“I don’t know, Craig…I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what’s changing. But I know that something is. And it’s big, and I see it…”
My friend and — aside from my wife — longest-standing partner in work and ministry, Michelle Russell, sent me a message not long ago. Apparently, the changes she’s seen in me throughout the past few years and — perhaps especially — more significantly realized in the recent few months’ worth of releasing these episodes, have been significant enough to raise her eyebrows.
Maybe she’s not the only one who sees it.
Maybe she’s not the only one asking, “What’s next?”
Let me back up.
I want to talk about sports.
I love football. Maybe you’ve heard of it? God knows my editor hasn’t, so I guess he’ll have a field day (pun intended) with this one.
I’ve been to more games than I can count, and I’ve written about many of the best of them here, salted throughout this season of Craig Brain. Super Bowls with my dad. Packer games with my son, Nolan. What I can’t attend in person, I make up for in the fantasy league. (Nolan’s beat me a couple of times, which is annoying, but hey… “raise your child up in the way he should go…”)
The average age of a professional NFL player is 26.6 years old. I don’t want to sound like the walking dead, here, but as a forty-two-year-old man, twenty-six-year-old-me may as well have been Gumby or some claymation character from MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch who could twist and contort himself in ways that allowed for the kind of pummeling that the present (my friends might say rickety) me can no longer imagine…
Which is how I got to thinking about Tom Brady.
By some absurd miracle, the forty-one year old New England Patriots quarterback has taken his team to the Super Bowl eleven times (more than any other team), boasts six wins (more than any other quarterback), and plans to continue jerseying up through his mid-to-late forties, hoping to bump George Blanda out of his number one spot as the oldest NFL player in history.
Two years ago, a commentator from CBS asked Brady how much longer he hoped to play the game.
“Five to seven years.”
I hope he makes it (and that’s coming from a cheesehead), but I also know that — regardless of when — the end will come, as all things do.
You can’t play football forever.
A couple of weeks ago, Ron Jeremy and I flew to the University of Kentucky to argue about porn with one another. We’ve been hosting The Great Porn Debate together since 2008. This time, my friend and co-worker, Carl Thomas, joined us there in Lexington, and asked me a question:
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
After all of this time — after all of these years spent assuming that I’d be playing quarterback for XXXchurch until… forever — I couldn’t answer him, but I do know that if this ministry is a field, it’s time for me to step off and over to the sideline.
I’ve played this position since 2002, now. I know who to pass the ball to, and how to throw it well. I know how to call the audible. I know how to orchestrate the team. I’m not comparing myself to one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but I do know that — like Brady with the Patriots — there’s something special about playing on the same team for an entire career. A trust that forms. We’re about the same age, and I do know that — whatever life you’re living — there’s a wisdom that comes with each decade invested on our respective field.
There’s also a reason that most pro players’ average age lies in their mid-twenties. One’s body only allows for so much thrashing. One can only take so many concussions. One cannot demand thin air for extra stamina that no longer lies inherent within his bones.
I’ve been running up and down this field at a sprinter’s pace for twenty years, and I’m coming up on empty.
It’s time for me to step off the field.
Perhaps the trail of breadcrumbs left throughout each of the lessons I’ve learned in these journals I’ve been writing is more glaringly front-facing than I realized up until now:
I cannot do it all.
I don’t know what lies in Tom Brady’s future, but I do know that I am moving from quarterback to coach. Humility is one of wisdom’s hardest-taught lessons, but I know that there are stronger players out there, hungrier for the ball.
When Carl asked me about my five-year plan, I knew, like a gavel struck the block: I don’t want to play this role anymore.
So there it is.
Michelle called it: something’s changing. And for me, it’s huge.
I don’t want to disappear, but I can’t play this position anymore. I always thought I’d play quarterback forever. Maybe my jersey will still say that, sometimes, but as of now, I’m transitioning out of the player role on this team.
Over the course of the past few years, I have been learning new skills and working in new ways. Frankly, it’s a long story, but if I were to summarize it…
In my opinion, one of the best projects we at XXXchurch ever released was called My Pilgrimage. What is visible and front facing — the book and video series and every related resource — is amazing, but the work behind it all began years before it ever materialized into a full-on ministry program.
Seth and David Taylor were the main authors on that project, and before I ever agreed to publish any of it, I wanted to dive into their perspective, myself. I wanted to see where they were coming from, as — though not entirely out of the left field — their proposals about how to approach pornography addiction were more nuanced than some of the work we’d released in all of our years prior.
During that learning and vetting process, one of the experiences we had together took place in Alaska (which is why we eventually started including our “Alaska Pilgrimages” for the men in our final program). It was 2013 and — though I’ll spare you the intricacies here — I felt as though that trip led to some major breakthroughs in my health, life, and future.
I heard two things, clear as day:
- Go, as planned, to the opening day of the new 49ers stadium. Even though your dad died. Even though it will be hard to go without him…go. Don’t avoid the pain — run toward it, however difficult it may be. When the schedule came out, their season opener was against the Chicago Bears. I smiled and called one of my best friends — David Dean — who is a die hard Bears fan, and he came with me. It was a special night, and I’ll never forget it.
