Didn’t See It Coming By: Carey Nieuwhof.
Carey Nieuwhof is fast becoming a powerful voice within North American Christianity, both as a preacher and as a leadership expert. He has books and podcasts, and a (by Canadian standards) extremely successful church. One of the aspects of Carey’s leadership that has been endearing is his love of other leaders and his willingness to be vulnerable in front of them. Carey continues this pattern in his newest book Didn’t See it Coming wherein he discusses his battle with burnout, depression, and even suicidal thoughts, at a time when anyone looking from the outside would have thought he was on top of the world. I believe this book is for everyone, not just church leaders, everyone who has been ambitious and found themselves disheartened, anyone who has accomplished some goals and found the mountaintop rather plain and wondered, is that all? Anyone seeking to figure out what patterns they want to establish in life that will help them to flourish.
This book is about Carey’s failure to see his burnout coming and some practices he has put into place in the past 10 years to 1- avoid burnout 2- see it coming and make course adjustments 3- be more effective at what he is doing.
He suggests we all watch our hearts for cynicism and argues that nothing is easier to fall into than this trap, and very little will harm our souls more. He argues for curiosity as an antidote. Asking why, looking into random things that are of interest, continuing to learn. The cynic’s jaundice viewpoint is that they already know everything, they know how and idea will work out (or not) and they know what lies behind the things people say (so they think). Avoiding this is a simple as learning to follow up on questions that pop into our heads during the day, or taking a hobby and learning more about it even as we practice it. Learning knew things reminds us that we don’t already know everything there is to know.
Another important feature that would help someone see a burnout coming, and I would suggest that this is true for all of us, not just leaders—as a pastor I have had front row seats to more than one person’s life going to pieces—we can all learn from this—is to slow down. He offers advice he heard from Dallas Willard, to eliminate hurry from life is crucial. I fight this battle daily, with people in my office, sometimes with my daily bible reading, sometimes even with my reading bedtime stories to my little boys. Stopping and recognizing the sense of hurry helps, so too does having committed to avoid this hurry because it takes away the urge to remain hurried. I have committed to not be hurried so whenever I notice hurry I actively, consciously, fight back, fight for patience. I have found this particular piece extremely helpful to me. The fact that some of what Carey writes I already do and find practical makes me want to try other practices that I have less experience with.
There are many other good pieces of advice, I won’t ruin them all for you since you should probably get yourself a copy (and maybe one for a friend) and work through it.
I am fully with him, and have certainly felt the hollow halls of success. The moment you realize you have a job you love, a wife you adore, kids, house, car…and you cannot help but wonder, is that all there is to it? Do we just coast from here? How dull! He argues that the key element is the recognition that no matter how much success a person has unless they devote themselves to something larger than themselves they will find an empty feeling. I wonder how this works for people who do devote themselves to something bigger than themselves, like the church, but do not see the growth or health they hope for, or the social justice worker devoted to changing the world and suffering from compassion burnout. His advice sounds great for someone whose bigger project is on the up and up but I would love to hear from those who have done this and struggled (frankly speaking Carey’s audience must be made up of just such pastors working for the kingdom of God and watching their churches or denominations shudder and quake as they wring their hands desperately trying to figure out what God can be doing watching his beloved church crumble). This doesn’t take away from the strengths of the book, the value of self-awareness, a great bit linking Calvin and Socrates on the importance of the knowledge of the self. Nor does it mean the book misses its mark.
There is much that is helpful in this book. Carey speaks as one who has been there and one who is working hard to not go back but to be stronger. I hope many of us can listen to his voice because not seeing it coming gets ugly and painful fast.