Healing Leading and Learning

02/09/2018 .
Clayton Heilman  .  Storyteller

Amber breathed in, closed her eyes, and said a silent prayer as she clicked the green phone icon on her screen. Her time at college was drawing to a close, and she still hadn’t confirmed an internship placement. The video conversation with Lisa, Saddleback’s intern program manager, was going smoothly. But then, Lisa asked a question that caught Amber off guard. Hesitating, Amber debated her response.


Amber had recently resigned from a worship-leader position that left her burned out and feeling like a poor leader. This church was full of college students like Amber, and she loved leading them every weekend. But when she needed help or advice, Amber couldn't find the help she needed. Amber felt out of her depth. She quit, determined to learn more leadership skills for the next time she was given the responsibility. Amber desired to become a better leader. The failure she felt as a worship leader was just one more instance in a long line of trouble that Amber had been grappling with.

Amber had grown up in China as a missionary kid, watching as her parents sacrificed everything to build the church in a culture that was hostile to Christianity. Her family often faced harassment and death threats. One time, her father was blackmailed by a group that threatened to report him to the government. Not long after that, Amber’s family fled China to South Korea under the threat of deportation.

A few years later, Amber found herself at a college in the United States, but life wasn’t getting any easier. Financial difficulties exacerbated her transition to college life. She had thought that her school fees would be taken care of, but then she lost her scholarship. She looked around and saw other students who seemed to have an easy life. Her friends had support from parents or could easily get school loans to cover bills. Amber didn’t have any of that support.

“I didn’t understand how I could be suffering when I had sacrificed so much to serve God,” Amber said. “I didn’t know how I could be in a position to wonder where my next meal would come from, or how I’d fill up my gas tank to get to class or church.”

Amber had begun to doubt her abilities and doubt God. Depression tightened its grip on her mind. She had pushed her friends away, hoping to shelter them from her pain. Unsure of who to trust, Amber had never felt more alone.

One evening, she opened up her laptop and googled sermons on depression — Saddleback Church was the top result. Amber had never heard of Pastor Rick Warren or Saddleback, but listening to that sermon ignited a flicker of hope somewhere deep inside. She decided to get counseling and deal with the negative emotions that assaulted her. And she thought that if this place called Saddleback accepted interns, that was where she would go.

“While I spoke with Lisa about coming to Saddleback, she asked me how I felt about taking on leadership responsibilities as an intern,” Amber said. “That question dredged up the pain from my recent experience. I thought about lying, hiding behind some disguise. I didn’t know how she would react to the truth.”

“I honestly told Lisa that I didn’t think I was ready to lead, that I wanted to focus on learning,” Amber continued, sharing everything that she’d recently gone through. She expected that to be the end of the conversation, assuming her chances of becoming a Saddleback intern were completely gone. Lisa’s reaction was the exact opposite of Amber’s expectation.

“Lisa made me feel like Saddleback was a safe place to learn and lead,” Amber said. “When I had felt like a failure, Lisa made me feel normal and put my anxiety at ease. I didn’t know how all the details would work out, but I believed that I needed to be at Saddleback.”

A few months later, Amber found herself in Southern California, serving on a team that encourages and inspires her. “Life hasn’t gotten any easier,” Amber said. “I still have problems and unanswered questions. As a foreign student, I can’t even work part time to support myself here, so I have to really trust God every single day. But I look around and see the team that I’m part of, the role that I get to play serving this church, and feel firsthand the impact of that ministry — and it makes me feel like I’m in one of the sweetest seasons that I’ve ever been in.”

“I had thought that I needed to learn all the skills before I could lead in a church,” she continued. “I had thought I needed a perfectly formed plan — but I’m learning that’s not the way God works. I’m still committed to learning, but I don’t need to know it all, or eliminate all my struggles, before I do what God has called me to.”

Learn more about Saddleback internships at saddleback.com/internship.