Addicted to Ministry?

“Hi Craig, my name is Karl, and I too am a recovering ministry-a-holic.”

In the current issue of K! Magazine, there is an excellent article by my friend, Craig Jutila, former children’s pastor at Saddleback Community Church, where he very honestly and transparently talks about his own personal “crash” from being so addicted to ministry he found himself in an unhealthy place spiritually, emotionally, and relationally with his family. I appreciated his candor. I’ve attempted to be as open here on my blog (and even more so in one on one relationships) about my own “demise” as a children’s pastor nearly two years ago who thought he could do everything and keep his walk with God and family life healthy. Why are the best lessons in life learned so painfully?

Craig’s topic was “spiritual renewal” and he admits (as I will) that we can be so good at faking it and knowing all the answers even as we are dying on the inside – but unwilling to admit our need. He quotes an unknown person as saying we don’t change until, “you hurt enough that you have to” or you “learn enough that you want to.” We both admit, it wasn’t the latter for us. We had to reach that point of deep hurt and dispair until we could finally be honest with ourselves that we needed help!

I love that Craig admits going to counseling. Like me, he once thought counseling was for people who had “issues” and that, as Craig says, it would “require acknowledging that I didn’t have it all together and I was different than all the spiritual people I worked around all day, every day.” I think he must have the same counselor as I do – for he too was challenged to be a “human BEING” and not a “human DOING” – something that took me months to get my brain around too.

While I know crisis times are no fun (understatement!) one thing I have learned on my own journey is that God loves ME more than my ministry, my pride, my reputation, or anything I can do for him. I’m glad both Craig and I were able to get out of ministry enough to discover a Walk with Christ apart from ministry. The year I took off from all speaking/ministry was a difficult year – as I was still healing and dealing with the consequences of my crash – but it was also a spiritually wonderful year of discovery and renewal – a time during which I learned things I was completely unable to discover while in “ministry.” And that I fear I would have never discovered had I somehow managed to keep on keeping on – “never quitting” – as the common call is. Sometimes you have to be a Quitter before you can be a genuinely Learner.

A friend of mine recented teased me and said, “All you cm experts – you, Craig, Sue, Reggie, and Jim have left the ministry and gone full time with your side ministries.” (ouch) While Jim Wideman is now back on staff at a church, I think it’s true for the rest in that quote. (And I’m not sure I belong in that list!) It is hard to answer the question, “How can you advise children’s pastors on children’s ministry if you are no longer doing children’s ministry full time?”

Oh, there are the obvious answers – over fifteen years of experience, current volunteer experience, bachelors and masters degree in children’s ministry, experience, education, God-given insights, etc. But the bottom line has to be simply, the Call of God and obedience.

My life mission statement since age nineteen (except for the recent year I set it aside) is:

To reach and teach as many children as possible with the Good News of God’s Love, and in the process to Enlist, Equip and Encourage others to do the same.

However, while that missions statement still drives my focus and passion for ministry – it no longer drives ME. I am driven to walk with Christ and love my family. Period. And when and how God allows or asks, I love equipping and encouraging others on their journey in life and ministry too.

Someday I hope to be back in a local church ministry setting as a children’s pastor – but I no longer “need” that be have identity, purpose or value. I’m content being just me – the forgiven sinner and follower of Jesus, the loving husband, and hopefully the most fun, engaged, and intentional father my son can possibly have!

I am so thankful for those who have walked with me during these difficult past few years – those who put up with me before my blinders were knocked off – and for others on the journey, like Craig, who are honest enough to let me know, I’m not the only completely messed up child of God who’s got only one thing going for him – for some crazy reason, Jesus loves me. (and He loves you too my friend!)

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  1. Great take on this article and interacting with what happened in your life. I wasn’t connected with Kidology or you back then, so I didn’t know you went through a similar situation. Glad you made it through to the other side.

    I also didn’t know you were no longer a full time Children’s Pastor. I know when I first discovered Kidology several years ago, I wondered how you ever did it all. Maybe that was what caused the crash???

