This title and video story of a well-respected pastor who became addicted to opiates was posted on the blog site of Denny Burk.
Percocet, hydrocodone, OxyContin—Ryan took them all while presiding over a booming church. ‘I was hiding so much. My life was a sham’
Drug addiction knows no socio-economic boundaries. Substance abuse creeps into the lives of people who sit in our churches, and yes, even affects pastors and their families.
Often times families of addicts share commonalities: denial, shame, guilt, pride, feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. Skip and Barbara Ryan’s family was no different. What is striking about his story is his courage to expose his struggle knowing he would lose his ministry position as senior pastor of his church. But Ryan’s ministry does not cease, as some would think. The ending of his story is a beautiful testimony of restoration.
When a drug addict gets rehired by his old employer, that’s a great story of recovery.
When that drug addict is a minister and is rehired by his old church, that’s a living sermon.
“It’s a story of rescue and redemption,” said the Rev. Skip Ryan, former senior pastor of Park Cities Presbyterian Church.
On Sunday, it was announced to the congregation that Ryan is returning to the church staff as an assistant pastor.
Ryan, 64, abruptly resigned from the church in 2006. The story was that he had health problems. But news accounts quickly gave the full explanation. He was an opiate addict, hooked on prescription pain medicines.
Percocet, hydrocodone, OxyContin — Ryan took them all while presiding over the booming church. “I was hiding so much. My life was a sham,” he told me this week.
Outwardly, Ryan seemed a model of success. Park Cities Presbyterian was formed in 1991 as a more conservative offshoot of Highland Park Presbyterian. Ryan was called to be the new church’s first senior minister.
And in just a few years, the church had grown from 1,000 to 5,000 and had purchased the former Highland Baptist Church facilities on Oak Lawn Avenue.
But inwardly, Ryan said, he felt less and less capable and ever more burdened by all his responsibilities. One day in 2002, he was suffering from a pounding headache. Instead of the usual remedies, he took some leftover pain pills.
“Alarm bells should have gone off in my head, but they didn’t,” he said. And at first, the painkillers were great, seeming to cure all that ailed him. “The pills helped with more than one kind of pain,” he said.
But before he knew it, he was addicted — lying and conniving to keep the supply coming. And his dual life led to even more pain than he had felt before.
In 2006, he was attending a four-day conference that happened to be at a recovery center. There, a counselor asked a seemingly innocent question about the God that Ryan served. He began a theological answer, but the counselor rejected it.
“He saw something in me. And he said, ‘No, your god is drugs,’” Ryan recalled. “When he said that, I felt like the Lord was putting a sword through my heart.”
His recovery began on the spot. “I went there for four days and stayed for seven weeks,” he said.
Back in Dallas, his church and a wide circle of admirers were stunned to hear that he was resigning. In the following days, they were even more shocked to learn why.
Ryan says now that no one should have been shocked. As he has worked on his own recovery and also helped others, he has learned just how common addictions are — both to drugs and alcohol, but also to things like gambling, pornography, overeating and even shopping.
“Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to all kinds of problems and needs in your life. The question is how you deal with them,” he said.
Ryan credits current Park Cities Presbyterian senior pastor Mark Davis with doing the unheard of: bringing a former senior minister back into the church, particularly after such a public fall.
But Davis told me that a supportive congregation is the key. “I have had no pushback,” he said. “In a church of 5,000, I have not had one negative email or phone call.”
Both men call this a story of God’s grace. “This is really what Christianity is all about: God pursuing his people and offering rescue,” Davis said.
For his part, Ryan said simply, “It’s like coming home.”
When the light of Christ shines on the dark places of our lives, He does so not to embarrass or shame us, but to draw us to Himself. Breaking down our walls, shattering pride. Humbling us so we in turn can help others who are in need of grace themselves. Glad Skip Ryan sought help, exposed the secret, swallowed his pride, and now is restored in Christ and in ministry.