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Didn't See It Coming

Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences

by (author) Carey Nieuwhof

The Crown Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Aug 2021
Personal Growth, Leadership, Professional Growth
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2018
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2021
    List Price

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An influential pastor, podcaster, and thought leader believes it's not only possible to predict life's hardest moments, but also to alter outcomes, overcome challenges, and defeat your fiercest adversaries.

Founding Pastor of one of North America's most influential churches, Carey Nieuwhof wants to help you avoid and overcome life's seven hardest and most crippling challenges: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and emptiness. These are challenges that few of us expect but that we all experience at some point. If you have yet to confront these obstacles, Carey provides clear tools and guidelines for anticipation and avoidance. On the other hand, if you already feel stuck in a painful experience or are wrestling with one of these challenges, he provides the steps you need to find a way out and a way forward into a more powerful and vibrant future. Now available in paperback edition.

About the author


  • Short-listed, The Christian Book Awards

Contributor Notes

Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and the founding pastor of Connexus Church in Barrie, Ontario, one of the most influential churches in North America. He is a much sought after conference speaker, podcaster, and thought leader. With millions of listeners regularly tuning in, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. Carey and his wife, Toni, live near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.

Excerpt: Didn't See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences (by (author) Carey Nieuwhof)


Find Me a Happy Lawyer

How Cynicism Snuffs Out Hope

You never thought you’d be a cynic, did you? It’s not like in your sophomore year of high school beside your yearbook photo you wrote, “I hope to grow cynical and distrustful of humanity by the time I hit forty. I’m also hoping my cynicism will damage my family and make me impossible to work with. Go Ravens!”

Had you written that in high school, somebody would have insisted you go to counseling…immediately. But that wasn’t your headspace. You were optimistic, even hopeful. And by the time you hit your early twenties and shed the yoke of your parents, you were downright idealistic. You knew how to make the world a better place, and you were intent on doing it.

That’s my story too. As a young law student working in downtown Toronto, I oozed optimism about setting the world right. I wanted to practice constitutional law and argue my first case before the Supreme Court of Canada prior to my thirtieth birthday. I even discovered that someone with a positive attitude and a healthy work ethic could make a difference in a downtown firm. I was a newlywed, and halfway through my first year at the law firm, I became a new dad. I wanted to be successful yet not work the slavishly long hours young lawyers were famous for, working every night and most weekends. Some firms in the downtown core even had cots in the office and hired in-house chefs so their employees didn’t have to go home or leave the office. I didn’t want that to be me.

So I hustled hard. I arrived at the office at seven o’clock, worked through lunch, and by five o’clock managed to sneak out of the office when no one was looking so I could get home to my wife, Toni, and our newborn son. Throughout the day, I focused on being massively productive and getting outcomes our clients (and my bosses) would love.

Strangely enough, I managed to succeed. My idealism smashed through some barriers quickly. Not only did I avoid working the impossible hours lawyers typically put in, but I also actually earned the firm money—something students weren’t expected to do. The partners even offered me a job after my year of apprenticeship was over.

But I found my idealism as a budding lawyer challenged by something I noticed all around me: I was surrounded by lawyers who weren’t happy. In fact, many who hadn’t even hit age forty had become downright miserable. I remember one particular Friday when a lawyer in his thirties came into the firm waving a lottery ticket. “See this ticket?” he said. “If I win this thing, you’ll never see my face again.”

The strange part is that he owned the firm (and made a big income every year, may I add). It’s never a good sign when the owner of a thriving firm buys a lottery ticket, hoping to cash out and leave it all behind.

I used to tell my fellow law school graduates, “If you can find a happy lawyer in this city, I’ll pay you a million dollars.” I knew it was a safe bet since none of us could find a happy lawyer.

A Gnawing Negativity

How do people who seemingly have everything end up jaded and disillusioned so quickly? The juxtaposition of sleek office towers, luxury cars, tailored suits, and expensive lunches coupled with chronic dissatisfaction still surprises me. But it shouldn’t.

Jesus told us it was very possible, even probable, that we could gain the world and lose our soul. I get that. But in the trenches of success, I saw more than a happiness deficit in the people around me. I saw a much deeper and more pervasive condition: cynicism. I often wondered, How do you go from idealistic to cynical in just a few short years?

