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May 16, 2019Interviews, Leadership

A Pastor’s Restoration Process: Journey to Healing Through the Eyes of Those Closest, Part 1: Darrin

“I had slowly stopped prioritizing my relationship with Jesus and made ministry my primary focus.”
A Pastor’s Restoration Process: Journey to Healing Through the Eyes of Those Closest, Part 1: Darrin
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Today, I want to introduce you to some friends.

I’ve known Darrin and Amie Patrick for a couple of decades. And, I’ve known Greg Surratt for a similar amount of time. I’ve preached for both of them at their churches and fellowshipped on many occasions.

Darrin and Amie Patrick planted The Journey Church in St. Louis in 2002. The church grew to thousands of people in six locations. Darrin was a founding leader in the Acts 29 network and has authored several books.

As The Journey Church grew, Darrin’s platform grew faster than his character. (I don’t say that lightly or without his permission.) Over time, Darrin drifted from his relationship with God and forsook basic Christian character and leadership principles.

In March of 2016 the elders of The Journey confronted Darrin about an emotional affair and a variety of leadership failures. This confrontation led the elders to fire Darrin.But the elders placed him in a restoration process.

It’s been over three years since that failure and he has completed that restoration process. It would be a mistake to think that Darrin is now ‘back’ with a great story to tell. There is still pain here. Darrin is now leading with a limp that will be in his life from here forward.

But, in a world of failures, it is good to see what happens when someone accepts their failures and grows from them.

In this three-part series I interview Greg, Darrin, and his wife Amie. Today, we start with Darrin. I’d also encourage you to listen to Darrin’s talk, in his own voice, at Southeastern Seminary.

Darrin is still not perfect, but he is restored to ministry. He and Greg talk about that growth in their new podcast, Pastors Collective, which focuses on being healthy in Christian leaders. Darrin is modeling that health through his pain. Please continue to pray for Darrin, but also pray that restoration (and the processes such restoration involves) might be the norm and not the exception.

Ed: How long was the process, and what did it involve?

Darrin: The process was 26 months long and involved over 200 hours of professional counseling, many of those hours with counselor Rick Pierce, along with meeting consistently with several pastors.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I met leaders whom I had hurt or wounded during my ministry. I listened to them and apologized to them specifically for things I had done to cause them pain. There was also tons of reading, reflection, and journaling as a part of the process.

The first part process lasted 14 months. The mandate was for me to not perform in ministry for 14 months in order to focus on my sin and repentance, which was such painful, but wonderful counsel.

The focus was on being healed as Christian first. Pastor Greg then lead me through a year of supervised ministry for the final 12 months (which concluded May, 2018). I continued personal and marriage counseling along with participating in limited ministry, the majority of which was sharing my story with small groups of pastors.

Ed: What did the process reveal in you?

Darrin: A lot. There's much I could say here, but I'll mention a few of the biggest issues. The first was that I had become a very entitled person. I had gone from being a leader who sought to serve other people to a leader that wanted to be served by everybody. I had many privileges because of God’s great work in our church and network.

Instead of expressing gratitude for these gifts, I expected them because I thought I deserved and earned them. I wasn't consciously aware that I had developed this mindset of entitlement, but it regularly showed up in my thoughts, words and behavior and was quite apparent and harmful to others.

Second, I had become an absentee dad to my church. The truth is that the role of senior pastor means that you serve as a father to a lot of people. Your friend can hurt you and it’s painful. Your sibling offends you and it stings.

But if your dad wounds you, it is devastating. By being emotionally unavailable, being on the road speaking at conferences and being in my study writing books, I neglected our leaders in view of building my platform. I left them with the burden of a growing, multi-site church instead of bearing that burden appropriately with them. I also learned that I was severely lacking in self-awareness, both with regard to my inner life and also with regard to how others experienced me.

Third, I realized how much deceit I operated in. I constantly blew off meetings with untrue excuses. I regularly lied about how I doing spiritually and emotionally. I used anger and even tears to manipulate our leaders to keep from being accountable. In short, lacked integrity in my leadership in profound and destructive ways.

Ed: Why did you implode?

Darrin: Again, there were several reasons, but one that stands out the most is my lack of healing with regard to my abusive dad. My dad died eight months before my sin was exposed.

In the last several months of his life, I moved him closer to me and took primary responsibility for his health care arrangements. Something broke in me when he died. I should have told our leaders that I needed time off to grieve and gotten more intensive counseling.

Instead, I kept going, skimming over the surface of my grief and rapidly falling apart internally. But even before this trauma with my earthly dad, my relationship with my heavenly dad was waning. Over time, I had slowly stopped prioritizing my relationship with Jesus and made ministry my primary focus.

Ed: What are you doing to ensure that you don’t implode again?

Darrin: I have a personal board in place that includes Pastor Greg and one of my counselors, Rich Plass, who leads CrossPoint Ministries, along with a few other older and wiser men. These men are spiritual fathers to me. They listen and challenge me when we talk or meet, which is often.

As both a discipline and a joy, I plan to keep a personal board together for regular check-ins, accountability, and challenge for the rest of my life. I also have made it a bigger priority to invest in local friends with whom I can be vulnerable and accountable.

