PODCAST | Good Catastrophe: The Tide-Turning Power of Hope (feat. Benjamin Windle)
In today’s podcast, Christa Neidig talks with Benjamin Windle. Benjamin is an Author, Pastor, and Millennial/Gen Z Specialist. He has been a local church Pastor for over 20 years, including as a Founding and Senior Pastor.
In this conversation, Benjamin talks about his new book “Good Catastrophe” and shares that flourishing does not come from a life devoid of loneliness, trauma, and anxiety. It’s one lived with hope engineered for adversity. We hope you enjoy this conversation!
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Welcome to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. I'm your host, Christa Reinhardt. In today's podcast, I get talk with Benjamin Windle. Benjamin is author, pastor, and millennial and Gen Z specialist. He's been a local church pastor for 20 years in roles as founding and senior pastor. In this conversation, Benjamin talks about his new book, Good Catastrophe, and he shares that flourishing does not come from a life devoid of loneliness, trauma, and anxiety. It's one lived with hope engineered for adversity. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Well, hey, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm so glad to have this podcast conversation with Benjamin Windle. Benjamin just wrote a brand new book that's coming out soon called Good Catastrophe. Benjamin, thanks for joining us today.
It's my absolute pleasure. I've been really looking forward to our conversation together.
You're no stranger to Vanderbloemen. We've done podcasts and webinars with you before, so we're always glad to have you back and just share a little bit of wisdom about what is going on in this book and just... I know it's going to be a great resource coming out soon.
Yeah, I've taken 20 years of my journey as a pastor and put it into a book to help new generations and pastors and leaders understand new generations and the world that they are in and provide them with a blueprint through what has become a very complex world. I do that through taking a new look at the life of Job. I think it's something that particularly in our landscape today is a very helpful resource for pastors and Christian leaders.
I think that's great. With the book, Good Catastrophe, what is it... This is a book about hope. I want you to dive into that a little bit more and tell us about the book of course, but also what makes your book different than other books about hope. I think this is a common word we throw around in the Christian bubble, and so I want to know what you think that is.
Well, I started writing about hope because I've journeyed with my congregation for so long. It's interesting you start off with that subject and pretty quickly you get into not just writing about hope, but writing about pain. And I wanted to write about the link between the two. For the most part in the church world, our hope narratives were written in the '90s. I believe they need to be re-crafted for new generations. For example, the CDC's recent survey revealed 57% of teenage girls said they felt, listen to this, persistently sad or hopeless. I mean, nearly three and five.
Not just sometimes sad, that would be normal, but persistently sad or hopeless. So as we go younger, and I'll look at generations and in the congregations that we pastor and the people we lead, the younger you get, the more hopeless that they feel. If you think about today's world, some of this makes sense. Things are changing so much. Ai, crypto, gender identity, cultural upheaval, political division, racial tension, financial stress. I mean, I think we get why younger generations don't necessarily wake up every morning surging with optimism.
The story that we tell about God's hope and resilience needs to look different for a new generation. Let me say it this way, we need a new set of markers to help us chart the course for new generations to find faith in challenging times. Researcher is showing us that one of the primary reasons why Gen Z deconstruct from their Christian faith and walk away from the church is because they cannot answer the question, where is God in my suffering? That's why I'm saying we have to prepare new generations for a new world, and it starts with a new hope narrative.
I think that's so great. I love that you so specifically address this upcoming generation. I think this is something that a lot of pastors are unaware is happening. And it's coming very quickly. I think I looked into Gen Z the other day and it's currently almost 25% of the workforce and it's growing and will be a larger amount by 2025. It'll be a good chunk of the workforce.
People are wondering how they lead, how they manage Gen Z, but I think churches are going to have to think about how they can serve Gen Z, how they can speak to Gen Z, how they can preach to Gen Z, and millennials, of course we know that. What are some of those distinctions, if you don't mind I ask, with Gen Z that people may not know?
