Burnout, Perfectionism & Identity: Inside Chris Hahn’s Personal Journey to Restoration

Welcome to this episode of the unSeminary podcast. We’re chatting with Chris Hahn, the Executive Pastor of Missional Spaces at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago.

In the demands and activity of ministry, church leaders can find there is a disconnect between their public leadership and struggles in their personal lives. Don’t miss today’s podcast episode where Chris shares his story of how God brought him to a place of burnout and brokenness in order to bring about His redemptive purposes.

  • Stepping back. // Chris has been in ministry for over 30 years, starting in student ministry, moving into working as a children’s pastor, and finally an executive pastor role at a large multi-site church in Kentucky. Amidst all of the growth and hard work at the church, in January 2020 the leadership brought to Chris’s attention that he was not operating from a healthy place. Chris sensed that something might not be right internally, but he hadn’t wanted to confront it. It ultimately took outside help for him to see that he needed to step back from ministry.
  • Seeing the truth. // Although leading up to this point Chris was walking with Jesus, praying and in the word daily, he realized he’d been ignoring the warning signs in his life. Chris was experiencing burnout, and ignoring it resulted in immature behavior patterns. When God got his attention and everything was stripped away, Chris knew that he had to make some serious changes in his life, and he left his executive pastor role.
  • God has wired all of us with emotions for a reason. // As Chris sought healing, he wanted to understand what had gotten him to this place and how he could have ignored it. He began journeying with mentors and a counselor to take an honest look at his life and committed to being 100% vulnerable. In one of the early sessions with his counselor, she asked Chris how everything he was going through made him feel. Chris realized the truth was that he didn’t know how he felt. He knew what he thought about everything and how he should feel, but not how he actually felt. At that moment Chris realized he didn’t really know who he was anymore.
  • Figure out why. // Chris had to start a journey back to how to feel emotions again and understand what it means to sit in feelings and not just get through them, compartmentalize them, or bury them. It is important to figure out what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling a certain way. Then just sit in it and recognize that you feel sad, even if you don’t know why, and it’s okay. You may need to talk to someone about why you feel what you feel, or journal about it.
  • Find your ministry mentors. // Chris reached out to his ministry mentors to help him find his way back along the path back to health and wholeness. These people are pastors he had worked with, spiritual mentors, close friends, and a trusted counselor. He could reach out to them and be vulnerable, and they would be completely honest about what he should do. Through this process of healing, Chris realized that God was rescuing him from going deeper into unhealthy patterns and falling further into burnout.
  • It’s okay to not be okay. // Chris never thought he’d be able to return to ministry within a church, but when he surrendered these fears to God, God brought him to his current position at Willow. In his current leadership role, he’s able to help create a culture where it’s okay to not be okay and not feel like you’re going to get canceled. Within the church we need to create a culture from the leadership to the staff where we can talk about things we’re struggling with, not be afraid to get help, and lovingly confront and be honest with each other.
  • Be transparent and real. // Find someone you trust to talk about your own struggles in your life. Be completely transparent and honest with them, and be willing to go to those hard places. Chris also makes himself available to any leader or pastor who needs to talk in these situations. No matter where you are or how far you’ve fallen, God isn’t done with you. Your failures don’t define you and they can be redeemed to help others down the road.

You can reach out to Chris by emailing him here. Watch a bit of his testimony at Willow Creek below.

Chris Hahn Sharing at Willow Creek Staff Gathering

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Today’s a special episode of unSeminary. It’s going to take a little bit of a different conversation than we normally have. Got my friend Chris Hahn with us. He is the Executive Pastor of Missional Spaces at ah, church in Chicagoland you may be heard of before, Willow Creek, but really today I want to hear more about Chris’s own story, and kind of his own ah you know the journey that God’s had him on. And so obviously what he’s doing at Willow connects with that story, but I’m actually more interested in the kind of broader story. Chris, welcome to the the show. So glad you’re here.

