Disclaimer: This story contains sensitive content that may not be safe for young ears. Consider putting in earbuds if you have kids present.
Has your spouse or roommate ever stumbled upon a private addiction and confronted you? What if you were a young and new pastor who loved working with kids? Today’s guest walks us through how his secret porn addiction was discovered, how he asked for help, how it affected his church and pastoring and how the Lord strengthened his marriage. Our God is a God of reconciliation and restoration. Vulnerability and asking for help open the door.
Acts 20:24- (NIV) “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Saved and baptized at age 9
Retired military father, absent
Teachers didn’t believe in him
He thought he wasn’t smart enough for college
Growing in faith in teen years
Looking for his soulmate in high school
“Find me somebody to love.”
Found many father figures at church
Became a youth pastor at age 19
Struggle with porn
He shares it with the church
Plan for restoration
Finding a new church
Brandon Heath ‘God isn’t finished with you yet”
Some of the P.S. Questions Answered:
What would you say to parents who are raising kids while in the military?
How has walking in other people’s shoes transformed you?
If you had limitless time or talent, what other ministry would you like to participate in or start?
What is the legacy you want to leave behind?
Neil Mathew’s Website and Podcast
Podcast: Other People’s Shoes Podcast
“I was so intoxicated with the role of a pastor, I forgot what it was to be a pastor and to be a shepherd.”
Ep. 3 – “Secret Addiction & Open Healing” Judianne Charbonneau (young mom)
For more everyday extraordinary faith stories:
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Speaker 2 [00:00:09] Sin is sin in my mind. It’s not a ranking system in that respect. You know, Elizabeth and I were able to walk through that in our marriage, and our marriage is still intact and I think even better now than it was even back then. But yeah, I mean, there were definitely some dark moments. I mean, there were some moments that that I thought, it’s over, it’s done. She’s done, and she chose to stay.
V/O [00:00:31] And now for the next episode of Letters from Home, sending encouragement to your doorstep by capturing the heartbeat of God’s people. One story at a time.
Meg [00:00:42] Hi, this is Meg Glesener, your host. And yes, I am sick. I wasn’t sick during the interview, but I am now. It’s a great story. Are you ready to be encouraged? Has your spouse or roommate ever stumbled upon a private addiction and confronted you? What if you were young, in love and a new teenage youth pastor who loved working with kids? Today’s guest walks us through how his secret porn addiction was discovered, how he asked for help. How it affected his church, the youth, and his love relationships. Our guide is a god of reconciliation and restoration publicly and privately. It’s wonderful to see. It’s not a perfect story. It is a real story. Here is the everyday extraordinary. Neil Matthews.
Meg [00:01:35] Neil Matthews, I am so excited to have you on the podcast today. You have been one of my early buddies in podcasting in the pandemic. We were all just like little podcasters in our Hobbit holes and discovering each other at a bunch of fun little conversations. You have such a relatable, beautiful show. Your heart is to help us walk in other people’s shoes. It is such a blessing to always love that concept. We’re both in the Pacific Northwest. We just got to meet in person and Oregon and share an In-N-Out Burger like how cool is that?
Neil [00:02:10] Super cool. Very cool. I think for me, the pandemic was was really cool because I got to work from home. You know, I was able to kind of multitask this good time. Got to meet a lot of cool people so that I’m mostly still friends with today. So that’s fun.
Meg [00:02:25] Totally. And we’ll definitely in the P.S. we’ll talk more about Neil’s podcast and where you can hear him and all that. I know just in our interactions, I know that you have a really moving story, and I’ve always thought, Neil, that just being around you, you can just tell you’re really deep person and you’ve been through a lot and you just have kind of like a centered joy. I’m so excited that we get to just kind of dive right in. Let’s just go back to the very beginning. What does it feel like to be little Neil Matthews?
Neil [00:02:55] Boy, let’s let’s get into that DeLorean, right? Let’s punch in, what, 1980? You know, growing up, I was born in North Carolina. A lot of people maybe don’t know that. They think I’m just obsessed with the University of North Carolina for no particular reason. Michael Jordan, maybe? But I was actually born in North Carolina. My passport, my birth certificate, our North Carolina roots. So I don’t remember a thing about it. You know, 18 months there is as a child, baby, I did drink the water. I tell people that all the time. So you see those ads on TV, like if you drink the water and. Yeah, I did. I drank the water.
Meg [00:03:35] You drank the water?
Neil [00:03:36] I drank the water. So that’s probably why I’m a little quirky, a little different, little special in some respects. So anyway, fast forward. Yeah. You know, I probably remember 1989, probably a little bit is probably my first real memory of church. You know, I was an Awana kid. I walked the aisle Southern Baptist Church in Carlsbad, California, just because in my heart of hearts, knew I was a sinner. Awana was really good about telling me that I was a sinner and then I needed Jesus. So, you know, I ended up walking the aisle and, you know, accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Did I really know what that meant at 9? Probably not. You know, and some time later I was baptized, you know, and I remember the pastor telling me, you know, how long can I hold my breath for? I saw that was an odd question to ask, especially, you know, a little nine year old. I said, “Well, why is that?” And he said, “Well, you know, I know your life. You have to do a lot of bad things. So I got to hold you down a little extra long to get the sin out of your life.” He was teasing. But, you know at 9 I didn’t know that.
Meg [00:04:33] That’s so sad. What did your home life look like? Was that like an important part? And separate one was kind of celebrating there with you?
