After I graduated from college I was determined to move into ministry. I was faced with two options. I had been accepted into the M.Div. program at Bethel Seminary in Minneapolis. I had also been offered a position as the youth director at a church near Milwaukee. I met for counsel with the pastor of the church I had been attending while I was at camp. As he prayed for me, he said that he felt the Lord saying that both options were pleasing to Him and I could choose either one. I chose to take the position as youth director because of the impact I could have on the lives of the kids while I was being trained for ministry.
The senior pastor of the church became my mentor as I moved into leadership. The church had started a new leadership training school, offering classes in theology, church history, and preaching, among others. One of my job perks was free tuition so I took as many classes as I could. During this time I learned practical components of ministry from every aspect. In practical ministry, I found that the vision and dreams I had for ministry didn’t always turn out as I had expected. Kids were not getting saved in droves and mass revival did not break out, but the kids that we had were getting a solid foundation. They seemed to be excited about our youth meetings every week, so I considered that a success.
One summer night after I had been on staff for almost a year, I felt overwhelmed with a desire to go get drunk, so I drove to a local bar and made some new friends. After several beers I told them all who I was and what I did, and made a complete fool of myself. I was ashamed of my actions and did not tell anyone for several weeks until God finally convicted me. I told the senior pastor, who suggested that because I was on staff should consider repenting before the church, though I was not obligated. I chose to repent publicly, which was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done. With the humility came a new freedom and maturity, which prepared me for my next phase. I was engaged a month-and-a-half later and got married the following February.
The senior pastor and I had talked many times about the excitement of campus ministry, so when my old campus pastor left the campus church to start a new church plant, my current pastor took his position and I joined him on staff. In the fall of 1999, I formed a discipleship group with three new freshmen. I joined forces with the leader of our local InterVarsity chapter, and another Christian with a heart for prayer, and the three of us started a monthly prayer meeting for all the campus ministers. God used this prayer time to break down barriers between ministries which had divided us for years.
On May 27th I was ordained as a pastor in the church. I preached an ordination message on Isaiah 36 and 37 on trusting God when it seems like He’s no where to be found. I learned that we had to put that principle into practice on several occasions when we thought we might have to close the church for financial reasons. But God was always faithful to come through for us, sometimes at the very last minute.
During this time I discovered N.T. Wright. I read somewhere that you should find one or two authors that really interest you and read all of their work. I was excited by Wright’s work because of his ability to hold his own as an evangelical New Testament scholar in the world of secular academics. All the bible professors I had met at the University were strongly liberal, and one was a professing atheist. I loved the idea of being able to “play by their rules and beat them at their own game.” Wright opened my eyes to a world of biblical scholarship that I didn’t even know existed.
In the summer of 2002, my pastor finally yielded to the financial pressures and left the church to pastor near Milwaukee again. That left me as the sole pastor on staff, or as I called it, the “soul pastor”. Although we had a good outreach that fall, we did not see as many students added as we had hoped. Nevertheless, we built some good discipleship groups, and had a number of exciting ministries happening in the church.
In February, I encountered four crises of faith. Outside of our local church, we found out that a missionary and close friend we had been supporting and working with in Costa Rica had taken advantage of several women that had come to him for counseling. Second, a good friend of mine, who had been sent out from our church to start a new church plant, became embittered towards us. After a big ordeal we severed ties and went our separate ways.
In our church, one of our key students suddenly disappeared. He had been on probation for a sexual offense in high school, but he had really changed when he joined the church and got born again. We found that his probation officer deemed him to be too much of a risk and revoked his probation. According to the original crime, he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. I felt absolutely helpless to do anything.
Social workers interrogated one of the girls in the church to find out if she had been violated. The investigation showed that there was not cause for concern, but she revealed that her parents used spanking as part of their discipline. This brought their entire family under investigation, and her parents were accused of child abuse. They were faced with criminal trials and threats to take away their kids.
Meanwhile, the finances kept getting worse and worse. At the end of the school year in 2004, nearly half our members left the church. I commented at the time how amazing it was that every person that left did so on good terms. Even more amazing, we agreed with the reasons that most of the people had for leaving: graduations, new jobs, etc. It was as if God simply closed our church at the end of that school year. We hung on through the summer, but in September we finally closed the doors. The pastors of the other churches decided to take the burden of our $20,000 debt. I was finally free to go back to school for my M.Div., which I began in the spring semester of 2005 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I am currently sorting through my theology and vocation.