Chris Hahn — Thanks, Rich. Man, it’s great to be on. An honor to call you my friend, and also to be a part of what you’re doing which is impacting a lot of lives of leaders and churches. So thank you.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much. I ah, we’ve had a chance to connect a little bit over the years and excited to you know to kind of have a conversation in public today um about just the journey you’ve been on. I really really appreciate that. So why don’t you tell us a little bit of the the Chris story, kind of pull back, give us the 20,000 foot view. How do you, you know, kind of the journey you’ve been on and then we’ll narrow in and talk about the last kind of this last long leg of your journey.

Chris Hahn — Yeah man, well appreciate that. I I’ve been in ministry for over 30 years. It started out in student ministry and then out of college landed at a church in Kentucky, a large church in Kentucky, where um I started as a children’s pastor, and did that for ten years, and then kind of moved around which I would say like all like yeah, all ministry can be learned through the lens of children’s ministry. There’s so much you can learn that but…

Rich Birch — So true. The best people comes out of kids ministry.

Chris Hahn — Totally, totally. Um.

Rich Birch — So true.

Chris Hahn — And then I navigated a couple of transitions in there to where I eventually landed over the last ten years or so of my time there I was executive pastor, and the lead executive pastor for the church. The church was, you know, large large church, multi-site. We’d gotten into the multi-site world, had a lot of campuses and expanding our campuses. Our our goal is to kind of put a healthy church within the reach of anyone in the state of Kentucky. And we we pushed the gas as as hard as we could and and took off after that.

Chris Hahn — And, man, I think the the big piece of my story is at in January of 2020, which was at the beginning of when a lot of lot of lives began to to change, right? I had no idea but was was called to my attention that I I was I was not in a healthy place. And I think I knew it internally but I I did not want to confront it. And I as as an as I’m I’m in Enneagram One and I don’t know a ton about enneagrams, but I have learned a lot about what that means for me in this in this last season. But um was called to my attention, man, that I was unhealthy and it was was at a place where I needed to step away from what I was doing. And it was one of those where you know walked into a meeting and had no idea what I was walking into and walked out and you know everything had changed.

Chris Hahn — And um and and really what I, Rich, what I looked by what I look back now and see is that I was carrying a lot. And I was ignoring a lot and as an Enneagram One I really felt like it was just my responsibility to do what I was what I was supposed to do and do it really well really really well with ah a great deal of responsibility. And what I what I just kind of glossed past was man and we we’d had family challenges that—my daughter had had a significant relationship that broke up and I just kind of navigated that, I was actually the Chairman of a board of a small college that we had to close the doors on. During that period of time we were restructuring our staff as we were getting ready to expand our mission a little bit, and um I just kind of kept plowing, right? I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t really pay attention to any of the warning lights that were on my dashboard that I was I was getting really tired and burnt out.

Chris Hahn — And um one of the one of the things I look back now and see is that I’d walked with a family, two families actually in our church, that lost 20 year old sons, and I did the funeral for one of them. My kids had been friends with these these guys. And I remember walking out of that that situation one day just thinking I don’t know how much longer I can do this.

Rich Birch — Hmm, interesting.

Chris Hahn — And I’d never really thought that before.

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — But but you know what man I just I just ignored it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — And um I allowed myself then in in my, what I now can look back and see was was burnout, um I allowed myself to slip into what I would just say is is really immature patterns. And um I was walking with Jesus, I mean I was in the word every day you know my prayer life was great…

Rich Birch — Yeah, right.

