Tuesday morning, I heard some things that got my attention and shook me to my core.
The first one was Tuesday morning. As my normal routine is, I listen to Pathway to Victory while on my way to work each morning. This morning, Dr Jeffress said something that caught my attention. He was talking about a call and as he was speaking I was thinking about it more in terms of an equation:
Call = Burden + Passion + Opportunity
Hearing this and eventually writing it down really shook me!
I was thinking about this while I was driving. I was thinking back to when I had publicly expressed a “call” of God on my life to preach the Gospel. I was probably the last person that would ever be called to preach. I am not a dynamic speaker. I do not have a commanding or charismatic personality. I would consider myself more of an introvert. I stumbled through memorized speeches that we had to give in high school. I never thought that I would be involved in any sort of public speaking at all. I remember preaching my first sermon and apologizing to my English teachers in advance for all the trouble I had given them during the delivery of those memorized speeches each year. All I knew at the time, was that I had a burden to communicate the Bible to others.
Someone once said, “A call to preach is a call to prepare” So, off to Bible college I went in 1988. Along with the burden, I gained a passion while I was in college as I went through my classes and serving in the local church, I began to grow in my Christian life.
So I had a burden and passion, but was lacking in opportunity. I preached wherever I was given an opportunity. Rescue mission, prison, nursing homes, etc. Then I graduated from college and was ordained shortly after. Ordination was/is a big deal because it is a local church’s endorsement of your calling and gifts. I was ordained but there were no opportunities on the horizon.
Fast forward ten years to 2002. I had resigned my position at a mission agency where I had been for 3 1/2 years and moved to MN to attend Seminary.
Fast forward eight years to 2010. I finished seminary with two degrees.
Fast forward three more years to 2013. I have sent my resume out to over 40 different churches and ministries, looking for an opportunity to re-enter full-time vocational ministry with one interview and a lot of rejection letters. The main reason I have been given is that I do not have any pastoral experience. When I graduated from college in 1992, I was told rather curtly, I was too young and had no experience. I was stunned, while watching my classmates who were the same age and also have no experience, leave college and go into various ministry positions. My home church, although they ordained me, did not attempt to hire me at all. When I finished seminary, I realized that I am in the same boat as I was when I finished college, except for the fact that I am older and married. I am still lacking the experience that most churches are requiring. I was told by someone that if you are looking for a pastoral opportunity within a church, that most church committees will not take into consideration any experience while serving in a non-pastoral capacity. Honestly, that does not make sense, but it is what I have experienced these last three years.
As I was listening to Dr Jeffress, I was processing my life and realizing that I have a burden (and have had for years), passion (it has been waning in recent years), but the opportunities are non-existent. Then it hit me, the opportunities are no longer present. I thought back to 2010 where I did an unusual amount of pulpit supply and then that came to a halt in September 2010 and I did not preach again until late last year in August of 2012 where I had two preaching opportunities (both pulpit supply) back to back and then as quick as they came, they have disappeared again. Pulpit supply does meet a need, but it is a poor way to learn how to preach and it is a poor way to preach with any consistency. Pulpit supply is not the experience that most churches are looking for. The opportunities are scarce in pulpit supply and in my case non-existent. It is the proverbial catch-22, you have to have experience to get hired by a church, but no one wants to give anyone the opportunity to gain the necessary experience. It should never be this way in a local church.
When I got to work our main computer system was down, so after processing email and doing everything that I could do without our main computer system, I remembered that Jason Meyer was going to speak this morning on the subject of Pastoral Transition after a 32 year ministry. I had the time because our system was down and there was nothing else to do, I listened to the live stream of Jason’s message. If you did not know, Jason Meyer is the new Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is the successor to John Piper, who was the previous Pastor of Preaching and Vision for 32 years.
As I listened to Jason’s story recounting the process and how he spoke many times about the supernatural and the sovereignty of God. I was struck by the fact that nothing of a supernatural nature has been taking place in my life related to ministry since I graduated. It shook me when I had that thought! I started asking myself where I went wrong, was there sin in my life that I needed to deal with, was God chastening me for some reason? I could not identify any one particular thing but as I kept listening, my discouragement increased. I also noticed that Jason had made an impact on several people as evidenced in this video
When I finished seminary and there was no available opportunities for pastoral ministry, I had prayed regarding further education, a PhD or DMin possibly. I found myself in a quandary, I was not academically qualified (grades were not high enough – competition is too strict) and then I found out that I could not get into any DMin program because I lacked the three years of post MDiv ministry experience. So my formal education came to an abrupt halt and I realized that at this point I would not be able to teach in any institution of higher learning with just an MDiv. to teach anywhere, one would need a Doctorate. So teaching in a college or seminary was out.
I was also struck by the fact that John Piper poured his life into Jason Meyer. Jason started his role in August and I can imagine that he has spent numerous hours with John Piper, learning and observing the ministry. Now, the church voted again in December for Jason to become the Pastor of Preaching and Vision effective January 1, 2013. This represents a four month transition. One can only imagine what kind of intense mentoring that took place during those four months and what will take place from January until April when John Piper will step down as the Associate Pastor of Preaching and Vision.
Recently, I had a good friend who was in a similar situation. He was in full-time ministry and was let go by a pastor/church over money issues. He did nothing wrong, he served with honor, but the church and pastor were not obeying 1 Timothy 5:17-18. He found himself out of the ministry and discouraged. He was faithful and had a desire to serve God in full-time ministry and went over ten years with no prospects and a healthy amount of disappointment. The turning point in his life was an area pastor he met who took an interest in him and kept in contact with him. This pastor eventually recommended him to a church nearby and last Sunday he preached his first sermon as the new Senior Pastor of that particular local church.
What I am noticing is a common denominator in these situations: People took a real interest in an individual. It was not a casual interest, but rather a committed one. It embodied the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:2
And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
I was also struck by the involvement of the local church in the life of Jason Meyer and the life of my friend. Acts 13 is a text that reaffirms the role of a local church with regard to its responsibilities of sending out those within its midst who are called and affirmed by the local church for Gospel ministry. Too many local churches take the passive approach and abdicate this responsibility to a Bible college or a seminary. Does the local church that you attend have a method or process for recognizing and affirming those who have expressed a call to ministry?
In the end, I am reminded of the Scripture found in 1 Timothy 3:1
If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good thing.
I am also reminded that I am not getting any younger either.
Still trying to make sense of what I heard on Tuesday morning and wondering how it all fits in the context of my life.