The greatest things in the world can often disguise themselves as the worst things in the world. Which is why, when I walked away from the vaunted stage at The People’s Church, I was presented with a gift cloaked as a turd.
In 2006 as a 46-year-old I decided to retire. The news was shocking to some—especially my family.
I was a musician who worked alongside some of the greatest artists in Nashville; an artist/pastor whose church was one of the largest and most successful in the world. But I spent my first six years in Franklin, TN battling all sorts of bitching about change, and was labeled by the Baptist Press as an instigator in what they called “the worship wars”. Finally, enough was enough. The joy was gone. The pain overtook the pleasure.
Enter: The gift.
Knowing that I was inexplicably abandoning the church and then seeing me handle it poorly and initially failing to morally manage the transition. Christians shamed me. And ghosted me. And disappeared. Not all of them, obviously — but many. It was an ugly, vicious reaction, generally reserved for religious conmen ousted from their television ministry. And because of social networks, I heard it all; I admit, it left a mark. Yeah, it hurt, I’ll be honest, it hurt bad. It still does.
What I didn’t realize at the time, but have come to see, is that the shame and ghosting were truth serum — and one is far better off knowing such.
Put differently, mega-church artists are meat. They are meat to the pastor; they are meat to the donors, and they are meat to congregants. When a worship leader puts on a good show, everyone loves him. He’s the darling of the Christian community — free golf memberships, lunch requests aplenty, Facebook praise and Twitter glory, four-figure appearance fees and the finest cut of filet mignon at the finest table in the finest restaurants. You are a celebrity and a God, and you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars to lead people to the throne of God in worship.
Then, because your soul is in constant pain and you want your remaining time on earth to be meaningful and encouraging and you realize wafting one more repetitive four-chord praise chorus through the air only carries so much fulfillment, you decide you are done. And they ghost you.
In my three decades as a minister, I have come to know many pastors who tried to walk away from the stage. Many were stars at one point or another — standout communicators, quick-spinning charismatics, thought leaders. They, too, experienced the bliss of religious high and found themselves drunk off the addictive power of a crowd of thousands of adoring parishioners. There are, after all, few experiences that can match the rush of being the star on stage who leads thousands of people into a spiritual high and religious fervor every week at your home church.
More often than not, however, you ultimately wind up a ghost — left alone to be told by a therapist that your chronic heartache can be solved with two Lexapro; that being forbidden to meet your grandchildren is merely a byproduct of sin. Your spiritual being is shattered. Your resume (a church musician) is thin. You worked your way through university to a music degree toiling at a church full-time, trying to pacify the pastor and the congregation, while sacrificing and providing for the children you raised as Christians who have now ostracized you.
Your hourly rate as a consultant — once $150 an hour — peddles for free through your non-profit. It’s been that price for years. You are forgotten, and as you take a rare stroll through Franklin, you realize that nobody recognizes you. And, if they did recognize you, they’d likely stalk self-righteously to the other side of the street.
Because, once upon a time, you dashed their hopes by walking away — and heaven forbid — having an affair with someone who would actually listen.
But let me make one thing perfectly clear, I am indeed, one of the few lucky ones.
Because I’ve been gifted the truth. I have escaped the mind control and the hypocrisy that I could not see when I was the object of their adulation. Prosperity and success most often blind us to the truth.
The turd became a gift. The scales have been lifted.
And oh the irony, the people who ghosted and shamed me after thirty years of faithful service and ministry are the very same people that have made the heretic and pervert Trump the anointed one and now grovel at his feet.
Yes, sometimes the greatest things in the world can often disguise themselves as the worst things in the world.
Today I am free. I am loved. I am being who I am. I am happy. I am redeeming the time.
I love others. Particularly those who are different than me.
What more could anyone ask?
(This essay was etched in my heart as I watched the Indianapolis football fans react with vicious boos and hisses as twenty-nine-year-old NFL Quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement.)