everything began to come to a head in the summer of 1988.
i was giving everything i had to serve my church family during a time of incredible crisis. the death of our beloved leader had left our whole group disconnected. over the next three years, we stayed afloat…barely.
i was not joking when i said that we were operating $8000 a week short of our budget. the financial crisis has crippled us. but it was an amazing time. we functioned in massive denial. our leadership team acted like everything was fine and all we needed was to get a new leader and we would be out of the woods.
personally, i was in no-man’s land. for years, i had dreams and aspirations for this ministry. it was an incredible place to be. youth ministry was great. it was always one step away from being awesome. we had great leaders…adults who were unbelievably committed to the kids we served. they were some of the best friends i had ever had. we were creative and risk takers. we did things most other youth ministries never even thought about doing.
i know i was holding on for the day i could go back and focus all of my leadership attention to the responsibility that i felt god had called me to years before. i was as anxious to get a new senior pastor as the rest of our leadership team was. maybe more.
in the summer of 1988, we hired a new leader. just not the leader i wanted us to hire. of the 500 adults that voted on his “tryout” day, there were only four people who voted “no”. two of us were related. the other two were our closest friends. that’s it. 500-4. pretty overwhelming majority, as votes in churches go.
it was nothing against him personally. he has gone on to be wildly successful as the senior dude over the past 20 years. we are friends. we just weren’t a match. and the day i met him, i knew we wouldn’t be able to be his partner. i’m sure he knew that about me, too.
but for two years i tried. i gave it my best. i never undermined his leadership. i was part of the team and did everything i could to support and affirm the new direction we were heading in. in traditional church politics, the youth minister is not the boss. in traditional church structure, the senior guy is the one who casts the vision…leads the charge…sets the tone…gives the direction…and creates the strategy for moving forward. that’s what he did. i just knew i couldn’t follow.
and then it happened.
about a year after the new guy arrived, i had the privilege of leading our youth group on a trip to the philippines. we worked for a year to raise money and get ourselves prepared for an incredible, life-changing experience. i’ll never forget the moment.
our group (about 20 of us) had made a 2-3 hour trip to another part of the island for a day of recreation after a number of really difficult days of ministry. we had spent the day snorkeling and enjoying the beauty of a remote part of the island. that day, a part of our group was traveling in the bed of a large truck. i was in that group.
it was hot, humid, and the air was full of soot being blown by the huge diesel truck that traveled the same road. i remember the white t-shirt i was wearing was nearly black from exhaust residue. i was looking down at my shirt when all of a sudden i felt my heart grow as dark as my shirt.
i closed my eyes. i had no explanation for what i was feeling. i was tired. i was probably hungry. i’m sure i had some level of anxiety because of the relatively unsafe way we were riding. no doubt there were other things that could have contributed to my feelings. but this was different. way different.
looking back, i could only describe it as the sensation of sliding down a black hole…unable to stop. i know it sounds strange, but that was what it felt like. i had a layer of panic that would quickly turn to numb and uncaring in a heartbeat. the darkness was overwhelming. there were feelings of hopelessness, failure, despair, frustration, and meaninglessness.
for the remainder of the trip, i pretty much functioned on autopilot. i was functional in front of people, but when i was alone…at night or in my quiet times…i felt like a zombie. no motivation. no heart. empty. scared. going through the motions.
somewhere in those days it dawned on me: my descriptions of what i was feeling were the same words that people who i counseled used to describe…depression.
i could finally relate. i finally understood what they were trying to tell me in their desperation. i was finally walking in the same darkness that i comprehended in my head, but had no idea of in my soul.
it was a breakthrough of sorts. the beginning of the rest of my life.
the story doesn’t end here.