Thursday, April 4, 2013

Good Influences

When I was in college, I had one large reservation about becoming a pastor in a church: I didn't think that I wanted to write a paper each week and give a speech on it which was primarily how I saw the task of the sermon. 

The church had done much to shape and nurture me.  At the tender age of 14, our children's minister Virginia Gray asked me to be a leader for 6th grade camp.  Even after getting into trouble at my own senior high camp (a story for another blog post), she called me and asked if I thought I was ready for this responsibility.  I humbly said that I was and she took a chance on me.  It worked out well and I worked that camp each summer for years.

I remained active in the church even through college.  I served as a resident custodian at the Wesley Foundation which was our campus ministry in Stillwater.  Whenever our campus minister, John Rusco, had seminary recruiters show up, he always made sure that I was around to visit with them.  John had a passion for thinking through the faith.  This style resonated with me and had me thinking that maybe some form of ministry would be in my future.

I remember praying about this and asking God if I was really called to be a pastor.  I still didn't like the idea of weekly sermons but I thought to make a compromise.  I enjoyed my summer church internships helping with youth programs and so if a job presented itself, I would work as a youth minister to see if this was really where God was calling me to be.

Shortly after I had come to this decision, the phone rang and it was Lynn Tegeler on the other end.  She told me that New Haven United Methodist Church in Tulsa asked her to apply for their full time youth minister position opening up.  She told them that she already had a job and didn't feel called to work with youth full time but that she knew someone who would be good for the job.  Lynn and I had worked together in the summer for Boston Avenue UMC and in spite of this, she still gave them my name.  

Now I'm not a huge providence guy, but I clearly remember the surreal feeling and asking God, "There's really not much of a choice here, is there?"

I interviewed and was given the job where I got to know Ken Tobler (the senior pastor) and Linda Harker (the children's minister) on that staff. They taught me about working with others on a church staff and while the overwhelming majority of the congregation was great, I did learn that not everyone leads with grace all the time!
Chris Porter took this picture of me sharing my growth and
maturity with Christina Mallory at church camp. Sadly, this
was only a few years ago - it may be that I was
helping her remember her baptism.  

It was a wonderful time for me for growth and maturity.  I felt my call to ministry solidifying.

And yet, I still had this hesitation for preaching...

Fortunately, my frugality came in to help me out. My friend, Van Hawxby was also a youth minister in Arkansas and he was working at a church in Little Rock.  They had money set aside to bring someone in each year to lead a youth retreat.  He told me that his church would pay me $400 to come do this event.  It seemed like a no-brainer to me.  But there was a catch.  You had to preach at the Sunday morning worship service.  It was a pretty big congregation and they also broadcast over local radio.  

I decided that God must be behind this.

I did my best to write a credible sermon.  I practiced it until I had it memorized and had this nervous excitement that Sunday morning.  I preached and found that this was right.  It was what God had been calling me to do all along.  

This was around twenty years ago.  I still have an excitement for preaching and continue to live out my calling as an ordained pastor in the church.  God's calling comes to us both internally and externally.  It was internal in how I was shaped and nurtured in the faith - how my prayers, thoughts and feelings with God moved me to consider this as an option.  It was external in that people in the church interacted with me and pushed me in this direction.  They saw something in me that corresponded to what was going on inside.

If you are wondering about God's call upon your life, I would invite you to be open (maybe even open to checking out this cool link or event). Don't allow hesitations or fears to shut God down.  In the long run, I don't think it will work anyway!


  1. That picture perfectly sums up my church camp experience

    1. I'm glad Chris caught that - he didn't have a heads up and I didn't know I was going to do it until it happened! Still love camp!