300 Miles to Find My Soul

tim corbin, colorado baptists, healthy emotional leader, 300 miles to find my soul,

Where are you God?! I did what you wanted me to do. I went to the hard places. I sacrificed ease and comfort. I forewent the familiar to follow you. And now where are you?!

I read scripture and taste nothing. I pray persistently and hear deafening silence. I listen to worship music and read Christian books but feel no effect. Nothing is working. Where are you?!

I am mad. I am angry. I am bitter. But most of all, I am scared nothing is working. God, I don’t know where you are!

In 2013 I found myself beyond depleted. “Burn out” was an understatement. I was on my second church plant but was experiencing no results in reaching people. 

My first church plant was “successful”. It was hard work, but we stuck with it and saw spiritual fruit. Lives were changed, people were saved, and one of the most beautiful communities I’ve ever experienced was birthed. 

After the “success” of my first church plant, I had all the answers. I could tell whether a planter was going to make it or not. I was invited into the special network meetings with other “successful” planters and championed with potential partners. I was just waiting for them to ask me to write the book and be on the panel discussions for how to plant a church.

While I was at my lowest, there was one beacon of hope. He was a pastor friend who would meet with me to check in on me.

But now I am “failing”. I was utterly distraught that nothing was transpiring in my second attempt to plant a church. There was no receptivity to Jesus and no doors were opening for a place to meet for worship or serve in the community. I knew that it would be harder but believed that all things are possible with God. But he’s not showing up, and I couldn’t find him. 

Simultaneously, our family was experiencing incredible hardship and pain. While my daughters were maneuvering through the challenge of making new friends at school, one of them was being physically and emotionally bullied. Our housing situation was unstable, and we had to move four places within two years. And all the while, we were struggling financially.

This was the darkest season of my soul. I was frustrated and confused. I was being squeezed and what was coming out was not good. 

I was “failing.” And the weight of all the shame and guilt was crushing me. 

While I was at my lowest, there was one beacon of hope. He was a pastor friend who would meet with me to check in on me. He listened to me without judging what I was doing or not doing. He would say, “Tim, I don’t care about your church. Tell me about your soul. How is it doing?” He knew I wasn’t doing well. He knew I was drowning like an elephant in the ocean. And he knew I didn’t need help with my church plant. I needed help with my soul.

I knew I needed something drastic to jolt me out of my condition.

He was setting out to hike the Oregon section of Pacific Crest Trail for a month and he offered for me to join him on the trail for a week or so. I told him there was no way I could do that. I had a church to plant, partners to answer to, and three young kids at home. He told me to pray about it.

As soon as I got in my car, I bawled like a baby. I knew I needed something drastic to jolt me out of my condition. And I knew I didn’t just need a week on the trail. I needed the whole month. When I got home, I told my wife about the offer. She agreed that I needed to go. Neither one of us was doing well, but we were desperate, and this was a hopeful solution. 

So, I hit the trail with my friend. He had started before I was able to join him, but together we walked 300 miles in 24 days with just packs on our backs through the state of Oregon. 

Along the way I listened to several audio books, scripture, and music as we averaged 15 to 20 miles a day. When we stopped to break, we would converse about what we were listening to and process what we were thinking. I don’t really know what I expected to experience on the trail. I felt that in my darkness I needed a way out, and there was someone willing to walk with me, and at least he had a headlamp to lead the way. 

I discovered early in our trek that I needed someone to confess to. I needed someone who would let me express whatever had built up in the deep recesses of my soul and reserve judgement. I didn’t need them to agree with me. I didn’t need them to fix me. I just needed them to hear me. And I violently vomited everything I was feeling, thinking, and believing. At times it was loud and visceral like an evil spirit being expelled. But when it was all out, I had an emotional weight lifted from me. I even felt physically lighter the further my journey went. And now I could begin to deal with root issues. 

My misplaced identity was killing me, and I needed rescuing. 

One of the main root issues I dealt with was my identity. As I walked and spent time with my thoughts, I realized that my identity in who I was as a child God, and my calling to be a pastor had become lodged in the trappings of performance-based ministry. Over time, I had shifted to believing I was a pastor because I could preach well, lead well, reach lost people, save souls, develop contextually strategic plans, and gather people for a church. This subtle shift was fostered by the attention and affirmation of other pastors, partners, and denominational leaders. Everyone loves a “success” story. That’s why we platform them at our meetings. But when my attempts to plant a church “failed,” then my addiction to ambition and approval left me exposed with a spiritually hyperthermic condition like a hiker above the tree line. My misplaced identity was killing me, and I needed rescuing. 

Over 300 miles I found my soul again. 

I re-rooted my soul in the understanding that I am a child of God. I am his. And with him I have everything I ever need. I am in Christ, and Christ is in me. Period. And that’s enough … when we really come to know God, then we are set free from the need to be impressed with anyone else… are set free from the lure of being part of the “greatest” ministry or the latest trend. If we really know God, and truly know that we are his, then we are willing to accept the path he has for us even if it resembles one of the lives of the prophets in the Old Testament. 

I also re-rooted my calling as a pastor. My identity should not be measured by the results of my ministry efforts or the accolades of others. Instead, I recognized that my calling comes from God alone. I am not a pastor because I can do things effectively and in a way worthy of being noticed. Rather I am a pastor because God has called me to be a pastor and has shaped my life to be a pastor. And if my calling is from him, then faithfulness to him and approval from him are the only litmus test I will ever need.  

I re-rooted my soul in the understanding that I am a child of God. I am his.

There is so much more that I learned on the trail, and even some things that I cannot articulate yet. Though my time on the trail ended at the border of Oregon, my journey has continued to flourish. I don’t like that God took me through that season of my life, but I am far more of the person I need to be because of it. And I’ve come to realize I don’t have the sole answers on how to plant a church, but neither does anyone else. 

Ministry is hard in all contexts. There are skills to develop, methods to employ, and sheep to shepherd. But most of all there is your soul to cultivate. 

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul.” – Jesus.

(Quotes used for words pertaining to “success” and “failure” were intentional for your cognitive dissonance and reading enjoyment.) 

Tim Corbin – Location Pastor at Journey Point Church in Denver, part of the Riverside Church Family. I believe the greatest gift you can give someone well beyond leadership, preaching, and strategy is a healthy transforming soul.  Without it, much harm can be done.  With it, much delight can be savored.  I’m just a fellow journeyer along this trail helping others maintain their souls.

Additional Resource

Darrin Crow, pastor of HEART of Junction Church, has used his M.A. in Counseling Psychology throughout his ministerial career, and continues to counsel with individuals and couples as a key part of his pastoral duties. Darrin recently authored his second book, Understanding Biblical Mental and Emotional Health 101: A starting place for finding peace by thinking biblically, available online through multiple book sellers.