TnT, pride before the Called
So after moving to Virginia, we started attending a medium size Methodist Church. It was such an unlikely pairing; formerly hardcore Pentecostals meet the mainline church. But as I mentioned in the previous post, we loved it. I started attending a Bible study. At the time, I had a skater haircut and a goatee. The first night of the Bible study, the lady next to me showed me the index in the Bible so that I could find Revelation. I was polite, but chuckling inside. A year later, I was running the study.
For the first time that I could remember, I enjoyed going to church. Jenn and I both became heavily involved, she in the music, me in Bible study and both of us in youth ministry. Over time, we had our fingers in almost every happening at the church.
Jenn and I were still by far the youngest members of the community. So the Pastor asked us to start a young adult group. We tried twice and it failed miserably. A year after the second failure, the pastor made a big push to have get people to join small groups. They asked us to give it one more try. In our previous attempts, we were never able to get more than 3-4 people to show up. Because the pastor had made such a push from the pulpit, I was hopeful that we could get 8. I figured with 8 we could make a go of it. The first night 20 people showed up. Within a couple of months we had over 40 people on the roster. We had to split the group in half and sometimes thirds. Jenn would take a group, I would take one and later we got others to help out.
Though it started out as a bible study, it quickly evolved into a fully fledged ministry. TnT or Twenties and Thirties was our name. We had our own outreach projects, social outings and the study. We had a party at someone’s house most weekends. We sat together in a section of the church. And I found myself right smack in the middle of it.
I was elected a lay leader in the church. On several occasions, I got to preach. I also lead a couple of retreats. I had found my niche.
It was in the middle of this faith renaissance that one of my church buddies sponsored me for the Emmaus weekend. He was a mentor of sorts to me and I really admired his commitment to Christ and our church. So I thought what the heck; I’ll go.
It was a transformative weekend. Describing it would be its own post. Halfway through the retreat (on steroids), I just started crying. Which was kind of weird. Most of the guys in my group were just coming back to faith. I was firmly established at the time (yeah, right). But I just could not stop crying. Something powerful was happening to me and I could not figure out what it was. It was then that I thought I heard the voice of my childhood (figuratively), saying come home. I thought about it and went for a long walk. Halfway through the walk, I started crying again. And I said to myself, “God, do you want me to serve you in the full time ministry?” It was then that I had the most powerful spiritual experience of my life. It was as though suddenly my entire life had lead me to this moment. I felt a very specific calling to serve as a pastor. As soon as I made that connection, I felt a wave of contentedness that I have never felt since. I WAS CALLED.
After I got home, I was worried about telling my wife. She had grown up a PK and I was pretty certain she would not be thrilled about my calling to a new vocation. But when I told her, she was surprisingly open to the idea. A short time passed and then I started taking concrete steps towards pursuing my calling. I started looking for seminaries. I shared my calling with my close TnT friends and they all enthusiastically confirmed my vocational plans.
I officially approached my local Methodist district and told them of my calling. They sent me some materials and assigned me a mentor. Being methodical, the Methodist church had a process for pursuing a calling. I met with a local pastor weekly and we reviewed a manual on pursuing a calling.
Normally, it takes about 3 months to complete this phase of the calling. But my mentor and I really hit it off and our 1 hour meetings often went on for 2 hours or more. It took us nearly 9 months to get through all of the materials.
Meanwhile we had other happy news in our life. My wife was pregnant with our first child. We were ecstatic. My job was going gangbusters and my TnT group was thriving.
Near the end of my candidacy exploration, my mentor and I began putting together a plan. I applied to and was accepted at two seminaries. I had a plan and a backup plan. Plan one was to go to Asbury seminary in Kentucky and work in their financial aid office (I still had skillzzzz). Asbury was my first choice, but I knew it might be rough on my wife to move to a strange place again. So I formulated plan 2, which was to go to the local seminary, Wesleyan. If I went this route, I could only go part time while I kept my day job. The nice thing about this option was that my work at the time had a benefit that would pay for schooling at any school for any major (that has since been cut back).
My mentor and I completed the exploration process and he strongly endorsed my candidacy. The next step was to meet with the district superintendant and become a certified candidate through my local church. These two things were going to be a snap. I met with the DS and it went well, although he was somewhat suspicious of my Pentecostal background. It was the spring of 2001.
Life could not be any more perfect. I was happily married. I had managed to build some equity in a house. I led a successful small group ministry. I was called into the full time ministry. I had started pursuing my goal with great success. And I had a baby, a son that was due in June.
It was all coming together. We would have the baby in June. I would take some time off over the summer. I would pick my seminary. And in early fall I would become a certified candidate at my church’s annual meeting.
Because the baby was breach, we scheduled a C-section on June 12th. On the way to the hospital, I commented to my wife on what a blessed existence we lived. No matter what happened, God had blessed us beyond all of our expectations.
But wait, there’s more…