Well, I'll speak from my own journey for a moment. A few years ago, I got a phone call from my brother, frankly, it's hard to even talk about in a podcast, where he told me he had cancer and aggressive, the words you don't want to hear, very hard to treat. I know he said other words, which I've forgotten. I was on the ground, it couldn't stand for an hour. My brother was only 18 months older than me. We were raised in the '80s, good era to be raised in, BMX bikes, no phones.
My brother was young, wife, kids, and cancer came like a thief in the night. We prayed and he died. In the same year, this is all... I'm not talking ancient history with you. I'm saying in the last six to 12 months of my life, everything I'm about to say to you has happened. I lost two of my grandparents, I lost my brother, I went through major life ministry transition. I relocated internationally. Honestly, I felt like I fell into a dark hole.
I've written this book, Good Catastrophe, I'm thinking, "God! Did you not read the title of my book?" Good Catastrophe, it just feels like catastrophe. And I'm not sure how to get out. When we talk about Gen Z, I think that there's a lot of people from that generation that are using those words, "I'm not sure how to get out. I'm not sure what the future holds." By means of a little anecdote, I found this very fascinating. Leonardo da Vinci's, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, it's a beautiful masterpiece being preserved for hundreds of years.
It's survived wars, global upheaval, natural disasters. For some reason, in an effort to present a brighter, more colorful image to the general public, the Louvre, magnificent museum in Paris, decided to clean the painting, but something went wrong, the Leonardo's masterpiece was over cleaned. Its minor flaws were unnecessarily touched up and cloudy dark shades now appeared bright and sunny. When I read the story of this painting, I thought, "This is not just about art. It actually speaks to the culture that we are in right now, that we almost feel this need to touch up the flaws, brighten the shadows, and we can be guilty of overcleaning the message of hope."
Then people go through what I went through, right? This is real life. They've been raised in a church like me, pastor's kid, believe all of the things about hope. Then you experience loss and tragedy and anxiety or mental health issues. We're trying to marry up these messages of, where is hope in the midst of my imperfection? So I've done my best to say, "Hang on a second, if we re-look at hope and we re-look at the laugh of Job, we'll actually see this." We don't need to use chemicals on the canvas of hope to brighten it up. If we remove the shadows, we remove the depth.
But there is a non-outcome-based version of hope, a Jesus-based version of hope. Regardless of what outcomes we go through here and now, that is fundamentally needed by new generations. So I want to show pastors and leaders that we can teach young people you don't need to run from your problems. We can invite hope into our shadows, and if we don't, we'll miss out on one of the most transformational forces in our lives.
That's so good. I love that. I heard this Barna stat the other day, and I might have mentioned this on another podcast, but they talked about Gen Z is marked by two different things; and they said it's anxiety and ambition. Hearing you hit on the anxiety and the fear in Gen Z of walking through those things, I think that this is something so needed, if not more than ever, but specifically for this generation.
Yeah. I couldn't agree more when it comes to those two things. I love the guys at Barna. We are losing Gen Z in part because our theology on suffering and pain doesn't marry up with their lived experience. It's not because our Instagram feeds aren't cool enough. It's not because our stages aren't modern enough. So here are some things for pastors and leaders in terms of dimensions to a new hope narrative. Firstly would be this, that we need to debunk outcome-based hope, right?
What I mean by that is this version of hope that's like a postcard. It's the Saint Anne all over again, that if you believe God enough, attend church enough, God's favor, blessing, provision, and miracle working power will somehow either prevent pain from your life or remove it when it happens. Not only is that, from my point of view, my interpretation, a questionable theology biblically, but again, it's not marrying up with the complexity of the world. So we need to present a different kind of hope.
So what is that? Number two, hope narrative. We need to show the link between challenges and growth. Now for me, I'm a millennial. I get this when I speak to my grandparents who were... World War II was the era they were raised in. They will tell you that the adversity that they went through and the trials are what made them who they were. In fact, a little exercise for listeners. This is a great anecdote to use in sermons for pastors.
If you ask people just on the back of a napkin, write a list of the greatest challenges you've faced over your life in one column and then in another column you start to write down your greatest moments of growth, and you'll start to see, you can sketch lines between those two things, the very things that present the deepest challenges in our lives are the things that grow us. If we can show new generations, in other words, we don't need to run from pain. Pain is normal, imperfections are normal, challenges are normal.
