In “Didn’t See it Coming” Carey Nieuwhof outlines seven challenges that can catch a pastor or leader by surprise even though they are ubiquitous. The seven challenges are Cynicism, Compromise, Disconnection, Irrelevance, Pride, Burnout, and Emptiness. Carey calls these seven challenges “epidemics of our age.” While these things have a tendency to catch us off guard, they don’t need to if we see the warning signs.
The book addresses these seven challenges in their own section each with two chapters. The first chapter in each section describes the challenge and, through a variety of lists (reflecting the style and content of his popular blog), the warning signs. The second chapter of the section gives ways (steps, keys) on addressing the challenge before it wreaks havoc on one’s life.
I welcome Nieuwhof’s experiences and transparent reflections. You can feel his pain as he relates his experience with each of the challenges. For those of us who have experienced depression, his chapter on burn out will feel far too real.
While the entire book speaks to a leader’s life, I found the sections on pride and emptiness were especially helpful. He points out pride’s subtle grasp and addresses the emptiness of getting everything life can offer. Perhaps those two sections are worth getting the book, reading it, and discussing it with others.
While I highly recommend the book (don’t skip the last two chapters as they are key), as I read a thought kept nagging me. Nieuwhof is a gifted and talented leader. Most of us are not as gifted and talented as he is. We will never preach in front of thousands, write multiple books, or have thousands of followers on social media. There’s a danger that while reading the book, we envy Cary’s successes.
For example, Nieuwhof describes burnout after preaching to a crowd at North Point even though people were telling him he “hit it out of the park.” While I understand his point that burnout hits us even when we might be successful, I wonder about those who do not feel successful. I wonder about those who are serving God through difficult seasons and circumstances. I wonder about those who serve small congregations faithfully, but may not receive accolades, ever.
In one place he quotes a friend saying, “If God wants to go deep, it’s because he wants to take you far.” I wondered how “far” should be defined. Some may define “far” in terms of quantifiable significance; big numbers, big ministry, big influence. Carey has gone far in terms of numbers and influence. How does far-ness relate to those who feel like they have gone deep with God, yet God has not taken them far? Are they fooling themselves? Have they really not gone as deep with God as they believe because, after all, they are serving small congregations, few read their blogs, or their businesses aren’t as influential as they would like? Would disappointment take hold of them?
Carey alludes to the tendency of wanting what others have even though in our head we know it will lead to devastation. Some may read of Carey’s experience and read past the pain accompanying it, thinking, “Wow. Speaking at North Point Church, having hundreds of thousands read my blog, having the largest church in my denomination would be great!” Perhaps a section on “jealousy” and “envy” would have been helpful. I would have also loved to see him address disillusionment and the disappointment that settles in when reality doesn’t match expectations.
While there may be more than seven challenges which knock leaders off course, if the reader takes to heart Carey’s message, they should be able to rest in God’s presence no matter what their circumstances may be. I’m thankful that Carey uses his platform to warn leaders of the subtle and deceptive thoughts that lodge in a leader’s soul. Carey gives leaders a head’s up so they won’t be blindsided. If the reader allows his message deeper access to his or her soul, other challenges, not addressed, can be seen and addressed as well.
While Nieuwhof mostly addresses pastors and leaders, I feel many who do not fall into those two categories also experience these seven challenges. They are the “epidemic of our age” as we seek to be validated in whatever capacity we find ourselves. I encourage anyone, leader or not, to take the time to read Nieuwhof’s book and discuss it with others. It will help you to recognize the warning signs before your life spins out of control.
Throughout the book, Carey gives great insights and some wonderful quotes. I thought I’d end this review with a few:
“Some days, simply avoiding stupid is a win.” (I think this is my favorite).
“But just because God is silent doesn’t mean he is absent.”
“Love has a speed. And it’s slower than I am.”
“If you want to beat emptiness, find a mission that’s bigger than you.”
I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book. This post also contains affiliate links.