Neil [00:04:40] Yes, I would say yes and no. My dad was gone a lot. He a retired United States Marine. And so he was gone a lot. I don’t remember him being there maybe for the baptism. He might have been. I truly don’t remember. My mom directed a child care center at the church. So she was, I guess you could say, big in the in the church, if you will, on staff. I don’t really remember. He was my dad. He was gone a lot, so. When he was home, he was not really there, you know, kind of emotionally there physically, but not really there emotional and kind of checked out a lot of times. But, you know, my mom, too. You know, she was working a lot. So I think emotionally on some level, she was kind of, again, there, but not there. She tried her best to be there emotionally for us kids. There’s four of us. I have two technically older sisters, but I actually have a biological brother who’s two years older than I am. So I’m the youngest really of four. Growning up I mean my dad was was a provider. We never were homeless or anything like that. We always seem to have just enough. We weren’t like overly wealthy or rich, but, you know, again, just enough to make it through.
Meg [00:05:48] Did you move a lot?
Neil [00:05:49] So they did a lot of moving before I came along. By the time I came along in 1980, we had settled in Camp Pendleton, California, near Oceanside. Anyway, he ended up retiring in ’92, ’93, somewhere in there and then we moved to Oregon.
Meg [00:06:05] So after the time when you gave your life to the Lord and do you remember, like, I don’t know, growing in your faith or is it something that became more real in your teen years?
Neil [00:06:15] Well, definitely it became more real in my teen years. I think even though I knew who Jesus was and knew that I neededHhim, I think the reality of Him in my life became more…He became more of a of an important figure in my life. A more guiding compass in my life as I grew older. I think a lot of the things I did when I was younger was just more for show. You know, growing up in the church and I wanted attention desperately again, being the youngest, it’s kind of a thing that I guess all younger kids deal with. You know that as a mom and you’ve seen that a time or two with your kiddos. But I think that that Jesus became real or more real in high school, for sure.
Meg [00:06:58] Are your parents still married?
Neil [00:07:00] They’re not. Yeah. I’m trying to remember when they actually got divorced. They separated when I was 17 and they didn’t end up actually getting divorced till after I was married. So, I mean, they married 21 years. So somewhere in that time frame. You know, most of my life I spent, you know…I don’t know, am I allowed to talk about the music group Queen? I don’t know. Freddie Mercury. So they have that amazing. I think it’s an amazing song. You know, find me somebody to love, you know, kind of a love song ballad.
Meg [00:07:33] Yes.
Neil [00:07:34] You know I know for me, I prayed a prayer quite often that I wanted, you know, God to find me, someone to love, someone that I could spend the rest of my life with. You know, I had dated a number of young ladies that I my my parents got married in high school. So in my mind, I thought that’s what happened. I thought that’s what everyone did. I thought you spent your high school years finding your soulmate in high school. I didn’t ever dream or envision going to college because I was told early on that there was never on the table for me. I was you know, I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t you know, I was kind of dumb in some respects. I had a learning disability growing up. So the idea of college was never even a reality for me. It was always a dream, not a rock solid reality. So, well, I guess when I wrote that on your form, I was thinking about my wife in that moment that I actually prayed that God would send me someone to love, someone that I could love, someone that was love me back. Someone that would you know, find me again. The lyric goes, Find me somebody to love. So again, I had dated a number of girls prior to my wife that I thought, okay, this is the girl. One was Mormon, one was preacher’s kid, one was, you know, going through her parents were going through a bad divorce. We kind of had this really weird Romeo and Juliet relationship, sort of, because our parents didn’t want us together. So it had its own little drama, you know, teenage drama. But then when I found, you know, my now wife at the time we were 17, she was 16, I was 17. You know, we met our freshman year. She absolutely hated me and did not see any potential in me. I think she would she would maybe push on the potential, but she sort of was a weirdo. Sophomore year, we had a mutual friend that kind of put us sort of in the same vicinity with each other. By junior year, we were dating by December and then just kind of never looked back. So I guess that’s what I was saying is like, I think God allowed her to come into my life to really kind of center me and appoint Him, you know, to make Him the figurehead in my life again and point me back to Him. I think she did…She became that helped me early on, even in our relationship to to again, kind of keep me on that trajectory of of focus, focusing on God.
Meg [00:10:00] Well, I’m guessing somewhat as far as and encouragement as well, because it sounds like you maybe were lacking a little bit of confidence. I mean, you seem intelligent to me like you’re killing it in the podcasting world and you’re just really bright. But you had that thing in your mind, in your heart, that I’m not good enough.
Neil [00:10:19] Oh, for sure. You know, I again, I had a fair amount of teachers along the way, kind of helped solidify that. I really was wasting my time that had a lot of dreams, but not a lot of follow through. I had one teacher in particular. She was an English teacher. She taught honors English. I was not in honors, but she taught honors. You know, I remember her sharing with me because I had dreams of being on ESPN. I was going to break down college basketball. I mean, that was kind of my thing and really excited about it. I remember her telling me one time that I should have a backup career because I was never going to make it ESPN because my written skills and my verbal skills were not strong enough to make it as a sports broadcaster. Even like during COVID, I got an opportunity to interview two former North Carolina, you know, basketball players. So I got to kind of have my dream come true, being that, you know, sports broadcaster.
Meg [00:11:09] Praise the Lord.
Neil [00:11:10] I almost wanted to send her like, “Na na na na na na.” But, you know, that’s rude. We don’t do that.
Meg [00:11:17] Right, we don’t need to do that now. That’s crazy. So Elizabeth was super encouraging and just a really gift from the Lord. Did you marry as teenagers?
Neil [00:11:25] We did not know we…So, yeah. So ’97, we got together and we didn’t end up getting married till 2001. We graduated in ’99.
Meg [00:11:35] So that’s cool. And now you’ve been married 20 plus years, so it’s amazing.
Neil [00:11:41] Yeah.
Meg [00:11:41] I know you said your father was military and then he was absent a lot. So then when he was home, more just, you know, in light of, I guess, your personal confidence. Did that affect you as a young man and as a young, young married?
