By Joy Allmond
Eight years ago, pastor and Passion Conference founder Louie Giglio says he “fell off the edge of a cliff into depression.”
During a recent 5 Leadership Questions podcast, Lifeway Leadership Director Todd Adkins and Lifeway Christian Resources Senior Vice President Eric Geiger talked with Giglio about his own anxiety and depression and reasons church leaders can be prone to this kind of suffering.
“I went into a several-month period of being out of commission,” said Giglio. “It’s hard to put your hands around mental illness. … You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, it’s hard to describe, and it’s unique to every single person who’s experiencing it.”
Giglio referred to himself as “the poster boy for anxiety” because in the years since he has come out of the depression, he’s told his story to hundreds of thousands of people.
“The number one thing you need to do,” he said, “is tell them it’s not one size fits all. And empathize with their story. Tell them they aren’t crazy. That’s what the enemy tells you.”
And leaders, he said, have a certain susceptibility to falling into this kind of pit. The year—down to the exact month—he “crashed,” he had planted a church. He and his wife, Shelley, received an email from a close friend (who was also involved in the church plant) who had a dispute over a minimal issue. That event, in hindsight, seemed to have accelerated his spiral into depression.
“That was a left hook I didn’t see coming over a minimal issue,” said Giglio. “I thought, What have we signed up for?
“I would bet most leaders, CEOs, and top-level managers can relate because of the pressure,” he continued. “It’s not just the pressure—the deadlines, shareholder decisions, weight of leadership. It’s the spiritual fight.”
In the wake of the crash Giglio says has marked him for life, there are insights he wants to pass along to other leaders with the same struggles. For Giglio, he came to the realization he wasn’t in control of most things in his life.
“I’m a controller,” he said. “But not necessarily in a bad way. I just see good outcomes and I want to get there. I want everybody to get there. I try to use all my influence and ability to move toward good outcomes. … Controllers can’t control things ultimately. We really have control over very little in our lives.”
And like many—whether leaders or lay people—Giglio said it took his journey with anxiety and depression to expose his addiction to approval.
“If you need the approval of people, and you’re a controller, planting a church is a bad idea,” he quipped.
“You don’t have control, and you’re not going to get approved. People are not going to love your ideas, and they are not going to love [your] leadership. And especially if you are trying to move an existing organization forward, then you’re definitely not going to get approval.”
When Geiger asked Giglio how to spot the difference between a healthy sense of responsibility and an unhealthy or sinful hold on control that isn’t trusting of God, Giglio said the measuring stick is the tightness of a leader’s grip on the ministry He has entrusted to them.
“There has to be a place in our lives where we’re willing to lay it down,” he said. “And if we’re not willing to lay it down, then it’s unhealthy. For me—in the season this happened—a lot of things happened. We were going through the biggest economic collapse in 100 years. I’m not in control of economies. My mom had a debilitating disease. Shelley had a herniated disk in her back. I couldn’t control these things.
“God has a way of reinforcing the idea that we’re not in charge of very much in life.”
There are warning signs Giglio said leaders should heed to help mitigate the anxiety that often comes as a byproduct of that role.
“When [a] visionary leader cannot lay down at night and go, OK God, I’ve done all I can do. I’ve used all the skill, ability, influence prayer, leadership I can, but I cannot move this forward, so I will rest my case and trust You with the outcome, they will have to get there the hard way.”
He points to Jesus as the ultimate model of surrendered leadership.
“You want a leader who is a possibility thinker,” he said. “If it is possible, take this cup—like Jesus. He was on his knees in the garden, sweating blood, and seeking a possibility. I want those kinds of leaders around me, and I want to be one of them.”
But along with the “possibility” thinkers, Giglio said the church needs “nevertheless” thinkers, willing to lay down everything before God—again, like Jesus.
“Our final breath is going to say, ‘Nevertheless, your will, not my will, be done,’” he said. “This is where control is ultimately ascribed to God.”
JOY ALLMOND (@joyallmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.