It’s a troubling question, and over the years I’ve asked it again and again. Chances are you’ve seen it happen around you too…

~  Your friend who has had her heart broken many times now thinks no man can be trusted.

~  Your optimistic college roommate who went into investment banking is convinced all his colleagues are simply in it for themselves, which is exactly why he is now too.

~  Your brother-in-law cop has seen too much too many times to believe the best about anybody anymore.

~  Even your teammate at work shoots down every idea you bring to the table, instantly listing the many reasons your strategy is doomed to fail.

The people around you can be depressing. But almost as disturbing as what we see around us is what we feel within us. Cynicism isn’t just something other people experience; it’s something you sense growing within you. While the time line may vary given your life experience, here’s what many people discover: the optimism of your teens and twenties gives way to the realism of your thirties. By the time you hit thirty, many of your once-in-love friends have split up, many of your once-enthusiastic coworkers hate their jobs, and many once-solid friendships have dissolved.

So where does the realism of your thirties lead? That depends. Unchecked, it could lead you into the sinkhole of cynicism.

Sinkhole Ahead

I remember the first time I saw cynicism begin to grow within me. I was in my early thirties. Paradoxically, it was in pastoral ministry and not the practice of law that I felt cynicism begin to take root in my heart. Halfway through law school, I sensed God calling me into full-time ministry of some kind. I had grown up in a Christian home, and after drifting in my late teen years, I recommitted my life to Christ in my early twenties. Despite my renewed Christianity, though, law was my main focus. I never imagined leaving law to pursue preaching or congregational ministry. But that’s the amazing thing about feeling called to something: we’re taken in a new direction on an unexpected adventure.

After sensing God calling me into ministry, I took a few years to figure out exactly what that meant. In the meantime, I finished law school and completed the grueling bar admissions course. After passing the bar exam and earning my license to practice law, I shocked everyone (including myself) by heading off to seminary, purely out of obedience.

Confused about what to do next, I decided to dip my toe into congregational ministry for the first time when I was halfway through seminary. I moved with my wife and young son an hour north of Toronto to a rural community, Oro-Medonte, to begin ministry in the community in which I still live today. My assignment was to serve three small churches that hadn’t hired a full-time pastor or grown at all in more than forty years. They called me their “student pastor.” That didn’t mean I served students; it meant I served the churches as the senior pastor while still a student. It also meant the pay was half what they would pay a “real” minister. But it sounded like a call to me.

The churches were tiny. One had an average attendance of six on Sunday mornings. That included slow-moving vehicles and low-flying aircraft. When my wife, son, and I arrived, we grew the church by 50 percent overnight. It was sensational. The second of the three churches had fourteen people in church most Sundays. And the “megachurch” among the three congregations had an average attendance of twenty-three.

Naturally, when you’re in congregations that small, ministry is inherently relational. You visit people and invest in them, all the while trying to unite them around a bigger vision and better strategy that will move the mission forward. Even as our churches grew into the hundreds, I did my best to stay relationally connected. In the first decade of ministry, I was in people’s homes almost every day. It was tremendously exciting as more and more new people began to show up. I still remember the first time a couple I’ll call Roger and Mary walked in the door one Sunday morning.

It didn’t take long to figure out that Roger and Mary had very real needs. They didn’t have much money. Their subcompact car constantly broke down. They seemed to go from crisis to crisis in every area of their lives: financial, relational, emotional, and spiritual.

Despite being busy now leading hundreds of people, I decided I would help in every way I could. Even though the church they attended had a small budget, we managed to buy Roger and Mary groceries and gift cards. We gave them gas money and made sure their car stayed on the road. I went to their apartment in the south end of town (a twenty-minute drive each way) to regularly pray with them, encourage them, and help them as much as I could.

Roger and Mary kept asking for more assistance. Their phone calls became more frequent, and I often headed over in the evenings to help them navigate whatever crisis they were facing. I poured my heart and soul into praying for their family and trying to assist them in any way possible. It’s not an exaggeration to say I spent more time with their family than I spent with any other family in my first ten years of leadership.

Meanwhile, the little churches grew quickly. More and more people began showing up, and that meant I couldn’t visit people as often as I had previously. There were just too many people. Even as the churches grew, Roger and Mary demanded my personal attention. They were poor, and I knew of God’s particular emphasis on caring for the poor. In the midst of it all, I noticed a growing ingratitude and increasing neediness from this couple. At times, helping them felt like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, but I was determined to serve and demonstrate God’s grace.

