In many ways, my story is as stereotypical American evangelical as it gets. Complete with altar calls, Bible camps, and purity rallies. Or at least it starts off that way.
I was raised in a small Baptist church in small-town Central Minnesota. Prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer” when I was just three years old. Somehow spontaneously finding ourselves in the bathroom, I prayed that prayer with my mother, kneeling over the bathtub’s edge and repeating her words as my own, confessing my preschool-age sins while asking Jesus to come into my life and grant me the forgiveness I was told I had so desperately needed. From there it was a childhood of Sunday schools and AWANA programs, of youth groups and Bible studies.
But it was in the summer of 1994, that was the one right before my freshman year of high school, where my faith began to take shape beyond what I saw in my church peers. That summer I attended a Youth for Christ conference in Washington, D.C. It was billed as a peer-evangelism super-conference, equipping us with everything we’d ever need to win all our friends for Jesus. And, yes, I ate up every moment of it. The proverbial hook, line, and sinker.
I came back from that conference and started what would become an award-winning ministry initiative in my public high school, my first steps toward winning the whole world for Christ. Devoting my teen years to the Lord’s work, I jumped at every chance I could find. I volunteered as a junior counselor at Bible camp each summer, was trained by the Billy Graham Crusade and served as a floor counselor when the good reverend came to Minneapolis in 1996, preached my first Sunday morning sermon before the whole church at the age of 17. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… That was high school.
So of course it only made sense to enter Bible college. Following graduation, I packed up and left my small-town Central Minnesota roots behind and moved to the big city of Chicago where I attended the Moody Bible Institute, completing both a B.A. in pastoral studies and a Master of Divinity degree. Along the way, I pastored at two churches for a total of twelve years. The first was a part-time position on pastoral staff at a mid-size Evangelical Free church in Chicago. After this I served as lead pastor for a turnaround church associated with Converge Worldwide, formerly known as the Baptist General Conference.
But seriously, I loved pastoring and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The preaching and teaching, the organizational development and community service, the interpersonal counseling and coaching, even the hours-long board meetings. It was everything I had ever wanted professionally. And yes, I also loved the faith that served as its true foundation. I had embraced an incredibly positive and constructive, empowering and motivational, non-judgmental, non-critical, forward-thinking and hope-filled version of Christianity. Yet it was thoroughly evangelical in the sense that I believed every word of the Christian Bible was inspired by God and therefore inerrant. As a committed and serious student of the scriptures, I had found a satisfactory way to spin just about any verse in the Bible to make it fit just right within my theological system. With an unquenchable passion for God’s Word, I sought to grow in its knowledge and understanding every single day. Study was my daily hobby.
But then in the fall of 2010, I began to realize that some of those answers didn’t line up as well as I would have liked them to. And as I started dealing more critically with some of the issues I had previously pushed ever so slightly to the periphery, I began to find myself a little less satisfied by answers previously held. And that’s when it all began to unravel.
Over the next six months, I found myself increasingly overwhelmed with doubts that went as deep as to the very existence of God Himself. My prayers that God would faithfully correct my thinking and strengthen my faith gave way the following year to tormented late-night prayers, begging and pleading with the God of Wonders to reveal himself to me once again, to light my heart and soul aflame with his Spirit once more.
By the end of 2011 it became clear that I had to transition out of the ministry I had loved so dearly. Even if God were real—and I continued clinging to the hope that he might be, I had clearly lost all ability to discern such truths. Either Christian ministry was unfit for this world or I was unfit for Christian ministry, but either way I had to leave. And so I did. I transitioned out of ministry that following summer. And by the end of that year, I would finally admit to myself that I no longer believed in God. I had to let go. If for no other reason than to keep my own sanity.
It wasn’t until July of 2014 that I discovered The Clergy Project (TCP), a full two years after leaving the ministry. Even though I had known it couldn’t actually be the case, I had often felt as if I were the only Christian in the world who had lost his faith. And I had never even heard of another pastor doing so. But in The Clergy Project, I found something that I was long in need of, a sense of community and network of support with other religious professionals traveling on journeys similar to my own. And in seeing and hearing their stories, I found a renewed sense of hope for the future. Everything was going to be okay. This newest chapter of my life was only beginning.
Today I am alive and well. Life is exciting and increasingly filled with wonder and joy. Though divorced in 2013, my children continue to be the love of my life—Seriously, I don’t know what I would do without them! After spending a few transitional years as Service Manager for a downtown Chicago steakhouse, recent years have focused mostly on various entrepreneurial endeavors and experiments in addition to a little writing and some personal coaching. I’m active with a few secular nonprofits and in January 2017 began serving The Clergy Project as its new president.
Life is full and overflowing. It is good, and I am alive! And as I often like to remind those around me, I’m most certainly more joyful without Jesus.
To read all the details of Drew’s story and engage in some great conversation about your own, check out his new book The Rise and Fall of Faith: A God-to-Godless Story for Christians and Atheists!
In March of 2015, I returned to the campus of the Moody Bible Institute to participate in a project on understanding atheism. Check out the 55-minute video interview here.