Insights on Pastoral Restoration After a Fall with Shawn & Sonny Hennessy

Welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Shawn and Sonny Hennessy, from Life Church Green Bay in Wisconsin. Shawn and Sonny are also co-hosts of The Rise After the Fall podcast and together founded The Exchange Collaborative.

The highs and lows of ministry, and the trials of life can threaten to destroy pastors and church leaders if they don’t address their own brokenness. Everyone experiences trauma and has weaknesses that can lead to a fall. But that’s not the end of the story. Listen in as Shawn and Sonny talk about how to find healing and move toward restoration after a fall.

  • So many hide before they fall. // There are so many pastors in the midst of a fall or in danger of a fall who hide, either in pride or fear, and don’t reach out to someone for help. They may feel that they don’t have someone they can go to, or they may fear losing their position and livelihood, especially if they are the senior leader.
  • Step away when needed. // God has used Shawn and Sonny’s own brokenness and restoration process to found The Exchange Collaborative where they come alongside other pastors and church leaders who are struggling. In addition to offering resources such as The Rise After the Fall podcast, Shawn and Sonny have put together a program for pastoral restoration. As part of this program, one of the things they offer to pastors who are at a point where they really want help is a financial incentive to walk away from their ministry for a year.
  • Fake it until we make it or fall. // Some of the biggest pastoral falls come from the things people are ashamed and embarrassed about, like financial or sexual impropriety. A lot of times our insecurity causes us to hide our own doubts about ourselves, and we try to fake it until we make it. So as church leaders we actually fail the most by not admitting our weaknesses in the first place, and then not setting up safeguards to prevent our falls.
  • Walk in repentance. // The first step toward healing and restoration is admitting that we are broken. The pastoral restoration program is not for the person who just wants to save face and preserve themselves. Rather it’s for those who want to walk in repentance. It helps leaders who are broken dig down to the root cause of why they took a wrong step in the first place.
  • Paths for help. // Everybody’s needs are different so there are a couple of different paths in the pastoral restoration program. One option is for people to come to Green Bay for 30 days to a year and live there, going through an intense restoration process. The Exchange Collaborative offers housing, a job, a church they can attend, and the Journey to Wholeness course to work through. It is an honest and open process that will help leaders, and their families, defragment and reconnect.
  • Other options for restoration. // There are other options for those who can’t come to Green Bay for a year for the restoration process. Shawn and Sonny can fly to pastors and work with them and their families while they are still serving in their ministry role. There is also an option for 2-3 day intensives at various locations. One is at the Living Waters Retreat in Arizona on June 23-25, 2022. Additionally, you can contact Shawn or Sonny directly through their website if you need to talk with them about help you may need.
  • Create a culture of vulnerability. // As a church leader, you can create a culture where people on your staff will feel safe opening up about their struggles before their life goes off the rails. Have conversations about your struggles and how you are addressing them. You don’t need to bare your whole soul, but can start by speaking generally to lay down a foundation for your team. Talk time to pray for one another. The Journey to Wholeness course offered at The Exchange Collaborative website is also available for your staff to walk through together.

You can learn more about The Rise After the Fall podcast, the pastoral restoration program, and other resources at www.theexchangecollaborative.com. Find out more about Life Church Green Bay at www.lifechurchgreenbay.com.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. You know every week here on the podcast we try to bring you a church leader who will both inspire and equip you, but today we’ve got two! Two for the price of one, friends. Super excited to have a return guest. Well you know when we have return guests, that means I love what they have to say and want to expose them to you. We’re 600 episode in we have only done a handful of return guests. So super excited for that. You need to lean in today. We’ve got Shawn and Sonny Hennessy from a fantastic church – Life Church in Wisconsin. Shawn is the senior pastor. He’s international guest speaker, author, blogger. He’s a chaplain to the Green Bay Packers—are you a shareholder though? That’s the real question—and the co-founder of The Exchange. And then we’ve got Sonny – she’s a lead pastor at Life Church Green Bay and CEO of The Exchange Brand. Together they co-host a podcast called The Rise After the Fall, speaking really to church leaders ah, who have taken a step too far, who have fallen and really about this whole area of pastoral restoration. Sonny, Shawn, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Sonny Hennessy — Thank you.

Shawn Hennessy — Thank you, and yes I am a shareholder actually.

Rich Birch — This is… oh you are? Okay I wondered.

Shawn Hennessy — Yes, yes.

Rich Birch — That’s great. Wow. I’m not sure what that means. Like I don’t know does that mean you’re like someday you can, if they sell, you get money? Is that what that means? I don’t know.

