Category Archives: seminary

It just hit me…. 20 years

While having a conversation with my dad yesterday, I realized that I have been working full-time for 20 years!  If I had stayed with the same company (which is probably a rare thing to do in this day of uncertainty, unemployment, and mergers, etc.) I would have been there for 20 years.  I am thankful that I have had a relatively stable work history.  I started working full-time in 1991 just before I graduated from college.  I stayed with that company until 1999, surviving two acquisitions and managing to keep my job both times.  In 1999, I went to work for an independent Baptist mission agency in Jacksonville, FL.  I stayed there until 2002 when I moved to MN to attend seminary.  I was unemployed from August to October of 2002 and have worked for the same company since October in 2002 in two different capacities.  I have done the unenviable job of business to business collections (both in person and over the phone) Not my idea of a great job, but it paid the bills while in seminary, when I got married and when we had our first child.  Shortly before my son’s first birthday, I changed roles within this company and now I have a somewhat less stressful job in the Financial Operations area dealing with manufacturer rebate contracts.  It is an okay job, the pay is not competitive for this area, but the benefits are outstanding!

I am still looking for ministry opportunities, but there are not many to be had these days.  In the meantime, I am trying to find something that pays better because we are expecting our second child in August and we found out that God will grace us a with a little girl!  We have not decided on names yet, but I have stated that I would like to give her my mother’s first name as her middle name in honor of my mother who passed away in 2006.

April is a birthday month for our family.  My sister-in-law celebrates her birthday today (2nd), then my dad and sister share the same birthday on the 10th and then I am three days later (13th) and my son is on the 20th and one of my nephews is the 23rd.

Turning 40 did not bother me, but now that I am turning 42, it is starting to bother me a bit because I have been looking at my life and what I have accomplished and what still remains to be done.  I can remember when I was fresh out of college and full of zeal and ready to get busy for God and yet I was told that I could not expect to be hired by any church because of a few things:  1) I was young (23 at the time) 2) I did not have any experience  3) I was not married.

Now almost 20 years later, I am now looked on as being old (even at 42) still no formal church experience (being paid and having a title), but I am married and a father.

I also heard about one of my seminary  colleagues who is getting ready to go into full-time ministry upon his graduation in May, he already has a place to go!  I am glad that he will not have to experience what I have over this last year of rejections and lack of interest on the part of many churches/pastors.

Lord willing, the next 20 years of working will hopefully be more fruitful than this first 20!

History does repeat itself

I was reminded of this disputed fact earlier this week, when I encountered some former seminary colleagues and their inquiries as to what I am doing now. It reminded me of when I graduated from college in 1992 (that seems so long ago – almost 20 years ago).   When I graduated from college, I was ready to head into ministry, after all, I had just finished Bible college and earned a B.A. degree in Church Ministries.  However, the following things were not in my favor at the time:  I was 23 years old, single, and had no formal ministry experience.  The economy was bad all over (like it is now) I had a decent secular job, but my heart was not there at all.  I sent my resume everywhere I knew that an opportunity existed that would possibly suit me.  Nothing happened for six long years. I was active in my local church, not real good in the dating arena from 1992 onward.  I was living in frustration because I felt like there was something wrong with me because I was watching my college friends and colleagues leave Jacksonville for ministry positions and opportunities.  The brief stint that I did have in full-time ministry (1998-2002)was a real eye-opener for me (it was not in a local church ministry, but a para-church organization) and it was some of those experiences and the hypocrisy that I saw that God used to get me to leave the dysfunctional situation and resume my education after a ten year hiatus.  So in 2002, I resigned my position and headed north for the Twin Cities to begin my academic career towards a MDiv. degree at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN.

Little did I know when I arrived in the Twin Cities how things would change in my life.  I started seminary in the Fall of 2002.  I could not find a job right away (It took 2 months to find a job and I am still with the same company almost 9 years later, but in a different role) I met my future spouse in 2002 and we were married in 2004, while I was still in pursuit of the MDiv degree.  In 2006, our first child was born, Joseph.  We lost his twin brother (earlier) and my mother passed away in September of 2006.  I thought that the convergence of these circumstances would push me to the breaking point and that I would quit seminary.  God was faithful and used several people to encourage me not to quit. As a result, I dropped back into the M.A program and finished the M.A in May of 2008 and then set out to finish the MDiv. which God allowed me to do in May 2010.  I applied to attempt to continue my education but was not accepted for post-graduate work.