Additionally, a lot of the work I've done has helped me develop spiritual disciplines and practices that keep me growing in self-awareness as well as spiritual and emotional health. I think that a big part of not allowing something like this to happen again has to do with acknowledging how susceptible I am to subtly drifting and becoming a person that I don't want to be.

Ed: What was the most impactful part of the plan?

Darrin: Definitely learning about myself through the Enneagram and the work of Rich Plass and Jim Cofield at Crosspoint Ministries. We spent significant in-person time with these men over a period of three months with these men, as well as ongoing check-ins afterwards. This was life- changing for us personally and in our marriage.

The Enneagram is one of the best tools I have seen for the process of identifying specific patterns of sin and un-health, as well as taking holistic and comprehensive responsibility for one's entire life.

Another very impactful part of the plan was the privilege to sit in front of dozens of people, honestly regarding how I had hurt them, and being able to apologize specifically for my sin. Though incredibly painful, I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity to do that.

Ed: How has the process changed the way you view people?

Darrin: I can see now that I had gone from seeing people as image-bearers to whom I was called to love and serve, to often viewing people in light of how they could further my ministry. It was terrible to see and own this reality and the pain that it caused.

I think that I've grown a lot more compassionate and empathetic towards people in their brokenness and sin. I know what it feels like to be deeply ashamed, condemned and hopeless . People really need hope. I'd become so rational in my thinking about how people change, that I'd lost sight of the reality that hope is essential in order for transformation to occur.

Shortly after I started my restoration plan, I started listening to a lot more of our Christian radio station, Joy FM. I've tended to be pretty critical of mainstream Christian music. But the more I listened, I found that song after song after song was about hope, which was what I desperately needed. Hope in God changes everything.

Ed: How has this experience changed the way you view ministry?

Darrin: I believe that a lot of the celebrity culture that has permeated American Christianity is destructive. It makes pastors and authors gods, that are worshiped when they succeed and demonized when they fail.

Many celebrity leaders are humble and healthy, and not everyone who is successful or famous in ministry has gotten there by sinful means. But, both the prideful “celebrity” leader and the people who are influenced by them are not experiencing God’s best. It seems that God is committed in this time to exposing the fallacy of this culture of prideful celebrity.

Ed: What do you think pastors ignore most that get them into trouble?

Darrin: Many pastors don’t understand or believe that emotional health is connected to spiritual maturity. I essentially believed that biblical and theological depth, along with a gospel-centered focus took care of everything emotional or relational.

I didn't even really know what all the emotions were and I was avoiding several of them and over-doing others. I avoided fear and sadness and I ran to anger. To be a human being who follows Christ, we must imitate Christ, who experienced all the primary emotions.

A huge, often overlooked piece of spiritual maturity involves appropriately engaging our emotions instead of avoiding them and experiencing healing and wholeness in Christ. I think that the church has been so afraid of over-focusing on emotions that we've subtly(and not-so-subtly) encouraged people to shut them down altogether. This is really destructive for peoples' souls.

I believe that many pastors are very out of touch with their own wounds, weaknesses and relational challenges because engaging those things feels like a distraction from moving ahead in ministry or keeping an appropriate theological focus.

Ed: If you could go back and do everything over again, what would you do?

Darrin: Well, I would not be so impressed with growing the church so fast. I would have tried to live perhaps the hardest words of Jesus for Christian leaders: “I will build my church.”

I would have been more intentional in the application and accountability of the counseling I was receiving. I would have listened to our church elders and their warnings about my leadership inconsistencies, lack of personal integrity and unwillingness to be submissive. Our elders are great men and I was quite foolish not to heed their counsel.

Also, I would have listened to my wife and brought her more in to the challenges we were having in the church. It's always a fine line between what you choose to share with your spouse when you're in ministry and what you don't. I think I over-protected and under-informed my wife. I think these things could have encouraged repentance in me and kept the church from having to experience the consequences of my sin.

Ed: What are you going to do in the near future?

Darrin: By God’s grace, I will continue to serve under Pastor Greg and the elders at Seacoast Church. I'm also going to be doing some consulting with church planting networks, businesses and churches, primarily around issues of personal and organizational health.

Ed: What is your biggest struggle today?

Darrin: I do still struggle with significant regret, shame and sadness. I hurt a lot of people and caused a lot of relational damage, which I can't undo and for which there is no quick fix. I completely understand and accept that there are people who aren't ready to forgive me, and yet I also mourn the loss of those relationships on a daily basis. The process of accepting reality while also deeply and personally embracing Christ's work on my behalf is ongoing for me.

Ed: If you could give one message to pastors, what would it be?

Darrin: Address your wounds. I think a wound is either a tender place that needs healing or a broken place that needs repentance. Work on creating a leadership culture where emotional and relational maturity is as highly prioritized as theological depth and leadership expertise.

Spend time learning what true vulnerability looks like and what keeps you from it. Heavily invest in relationships with leaders to whom you are submitted and give your best energy to them.

Consider getting a counselor and have outside pastors involved with you and the leaders of the local church. Commit yourself to a lifelong process of growing in self-awareness, and know that no one ever arrives. And develop disciplines that keep you in a place of regularly experiencing God's love for you.

In Part 2, I talk with Darrin’s wife, Amie.

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