Chris Hahn — …so it wasn’t like I, you know, was into you know anything that was immoral, or or ah my holiness was was slipping, but I was I was just in my fatigue being really um, kind of an immature mainly with my with my speech and the way I talked to people. And um, when when I realized that when it when I when when God got my attention and everything was completely stripped away from me, um man I I knew that um that God was getting my attention. And I knew that I had to had to make some some serious changes in my life because he was he was putting me in the situation…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Chris Hahn — …to have to make some changes.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I’m I’m really looking forward to to talking about this. And you know, friends, Chris is giving you a a gift today of helping us understand to get inside of this and so um, it’s it’s an honor that you would would share a little bit. You know just to give a little bit of outsider context, the part that I think is fascinating about this story about what God’s done in your life is I think we all have faced, to different degrees, where you know the church you were at like you say large church in Kentucky it was growing up into the right, you know, lots of great things going on in ministry while at the same time you know your own personal life you were, you know, struggling with um and maybe even like you say unknown. And I think that we have all experienced that in ministry. There is a disconnect when we lead between what we do publicly and then who and then what’s happening in our own lives. And so um in some ways you know I look at it and say wow God did a great thing because he got your attention about these things, and didn’t let it continue but before it could become you know much you know much worse situation.

Rich Birch — Let’s let’s talk about maybe the first steps of, okay so you are you know called into this meeting and, you know, it’s this beginning of this revelation process. Wow – like something is out of step. Talk us through what those those you know first few days and weeks what did that look like. What was what was going on?

Chris Hahn — Yeah, you know what’s crazy is when I walked out of that meeting, as devastated as ah as I was, there was something in me that had a sense of relief, which is really really strange.

Rich Birch — Hmm, interesting. Yes.

Chris Hahn — You know it was really strange. I did not expect that. Um but I immediately of course called my wife who’s ah has been amazing, has been my rock but this whole thing but um, gathered with friends, gathered my adult kids, and then I started you know calling my my spiritual mentors, my ministry mentors, my um, counselor and just saying, hey here’s here’s here’s where I’m at. This is what’s happened and I I need help. I need to figure out like what is it in me that that got me here, but also like like why would I have ignored it?

Chris Hahn — Like to me that was a bigger problem is if I’d been sitting across this desk from myself, you know, months before I would have seen some of those things, but there was some arrogance in me or something that just caused me to ignore what I was what I was seeing. So I started journeying with my mentors and with my counselor in in ways that just was like strip me completely away, right? I mean it’s like I want to like figure it all out and I’m willing to be 100% vulnerable, transparent. And there was ah there was a session I had with my counselor early on where was walking through some stuff and she said she asked me she said how does that make you feel? And I looked at her, because I was like I was committed to being honest, and so I looked at her and I said, you know, I I don’t know.

Chris Hahn — I I know what I think about it but I’m not sure what I feel about it. And then then I really thought about it I thought you know actually I know what I should think and I know what I should feel but I’m not sure what I think and feel. And you know you never want to look up and see your counselor looking at you with real wide eyes, right? That’s never a good thing. Um.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah.

Chris Hahn — But but she was she was looking at me in a way where she had just had discovery and she said, you know, you don’t really know who you are any anymore, do you? And man, it was at that moment where I was like, you know what, I hate to admit it, but I don’t. And um I had learned over the years just how to compartmentalize my feelings, how to not really feel em. Um to the point where then we had to begin journeying out like me even recognizing what certain emotions were. Like I couldn’t really even identify sadness versus anger or you know, discontent or whatever emotion – I couldn’t really even identify.

Chris Hahn — Um, so I had to start a journey back around just starting to feel again. And understanding what it means to sit in feelings, and not just try to get through them. You know that was a big part of my my journey as well. And then we had friends that were super close with us that allowed us to come, stay down at their house just for several days, and just kind of just kind of rest in their in in that community, and then just in what the Lord was doing. And and these friends, along with some others, interestingly enough, just kept saying as they were praying for us they were getting they kept getting the word rescue. They kept getting this word rescue as they prayed. And um, you know, just kind of like you know, not really sure what this means. But um, we feel like God’s God’s doing something around rescue. And now we look back, you know, two years later and realize God was God was kind of rescuing rescuing me from, you know, kind of going deeper into maybe spinning out further into burnout.

