Saturday, January 27, 2007

My Spiritual History

I wrote this a while back to accompany resumes that I send out in search of my next full-time ministry.
The best way I can summarize my spiritual history is “continuing.” I am a work in progress (aren’t we all?) and I’m curious to see how the story unfolds. God began working on me on September 15, 1977, when I was born into a Christian home. My parents taught me to love and serve God above all else. They taught me, both by example and instruction, to be actively involved in the life of a local church. They encouraged me to live according to my faith, regardless of the consequences. The spiritual strengths I possess today are largely the result of parents that raised me “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

In the course of my upbringing, my family served in congregations from varying ends of the philosophical/theological spectrum. My earliest years were spent in churches that were progressive. In these churches I learned the importance of relationships and grace in Christian living. My high school and college years were spent in churches that were more traditional. I learned from these brethren the importance of conviction and Bible study.

As a child, I was immersed following a week of church camp when I was on a “spiritual high.” However, I had very little understanding of what I was doing. Later in my life, just prior to my senior year in high school, I went through a period of reflection on some of the moral departures that my life had taken. I also began to reflect on my earlier decision to be immersed. After much prayer, study, meditation, and counsel, I made for the first time a conscious decision to make Christ my Lord. Now with an understanding of baptism’s significance, I was immersed by my father. God did another wonderful thing in my life later that same year, when I finally summoned the nerve to ask on a date the woman who would become my wife 3 years later, Alissa.

As I survey the past, it is clear to me that God used a youth minister in my earlier years and several aspiring preachers in my high school years to lead me to full-time vocational ministry. Following the advice of church leaders, I enrolled at Brown Trail School of Preaching in 1996 to prepare myself for ministry. At Brown Trail, I learned a lot about the Bible and Bible study, but the meat of my education in ministry would come later, when I was “in the field.” Many of the convictions which I developed during my study at Brown Trail were based more on the status and rhetorical skills of my instructors than on personal study and reflection. Nevertheless, I graduated from Brown Trail with the confidence that I was now prepared for ministry.

After preaching school, I decided to begin work on my bachelor’s degree. So I returned home and began studies at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos, Texas. During that time, God blessed me with an opportunity to work as a ministry intern with the campus ministry there.

This work as an intern fueled my desire to enter into full-time ministry, so after one semester I accepted a position working with the youth at a church in Tyler, Texas. Just a few months later, I started an entirely new and exciting chapter in my life as Alissa and I were married. With all the changes happening so fast it didn’t take long for me to realize how much more effective I could be with some more ministry instruction. So while filling that position, I completed a bachelor’s degree in Bible/Ministry through a distance learning program offered by Southern Christian University. Even while recognizing the need to sharpen my ministry skills, I welcomed this time as a way for me to gain invaluable practical experience in the field while I worked diligently to expand my professional ministry skills in class.

After graduating from SCU, I decided I wanted to do graduate work in Fort Worth at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I found a small church of about 30-35 people who were mostly senior citizens in Joshua, a town about 30 minutes south of Fort Worth that was looking for a preacher. I was able to serve at the Joshua congregation while completing 63 hours of graduate study. My three years in Joshua were a significant turning point for me. It was during this time that our daughter, Abbie, was born. It was also during this time that I began to really think through Biblical principles on my own. I was forced to look at things from a different perspective by going to a Baptist school. I had never even considered other perspectives, and doing so opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. Bible study became an adventure in self-discovery and, for the first time ever, an intimate conversation with God.

Unable to finish my degree because of a tragedy that ended in the death of my brother, I returned home to the campus ministry that I had been an intern at several years previously. Unfortunately, the ministry had been weakened significantly. I came to lead the ministry through a revitalization. Having reached the point where the ministry was stable and healthy, and having evolved in my understanding of Scripture, I felt it best to leave that beloved ministry.

Various considerations related to my family combined with a desire to reflect on and clarify my calling to vocational ministry have prompted me to take a brief sabbatical from full-time ministry. During this time, God has blessed me with the opportunity to work with troubled and neglected teens through a non-profit organization in Austin. This exposure has given me a valuable reminder of the struggles that many in the world face – struggles that often go unnoticed in the sheltered environment of church work. Shortly after beginning this work, I was approached by a group of elders at the church that my family and I attend. They were interested in using me on a part-time, temporary basis to supplement the work of their full-time minister.
This opportunity to work in ministry part-time has increasingly rekindled the fire in my soul to make vocational ministry my life’s work.

My spiritual growth has been the result of a supportive family, strong church families that molded me, a wife that supports me and encourages me to continue moving with spiritual vigor on the journey of faith, and a daughter that puts it all in perspective. But above of all else, I owe my spiritual growth to God. Working through events and relationships in my life, His providential hand has led me on the most exciting and fruitful endeavor that I could have ever imagined.

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