On Growing Up & Navigating Life

I’m 27 years old, and I can’t remember a time in my life that was so simultaneously exciting and uncertain.

(I’m hopeful that some of you will actually read this, so I’ll resist the urge to leave you a 3-page brain dump attempting to fully-qualify that statement. If you want the long version, give me a call and let’s go drink some burnt coffee!)

The summary version is: In the last four years I’ve gone from

poised college graduate with an engineering degree from a great school, a healthy routine, a (fairly) clear vision, and a fruitful life


an excited frontier missionary to a borderline third-world, closed country, on track to be international staff for a college ministry


a somewhat depressed and lonely missionary to a borderline third-world, ice cold, darkness-enshrouded, closed country


a 23-year-old who was recently kicked out of said third-world country who lives with his parents, has no job, and needs 128 dollars to fill up his gas tank (seriously)


a love-struck, head-over-heals 23-year-old who often drove 400 miles in a day in my courtship  of the only girl I ever loved


a 24-year-old newlywed who doesn’t know the first thing about marriage trying to work a full-time software job under managers who don’t like me while also trying to be a borderline not-quite-full-time youth pastor at a church plant with some great people but some fundamental gaps


a 26-year-old in the middle of a theological paradigm shift with a whole new (though less clear) vision for life, on the hunt for a safe church environment for my family (which now includes a baby) and for some good friends for myself and my wife (which are MUCH harder to find than I ever imagined earlier in life)


a 27-year-old recovering former fundamentalist-turned-calvinist, in the process of becoming a member of a baptist church (that I’ve known about for years but was too brick-headed to ever visit) with my fourth family member cooking growing in my wife (who is becoming exponentially more beautiful with time)

Suffice to say: it’s been one heck of a roller-coaster.

And this could be the beginning of a book, but I really just wanted to share something:

This whole time – from the moment I graduated from college (where Campus Crusade For Christ did a great job of helping me stay around Godly men I could learn from), I was searching for someone to speak some Truth to me.

Don’t get me wrong: my parents and friends and family are great and they give me great advice. But I was looking for someone who had been down the road I want to go down. Someone I could check in with from time to time to get advice, encouragement, and (probably most importantly) rebuke. I love the “follow your heart” type of encouragement you get from a parent, but I also want someone to ask me hard questions. I want someone to burst my bubble when it needs to be burst.

I’ve heard it said before that a friend is someone who will stab you in the front. I think there’s some truth to that I can’t remember the last constructive criticism I got.

So I was looking for some dudes I could have that kind of relationship with.

And I don’t mean I would sit at Starbucks and pray, “OK God. Send me someone to give me some wise council.”

I was banging down doors.

I was begging people to make time to spend with me.

I called pastors I had never even met and asked if they could make some time to talk to me.

And they said no.

Even when I was overseas and I really needed some training about how to do my job there, I asked our team leader if he could make some time to train me.

But he said it wouldn’t be worth the investment since my commitment was only a year.

I once wrote on facebook that finding a mentor is harder than I thought it would be and almost ALL of the feedback I received was negative. Some people were offended that I didn’t consider them my mentor. Some people said you don’t need a mentor because you have the Holy Spirit. Some people said that you don’t have to spend time with someone to learn from them.

So, eventually, I kind of gave up.

I know that’s weak; but it’s honest.

I figured trial and error (also known as ‘learn everything the hard way‘) would be my best alternative.

And to be honest, I still find myself pretty much in that place.

Even as recently as a couple of months ago I contacted one of the pastors at my church. He was willing to meet with me once and I basically told him where I’ve been, and where I think God is leading me. He listened and gave me some helpful feedback, but I don’t think that’ll become a common occurrence. (I actually had to communicate with his secretary just to get a date scheduled)

So, what’s the point of this post? Is it just a big whine fest?

No. I hope not. I’m sharing all this because of a blog post from Mark Driscoll that I read today.

Celebrating the 14th anniversary of Mars Hill Church by taking a look back, he gives a list of things he learned and things he wishes he had done differently.

First major lesson?

He says:

First, I needed more training and should have waited a few more years. Had I to do it over again, I would not have given up looking for a godly older pastor to help sand off my rough edges and help me get ready not just to start a church, but lead it well for a lifetime. I had tried a few older men and each relationship went badly, so I gave up trying to be rebuked, mentored, and trained. But I should have persevered in that effort.

Sound familiar?

This encourages me for 2 reasons:

1) I’m encouraged to know that I’m not fundamentally broken to the point that nobody wants to hang out with me my experience hasn’t been totally unique. Someone else out there has struggled with the same thing.


2) What do you know, but he actually has some advice (about looking for advice): keep looking.

