It has been ten years since I graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). I have not yet served in any professional ministry. At various times, family and friends have asked, “Are you a pastor yet? When are you going to serve the Lord?”
The question is a difficult one to hear. The church that sent me to seminary paid for my first semester. My wife worked under a difficult boss so that I could finish my MDiv. Did I attend seminary for nothing. Did I take advantage of people for the sake of knowledge? Did I pour myself into my theological studies and research for naught? No.
Who says that I’m not?
Although I have not been employed in a paid professional ministry, I have not been idle. I have been a leader for the Wednesday Chapel services at the Kentucky State Police Records and Technology Branch. I have served as a substitute Sunday School teacher. I have done pulpit supply. I have shared the Gospel with several coworkers. I have been an accountability partner with an addict whose marriage was falling apart. I have not been idle. The real question is why I am not in a professional ministry. There are a few reasons why I am not yet serving in that capacity.
Some Churches Want to Die
During the first six years after graduating from SBTS, I was actively looking for a pastorate or assistant pastorate. Only a handful of churches contacted me. The following is a phone interview that I had with one of those churches.
COMMITTEE CHAIR: Mr. Hunt, we are a small church wanting to grow. What can you do to grow our church?
ME: That is a difficult question to answer without knowing the community in which your church resides. Could you tell me about your city?
COMMITTEE CHAIR: On the outskirts of town is a prison…
ME: OK! We can have a prison ministry reaching out…
COMMITTEE CHAIR: Oh no! We don’t want those people.
ME: Well. What else can you tell me about your town?
COMMITTEE CHAIR: We have a College…
ME: Great! We can have a student ministry reachi…
COMMITTEE CHAIR: Absolutely not! We don’t want those kids messing up our sanctuary.
ME: OK. Ummm? What can you tell me about the neighborhood surrounding your church?
COMMITTEE CHAIR: Well, most of our congregation moved out when those blacks took over the neighborhood.
ME: (thinking to myself: I could mention the ministry opportunity, but I already know their response. What they really want is a nursing home ministry to old white men.) I am not sure I am the right person for your church.
Although this was an extreme example from one church, others with which I interviewed had similar desires to grow without wanting to reach out to anyone but those in the nursing home. This is not to say that the elderly do not need the gospel; however, nursing home ministry does not grow an already aging and dying church population.
Some Churches Want to Disqualify for Disability
For the first two years out of seminary, I was a member of a small church plant. I thought that the elders would be happy to make use of my seminary training. I asked for opportunities to serve. I was allowed to teach a few Sunday Schools and a single Wednesday night Bible study. Yet, opportunities to serve dried up. The women of the congregation stopped inviting my wife to their gatherings. A month or so before we left the church, one of the elders approached us saying that our daughter Millie was a problem. Our daughter has autism. The church considered her disability a burden that they were not willing to bear. For the next few weeks, we heard the sermon alone in a back room with a speaker. We felt neglected and rejected by the church. It is difficult to enter ministry when you are disqualified by your daughter’s disability.
Some Churches Don’t Like The Theology I Hold
During an interview, one particular church committee asked me the date and time I was saved. I replied that I did not know a specific time or date, but that I came to know the Gospel between 1991 and 1993. The committee asked when it was that I “walked the aisle.” I replied that I didn’t walk an aisle. I was able to give a date for my baptism, which was in 1998; however, the committee concluded that I had never been saved because I didn’t do anything at a particular time and place.
The last church to contact me regarding a ministry position asked me to introduce myself on a Wednesday night. I shared my testimony on that night. I told how God saved me from slavery to works, law, and sin to freedom in Christ. It was not by the works I had done, nor by obedience to law, but by God’s grace that I was saved. Now, rather than trying to save myself, I trust in the salvation Jesus Christ has given. I told them that I now seek to obey Christ out of love, joy, and thankfulness for His salvation. I was met by confused stares. A week later, I met with the senior pastor. He asked me if I was a “calvinistic.”
I asked him what he meant by the term, because various people hold different views as to what a Calvinist is. I did not want to admit guilt to a false charge. He was concerned that I didn’t believe in evangelism. I tried to assure him that he had no cause for concern. A week later, I was told that they hired a young woman for the job. They told me that they thought I was too young in the faith. At the time, I had been a Christian for twenty years.
For the first six of those twenty years, I would have been welcomed at most churches. I was originally a Pelagian, believing that the nature of man is good, and that the will of man is entirely free. As I continued to read the Bible, my beliefs changed. I switched to being a Semi-Pelagian, believing mans’ nature to be evil, but the will free enough to initiate faith in God and His ways. I then made the switch to Arminianism, believing man’s nature to be evil, and the will only able to initiate faith after the intervention of God’s Holy Spirit. The more I read the Bible, the more convinced I was that the nature of humanity was evil and the will enslaved to its evil desires. The more convinced I was of the true nature of humanity, the more I realized that its only hope was the mercy and grace of God. It was six years of reading and wrestling with scripture that led me to accept the Reformed view known as Calvinism.
Many of the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention that are in need of a pastor or associate pastor believe Calvinism to be either an error or a heresy. It is difficult to enter the ministry when people think you are a heretic.
Discouragement and Personal Responsibility
I could blame any number of circumstances for not being in a ministry position. Yet, I bear some blame. I have no excuse. At some point I just gave up applying for ministry positions. I let myself become discouraged. Taking a bi-vocational ministry and a full-time job (sixty to eighty hours per week of work) would most likely result in neglect of my family. I was not willing to take on such a risk. Instead, I focused on providing for my family. I learned new work skills that I may be a better provider for my family. It is my duty to be faithful as a husband, as a parent, as an employee, as a church member, and as an ambassador of the grace of God through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. In these endeavors, may I be found faithful to the calling of ministry.
“We should learn to be despised, learn to be condemned, learn to be slandered, and then we shall learn to be made useful by God.” -Charles Haddon Spurgeon