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    Entries in Calling (2)


    Rant: Meaning, Vocation, and the Way We Talk About Ourselves

    Storytelling here

    Yesterday I began an essay on meaning and vocation and the mess that is my life.

    How do you write about your own journey without sounding self-serving or sentimentally pious, particularly when you are called to the vocation of pastor?

    Can it be done?

    Too often, when I have heard or read stories of vocation and calling, the narrative arc is simplified: "I was one place. God called. Then I went another place. Everything is now golden. Hooray!"

    I think things are more complicated. My story is, most definitely.

    But every step has been glorious in the way hard and complicated things are glorious, filled with God's presence and playfulness.


    Discerning a Call to Elder/Deacon/Pastor/Missionary/Priesthood?

    Long title.  Short concept.  I'm touchy about how people talk about calling, and exactly what we are called to.  There seems to be a tension between our ecclesial structures and the way the New Testament describes the "office" of leadership.  We ask peers, students, and friends about "calling to the ministry," and when we do so we are sincere.  What we mean is, "Is God directing you to serve as a Pastor, Elder, Deacon, or Missionary?"  But our more common way of phrasing the question, "Have you been called to 'ministry'?" unfortunately implies that there is an elite class of God-servants especially set apart for the work of the church, a ministry regarded more highly than the ministry of the laity.  I wish people would be more specific in how they phrased the question, and leave more general questions about calling to "the ministry" behind for good.

    With that being said, I am one called.  My ministry thus far has taken both traditional and non-traditional forms. I have served as a children's minister, a youth minister, I have preached in the presence of assemblies of the saints, I have taught and instructed small groups of believers.  I have walked alongside leaders, prayed with and for them.  I have opened the Scriptures often with friends to explore the words found there.  I have served in cities and small hamlets.  I have served the poor and the rich.  Thus far my life has been an adventure, and I'm humbled to play my part in a tale as grand as God's.

    My calling came when I was a high school student.  I saw something in the life of my youth minister, Bob Billups, that I found compelling.  And so I shared my calling, and it was met with skepticism.  "You won't make much money doing that type of work."  "You know, every church isn't like our church."  "Are you sure you're called to 'the ministry'?"  So I bottled those earliest thoughts, feelings, and emotions that would take me down the road of "the ministry", and began looking elsewhere for a vocation.

    After a failed attempt as a computer science major my freshman year in college, I was given the opportunity to serve as a day-camp counselor at Green Acres Baptist Church--the same camp where I recall first hearing the good news about Jesus.  It was at this camp that my experiences in leadership reawakened a desire to serve in pastoral leadership.  I was blessed by the students, I enjoyed serving alongside fellow Christians, and I witnessed God bringing fruit to bear through my life.  I had others name for me what they saw, including a long-time friend, a new acquaintance, and a grisly old football coach.  The next fall I went from an "undeclared" student at Baylor University to a Religion major in the Ministry Guidance program.  I had a trajectory.

    During my time in college I grew in knowledge of the Bible and of Christian theology.  I also served as an intern and interim youth pastor at a small, rural Baptist church in Crawford, Texas.  My tenure there did not last long, and I walked away thinking I would never serve youth again (I was wrong).

    After leaving Baylor I attended Dallas Theological Seminary and obtained a Master's in Christian Education.  I served two churches in the Dallas area.  I worked as an intern in children's ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church.  After marrying my wife Molly in the summer of 2003, I joined the staff of First Baptist Church, Allen as the associate children's minister.  While serving the students and families of FBC, I was licensed and ordained for the gospel ministry.

    Molly, who is a graduate of Perkin's School of Theology, was also called to church leadership.  Molly was, and is, a Methodist.  We support and love one another in our respective callings.  And her calling took us to Kansas City and The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.  Since moving to Kansas City, I have served as a youth pastor, have been a leader at a conference youth camp for four consecutive summers, have volunteered with students, and have been a writer.  This past year I have experienced a number of nudgings from friends, neighbors, and colleagues to return to the work of the pastoral ministry.  I do not know if that is what God has for me.  Since college, my pastoral calling was always coupled with a desire to study the discipline of theology.  In an effort to live into that desire, I have worked toward a second master's degree, this time in the Religious Studies department at The University of Kansas.  After applying to six PhD programs last spring, and being denied six times, I am yet to discern the next step.  But there is no doubt God is continuing to use me "in ministry."

    If you're discerning a call to elder/deacon/pastor/missionary/etc., leave a comment.  I will pray for you.  Ask for prayer.  Don't just ask your family.  Ask your church.  Ask people you trust.  Ask strangers.  Then find a minister, and ask them questions.  Ask them about the blessings and curses of pastoral work.  The blessings outweigh the challenges, but there are challenges nonetheless.  Ask them how they sustain their families.  Ask them what it is like to prepare sermons, serve communion, extend pastoral support.  Ask them how they recharge their batteries when they are tired.  Ask them what seminary is like.  If they serve as part of a denomination, ask them about the system.  And then ask them who they look to as theological and pastoral mentors.  Make note of these people.

    If God is calling you to lead in some church office, you'll know.  God will show you the way, whether it be through friends, pastoral leaders, or strangers.  You'll sense it somewhere at the core of your being.  Or you'll trust the voices God surrounds you with to name things in you that you cannot see.  And if your calling becomes sure, then it becomes your responsibility to develop your character, though God's grace will surely be given as you undertake that task.  You must become a person of integrity.  You must become a person of love, humility, compassion, and truth.  You must become like Jesus.  And the good news is, the Bible tells us that you can be made holy by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    The church needs leaders.  And God is calling leaders.  Make space in your life to hear.  Listen carefully, closely.  Ask God to speak.  And if God speaks, you'll know.  And when you know, let me be the first to welcome you to the adventure.  

    The second, actually.  God will have been the first.