Finals week has come and gone. This next semester, however, marks a milestone. The past semesters in seminary have been mostly about just enjoying the ride, so to speak. This next semester will be about finishing well and finding a ministry position.
That got me thinking about what caused me to pursue vocational ministry. The correct theological answer would be that it was the decree of God in eternity past. On the level we usually live, that’s not very helpful for most people. But it is a reality: God knew what the nature of his people and the church would be like in the opening decades of what we call the 21st century, allowed me to be born, experience certain things, and develop into the man I am today – with all the quirks and failings, as well as all the strengths and capacities, that I have. I am a man, created by God, for this time.
But from my perspective, it sure looks a lot messier. I came to faith in a stuttering sort of way. The opportunity came when, as a sophomore in high school, I was finally presented with a clear Gospel message: the reality of my sin, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, and my ability to appropriate that grace by faith. I didn’t know all those terms then, but I have a clear memory that all those concepts were there. I prayed to God to forgive my sins because of what Jesus had done. That was in 1971.
For the next 30 years, my life as a believer was characterized by several streams. The first was intellectual. I have always been a bit clever with words and ideas and took very quickly to understanding Bible and theology. The second stream was related: communication. I have enjoyed, and been fairly successful at, communicating difficult ideas to people for their benefit. This is the core of teaching. The third stream was service. I learned that service and ministry was my primary mode of spirituality. The fourth stream was leadership. I found myself (frequently in spite of myself!) consistently rising to levels of leadership and influence.
But even back in my early days as a believer, I knew that vocational ministry was a significant “calling.” Sweet old church ladies would say, “Eric, you’re such a nice young Christian man. Do you want to be a pastor when you get older?” Even then, I understood that there was something special about being a pastor and whatever that ‘calling’ was; I didn’t have it – yet.
And that was the state of affairs for decades until about 2000. Things were happening in my own life and the life of the church I was attending. They came together in a kind of spiritual crisis for me. It was pretty undefined at the time but I began to sense that I had to step up even more. This led to a very intense sense of spiritual unease in the beginning of 2003. At that time, several mentors suggested I engage in a ‘Focusing’ process to help me gain clarity as to what God seemed to be trying to tell me. I did that and came away with a rather surprising ‘call’ to “help hurting churches back to health…”
Well, then the question became; how do I do *that?* After several more twists and turns – especially in the job situation – I found myself positioned to enter seminary with the goal of entering full-time vocational ministry. I had the encouragement and support of my family and friends, I had the financial means, and I had a clear call to pursue what seminary would do to prepare me for ministry. I applied for, was accepted, and entered Western Seminary in January of 2006.
As I anticipate graduation in 2008, I am now looking for a full-time vocational ministry position.