But there's a link between challenges and growth. So instead of avoiding it, if we embrace it, we'll find hope right in the midst. Thirdly, in terms of a new hope narrative, we need to teach new generations the bicycle. Now, the bicycle for me is a concept vehicle. If you think of a bicycle with two wheels... Right now I'm living in southern California. I have an e-bike, so I feel like I'm truly a local right now.
down to Houston yet.
Yeah. Actually I've ridden a bicycle around downtown Houston as well, one of those rental ones, would you believe? If you think about a bicycle, both wheels are constantly in motion, but there's never a time where one wheel is turning and the other is not. If you think about one wheel as being the good times and the other wheel being the challenges and the negatives... I used to think that in life I'm going to go through times where either things are going really well in my life or times where I'm just going through everything feels like a challenge.
What I've discovered is there's never a day where life is so bad there are not good things. If I have air in my lungs, if I have my children, my wife, there are always good things. But I've also found even on the best day, there's always challenges. And there's rarely a day where you won't have some point of pain or adversity in your life. So when we begin to see life like this, stop waiting for perfect days. We're traveling on both wheels all the time. Motion and momentum comes when we accept both simultaneously. It teaches younger people a way of being able to navigate in journey through life.
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You mentioned this term, I think Tolkien coined it, eucatastrophe, which you discuss a lot in your book. What does this mean for... Obviously, the book's not out yet, so not readers yet, but future readers. What does this term mean and how can we apply it? How does it apply to us?
Well, a bit of background for you, Christa. It's interesting. I went searching for a word in the English language that showed that good comes out of bad. It's a really hard word to find. I found a word in the writings of the 20th century literary giant Tolkien, eucatastrophe. Now I'm saying you, but it's pronounced... it's spelt E-U-catastrophe. This is a term that Tolkien phrased. It actually described the ethos of his writing.
What he meant by it was this... and you'll see it in his movies, Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, et cetera and read it in his books, that when things looked the darkest, the bleakest, when a story reached the point where you are like, "How is the hero ever going to get out of this predicament? Things are over. There is no redeeming factor." That it's at that very point that there is a turn towards the good. A Good Catastrophe, that's the title of my book.
When I read about Tolkien, I found something so fascinating about his life, that he was actually sent to World War I as a young man and he would've died in the trenches, but he got a debilitating fever and he was sent home from World War I. All of his girlfriends died in the war. So the thing that was a catastrophe, a debilitating fever that almost killed him, is the thing that sent him home from war and saved his life.
So this whole idea of good catastrophes is showing people that there are these dual events in our life. The same things that bring us to our knees, cover our face in tears, take our breath away in despair, are often the very same things that bring about the most of our human flourishing, growth, destiny, and future.
That's so good. I want to talk more about redefining hope. This is something that keeps coming up in the book. I think it sounds like something easy, but what does it mean to redefine hope and how should we define that?
Well, I look at the story of Job to redefine hope. As I mentioned, raised in the church, and here's how I often heard the story of Job be told. He was a man who went through a perfect storm, righteous man, lost everything. Lost his kids, lost his health, lost his money. But Job had hope, and you know how the story goes, he got everything back. But I looked deeper at his story. I'm a father of three boys, you can't come to me and say, "We're going to replace your three sons with six others," and me go, "You know what? That's a great deal. I get double."
The reality is, Job never got back what he lost. He never got his 10 children back. Hope isn't that he got everything back or newer children back. To me, it's almost a callous telling of the story. So if Job did not recover what mattered most in his life, what good did hope do? Right? That's an important question. Well, what if there's something better than just I got a good outcome in a specific situation? What if what Job practiced was a hope? And we talk about redefining hope.
A hope that exists in the middle of our biggest losses, our despair, our deepest pain, and brings about a turning of the human heart before anything turns in our circumstances. Before any outcome changes, there is a hope turning within the soul that looks to God, and like Job, it enabled him to rebuild his family, rebuild his future, rebuild his business in spite of what he never got back.
