It was when I began attending First English Lutheran Church in Peoria, Illinois that my faith was rekindled and I began to have a passion for Christ and His message that I had not previously experienced. The birth of my children left me in awe of what God can accomplish through mere humans. My pastor, James Lillie, suggested I began serving as the assistant minister during services, a role I was humbled to be asked to fill and one I continue to embrace.
One Sunday when Pastor Lillie was absent, we had a synodically authorized minister serve as a supply pastor. (A synodically authorized minister — or SAM — is a fancy name for a lay minister. It’s someone who has gone through some formal training and has been given permission by the bishop to perform services.) After church that day, I asked him about how he had come to perform this role and what was necessary for someone like me to do it. Roughly three years later, I had completed the synodically authorized minister program, preached my first sermon, and learned how much I loved proclaiming God’s grace to others.
It was around this time that I began to feel a tug on my heart towards ministry. I tried to ignore it initially, thinking it was just residual excitement from delivering a sermon, but it never went away for long. On Mother’s day of 2016, I was the supply pastor at First English for all three Sunday services. I received many accolades from my fellow congregants, several joking that we should halt our pastoral call process because they would like me to fill the role.
When I returned home that afternoon, I had a feeling I had never experienced. I was energized, in awe of the Holy Spirit working through me in those hours, and felt the pull towards ministry in a much stronger way. This feeling again, I tried to attribute to my own excitement and not of God trying to encourage me. But this intense feeling did not go away either.
Thinking I was half-crazy, I sat down with my wife one night and told her about the feelings I was having. I thought she would be able to help me rationalize them away. After all, I have a great job at a Fortune 50 company, a nice private technology consultancy, a mortgage on a home (in which I had just invested a significant amount of money), and four children ages eight and under who we still needed to raise and provide for. Surely, she would help me see how illogical this was and put this idea to bed.
However, that was not to be the case. I could barely finish speaking when she jumped in. “I’ve been feeling the same thing! I hadn’t said anything about it because I thought you would just dismiss it, but yes! I can’t believe you brought this up. I really feel that God is pulling you in this direction and that God is giving me the will to encourage you in this.”
Again, being a very pragmatic person, I suggested we not make any rash decisions and instead continue to think and pray on it and determine whether or not this was really what we both thought (and knew deep down) it was. When neither of us felt differently a few weeks later, I called Pastor Lillie and asked to meet.
Once I had explained to him this same story, he smiled and said, “Yep. That’s it. It won’t leave you alone and the only way you can satisfy it is to listen and follow.” We discussed some of the mechanics of pastoring a congregation—the typical workday, the responsibilities, the trials, the blessings. The following month, I would have similar conversations with others at my synod’s annual assembly. (A synod is kind of like a district of churches.)
In early August, I attended a synod candidacy meeting. For the most part, this meeting helped me to solidify my position that this pursuit was something I should continue. However, I did feel a very strong hardening of my heart when we discussed how graduating seminarians are “assigned” to synods and then “told” where they’ll be going for their first call. I am a very independent person and have been for my entire life. It really sat wrong with me to think that I would not dictate whether or not I move, sell my home (which will have a significant financial impact on my family, as I will never get out of it what I have invested in it), and leave my community on the whim of someone I don’t know.
Frankly, I felt pretty pleased with myself about this. I think deep down I was happy I had finally found something to silence the voice I heard calling me to ministry, something that would overpower it—my desire for independence, control, and financial well-being. If some bishop thought they were going to dictate my life, well, that person had another thing coming. Finally, permission to put this silly idea to bed and continue down the familiar path I was already on in my career and my life, even if it were a path I was not particularly thrilled with either. At least it was “the devil I knew.”
Then one of the pastors at the meeting made the following comment: “Keep in mind, this discernment process should be somewhat challenging. There will be aspects you find difficult, that produce doubt. You’ll receive comments from people that are both affirmative and discouraging. Discernment is weighing these things and it should not, and will not, be easy if done correctly.”
I thought about all of this as I went home that Saturday afternoon and discussed it with my wife. I prayed about it and waited. For a little over a week, I thought I had reached the end of this path. I remember thinking one afternoon as I was taking a walk, “Oh, it was something fun and interesting to consider. A neat little fantasy that allowed me to imagine taking a completely different path than the one I am on. But alas, it has concluded, because I’m dead set against moving, the financial repercussions, and upheaval this could cause in my life.”
I was so close.
And then it returned.
“Oh, ‘ye of little faith.’ Do you really think that God would lead you into something that was awful? There’s a whole world out there, most of which you know little to nothing about. Do you not think God has a wonderful plan for you? Your family has already said they were willing to take the chance—why aren’t you? Because of moving? No, because of selling your home—that’s what it is. Poor little rich man, afraid to take the risk—to sacrifice something of worldly value for something that could be so. Much. BIGGER. There’s a story about you—don’t you remember? About the rich man who wanted to follow Jesus but couldn’t give up his worldly goods and went away sad for it?”
Yes, I remember.
“Well then—where is your faith? Is your faith in your home, in your financial position? Or is it in the God who blessed you with all these things and has so many more wonders in store for you if you would just listen and follow?”
My faith is in God.
“Then go on this journey. It’s not a ‘drop everything today’ journey. But come and learn, and see, and understand what is waiting for you. Will it be an easy path with butterflies and rainbows every day? No. But is your life like that now? Of course not. This is an opportunity for a life that is rich in spirit, serving God and serving others. That question you ask yourself, “What is it that I do in my profession that actually makes a difference in the lives of others?” It’s one that frustrates you because the answer is often, “little or nothing.” You know that this new path will be all about making a difference in people’s lives. You have already experienced the satisfaction and happiness generated from serving other people and serving God—making it your life will be so much more fulfilling than you can imagine.”
Yes, it will.
And there it is—after having doubts and trying to drown out the call I was feeling, it was back and stronger than it had ever been. Between the inner call I feel in my heart and the amazing amount of encouragement I have received from others, I truly feel that God has put this on my heart for a reason. It’s still veiled, but I can understand some of it—enough to know I need to pursue it.
In September 2016, I began the formal candidacy process in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and on December 14, 2016, I was accepted into Luther Seminary’s Distributed Learning program.
The journey continues.