And I think he’s right.

So I’m going to keep looking.

Can you relate?

Any thoughts?

Any… advice?


  1. I love you!=) I consider you not only my brother but one of my best friends and STILL I am learning things about you daily.=) If it matters, you and Steph are the ones that I come to for advice/constructive criticism. Maybe it will help you feel better to know that you are THAT person for me and other people and I will pray that you will find your “Zack”.=)

  2. first of all, congrats on the bun in the oven!!! how exciting!

    secondly, i’m sad to see that about the mentoring thing (esp in UZ). didn’t know about that and it makes me really sad.

    thirdly, becky is experiencing the same thing in knoxville, so if you can remember to pray for her that God would bring healthy godly women relationships into her life that would be awesome. it’s such a struggle and i’ve seen it do serious damage, not having good relationships.

    I hope that you will continue to seek mentors and that the Lord will bless your pursuit with a deeper relationship with Himself along the way.

  3. Hey Zach,
    I feel like Jack and I can totally identify with what you have to say. We’ve been in the Knoxville area for a bit over 2.5 years and we were struggling to 1)find a church to really get plugged into (think we’ve got one now), 2)find friends to come along-side us and be encouragers, and not just them encouraging us but us to them as well and 3)for Jack and me to find wise godly counsel to help us grow. Well I want to encourage you to not give up. Jack went through no less than 3 pastors at our church, meeting with them, pouring his heart out with them and begging for a mentor relationship or even resources he could turn to to help him through some rough things we’ve been going through. All three were compassionate and “willing” to help but all three dropped the ball and never had any follow-up to what they had committed to Jack. But thankfully, on the advice of his wise sister, he did not give up and he called one more man, a leader in our Sunday school class. Praise God! This man has met with Jack, he’s prayed with him numerous times, he calls Jack multiple times a week and now his wife is starting to pursue me. This has been a long time coming but I have a feeling this couple is here for us right when we needed them. If they had come sooner I may not have been open to the relationship because of things I was dealing with in my own life. I say all this to encourage you. Don’t give up. I will be praying for you as you search, wait and trust God in this. It’s hard. Believe me. I’ve been praying for godly friendships for 4 years now (since we got married). While God is still waiting on that one, in seeing his answer to Jack’s prayer for mentorship it gives me hope in my prayer for friends 🙂 Sorry this is so long-winded!

  4. Zack,
    I think a lot of people feel just like you do. I know Rebecca and I do. I think it is very, very common for people in this generation. I think part of it is culture, part of it is economics, and part of it is normal. I am sorry it’s been really hard for you these past few years; your story is similar to Rebecca’s and my own: not in the details, but in the search for friends, for a place, and for leadership. Our culture and world has destroyed the authority of many institutions and economics has made our life more uncertain. In some cases, the institution’s authority was bankrupt, but the security and certainty they provide can give a lot of freedom.

    My prayer is that God is leading us (Rebecca and me), your family, and all of us as we search for our place. I know that he is, but sometimes it’s hard to see the path.

    God bless,

  5. Son,
    You know I’ve already told you everything. Just figure it out. HA HA HA HA HA HA. Patience…..Timing………Being concerned and even anxious over these issues gives me a confidence that it will all come together. Never in your timing. Just will. Love you so…………………much DAD

  6. I’ve thought about this too. I’ve found a few ladies that I would be interested in, but they are so busy, and I’ve been afraid to ask to take even more of their time.
    OK – not much time to write this because Andrew is hungry, so I’ll say it quickly.
    Just because we can’t find mentors for us doesn’t mean we can’t be mentors for someone younger than us. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’m not sure if I am able to do this right now, but sometime I’d like to be a mentor to a younger lady.
    Not telling you that you need to do this – it’s just a thought (one I’m still trying to process)

  7. HELLO son, I think God has someone very special in the wings when it’s His timing…right not He has Someone else who has come along side you to teach you & guide you into all truth… God your Father wants you all to Himself:) Maybe He even thinks that you have alot on your plate already & to rest in that… I love you & ALWAYS have time for you!!:)

  8. Hi Zack and Steph,

    Just checked into your site again and was blown away by your combined creativity. I love your baby pics and your babies. They’re adorable! As for the new business, Steph, I wish you well. You’re a great photographer and will go far. Take care of your family and keep yourselves in the love of God.

    Love, Denise

  9. Hey Zack and Steph,

    You probably don’t remember me, but thats okay. The poem or beginning to a book is great. You are keeping things realistic and sometimes that is what we don’t do in society. Yet I feel by keeping things realistic you end up finding paths that you did not know were there.

    Your kids are absolutely gorgeous.

    Jasmine J.

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