My New "Ministry"
I was sitting with my wife at her son’s baseball game when I looked at her and said, “I don’t want to do any kind of ministry ever again. I love God and I know he loves me but I want nothing to do with Christians.”
That was two and half years ago. I was still bitter, cynical, and untrusting towards the church following the collapse of my life and ministry due to my adultery. I felt erased, abandoned, orphaned.
God has his ways, though, of painfully getting us to see the plank in our own eye rather than focusing on the speck in other people’s eyes. So, after a year and a half of finally sitting still, shutting up, and going through the mental, emotional, and spiritual detox and rehab that I desperately needed, I began writing again. But this time it wasn’t for the purpose of publishing a book. It was primarily for me—to journal my way through the painful terrain of my guilt, shame, loss, and regret, and to trace the gracious ways in which God particularly met me in my darkest hours over the previous few years.
What I wrote was raw, embarrassingly transparent, brutally honest, and stubborn in its refusal to gloss over my shadow side.
A friend of mine offered to build me a website so I could begin sharing what I had been writing. I took him up on his kind offer with much fear and trepidation, not knowing how it would be received—and fearing the worst.
I was surprised, however, by the positive response.
I began receiving hundreds of letters from people all over the world telling me their own crash and burn stories (transparency has a tendency to breed transparency). And what became immediately clear through these letters is that this world is packed with people just like me. People who live with guilt and shame and regret and sadness because of what they have done or failed to do; people who would do anything to go back in time and make different choices but are presently plagued by the realization that they can’t; people who live in fear that they will never hope again; people who have lost everything and wonder whether they will ever experience joy and peace like they used to; people who battle suicidal thoughts because they'll never outrun or outlive the consequences of their sinful decisions and the people they have hurt; people who endure the painful, inescapable void of broken relationships; people who struggle with believing that anybody (even God) could love them because they have done so many bad, destructive, and hurtful things.
These letters, and their stories, opened my eyes to a world populated by pain.
My wife and I do our best to respond to, and invest in, those who reach out to us. Stacie responds to all the women and I respond to all the men. If they need to talk, we set up a time to talk. Most of them just want someone to listen—someone who has been there. Oftentimes they’ll ask questions. Even though the circumstances may be different, I find that I can deeply relate to every person I talk to who feels desperately at the end of their rope and is therefore starving for a reason to keep going.
Much to my surprise (and with plenty of reluctance on my part), a “ministry” found me that I was emphatically not looking for—not a ministry in any formal or professional sense, but a ministry nonetheless.
There’s a great scene in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody where a music industry executive is meeting the band Queen for the first time. Queen was a new band at the time and had not yet signed a record deal. So the music executive looks at Freddie Mercury (Queen’s lead singer) and says, “So, tell me—what makes Queen any different from all the other bands I meet?” Mercury’s answer was worth the price of the movie: “I’ll tell you what it is, Mr. Reid. We’re four misfits who don't belong together and we're playing for other misfits. They're the outcasts at the back of the room and we’re pretty sure they don't belong either. We belong to them.”
That’s exactly the way I feel! That’s my “ministry”—a misfit who belongs to other misfits; an outcast who belongs to the other outcasts at the back of the room. We belong to each other. Outcasts cast together by the God who seeks out the lost and the guilty and the fearful and the hurting.
Shortly after I launched the website and began posting what I had written, I started getting invitations to speak—invitations to churches, retreats, prisons, and recovery centers. I’ve gone to everything from an African American church with 8,000 people to a predominantly white Presbyterian church with 30 people. I’ve spoken at non-denominational churches, Baptist churches, Assemblies of God churches, an Episcopalian church, a Cowboy church, and a Lutheran church. We’ve been to Michigan, Texas, Utah, New Jersey, California, Mississippi, and Brazil—just to name a few. This past year has been, by far, the busiest travel year of my life.
In God’s ironic way, he waited until I had my passport stamped in the hell of my brokenness before sending me out to travel with the message of wholeness in Jesus.
We go anywhere that invites me to speak because I am convinced that we are in a time (especially in the life of the church) where stories of failure are so much more important than stories of success. The response of people wherever we go has proven to me that the masses are starving for real honesty and raw transparency when it comes to the difficulty and pain of life as a broken person in a broken world with other broken people. In my opinion, the days of a “good” and “clean” person telling other “good” and “clean” people how to be better and cleaner are over. The majority of people see right through Christian leaders who deny the reality of their own depravity and who see themselves as examples of morality rather than trophies of grace. People crave realness, rawness, authenticity, brutal honesty, and the courage to acknowledge the darker side of the human struggle and how God’s love and grace touch us in those places where we most acutely feel our leprosy.
Acknowledging the worst parts of me is never easy. It’s embarrassing. Every time I stand up and say that I cheated on my first wife, I cringe. It sucks to say that in public. Every time I talk about how deceitful and duplicitous I was, I wince inside. It’s extremely uncomfortable admitting that stuff in front of a group of people. When I talk about the hurt I caused my family, my friends, my church, and countless others because I was too full of myself to care about anyone more than me, I squirm. Disclosing my insecurities and immaturity, my fears and failures, my selfish ambition and cocky self-interest, is painfully difficult. Confessing in a public setting those things I wish no one ever knew about me is not fun. It’s horribly awkward. But I don’t know of any better way to show people that it’s when we admit the worst parts of us that we see the best parts of God. If we live life concealing the gross truth about ourselves, we will never experience the freedom that truth alone brings. As uncomfortable as it is to make these confessions, it’s also so freeing to admit to yourself and to others that you are the worst sinner you know—and mean it!
Trust me, those parts of you that you are most fearful of disclosing—the parts of you that get jealous, the parts of you that are greedy, the parts of you that lust for what you don’t have, the parts of you that hate, the parts of you that doubt, the parts of you that thirst for vengeance, the parts of you that are unwilling to forgive, the parts of you that will sacrifice anything for selfish gain, the parts of you that easily betray others in your heart, the parts of you that rage, the parts of you that are painfully insecure—those are the very parts that will be most helpful to people if you admit them. Opening up about your struggles helps people so much more then talking about your strengths. People may be somewhat (and temporarily) inspired when you share your successes with them, but they connect with you (and feel less alone) when you share your failures with them. It is, after all, in our weaknesses that God showcases his strength.
So, as long as I am able, I will continue to go wherever I am invited to share the good news that God meets our failures with his faithfulness, our guilt with his grace, and our messes with his mercy. Living out of a suitcase isn’t easy and sometimes I forget to pack something I need. But there’s one thing I never leave behind: the liberating message of the Son of God who is the friend of failures, the brother of the fallen, the forgiver of the guilty, and the lover of the weak. Whether I’m speaking to 10 people or 1000, it’s the one heart of our Father, pulsing with mercy toward us, that I focus on. How God continues to use me is up to him. But whatever happens, wherever he sends me, I’ll take a page from the Apostle Paul and determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2).
(If you’re interested in me coming to speak at your church or event, click here.)