I have been for years. It’s hurt me. It’s hurt my family. I never meant for it to hurt them, but looking back, I’ve come to realize it’s done more damage than I care to admit. It has almost broken me, I mean, really broken me… more than once.
The problem with the kind of addiction that I have is that it feels really good. Now that I think about it, I guess most addictions do when you’re living them—that’s why you keep them. They become friends. They become personal.
So maybe the bigger problem with my kind of addiction is that it gets results. It gets praise. It gets applause. And it feels like God is somehow pleased with me. I feel like I’m helping, creating… advancing the Kingdom even.
I remember when we completed our first major building project. I felt like I had just run the ‘Rocky Balboa steps’ in Philadelphia. I felt like I got to the top and I was looking down on the city like I conquered it. It was deeply satisfying. Like a hit of heroin in needy veins.
Let me explain.
I pastor a fairly large church in a very unchurched area just south of Detroit, Michigan. My wife and I, along with 20 others, launched it from scratch about 16 years ago in our home. I was just 30 years old. Nearly everyone on the launch team was about 20. We had no sponsoring churches or organizations. No outside funds. Our first offering was $34.17.
The Detroit area has been a little rough for as long as I’ve been alive. Money doesn’t flow here like it does in other parts of the country. There’s decay and brokenness everywhere. But we believe that God brings dead things back to life. And the little church that started in our living room started to grow. At about 5 or 6 years into it, we were about 500 people strong, with about 80% of attenders under 35 years old. Almost nobody was over 40. We had very little collective wisdom, skill or money. We were broke in every sense of the word.
But we needed a building. We had been setting up and tearing down multiple days a week at different venues for weekend services and student ministries. We had been renting a school. They were kind, but they wanted us out. Long story short, we rented an abandoned 35,000 square foot grocery store. (But I need to tell you sometime how God miraculously provided for our church. It really is unbelievable.)
I remember standing in front of our young congregation saying that we found a home and that we were going to turn it into a sweet, modern facility with a 550 seat auditorium, complete with a full-scale cafe that would be open to the public. And that we were going to do it all for $300,000. And that we were going to do it in 90 days. We had lost our lease and that was all the time we had.
They cheered. Then they thought I was crazy. I was more than crazy. I was dumb.
But I was committed, and I really did believe that we could do this. What I need to tell you is that I am really just a building contractor turned pastor. I owned and operated a pretty robust building company. I actually didn’t receive a salary from the church until we were about 1000 people a week and about ten years old—and even then my first salary was a hundred bucks a week!
I was good at making money. And I was good at organizing and building things. And I knew ‘my church’ would never make it if I took a salary, so I worked to take care of my family and to take care of the church.
We moved our tools into our abandoned grocery store on Halloween and for the next 90 days, I worked. Yes, hundreds of volunteers worked. But literally, I worked every day—16 or more hours a day. I still preached. I still ran my business. And I was in that grocery store every day leading scores of volunteers on a nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week work marathon.
We didn’t make our 90-day goal. From the day we moved our tools in until the day of our first service was 111 days. It’s hard to believe, but it was one of the nicest, most modern facilities around, complete with a full-scale, open to the public cafe, built 95% by volunteers.
And I was proud. Exhausted, but proud. I was fired up to fill that place with people. And we did. Over the next 4 years, we grew to about 1000 people a week. I continued to work full-time in the marketplace. We had two full-time staff and I wasn’t one of them.
I worked. I worked a lot. This is my addiction.
After four years or so at the grocery store we lost our lease again and needed to go somewhere else. This time we bought an abandoned 45,000 square foot SPORTS AUTHORITY building next to Home Depot at one of the busiest intersections in our area. God virtually gave us the place. (I really do have to tell you that story sometime too. God truly provides for His purposes.)
We did the same thing. I stood in front of our people and told them the deal was done. God gave us an incredible home for pennies and all we needed to do was show up to build it. It took about 9 months, but we did it with about 95% volunteers. And I was there, almost every day, to lead it and to build alongside scores of volunteers. All this while still working in the marketplace to keep my business alive, not to mention leading and preaching at a growing, active church.
Just a couple of years later we grew to about 1,700 people a week. And we dreamed and felt God calling us to do it again. This time we believed that God had called us to launch a second campus. And it seemed like He provided a perfect building at a perfect price. We bought a 66,000 sq. ft. building that used to be a Medical/Recreational Complex, complete with four tennis courts and an Olympic-sized pool.
We filled in the pool and created one of the coolest church campuses in America for its size and for the money we spent. It looks and feels like a giant Panera Bread with an attached community center, a full-size gym/rec center, along with the largest playscape you’ve ever seen.
The only problem was that I sold the vision that we could convert this oversized, vacant-for-13-years building into what it is today with mostly volunteers in under a year… ” if ” we’d all just work together.
It didn’t happen. We did it with mostly volunteers because we had no real money, but it took three years. Three long, hard, excruciatingly painful three years.
What started off with a bang ended with a crawl. We lost momentum. We lost volunteers. We lost long-time members. We lost income. We lost leadership capital. Mostly, I almost lost me.
I think I did lose me. I was defiantly determined to complete this building. If we didn’t, we would have lost everything as a church. We invested a couple of million dollars and I was not about to lose it. Losing it was a real possibility if we didn’t complete it. Loans were coming due. People were beginning to lose faith.
So I worked. I worked a lot. I was addicted.
Because of my building trades background and leadership skills, I was at that building nearly every day for three years. I had to be there. At least I thought I had to be there. But it was costly.
It cost me lots of money. It cost me much of my marketplace business. It really cost me my health. I physically felt and still do feel beat up. But those were the cheap costs. It cost my family life. I missed three years with my kids in the prime of their childhood. I lost time that I will never get back. My relationship with my wife was beyond strained. She was hurt and frustrated and lonely because my work/ministry had become my mistress. She had the right to be those things. She had the right to be mad. I was a terrible husband, father, and friend. (I am blessed to have an amazing wife and kids who stood by me and sacrificed more than I ever should have asked them to.)
I didn’t mean to be those things, but that is what addiction does.
It makes you become what you never thought you’d become.
And I nearly lost my ministry. Most people in my church never knew, but at the end of that three-year run, I seriously considered quitting the ministry. Quitting had never even crossed my mind before. But I was broken. I was way out of balance. I was disappointed. And I wasn’t sure what God wanted from me.
It’s been over six months since we opened that campus. It’s beautiful and it’s being filled with people. We actually have about 1000 visitors there every week because of the community center. No doubt God is using it. But looking back… I’m not so sure that the process honored God.
I’m working on my work addiction. I wish I could give you three steps to recovery, but I don’t think I can… not yet anyway.
I just know that God wants my devotion to be to Him and not what I can do for Him. Maybe that’s step one?
And do you know what I’m doing tonight? I’m going to one of my son’s baseball games.