- Step away from XXXchurch.com.
The first “Go & Do” was difficult for me, but I did it.
The second made zero sense whatsoever and, given my personality (and at this point, I think I can say ego), I assumed that meant “leave immediately.” I knew stepping away then and there wasn’t possible.
As I write this today, six years have passed. It’s July 2019, and I have never forgotten about that process or the words I heard through it. Still, though, Levi was the only person I ever told about that sense of direction shifting.
I kept quiet.
I did start working on another project, though. One that existed separate from the ministry. I worked with an online influencer who I happened to be friends with, and I really enjoyed it. It was the first time in my adult life that I worked behind the scenes, as opposed to being the front-facing, talking head of everything. The expertise I had to offer really did end up making a difference. We were able to scale his business, and we were able to start offering that scalability to others, too.
I have never struggled with confidence. I suppose I don’t think that I need more of it, but since this thing is called “Craig Brain,” maybe you’ll understand that I simply needed a purpose to run toward, as opposed to simply running from something else. So, I thought, maybe it’s this current venture?
As it turns out, it wasn’t, but it did help me clarify a few realities that were only ever cloudy in my mind. It helped me realize that a whole different path — an entirely new trajectory — could be possible, even at my age. So, while Michelle says something is changing, let me clarify that this change has happened at a snail’s pace.
I don’t like quitters, and there is a part of me that has never allowed myself to even think about walking away because doing so makes me feel like one. Mike Foster, my friend who started XXXchurch with me, left after two years in the game. He told me that he believed I could take it further, and entrusted me with that responsibility. If I’m honest, I harbored ill feelings toward Mike for a long time. A really long time. Because he quit. I get now why he couldn’t do this for longer than he gave it. Me walking away now — or jumping into a new role — is not me quitting.
I’m not losing.
I’m not running from but rather toward new ideas that I’m excited about. Toward whatever’s next.
Six years removed from that day in Alaska, I’ve got a bit more clarity on what next means, and I believe that this step — this chapter, this announcement — will only further act as a means toward that end.
I am finally following not just my brain, but my heart and my heart is telling me that it is time.
Moving forward, if and when I lead a huddle, it won’t be for XXXchurch.
All of that said, none of this means I don’t care any longer. And it doesn’t mean you won’t still see me on the sidelines, coaching my team. With any luck, maybe I’ll even be something like a Belichick (even though, gosh — as a Packer fan — I hate that guy)…
But it does mean that — particularly for those of you who have followed this ministry closely throughout the years — you’re going to begin to see some changes take place as I transition from QB to Coach.
So much of this season — whether of Craig Brain, or life in general — can be summarized by “lessons in self-awareness.” Or maybe: self-realization. I’ve changed. The process (maybe something like puberty) has been some tornado of awkward and painful and new and exhilarating.
I’m still growing. I’m still finding my sweet spots. I’m still developing new passions.
I’m coming to the realization that — as a ripe old blue-haired dadager — I can’t time-in for quite as long, or play quite as hard, and have begun to save up some of my remaining field-time for whatever’s coming next.
I’m switching sports here, but Steve Kerr was Michael Jordan’s right-hand man with the Chicago Bulls for years. He wasn’t ever the superstar, but Jordan trusted him, and at this point — as coach for the Golden State Warriors — he’s gone on to break his own player records for most wins in a NBA season.
I hope I can be that kind of coach. I hope that the future of XXXchurch is brighter than it’s ever been. I hope that I can be some kind of Belichick or Kerr to a Brady or Jordan, and that ours will be a legacy defined by having introduced freedom to generations of men and women and families whose lives have been completely transformed by the gospel’s power to break every chain and redeem every year that pornography and sexual addiction — like a locust — has stolen.
As coach to the team that I founded and love, then, I want to make sure that our next QB has the arm for the job, the passion for the work, and the love for the people that XXXchurch will continue to seek and serve.
As we move further in the direction of finalizing this transition, I’m sure that the ins and outs will be more fully realized on a public scale. I’m not writing this, today, for the sake of getting into the weeds about each and every detail, but at the very least, I wanted to move out of my brain and into my heart.
To announce the shifts.
To let you know that — as my 18 years in this position come to a close — I want to “end” well, and we want to set this ministry up for another 18+ successful years.
How to end this one? How to conclude a chapter on a season that’s just beginning? I suppose this will be a story that continues on, and will likely weave its way in and out of whatever stands to follow. Until then…
Thank you for allowing me, my wife and our family the privilege of functioning in this role for so many years. This life has harbored everything from utter joy to seasons of deep despair and back again, but every high and low — every valley and mountain top — has, from this vantage point, made for gorgeous terrain, beautiful to have traveled through. I am honored to have participated in what I can only call recreation for so long, and I am excited about what the next chapter holds for this team, for the next QB and for myself.
P.S. On Friday, I plan to announce the next QB of XXXchurch.com. We’ll do so on that website and through those channels, as Craig Brain won’t be the place for what is sure to be an ongoing conversation about this role, specifically. If you are interested in how this transition unfolds, please follow along there, I look forward to introducing you all when the time comes.