Chris Hahn — So then I took you know I took several months and really just thought, I think God’s that’s probably done with me in the church. Because the last thing I ever wanted to do was to hurt a church or hurt people. I mean I got into ministry to help people, right? I love the church.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Chris Hahn — And I just kind of felt like I’m probably I’m probably done. And you know was was talking to God saying, man, I’ll do anything that you want me to do except go back into the church, right?

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Chris Hahn — Because I was scared to death. And and, you know, honestly there were people like you who walked with me in that time that were so kind to allow me to have the space to process that way. But also were kind of encouraging thinking you know I know when you and I had a conversation at one point where I said, actually I feel like I’ve been holding onto this thing where I’ve thought God’s, I can’t go back into the church, but God I’ll do anything else. And once I finally opened my hand to say, okay God I’ll do whatever you want me to do. And have that conversation even with you, you were like, yeah I know God’s not done with you in the church. Like there’s something there’s something there…

Rich Birch — I would agree.

Chris Hahn — …that that we needed to process. But I just had I just, man, I I thought I was done. I mean I just thought I was done.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah.

Chris Hahn — You know?

Rich Birch — Talk talk to me about ah so… I have similar story around counseling around feelings, for sure. And like I only thought there was a couple feelings. Turns out, there’s a lot more. And you know, ah talk us through that. What difference did that… because there may be leaders who are listening in listen there’s people who like pretty driven pretty like you know, hey like you say Enneagram Ones we got to check out, check the stuff off the list. We got to get it all done.

Rich Birch — Um, and we’ve learned systematically to like stuff that stuff down. To just like I’m going to keep my emotions down. And I know for me, you know if I’ve have struggled over the years even with positive emotions. Like great things will happen at church, and I just want to move on to what’s next. I’m like I’m not taking a moment even to just be thankful, to be happy…

Chris Hahn — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …or what you know what happened. Talk to us about the difference of kind of understanding, identifying, sitting in, kind of go a little bit deeper onto that.

Chris Hahn — Yeah, that’s great. I so it kind of embarrassed to say, but I looked back I looked back at at my leadership and I kind of wore it as a badge that I didn’t feel things. And you know, I didn’t even like thump my chest and go dink dink dink like you know my heart can be hard, I can go in and handle really hard things and not feel it. And I thought that was honorable in some really weird way, and then I learned that it was the opposite. It was a big problem. So um, through counseling, you know, honestly reading some of Brené Brown’s books. Um there’s a podcast called The Adult Chair where I learned some things, but learning to identify “this is what I am feeling at this moment” and really sit and whether that’s write it all out and and kind of figure out, okay I’m feeling this, why am I feeling this way? What am I feeling? And then and honestly just sitting in it. And and recognize that I feel sad right now, and I I don’t really know why, but I feel sad. And I just need to sit and be sad, and it’s okay to be sad. Or I needed to talk to somebody about why I might feel sad. You know Journaling was a really really big big piece of this to sit and just really write down what I was feeling and identify it. But then not to just not to move on from it. To realize God…

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — …God has wired me with emotions, all of us, for a reason and they’re there to to help us and and to teach us something, right? So there’s a book that’s called Permission to Feel and in that book it describes a bunch of different emotions. And so I I really camped out in that book a lot trying to identify, okay, here’s what I’m writing out that I think I’m feeling, and now let me kind of look at look at this book to see, okay, oh it’s not necessarily anger, it’s frustration. Or or whatever it is, and then and not not trying to rush out of that and into something else. Um, and that what’s what’s what’s phenomenal is that that process that I say I started in 2020, like I’m still in it.

Rich Birch — Right, right. Yes.

Chris Hahn — Like I’m still in that process, you know, now of of each day figuring out, you know, what am I feeling, why am I feeling it, and not really feeling like I have to do something about it. I don’t know if that makes any…

Rich Birch — Absolutely, no

Chris Hahn — …if that but makes much sense or not.