Neil [00:11:57] Well, a little background in him just to help. You know, he came from a broken home as well. My my grandparents were divorced. My grandfather, who I only saw maybe a dozen times in my life, not not very many. That seems almost high. You know, maybe half a dozen times. He was just really abusive, physically, emotionally. You know, all kinds of stuff to my granny, my dad’s mother. That’s what we call her growing up. She has since passed around ’97 ironically enough, when my life started to pick up and get exciting and Elizabeth comes in, my grandmother dies. So it’s I think it’s also God’s way of handing off kind of that responsibility of encouragement went from my granny to then Elizabeth. But yeah, back to my dad. He came from a broken home. So I think he didn’t know how to be a dad in a lot of respects. I think in that he tried the best he could with what he had. But I think, again, at the end of the day, he just probably really struggled with that, I think on some level. So I think naturally for me, wanting to have that kind of father figure kind of relationship, I saw that in the church. That’s probably why I gravitated to the church so much, is because there were men in the church that were willing to kind of fill that role for me, you know, as a father figure. I became really good friends with a guy that I’m even friends with to this day, ended up being the best man at our wedding. You know, in high school, I would hang out at his house from Friday night to Sunday night, you know, pretty much every weekend. His dad, Eric, became a very integral part of my life and kind of in my guidance, guiding me from a male standpoint. You know, my wife was great, you know, at the time of being a girlfriend, you know, kind of helping me in that respect as far as being that loving, nurturing person that a woman can bring. But Eric really brought that stability from a male in a role model and male influence.
Meg [00:13:54] You and Elizabeth were pretty were you pretty involved at church from the get go as a couple? Did you have a chance to serve in ministry?
Neil [00:14:01] And yeah, we were very fortunate to be in an amazing youth group growing up. There was probably about 20 of us really in our youth group, kind of on a on a regular basis. There was probably about 12 of us from the 20 that were really close. From the 12 there was probably about eight of us that really like were the core and like pretty much hung out at youth group, hung out outside, hung out at school. I mean, we were just always in each other’s lives. I mean, you see nowadays, like sitcoms or even back in the day sitcoms where the kids just kind of all hung out together, I think of like a Beverly Hills 90210 kind of thing was kind of like that? But not as much drama maybe? Maybe a little bit. Elizabeth and I were very active in the youth group and very active in participating and organizing and planning. Our senior year, my Elizabeth’s senior year, our youth leader stepped away, actually stepped down because he, uh, well, he had an affair against his wife. So he was asked to step down. So in that the church kind of knowing that that was a track I wanted to go, that I was kind of pine for or asking about, they put the youth group in my hands at 19, which I think is still scary to me to think about, you know? So at 19, I’m not married. Elizabeth and I are not even engaged. But they know that’s our aspirations. So at 19, they said, “You know, kind of here’s the keys to the car, don’t wreck it.” So, you know, at 19, I surrounded myself with mentors, Eric being one of them I mentioned already and I had another other, you know, group of men that came around me as mentors that really taught me ministry and taught me how to be, you know, in ministry. I worked my way through school to become credentialed in the Christian Missionary Alliance as an associate pastor. By the time I got credentialed, Elizabeth and I were already married. Actually the day it’s kind of a funny story, the day Elizabeth’s having our 15 year old daughter. Now she’s 15, but at the time she wasn’t. She was actually being born the day the day she was born. I was setting up my licensing interview to get credentialed. So it was kind of a funny story on that. At that point by the time I got credentialed, she was about two months old by the time I got credentialed.
Meg [00:16:15] So that’s really cool. What was it like being a pastor?
Neil [00:16:19] Yeah, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no idea what I was doing. I remember sitting in my office a lot of times thinking like, What am I? I should be doing something, you know, because I was used to a sales kind of 8 to 5, kind of, you know, kind of job. So I’d never really been. In my industry. So I didn’t know, you know, So I went to a lot of a lot of basketball games. My kids, a lot of I say my kids, the youth kids were very active in our youth group in sports. So I went to like middle school basketball, which is the worst, by the way, side note. So I went to a lot of games, you know, and I didn’t really know what I know now, you know, as far as discipling kids. I want a mulligan on that. Like, I want to do overs in some way because I feel like what I know now, I could have really helped those kids back then more. Yeah. So an opportunity to serve in ministry for a while. Then I made some pretty bad choices in ministry and ended up forfeiting that away. Kind of had to walk through walk through that as well. So we can dig into that too, if you want.
Meg [00:17:19] So yeah, I mean, yeah, whatever you think would be helpful Neil. I think it’d be it’d be good because there’s so much, so many youth are struggling with so many things. I think it’s hard that, you know, here you are, a young man wanting to serve and honor the Lord and get put in this position as a young man. It’s funny, the Scriptures talk about not having young men be in charge for so many kinds of reasons, you know, But yeah, if you if you want to share what you know, what your what your struggle look like and how did it all come, I guess out and out in the open. What did that whole process look like? I’m sure that was a hard season.
Neil [00:17:59] Yeah, I mean, it definitely was for me. Just just to be clear, my, my struggle was pornography. I chose the word was there for a reason because, you know, my wife and I walk through that not only as a as a married couple. I went to counseling personally as part of my commitment to her. Then the church asked as well that I walked through it, which I would have if they even if they hadn’t, I would have walked through counseling because I really felt like I wanted to know the “why” behind why I had this addiction, this struggle. You know, I remember even far back as high school and even in a middle school, it was kind of prevalent in my life in different segments. I remember I would put it away for a while and then I’d pick it back up again and I put it away for a while and I’d pick it back up again. I think there’s not a believer out there that that hasn’t dealt with something on some level that they’ve maybe struggled with, whether it be gossiping or, you know, whether it be lying or whatever it may be coveting, you know, sin is sin in my mind. It’s not a ranking system in that respect. You know, Elizabeth and I were able to walk through that in our marriage, and our marriage is still intact and I think even better now than it was even back then. But, yeah, I mean, there were there were definitely some dark moments. I mean, there were some moments that that I thought, it’s over, it’s done. She’s done. And she chose to stay, you know? So obviously, I’m grateful for that.