Earlier this week, when I was talking with people and they were inquiring about my status (ministerially speaking) and I told them that I had sent out 15 resumes last year and no interviews.  Answering these questions, brought me back almost 20 years ago when I was answering the same questions to college colleagues who came back to the Jacksonville area and I would run into them at Trinity Baptist Church /College functions.

I did not realize how discouraged I had become until I started answering those questions on Monday morning.  By the time I came home on Monday afternoon, I was ready to crawl under a rock.  I asked the usual questions, Why me?  What did I do wrong?  It is also tough because I do not have a mentor or an advocate like so many younger guys have these days.  I could mention instances where guys have gotten their “foot in the door” and eventually obtained a position because of who they were associated with (mentor) or who they worked for or someone who was willing to “go to bat for them.”  I do not have anyone like that.  I thought if I had been accepted to post-graduate studies that kind of a Paul/Timothy relationship would have been fleshed out.  The reason I thought this is because I have heard about these types of relationships from my seminary professors with their mentors and have seen it in the lives of other ThM and PhD students at other institutions.

Now instead of being 23, I am 41 on the verge of being 42, I am married now (7 years in July) and I have one son (Joseph), one in heaven (Jonathan) and a son or daughter due in August. Now instead of being too young and inexperienced, now I am older and married and still do not have any formal experience (most churches do not take into consideration my extensive experience serving in three Baptist churches as a volunteer faithfully since 1987, they want to see that I had a title and/or a paycheck for what I have done and they have come up with the five years of experience as some form of benchmark of success or competency.  I recently saw one church was looking for a pastor that had a minimum of ten years experience!)

Even though time has marched on and now I have three ministry degrees, the pain is still present when I have to answer these types of questions.  20 years ago, Facebook and Twitter did not exist.  Some of the discouragement comes from seeing what others are doing and they are landing some great opportunities to serve God.   The pain is compounded when I returned to the secular  job where I have served honorably for the last eight years, but get no recognition, no career development and the compensation is lacking (when you are the main breadwinner) in an area where the cost of living is high in contrast to the salary that is below the per capita salary for our area.  Then you watch people get promoted who have been with the company less time than I have and with less education.  That does not help.  It would be one thing if I was radically succeeding in the secular workforce and making enough to support my family adequately, but that is not the case.  It feels like a grand failure on both fronts (secular and ministerial).

Charles Spurgeon talked about depression, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

I am hoping at this point that I will not have to wait another six years before going into full-time ministry, but that is not for me to decide.

Remember, you did not do it for the money…

I saw an article recently on Yahoo regarding worst-paying degrees and I was actually shocked to see the following:

At # 8 of the worst paying degrees was Theology at the range of $34,700 to $51,300

At #12 of the worst paying degrees was Religious Studies at the range of $34,700 to $54,400.

When I finished reading the article, I reminded myself that it is not about the money, but rather the call of God upon one’s life!

Seminary is now complete… What next?

Today is day 2 – post MDiv graduation.  I have the day off today from work.  Everyone left Saturday and Sunday, so now we are in recovery mode and attempting to get onto a better routine now that all of my academic work has been completed after eight years.

Graduation on Saturday was a wonderful experience that I praise the Lord for.  Dr. James Maxwell delivered the address which was a brief exposition of the book of Jude which centered on vs. 3 “earnestly contending for the faith”  There were 10 graduates in the M.A, MDiv and DMin programs.  There were three of us in the MDiv. and uniquely enough, none of us had a full-time vocational ministry opportunity upon graduation,  so all of us will be searching!  I was very happy that my dad was able to be here all the way from California.  I also miss my mother very much, she has been gone almost four years now and I know that she would have been proud of this accomplishment.

I was also honored with a post-graduation reception that my family held in my honor.  Several people from our church along with seminary professors, family and friends joined in this celebration that took place from 12:00 to 2:00 pm on Saturday.  I received a good number of cards and gifts for which I am extremely humbled and honored.  My wife along with her mother and several friends (David and Glorianne Levy, Mary Orysen, and Mary Wickham) helped organize and serve at the reception and for that I am extremely grateful for their service to make that event a great time for all)

I have made a list of all who honored me with various gifts (cash, checks and others) and I am getting ready to write thank-you notes today.  I am going to take the cash/check gifts and put them in a savings account so I can replace my current computer (5 years old) with a MacBook Pro 15″ model.  I have needed a new computer for a while and there were a few times in the last couple of weeks that I thought this computer was going to quit.  I have everything backed up with Carbonite, but losing the computer during that time could have been tragic.  Now that seminary has concluded, a crash would not be as tragic, but nonetheless still inconvenient.  This replacement is not going to be immediate because I will need to save additional funds to add to what I have received for graduation.

