I’m sitting at Bethel Seminary Library today doing a little study retreat. I’m sitting in the comfortable chairs that the class of 2005 gave to the Seminary as a class gift. Class of 2005? That’s me!!! Has it really been 10 years since I was perusing these library shelves, sitting in these classrooms, writing stuffy academic papers, and freaking out and clueless about my future and God’s call on my life? As I sit here today, with 10 years of life and ministry now under my belt, I’m taking a few minutes to take stock of the journey. Wow. What can I say? Here’s a few disconnected thoughts chosen at random as I reflect on what I’ve learned since leaving these seminary walls and venturing out into the real world of life and ministry.
- When I was in Seminary I was a academic in love with the idea of Christianity and the church. I had no intentions or desire to get involved in pastoral ministry. Ten yeas later I am a pastor. Not just in title alone; I’m actually a pastor at heart. I used to get a buzz from writing theological papers and gleaning new insights into Scripture, theology, cultural backgrounds of the NT, etc. Now I get way more satisfaction in counseling a grieving soul, helping a young couple prepare for marriage, or leading a living room discussion about learning to be a more forgiving person.
- When I was in Seminary I thought biblical knowledge and theological truth was what the world needed most. Now I believe its a personal encounter with Jesus — not just beliefs about him and what He did. People need the Word incarnate. God was determined that the Word would become incarnate in order to most effectively reach people; we seem to find ways of replacing the Living Word among us with a ministry of mere words (i.e., Bible studies, sermons). People need a real encounter with Jesus way more than they need a brilliantly crafted sermon.
- When I was in Seminary, I was trying to find the true stream of Christian spirituality and truth (whether it be a form of evangelicalism, the Baptist General Conference, the missional church movement, or chose your movement). I have discovered these past 10 years of ministry in various church traditions/denominations (e.g., United Methodist, Evangelical Covenant) that the Holy Spirit is active in all of them, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Again, Jesus seems to be far more ecumenical than many of us, and like Billy Graham, He’s “willing to go anywhere, sponsored by anyone so long as the gospel is proclaimed with no strings attached.” I plan to do the same.
- When I was in Seminary, I began to believe that our postmodern world is filled with post-Christian skepticism and most people are closed to the gospel, hard-hearted, and waiting with arms crossed for me to bring a new, compelling apologetic to give the Christian message credibility once again. For ten years I have seen that it has less to do with our culture and more to do with the timeless conditions of the human heart. Even in today’s post-Christian culture I’m seeing that broken people are receptive to amazing grace, thirsty people still respond when the Living Water of Jesus is offered, sacrificial love for the unlovely makes our message credible. Likewise, prideful people still resist God’s lordship, wealthy people are still tempted to love their stuff more than God, and hearts that are like rocky soil will rarely let the seed of God’s Word sink in, and its still probably a waste of time to “cast pearls before swine.”
- When I was in Seminary, I took myself much more seriously. I thought I needed to figure out my call, have the right answers, gain all the necessary training and experience to enable me to be effective, and that failure was a bad thing to be avoided at all costs. For ten years I’ve learned that its obedience, faithfulness and perseverance that results in fruitful ministry for the LORD. Failure and success come and go like the tides. They don’t hinder God’s work. But they’ll help grow a leader’s character if we let it. Failing forward and getting back up is the key.
- In Seminary I viewed the scriptures primarily as a sword to be wielded (a biblical notion!) in the war of ideas and battle for truth. I still believe it serves that purpose. But ten years into the daily grind of life, marriage, ministry, parenting and never ending bouts with self-doubt and the full array of psychological moods, I now view the Bible more like the oxygen I need to breath constantly for survival. More than a tool to be used in certain situations, God’s Word should be the air I breath to sustain my life every moment of every day. When I stop breathing it in, my soul languishes. So “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
- In Seminary I avoided the church because it was filled with messy people, corrupt leaders, and church politics and fighting that kept spoiling my beautiful, spotless image the ideal church of the NT (you know, the problem-free early church of Acts 2….let’s just ignore the rest of the NT, Paul’s letters to Corinth, etc.). Ten years later I started and now lead a messy church full of sinners dealing with all manner of brokenness, and I’m more aware than ever of my own fallenness and inadequacy to lead God’s people. I now embrace it, and believe such messy fellowships are the hope of the world and the primary place where the gospel is experienced and demonstrated.
- In Seminary I was a bundle of nerves and anxieties and insecurities yet filled to the brim with biblical knowledge and passion. Yet, I was like Jeremiah all those painful years as “God’s word was like a fire shut up in my bones” and I was “weary of holding it in” but whenever I tried to speak or teach I failed and got poor results. Ten years ago I had a major phobia of public speaking, and preaching was simply inconceivable. Ten years later I am experiencing the thrill of boldly preaching Sunday after Sunday with only a healthy amount of fear and trembling. Thank you God!
I could go on all day….staring out the window a the Bethel grounds where I used to walk under the warm sun, with trepidation and confusion at what my future might hold. All those conversations with God by Lake Valentine, telling him that I want to be a college professor, living in library stacks and the safety of theories and ideas, pontificating in the classrooms about the church universal without going near the church in my backyard where the old ladies argue over carpet stains and the men over “right doctrine.” I must say, blessed as I have been by this place, it feels a bit stuffy in this library today. My place is now with Jesus outside on the dusty roads of real life where God’s grace is intersecting with ugliness of our world — and we leaders are his signposts trying to direct traffic without getting run over. It’s quite exciting, if you think about it! Wow. Ten years. Thanks for joining me for the ride!