Shawn Hennessy — There’s no no monetary impact. You can go once a year to the shareholders meeting and you can listen with 75,000 or so of your closest friends to what’s going to happen.

Rich Birch — Love it. That’s that’s so good. Sonny, why don’t we start with you kind of filling out the the picture a little bit. Kind of talk to us about Life Church – give us to kind of bring us up to speed on that to kind of tell us a little bit of the of your story. How you know how Life Church is and give us a bit of that picture.

Sonny Hennessy — Well, we’ve been at Life Church almost ten years in Green Bay, Wisconsin, of course, and we find it to be the greatest work we’ve ever done when it comes to ministry. And it came after a meteoric rise and a fall. And we almost lost our marriage – ie. we both messed up enough to to almost walk away from our marriage. And it’s after that that we saw God do the most in our life. Ah Life Church, we basically like relaunched it ten years ago with about 80 people, and a little building. And we were three times on the fastest growing churches in America Outreach list. One year as the second fastest growing, so literally it has been a ride. And then the pandemic hit, and we were able to really sit back, lean back and say, what do we want the next ten years to look like? Well we want to be pastors but we also want to help pastors who thought their life was over at the time of the fall, their fall, their step back, and realize it’s not the end. It’s never the end with God.

Rich Birch — Mmm-hmm, yeah; I love it. So I um I it seems like for about a year I had everyone who I knew in ministry said to me, hey hey have you—and I already knew where it was going—they’re like have you listened to that Mars Hill Podcast? Like have you heard about that conversation? It’s like if I feel like I couldn’t get away from it and um, you know I had friends that were on the team there, and so actually to be honest I haven’t listened to it. Because I’m like I, listen I was knew people in the midst of all that and so I was like I didn’t really want to relive it all. But I think anybody who’s listening in has a clear at least idea around you know, ah, kind of all the situation that happened there, but you’ve, Shawn, taken this kind of position with your podcast called The Rise After the Fall, which is, like you say, not a rebuttal against that but really talking about well what what happens when you know a leader falls. Talk to me about your heart behind that. What what led you to say, yeah this this is the conversation we need to be having?

Shawn Hennessy — Well, we came to the game late in the the rise after the The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. I had heard a lot of people talk about it. And ah I was a huge Mark Driscoll fan. I loved his books, loved his messages. I actually I I really felt like I had a kindred spirit to him in so many ways in the way that I viewed leadership and ah… And then I listened to the podcast and I realized I didn’t have a kindred spirit with him.

Rich Birch — Right.

Shawn Hennessy — And there were a lot of things that I heard in that podcast that broke my heart so deeply. And we’re not only connected here in Green Bay, we’re deeply connected in Seattle, and that church for a period of time changed that city…

Rich Birch — Absolutely.

Shawn Hennessy — And then it changed it again and that was the thing that really prompted me, I think, to do a group of talks about people who are struggling with their position and ministry. And the thing that really resonated with me about that podcast was the number of opportunities that the leadership who are on that podcast, who are trying to pick up the pieces, reached out and extended an olive branch for restoration that was was denied, for whatever reason, and I think that there’s so many pastors who are either in the midst of a fall or in danger of a fall who, whether it be pride or fear, don’t reach out to somebody or respond to somebody.

Rich Birch — Mmm-hmm

Shawn Hennessy — Maybe it’s because they don’t feel like they have someone who they can go to, like if you’re a senior pastor. It’s difficult to go to your denomination because you feel like maybe you’ll lose your livelihood. Pastors aren’t very marketable outside of churches.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Shawn Hennessy — Like I mean a we could go sell shoes at Nordstrom, but what else are we have.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Shawn Hennessy — You have your degree in bible…

Rich Birch — Yes. Yeah.

Shawn Hennessy — …and so there’s not a lot of stuff that you can do. And so that’s a positive but it’s also negative in the fact that if you’re on staff at a church and you feel like you’re about to go through a fall, it’s difficult to go to your senior pastor because you wonder if you’re going to lose, again, your livelihood. And so this this program, it’s not just a podcast for us. It’s a complete restoration program and process where one of the things that we want to offer to people is actually a financial incentive to walk away for a year.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well I want to dig into that. Before we get there would you guys be open to opening up and talking about your own kind of restoration journey? I would love to hear a little bit about that. Maybe Shawn, we’ll start with you, and then, Sonny, I’d love to hear kind of—I know that’s like, tell us about that in two minutes or less – like good luck with that. But like yeah to kind of give us a bit of the framework of your own… how you come to this this whole topic of restoration.

