need a Savior,
This church opens wide her doors with a welcome from Jesus Christ, the Ally of his enemies, the Defender of the guilty, the Justifier of the inexcusable, the Friend of sinners. Welcome!”
The people of Christ Community Church who heard that invitation week in and week out, extended it to the man who had read it for years. Reading it and heeding it are two different things. And to be radically honest with you, I did not embrace the offer that day. Know that it has taken me many days to believe afresh the gospel invitation and rest in it with assurance. For some that may be hard to hear, but its the truth. It is only because I have decided to heed it that I can come up from the ditch I have been lying in to say, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me” (Psalm 120:1).
Slowly, day by day and moment by moment I am trusting Jesus to lead and guide me by the power of His Holy Spirit and the light of his Word. But I must also say that in these dark days there is only one place on earth that I know where these words can be honestly spoken, that is in the context of honest community. I am not sure if you have that place, or if you even desire to belong to an honest, gospel-saturated community. I get it. Trust me. Currently I don’t have a “local church” that I “belong” too, because I stepped away from more than a pulpit, I dove headlong into a ditch trying to avoid those who were loving me. But what I can tell you is that many came looking for me. They found me, sat with me, listened to me, prayed for me and eventually prayed with me. Some sent text messages and emails. Others gave me lots of space in a loving, patient way. But not one day has passed that I can honestly say that I was alone, not one. An honest community won’t let you believe that lie for long.
So where am I now? Well, the church we set out to plant merged with another congregation three months after it became evident that I would not be returning to ministry. This was a great grace. I am learning to walk again. I am learning to rest. I am learning to work with my mind, heart, and hands. I am learning to heed an invitation.