Xulon Press Successful Author Spotlight: Pastor Brad Hoefs

Filed in Successful Author Spotlight by on July 21, 2014 2 Comments

Fresh Hope, Xulon Press author Brad HoefsOur Successful Author Spotlight today showcases Pastor Brad Hoefs, author of the book “Fresh Hope – Living Well in Spite Of A Mental Health Diagnosis”, www.freshhope.us. His life is a glowing example of living well with this disease, as he has pastored for over twenty years while not just coping, but living with mental health disease. Pastor Brad was recently invited by Pastor Rick and Kay Warren of the Saddleback Church in California, (Purpose Driven Life), to participate in a panel discussion on Mental Health and the Church, which was held this past March. Pastor Brad is a living example of how God can touch someone’s mind and provide them with the strength to overcome this disease and live a victorious life of ministry and find happiness while living with the struggles that come with this disease.

Pastor Brad was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder in 1995, after experiencing a very public and painful manic episode. This episode led to him being asked to resign as the senior pastor of a large growing church. After his resignation, a group of people formed Community of Grace Church, in Elkhorn, NE, and provided the Hoefs with a safe place to heal and find hope. It was out of this experience that Brad started “Fresh Hope” in 2009, a Christ-centered support group for those who suffer from mood disorders, as well as for their loved ones. A Fresh Hope group is a peer-to-peer led, safe, encouraging and healing environment where real hope and real healing take place and the sure hope of Christ is foundational. Fresh Hope has grown to numerous locations throughout the US, with new groups starting all of the time. The philosophy of Fresh Hope is one of inspiration as Pastor Brad exemplifies that “It is possible to live well in spite of having a mental health challenge because of the hope there is in Christ.  That no matter how one feels, it is possible to still have hope because of Christ.” His life is a living example of how he has put this mission statement into being.

Pastor Brad is surrounded by the love of his life, Donna, his college sweetheart, who works alongside him as the worship leader of the church. They have two married adult children, Noah and Noelle, and two grandchildren, Ava and Jayden, who bring them great joy!

As we began our conversation a few weeks after that momentous and historic conference at Saddleback Church, I had to ask Pastor Brad “First of all… how was the conference with Pastor Rick Warren? He shared “It was a phenomenal, surreal experience. It was fabulous. I was so blessed and privileged to be part of it. I’m now back at home, swamped with requests coming in. You can view the video tape of my presentation at www.mentalhealthandthechurch.com in #4 plenary session and the 3rd speaker of 5 speakers in the video. The purpose was to tell my story of fresh hope. I failed to talk about the book. We had ten minutes, with a countdown clock, but I kept going after the ten minutes. I read three paragraphs and just went off script and spoke my heart.”

In his exuberance, Pastor Brad shared “A lot of pastors make the mistake by perceiving that the brain and the mind are the same thing. They are not. If the brain is not working properly, you are not going to be in your right mind. The brain is physiological, not spiritual. The brainwaves and the chemicals in our brains are thoughts. Dr. Caroline Leaf, from South Africa, is a leading speaker on this subject. She said science is finally catching up with scripture. She discovered that our brains were made to fully trust and not be based on fear. But now we live in a flight or fight mode, so we don’t love or trust naturally, causing to have black clouds in our brain. We all take an anti-convulsant drug, whether seizures or epilepsy or bi-polar—all the same. There is demonic activity, but that’s not the issue, and it is no more a problem in the brain than anywhere else. 99.99% of the time, it is a chemical imbalance. Take back your thinking, like Paul said, think on these things.

As we delved into our conversation, I asked Pastor Brad “What one past experience changed the course of your life?” He explained “I was pasturing the 13th fastest growing church in the USA in 1995…after a manic moment in my life, I was forced to resign. I went from a church with 50+ staff members to a church with less than 50 people. And these 50 people started a church and they gave me an 18% pay raise and I didn’t work for 2 years. And I have been pasturing the same church. The church did not want me to work until the doctor released me. My “Fresh Hope” ministry was born when I relapsed after seven years. I went to support groups that were so depressing that I quit going. My doctor said that he would help me write the beginning of my book Fresh Hope, and I began Fresh Hope, the ministry. I created the place that I needed for me…and it has been the place that others needed also.”