    Back in November when I was let go from my previous church, I was at a place where I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a Children’s Pastor any more. It wasn’t that I didn’t still have a passion for it, I just didn’t want to do it all over again. It seemed like every four years or so I was coming it a new church, fixing a broken program, building it up and getting it healthy… then it was on to a new one. I was really looking for something different. I was thinking that I would jump more into the speaking circuit, consulting and whatever else. I felt like I had a lot to give and I was still so passionate about CM. I talked with Jim Wideman about it and I thought I’d get some real encouragement for this venture. I was wrong. He told me how he never set out to have a national ministry. It just came out of his work at the local church. Multiple times he said, “It’s all about the local church!” It was really encouraging to hear that from him, especially as he was going back into local ministry. It was only a few weeks later that I began the process of coming to Gateway as their Next Generation Pastor. I get to do something different and it’s totally energizing me, but I still get to flex my CM muscles all the time. God’s really great about that!

  2. That was a great article by Craig. And I appreciate your vulnerability here.

    “A righteous man stumbles six times and gets up seven.”

    Thanks for being you!

  3. Kenny, I used to actually have “answers” when people asked me “how I did it all.” The truth is, I didn’t do it “all” – I missed a lot of what mattered most. I completely agree about it being about the local church and that you should never “set out” to be a consultant or advisor or trainer – whatever Kidology is – it is because of God’s blessing only and because I was just busy serving Him in the local church and willing to share along the way – and I want to continue to share, even if that means sharing some of the ugly side of ministry (and me) too. I hope to be a children’s pastor again soon (or I like Next Generation Pastor!) but more than that, I want to be doing ONLY what God is asking me to do, and right now, that’s got me busy enough! I hope we can cross paths someday – we share the same heart for ministry, I see that in your writing!

    Larry, thanks for your encouragement over the years. I often tell people you are my favorite guy to argue with and I mean that as a compliment. I’ve enjoyed being sharpened by you over the years, thanks for being an independant thinker and a straight shooter! You are one of my mentors.

  4. Karl,

    Did I ask you that question? I think I did, if not I know I have thought it. In my own thinking and in seeing so many others burn out doing CM it has caused me to constantly do a self check and self inventory and where my life is, where my spiritual journey is, where am I as a husband and as a dad. For me this has a to be a marathon and not a sprint. No slam on you or anyone else intended for sure! Actually I believe it takes great courage to step back and evaluate and re-prioritize. When you did what you did your stock rose in my eyes. Same with Craig. I haven’t heard the others stories.
    In doing some soul searching I have come to some new direction myself which will begin to manifest itself in the next 12 months. I’ll keep you posted man. Thanks for sharing again.

  5. Marty, you may have asked, but no worries, I wasn’t quoting you. I know it’s a common question – and one I had a hard time answering myself for awhile. I had too much personal value placed in what I DID, my title, my job – when asked once “what if you could never be a CP again?” My gut response was “I’d rather die” – even though I immediately knew that was wrong, it was my core feeling. That was a wake up call for me – I have MUCH to live for BESIDES and BEFORE my “ministry.” Too many men (I’ll speak only for them, I think we are worse at this than women) have too much of their identity wrapped up in their work – and when your work is ministry – I think it is even harder to see it.

    As for my “stock” going up – I didn’t come the decision to resign in my morning devotions, it came when I reached my end and broke. I wish I had resigned far sooner – but God who is faithful and sustained and healed me once I wasn’t so busy I could actually hear Him and feel His presence. I know Craig quit a month before his big conference and they had to cancel it. I know that when the center of your problems is yourself, you are usually the last to see it. I wish I could redo many things, but I would never trade where I am today in my family and walk with God for where I was had I been better able to somehow “manage” it better or longer.

    I’ll pray for you in your life journey and decisions in the next 12 months! Just keep God and your family #1 – that’s a lot easier said than done!

  6. Thanks Karl!

    What a great reminder that we are called to minister, to be as you said What God asks us to do. It is difficult. This las t few months has been huge for me. I realized that, even though I’ve heard it a million times, it is His ministry. If it is truly His then I do not have to be there at every turn or be working on it at every free moment. In my case I think that my primary career took a hit because of my desire to do ministry…it’s all I thought about (I still think about it a ton). I read on Bro Jim’s blog awhile back (Nov 2007) where he talked about it being okay to be part time and that God has called us first to the ministry of our families which means the money paying career I have outside ministry is more important because that is the one that ministers to my family by providing the finances God has provided. Anyway, thank you for sharing.

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