Now I think that's a more powerful narrative for new generations that are looking for a gritty hope in a complex world where it feels like there are some dark clouds on the horizon of our society to say, "You know what? No matter how bad things get, there is a spark of hope that exists within the Christian faith that literally nothing can extinguish."
That's so great. Back to the book, you mentioned the good life. One of the things we wanted to talk about was how does this concept of the good life set future generations up for failure ultimately?
Well, one of the ways is this. It's like if you've been promised something. I get it with my kids. They feel like they've been promised something and don't get it, they feel ripped off. So when we promise people, follow Jesus, so A is going to lead to B.
Everything in your life is going to be what? Well, it's going to be so blessed of God that the story goes, the script goes, that it's almost like a hallmark, picture-perfect postcard version of our life. Then here's what happens. Life throws mud on the postcard and we don't know what to do with imperfections. No wonder we have younger generations that just when pain hits and mud gets thrown, the rates of anxiety, the rates of fear, the rates of I don't see a brighter day tomorrow are huge.
So again, if we can show, hey, all of these things exist within a Christian faith, favor, goodness, blessing, all of those things are there, but they may look differently in your life, then just challenges will be removed. Or let me put it another way. Something's broken not just in the way we process pain, but in the fundamental way we see it and approach it. This in turn creates a whole list of challenges; lack of sleep, burnout, rumination, depression, loneliness. Consumerism can even be linked back to this.
We want to teach new generations, instead of running from our problems and our pain or collapsing under the weight of them because we feel like, "Oh my goodness! Something is wrong with me and something is wrong with my faith because I've got all of these challenges and storms going on in my life. Maybe if my faith was strong enough and my hope were good enough, all of these would be gone."
If we can teach new generations, invite the hope of Jesus into your shadows, into the deepest parts of whatever you're going through, in the midst of that, hope, according to Job, is like the scent of water. Even if your entire life has been cut down to a stump, God can grow new things. It's a powerful message for new generations.
That is so powerful. You already hit on the last question I wanted to ask, was how can we process our pain and the hurt in a holy way and in a healthy way? I think you hit on it, but could you hit on that tangibly? How can we as believers in the midst of pain and suffering turn to God and invite God in?
I think the processing of pain starts with how we perceive pain. When we understand that life under the sun, like Job, is going to be full of challenges, it changes our starting point. When you look at Job, one of the fundamental things that Job did, like when trauma trespassed into his life, is Job let three friends in. I have a whole chapter dedicated to the idea that hope needs human skin, that hope is more than a virtue of feeling or an emotion.
Hope arrived on the horizon of this broken man's life in the picture of three friends that all left their homes, their cities, their towns, and traveled to meet Job. These three guys, they're given a hard rap historically in Christian discussions because they went on to say some dumb things about God and pain and so forth and suffering. But you want to know one of the most beautiful things in the story of Job is? These three friends sat with Job in the dust for seven days and didn't say a word.
I've been through storms and challenges this last 12 months, and to be vulnerable with you, there have been times where I've just wished for one person to truly turn up in the midst of what I'm walking through and sit with me in my pain. Job had three. We need to invite others in and not allow adversity and storm and imperfections push us towards isolation, push us away from community, push us away from church.
The church and Christian community and family and friendship should be where we're able to bring the real us, the Saint Anne, Da Vinci's masterpiece, and not feel like we've got to polish away the shadows. We can bring the real us.
That's so good. Benjamin, thank you so much for sharing just a little bit of the heart behind your book and everything to it. I want all of our listeners to be able to hear where can they get their hands on a copy of your book. I know it's not out yet, so where can they go ahead and pre-order that?
Thank you. It means a lot to me and I would sure love listeners to take a look. They can go to goodcatastrophe.com, goodcatastrophe.com, and check out the book there. We'd greatly appreciate it.
That's so great. Thank you again, Benjamin. I'll make sure to link all of this information in the show notes on the website so people can easily find links to that. But we're just really glad you spent the time to write this book as a resource and just be able to talk to us about it.
Thank you so much.
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