Shawn Hennessy — Well I came to faith late. I came to faith in my early 20s. I had had a rollercoaster of a life. I came from a rough background and was playing football on a scholarship, and got arrested for robbery, got sentenced to 15 years in the state pen…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Shawn Hennessy — …served 111 days, I got off because of overcrowding, ended up at a little Christian school in North Dakota. It was an assembly of God Bible school – I didn’t know it until I got there. And one of the things that I discovered in ministry is if you have talent, many times your lack of integrity is overlooked. As long as you can perform, you don’t have to live your life up to a ah certain standard as long as you don’t make the overarching entity look bad. And I lived my life in that. I lived my life with having a lot of natural ability. I’ve never been afraid in front of a crowd. I’ve never not had anything to say. I’ve always had a magnetic personality. I’ve always drawn people even before I was a Jesus follower. And everything that Sonny and I ever did in ministry, it felt like we had the Midas touch. And then in the midst of that we we were never forced to deal, I was never forced to deal with the lack of integrity that I had in my life. And I also was never forced to deal with the excessive amount of pride that I had in my life. And so every time I would be blessed, my ego would be puffed up. And finally after you know, almost fifteen years in the ministry, it was it. And I I got to a place where my talent took me as the old adage would say that my my character couldn’t keep me. And it didn’t only affect me it affected the people in the church we were leading at the time. It affected Sonny, it affected our kids, and it was as we say in our beginning of our podcast, we had a meteoric rise and we had a devastating fall.

Rich Birch — Hmm. Sonny, I’d love to hear your kind of how you plug into that story.

Sonny Hennessy — Shawn and I both went right into ministry after being called to ministry. And I mean we were passionate and we do everything still very passionately. We go one 180% in and 180 miles per hour, and so we just got fell in love with Jesus and just did ministry. So at home the emotional baggage or how we saw our parents be married and fight and yell, and not hit each other, but fight and yell – we just did that because it was … sides the way we um, saw people that we admired spend money, we spent money, even if it meant tons of credit card debt. And so we’re being bogged down, not by we were out having affairs, you know, no by we would go to church and do it so well and that was our everything, and come home and take everything out on each other, overspend then be overstressed, ah treat each other poorly. Um and it just that never gets better. It just increases and increases and pretty soon we’d be like man today we had a good day, we didn’t fight, and then we well at ten am we did. Well that’s true, but hey most of the day we… like that’s a terrible marriage to live in. And then we took over a church that had ah a pastor who had had financial indiscretions before us, but we didn’t know that. We took on a mess and that really started to cripple us in our ministry now, plus what was happening at home. And you don’t make good decisions when you’re weary.

Rich Birch — Mmm-hmm.

Sonny Hennessy — And you you tend to find pride in things that you are successful at, and that covers the things that you’re unsuccessful in, and and makes those actually worse in the dark. And so we had gone to people before about our marriage or marriage conferences. The reality was we didn’t have a marriage issue. We had never dealt with past abuses in our childhood, ah past bullying in our childhood. Ah we were we were not emotionally healed because we had never considered true therapy for ourselves. We didn’t have a marriage problem, we had a Shawn and Sonny problem. Then we got in in a house and then we were really bad roommates. And usually you can move out from the roommate you have in college and you just are like I’m done with them. We couldn’t really do that, but we got to a point I moved out. And then we we had to submit… at that point when I moved out and it was clear I was going to file for divorce, which I left the ministry and the pressure as much as I left Shawn, in all honesty. Our marriage wasn’t that much worse, but the ministry was crippling us. And now with a pandemic, we feel that weight. Ah I left both the ministry and Shawn, and when our denomination found that out, it was clear we can’t continue this way. And we rightfully both lost our credentials. Ah and it was a turning point that we didn’t have a reputation to uphold anymore. It was devastated, and we fell all the way. And we talk about that on our podcast is that you have to fall all the way and those who truly get healed and whole are the ones that did fall all the way. So there’s pastors that – there’s a current pastor right now that there’s indiscretions coming out from ten years ago. Or um, you know, we I believe that the Bill Hybels story – it was years ago…

Rich Birch — Yeah, two decades. Yeah, it was like 20 years…

Sonny Hennessy — …Yeah we’re not talking like just deal with it when it comes out in the news today, we’re talking if you don’t fall all the way, then you do ten more years of ministry after you were sexually inappropriate with someone. That’s not okay. And and so we want to be there. Not just for those who are currently like mud on their face, but those who who need help and it’s not yet exposed.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, love it.

