I Came Here Broken
Some, when they hear our story of coming to East Colfax, have an unrealistic picture.
Here is our story: We served a church in suburban Aurora for twenty-six years, experiencing sustained growth, becoming one of the largest churches in Aurora, in the wealthiest part of Aurora. As Senior Pastor, I led that charge, loving the journey and the lives we saw changed, deeply supported by the church.
Here is the unrealistic view: Many think that I, in the middle of success, felt called by God to walk away from the burbs and head to East Colfax to love the poorest of the poor. Compelling, no?
The transition happened. We feel like God plucked us out of a thriving suburban church and dropped us into the neighborhood. True.
But the move was complex and not heroic. When I resigned, I was dealing with deep brokenness. Twenty-six years of high-octane ministry led to burnout and depression. Wobbly for the final year, I finally crashed, off work a couple of months, too depressed to get out of bed. Body and mind gave out.
I was slowly healing when I returned to church, ready to get back to the work I loved, only to slowly discover something. The story is complex and I have shared details before, so here I will give just a snapshot. (See the detailed story at https://www.jesusoncolfax.org/blog/church-elsewhere.)
Simply put, I went away a successful, beloved leader but came back to the message that at fifty-seven I was both too old and too depressed to continue to lead. Time to move me out of the way.
Hard enough, but the way it was handled did deep damage to me. They took months to be honest, and allowed me no meaningful part in the conversation about my future. Finally, it came out; they wanted a two year transition. After prayer, I resigned, clear that Jesus was calling us to a new chapter. My choice, but I felt very much pushed out the door.
I felt lied to, disrespected and betrayed. Everything surrounding the ending just deepened that feeling. I walked away deeply damaged, even traumatized, by their treatment of me and my family.
When I resigned, I was still recovering from burnout and depression. Now, the pain of the ending only deepened my sense of weakness and brokenness. Add in the dislocation and confusion that comes when you step out of a busy ministry life into an empty void, and I was—to put it mildly—a wreck.
The church provided the gift of a sabbatical year to help transition. By the six month mark, we felt directed to East Colfax. I had healed a wee bit, but not a lot.
Simply put, I did not come here heroically; I came here broken. Depression, burnout and the trauma of betrayal were daily battles. I was battered, broken and confused, unsure about ministry, unsure of my gifts, flailing in the dark. A wreck.
But, Jesus sent us to Colfax, so we came. At the beginning, the only kind of ministry I had in me was to show up and love people, deeply broken people. They had few expectations and didn’t care whether I was capable of being a rock star preacher and leader. They didn’t care if I was old or depressed. They only cared that I was willing to be a friend, loving them as they were.
My own brokenness, remarkably, became a doorway to loving the broken.
One early memory: I met a guy at a motel, there for a couple of nights, all he could afford. A rough life, but he and his wife had made progress, even gotten deeply involved in a local church. He showed me his Bible, highlighted and marked up.
But they lost work, then housing. They went to their church, hoping someone could provide temporary housing, even a tent spot in the backyard. No one was willing.
They were hurt, deeply so, by their church. I remember two things—first, he took his Bible and threw it violently into the back seat of the car, often their only home. Second, when I gave him a piece of paper listing local churches, he took it, violently crumpled it up and threw into the back seat alongside the Bible. I knew his anger wasn’t at the paper or the Bible, it was at their church.
In my own pain, I resonated with him. I have known the beauty of the church, have also known its ugliness. So too the pain of depression, hopelessness and discouragement. All mirrored in my new friends.
Something powerful happened: Here, my brokenness was not a problem, but a gift. I found common ground with my friends, all of us beat up and battered by life, by our own bad decisions, by our own weaknesses. I did not come as a savior, heroically serving the poor in the name of Jesus. I came as another broken person, stumbling in the dark, grateful for the mercies of Jesus, eager to share them. Humbled by my own weakness, I learned to humbly serve the weak.
Yet another gift: My brokenness meant that I had to depend on Jesus. There were days when it took all I had to just keep showing up and loving people. Weak in myself, I had to rely on Jesus’ strength. He provided powerfully.
I have, since then, healed a lot. But not completely. Don’t know that I ever will. But it is better than it was and I am grateful for that.
Our Colfax journey is a great gift. But, had I come heroically, I doubt we would have done much good, doubt also that we would still be here. Brokenness has been the door opener for us, both with our friends and with Jesus. I, at least, have limped along, still limp along, doing the best I can in a hard but beautiful world.
For forty years of ministry I have been able to use my gifts and strengths to impact people. That is good. God uses our strengths. He uses my strengths on Colfax as well.
But, for now, I am grateful to serve Him out of my brokenness and weakness. For, as Paul said, when I am weak, then am I strong.
Thank God, I came here broken.