I recently had lunch with a guy who was one of my really good buddies growing up. He moved to Texas after college, and we lost touch shortly after that. So it’s been nearly 18 years since we’ve seen or talked to each other.
Our conversation began with a little bit of small talk, but it didn’t take long for him to jump into the topic that was of greatest curiosity to him.
“How in the world did you end up being a pastor?”
I couldn’t help but laugh – I ask myself that same question at least a week.
When somebody meets me now, all they know of me is being a pastor. It probably doesn’t seem so odd to them. But for those who grew up with me, this was quite the unusual development.
On one hand, some might say it should have been expected. I am, after all, the son of a pastor. Since age 4 I can remember little old ladies pinching my cheek and saying, “I bet you are going to be just like your dad when you grow up – you will be a great little pastor.” I would do my best to not let my feelings for them in that moment actually show on my face… you do get good at hiding your true feelings when you grow up in church. Instead, I would just politely answer, “We’ll see.”
But if you asked any of my peers if I was going to be a pastor when I grew up, they would have given a very different answer than those sweet old ladies. My peers knew the truth about me. I had deep suspicions about the institution of church from a very early age. I had a keen sense of awareness of the troubles of the world (and in my own heart), and I was skeptical about the ability of the church to be relevant to any of these.
And that was before I experienced some of the ugly, broken sides of the institution of church (a term I use lightly now, by the way, because I fully understand that the “institution” of church is nothing more than a code word for people, and people are sinful, broken, and often filled with conflicting motivations). I was part of two church splits, and both of those in particular left a tremendous mark on me.
If you’ve never been part of a church split, I truly pray that you will never have to. It’s a bizarre feeling, especially as a youngster, to lose friendships over the theological differences that the adults of that church can’t resolve . I won’t go into the details of either split, because there are so many people that I know who still carry the scars of those particular breakdowns. But the power dynamics were so severe both times that it turned into a modern, church version of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys. I couldn’t have cared less about the theological arguments at that point in my life, but that didn’t prevent me from getting swept into the bloody battle that ensued.
The result of the skepticism that I already felt, combined with the real breakdowns that I experienced, was one of resentment towards church. I am not proud of that – it’s just the truth.
So being a pastor? That was the farthest thing from my mind.
That’s why my friend was so eager to jump right to that question. “How in the world did you end up being a pastor?” When we lost touch at age 22, I was still in that skeptical, cynical, and even resentful place towards church. Now, as wee sat together for lunch, he was staring at someone who has been in pastoral ministry for 16 years. How in the world did that happen?
It just so happened that I was also in the midst of preaching at River City on the book of Ephesians. I was only a week or two away from getting to Ephesians chapter 4, which is the passage of Scripture that most singlehandedly melted away my cynicism and replaced it with a hope and desire for not only Jesus – but for the church.
I had already begun preparing that sermon, and I knew I was going to tell a lot of my story as part of the teaching on that text. It’s hard for me to even read that text without seeing my own story in it. So when my friend asked me how I ended up being a pastor, I told him about that passage, and explained the process behind how God used it to reshape my identity, my faith, and my life calling.
I told some of that same story when I preached on this at River City, and I am going to share some of it over the next few blog posts. I’m not offended if you decide to skip over the posts that tell my story (ok, maybe a little offended lol), but be sure to tune back in when I get into the passage found in Ephesians 4.1-16. It really does have some amazing, transformational truth in it. I’ll dive into more of my story tomorrow, but for now, here is the Scripture passage:
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4.1-16)