Sonny Hennessy — And how can we help you that we don’t expose you, but you truly fall all the way, and then we step in help.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, I love this. So I’ve um, for folks that know me, you know have been whatever two and a half I guess it’s almost three decades. And now to say three decades, that seems like a long time to be a ministry. But it’s been, you know, in that second seat you know that executive pastor seat. That’s where I’ve spent most of my time. And one of the unique kind of power dynamics that I’ve seen—and I’ve worked for incredible lead pastors I love the folks, they all happen to be guys. They’re just great guys—and but one of the things I’ve said to all of them is they don’t have peers. Like they don’t have people like even as close as I would say um I would be when I’m still with with you know these folks like they’re they’re not my peer, like they are be as the leaders of the organization. It’s a fascinating place to be. Um, ah and I feel terrible for folks particularly in that seat – I think they do carry a unique pressure. Shawn, ah help us understand this kind of scale or or common areas where you’re seeing kind of pastoral you know falls. Where we’re seeing like, hey this just isn’t working out um, where people are stepping over the line. What are the kinds of things that um, you know that people are either talking to you about, or you’ve you know you’ve engaged with um you know as you’ve you know, just as you think about this whole area?

Shawn Hennessy — Well I think there’s probably two main ones that people would naturally think about. They’d think about obviously some sort of a sexual impropriety, or some sort of a financial impropriety. And I think actually the the biggest part is the things that people are hiding. The things that they’re struggling with that maybe they’re embarrassed about, but the things that that we don’t learn, let’s say, in seminary. Like you don’t learn how to deal with you know, being a person who sits in that first seat, you’re not taught in seminary how to deal with a multimillion dollar budget. And so when you when you start to grow as a church. You’re excited about this growth. But then you’re also insecure about the fact that when you go into a meeting of let’s say board members, you’re you’re not the smartest person in the room when it comes to that. So a lot of times we’re trying to fake it until we make it and so we do that in so many different aspects of our life whether that be in relationships or whether that be in things that we’re allowing ourselves to view on our phones. There’s instant access to everything nowadays. And and so I think where where people are failing the most is in the prevention of all of these things in in admitting or identifying the areas where they are weak, right? So um, let’s say you’re you have a weakness with a member of the opposite sex. Well you have you have to have people in your life who know that.

Rich Birch — Right. Right.

Shawn Hennessy — And then you have to have those people with you at all times possible. So if you’re on a Sunday and you know that you’re going to have some sort of your eyes are going to wander, well make sure that you’ve got somebody who’s with you at all times. You’re not just wandering the halls letting your eyes wander.

Rich Birch — Sure. Yeah.

Shawn Hennessy — If you have a problem with money, then you’ve got to let somebody know about that so that they can be performing these checks and balances on you. But we’re so we’re so afraid to admit that we have some sort of a deficit in any area of our life…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Shawn Hennessy — …that we don’t put the safeguards in our life. And so I think back to the question at hand, is I think the biggest area that people fall is in the admission of where they’re weak.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. So, Sonny, I want to describe a situation. You know I don’t think anybody who starts in ministry says, hey I’m going to be the person that’s going to train wreck my marriage. I’m going to train wreck the church over any of these issues. Like they nobody if we all think it’s going to be somebody else, right? We all are like I’m pretty sure that person but not me, you know, which could be part of the problem. But you know there’s this um, terrible nasty part of sin where it it—at least in my own life—it like can eke its way in. It’s like very subtle at the beginning. It’s these small steps where I like make a small compromise, and you know a little compromise little compromise, little compromise, and then eventually at some point you, step over a line. You step you go beyond a place where it’s now no longer, hey I’ve got a problem with money. I now have done something that I shouldn’t have done with money at the church. Now I maybe haven’t like it’s not like you know Jim and Tammy Fay Baker kind of like I bought 4 houses and a Lamborghini, but like I stepped over something. Um, what do I do? How how do who do I go and talk to? How do I how how do I start that conversation? Sonny, where do I where do I go when when something like that happens? Because I think that that issue I think is happening to if it hasn’t happened to ah, 100% of the leaders – it’s real close to 100% of leaders that are listening in.