Meg [00:19:20] What was the hardest part for Elizabeth?
Neil [00:19:22] Boy, that’s a good question. That’s probably a her question. I wouldn’t really know how to answer that for her. But I think if I was going to guess, I think trust. She really felt like her trust was broken and her trust was violated. You know, I think every woman feels I shouldn’t say every woman, most women. I think I’m safe to say every woman. But again, I don’t know every woman. But I would say most women probably feel betrayed, you know, that they feel like they’re not good enough. They don’t measure up. You know, they cannot live up to the fantasy that, unfortunately, porn is peddling is a fantasy, truly. So I think those are a lot of the things that she you know, she has shared with me that she has dealt with. So I again, I feel confident and that’s her answer. But again, she would probably be able to speak to that better than I would. I think the other part for me was, is we chose to stay. You know, we chose to work it out. We chose to figure it out. I think that is that’s huge, you know, Again, we really leaned heavily into our faith and really leaned heavily into even our church in our church was was pretty instrumental in kind of being a guiding post for us, a guiding light in a lot of respects.
Meg [00:20:34] When it came to to light, I guess, was it your mentor who was just kind of counseling you? You just kind of brought it up or is like, how are you doing? Just kind of just discipline kind of behind doors, just in conversations that turned public? How how did it affect the kids, the youth group kids?
Neil [00:20:52] Yeah, those are all great questions. So Elizabeth found it. We had a personal, you know, home computer and she just found, you know, Internet history and search history. You know, obviously there’s there’s conversations that her and I have about it and why and all that stuff. There was a period of time where she left for the night because she was just very hurt and frustrated and rightfully so. So I think that was probably one of the darkest that it got for me at least. I do remember thinking to myself like, this is really serious, like something needs to change here. I ended up going to the church and going to the pastor, the senior pastor who at that time, you know, was basically my boss. You know, that’s how it works at church levels and, you know. confessing to him what had gone on and what had happened. You know, he basically said, “Okay, well, this is going to have to go to the elders.” Which is kind of his bosses and my bosses in a lot of respects. So it worked in our denomination at least. You know, probably over a 72 hour period, I was relieved of my position, asked to resign from my position, and I accepted, said I would, and so I did. So what happened after that, shortly after that was, you know, got into counseling and I got into kind of the why and understanding the why I went through intense counseling for probably about a year, almost a year and a half, which I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about the why of why I did this. You know, my counselor said to me a lot of times, he said, “You know, I don’t think you have a lust issue. I think you have an anger issue. I think when you get angry, this is your way, you act out. This is what draws you in is because you’re in so much pain and you’re in so much anger from growing up, childhood trauma had a part to play in it that this is your escape.” I was like, “Wow.”
Meg [00:22:34] Wow.
Neil [00:22:35] That’s his degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. So, you know, I can kind of stress out a little bit, right? A pretty prestigious school in some respects. You know, I think what happened in the days and really even weeks and months after that and even years now is that created a foundation for us to to really have my life open to her? You know, for a lot of years, my iPhone wasn’t available to her. Well, now it is, you know, my passwords weren’t available to her. Well, now they are. My Internet history is now open to her. So there’s a lot of things we put into place that weren’t there, you know, a lot of safeguards.
Meg [00:23:09] And that’s great.
Neil [00:23:10] You know, what I’ve done lately is just really trying to help other men realize that this is this is a danger. You know, we’ve had a number of episodes on my show, you know, talking about this and a number of people, you know, come on and talk about the dangers of it. Just trying to educate now and trying to be be a source of.
Meg [00:23:26] Yeah. The percentages of young men and women that struggle with is very high. The pastor at our church is 32 and he’s very open about this. Another pastor shared just last Sunday he said he was over camp for 12 years and he just said, I’m never going to be free. Will I ever be free from this? He stands there up on the stage. He’s the worship pastor. I feel like there’s a more open climate to be able to talk about these things. I know at our church a couple of years ago, we did a whole series in the high school group, and it’s you know, we showed the percentage, the pastor showed the percentages of kids, and it’s like, I don’t know, 80 plus, but are more of young men and young women. It’s like over 60% struggle with porn. So I appreciate your vulnerability. I think it’s something that has exploded as a struggle, which maybe when you were struggling, you were like more like, oh, wow, this guy’s struggling with that. Probably felt more shame. Like you said, sin is sin and struggles are struggles and there’s reasons for things. So what would you say? And I do have young men who are subscribers to and women who listen to the show. Is there any advice you would give to somebody right now who’s in that place?
Neil [00:24:45] I think the greatest advice I would ever say is, is be transparent. You know, and I think that’s the hardest part. In the early days, even though I had this amazing mentor in my life, I still didn’t feel comfortable sharing that struggle with him. I think for me to what’s different now than back then is I think age has a part to play in it. You know, is I’ve now realized in just the research I’ve done and the people I’ve talked to is the idea that I’m not alone. There was a lot of times I felt alone. I think that’s what the devil wants us to think is we are truly are alone. And that’s it. That’s all. You know, we’re on an island of misfit toys and nobody’s going to love us and nobody’s going to care about us. So, let’s just keep sinning. Paul kind of obviously speaks to that. You know, should you keep on sinning? By no means no. You’ve been saved by the blood, you know, messing that verse up and kind of similar. But I also go back to what I was saying earlier about that prayer, that finding someone to love. When Elizabeth entered my life, I made a commitment to God that I would not have sex with her before I got married. We honored that. It was really hard at times because we really thought we were going to end up together. So what’s it matter? Well, still wanted we wanted that to be our thing on our wedding night. I think that’s important to remember is that sex is such a great gift of God. Unfortunately, we, I say we as people, we as man, we as mankind have wrecked it, just absolutely wrecked it. Just like we’ve done so many other things. I mean, we start listing all the things, but I think we’ve wrecked sexuality for this generation and it’s sad to me. Because again, I think it’s so precious and pure when it’s, you know, done in its right context.
