A lightning bolt it was not. There was no Luther shock from the sky charging me instantaneously in to ministry. I have known guys like that; successful or not, living in some other world, business, IT, entertainment, what have you. And one day, God suddenly and quite often unexpectedly “calls them to ministry”. They drop everything like it’s hot and like Abraham, follow obediently to only God knows where.
But neither was it an ever-present undercurrent; something that had always been there. I’ve known those guys too. The ones who always knew that they wanted to be a pastor. They started preaching when they were nine and became a deacon at ten, hit the preaching circuit at eleven and there was really never any other road for them to travel. Friends and family alike affirm that they could never imagine anything else. In fact, I have a friend who, at age four, lined up his teddy bears to preach sermons to them. This was not me. In fact, if you told many of the people from my youth that I had become a pastor they would likely tell you to shut the front door in disbelief.
And neither did I go kicking and screaming into ministry. It was never as though God twisted my arm behind my back until I gave in. It was a natural progression as my path simply seemed to lay itself down smoothly step by step. It was an evolution more than it was a revolution.
18 or so years ago, I found myself teaching the adult Sunday Morning Bible Study for the church we were a part of (I taught an 18-week redemptive historical study of John 1 among other things). In many ways, I felt inadequate for the task (then again, it could have been the material I chose), so I enrolled in a distance-learning seminary program. Except for the fact that the assignments didn’t have due dates, it was a great idea. So, except for the fact that I didn’t do my assignments, it was a great idea. It just wasn’t the right idea for me.
During this time, I was working at a Christian treatment center for women and adolescent girls battling eating disorders. Our company had some lay-offs after 9/11 and I remember asking myself what would happen if I did lose my job. Would I simply open the Want Ads and find something else to pay the bills? It was a great job and I loved my co-workers, but I wasn’t passionate about it. It was just a good way to pay the bills. Though I didn’t audibly hear God’s voice, I knew, as clearly as you can, that God was telling me He wanted me to “make, mature and multiply disciples.”
So I told my wife Kristi that I thought we should move somewhere and take seminary seriously. At the time you could not do a full seminary degree in Phoenix. Without missing a beat, she asked: “OK, where are we moving?” “Well, crap in a basket,” I thought. I had no idea where we were going. After requesting information from 20 or so seminaries, we ended up in Louisville, KY where I attended Southern Seminary.
I went to seminary with absolutely no-way, no-how, never-ever intention of being a pastor. In fact, when professors would make comments like, “When you’re pastoring and . . . “, I would internally snicker. I was sure I had the angle on this. I would get my MDiv, transfer to another seminary and get my PhD. Then I would be a book-writing, ETS paper-presenting professor. I would have all the cool parts of teaching theology and none of the crap of dealing with people’s lives. But God often picks the unlikely ones to be His ambassadors. That way, there’s no explanation for success other than God’s faithfulness.
Around half-way through my MDiv, two things happened fairly simultaneously. First, I took a J-Term class on “The Doctrine Of The Church” with Mark Dever. Though there was nothing I hadn’t heard before, I had honestly never been challenged to put it all together in a way that forced me to consider the role of the Church in God’s plan of redemption. As a church member, I had rarely been challenged to see my role in God’s story as anything more than attending a weekly performance. I began to develop a conviction for seeing God’s people develop real community.
Around the same time, my Grandpa passed away. Being the token seminary student, the family asked if we would fly back and do the memorial. Never having done a memorial before, not knowing what I was doing and nervous as all get-out, I stumbled my way through the memorial and graveside services. Afterwards, my Dad said something to me that has stuck to this day. He said “You could affect more lives from the pulpit than in the classroom.”
The only way I can describe what happened next is to say that God simply broke my heart for the Church. I wanted to make, mature and multiply disciples. I wanted to serve God’s people and teach them to serve one another. I wanted to help people understand and apply the Bible better. I wanted to see people love Jesus and live more like Him.
On the back to Kentucky, I told Kristi that I thought God was “calling me to be a pastor.” After few bars of the “I didn’t sign up to be a pastor’s wife blues”, she affirmed that God did indeed seem to be leading us that way. God had not only seemed to call me but also equip me with a particular skill set that lends itself to public teaching and interaction. After prayer, we found ourselves serving in a church in rural KY. But that’s a story for another day.
I tell you this rambling tale because I worry that, because we have professionalized the ministry, we tend to idealize the role of pastor. Many people have come to believe that “ministry” is somehow out of reach. But my story demonstrates that anyone can find themselves on an unexpected journey.The “call to ministry” certainly looks different for different people. But the point is that pastors are normal people who, somewhere along the way, felt prompted to give their lives in the service of others. No matter how they got there, lightning bolt, kicking and screaming, life-long desire or unexpected turns, they have had a long journey and they need to hear from you more often than when you’re upset about something.