As we probed into his testimony, I asked “What was it that caused the relapse?” Pastor Brad shared “There were seven years of recovery– but not healthy recovery. I was doing more “coping with life” than learning to live with this disease. I said don’t blink or you’ll miss it, and he said you are the one who is blinking. You don’t see what god is doing. I couldn’t get over the hurt of the church’s rejection. I had no one else to blame but myself. I didn’t understand that my medicine could not cap my mood—I thought the meds would stop me from having manic moments. But one night, I double dosed, accidentally, on my mood stabilizer. There were two things affected my mood: First- My two nephews were on a bus that crashed—one was life-lifted and was injured the most. And secondly, my new church was going through a move, like the first church, so I was reliving those moments. I was so manic that I was off the charts crazy for a period of two weeks. I didn’t listen to my wife—it’s like a meth high—and you know how to hide it. She knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know how wrong it was. When I am like this, I am like an 18 wheeler truck and you cannot stop me. What helped after the recovery? We put in place an accountability group. I have three pastors that I am accountable to. They have met with me, every other week, for the past twelve years. They have access to my doctor and my wife. They can talk to each other behind my back. Because, if I am not behaving and not being reasonable, they will call me on it.”

Pastor Brad continued “I’m not always wrong just because I have this disease. I may argue with my wife at times, but it is not always due to my bi-polar, sometimes it’s just my mood. I was in the hospital—one of my pastor friends Jim came to see me. And he says, “now I know you really are crazy. You are a man who is smart and intelligent. If you really had a “sin” issue, you would not have gone and done the same things all over again. I now know that you are crazy…not sinning.”

Discussing his book Fresh Hope, I asked “What method do you use to start your writing process?” He provided “Outline and chapter topics. The book was based on the tenets of our church. I put a topic on the piece of paper and just started sorting out stories and writing based on the topic. I found that I do better by “talking” the book. So I recorded the chapters. And then, they are typed up and then I give it to someone to edit. The first three chapters took two years because I didn’t know what I was doing. Once I figured that out, the other chapters came easily. I am now starting our 2nd book with my wife Donna on how to deal with living with someone with bi-polar. The sole purpose is to figure out what chapters and what stories need to be said…and then we will put the book together. We are going to Vegas to be there for our son’s child being born. I needed to preach the book. The book went through my mouth, not through my fingers. Once I figured out the system that works for me…I did the remainder within weeks.”

I asked Pastor Brad “What message do you want shared by the story of your life?” He expressed “When going through hell, don’t stop. Never give up, never give up, Never give up. Fall safely into grace. I want to talk to the church at large about shame based grace.”

When asked my signature question, “what will they write on your gravestone that will sum up your life?” Pastor Brad chuckled as he shared “I told you I was sick! And also: He loved his wife and children! Oh God of 2nd chances and new beginnings, here I am again! Romans 8:28” Due to the important subject matter, I asked “If you could speak to someone struggling with their diagnosis of bi-polar right now, what would you say to help?”

Pastor Brad was both inspirational and educational as he spoke “1st thing, you need to know straight up that you can have a great and fulfilling life in spite of this. 2nd thing, you need to take control of this diagnosis, the sooner you do– the better you will be. You can choose to have a full hope tank because you know Jesus. I have found that the reason for hopeless is because they feel they have no future. Medical teaches you to have “learned helplessness”, but if you hang around with hopeful people, you will catch that too. The disease rocks your self confidence- you don’t know if you can even trust yourself. Getting back to the core of—you can do this, it is possible.”Pastor Brad continued to educate. “You can borrow hope from someone else. By someone believing in you, you can start believing in yourself. Also, by scriptures, put hope in your hope tank. Use the scripture to build your hope. In spite of your mood, how is your hope tank. Are you still hopeful.”

I asked Pastor Brad “what is the Worst thing a friend or family member could say to someone dealing with bi-polar?”

He started sharing several comments “Oh this is nothing”. “You just need to pray more and trust God more” and “Oh it is all in your head.” They should be honest and say that they “don’t know anything about it” or that they “have lived through it”. Those are the best things to say.” Wanting to glean the most from Pastor Brad’s wonderfully inspirational example and testimony, I asked “When did you first realize “I can live with this diagnosis and it will not steal my life?” He opened up as he recounted “It wasn’t a day. It was an ongoing choice. I knew who God was and I knew that He could take it and make it all better for my good. I had to discipline my brain to choose that. It became easier with time. It was a faith decision. It was not an “ah hah” moment. I have to trust God. Attitude is everything. I am not bipolar. I have bipolar. I said this at Saddleback. I have it. I am NOT it. I felt that I had a monster living in me that I could not control. I finally sat the monster down and said “you are going to shut up because I control you”. You don’t give up. You get a friend who has been there.”