Sonny Hennessy — Well there… like Shawn said, when we know that we could go to that one directly above us who writes our paycheck, or the board, or the denomination who approves that we stay as the lead pastor, that is a scary ah, scary point to get to. Just like it’s scary for people to go to marriage counseling sometimes until someone asks for a divorce. It’s like we could have done this sooner but that that’s the scariest part. So I I do believe that the reason we have a heart for The Exchange Collaborative in it being for all people, pastors who are in any denomination is because, like we had a youth pastor reach out to us from San Diego. I don’t have to go to his pastor. I’m not you know, obligated to go to his pastor. We’re not trying to hire him. We’re not trying to do something that would hurt the church, but he came to us in confidence, we helped him, he was overwhelmed. They’re not able to pay the bills. When you can’t pay the bills and you’re a pastor, this is where you’re a youth pastor and you can’t, and he said we’re having a hard time buying diapers and wet ones.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Sonny Hennessy — What’s that $20 bill that the cafe brought in this Wednesday, what’s that going to matter? I’ll put this back next week with my paycheck. And it starts there. And he didn’t say that, but that’s the risk we’re we’re taking. And I heard this recently that from a rabbi, a messianic Rabbi. Shawn and I are very much into a Messianic Jewish context of of the bible and and so we’ve been listening, and this one messianic rabbi said an unbroken leader is a dangerous leader. And that great leaders walk with the limp. Well what Shawn just talked about, the the first step is admission. If we’ll admit it and admit I’m broken I I need some help because that 20 is a big deal. Or that text to my my worship leaders, you know who’s a female, that’s a problem. That’s the first step in admitting, admitting we’re broken. Because I think all of these pastors, especially the ones who have fallen recently that were the head of many churches, wow you just so you saw them as a Billy Graham even. Like they’re going to get through the end of their life but they they obviously had never been fully broken. They were trying to carry this load and say, I am not a broken leader. But we we have to be broken. And you know the money and the sex and all of the stuff we’re talking about – it’s not really the problem. You know Shawn had a pastor’s wife that we worked for say, “Shawn, here’s some ministry advice. Keep your hand out of the offering and sleep with your own wife and you’ll be fine.”

Rich Birch — True.

Sonny Hennessy — But but that’s great advice but like why does someone not end up following through?

Rich Birch — Right.

Sonny Hennessy — It could be because at 14 you were sexually messed with, and your whole concept of sexuality has shifted, and now you want to control anything sexual, and so you find you do things that are that are wrong. There’s always a root cause and and so our hope is not just to say, hey come to us before you fall or after you fall and we’ll be ah, a listening ear and we’ll keep it confidential. We actually take people through a program that forever changed Shawn and I. I said before we didn’t have a marriage problem. We had a Shawn problem and Sonny problem that stemmed from when Shawn was in first grade and I was in I was six years old. And then the things that happened over the course of our childhood that created the problems for us in ministry that really looked like they had nothing to do with ministry.

Rich Birch — Yeah, so, Shawn, why don’t you kind of frame up the different—I know there’s ah, there’s a lot that you do to help people but—kind of give us a sense of the scale of of of what you’re doing, what you’re offering, how you interface with this um, you know beyond being a listening ear. Ah, what kind of organizationally what does that look like.

Shawn Hennessy — Yeah, and I would say that we’re really designed not… we’re really designed for somebody who’s at a point where they want help, right? Somebody who you have to ask yourself, do I want restoration, or preservation? And so we’re not in the we’re not in the preservation business primarily. We’re not for that guy who’s trying to save face. We’re for a guy who wants to walk his life in repentance. And when we had our fall, one of the things that we had to go through is we had to go through a program in Colorado with a guy named Dr Harry Schaumburg called Stone Gate Resources and I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it was just going to be a counseling program, but basically he made us read John Piper 12 hours a day so that we could remember what repentance was. And it was it was a breaking. And so we’re really a place for somebody who’s at a point where they’re not trying to save face in their ministry, they’re trying to get back to the to the root cause of why we became a follower of Jesus. This idea of I once was lost but now I’m found. And this this breaking of your heart and your spirit when when you first heard that message of the gospel. And so yes, we are listening here. We do want to be a place where people feel we are safe to come to, but it’s really too different for arms if you would, and and so one could be a route for somebody who is in danger of having a fall and we give them some steps to avoid that. We give them some sense and sort of accountability so that they can avoid some of the pitfalls that we and many of the other people that we’ve been blessed to work with have not avoided. And then it’s for the person who has fallen, and they have to walk away. And that was Sonny and I. Like I left the ministry. And when I left the ministry, Sonny left the ministry too. And I was unemployed for six months. I was I was a blogger which basically was my prideful way of saying I was unemployed.

Rich Birch — Right. Right.

