I have a few blog posts drafted on such interesting (to me) topics as “the doctrine of taxation?” and “the connection between Maslow and spiritual formation.” I’ll hold those in my back pocket for now. Meanwhile, especially since one of the express purposes of this blog is to share my experience as a “slasher” (bi-vocational) pastor, I figured I should actually start sharing some of those experiences. Besides, I have learned that people respond to story, not just argument, so here’s one of my own, this one on my call to pastoral ministry.
My mom saved some mementos of my early childhood in a small book. There is one “page” in this book for each grade level, and each one has a little pocket with items from that grade: report cards, creative writing projects, drawings, etc. In the pockets for kindergarten and first grade, there are two drawings. The captions on the drawings say “what do you want to do when you grow up?” Both of these drawings are of a man, standing behind a pulpit arms outstretched, with a Bible the size of the man. Apparently, I wanted to be a pastor with a really big Bible.
After first grade, I apparently changed my mind, and at various points I wanted to be a soccer player, a meteorologist, an artist, and an entrepreneur. By the time I went to college (GVSU), the thought of pastoral ministry was entirely gone. I was still quite ministry-oriented, but I figured lay leadership would be as far as I would go. By this time my two older brothers had gotten Computer Science degrees and were on the path toward careers in software engineering. When I was asked at student orientation what my major was I chose the default: Computer Science. (As an aside, I do not regret that decision, and still consider by job as a software engineer rewarding, and not only for the pay.)
I fairly quickly became a part of several Christian groups on campus but eventually committed to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Somewhere in there I became a small group leader, attended several conferences, attended IVCF’s “School of Leadership Training”, and took on more leadership in the chapter. Most importantly, I discovered something important: I liked to teach!
I took an elective near the end of my time at GVSU on the “Great Migration” of African Americans from the rural South to the industrialized North in the early 20th century. At the end of the class we had to do a presentation in front of the class. Amazingly, the idea of the presentation didn’t scare me to death. In fact, because I worked hard on the project, I was actually a little excited to present. For me, that was bizarre.
I began to look forward to teaching and leadership planning in all kinds of settings I would have avoided like the plague just a few years earlier.
Some people started calling me “seminary Steve.” I’m not sure who, or why, but once again my mind started to ask the question, “what about pastoral ministry?”
I don’t always share the next part of my story – it depends a bit on the audience – but here I get to tell the whole thing without interruption, so it allows me to explain myself.
In my senior (maybe Junior?) year, our chapter held a Jesus Awareness Week (JAW) which was essentially a week of evangelism. This included open air preaching, guest musicians, and conversational evangelism. Near the end of JAW we had some speakers give an evangelistic call, where a couple of people re-committed their lives to Christ. One of the speakers was unexpected, or, at least, I didn’t know who he was or that he was coming. He did a great job so afterward I came up to him to thank him. He looked at me and told me (basically without any introduction): “You are called to become a pastor. God has protected you and prepared you to become a Pastor.” I was blown away. Who was this guy? What was he talking about?
To be honest, to this day, I take this “prophetic call” with a grain of salt. I’m open but cautious when it comes to the so-called sign gifts. As a stand-alone word, I would have ignored it, and I think rightly so. But, it wasn’t a lone voice. By this point it was becoming clear that pastoral ministry was something I needed to consider more seriously.
I better pause here. I eventually went to seminary, but even at the start of seminary the call to pastoral ministry was uncertain. I still had to be convinced.