Meg [00:26:27] I love that God can restore. I know our pastor said recently that every single one of us, he said in this room, are affected by how sin has marred sexuality in some kind of a way. But God can restore. And so how was it at the church? Did they do you feel like they worked with you as far as you know, maybe you wouldn’t be a youth pastor again or whatever, but did they kind of help restore you or did you feel like you were embarrassed or marked as like less than or did you just go to a different church? What did the next you know, how did you andElizabeth, respond to all of that? That must have been hard for her, too.
Neil [00:27:06] Yeah, I undoubtedly think it was. I mean, again, I think the whole process would I want to walk through that again? Absolutely not. No. No way. No how. I think she would echo that. It took about a year. Again, I have counseling. And then after a year, the church did restore me to a level of an elder. I was already on the other road, which, again, I thought, you know? What was I? 27? 28? That seems really young for an elder in some denominations. I was able to help in children’s ministry. I was never able to go back to youth ministry for whatever reason. That’s what the decision they made. I still don’t understand that one, because to me it maybe it’s because I wanted it so bad and people thought it was weird that I wanted it so bad. But yeah, the youth group after that I think really kind of dissipated in a lot of respects because I wasn’t there. I was a leading voice, I was a leading influence. And, you know, it was hard for me to see kids leave. I think, you know why I know now, you know, because I did a whole season on my show called, You know, You Lost Me about Kids leaving the church. I interviewed a lot of former youth kids and, you know, off air, they shared that they left because of me, because of what I had. You know, a lot of them didn’t know why. I think a lot of them still probably don’t know to this day, if they’ve heard me in any circle, they probably know. But I’ve never gone back and say, well, here’s why. Here’s the, you know, seven reasons why I left. But yeah, so shortly after that I get restored. You know, obviously things seem to be going back to normal in some ways, but in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to be back in youth and I knew that was never going to happen there. So, you know, we we Elizabeth and I prayed and asked God where to send us. You know, I ended up losing my job. So I’m kind of job hopping, if you will. So I ended up getting a job at the City of Eagle Point. Weirdly enough, where I live currently and met a really amazing couple named Craig and Lisa.
Meg [00:29:10] Still in Oregon?
Neil [00:29:11] Still in Oregon. Yep. So I ended up meeting them and through, you know, I say like Lemony Snicket’s through a series of unfortunate events, you know, I ended up getting invited to their church at New Beginnings. Weirdly enough, a church called New Beginnings, where that’s so funny sometimes. So, you know, after some prayer and some fasting, truly, like I prayed and fasted over the decision because when I left, not only was I leaving a church that I had grown up in from the time I was sixth grade till at that point, until I was 28, 29, somewhere in there, that’s a long time. So leaving that church was, was like leaving family. So we ended up praying and fasting and I remember coming down the hill one night from taking my daughter to a friend’s house, and this Brandon Heath song came up. By the way, I’ve if Brandon here ever hears this, Brandon, please come on the show because we like to talk about this moment when you. Shout out to Brandon Heath. But he writes this song and I’m sorry I get a little emotional when I think about this moment because the line of the song is, He’s not finished with you yet. And I just pulled my car over and I just wept uncontrollably. And I just said, “God, what do you want from me?” And it was the next day that I met this guy, Craig and Lisa, and they invited me to New beginnings. And we left. We left the church that I had attended, that I had, you know, grown up in realistically, that I had, you know, become a pastor at that I had poured so much of my life into. We were done and we left. And yeah, so we started a new beginnings and probably, I don’t know, six months into going there, I ended up getting involved in the youth ministry and kind of just never looked back.
Meg [00:30:48] So you’re there, you’re working with youth now in what capacity?
Neil [00:30:52] Yeah. So I’m not on staff. I’m just a volunteer. Actually being back in youth ministry, I should say, because I took about a four year sabbatical, you could say. Which is what prompted me starting my show. So about four years ago, our youth group had kind of gone through another transition. So I’m used to youth group transitions. It seems like this is like, you know, I’ve earned all my badges in youth group transition. So but a friend of mine who was very active in the youth group program was basically like a youth director in a lot of respects. He didn’t carry a pastor role, even though he kind of was. But anyway, so he ends up stepping away and leaving the church for whatever reason. He’s unhappy and so he leaves. So the youth group has gone through a transition, you know, kind of a shift in direction and the direction that they were heading in. I was like, this is never going to work. You know, I’m a veteran youth guy. I know how youth groups work and this isn’t going to work and your plan sucks basically, church leadership. I took my red ball and I went and played somewhere else. And in that process I started my podcast and all this other stuff.
Meg [00:31:56] So you left New Beginnings?
Neil [00:31:57] I never left. I probably should have, and I never left because I had a really bad attitude the whole time. I probably should have left, but I did and I stayed. I stuck around. People probably think I should have lost because I had a really bad attitude the whole time, but I’ve since worked that out. You know, that’s kind of how things happen. You know, we work things out. And so recently, probably within the last, I would say six months, I’ve been back teaching high school again on Sunday mornings. So yeah, which is fun.
Meg [00:32:26] That’s great.
Neil [00:32:27] I really like teaching high school. It’s just a joy and I love communicating. I mean, it’s just kind of how I’m wired.
Meg [00:32:33] Neil I know you’re making a difference there, and I love how the Lord has led you through different seasons to work with youth. Now, how do you feel like you’ve changed now, working with, you know, with youth compared to the, you know, the other times?