Rich Birch — Absolutely, yeah. I love that. You know it sounds like you had around you, um, an existing network. You had people that were there. Um, is that a misread, or did you have to build a network of people, counselors and you know mentors and stuff, during this season? I’m thinking particularly folks who are listening in today who are like, I look around and I I don’t know who I would talk to. I’m not sure who I would have that conversation with. Help me understand how you know how you identify these are the people I should be processing with.

Chris Hahn — Yeah, that’s a great question. So I I reached out to who I would would refer to as my ministry mentors initially, which was my former youth pastor.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Chris Hahn — Who I honestly hadn’t really had had conversation with like intense conversations for years. But I I knew he loved me and I knew he would you know would speak hard things to me, but also would would you know embrace me for where I was and who I am. So reached out to him, reached out to a former lead pastor, reached out to some spiritual mentors as well. Just you know people around the country that I’m I, again, knew loved me and knew cared for me. Close friends and then a counselor we had had who had helped us navigate some family stuff at you know years before. And I’d ah actually is what’s weird is I kind of made it up ah a little bit of my routine where at least once every couple months I would just go and sit and say, ask me hard things because I don’t know, I feel okay, but ask me hard things. So I had that I even had that rhythm and routine built into things that just wasn’t 100% I don’t think I was going to the depths where I needed to go.

Chris Hahn — So I had that network somewhat in place but it wasn’t they weren’t necessarily the people that I I ran with every day, or you know they weren’t you know the the closest friends that you know you’re doing doing life with. They were people who I knew that I could reach out to at any moment with anything going on and they would be they would love me, but they would be completely honest with me. And my my former youth pastor, he’s the one that really just challenged me. He said um, he he told me some things to do but he also said go back to your leaders and just say, I need to know everything. Like I need to know every piece of me that there was an issue with because I’m getting ready to dive into some really hard work…

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — …and I want to make sure I do all of the work right away. And I just took I took those that wisdom and took it to heart, and and followed exactly what what these these folks said to me that or so was so important as they coached me.

Rich Birch — Wow, that’s interesting. That’s good. I love that encouragement of even like, you know, people who you haven’t connected with in a long time that you know you had some, you know, relationship with I think that’s really really good. You know I’ve heard another context, right, you’re looking for people who love you, but aren’t impressed with you, right? They…

Chris Hahn — Yeah.

Rich Birch — They love you but aren’t like they’re they’re not like, wow, you’re like the most amazing person.

Chris Hahn — Yeah.

Rich Birch — You’re you’re just a person that they they deeply deeply love. I love that. That’s ah, that’s so good. Now. So let’s let’s talk about um your processing all of this, and at the same time because you were talking there about you’re thinking about what you’re going to do next, right? There’s the like am I going to become a real estate agent? Am I going to… How does how does all that fit together? Because to me that’s the, man, that’s a complex that’s complex to figure out when it’s so attached to, you know, the kind of pressure point the the crisis point was so attached to where what your your vocation. How did you navigate that? What did that… how did all that fit together?

Chris Hahn — Um, um so I I initially started thinking, you know, I ah didn’t feel like I was losing my call to ministry or anything like that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — So I was like I I’m gonna do something ministry-wise. But it just may not be in the church.

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — Like I I thought I’ll go do something in in fitness and be able to have a positive impact on the lives of of people, you know, physically but also spiritually, and in that same context and I’ll I’ll do ministry that way. And I had one friend who’s out in in California who just really kind of pushed me a little bit around the church thing to say man, you know you know what? You’ve where you are and what you’ve done does not disqualify you from God using you the church, and the church needs you and needs what you but you bring to the kingdom. And so I just dismissed it at first because I was like man there’s I just can’t do it like I I don’t know if it was humiliation or embarrassment or just again I I never wanted to hurt a church. And so I just started to just pray through it honestly and just really give it over to God to say man if if I’m supposed to do if I’m supposed to say I’ll do whatever you want to do, then I gotta be willing to really do whatever you want me to do.