Before long, Roger and Mary started to bring their two-year-old niece to church with them. She was a great kid, but discipline wasn’t a strong skill in the family. Their niece spent time one Sunday running up and down the aisles during church, angering some older members.

The issue came up at one of our elder board meetings. Some members insisted we had to do something about this child who was disrupting the service. I stood up for Roger and Mary’s family, telling the board I’d rather have a church full of unruly kids than a church full of well-behaved senior citizens. Fortunately for everyone, that settled the matter. And I told Roger and Mary that it wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

Even with that controversy put to rest, this couple seemed to become less and less comfortable as the church continued to grow. Finally one Sunday morning, Roger grabbed his niece and ran out of the church, announcing, “This place isn’t for us anymore. You don’t care about us! We’re leaving!”

I was stunned. Naturally, I followed up with him and asked what on earth had happened.

“You haven’t done enough for us,” he said.

I had no idea what to say. Seriously? We haven’t done enough? Are you kidding me?

His comments cut directly and deeply into my small but growing pastoral heart.

“Roger,” I mustered, “that breaks my heart. It’s not an exaggeration to say that in my time in leadership, I have never spent more one-on-one time with anyone than you and your family. And it’s not just me. This community has sacrificed to be here for you again and again.”

My words made zero difference. He kept insisting our efforts weren’t enough and that we didn’t—that I didn’t—really care about them. He said our church had let him down, that we’d abandoned his family at their lowest point.

I didn’t know how to make the situation better. They didn’t want to make it better. Then they left the church for good.

The Slide into Cynicism Begins

I was shocked. And angry. And heartbroken. I honestly didn’t have a category for what happened.

It was in that moment that I felt cynicism welling up inside me. It’s like a voice inside me was saying, Useless. Everything you invested was a total waste of time and energy. And you know what? If he did that to you, others will too. So don’t care like you used to. Don’t invest in people like you used to. Don’t give of yourself like you used to. People will just use you and reject you in the end anyway. There’s no point.

At the time, I hadn’t even heard of writers like John Townsend or Henry Cloud, who have helped scores of people understand what boundaries are. Nor was I good at spotting potential mental health issues. I genuinely tried to help, and in the end I got genuinely burned.

That’s how cynicism starts.

Cynicism begins not because you don’t care but because you do care.

It starts because you poured your heart into something and got little in return. Or maybe you got something in return, but it was the opposite of what you desired. You fell in love, only to have that relationship dissolve. You threw your heart into your job, only to be told you were being let go. You were completely there for your mom, only to have her tell you you’re such a disappointment.

And you can’t help but think to yourself, What gives?

Most cynics are former optimists. You’d never know it now, but there was a time when they were hopeful, enthusiastic, and even cheerful. There’s something inside the human spirit that wants to hope, wants to think things will get better. Nearly everyone starts life with a positive outlook.

So what happens? How do you go from being so positive to so negative? At least three things happen to the human heart as it grows cynical.

1. You Know Too Much

You would think knowledge is always a good thing. But strangely, knowledge will often sadden you. Solomon, whom we’ll meet again later, was world renowned for his wisdom. He put it this way: “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.” Not exactly the most inspirational thing you’ve ever read. It’s like Eeyore wrote that part of the Bible. While that verse may make for a terrible social media post, the insight itself is quite helpful.

In some ways, ignorance is bliss. Had I never known that some people, like Roger and Mary, would end up being disappointed even after a massive investment by a community of people, it would have been easy—even automatic—to keep investing in people. But having been burned, I found that over the months and years that followed, I began to view needy people more suspiciously. Would they treat me the same way?

Editorial Reviews

"Astute readers may be wondering about the seven challenges former lawyer and pastor of Connexus Church (Barrie, Ont.) Nieuwhof discusses in his book. Organized by sections—"Cynicism," "Compromise," "Disconnection," "Irrelevance," "Pride," "Burnout," and "Emptiness"— the work demonstrates how a reliance on God and His word can help instill curiosity and strengthen character. Serving as a helpful companion on the journey of life, Nieuwhof shares lessons in how to accept change and offers antidotes to embracing today's challenges. Writing from firsthand experience and describing both struggles with and victories over life's obstacles, his advice provides an invigorating way through setbacks and adversity. VERDICT Recommended, particularly for readers of faith-based works." —Library Journal

“Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey. We’ve had dozens of meals and more coffees than I can count. I’ve had the good fortune to hear these ideas as they developed and as they’ve helped leaders across the country. It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.”
—Jon Acuff, New York Times best-selling author of Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done

“Burnout, cynicism, disconnection, compromise—are these just the inevitable curses of growing older in a rapidly changing, technology-addicted world? Carey Nieuwhof believes we can see these ills coming before they befall us and can take steps to avoid them. If you’re looking for gentle, empathetic life coaching from a Christian perspective, this book is sure to help you.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of New York Times bestsellers When and Drive

“One of the biggest challenges of the Christian life is staying the course. Experiences happening to us and around us every day try to derail us. In this book, Carey will help you identify some of the biggest distractions threatening to keep you from your God-given destiny and will provide you with tools to redirect your focus and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus so you can finish your race strong.”
—Christine Caine, best-selling author and founder of A21 and Propel Women

“Leaders do well when they continually examine themselves, and they set themselves up for failure when they don’t. Carey points leaders to some very important areas to observe.”
—Dr. Henry Cloud, leadership consultant and author of The Power of the Other

“If you don’t take the time to see what’s coming at you, you can’t see the One who’s coming for you. And that’s why you have to read this book, which hands you more than binoculars. Carey Nieuwhof offers you his own beckoning hand. And he is one uncommonly perceptive and generous guide whose fresh, luminous insights are a needed lens for all leaders to scout out more courage, more capacity, more Christ.”
—Ann Voskamp, author of New York Times bestsellers The Broken Way and One Thousand Gifts

“Carey isn’t just a great lawyer; he’s a wise friend. This is a practical book about navigating your life. With clarity and authenticity, Carey reminds us it usually isn’t the destination that’s the problem. It’s the distractions along the way that will get us off course.”
—Bob Goff, author of New York Times bestsellers Love Does and Everybody, Always

“Life has a way of broadsiding us with lessons that we need to learn but would rather avoid. In his new book, Didn’t See It Coming, Carey Nieuwhof candidly addresses seven key life challenges that every leader will face. Carey writes with deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow despite facing life’s obstacles.”
—Craig Groeschel, pastor and New York Times best-selling author

“Carey is a deep thinker with a significant contemporary voice developed from his unique life journey. Through seasons of idealism and cynicism, disillusionment and burnout, Carey has navigated a path through unexpected and enormous challenges to become an influential leader and minister of the gospel. He leads from his life and relationship with Jesus Christ with engaging humility and disarming vulnerability. Carey has carefully and generously assembled the wisdom he has garnered along the way into this powerful, personal, and highly readable book.”
—Brian Houston, global senior pastor of Hillsong Church and author of There Is More

“Whether you’re in the corner office or just getting started as a leader, this book will become one of your greatest allies in your march toward success. In Didn’t See It Coming, Carey Nieuwhof tackles seven life issues that blindside way too many leaders. Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.”
—Andy Stanley, author, communicator, and founder of North Point Ministries

“At some point every leader struggles with deeper issues—soul issues, heart issues, life issues. I’ve known Carey Nieuwhof for a long time and have seen him navigate these matters with humility, skill, and effectiveness. Didn’t See It Coming is a masterful treatment of some of the biggest challenges you’ll ever face, and Carey offers you the wisdom and strategies to tackle them.”
—Reggie Joiner, CEO of Orange

“Carey Nieuwhof is one of my favorite people on the planet for a few reasons. First, he’s the genuine article. Second, he challenges the way I think. I believe you’ll feel the same way after reading this book! Few people see the future as clearly as Carey. He will help you not only see a better future but also create it.”
—Mark Batterson, New York Times best-selling author of The Circle Maker and lead pastor of National Community Church

“Buckle up, friends! What Carey Nieuwhof has shared in these pages is everything you secretly fear and exactly what you need to hear. Too many of us (myself included) have come dangerously close to being crippled by these seven challenges. Your leadership influence is a sacred responsibility and requires a deep commitment to lead yourself well. If you’re brave enough to do the hard work, this book will be the lifeline you need to keep leading well for the long haul!”
—Jenni Catron, founder of the 4Sight Group

“Communication skills are only half the battle in leadership and life. If we’re honest, the real struggle happens inside our hearts and souls. Nieuwhof’s new book provides expert guidance in the life issues that make or break us as leaders and as people. He addresses each issue honestly and with an accuracy that pierces the heart.”
—Nancy Duarte, best-selling author and CEO of Duarte Inc.