Our lease is over at our current apartment at the end of July.  The lease terms specify a 60-day notice, which is at the end of this month.  We are not sure what the intentions are of the management with regard to a new lease term.  We expected that they would have given us their intentions at the beginning of the month so we would know what the new rent would be, but I guess they have figured that professionalism and courtesy are not applicable from their perspective.  We are going to look around and see what is available.  We find ourselves in a unique situation.  We are not really able or willing to sign another 1 year lease because that would commit us here for a year.  We are in the process of looking for pastoral opportunities and would not want to lock ourselves in here for a long term.  So we are looking for a possible 6 month or 9 month lease or a month to month lease.  We would love to rent a home instead of an apartment but are finding out that the deposit amounts are very expensive and the lease terms not very favorable to our situation.

I am thankful that I have a decent secular job that meets our needs and provides us with excellent benefits.  My heart’s desire is to be involved in full-time ministry now that I have completed my training.  Other post-graduate work may not be an option right now.  I did not get accepted at SBTS, which is a bit disappointing.  I do realize that this is in the sovereignty of God and we await to see what He is going to do in our lives.

A lot of people have asked me what I am going to do with all of my “extra” time.  I plan on spending more time with my family since they have sacrificed a lot of time so I can complete my studies.  I have a more consistent work schedule which will allow me to be home at a relatively decent hour in the evenings and earlier on Friday afternoons.  One of the biggest projects that I want to tackle today is the cleaning up of my desk.  Most people realize that I do not like clutter, but I broke my own rule in the last seven weeks by allowing mountains of paper to accumulate on my desk.  So today sometime, I will deal with this monumental task and get back to a clean desk (like what a minimalist would have)

My biggest fear since this will be the first time in eight years that I will not be attending seminary is that I do not “hit the wall”.  Some will understand this phenomena.

Thanks to all who had a part in my education and training.  Pictures to be posted later..

Quick post…

This is a busy week… I wish I could write more, but I will be able to after Thursday…

I have a lot of things to accomplish before Thursday at 12:30 pm.  I have two final exams both on Thursday – one at 8:00 am and then one at 10:30.

I have one exam that is a take-home exam that is due by Thursday at noon.

I have a paper presentation tomorrow in our Theology of the Pauline Epistles class.  My paper was on Church Discipline in the Pauline Epistles.  I have not decided if I will revise the paper and then post it in the papers section or if I will post it as is.  I am working on a PowerPoint presentation for that tomorrow.

Wednesday, my last Hebrew assignment is due (sermon from Psalm 121 and last vocabulary quiz)

I am working Tuesday and Wednesday along with all of this academic stuff…

Graduation is Saturday at 10:30…. Thursday is fast approaching, so I will sign off for now and will fill-in-the-blanks after Thursday afternoon..

Please pray for strength and wisdom.  I would like to finish strong in the midst of all of this work!

Letter received from SBTS…. and the answer is…

No

Well, not that bluntly, but I summarized what they said.  I knew that the competition at this level is tough and my grades were not exactly the greatest.  Working 40-50 hrs a week will have an effect in multiple areas of one’s life.  In reading about the process,  I remember seeing a paragraph which stated that grades were not the only factor in decision-making that they looked at the candidates complete record.  I thought in the back of my mind that my prior ministry experience, along with my current ministry involvement for the last eight years at Fourth Baptist Church and serving as Student Body President this year would have maybe helped, but alas, it was not to be.

I am not bitter or angry.  I am writing this to inform and as a way to help me process this “disappointment.”  Part of me was wanting to move to a different community and be involved in the life of a larger seminary.  Louisville looked like it would be a great place to live, it was definitely warmer than MN!

I am very thankful for the ministry of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,  even though I will not be a part of the student body,  I will continue to pray for those who serve there and for the seminary to fulfill its role in training men and women for ministry.

