It has taken eight months for me to get around to writing about this, but now feels like the right time. On August 1 of last year, I was officially ordained as associate pastor of our church, Bartimaeus Baptist Temple. God is fulfilling the word He gave to me before I even knew enough to accept Him as Lord of my life. I could never have imagined the path that brought me here. I thought it likely that I had gone too far astray to be brought back, but God’s will is not so easily thwarted. Just thinking about it brings me joy. God’s mercy and grace seem indeed to be boundless.
I am still not sure I understand what has happened and what it means. If you’ve been following me you know that I’ve spoken highly of the book Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. I am in full agreement with most of what they have to say. I believe the traditional church model, drawn from pagan practice, does not serve the body well. Where we part ways is on the teaching of church authority. (By the way, I came to this conclusion before being ordained.) Even so, I did feel a bit of cognitive dissonance on accepting my ordination.
In the end, the decision was made because I have not come to any definite conclusions about how things should be done, but I do know that God has called me to be where I am. It became apparent to me that ordination best facilitated the roll God has given me at the church. It sounds rather calculating written that way, but that is in my nature. I did spend time in prayer and I believe that God intended it to be so.
I am amazed all over again every time I think about the circumstances that brought me to this place in my life. The childhood calling never left my mind, but I doubted its reality more times and in more ways than I can count. As a teenager in a pastor’s home I began to think that I wanted no part of what my father did, watching the trials that ministry brought to him. Yet when called upon to preach my first sermon on a youth Sunday at our church I took on the assignment with fervor. That didn’t end well. I dropped my notes and my confidence fell to the floor among the scattered paper. Maybe I was not meant to be a preacher after all.
I don’t remember giving any serious consideration to a career in ministry. Even if I had wanted to go to a Bible college, my parents couldn’t send me. Because of the extra effort required to get through school with a visual impairment, working my way through wasn’t a reasonable option, and there would be no government assistance for a private religious institution. I suppose that if I had really wanted that we could have found a way, but I don’t think I gave it much thought. I headed back to Arkansas, and thus began what I imagined to be the death of any clerical aspirations I might have retained.
I could wish that God had chosen another way, but God’s choice wasn’t the problem. I certainly did not surprise Him with my choice, but the very pride that He would soon address led me to make the wrong one. The divorce was a humbling experience, if I do not forfeit said humility by the mention of it. I’ve written in somewhat more detail in other posts about the circumstances, so here I will only say it nearly destroyed me. Only when I confessed my sin did I begin to heal. This wasn’t supposed to happen to good little preacher’s kids. It was a strong dose of reality and it showed me who I really was. It is still painful to think about. Surely this meant I could never be a preacher. Some denominations explicitly refuse to ordain someone who is divorced and the rest generally frown on it. At least they did in that time and place.
I recovered, eventually getting myself together and starting a career as a computer programmer. To this day there remains a part of me that wonders if I missed what God really intended me to do with my life, but I worry about that far less than I used to after seeing what God did through it. It was all part of His plan, all my missteps included. Because I got a job in Dallas and moved to an apartment a couple of miles away from Hillcrest Church, I started attending. I began to understand love. I met my wife Linda there. Because of Linda, I came to Bartimaeus. Because of what I found there, I am now walking in the calling God gave to me.
While I was at Hillcrest, I became involved in small group ministry and led one for a while. I thought maybe that is what God meant. After all, wasn’t I doing essentially the same thing a pastor does? I liked that idea. I still had no desire to lead an entire congregation. The only problem is that’s not what God said. It is reasonable to suppose that He spoke in terms that I would understand as a child and that I might learn later the true meaning of what He said. That’s true however one interprets His words, but He said I would be a preacher. I believe He communicated exactly what He meant to my young mind. The only notion of a preacher that I had was the man standing in front of the Church on Sunday morning.
Eventually we all moved on, and I found new grounds for doubt. I didn’t feel that I did a very good job as a small group leader. Maybe I had sabotaged God’s plan for my life. This thinking was only reinforced after I got married. I might be treading dangerous ground here, but I do not think I’m saying anything that Linda and I have not discussed. Especially in the first couple of years, I thought maybe I was going to be punished for the rest of my life for marrying Linda. After all, we were both divorced and one can reasonably conclude from scripture that we should not remarry. At first she had no interest in the kind of ministry I was drawn to and absolutely did not want to be a preacher’s wife. Did I go against the will of God and finally destroy all hope of fulfilling my calling? Honest students of scripture may disagree on the rightness of what we did, but regardless of that I have no more doubt in His mercy in moving beyond it. Linda went through her own transformation, and she is the one who is responsible for bringing us to our current church home. She is the one who founded the ministry to the disabled that I only talked about. She wholeheartedly supported my decision to be ordained, knowing where it leads. She has embraced our calling and lives it daily. While I’m still caught up in my work, she is out making a difference in the lives of real people. I could not ask for a better wife.
I continue to be plagued by doubts about my calling. I seem so unequipped for the job a pastor must do. I do not speak well, though I am earning. I do not relate to others all that well, especially people I don’t know. I have been consumed with the desire to understand and experience God’s love, but I think I am a poor example of it. I am not able to drop everything and come running when needed unless Linda or someone else is available to help me do it. I have so much to learn. I still can’t fathom that God is willing to use me in this roll, but here I am. I am not and do not wish to be the senior pastor where we are now. Pastor David Whitmore is the man for that job. It may not be Sunday morning when I get to speak, but I am confident that God is bringing about exactly what He said. The when and how is in His hands. I marvel at what He has done and can hardly wait to see what He will do next. If he has made so much good out of my error, how much more when we give our whole harts to serving Him? I’m sure I’m not done making mistakes, but I no longer live in fear of them. He’s bigger than my mistakes, and He will accomplish His purposes.