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.