Why A Pastor, Part 2

In the last post, I began telling the story of how I ended up being a Pastor. Because it’s a lifelong story, I found it takes more than one sitting to tell. So if you’re still interested, the story continues below:

How I Became a Pastor, Part 2: The Best Laid Plans…

I arrived at college eager for a fresh start. I had felt ‘stuck’ in high school, and my self-confidence was low. I felt like I needed a new context in which to be the ‘real me.’ I was fed up with Christians and religion, but my faith was perhaps stronger than ever. It was just me and God, and we had an understanding. Or so I thought…

First off, I met a girl. Well, I guess I met quite a few girls, but this one was the girl. The One. Heidi was also a believer, but she came from a very different background than I did. And she thought that it would be a good idea for us to try and find a church to attend together, whereas I was firmly convinced of my “I don’t need to go to church to worship God” stance. So, we started looking for a church…*

At about the same time, a classmate told me she knew I was a Christian, so I should come to a meeting of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group on campus, and oh-by-the-way-maybe-you-could-invite-your-girlfriend-too-because-I-heard-she-sings… Heidi and I  went to a meeting, and it didn’t take long for both of us to be elected into leadership, with me soon becoming the large group emcee. So much for avoiding religious people…

Then, in my sophomore year, I had to pick a major. We were required as part of our liberal arts education to take one elective in religion, and I had really enjoyed it. It was a look at Christianity from an academic, rather than a spiritual perspective, and for the first time I really learned about the other world religions, which fascinated me. So, I started taking other courses that were equally challenging and fascinating, taught by engaging professors who took the time to care about me. (In fairness, most of our profs at Carthage fit that description – it was an awesome place to come of age). So, because I couldn’t decide on a major, and because I enjoyed those courses more than any other, I declared as a Religion Major. So much for avoiding religion…

As Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your future plans.” By my senior year, I was the Religion department tutor and the Supplemental Instructor for the Intro to Religion course. I found myself wanting to be like my professors, and began applying to graduate programs in Theology. I loved teaching, and I enjoyed walking in my faith with others – but my sights were fully set on academia.

My dream school had always been Duke University, so it was my top choice. When I got a letter from them informing me that I was one of only 18 students who had been accepted into their Divinity school, I was beyond ecstatic. At least until I received the (complete lack of any) financial aid package. I was crushed.

Enter another school, Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, who recruited me hard, and offered a scholarship with full tuition plus a stipend, and I had to decide between following my dream or being practical. In a decision I would regret for years afterward, we took the money and moved to Indiana.

From day one, CTS was a fight for me. I had encountered ‘liberal’ Protestant theology at Carthage, but it had pushed me to examine and defend my faith. CTS, on the other hand, comes from a tradition that rejects any statement of belief or creed, as well as any “official” interpretation of the Bible. For the first time, I was taught by and in classes with people who called themselves Christian, while denying things like the Incarnation, the Trinity and the saving work of the cross – teachings which have been considered foundational to Christianity since the time of the Apostles. And for two years, I struggled painfully to understand how they reconciled this, but in the end I found a complete absence of enough commonly held beliefs to even know how or where to engage them. I felt like I was losing my mind, and I knew I had to get out to preserve it.

At the same time, I was feeling a pull toward youth ministry, and I was offered a job as a Youth Director at a rural church, and I accepted. I dropped out of the Masters program and we moved near Purdue University, where Heidi enrolled in their business school to pursue her Masters in Human Resource Administration.

And I loved working with youth. I was in charge of Christian education from birth to death, but my primary focus was on reviving the youth ministry, which was down to basically four girls. In a year, I grew the junior and senior high roster to 40 kids, and made the middle school gathering into a more focused ministry time. The problem was, I had no support. I couldn’t get parents to help out, and I was drawn into a vicious fight between the pastor and the church council. After the pastor left, I was largely on my own for the four months until they received a new pastor, and although he and I got along well personally, we were not on the same page professionally. He did not trust or respect me professionally, and I was under constant scrutiny. I had been hurt too much by my experiences at CTS and at the church under the previous pastor, and this was more than I could take. Out of tremendous respect for the office of pastor and for his ministry, I resigned my position. Walking away without telling anyone my story remains one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I am also very proud of the way I handled my exit. I hurt most for ‘my kids,’ the youth I grew to love so much during those 14 months. They remain in my thoughts and my prayers, even to this day.

I took a job at Lowe’s to pay the bills while Heidi finished grad school, but it took me over a year before I could walk back into a church without feeling hurt and angry. Ministry had burned me badly, and I was once again angry with God’s people. But I did go back and finish my Master of Theological Studies degree at CTS, which was easier to do from a distance, and Heidi and I received our Masters degrees on back-to-back weekends. The next steps of our journey would be our riskiest, by far, and would change our lives forever…

*I hope I don’t need to explain this, but just in case: she was cute, smart and fun to be with, she was interested in me, and I wanted her to be happy – so I said “sure, let’s find a church.”

3 thoughts on “Why A Pastor, Part 2

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