When I was somewhere around 5 years old, my older brother took me to the back room of my grandma and grandpa’s house and led me through the “sinner’s prayer.” We came out of the room very excited that day and as I think back to it I can’t help but chuckle a little. Did we really have any idea what we were doing? Did we know what we were getting ourselves into?
I tell you that story to simply show you that the Christian faith, church-going, and American evangelicalism were all norms for me at a very young age. However, knowing and experiencing Christ were not!
I grew up in the church, in fact, the Sunday after I was born I was in a church service. When I became a teenager, I started to see and even feel things I didn’t like or appreciate. I started to see a divided, segregated group of people, gathering together on Sunday morning and seeking to be served, fed, and in some ways even pampered. At the time, I thought the problem was everyone else (and by that, I mean the “old” people). I was wrong! In many ways, this too was my expectation – I came to church services as a consumer seeking commodities.
Many years of viewing and consuming “church” in this way left me disgruntled and disappointed. I had a sour taste in my mouth and I blamed the church and especially the older generation in my home church in Arizona. At the time, I couldn’t see that much of the problem was my own.
While I was studying to become a high school math teacher, God called me to ministry, in the local church. I fought that call, hard! I finished my math degree and decided that I needed theological and pastoral training if I was going to be a pastor. So, I enrolled at Nazarene Theological Seminary and entered their MDiv program. I also got involved with a non-profit organization that ministered to families in the urban core of Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, KS. I begin to think that I could answer my call to ministry through para-church organizations like the one I was working with – but it didn’t take long for that to change.
Every student enrolled in the MDiv program at NTS, and any seminary most likely must take Biblical Hermeneutics. The professor of the class, also the dean of students at the time, required a personal interview with every student throughout the course of the semester. When I met with him I began to tell him my story and my plan for ministry. When I told him I wasn’t planning on being a pastor in a local church he stopped the interview, looked me in the eyes, and asked a question that God used to change the trajectory of my life and ministry. He said, “You are going to graduate from this seminary with a Masters of Divinity. If you do not pastor, who will?”
His point wasn’t to say that you must complete graduate-level work to answer your call to be a pastor. His point was that I was completing graduate-level work to answer my call to ministry, but was not willing to answer that call because of my poor conception and feeling towards the local church.
That conversation and many others about the Church of Jesus Christ changed the way I understood my call and my future in the local church. The Church started to look more like the Body of Christ, albeit often with some broken bones and torn ligaments, than a cultural marketplace. It started to become a sanctuary for sinners, a place for the sick and wounded – a place for me. I started to see the beauty of the Church universal, but also the local church, even my own: the church I grew up in, the church that fostered my call to ministry, the church that taught me the tenants of the Christian faith.
In his book, Josiah mentions a kind of turning point in his ministry and life. It was a turning to this realization, in his words, of course, “Maybe I like the church?” This post outlined my turning point, but I would go even farther than my good friend. God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has shown me that God has, from the foundation of time, been and is still forming and shaping a people – as Paul often called them: God’s holy people. And God has given me a heart for these people! I love the Church! I need the Church! We all do!