Chris Hahn — And the day that that—it’s funny—the day that we, my wife Sharon and I, the day we kind of came to that realization and opened our hands to say okay, God we’ll do that. Um, the very next day had three churches call me out of the blue, and just said hey heard this is this is where you’re at, would’d love to talk with you. And I was like okay God – that’s confirmation…

Rich Birch — He got your attention.

Chris Hahn — …that that maybe I need to I meet I may need to listen—yeah…

Rich Birch — Yeah, interesting.

Chris Hahn — …and and pay attention to that for sure. So.

Rich Birch — Yeah I think it’s um, and this is not… listen you know this as a friend I respect you and the whole team at Willow, what what you’re doing (and that’s a whole for whole conversation for our whole other day), what the ministry that you guys are you know, attempting to rebuild and all that with the stuff they’ve been through. It is—I didn’t think of this until literally till now—but it it just feels like a God story that he’s placed you, a person who you know has struggled with some performance stuff and how does that relate to life and as on the other and on the other side of that, and now you’re leading in a ministry who there’s there’s echoes of those issues that have impacted, dramatically impacted, the ministry there. That feels very gospel; that feels very you know making taking bad things and making good out of it. That feels amazing.

Rich Birch — Um, help me understand um, you know, one of the things I think I’ve been thinking a lot about over this last year it it seems like they’re everywhere we go you know and so many ministries have had leaders fall. And that’s just a normal part of the, you know, it’s like it’s like baked in some for some strange reason. You know, having been through what you’ve been through, help us think through how we create a culture where we can create the kinds of places where people go from making maybe unwise decisions to foolish decisions and then somewhere on the other end of that spectrum is like radically hurtful, damaging you know like I’m out doing something super negative to people, manipulative like super super dark, but we want to catch people when they make you know they’re making foolish/unwise decisions and we want to create the kind of culture that can open up and be like, hey let’s talk about those things. Having been through what you’ve been through, how are you trying to build a culture now that would allow that for yourself and for other people? What does that look like now kind of on on the other side as you’re trying to wrestle through that?

Chris Hahn — Yeah, that’s an amazing question, and man our our whole journey to Willow was, man, God just in the middle of every bit of that.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Chris Hahn — And my first conversation with Dave it was like, okay God’s doing something here. But then as we journeyed that out um seeing what I had gone through, knowing some of the experience that I I’d had even in leadership but just the redemption of what God had done in my own life. And man the impact that Willow had had on my ministry for you know all the way back into the 80s is…

Rich Birch — Yeah, like so many of us, right? Yeah yeah, we all have. Yeah

Chris Hahn — Right, right? It was like like God was lining a lot of this up and so um I think in the in the church, the church world we have to get better with creating a culture where it’s okay to not be okay.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Chris Hahn — And not feel like you’re going to get canceled, or you know it’s like we we really have to have intentional um, opportunities to be in the lives of one another. I think Willow’s done an amazing job of responding to some extreme challenges and difficulties to reestablish a healthy church. And to be in the lives of people, to provide opportunities, to say hey if you’re if you’re not okay, then, you know, let’s talk about it doesn’t mean you’re going to lose your job.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Chris Hahn — There’s there’s avenues that we can put in place that that can help you with that. One of the things that was ah, really um, really helpful for me personally was um in, I started in July 2020 at Willow, and in October of 2020 I got up in front of the whole staff and told my story. And and just was transparent and vulnerable. And in that culture that had not been something that had been done before where leaders would have admitted, you know, failures or mistakes or faults, and that opened the door for a lot of um lot of vulnerability within our team which I think was helpful. So I think leaders have to go first, right? I mean I think I think as leaders in the church culture, I think we have to from the senior leader elders on down have to create a culture where it’s okay to not be okay and to talk about things that you’re struggling with. And to confront one another on things that are that seem to be out of line. You know it’s like, hey I’m I’m picking up on this behavior in you and I love you enough to tell you something’s not right.

