My addiction was ministry.
There. I said it.
If you have a problem understanding plain English, let me put it religiously: Ministry was my idol.
I did not grow up in a church or as a believer. Yes, those two can be separate things. I committed my life to following Jesus when I was in high school. After that, I did the only thing that seemed logical based on what I could see other believers doing around me: plugging into the machine that is organized ministry. It was safe, because then I would probably get into less trouble. Granted, it didn't keep me out of all trouble. I served as a volunteer in the youth ministry I was a part of in high school. I went on overseas mission trips to four countries in just as many continents. I interned at a ministry after high school for two years. I have served on the audio/visual team for a fellowship in every state I have lived. I participated in and directed drama ministries. I structured and built a youth ministry from the ground up. I organized and executed local mission trips in the city I lived. The list goes on from there. I'm not saying I did these all in my own strength or by myself. I just know there are some of you out there who don't know my ministerial resume, and the statements I just made in regards to my addiction have no context. So now you know.
The first time I realized I was on a path to destruction was one night over three years ago. I was listening to a podcast talking about the difference between worshiping the Creator and worshiping a creation. The point of interest came when the subject of how it is possible to pour our life out for a ministry and have that thing be more important to our heart than our flesh and blood family, or worse yet God Himself. Several amazing men were considered among the best preachers but worst family men, including A. W. Tozer, John Wesley, and plenty more. It's hard now to see these men as anything other than some of the most glorified idolators in Church history. After all, idolatry is just putting anything in a place of our hearts where it gets more attention than God Himself. It struck a very sensitive chord in my heart.
It's one thing to say "God first, family second, ministry third." It's entirely different to actually put your actions where your words are when it comes to that. You can have a way of thinking in regards to something, but lack the reality of that very same thing. In case you need it said religiously: you can have a theology that doesn't line up with your reality.
It's kind of like the Black Knight from Monty Python.
It started off all noble, as though he had been tasked with a great mission. "None shall pass!" Then it progressed from there to him losing an arm. What was his response? "Tis but a scratch!" and then "I've had worse." So they fight more, and he loses another arm. What was his response then? To proclaim that he does still have arms left, despite the spurting proof contrary to that. It finally reaches to the point where he loses another appendage, and he barely has a leg to stand on (see what I did there), but he yells "I'm invincible!" He is met with a very aptly put "You're a looney."
I listened to that podcast and I thought to myself "Self, this whole ministry is an idol thing is really bad. Don't let that happen to you." But I kept barreling deeper into the arms of my addiction. I just kept ignoring a few key indicators in my own life. Like how my wife's spiritual, emotional, and physical health was declining a bit. Or how my kids would get upset when I would say I was headed to church and they'd say something like "You're going to youth group again? When am I going to get to spend time with you, daddy?" Or how one of my daughters would say something like "I don't want angry daddy anymore." Or how I felt more at ease with people I would only spend two hours a week with instead of the woman who shared my bed. It was only a matter of time before somebody looked me in the face as I was hopping about like a madman in my own distorted reality and said "You're a looney" to me. That man was Tim Thornton.
Tim shared his heart with me regarding how Doug Roberts told him one day long ago, "It sounds like ministry is your idol, Tim." And I thought "Wow, I hope I never get to that place" despite already missing a couple arms amidst my lunacy. My relationship with Tim grew over the span of a year or so before he finally dropped that bomb on me that ministry was my idol. He dissected my own words to show me how that was true, and Holy Spirit had tilled the soil of my heart long enough for me to receive that truth without yelling back "Right, I'll do you for that!" or any such nonsense. So I hopped off the crazy train and got on the path to healing / addiction recovery / idol smashing. He used inspiring and encouraging words like "You are a great man, and you have a beautiful family. You and your family need to be a priority. You should stop running you and your family's health over in the name of ministry. The Lord is sovereign enough that He can still do what He wants to do, even if you aren't the one doing it. If you want to know what ministry should be, it should come from a place where you and your whole family are in such a great place of love and health, and everything in your life is going so swimmingly well that there is just an abundant overflow of love to be shared. That place of overflow is where ministry should happen." So at least he used a foam covered brick to whack me upside the head a bit, which helped with my decision making process.
To fully stop the insanity, we had to start telling people and start stepping back from commitments to ministry as we understood it. The amount of grace and love we were met with by those around us was amazing and unprecedented for our family. Props go to Destiny Church, and especially to Chris and Hannah Davis for their love, grace, and support during that great crisis for my heart.
It was after a full year from then that I cautiously started approaching the notion of moving into ministry again. But I could see a little more clearly at that point that I was anxious to step into any kind of ministry, regardless of whether it was what the Lord had for me to do or not. The more I sought His heart out for me, the more I realized I needed more time to lay some foundations in my heart and to fully uproot the possibility for the return of this addiction. It was as if I had just taken a year off the addiction and was about to walk right back into the throws of passionate pouring out of myself for the thing without ever taking time to learn why the thing was so important to me in my heart. The more I thought about it, the more I had this sense that God had bigger things for me and that it was a strategy of the enemy of my soul to get me tied off to some good thing for me to do that would not have been the best thing for me to do.
I needed to find out who God really was. I needed to find out how He really felt about me, regardless of what I could do for Him. I needed to find out who I was. I needed to find out why the things I did mattered so much more to me than the One in whose name I was doing those things. I didn't know it, but God had the Kingdom IQ in store for me to help with that.
It's been a year since my family and I moved out to Colorado Springs in order to be closer to Tim and his family. It's been a year since I have considered the possibility of ministry. It's been the best year of my married life. It's been the year where I put my actions where my words were in regards to putting God first and then my family. And aside from those two things, there hasn't been much of anything else. I still got excited about the Godzilla movie. I still performed on stage. I still welcomed people into my home. So I was still me. But I was a better me than I had been for years and years.
I've been reminded of why my wife started out as my best friend this year. I've remembered why each one of my three kids are a tremendous blessing to me. I've read more books over this last year than I have in the nine years prior to it. I have shepherded the hearts of my wife and children this year more faithfully than I ever have. My wife is laughing and loving more now than she has since before we were married. My children for the first time in their lives know without a doubt that there are only two things in this world more important to me than them: our God and their mother. I truly know for the first time in my life that my worth is found as a son of God and who He has made me to be, in comparison to what I can do, or how I can serve, or anything else.
It was kind of a big year.
This all came through lots of tears, hard conversations, deep uprooting of some nasty stuff in my heart, prayer, worship, and getting made fun of for thinking it would be better to roll around with the pigs in their slop than to be at home with my Daddy.
I'm not saying the journey is over. There's still ground to lay hold of in my heart for the Kingdom. But a son is always a son, and a son realizes it's more about who you are than what you do. Joshua knew the battle was won long before he fought his first battle or built his home in the Promised Land. So all I'm saying is that I know the battle is won, and that my Daddy has a home for me. And my home is not built on the work of my hands, but rather on the strength of His great love for me.
My name is Thomas Ryan Matthew Kushnerick, and I have been clean from idolatrous ministry for over one year.