Friday, February 24, 2012

My Story (Part 9) - The Door Opens

Read Part 8

Ashland Theological Seminary
After the wedding, with the ceremony performed by Phil Howard, my wife and I began our transition down to Ashland, Ohio as we would both begin studying at Ashland Theological Seminary.  Once we got down there, we both found jobs at the local Wal-Mart.  We lived in a small on-campus apartment and dove into our studies.  It was a refreshing time for me.  My discipline of daily time with God was being restored.  This was encouraged by the atmosphere on campus.  When my wife and I had first began looking at seminaries and visiting campuses, we both left Ashland overwhelmed by the sense of God's presence there.  From the classroom to the chapel services, seeking the Lord was priority one.  Classes didn't just open with a prayer of formality, but with a genuine time of prayer.  I also made some new friends there who were a wonderful blessing and encouragement in my walk with Christ.  Granted, I had some liberal professors.  But the presence of solid men of God overshadowed that.

We had barely begun our first term of study when I saw a list in the student center of churches seeking student pastors.  I had been told for a while not to expect to become a pastor for a while, as churches would not want such a young pastor.  I actually did not expect that being in my early 20's in seminary would be such a rare thing.  So many of the students were second career, being called to ministry later in life.  I figured I at least had to give it a shot as I saw one little church where I just might qualify.  I made the call to the local denominational office for the church, The Church of the Brethren.

Black River Church of the Brethren
I was introduced to the church, and given the opportunity to be a pulpit supply minister starting in January.  Week after week, we would make the drive north to the church and spend the morning with the people there.  My heart quickly became attached to the people.  I was a city boy, and these were mostly older farmers.  As weeks went by, the thought of not being able to serve as pastor would break my heart.  But as things went on, the church decided to go ahead and hire me as pastor.

At this time, I also left Wal-Mart to work in a local book store.  Now I was full-time in seminary, part-time at the church, and more than part-time as an associate manager at the book store. Oh, yeah - and newly married.  I never really took time to think about how busy we were at that time.  My quiet times were in place giving me strength from the Lord, my classes were academically and spiritually stimulating, work gave me a chance to be around non-Christians for ministry, and church gave me an outlet for preaching.  It was busy, but it was good.

I was at Black River for three years, taking me almost to the end of my time in seminary.  Things didn't stay positive for long.  I was young and made a lot of mistakes.  There were some issues at the church that were not as they should be.  I tried to address these issues, sometimes in the right and sometimes in the wrong.  I think my biggest mistake was taking all the things I had learned about ministry in my classes and cramming them into this church.  The people just weren't ready for it.  I was applying new church growth ideas in a 140-year old country church with people who were happy to stay small and keep big city ideas far away.  Distance began to grow between me and the people and the people and me.  I now see that what I should have done was teach the Word and loved the people.

Dr. Terry Wardle
During all this, I was greatly encouraged and ministered to by one of the newer professors on campus, Dr. Terry Wardle.  I ended up taking as many classes with him as I could.  He had been the pastor of a large C&MA church in California.  My C&MA contacts were growing since leaving Malone.  While Dr. Wardle went a little further in some things than I am comfortable with, his overall ministry to me has probably saved my life and my family.  His constant message was keep your focus on Jesus and don't get swallowed up by the pressures and demands of ministry.  Applying what he has taught is part of why I am still in ministry today.  His impact on me was such that the naming of my son was ended up having something to do with Dr. Wardle.

By the time I got to my final year in seminary, I knew my time at Black River was also coming to an end.  It wasn't just the tension, it was mostly because my wife and I had always had a burden to minister back in Cleveland.  I spent a lot of time looking into different denominations, as I came to discover that The Church of the Brethren, nationally, was more liberal than I thought, and more than I could co-exist with.  All of a sudden, all the C&MA connections I had made were coming to the forefront.  This denomination, that I had never heard of before college, was capturing my heart.  It was the only denomination where I could look through the entire statement of faith and agree with every point.

A.W. Tozer (C&MA Preacher)
I initiated contact with the C&MA District Office and had my first meeting with Dr. Gordon Meier.  This resulted in a process which would approve me to begin seeking a position within a C&MA church.  My excitement was through the roof.  In fact, a possibility to serve with another denomination came up, and my first thought was how sad I would be to not serve with the C&MA.  These were the "Tozer people."  My heart was fixed.

Dr. Meier called me and asked if I would like to have my resume sent to a church in Cleveland.  Could this be the door I had been praying and waiting for?

Read Part 10

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