Graduation is 16 days away (May 9th) and right now I have no clue as to what I will be doing after that point.  We have some decisions that will need to be made now that this one has been made for us (so to speak).  Our lease on our apartment ends at the end of July, but here in MN for some reason most apartments require a 60 day notice,  so if they raise the rent too high, then we will be forced to move elsewhere.  This raises another predicament,  I do not want to sign a long-term lease (12 months) because then I will be limiting my opportunities for potential ministry by locking myself into an obligation for another year.  Renting month to month here is a joke because the rent is never stable, it will fluctuate from month to month based on market conditions.  Last year, they did not raise the rent and that was after I had told them that we would be leaving because of the increase.  They rescinded the increase, so I am expecting that they will stick it to us this year since they did not get the increase last year.

On the ministry front, it is not looking very promising.  I have been praying and scouring the internet for possible opportunities.  What I am finding is three-fold:  1) Churches are just not hiring because of the economy   2) There are a lot of opportunities for those who feel led to serve in either youth ministry or music (not gifted in either area)  3) Churches want someone with a ton of experience — even the smaller churches want someone with a minimum of 5 years of experience.   Well, I have more than 5 years of ministry experience both full-time and as a layman in the churches that I have been a member of, but not 5 years of pastoral experience.

I have more to write, but my Hebrew assignment is calling me….

From Redwood Falls to International Falls in a week

Last week this time, I was making preparations to go to Redwood Falls on Sunday to speak at Harvest Baptist Church.  We left early last Sunday before the sun rose.  We had recently purchased a Garmin GPS and after getting the necessary data in, we found out that we had about a 2 hr and 15 min drive.  The drive itself was rather uneventful, not much to see once you leave the metro area.  Lots of open space and not much around.

We arrived at the church a little after 9 AM and there were a few people there awaiting our arrival.  Harvest is currently without a pastor and when the previous pastor left, some of the members did as well.  Attendance was around 12.  They have a really nice church building in a nice neighborhood.  I am wondering if they will be able to survive with such low attendance.  The community is around 5500 people and it seems to have some potential.

I spoke in the Sunday School hour on the Potential of the Church from I Corinthians 1:1-9.  I spoke in the AM service from Ephesians 1 on Having Assurance of Salvation.

After the service, I was able to meet a few additional people who were not present in the Sunday School Hour. One of the families in the church invited us to join them for lunch at the local Pizza Ranch.  We had a great time and I know that my wife and son enjoyed their lunch (Pizza Ranch is one of their favorites).  After lunch we headed back east toward the Twin Cities and arrived home around 3:30 pm.  Interestingly, the GPS did not take us the same way home as we came, but the time was about the same.  Thanks to Harvest Baptist Church for a great time of ministry and for a great lunch and generous love offering.

After arriving home, I sat down to finish the editing that I desperately needed to finish before Monday morning.  I had been working on the final version of my doctrinal statement for oral examination/defence on April 8th.  The statement was due on Monday at 9:00 am.  I was able to get in over two hours of work before the evening service at Fourth.  I now have a greater appreciation for my ministerial and pastoral colleagues who speak two, three and sometimes four times in the same day.  I was worn out from speaking twice and driving 250 miles round trip.

After enjoying the evening service at Fourth, I came home to work on more edits.  I was able to complete the paper and put it on a thumb drive to take in the morning to print in the library.  My only fears were that either I omitted something that I should have covered or I failed to fully articulate something within the statement.  I guess the questioning on April 8th will reveal that.

Tomorrow, we will leave for International Falls, MN around 11 am.  I will be speaking twice (Sunday School and the AM Service) at the First Baptist Church of International Falls, MN.  This church is also currently without a pastor and I am providing pulpit supply.  They do not have an afternoon/evening service on Easter Sunday, so after Easter dinner with one of the church families, we will then make the trek back home.  It will be a long weekend, but a good one as we will be able to spend some time together in ministry as a family.

I received my official GRE Scores in the mail

Verbal     490    – 60% of test takers scored below my score (not bad)

Quantitative    300 – 4% of test takes scored below my score (not good, but I was told that most theological schools do not look at the math)

Analytical Writing – 4.5 out of 6 – 63% of test takers scored below my score (not bad)

For the 4.5 score on the writing, this is the description given:

Provides generally thoughtful analysis of complex ideas; develops and supports main points with logically sound reasons and/or well-chosen examples; is generally focused and well organized;  uses sentence variety and vocabulary to convey meaning directly; demonstrates good control of sentence structure and language usage but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.