Neil [00:32:50] I think the challenge that I’m always going to run into is does the peacock get to come out or does Jesus come out right? Because for me, I have a real hard time with being…and it really I got back to me, by the way, before they asked me to come teach again. It got back to me and I don’t know who said it and it doesn’t really matter. But somebody said when my name came up for consideration to be involved in youth again, they said, “Well, do we want a showman or do we want a teacher?” Because Neil has a tendency of being a showman. And I’m like, “Hmm, first off, what the heck is a showman?” Like, I had to go. I kind of Google that and I was like, “Are you talking about like the greatest story ever or whatever? The Hugh Jackman…
Meg [00:33:33] Greatest show on Earth? Yeah.
Neil [00:33:35] I mean, I knew I was going to mess that up because my wife saw it like five times in the theater. But anyway, but you know what I mean? Like, is that what they’re talking about? So I think for me, I have to be on guard for that. So I think back then I didn’t know that. So I think that’s probably been the greatest leap forward is the idea that I was so in love and intoxicated with the role of a pastor, I forgot what it was to be a pastor and to be a shepherd. I was just in love with the idea of it, and I never was in love with the role. I was in love with the position, if that makes sense. Like I cared again more about my name being on the door. I cared more about people calling me pastor, which by the way, was still trippy to me, even to this day. Still trippy that people did that. But again, I think for me I learned that I had to, you know, kind of Christ says. I had to crucify that daily to say, no, this isn’t about Neil, this is about what God’s going to do in this moment. So that’s what I learned.
Meg [00:34:35] Yeah, totally. And it’s encouraging to I know you’re just starting your forties, right? And I’m, you know, like well into my fifties and yet.
Neil [00:34:46] 42.
Meg [00:34:46] 42. Yeah. It’s amazing the different perspective we have on our 20 year old self or a 30 year old self. You know there’s there’s a little bit of pride and maybe even low key arrogance that you don’t even know that you feel like you have the answers. But yet the passion for serving the Lord and all that is so strong and sometimes that we can be too hard on ourselves when we look back. And I just think it’s so encouraging that you have gotten to recently reconnect. Even then when you were learning so much and you were just, you know, young, fresh serving, serving the Lord and trying to figure it out and not, you know, struggling with, Oh, this is so cool, you know, the peacock thing, you know, But God’s still used you in the midst of all of that to affect lives. What’s on the horizon for you? Like just as far as you and Elizabeth in your where is your heart out for serving and how has parenting changed you and how has Adia changed your your church view and worldview?
Neil [00:35:51] You know, I was actually sharing this with a friend recently. I said, you know, I think God purposely gave us a daughter because He knew I couldn’t handle a son, you know, because I feel like I would have passed a lot of of my own personal insecurities on this particular son. I use the name Carter a lot of times as a placeholder for if we ever had a son, he was going to be Carter James or Eric Carter. One of my favorite Carolina players is Vince Carter. So that’s where the Carter comes from. But, you know, for me, I’m very enamored with the fact that God gave us Adia. Because, one, we waited so long. But two, again, I think as a parent, I want what’s best for her. I think as a son, I would have maybe smothered or maybe been critical. With her, I can’t really be that way because she’s a girl. Girls are different than boys, so I know our society says not, but truly they are. So I think, you know, for me as a parent, I think, you know, it’s hard right now because, again, I’m a firm believer I learned this in my last job at Spectrum Internet that you have to earn the right with people. I guess in sales, you know, I never really I knew that, but I never really conceptually put that into practice, into play. So, you know, they were big on the fact you have to earn the right. So I really use that a lot in my life. Like I have to earn the right to talk to that person. I have to earn the right to speak into their life. I have to earn the right to have an audience with them. You know? I can’t just walk in the door open and say, “Okay, here I am, let’s go.” You know? So I think with her, especially with Adia, you know, right now, my wife has earned that right because they’re girls and they can relate and they can swap clothes and they can do stuff. And, you know, here I am just kind of on the sidelines, like when you’re ready, let me know, you know? So, you know, I think that’s been hard, you know, for me because I want to be involved, but there’s only so much I can do, you know? So I try to just be pick my spot and try to be there where I can and try to, you know, just say, hey, you know, here’s what’s going on.
Meg [00:37:58] Yeah, it’s it’s amazing. It’s such a work in progress, being a parent. Neil, is there a verse that you would say maybe sums up your story that’s important to you?
Neil [00:38:07] I did. Acts 20:24 That is that was a verse given to me in high school, and it’s always kind of just stuck around in my life for whatever reason. And it says, you know, for I consider my life worth nothing to me. If I may finish the race and complete the task, the Lord Jesus is giving me the task of testifying to the gospel. I just, I don’t know. That’s always seem to kind of resonate with me on some level because I used to be a runner. So I think for me, I kind of want to gravitate towards that again, you know? But recently if I was going to, I’m kind of changing gears a minute, but recently one came to my life, I guess you could say, and it was First Peter, I had to look it up to make sure I was getting it right. 1 Peter 2:21 and it says “For God called me to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for me. He is my example and I must follow in His footsteps.” I think that’s just more poetic of the show of really truly being in Jesus’s sandals on a daily and really wanting to be in His sandals and His footsteps.
Meg [00:39:15] Before we seal up the envelope on this letter of encouragement, we have prepared a little treat for you that we like to call the P.S. So you can see more of the heart and personality of our guest.
V/O [00:39:28] Here is your P.S.
Meg [00:39:33] Are you ready for some bonus questions?
Neil [00:39:35] Let’s do it. Make it happen.
Meg [00:39:37] Let’s do it. Where does a specific genre that you music you listen to your friends might be surprised about?
Neil [00:39:44] Everybody always makes fun of me. And it’s not necessarily See your people make fun of me. I listen to spa music 90% of the time.
Meg [00:39:51] Spa music?
