Last week I was asked this question once again, “Why did you become a pastor?” This time around the person asking the question had genuine intrigue, but often times people ask the question with a slight hint of skepticism. I always want to be clear and honest when answering this question but I also want to leave room for explaining God mysteriously works in each moment, decision, and movement of our lives, so there is at least some mysterious element to my call into pastoral ministry. So, allow me to explain briefly the reason why I became a pastor at the young age of 22.
I converted to faith in Christ when I was 16 years old and a junior in High School. At that point in my life I thought I wanted to go into television production. I was a part of a television tech prep program at my High School, but quickly I learned there was one big problem with me going into television… I absolutely HATED all post-production work. With my new faith in Christ and my realization I didn’t want to go into television work it meant I needed to try and sort out where God was calling me vocationally. The problem was there wasn’t one particular thing I really wanted to do; I kinda wanted to join the military but not really, I kinda wanted to be a politician but not really, and I kinda wanted to just skip college…The good news was that I didn’t really need to make a decision anytime soon.
I finished High School still pretty fuzzy on what I “wanted to be when I grew up,” but there were some circumstances early on in my Christian walk that led me to at least consider full-time ministry work. Let me be clear, I was still a baby Christian and was very early in my sanctification process so I didn’t even really have a good understanding of what ministry was like. What I did have was this subjective pull to at least explore ministry. This sensing of God leading me into ministry combined with an affirmation from at least 2 other pastors led me to want to attend a Christian college where I could study the Bible more and learn theology better. God sovereignly worked to give my Mom a job at Cedarville University which allowed me to attend there tuition free, so of course I took the opportunity.
My first year of college at Cedarville was extremely difficult for me, but towards the end of my first year God gave me my first job in ministry which, as I now look back, really helped me grow in my subjective calling into ministry. Adjusting from a large working class public High School to a small upper-middle class private college was not easy for me, and this led me to doubt my future in ministry. Then, as I was thinking and praying about what I wanted to do over the summer, I literally stumbled into a guy in the hallway of the student center who sparked a conversation with me. I asked the guy what he was doing there on campus and he explained that he was recruiting for a Christian camp offering summer jobs. So, without thinking long I simply filled out an application and handed it to him. I ended up taking a job at this camp located in a place I had never been, to work with people I had never met, and this was my first formal ministry job. Over the course of that summer God worked in my life in some fundamental ways. God showed me what full-time discipleship truly looks like, and He gave me teaching opportunities, and I got to see eternities changed as students placed their faith in Jesus. I now realize that summer was God’s time of opening my eyes to what full-time ministry could be like.
As college went on I continually grew in my theological understandings, but I also continually had spiritual peaks and valleys. I did as many recent converts do, and I foolishly got involved in churches and ministries whenever I felt I was on a peak, but then I disappeared during my spiritual valleys. I’d say this stereotypical millennial, wish-washy, half-hearted Christian life lasted for a solid 3 years. In those 3 years I really did have some other quite wonderful ministry opportunities. I really did grow in my knowledge of God. I really was busy working and attending school full-time. The biggest issue was that here I was a student considering full-time ministry, but I was not fully committing myself to a local church, so I wasn’t organically involving myself in the life of my church. I did attend church almost every week but my church involvement essentially started and ended there. So, when graduation came and I was still sorting through a subjective pull into at least exploring full-time ministry there was one big problem; I had no good idea of what full-time local church ministry may actually look like.
Realizing my need for growth in an understanding of what local church ministry truly is I sought out an internship for post-graduates. At that time, I didn’t want to jump into a career outside the Church unless I felt confident God was not calling me into ministry, but without ever being in local church ministry how could I actually know God wasn’t leading me into pastoral work? Another problem was that I didn’t want to jump into a long-term job that I felt totally under-qualified and not ready for. I didn’t want to “marry” any particular local church, but I wanted to “date” one. I also wanted to go somewhere where older pastors could take me under their wings, show me the ropes, and help me sort through my character and my conviction and my calling. I had this subjective pull into ministry, but it needed to be strengthened and it certainly needed to be affirmed by much wiser elders within the local church I worked. All of these things combined led me to apply for the internship at Parkside Church, and much to my surprise I was hired.
In 2013, I moved to the eastern suburbs of Cleveland Ohio to work at a church I had only been to once, where I didn’t have any friends, and that I didn’t yet understand. The reason I was confident in taking this job, though, is because I had prayed through the opportunity and God kept showing me how I would benefit from having godly men speak into my life on a daily basis, and as an intern at Parkside that is exactly what I experienced. I was given teaching opportunities on a weekly basis, was able to be a part of a pastoral team, got to observe every ministry inside the local church, built some good relationships, sat in on planning meetings, made hospital visits, helped plan weddings and funerals; in short, I was getting a taste of what full-time pastoral local church ministry looked like. I needed to grow in denying myself and humbly choosing Christ. I needed to grow in preparing a message and delivering it. I needed to grow in loving people. I needed to grow in SO MANY things, but you don’t grow by studying growth in a class; you grow by immersing yourself in what God is calling you to do and trusting Him throughout the entire process. Throughout the process of my year-long internship at Parkside God made it clear to me that I needed to move forward working within the local church and teaching the Bible, but equally as important is that God also led the elders and pastors of Parkside to affirm my own subjective calling with a more objective affirmation of the call.
I have now been a full-time pastor at Parkside for 4 and a half years beyond the one year internship I first did coming out of college. In these 4 and a half years, I spent a little over 3 of them leading the Middle School Ministry. As a Middle School pastor, God taught me a number of crucial and key lessons that I will always carry with me, and he helped me sort through my calling to be a pastor more and more. For the past year and a half I have been the Pastor of Young Adults and Care Ministries at Parkside, and God has given me a bit of a different angle and perspective to continue loving His people and teaching them the Gospel, and this different perspective has continued to help me understand my calling in ministry more clearly.
Looking back over my ministry experience, and thinking about the question “Why did you become a pastor…” I can conclude that the reason is because God has called me to proclaim the good news of Christ loving sinners and saving them by dying for them on the cross and resurrecting from the dead. God has used many means to lead me to where I am today; He used a few Godly people in my life before I was even a believer, the prayers of some older Christians when I was just a kid, some mysterious circumstances that are hard for me to fully grasp, a bunch of Bible preaching and Gospel believing pastors who have loved me, some very good professors, my wife, my family, my friends, and He has used all these means to help me sort through my call into ministry. You see, when God calls anyone into pastoral ministry He actually does so for the same universal reason which is drawn out in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, and that is so we would proclaim the good news of Jesus, and teach the Bible in season and out of season… Even if the means by which God leads pastors into ministry are unique and plentiful the actual reason why He has us where we all are is actually the same– that we would love God and humbly glorify Him through Gospel proclamation, and that we would teach those entrusted to our care to do the same.