In my heritage, people aren’t called to preach, unless they receive a phone call from an elder somewhere. We typically avoid any “Spirit” kind of talk so that we aren’t confused with any charismatic, pentecostal, or holiness churches. To be honest with you, though, I do not know how to describe my desire to preach other than a calling. I haven’t heard any small, still voices. I haven’t talked to any angels or seen a burning bush. But there has been a fire in my belly, a drive, a push for years that I don’t think can be explained in any natural terms.
I don’t just desire to preach, I need to.
When I go a long time without writing, speaking, or teaching a class of some kind, I don’t know what to do with myself. Recently a class I teach was cancelled for the holidays, and I thought to myself, “Man, I really needed that.”
I’ve known this about myself for years. I gave my first sermon when I was a teenager. It was ten-minute or so lesson on baptism and living faithfully. My brother and another friend did talks on the other four “steps of salvation.” Ever since then, I’ve had this drive to study, read, and teach the Bible.
Whether in pursuit of money or a desire to please my family, I went to Auburn University in the Fall of 2011. I did poorly in school. I guess I could attribute that to various things like video games, hanging out with my friends, or laziness, but none of those is the exact truth. I wasn’t lazy; I just wasn’t interested.
Despite not studying very much for school, I was involved in plenty of Bible study. I read several books on the Holy Spirit, did word studies, wrote and preached sermons at a country church, and conducted and attended numerous Bible studies. There was nothing wrong with my work ethic except for where it was focused.
During this time I suffered from major clinical depression. I was undiagnosed then, but would be diagnosed with it a few years later. I really was miserable. I knew that I could ace all of my classes. I knew I had the potential to win scholarships and have a great career, but I just had zero motivation. It was something I could do, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
Towards the end of 2012, I was reading in Ecclesiastes when it hit me. None of the classes I was taking, paying for with student loans, and beating myself up over mattered. All was vanity, which probably went into the name of my first website: labornotinvain.com. During this time I also met someone very special, my wife Laura.
When I told her I wanted to be a minister, she had an interview lined up for me within a week or so. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags and headed to Birmingham.
At the Argo Church of Christ, I started off making about $600 a month, so I picked up a cashier job at Wal-Mart. That Fall, I started school at a community college. My schedule during the week was to go to school from 8AM to 3PM, work from 4:30PM-12:30AM, and preach two sermons on Sundays. I also taught a teenage class during that time.
Needless to say, I had no time for any kind of revolutionary study or discoveries. Most of my study time was for my sermons since there wasn’t time for much of anything else.
One Wednesday night, I was driving home from Bible class when I was that a church near my home had just ended their services. People were out in the parking lot talking, and only one thought was going through my mind: all of those people are lost.
You see, in my heritage, not only are people not called to preach, but everyone else outside of it is headed straight to Hell. God has a torture chamber prepared for people who use instruments in the corporate assembly, have women preachers, and disagree with us on baptism. Praise be to God that I’ve changed, but there are still hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, and more than that all over the world, who think that way in my heritage and others.
I pulled over in my car, walked up to a group of smiling people about my age, and asked them where their pastor was. They pointed me towards his office, so off I went.
I had the answers. He didn’t. And if I didn’t get them to him, then him and his entire church would die and go to Hell.
The conversation didn’t go well. He asked who sent me, so I quoted Mark 16:15 and said the Lord sent me. Our short discussion ended, and I went home defeated and worried for the souls of that church.
I had several similar meetings during those first few years. I met with faith healers, pastors, and fellow college students. The entire time I was convinced that I was on the narrow way to Heaven while they were going to H-E-double-hockey-sticks. In fact, I named my first radio program “The Narrow Way.”
After two years of working with the Argo Church of Christ, my home congregation offered me a full-time job. Those first two months were perfect.
During that time I seriously thought that I could answer any Bible question. I really did believe that I had everything right. I was excited, on fire for God, and on fire for the mainstream Church of Christ. I was attending gospel meetings, singings, and handing out flyers for Bible studies. Everything was perfect.
“Show us how we’re wrong about the Bible and we will change!”
I heard this or something like it all the time growing up. Unfortunately, this is usually said as a way to initiate a Bible conversation with the assumption that we have everything figured out anyways. The idea that we would ever change our mind would mean admitting the possibility that we could be wrong. When you believe that being wrong about the Bible means going to a custom-made torture chamber, change doesn’t come easy.
Believing that you have it all figured out is quite comfortable. There are no variables, no opinions, just “the truth.” All questions are answered easily, and there aren’t any questions you can ask that haven’t been adequately answered by the great preachers of the past. After all, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Living this way works for a time, but it makes personal growth almost impossible. There is a certain range in which you are allowed to grow, but if you exceed that, you potentially lose your place in the tribe or your income if you are a minister. So not only is personal growth limited, it is basically discouraged.
In environments like these, you are told that you really only need to read the Bible, but you can also read books published by authors from within your tribe. The problem with this is that nobody only reads the Bible. You carry to it your assumptions about how the Bible works, methods of interpretation, and presuppositions. Not to mention all of your life experiences. (Have you heard “Command, Example, and Necessary Inference” lately?)
When you study the Bible, every sermon you’ve heard, Bible class you’ve attended, and even the songs you have sung act as a filter through which you read the Scripture.
So what moves one from stability to the next stage, discontinuity? One of those filters has to be removed. This can come through intense study, new experiences, or times of great loss or great love. I’m sure there are other factors, but these are the ones I am most familiar with as you will learn.
When I heard that saying “show us where we’re wrong and we will change,” I believed it. Those who have taken that route knows where it leads, but for those who don’t, you’ll have to wait until the next post!