Neil [00:39:52] Yes. So like, imagine going to a spa, You’re getting your massage. It’s the music that they generally try and play in the background where you’re where you’re getting work done. So like, there’s some ocean, there’s some kind of, you know, tranquil music. Yeah, it’s bad. But if it’s a specific song there, there’s a song that I just am. Again, I love the word enamored that I am enamored with, and it’s by Andrew Ripp, R-I-P-P, if I’m saying his name right. It’s a it’s a song called Roses, and the lyrics are just they were actually so powerful. I heard him on XM radio. He was playing with like Jennifer Knapp or somebody, and he sings a song, Jericho. He’s kind of famous for that. But anyway, he has this little known song called Roses, and it’s just powerful. It’s one of the lyrics goes well, some of the lyrics, “He must have known about the heartbreak long before us. He must have known about the mistakes. Still, He shows us. He planted the tree where He would die. He put the thorns down the vine, and then He wore them. And love is the blood red stained and beauty is the pain that exposes. Maybe that’s why God made roses.” And I don’t know. I just. I really love that song. I play it pretty much every Sunday on repeat when I’m going to teach.
Meg [00:41:10] Can you text that to me later?
Neil [00:41:12] Yeah, absolutely.
Meg [00:41:13] You know what’s so funny about that, Neil? Mike on Sunday night tries to call our adult kids. Because he called our daughter Hannah. His real name is Rose. Hannah Rose. And he was like, Hannah, just listening to my spa music here. It was like when we had acupuncture and I don’t know, it was so funny. I was like, Oh my goodness. You just described what Mike just said last night, our daughter Hannah. So I’ll tell him. You got to give a one minute plug for your favorite sports team. It’s a huge part of your life, like your headphones now, the color, your car color, like you wrap your team really well. So I want to give you one minute shout out.
Neil [00:41:48] Though. Oh, man, my beloved Tar Heels. I have been a Tar Heels fan since I was in sixth grade when they beat Michigan in the Final Four. So, yeah, so I’ve just been a huge Tar Heels fan majority of my life. A guy at work recently bet me, but she never cashed in on so I’m a little mad about. But anyway, he bet me $100 that I couldn’t wear light blue for a whole day. I remember even writing something on a paper at work and he said, No, can’t even use a light blue pen. So I couldn’t use a light blue pen. I couldn’t wear any of my bracelets. It’s a very sad day for me. I felt out of sorts because undoubtably every day I’m wearing something light blue. So being a big University of North Carolina fan, that’s a key thing for me. So anyway, yeah, go Heels.
Meg [00:42:33] Everyone who knows Neil knows it. I guess. On a more serious note, what do you see as the greatest need in the church today?
Neil [00:42:40] Well, I think discipleship, hands down, I think is the greatest need and still should be the greatest focus in in our churches today, because I think, you know, our church is really big on disciples who make disciples, who make disciples. I think if you’re not making disciples, what are you doing church wise? Because I think, again, so many people need to be drawn into church. I think if we’re not teaching them how to be, I don’t even like the word Christians because it’s really been hijacked by a lot of other faiths. I airquote that. I think Christianity really needs discipleship and needs to learn how to become a disciple and really needs to learn how to understand why we read daily, why we pray daily, why we fast, why we baptize, why we do all these things that probably seem weird to the world. But yeah, I think discipleship would be would be the number one thing.
Meg [00:43:31] As far as pastors, how can we do a better job supporting our pastors and I guess also helping create an environment that’s more friendly toward people being open?
Neil [00:43:44] Yeah, I think as far as that goes, I think the key for me, like I was saying, had I had, you know, people in my life that I think were really a part of who I was and really a part of my life and who I allowed in again, who I was maybe being disciple by. I think things could have been different for me, at least in my story. So I think for me, what pastors should what we should be doing for pastors is creating a support system for them where they can create and they can feel safe and they can feel okay even if they’re not making it or they’re struggling. I think so many times pastors feel like, again, they’re on an island of isolation because there’s nobody that they can trust. There’s nobody that they can really let down their guard, too. Because there’s maybe a fear there because they feel like they have to know it all and have to do it all. So I think if there was a way that pastors could really, truly feel comfortable and confident, then then maybe we wouldn’t see as many fall. I don’t know.
Meg [00:44:46] True. Yeah. And I think one thing our pastors do, and I know my sons do it as well as they’re they’re like, you know, just as far as, you know, the pornography issue, they are on Covenant Eyes and they have like little groups or like I think a couple of my sons, one of them has the password for the other one or something like that on different like there’s so many good programs out there that are available that help us out with accountability with that particular issue. You know, having it be a little bit tough for you and feeling like your dad maybe wasn’t there for you emotionally growing up, You know, what what would you say to listeners out there who are raising kids in the military?
Neil [00:45:23] Well, I think the big thing I would say is love your kids. You know, it took me probably within the last ten years to really understand that he really did love me and really did see me and really did value me. It took a long time for him to come around. Now, again, everyone’s going to be different. There isn’t a cookie cutter way to do it. But the thing I did actually learned recently, I actually had a guest on that actually helped me with this on the show. She said, you know, we typically when we run into somebody who’s been in the military, we say thank you, and rightfully so. You know, they’ve put their life on the line and things like that. But she said, “Why don’t we go a step further and say, so what made you join? Why did you get involved? You know, what led you down that road?” Actually engage in a conversation and tell me what your favorite parts were. Tell me what you hated about it. I think for me, you know, I got to ask my dad those questions recently because of this interaction I had with this with this amazing guest. So for me, I would say just engaging in that conversation with that person who’s in the military, but also remember, they’re carrying a lot, too. There’s a lot in that sea bag. There’s a lot in that rucksack. There’s a lot of weight that they’re carrying with them and I think so many times, if we could just slow down enough and really say, what was that like, rather than just not caring or not empathizing, I think would would maybe go a long way.