“Carey Nieuwhof cares deeply about leaders and proves it with this challenging yet hopeful book. We all need a guide to help us know what’s around the corner in our leadership journey, and Carey provides helpful perspective for any leader at any level.”
—Brad Lomenick, author of H3 Leadership and The Catalyst Leader and former president of Catalyst

“It’s been said that youth is wasted on the young and wisdom wasted on the old. But what if the wisdom of age and experience could be transferred to anyone still on the journey? That’s exactly what Carey Nieuwhof has done in Didn’t See It Coming. If you’re interested in accelerating your growth as a leader and learning wisdom beyond your years, pick up a copy today.”
—William Vanderbloemen, founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group

“Carey is one of my favorite church leadership voices. If you want to know what the future holds and how to react to it tomorrow, read Didn’t See It Coming today.”
—John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Church and author of I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

“Many people know Carey because of his wisdom on leadership and the ministry philosophy he offers through his blog and podcast. This book, though, reveals the Carey I know best. This vulnerable perspective on life forced me to look in the mirror and deal with the man I saw staring back at me. No one expects the personal challenges Carey unpacks in this book, but each one has the potential to derail even the best leader. Didn’t See It Coming offers practical steps to overcome our personal stuckness and find a healthy way forward.”
—Tony Morgan, founder (and recovering cynic) of the Unstuck Group

“There aren’t many voices in this world that I trust as much as Carey Nieuwhof’s. Over the last decade of our friendship, I’ve found him to be humble, smart, selfless, futuristic, and passionate. In this incredibly timely publication, Carey helps us understand that what we can’t see often has the greatest consequences. We can learn the hard way, or we can let Carey help. I’ve already made my choice.”
—Clay Scroggins, lead pastor of North Point Community Church and author of How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

“Before Carey wrote this book, he lived it. This is why I’m grateful he wrote it. Carey is one of my best friends, and I’ve had a front-row seat watching him apply what he wrote about in Didn’t See It Coming. We all know there are challenges heading our way, but as Carey points out, we don’t have to be unsuspecting victims. We can prepare, and the best news of all is that we can overcome.”
—Jeff Henderson, lead pastor of Gwinnett Church

“Like any true leader worth following, the leader looks within himself first. Carey Nieuwhof does just that. Carey’s book is a refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries. Knowing Carey personally, I can attest that this book is loaded with wisdom built from his genuine experiences. You and I have needed a book like this for a long time.”
—Bryan Miles, CEO and cofounder of BELAY

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year. Carey Nieuwhof brilliantly points out the key areas in life and leadership that make or break you. He offers practical solutions, probing questions, and rare insight to help you grow and achieve your potential. Didn’t See It Coming could change the trajectory of your future influence in profound ways.”
—Jud Wilhite, senior pastor of Central Church and author of Pursued

“Carey has given leaders a tremendous gift with the release of Didn’t See It Coming. Reading this book allows each of us to start a journey of learning what must change in order to avoid or get out of the ditches that hinder our leadership.”
—Frank Bealer, executive director of leadership development at Orange and author of The Myth of Balance

“We all have blind spots. We all have areas in our lives that, if left unchecked, can sneak up and rob us of our joy, peace, and potential. In Didn’t See It Coming, Carey brings his years of leadership and life experience forward and brilliantly brings clarity and the gift of foresight to the things in life that can easily trip us up, burn us out, or leave us unfulfilled. This book is a must for anyone looking to get the absolute most out of life!”
—Brent Ingersoll, senior pastor of Kings Church

“Sometimes a book gets written at just the right time to speak to a culture that desperately needs it! Whether you are in ministry, the marketplace, or motherhood, burnout can happen to anyone. Carey has been there and come out on the other side, and this book contains his best insights on how we can all avoid it. Filled with spiritual and practical wisdom for the real world on every page, this book will help make you a better leader, worker, entrepreneur, spouse—the list is endless. It’s a gift to the modern person in so many ways and will save readers from breakdowns, marriage corrosion, health problems, and career dissatisfaction. It’s amazing!”
—Mark Clark, lead pastor of Village Church and author of The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity

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