Delight in Disorder: My Story, My Message, My Mission

My Story In 1995, I was a young, ambitious pastor serving a small village church.  One Sunday, I delivered a sermon on human illness and divine healing in which I shared these words: When we become ill, it is important to listen to our bodies and pray that God help us make necessary changes. Our ailments may be blessings in disguise. We may be expecting too much from ourselves, or avoiding things we need to face. As we listen to our bodies, talk and reflect with others, and pray together, we can gain spiritual insight which will help us live healthier, more productive, more abundant lives. The next day, I was in the seclusion room of a psychiatric hospital. I was told I had bipolar disorder, that I would never work as a pastor again, that my marriage would likely end, and that I would spend the rest of [...]

Delight in Disorder: My Story, My Message, My Mission 2017-08-28T20:14:23+00:00

Van Gogh & Me: Pursuing Our Vocations

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh is not only a fascinating art history, it is also the story of a spiritual quest by two brothers who love each other dearly. Van Gogh originally set out to follow in his father's footsteps as a pastor, but for reasons that are only somewhat revealed, it didn't work out.  During this period of preparation for ministry, Van Gogh describes a foreboding sense - These are really happy days I spend here, but still it is a happiness and quiet which I do not quite trust.  Man is not easily content: now he finds things too easy and then again he is not contented enough. Though not terribly dissatisfied, Van Gogh senses something is missing.  Something is not quite right.  He wonders if this "dis-ease" could have a spiritual basis. There may be a time in life when one is tired of everything [...]

Van Gogh & Me: Pursuing Our Vocations 2017-06-12T17:29:35+00:00

A Mixed Response to “Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness”

Over this past weekend, I posted a piece ("Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness") on a Facebook page for mental health advocates. I posed the question, "I am a former pastor who has wrestled for over 20 years with bipolar 1. Here is part of my story. I would love to hear from you on how faith has impacted your mental illness, or, how mental illness has impacted your faith." The responses were very thoughtful and uplifting: "The only way I became as stable as I'm proud to say I am today is because of the right meds, a good therapist & learning to have a deep intimate relationship with Jesus. Of these three things I believe my faith is the strongest saving grace for me." "I pray that more people with understanding of mental illness will enter the ministry on their behalf. I watched my son pray for and [...]

A Mixed Response to “Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness” 2017-06-12T17:27:57+00:00

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness

How could I serve in pastoral ministry with a serious mental illness? How could someone riding manic highs dipping to deadly lows promote stable growth for a congregation? How could someone who hears voices pretending to be God presume to interpret God’s Word?   How could I serve as a pastor with bipolar disorder? These questions stir my mind and stab my heart. My mind says yes -- I served as a pastor battling bipolar for almost two decades, a good dozen of which were quite fruitful. My heart grieves that my illness has progressed such that I am now deemed disabled from service. The story I want to share here is not what led to my decline but what, by the grace of God and with the help of the church, allowed me to flourish as a pastor with a serious mental illness. Persistent Prayer Partners I fell into the [...]

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness 2017-05-30T15:07:51+00:00

Being “Humble-ated”

Do not be wise in your own eyes;     fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body     and nourishment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7-8) Last night, I had a dream. I was a pastor again, this time in a large church. People were praising me. Word was getting out about me. My reputation was spreading. My name and photo had even been placed on a Snickers bar. I was getting full of myself, and little else. I was heading for a fall. The dream was not far from the truth (except for the Snickers bar). There was a time when my ministry was celebrated, I was advancing in my career, and my name was recognized. I like to think I gave God the credit, but I fear all too often I didn’t. Then, I fell. Hard. In my case, mental illness got the best of me. [...]

Being “Humble-ated” 2017-05-30T15:02:04+00:00

The Cost of the Cross, Much More than a Free Smiley Face

The symbol of Christianity is a cross, not a smiley face. I write this on the Tuesday of Holy Week, the week we remember the final earthly mission of Jesus Christ, culminating in his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. When I was a pastor, I would silently refer to this as “Holy Hell Week.” I was expected to do four times as much ministry and all with a cheerful demeanor. It was only by the grace of God that I did, at least to the degree that I did. Easter, of course, was designed to be the spiritual peak, the week you could reach many more folks than the rest of the year. People came to hear the Good News that “Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.” Because Christ is risen, we have the hope of new life in Christ. Very few from the Easter crowd had come to [...]

The Cost of the Cross, Much More than a Free Smiley Face 2017-05-30T14:09:33+00:00

Cracked Pots

“… the jar he was making did not turn out as he hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.” (Jeremiah 18.4, NLT). Some months after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I returned to work as a pastor. It was difficult at first, but with much prayerful support, our ministry became fruitful. People who had hidden mental health issues for fear of judgment, now confided in me and together we grew in grace, offering our whole selves in worship and outreach among those who sought healing for body, mind, and spirit. I was asked to serve as a mentor for students preparing for pastoral ministry. One weekend, they brought together mentors throughout the state for training on how to best equip persons for service in what can be a consuming career. Many topics were addressed: spiritual growth, emotional well-being, financial fitness, etc. During [...]

Cracked Pots 2017-05-30T14:07:31+00:00

Discovering Delight in Disorder

For almost twenty years, I served as a pastor with bipolar disorder.  I have journeyed with this illness from manic (even psychotic) peaks to dark valleys of despair.  At both extremes, I have flirted with death—coming very close to ending my life and doing great damage to those around me.  For no good reason except the mercy of the Lord, God has kept me alive, saving me  from certain destruction. Yet, I have also found genuine delight in my disorder and this is the story I tell in Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. How can we delight in an illness that has contributed to a divorce rate of more than 90% and leads over half of those diagnosed to attempt suicide? Countless times, when I have been driven to the edge of a cliff, God has rescued me and set me on level ground.  Why would God do this?  Because [...]

Discovering Delight in Disorder 2017-05-30T14:00:39+00:00