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — And I want to journey this out with you as opposed to just cutting you off or distancing myself from you…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Chris Hahn — …before it gets to a place where where it spins out of control, right?

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Chris Hahn — And so creating space for us to be honest with ourselves, with one another. Creating places where we can kind of cry uncle – I’m I’m carrying a lot and I need help. Creating spaces where you know you have somebody who will will be 100% vulnerable with you and you with them. You can’t do that with everybody, nor should you – that’s not healthy, but you have somebody, right, that you can just be really vulnerable with. Not be afraid to get help, you know, in in the in the church culture – to say I need to go to go see a counselor, or whatever that might be, but really creating a a culture from leadership all the way through the the staff and organization where we admit our failures and it’s okay to to to not be okay.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love that. I think that’s um I think that’s what we’re all trying to create. We’re all trying to get there. One of my concerns with, you know, we have these very public, you know, use the word cancellations. It’s like cancellations of someone’s and they step over an egregious line. They shouldn’t you know, like in some ways It’s like yeah that that makes sense. That’s that’s understandable. Um that every time one of those things happen, my concern is, man, people are just stuffing their stuff down deeper and deeper, because they see that happen and they’re like if I even open the box a little bit, man, things are gonna I’m done. And it’s and you know and that um, man we have to figure out how to how to turn that trend around, and stare at these issues more deeply.

Rich Birch — So so how are you leading differently now? So you know, here you are, you’re leading in the middle of ah you know coming out of the pandemic, facing everything that you’re that all of us are facing. Um, you know it Willow is a complex, large, you know, ministry, you know, doing all kinds of great stuff in Chicagoland. You have a huge portfolio there. I could imagine that leading in the portfolio you’re in, man, it is set up for you to take the step back to where you were before. Like it is set up for you just to but to lean back onto old habits, old approaches, old old ruts in your in your mind in your in your brain. Um, what’s different? How is it how are you leading differently today?

Chris Hahn — Yeah, great question. Um my it’s funny, my counselor here in Illinois that the established relationship with, you know, she has said numerous times like I, out of everything that you’ve come through and that your journeying, I just can’t imagine that Willow was the best place for you to step into. You know she kind of says that. And just just like it’s like it’s like you stepped into a really difficult situation. And um I’ve I have had to just be super mindful of it’s not about me, number one. Like it’s just not about me; I am here to serve and love people well. And I may get some things wrong and, you know, I may not um, I may not be like in the achievement category like the you know the straight A student, which is good for me because I don’t need to be. But I’m gonna I am just gonna continue to remind myself daily that it’s about caring and loving people, caring for and loving people really really well. And so there have been times where I’ve just said, you know what? if that’s if if this over here is what I’m gonna have to have to shift to become in order to produce or achieve or see results from, then I’m okay to step away. And I just may need to step out, and do something different. And because of what I’ve come through, I know God has a plan and God can do that, but I I just can’t allow myself to go back there. So I’ve got good people in my life. My wife is one of them who, when she starts to see up, and is like what’s going on? And we’re…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Chris Hahn — …Yeah and and I keep the rhythm of counseling so that my counselor can can ask me difficult questions as well. Um, but I’m just at so much peace, man. Now I will tell you it took me it took me a long time to get my confidence back. And I was not surprised… I was I was not expecting that I was super surprised by that just a leadership confidence, like I was really really like scared and nervous that I was going to step into something that I just wasn’t even aware of because I wasn’t aware of of things in the past. But that’s kind of come back a little bit and not in an arrogant way at all. I just I just won’t I just won’t allow myself to go to go back into those scenarios. But having really good relationships around me, good guardrails has has been so far super helpful, and just not a fear to to just go, ah this this might not be for me.

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — You know if it gets a point where I’m not healthy, I’m not going to allow myself to get unhealthy so that a ministry can can get can see growth and progress. I’m just not going to.