Shawn Hennessy — I could not find a job.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Shawn Hennessy — I wrote a blog that no one read. And so I was a stay at home dad and I made lunches and we didn’t have cable or internet or heat in our house. And Rich, it was the best thing that ever happened to me because it it stripped me down to the bare metal so that we could reforge forward without any sense or symbol of success. And so if it were somebody who’s fallen, we do have an opportunity for them to come here to Green Bay and ah and live in the city for a year, and go through an intense restoration process and it’s not easy. It’s not for the faint of heart. We’re honest and we’re open and we want guys to understand that this is ah it is a loving hand but it is an honest hand. And so we do have some we do have some businesses here that, down the road during their restoration, they could plug in and work at those, plug in and just sit in the church. It would be beautiful if for the first 30 days that they were here. They don’t do anything. And that’s the thing that requires us to fund this ministry.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Shawn Hennessy — So that people and their spouse can come here and bring their kids and not have to worry about “I’ve got to go get a job at the grocery store bagging groceries” and they’re going to have an opportunity to just sit and defragment. Some of these guys haven’t read the bible, or girls, haven’t read the bible for their own personal reflection in years because they’ve just been mining it for messages. And so you know this opportunity to sit and refresh for a period of time. Then we want to put them through the Enneagram. Let’s find out what you are? What’s your personality type. What are your what are your spiritual gifts? How many people don’t even know what their spiritual gifts are? And then put them through kind of a hybrid version of Financial Peace and a lot of these people don’t know how to deal with their money.

Rich Birch — Right.

Shawn Hennessy — They or they may not have any money. And a hybrid version because it’s a little bit difficult in our day and age to never use a card. And I get Ramsey’s heart behind that…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Shawn Hennessy — …but you know we go lots of places now you can’t use cash. I try to use cash somewhere the other day and the person looked at me like I was an alien. Like I was trying to hand them…

Rich Birch — Right, right. What planet are you from?

Shawn Hennessy — …Like like I was trying to hand them paper Covid or something…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Shawn Hennessy — …and they say, I only take cards. And then this restoration process where the basis of our process is—and and if you put it in the the secular terminology, every person at some point has had some sort of a trauma where they were fixated. My brother’s a brother’s a psychologist. He actually lives in Fort Erie, Ontario…

Rich Birch — Oh nice.

Shawn Hennessy — …and is a professor at Buffalo State, and and in the secular world they would call it fixation, where once you’ve been fixated on a certain moment in your life, you’re emotionally not able to mature more than 18 months beyond that point, meaning that when you come to another moment of trauma, and any time you come to a moment of trauma thereafter, you revert emotionally back to that particular point.

Rich Birch — Oh wow. Yeah.

Shawn Hennessy — In the spiritual world it was called we’re arrested in development, right? And so every time you come into a point of trauma you are triggered back to that moment. So back to Sonny’s point where I was in first grade when I identified my moment of fixation, or when I was arrested in development, and so for the rest of my life up until the point that I received restoration and healing, any time that I had anyone challenge me on anything, I would at best act like a third grader. And so I would yell, and I would pout, and I would hide things, and I would lie. And and if you don’t understand that somebody’s acting like a third grader then you just think, you know, what a creep. But when you understand in this context, and when Sonny and I began to understand where we were arrested at development through through the restoration process, which is not quick. I mean the program is a number of months. And then it it really what happens is once you identify that moment of trauma, it unlocks in your brain. And you know it’s like the renewing of the mind, and they’ve done brain scans where once that was identified the neurons then rush to that area of your brain and and you supernaturally begin to mature at a rapid rate. But it does take your brain 3 years to fully rewire itself, and so it is ah a continual process. But there’s so much healing that happens almost instantly. And so as Sonny and I went through that process, we were able to identify with each other I would go, oh well right now Sonny is xyz. Or she’d say, well Shawn’s right now, Shawn’s in the third grade. And it didn’t make it okay but it made it relatable.

Rich Birch — Right, right. Understandable.

Shawn Hennessy — And so that’s the biggest bulk that of the program is helping these pastors identify, yes, you have a money problem. But you know when I went through the beginning stages of my restoration process, I went through Emerge, you know, in Ohio. And the counselor that I talked to, he looked at me and at the time I was dealing with a financial issue. And and he said something that was so eye opening to me. Said you know, money’s not your issue. It’s the symptom of your issue. He said if you don’t identify the root of what your issue is, you’re going to move from money to something else. It’ll be pornography. It’ll be an affair. It’ll be food. It’ll be gambling. It’ll be something. And so for us if we can help these guys and and girls figure out what it was that that threw them off track, and they may have been six years old, and then let’s reverse engineer how to get that back. And and for me honestly, Rich, the goal isn’t to get people back in ministry.

Rich Birch — Right.

