I established last post that the very fact that you’re reading this is a testimony to God’s grace on multiple levels. If you haven’t read that post yet, you’ll want to just to have some context for this one.
At the age of 17, in 2003, I began helping co-lead our Youth Ministry at the First Baptist Church of Perryville, AR (under the supervision of adult volunteers of course). The creative name we came up with for our group was SPAM: Simple Praise, Active Ministry. Turns out, too much of the theology I held to in those days was a lot like potted meat: cheap, and not providing the nourishment one needs to sustain all of life.
This manifested itself in my understanding of the Christian life as individualistic and mystic. I had too high a view of man and too low a view of God. While I never abandoned the local church, in the coming years, the flesh once again got too many victories over me, and I seemed to be on track to be a perpetually immature Christian (which isn’t really a thing, is it?). But I am reminded as I write this that it was God who began the work, and He wasn’t quite finished. (and still isn’t! – Philippians 1:6)
In 2005, I had joined another local church in Oppelo, AR in part to assist my future brother-in-law with the youth group there. The following May he ‘coincidentally’ resigned, and I took over as the fill-in youth pastor. That summer (2006), having just turned 20 years old, I officially told my pastor and the church that I felt as though I should pursue vocational ministry. I was already 2 years in at Arkansas Tech University to become a football coach and history teacher.
Thankfully, my Pastor counseled me to finish my degree, but he also did something else: He (amazingly!) let me preach on a few initial Sunday mornings and evenings (Here’s to you Gene Tanner! Thank you). Through those awkward sermons, the Lord used the church to confirm to me that I should pursue ministry.
So, I told the Lord I was committed to serving Him, I wouldn’t go to seminary, and I wouldn’t ever be a pastor since I just wanted to be a Youth Pastor. I foolishly thought He took the deal. First Baptist Church of Oppelo, AR officially called me as youth pastor in September of 2006.
During my first youth pastor days, my wife and I were married (November, 2006), and she gave birth to our firstborn in December of 2007. It was also during those days that I had a friend in the church go off to Bible College. He would come back periodically and challenge me (in a good way) on passages of Scripture. He wouldn’t let me get by with “I just think” or “I feel”. He was always asking “But what does the Bible say?” I was already routinely teaching Wednesday night classes, Sunday School, and preaching occasionally, so I was regularly invovled with the Bible. The problem was that I was too often speaking for it, instead of letting it speak. All of this combined to make me think that maybe I should go to Seminary, and I also began to be more committed to reading the Bible personally instead of just for the ‘next lesson’.
We tried everything we could to go to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX simply because it was the closest SBC Seminary to us. I sent résumés, talked with people on the phone, prayed, but nothing happened. One day I randomly found out there was a Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY which wasn’t too far away either. So, I filled out some information on a website one afternoon in the Tech library and sort of forgot about it, until I got a call from a church in the Louisville area needing a youth pastor! My wife and I were simultaneously excited and terrified. Long story short, we moved to Taylorsville, KY in June of 2008, not realizing what God had in store for us.
I knew basically nothing about the Seminary. I know that’s hard to believe now (if you know me at all), but I didn’t really know Dr. Mohler, the conservative resurgence — anything. Most of my friends find this astonishing, as do I! This was one of the best seminaries out there, and I went, not because I wanted to, but because that’s where a small rural church needed a youth pastor.
Oh the sweet providence of God!
I was clueless and just a country bumpkin moving to the big city with my Bible and my little family. I was way overconfident in my own knowledge and abilities in those days.
Prior to knowing anything about Louisville, my Bible college buddy and I had found out about reformed theology, and we used to make fun of people who believed in predestination. The only exposure we’d really had to the doctrine was in High School U.S. History when we discussed the Salem Witch Trials and those crazy Puritans who believed that God actually predestined people.
We wouldn’t have classified ourselves as ‘Arminians’ seeing as we weren’t aware of the term. We came up with all sorts of ideas about how salvation worked in order to get around certain verses we would encounter. We had it all figured out.
But all that was about to change in the summer and fall of 2008. Just maybe not exactly how you might expect…
I’ll pick it up there in the next post…