Within the past couple of weeks, I finished a book that was water to my soul. It was Jonathan Martin’s new release, How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is on the Way and Love Is Already Here. I appreciate Zondervan sending me a review copy!
Growing up in the south, being well-rooted in the Pentecostal movement, Martin was in full-time ministry by his early-20s and had planted Renovatus Church in his mid-20s. Yet, after eight years of leading that church, life had taken him out to sea, thrown him overboard, and he was now drowning in the midst of the stormy weather and monsters of the raging sea.
The book contains deeply personal, and poetic, reflections about Martin’s own “shipwreck.” Martin offers these words as a summary of the book:
“This book comes out a season of my life of losing almost everything. Of walking away conscientiously from the church I founded, the community I was raised in, and the people I loved, in search of being whole as a human and not just successful as a pastor or minister. It comes out of my own broken relationships, my own broken heart, my own shipwreck—my own ultimate survival, and the hope I found in the God of the sea.”
He begins the book with the story of his last Sunday at Renovatus. Martin writes:
“It all felt so strange. I had been in full-time ministry since I was twenty-two years old. I had been thrust immediately into the role of expert on God before I knew anything about God or life or how the world worked, really. Some people thought I was a prodigy as a speaker, but whether or not that was true, I had not had the time or space to develop my own soul. I didn’t care anymore about whether or not I was good at any of the things I had set out to do; I just wanted to figure out how to be a human being. I wanted to figure out how to live out of my soul rather than out of my head. I did not want to be separate from anyone else, set apart from anyone else, by virtue of what I did for a live. I wanted to be a real boy” (p58).
Part of the beauty of the book is the honesty and authenticity. We learn best from those who have walked through life, including infamous shipwrecks, and have opened the door to peer into their own life.
Why would I say this book was water to my own soul?
Three and a half years ago, I also walked through a shipwreck of sorts. I write about it in my forthcoming book, Change for the First Time, Again.
As a pastor I was burned out, had hit rock bottom, and simply could not handle the emotional roller coaster I had been on as a young married man, young father, and first-time pastor in a foreign land. A couple of months shy of my 29th birthday, my wife and I embarked on a journey to Belgium to pastor a small international church in the greater Brussels area. Those five and a half years contained some of the greatest, yet some of the most painful moments in my life.
Unfortunately, I can became a statistic. Groups like Barna spend quite a bit of time tracking folks like Martin and myself—the burned out pastors who left ministry (though he nor I left ministry in any full sense). That’s part of my story, my story of change. I’ve learned a lot since stepping back from pastoring three and a half years ago. But I still have much more to learn.
And, so, How to Survive a Shipwreck has been a gift. The last book I read that served as a similar gift in dealing with my own pain and brokenness was J.R. Briggs’, Fail.
Even if one hasn’t lived through a shipwreck in the midst of pastoring, I believe there is much to offer within the pages of the book: Ultimately centered in how we might get through the winds, storms and monsters of the sea through letting go and falling into the One who is Love. May these reflections on surviving a shipwreck draw us closer into the One who is truly good.