Shawn Hennessy — If they want to go back in ministry Then that’s great. But I really want people to be healthy and whole, and at the end of the day I want them to go to heaven.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes. Sonny, let’s talk about that restoration piece. You know with the folks that have come through your program. What is the you know trajectory? Like obviously I love the – part of what I love about you guys, I love your focus on like, yeah, yeah, all that other stuff but let’s actually talk about where you’re at your relationship with Jesus, who are you as a person – that’s the most important piece. I know there’s people that are listening in that are that are thinking like either I’ve stepped on a bomb and it’s about to blow up, or it blew up and no one knows, and they’re thinking about the future. Talk through you know what is the trajectory on people being restored. It feels like I was in a conversation earlier today with a leader who said, I feel like we used to restore people to ministry but that doesn’t happen anymore. Like it’s like we just flush them out, and then we they never end up back. So give us a sense of kind of what are you seeing with the folks that you’re working with, Sonny.

Sonny Hennessy — There are different needs because everybody’s individual, obviously, so there’s those that need to come more in residence like like Shawn talked about – come and we house them. We get them a job. We have them be in church, sitting there. We have them go through what is called Journey to Wholeness. And that would be a ten week course once a week. That’s the take it for ten weeks and you’re processing as you go, and then you probably take it again, especially if you’re with us for a year. There’s also the people that we fly to them. And we sit with them because they’re not able to leave, and come to us for thirty days or a year. We go to them. And we’ve done that where we’ve gone to a pastor, worked with a pastor while they’re staying in their church, or staying in their congregation if they’re a messianic rabbi, and and we work with them, and their children, and their family. And then we bring out the Journey to Wholeness ah co-founder to do these intensives, because she is so great and she’s the top of the Journey to Wholeness of of all the people who are helping people just in our church, she can go and take this to other cities and has.

Sonny Hennessy — Ah, then we have something that’s even more approachable, and she’s done intensives—like a 2 to 3 day weekend—either going to the people. She’s been to Dallas, Seattle, soon to be Arizona um, or people can come to us for a weekend in Green Bay. So then the third thing, and we’re actually just going to do this for the—it’s kind of the first time that we’re advertising it; we’ve done this multiple times—it’s an intensive in a location where we’re giving the dates and we’re opening it up to people. We may not know so June 23rd through the 25th in Golden Canyon, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. We’re hosting it at Living Waters Retreat. They’re sponsoring it and donating this for us to use because they see the need for pastors. So it would be for pastors or probably, hopefully, couples who um, who will be able to register on our website. And you know at this point we think we’re going to have to close it off because it’s better when it’s smaller. So you’re actually the first time we’ve said this publicly…

Rich Birch — Oh nice.

Sonny Hennessy — …June … through 25th The Exchange Collaborative will be hosting this intensive where it’s a two day, two and a half day process. And like I said then there’s also the option that we are contacted directly through our website at theexchangecollaborative.com and then we go to pastors, to churches. I mean they could say look we need this between myself and my spouse.

Rich Birch — Right. Right.

Sonny Hennessy — That’s it or it could be, can you come in and meet with me – my board knows. Or I’m like I said a youth pastor, can can you come in and talk to me, but only my senior pastor knows. And some it’s all over the headlines, and you know we hope that some of those people will even reach out.

Rich Birch — Okay, this is great. So I want to ah, there’s a lot I’d love to talk to you. I do want to come back, make sure we give out those website addresses again. So friends, if you didn’t catch them get your pen. We will come back to that. Shawn, what can we do in our churches to create the kind of environment where people are willing to raise their hand. So I’m thinking about you know I’m executive pastor listening in, I’ve got a staff team of 15 people. Yeah I’m I may be worried, I’m not worried about my lead pastor in the sense of like oh I’m worried something went wrong, but I’m like let’s assume that that that person’s got their stuff together. But I’m thinking about the other 15 people on our team. What can we do to create the kind of culture where people are willing to to open up about like, hey this this is is an area in my life that’s going off the rails. Or what should I do if I’m if I want to create the kind of place where that that could happen? Any any ideas about that, Shawn?

Shawn Hennessy — Well in our personal context, we just created a culture of vulnerability…

Rich Birch — Right

Shawn Hennessy — …where it’s okay to not be okay. And if you can’t admit that you’re not okay, you’ll never become okay – you’ll never get the help. And so of course for us, we have the luxury that it does come from the top down. But if nothing else you’ve got to gather with somebody who you know, somebody who you who you can trust, who you can be vulnerable with, who who you can trust. And so once we start to own the things that are a deficiency in our life, with with the attitude… I think there was a phase where where people wanted to be relevant. But really what that meant is they wanted to be crass. And so I don’t think that we’re looking for that…

Rich Birch — Right.