Meg [00:46:49] 100%. Your interview with your dad is one of my favorite all time episodes that I’ve ever listened to for podcasts, and I highly recommend it. Neil’s podcast has Other People’s Shoes podcast. Yeah, just I highly recommend wherever you’re listening to Letters from Home, just plug in Other People’s Shoes podcast and it’ll pop up and you see this really great pair of beat up shoes. Neil I love the theme of your podcast, and one fun thing that Neil does and you do, Neil, and every, every episode is you ask people about their favorite pair of shoes, which was so fun. So I’m going to ask you, what is your favorite pair of shoes and Elizabeth and Adia?
Neil [00:47:34] I don’t know about Elizabeth and Adia, but I know Elizabeth will probably default to whatever’s comfortable. She’s just she’s not as much of a shoe as I am. Adia, probably she likes vans. I think? She’s been getting in the Hey Dudes lately. So that is now around our house. So I have personally not gotten a pair yet so probably won’t. But know my favorite pair is probably a tie. Pun intended. I recently purchased for my season 11. I wanted them for the full season. I purchased a pair of black Jordan elevens. So if you’re a shoe nut, you kind of know what I’m talking about. But they’re all black and they’re super slick and they’re super shiny. And I actually warmed to church one time and somebody was staring at my shoes the whole time and not talking to me. I had to remind the gentleman that my eyes were up here, not down there. So I felt very objectified in some respects, but tied only second to a pair of Jordans that I have called Jordan 32s. So they are a North Carolina addition. And so on the back of the heel, they have the little pin that represents each championship and North Carolina had one to that point. So kind of exciting they’re Carolina addition so I don’t wear them very often and they were highly expensive so yeah I don’t wear them very often. Probably those two are probably my my favorites if I was going to narrow them down.
Meg [00:49:01] So if you get a chance to go check out Neil’s podcast on opspodcast.com, you can see his list of episodes and he’s got just like a lot of great stuff there. I think you’ll see a variety such a need in our society today as we don’t have compassion or we just your yourselves is different but just to be able to step into other people’s shoes and see their story can just transform your perspective. I know that’s happened to me on several of Neil’s episodes that I’ve listened to. What have you personally most benefited from, from really getting into the stories? Like, have you seen the Lord transform you?
Neil [00:49:42] Well, I think every episode transforms me. I think every episode I walk away with something. I walk away with a little nugget or a little piece. Our friend Sean McCoy in Texas says, Sometimes I wasn’t for anyone else but you. You get to put that in your treasure chest. And so one day you’ll, you know, look back on the little treasures that you have because you’ve created this little ecosystem almost, you know, of just people with amazing stories. They’re there forever. You know, as long as there’s the Internet, the show will be there in some way. And so for me, it’s kind of cool because maybe if I’m having a bad day or or maybe I’m having, you know, a moment where I want to hear that person’s voice again, you know, maybe it’s my dad. You know, I’m very fortunate. Both of my parents are still living. God saw it fit that both my parents agreed to come on the show separately on two different topics. But, you know, I will always have my mom’s voice. I will always have my dad’s voice, you know, in a recording, which is kind of cool to think back on.
Meg [00:50:45] Yeah and Adia too when she grows up and she’ll appreciate all the things that the kids don’t always appreciate when they’re young. They notice, but if you had limitless time and talents, what other ministry would you like to participate in or start?
Neil [00:50:59] I think I really would probably start, you know, my own radio station, and I think that would be fun. I would love to one day be able to to have the ability to play a Christian music radio station where, you know, it’s exclusive to Christian music. Maybe, you know, when we’re not playing Christian music, we’re having Christian shows, you know, kind of like a podcast or, you know, I think that would be fun. I would love to to maybe one day do that. I know there’s a number of people that out there that do like Internet radio, you know, I don’t know enough about that to really to be a part of that. But for me, I don’t know. I just think it’d be fun to have my own kind of radio show.
Meg [00:51:38] Goodness, that sounds like it’s possible. Here is the last question. What is the legacy, Neil, that you want to leave behind?
Neil [00:51:47] See, probably about ten years ago, I would have told you, you know, I want to be the most whatever, whatever, whatever. Now really, you know, I hope the only thing that people remember about me is that I loved well, you know, I loved God well. I loved my wife well. You know, I love my daughter well. You know, I was I was a pretty nice person. That’s really all I care about. I mean, I know through the sands of time, some of that might get lost. There was a time where I really wanted to be, you know, more important than what I am. But I think, you know, as I get older, I start to realize that the only thing that I really should care about is, again, that I love God well. I loved others well. I loved my wife well. I love my daughter well, and that’s it. At the end of the day, that’s really all that should matter.
Meg [00:52:38] I trust you are encouraged by today’s story as much as I am. How those secret things that we struggle with in private and we just fear, Oh no, actually turn to such a healing moment for Neil and how God use it to strengthen his marriage and have a look at some different things in his life. I really like how his mentors came alongside him and how Neil was just willing to be vulnerable and ask for help. Seems so simple, but that is so hard. And today I’m praying for us all that we have the courage and love to step in if a friend struggling with something secret, or if we are to be willing to ask for help and to be vulnerable and trust that God is a God of reconciliation publicly and privately, and He will lead us, and also that we can show grace to others. As a podcast listener, do you sometimes struggle with Where should I listen? Which app on my phone was I add, or where was I? Struggle no more. Letters from Home Podcast has our own app in the Google Play and Apple App Store. Guess what? It’s free. Just search Letters from Home podcast in the search bar in your phone’s app store and click download. How about that? Then all of our everyday extraordinary faith stories will be right there in one easy place on your phone so you don’t have to go searching anymore. You can just tap the rainbow icon and encouragement is on the way.
V/O [00:54:11] Links from our guests will be in the show notes. For more every day, extraordinary faith stories go to our website LettersfromHomepodcast.com and click subscribe or follow whatever platform you’re listening to.
V/O [00:54:25] 2 Corinthians 3:3, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. Not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”
V/O [00:54:37] Until next time. Go in peace.