Rich Birch — Um, yeah, dude, I love it. I love ah I appreciate what you said about your wife there. I know and I’ve joked in other contexts that the voice of the Lord and the voice of my wife, wow they’re like they just sound very similar. There’s a there’s a resonance there that you know…

Chris Hahn — Yup.

Rich Birch — …oftentimes she’s things see things so clearly for sure. Well let’s let’s maybe talk directly to a leader who’s listening in today who can your stories resonating a little too much for them. They’re saying ooo I in fact, a couple times they’ve thought about turning this off because they’re like yeah this is I don’t want to hear this this conversation today. What would you say to somebody who’s, you know they maybe are in that maybe it was the language thing, they’re like they find they find themselves saying things that like I wow that’s like why am I talking like that? Or they see things coming out of their leadership that’s like oh that’s coming out of a place of death and destruction, not at a place of life. Um, what would you say to somebody like that today?

Chris Hahn — Yeah, well number one I would offer an opportunity to have a conversation with me offline, and I would love to be able to to help anybody who’s in that scenario where where it wrestle with that because I can relate so much. And so I make myself available to any leader, pastor that would would want to have a conversation and and be safe and that. But if it’s not me, you got to find somebody. You have to find somebody that you trust that you can go to and just be 100% transparent and vulnerable with. That’s to me the very first up. Just not having any facade, not having anything like you got to put together and just be able to be completely honest, maybe it’s a counselor. Maybe it’s another pastor, but a different church, but somebody that you trust. And and that’s I think that’s where it it all has to start and and being willing to to go to those hard places. Ah, there’s a book by Alan Nelson called Embracing Brokenness, and um I would encourage us to, even if you’re in completely healthy places, I would encourage ah to read that book. But especially when you’re in a season where you’re where you’re maybe dealing a struggle with some things like that. It talks about being voluntary broken and and then also involuntary brokenness and we’re going to be you know God’s going to bring us to a place of brokenness one way or the other and so it’s it’s much better to go there on your own. That book walks through a lot about how to really get to that place of laying some of that stuff down and and really making sure that we don’t sacrifice our heart on the altar of ministry for sure. So the big thing that mentions is having a conversation with somebody you can be transparent and real with you know, fully vulnerable.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it. Yeah, friends, this is how this podcast came about. Chris reached out to me because of ah a previous episode that we had on and he said, hey, if I if I can ever be a help with anybody let me know. And I said, hey, well why don’t you come on the podcast and talk about it publicly? And he ah he was, graciously agreed and so that’s not off the cuff there. He he is willing to talk with you. And so we’ve got a link in the show notes to his email and all that. So if you need to pick that up, reach out. Chris is a great guy. He’s a trusting a trusted leader that you you know you could connect with. So I really appreciate this. Chris, thank you so much for being on today. Is there anything else you want to say just as we as we close out as we close out today’s conversation?

Chris Hahn — Man, the the the thing I’d love to just say is I as as difficult as January 2020 was for us, we wouldn’t go back. I like we just wouldn’t go back to to the way life was prior to 2020, even though everything got completely flipped upside down. Um the redemption of God’s story in my life is incredible. And I think it was something that I think Sonny or Shawn – one of them said on on your previous podcast. It’s something about you have to fall all the way, right? And you can you have to fall all the way. And um I think in falling all the way, God God has rebirthed something in me that is redemptive. So probably the big takeaway is just you know God’s just not gonna be done with you, no matter no matter where you are. God’s not done with you.

Rich Birch — Right.

Chris Hahn — And your story does not define you; your failures don’t define you, and it can all be redeemed to help other people down the road as well as yourself. So just lean into it, and allow God to do what only God can do, and watch the story he unfolds. It’s incredible.

Rich Birch — Well I think that’s a great place to end – great last word Chris I appreciate being on the show today send love to the entire team. Cheering for you and for everything that’s going on at Willow. Appreciate being here today and and for helping us and helping and open up a little bit about what’s going on in your life. Thank you.

Chris Hahn — Thanks, Rich.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.