Shawn Hennessy — …to where a guy can borderline brag about the fact that he drinks beer or that he, you know cusses or you know, whatever that there was that culture there in the in the late 90s where it was like how far can you go? I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about, hey I’m struggling with anger. Have any of you struggled with anger? Oh bro. Yeah totally, I struggle I struggle with anger all time. Well, how do you deal with that? and it’s not like you have to bare your whole soul. But you can start out with just some of those general, I’m not going to get fired over them things. And lay down a foundation among your team, where like if you are the executive pastor, maybe you’re holding committee meetings and in those things, you’ll use them as prayer requests. I mean I think we still pray for each other?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Shawn Hennessy — And this idea of I mean do we really want to pray for each other? It’s like the old adage where people say, you know, how you doing? Do you really want to know?

Rich Birch — Right, right. Sure sure.

Shawn Hennessy —We’ve got a created environment where we really do want to know. And and we want to…

Sonny Hennessy — And like and if I can add, during this pandemic, Shawn and I cried in front of our staff. And I had a lot of regrets, I’d walk away and look at him and go boy I blew that and I’m not a good leader. Our staff—and we had attrition—we had some staff that I think went, wow we thought they were healthy and whole and on the rise after their last fall. And they’re they’re kind of acting like they don’t know what to do you know in the middle of a pandemic, and maybe they’re not the leaders we thought they were. They don’t have character issues now but they’re just not very strong. And I think it can like unnerve some people who’ve put you on a pedestal. But honestly, we both cried. We both wrung our fists, and didn’t know what to do. And and then we saw our staff say, I literally am just hanging on; I have so much anxiety. Five years ago none of our staff would have thought, I’m having anxiety and I need to say something about it. We also do Journey to Wholeness. It’s a Journey to Wholeness is a course we do with our staff, and if we have too many staff members that have come on since the last time, we’ll redo journey to Wholeness.

Rich Birch — Right.

Sonny Hennessy — Shawn and I have done journey to wholeness three times now, and we would do it again…

Rich Birch — Right.

Sonny Hennessy — …and we could offer that to churches journey to wholeness is now coming into corporations. And their HR departments bringing them in to work with the staff so that they quit losing staff…

Rich Birch — Right.

Sonny Hennessy — …who just can’t handle the pressure…

Rich Birch — Totally.

Sonny Hennessy — …but they have issues from childhood.

Rich Birch — Love it. This has been incredible. There’s so much we could talk about here; I feel like we’re just scratching the surface. Like gosh there’s so many other things I’d love to ah, to dive in, but I do want to respect your time. I know you guys have got a lot going on so I appreciate you being here today. Why don’t we give ladies the last word so, Sonny, what what do you want to say as we wrap up, as we kind of close off today’s episode, as we’re kind of but kind of try to tie this stuff up here?

Sonny Hennessy — Well I think trust is a big thing to say, hey I need help, but can I trust these people? For sure it would be important that you listen to a couple of our Rise After the Fall Podcasts on any of the platforms. Just so people can get an understanding of not just Shawn and I, but the path and the process we’re talking about. Ah they can go to theexchangecollaborative.com which talks both to leaders and it talks to pastors. I don’t um and at that point they can also register for the retreat in Arizona. If that gets full, our hope would be to add more. But as they will see there are both – we come to you, you come to us, how much, and what is the commitment level. And we definitely are not trying to form some structure that is immovable. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, but the the basics the what Shawn just talked about. Those are musts, right? We have to get to the root. We have to get to the fixation point. And we think that’s that’s the biggest key to all of this, really.

Rich Birch — Love it. Shawn, Sonny, I’ve really appreciated you being here today. Shawn, where do we want to send people online? Let’s give them the website addresses and stuff again where we want them to connect if they’re, you know, I’m hoping there’s people that are saying like, I man I need to reach out to these folks and have this start this conversation. Where do we want to send them?

Shawn Hennessy — Yeah, theexchangecollaborative.com. Our podcast is on, as Sonny said, on all platforms The Rise After the Fall. Our church website is lifechurchgreenbay.com. We’re actually just now starting a series called The Rise After the Fall where I’ve got 5 pastors coming in who had failures and came back from them. They had incredible success after a fall. And so theexchangecollaborative.com lifechurchgreenbay.com and then The Rise After the Fall on any of your platforms.

Rich Birch — Great. Well, we’ll definitely make sure we link to all that – it’ll be in the show notes. I want to encourage you to follow follow these guys. Good friends, people that are doing great work, you you… it’s It’s been an honor that you would come back on the podcast. Thanks so much for being here today.

Shawn Hennessy — Thank you, brother.

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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.