This post has been a long time coming. Many have asked over the last nine months why I stopped going to seminary, stepped down from vocational ministry, and went into the business world. My answer is neither extremely easy or simple. But I will try to lay it out there as concisely and straightforwardly as possible.
I first went into vocational ministry as an interim music minister in Paducah when I was twenty years old. I filled that position for sixteen months until a godly man was found to take over permanently. Incidentally, this took place a month before Court and I packed ourselves up to move to Louisville for seminary. Within a month of relocating, I accepted the position of music and media director at a church thirty minutes from the seminary. So, there I was: a young seminary student, eager to learn and serve in ministry to others. But what I know now that I didn’t know then was how stained by sin I was (and still am, really). I hid the fact that one of the reasons I wanted to go to seminary was so that I could be the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree. I hid the fact that my desire to “minister” was really a desire to appear wise and holy before a bunch of people who “obviously” weren’t as smart as me. The only thing I was ministering to was my sinfulness.
But I didn’t realize this at the time. I very, very foolishly had a high opinion of myself and the giftings God had given me. It took a year and a half for me to begin to feel the rising levels of bitterness and discontentedness in my heart. This, I’m sure, wasn’t helped by working midnights on the side, but I simply used that as my excuse. I became quite convinced that there was something missing in my life and I finally began to see what it was, beginning with a conference I attended. What was I missing? Christ and him crucified. To put it starkly, I saw in myself a pitiful faith that didn’t look to Christ, but looked to and depended on myself.
Over the next months, I discovered more and more this horrible pattern in my life. Yet, sadly, instead of humbling me and growing my faith, I became even more arrogant because I thought I knew what was really going on. So, I became even angrier, which showed itself in decreasing love for others and an extremely divisive spirit. After seeing myself grow worse and after a rather terrible experience (brought about by my own actions, by the way), I realized that my lack of faith and flat-out spiritual immaturity disqualified me from being in any kind of leadership position in a church. I knew that I had no business doing what I was doing. So, I announced my intention to step down because of my great pride and immaturity. I remember one gentleman whom I respect greatly telling me that the heart I had expressed in my announcement demonstrated that I should be in ministry, because my actions showed humility and a heart that could lead others. I know what he meant, but I knew that even if my actions had been humble, it was only the tip of the iceberg regarding the sinful tendencies that shrouded me. I saw that I was young, both in spiritual immaturity and actual years. I saw that I had only the smallest sliver of faith where my faith should have trusted and thanked God for every single thing in my life. I saw that I was much more concerned with my glory than his glory.
As for seminary, I realized that my problems were spiritual in nature and I needed spiritual healing. Though seminary offers many great things, it is only an academic institution. It is not a church. And it is not a place for spiritual growth. That can happen, but that’s not what it really does. I didn’t need to learn more stuff–I needed King Jesus. So, I stopped. Besides, I was just really tired of school and I was doing terribly because of it. So, it just seemed to be a good time given all the circumstances at the time.
So, what was the new plan with no “ministry” and no seminary? Well, basically the same as it is now. First, to become a Christian in the fullest sense of that noble name–not a seminary student or a minister or a pastor or a husband or a father. I wanted to gladly and palpably wear Christ. Second, to learn how to minister without “the ministry.” You may have noticed that I put “Left the Ministry” in quotation marks in the title. That’s because every Christian ministers. Every Christian serves. And so, we’re trying to learn how to serve and minster without a title or a paycheck. Third, to grow in faith in the only thing worth having faith in: God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith is our only door to a righteousness that makes us right with God. Faith is the only thing that will get us through any circumstance, whether high or low. To put it differently, I needed to learn how to trust moment by moment in the cross of Christ. I needed to learn that any good work I did was a good work prepared beforehand by God in me and for me to do. I needed to see each time I tried to prove myself, I was showing that I wasn’t really proving Christ. I needed to learn what it means to love those that hate me or think little of me, to love the “sinners” all around me. Fourth, I needed to know what it meant to be a “normal” Christian. My Christianity had been defined by my status as a seminarian or a minister. I needed to see if I could be a Christian in the place where most Christians exist: the real world. I’ll talk a little bit more about that tomorrow
Well, I may have left some stuff out. And I may have explained some things badly. This is a difficult thing for me to write, because it still strikes my heart. I’m ashamed of myself. If you were there for any of what I described, then please forgive me. But I hope you’ll see that this is just me exposing my heart to you. And I hope it answers some questions some of you may have had.
Still, some of you may think that I did the wrong thing. If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts because I’m convinced it was exactly what was needed. Either way, no church needed someone like me leading it. And no seminary class was going to fix my cold heart. It’s down to me and Jesus (which includes, by the way, his body–thank God for Sojourn Church!). And I’m praying that he’ll change me to make me like him.