This was extremely encouraging because I had two difficult writing assignments on the GRE and there was some time pressure involved.  I think this score makes up for the poor quantitative score.  We shall see.  Scores were sent to Southern Seminary and I am waiting to see if I will get into post-graduate studies there in Louisville.

On Thursday, I will have my doctrinal exam/defense before the entire faculty.  Please pray that I will be able to answer all of the questions posed to me with clarity and conviction.  This step is crucial and is one of the many things that I will complete between now and May 6th.

On the downhill slide…

towards seminary graduation.

Things will be moving fast and furious these next few weeks.  Here is a sampling of what I am facing until May 9th

Preaching this Sunday in Redwood Falls, MN

My doctrinal statement is due on Monday 3/29 at 9AM

Preaching in International Falls, MN on Easter Sunday

My oral doctrinal defense before the seminary faculty will be Thursday 4/8 at 7:30 am

My senior sermon in chapel is on Tuesday April 20th

Big 15 page research paper on Church Discipline in the Pauline Epistles is due Tuesday April 27th

Another 15 page research paper is due for missions class on Thursday April 29th

A 4-5 page assessment paper along with the presentation for the Church Discipline paper on Tuesday May 4th

Final exams – 5/6 and then graduation on Saturday May 9th.

I did not enumerate my reading and other assignments that have to be completed (Hebrew) but these listed above are the major ones!

Please pray for strength and wisdom in the days ahead.. Excuse me for not writing more,  I have to go back to my homework.  Will post more later.

221 miles and 8 hrs later….

This morning I left the apartment early (7 AM) and drove to Rock Falls, WI to teach Sunday School and preach in the AM service.  Rock Falls is exactly 2 hrs (108 miles) from the Twin Cities.  The drive over was uneventful except for when I crossed over into Wisconsin, I saw two dead deer in the ditch on the side of  I-94.  At that point, I decided to watch my speed a little closer and I turned off the cruise control in case any other deer decide to play chicken on the interstate.  Arrived at Rock Falls around 9:00 and Sunday School was to start at 9:15.  Met the pastor’s daughter and she gave me the rundown of everything that I needed to know, which was a great help.  People started arriving and then the Sunday School hour began.

I taught from the book of Jonah, chapter 4.  I just spent the last month in the book of Jonah in our Hebrew class translating and parsing verbs, etc.  I also took an oral examination on Jonah last Tuesday.  My lesson was on priorities and how we can allow things like anger and despair to impair or hinder our priorities.  I ended a bit early, but better early than late, which gave me a bit of time to prepare for the AM service.    Being in a large church, a lot of things are handled by different staff or lay people.  In a smaller church, the pastor usually does most everything.  Since the pastor was gone, I was also the songleader, which I do not mind, but I also recognize that I have not been gifted musically.  The church has a very talented and gifted piano player, Jason Stearns.  I found out that he has been playing piano since the 7th grade and his mother shared with me that he was one of the few kids that she did not have to beg to practice, she usually had to kick him off the piano to allow the other children to practice.  Jason did a great job in helping me with the singing time and I hope that I did not frustrate him too badly.

After the song service, I brought a message from the first chapter of I Peter centered around the question “What is so great about salvation?”  I then answered the question from the text and towards the end of the message, shared some of the major trials that our family experienced in 2006 (death of Jonathan, premature birth of Joseph, death of my mother) and how I was ready to quit seminary and ministry.  I also shared how I was thankful for those who came alongside and ministered to us during that difficult time period and how I am thankful that I did not quit and will be finishing seminary here in a little over two months.

After the service concluded, the Stearns family invited me to have lunch with them downstairs before I had to head back to the Twin Cities.  I enjoyed lunch and the fellowship, but I had to head home at 12:45 so I could get back home in time for our evening service at Fourth Baptist.  Rock Falls Baptist Church also provided me with a very generous love offering, and for that I am truly grateful.  I enjoy ministering the Word of God and the love offerings are an added blessing.

Looking forward to the opportunity of being able to minister full-time in a pastoral capacity.  Until then, back to the books and studies.  May 8th will be here in no time!  I have several large projects/papers due at the end of April, please pray that God will give me wisdom in my time management between work, seminary, family and ministry commitments.

When God Turned His Back on Jesus – Sermon

Here is a sermon from a man whom I consider to be a mentor, Dr. Donald S. Whitney.  Dr. Whitney is the Senior Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Watch/Listen to this sermon and you will be blessed.

Thanks Dr. Whitney for the ministry of the Word!