Attempting to gain as much insight as possible on this subject and how it affects our church world today, I asked “What does the Church Community need to change in how we deal with mental illness?”

Pastor Brad spoke with resolve and conviction as he shared “The Church has to recognize that there is such a thing as mental illness. That will break down the walls of stigma. Also, they need to quit being both sides of the extreme. Both are wrong. The middle is complicated. The Clergy have got to wake up and offer the hope that the people need. The Church will miss a big opportunity to understand recovery and meet the people where they are. Churches have to follow more the lead of Rick and Kay Warren, who lost a son to this disease, and yet, they are standing up in their pain to let God redeem this. That door of secrecy has to be pounded down. The whole issue of stigma. The more they speak out about what they struggle with, the more the walls will break down. When we started Fresh Hope, I thought “no one would come” because I was the pastor who made the news. But instead of them fleeing, our church grew by 110% in six months. People are seeking a church where people admit they have problems. Out of ignorance or unknowing, we harm those who are dealing with this.”

Pastor Brad shared statistics “80% of people will have a bout with depression. More people die from suicide than heart disease and all diseases combined. More die of self inflicted gunshots than those who are killed by guns.”

Wondering where Pastor Brad draws inspiration, I asked “What inspires you?” He explained “Scripture. I love looking at how “broken and out of sorts” those who God used mightily really were. I also am inspired by other people’s stories. I love quotable quotes like “eat your dessert, life is short”. What inspires me to stay healthy and not give up—my three grandchildren have never felt the pain of my disease. I want it stopped with me. It runs in the family but there are proactive things that you can do. I love the quote “Falsely accused and indecently exposed”. Focus on the family interviewed me last summer and have me in a file if they ever want to tackle the story of my testimony as it really happened. “Another quote I love is ‘Usually the greatest area that God wants to use is the area that you are most shameful of’. That’s from Rick Warren.”

After hearing that he is inspired by scripture, I asked “What is your theme scripture and why?” Pastor Brad shared “Romans 8:28! No matter what life looks like, whatever the hellhole you are stuck with, sometimes life is difficult, and it sucks, a part of the brokenness of mankind, I am a poster child for crash and burn and find hope in the midst of it all.”

As we drew to a close our interesting and educational conversation, I asked “When you get to Heaven, what do you want to hear your Lord and Savior say?” He explained “I just want His arms and I will be ready for a hug. I just want to melt into His arms and know that my race is over.”

Upon reflection, this was a conversation that was personal. This discussion with Pastor Brad helped a family member who is struggling with this disease. Pastor Brad offered to speak to my family and counseled and encouraged him. It was a life changing experience on a personal level. I can say personally that Pastor Brad Hoefs is sincere and available to those who need his help in living with this disease.

In a world of people who are just talking the talk, it is so refreshing to find someone who is “walking the walk”—and Pastor Brad does inspire many as he offers fresh hope to a world who is hopeless. I learned to keep my “hope tank” full by surrounding myself with hopeful people—people just like Brad!

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About the Author ()

Alan P. Scaglione is a writer who reflects on the simple contradictions and complexities to living this ”gift from God” called life. He believes that Life is a journey that, with compassion, a little levity and perspective, we help each other get through. His greatest compliment was being told “you draw pictures with your words!” He has devoted his life to “drawing”…in his poetry, his songs, his weekly “Reflections of Life” blog entries, his monthly SAS articles, his short stories and now, his novels! Alan is an everyday guy who refuses to let circumstances dictate his view to life; he lives an attitude of gratitude and spreads his positive outlook everywhere he goes. His BEST day is a day shared making a memory that will last a lifetime! Please check out Alan’s books “One Unexpected Event – How Would Your Life Change?” and its sequel “One Unexpected Event – Aftermath!” in the Xulon Press bookstore.

Comments (2)

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  1. avatar Julie says:

    I am honored to know Brad and his family personally. They truly are a product of love and forgiveness, and the Fresh Hope groups are a blessing beyond description. Thank you for this open and honest article.

  2. avatar Vivian Jones says:

    I am reminded of our suffering as a child of God, I was healed of depression over 20 years ago, so I know the pain and mood swings that comes with depression. Although God healed me after 25 years of depression, I have other challenges now. I am inspired by what he is powerfully going through with so much faith and grace…a very powerful testimony. Bless him.

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