Last Sunday evening, I was serving communion in our church. If you asked me 26 years ago what I would be doing, that would probably be the furthest thing from my mind.
26 years ago on a Tuesday evening, in a small classroom adjacent to the church auditorium, I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. 26 years ago I was in my senior year of high school not sure what I was going to do with my life. 26 years ago, I was confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was baptized seven months later that same year.
Life has not been a life of ease since that time. It has and still does have its blessings and its challenges. I am thankful that I have been a member of three different Baptist churches in three different locations. I have had five different men in those churches whom I have called “Pastor”.
I had the opportunity to go away to Bible College, graduated after four years, then found myself at the age of 23 again faced with the prospect of not knowing what I was going to do with my life. I had already expressed a call to preach shortly after salvation. Bible College served as a preparation and a training. What I did not realize was that when you are 23 and unmarried, no one wants to hire you. I am not a dynamic speaker and do not have a charismatic personality. I had a desire to serve God and a degree. I was also ordained by my home church in 1992 after I had completed Bible college, seemed like the next logical step for the church to validate and affirm my gifts and abilities to serve in local church ministry. I could not go back home because the economy was in shambles (sound familiar), so I stayed where I was at the secular job that I had and did not particularly like, but I needed it to pay the bills, always having a longing to fulfill the calling on my life that I had made public back in 1987. In 1999, I had an opportunity to go into full-time vocational ministry at a missions agency. I was excited about the opportunity to go into ministry, a bit scared because of the drastic cut to my income, and wondering if this was going to be it for me.
Serving at the missions agency was a good and bad experience. Good because it made me get out of my comfort zone and I was able to travel and do some preaching. Bad because there was a lot of dysfunction within the organization (it existed long before my arrival). As I served, I detected that I needed further training. I had always wanted to pursue more education beyond my Bachelors Degree, but the opportunities were never available in the context and location where I was at the time. Through a series of events and circumstances, the Lord opened a door for me to leave my position at the mission agency and move to MN to attend seminary.
I left Jacksonville, FL 14 years to the day I had arrived. It was a bittersweet departure. I was excited because I was embarking on a new journey, but at the same time I was leaving a place that was like home to me since I had spent almost half of my life there.
Seminary was a different experience for me. When I started, I learned that there was a lot that I needed to learn. I had not been in a classroom in a formal education setting since college, ten years earlier. I also was in the process of really trying figure out what I really believed instead of parroting what I had been taught without thinking through both sides of the theological issues that I was confronted with in my seminary classes and in my life.
Fast forward a bit, I met my wife while in seminary and we were married in 2004 and had our first child in 2006. Lost a child and my mother later that same year. Almost quit seminary at that point because I was overwhelmed. Glad that I did not quit, I graduated with my first degree in 2008 (M.A. in Theology). Continued on to finish my MDiv. in 2010. I honestly did not think that I would finish. I was working 40-50 hours a week and taking a low class load, but the Lord allowed me to finish.
Now, almost three years removed from finishing my last degree, I find myself in a similar situation that I was in back in 1992. In 1992, I was 23, unmarried and had no pastoral or ministerial experience. Now in 2013, I am 43, married with two children, and too far removed from my last full-time vocational ministry assignment and no pastoral experience. When I finished college, people told me that I was too young and had no experience. Now 20 years later, I am older and still have no pastoral experience. Churches now are setting the standard much higher with any hire that they make, most are looking for a minimum of 5 years of pastoral ministry experience and that is even for an assistant or associate pastor.
I look back from where I am now and realize that it all started on that day in February where I was confronted with my own sinfulness and depravity and under great conviction called upon the Lord to save me and that was the beginning of the journey that I wrote about above (omitting lots of other details)