My Vocational Arc

by on August 3, 2012

This post continues my thoughts from yesterday on my unfolding understanding of my calling. It is also my second day for the Write for 15 Minutes a Day challenge. (I know, I started a day late. But the point is consistency, so here goes…)

When I arrived at Reformed Theological Seminary in the summer of 2006 I thought I wanted to focus particularly on the languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic), finish my seminary degree, be ordained, and head to the mission field to translate resources for training local pastors into local languages. But that sense of calling began to shift.

The first major shift probably began in my second semester and over the next year or two. One of the wonderful things about Mississippi (and one of the hard things, too) is there are probably a hundred small, rural Presbyterian churches spread out over the state. Most of them are full of grey heads: the children grew up and moved to the city for work, and come home for (some of) the holidays. Many of these churches cannot afford to support a pastor. But there are plenty of students from the seminary who want to preach! So after I finished Intro to Ministry, I signed up for “the circuit”.

As an aside: Let me tell you, some homiletics classes are better than others, but the place you learn to preach is in the pulpit. Your prof may have some stories, but when you are only into your second of three points, you know there is a hymn and a prayer after that, and you are going to explode if you can’t go pee RIGHT NOW… You get the idea.

To make a long story short, I fell in love with preaching. There’s nothing like opening up the scriptures to God’s people and seeing them soak it in, respond, and worship the Lord together. So maybe I was being called to be a pastor, and not a missionary and translator?

Nope. Found that one out the hard way. I took a one year internship as the youth and young adult minister at a little church about half an hour from the seminary. I loved teaching Sunday school with the young adults, and preaching when the minister was away. I wrestled with holding the attention of anywhere from two to eight youth ranging in age from second grade to a high school senior (at the same time). I also found that I had absolutely no skill for the politics of working for a church—especially in dealing with the way it affected my family. I definitely have no business ever being a solo pastor. But throughout the whole period I continued to be drawn toward the teaching aspect of ministry. Surprise! I wanted to be a teacher after all.

It was toward the end of that year that I determined for certain that I wanted to continue beyond seminary and pursue a PhD in Old Testament. And since then, through further preaching, work as a teaching assistant and a language tutor, and teaching my first semester course, that sense of calling has grown.

Historically, Presbyterians have ordained ministers whose primary calling is teaching, usually in a college or seminary. Some denominations actually have a separate office of “doctor” while others simply ordain a teaching elder (i.e., minister) to “labor out of bounds” (not in regular pulpit ministry at a church in the denomination). And I’m pretty sure that’s what I want to be when I grow up.

Sorry for the abrupt ending, but that’s been more than 15 minutes, and I have a lot of work to do!!