Roy Exum: The Last You’d Suspect

Monday, December 11, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Back when Bill Lenz launched Christ the Rock Community Church, the idea was to spread the gospel in Menasha, Wisc. but Bill and his brother Bob soon found they were dealing with people in trauma situations – drug and alcohol addiction, poverty, the homeless, and suicide prevention. As the church grew, they started an offshoot ministry called “Solid Rock” that deals with suicide prevention and it is so successful Bob speaks to nearly a half-million people across the country every year.

So why did Bill Lenz, a beloved senior pastor whose congregation every Sunday is over 2,000 worshippers, take his own life last Monday?

For the past 35 years his church has reached out to help others – Haiti, the floods in Houston and Florida – but when he was in his darkest hour, he was unable to ask for help for himself. Curt Drexler, the Executive Pastor, told the Christian Post that Bill had never experienced crippling depression until recently. But didn’t show a sign he was dying inside.

"Over the last three months, he had what he would have just called anxiety. He would have bouts where he would be close to panic attacks or he would have panic attacks. And it was just so mysterious for him because he had never dealt with anything related to that at all," Drexler said. "It was troubling to him. ‘Like where did this come from?'"

Because Lenz was such a strong advocate for suicide prevention, this is the last thing and of his staff or close friends would have suspected. "Bill has always been an optimistic, faith-filled man and that's how we're gonna remember him. Christ the Rock was birthed out of a street ministry called Solid Rock and in those days our mission, we felt, and our calling was to simply share the Gospel with all who wanted to hear.

“But our audience often were individuals who were in trauma. They may have had any number of life-controlling issues — alcohol, drugs, certainly poverty, homelessness — but also suicide was one of those areas where we were deeply involved in," Drexler said.

"In those early days one of the first things we had was a suicide hotline for individuals who were feeling hopeless so that we could offer hope 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So that was in our legacy, it was in our roots and has always been true for us as a church, counseling here," Drexler said.

"We have over 60 lay counselors here who are busy continuously. There's a waiting list for people to get in, so this is at our heart being able to reach people where they're at. Just as Christ accepts us, we want to accept them, and so this has been Bill's heart. He led the way for this and in his private conversations with individuals who had reached out to him and individuals he had reached out to, this is what he was known for. That is why it is maddening to know that he in his darkest hour lost track of that hope," he added.

According to experts, the Christmas Holidays are brutal for those with mental sickness. The great psychiatrist Robert Spalding explained it easily. “Everyone is excited, happy, especially your children but a person wrestling with depression can’t feel the fun and laughter. It has been said everyone at the circus is happy except the clown. Who will make him laugh?”

Worse, who would have known what Lenz was going through without being told? "Obviously we're all still in shock and in disbelief. We could put 100,000 names in front of us of people we think might have done something like this. Bill would have been at the bottom of that list," Drexler said. "That's why we know it wasn't Bill that made this choice but the condition that he was experiencing.

"But he never led us into the darkest hours that he had. He would tell us he had these moments of anxiety. He would tell us that he had trouble sleeping, but we regularly asked if he had any self-destructive thoughts and he would always push that away as far as possible that, 'no, of course not, I would never consider it,'" Drexler told the Christian Post reporter.

"He wasn't moping around ... he was depressed but we were not concerned because we were going out to lunch with him. We were doing things. I just spent a week hunting with him in South Dakota. And so he was doing normal activities. He wasn't doing the stereotypical signatures that we would be looking for in someone who is suicidal," the executive pastor continued.

On the Christ the Rock Facebook page, church member Steve Worthey wrote, “Bill led me to Christ in 2012. After my own suicide attempt and battle with addiction, Bill preached to me about the hope and forgiveness offered in Jesus. Without Bill, I might not be here either. You will be greatly missed. Although I never expressed how much I owed to you, I'm looking forward to telling you all about it one day when I join you in the presence of our beautiful Savior.”

So the lesson is self-care. We all need to be aware of it and anything awry.

"The point about self-care is a wake-up call for anyone in ministry ... the house that needs the greatest painting is usually the painter’s, the plumber's house usually has plumbing problems because we are all concerned about doing this for others and not ourselves," he cautioned as Christmas approaches.

"Mental illness is a very dark thing. And a very hard thing for people to understand. We deal with it on the peripheral, we're not licensed individuals when it comes to these things just our practical experience. ... Bill felt great shame going through this, feeling somehow he was at fault which was really more a symptom of his situation than a cause.”

* * *

NOTE: I, Roy Exum, have dealt with depression for a long time. I am not to blame and neither should anyone else be ashamed because it is a health condition. If I can become depressed, anyone can become depressed but, wait … if I can get help, anyone can get help. Do not let lack of money, transportation, homelessness, hunger or anything stop you from starting your recovery right now.

There are some wonderful medications easily available but help isn’t going to show up on its own. All it takes is one phone call. If you will seek help you will never regret it. You must seek it, just as you would antibiotics for a sore throat. No matter your age or circumstance, there is somebody – a real living person – who will talk to you immediately at 1-800-273 TALK (8255).

royexum@aol.com


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