Thursday, April 6, 2017

On Leaving Ministry

I remember the first inkling I had directing me towards ministry. I shared it with my then high school sweet heart, who chastised me for it. My plans were law and hers were pharmacy. For five years, we had our eye on success. Why was that changing now? This inkling directed my life for years to come and never in quite the way I expected.

The largest changes were relational, but they were all driven by an educational change. I at some point was in love with my high school sweet heart, but that changed around the same time I locked horns with ministry. Her day dreams were us moving to a local state college and living together. This sort of forethought was lost on me completely. It may have been escapism that drove me to apply only for a private Christian school near by. This was the inevitable break. All romance was lost in that relationship, and the symptoms of that blight appeared quickly. Childhood versions of infidelity came from both directions and the wounds were this time unable to mend. No one wanted to mend them. There wasn't love there any more.

Yet, I have never been a person really outside of the context of a committed relationship. In this I over valued them. Every woman who batted an eyelash was meant to be. I'd miss the bit were relationships could be just for fun, poking at pretending to build skills for later life. In my mind, I was already the final version of me. I felt I needed to build a flawless version of myself outwardly, while knowing it isn't possible internally. No one else had this void of wisdom. On this canvas, I painted my birthing into training for ministry. I made friends, deepened a relationship with a close cousin, and lounged around in the arrogance that studying for ministry can coddle. As many young men, I was a plaguingly wrought combination of insecurity and invincible pride. Studying what those around me considered to be a fount of truth made this insufferable to others. I knew this, and it was a source of anxiety. I did not know how to handle that anxiety. I retreated into other religion majors, but still there I lapsed into arrogance even among those who were my academic superiors. I searched for a niche in response.

I found that niche in the study of language. Now, I was by no means the best language student so there again I search for a sub-niche among the only 3 students who studied Greek and Hebrew to the same degree as me. I found this in reading and writing about the almost dead walking field of textual criticism. The field was academically dominated by the monolith of Bruce Metzger. His academic heir apparent had retreated from the struggle of Christianity and was thus isolated from Christian Academics. The field was left unclothed in a wash of ever more exegesis focused academics in the vein of N.T. Wright rather than the historical context of the late 20th century. I however loved it, in a deep legitimate way. Unseen to me was that I was now a middling undergraduate forcing a specialization in a dead field with no graduate programs. Thus I was left with only one option, seminary. Anyone who knows me will attest I am not outwardly meant for ministry. Those who know me well will say I had a particular gift for it, but only out of kindness and the fact that they are the rare few who stuck through the process of making friends with me. I am not that harsh now, but I certainly was then. Maybe I still am, but my new glasses don't work as well as I think they do.

I interviewed for Seminary from the two principle choices presented to us as students at my university. They were both from the same brand of Baptist Orthodoxy pretending to be rebellious because we were slightly less right leaning than the older class. Some associates of mine were in fact quite liberal, others imagined themselves to be, others went to Southern Seminary. Between Truett and McAfee school of Theology, I chose McAfee largely because I thought it would give me some space to develop outside of the well wrought clique of colleagues in college. Throwing away stability and moving across the country is generally a mistake. There is no clarity for me on how life would have gone attending Truett rather than McAfee. I can however, that I did not have an experience of a life time. It had nothing to do with the institution, but the quality of peers. I am sure they were fine people, but they were draining to me. Mostly in their similarity to me, the constant hounding on pet causes drove me crazy. The academic were very close to my undergrad, and so I was not stimulated. I had no great love for my peers or professors.

I knew but couldn't say it, it was not for me.

In light of that, I accepted a youth ministry position when I arrived at McAfee. I had worked with youth in the summer, and I loved working with youth. That was the first glimmer of my real passion in life. I still thought it was dusty Greek. I love the kids, and I love to teach them. I enjoyed planning camps and activities. I was wonderful at building relationships and teaching. From most warm fuzzy approaches to ministry I was on the ball. I did not however understand that Church Politics was quite like any other sort of politics.

When a new head minister was hired they expected church growth. The only program that grew was my youth program. Money does not grow on youthful trees and parents do not always follow their children to church. Salaries are not easy budgets to cut for ministers already deep in their career as they do to seminarians. Everyone makes mistakes, but mine more often had me thrown under a bus. This was more stones on a tired back. I wanted to do anything else but this.

I am not sure what it was, but when my youth budget was cut I broke and resigned. I told my wife we had to move back to my home town. I dragged my little young family through a terribly discouraging time of working shifts and have to transfer graduate schools.

Life doesn't always have a grand cause to shift. Sometimes it is self hate, depression, and lost. I could not have been much closer to God's institution on earth. I could not have been farther from where God planned me to be. I could not have been farther from God.

I wasn't much closer to God managing my family's restaurant, but I was relieved of terrible pressures. In being close to family, my life was filled with relationships. I didn't even know they had been missing. My brothers, my father, my mother, they were all back with me. Managing a restaurant alienates you from those you interact with. Furthermore, being a "educated" person alienates you further from those who you work with.

I was soundly out of calling, but I needed another one. It was a blink that I thought I would go to education. There was nothing that seemed in my past to suit it except wanting to work with Middle Grade children again. I researched programs for getting a teaching license and the nearest college had a deadline that night. I submitted all of the materials then and there. I interviewed the next week and I was accepted.

I am nearing the end of my first year of teaching. I find hundred of opportunities a week to love other people. That's all Jesus asked me to do in the first place before the Greek, the classes on Prophets, and thinking I had personal growth. That was all he asked me to do. Funny thing is, it also makes me happy.

I left the ministry, and I found my calling.

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