My call to ministry, an ongoing process, started before I knew it. It started in the pews of a small, country, three-point-charge when I began helping with Vacation Bible School for the first time. It was there that I realized I loved people and would pursue numerous mission opportunities during college. I realized whatever vocation I chose, I wanted to do something that others could directly benefit from. This grew into a passion for medicine, which seemed ideal as the adults I surrounded myself with told me that I needed to “go to college to get a degree that pays well.” I did just that. In college, I cycled through majors promising good job security, local status enablers, and money. Medicine was not the answer, but I finally landed on packaging science with a healthcare emphasis; it would enable me to make money and have enough interaction with people that would “scratch that itch.”
My junior year of college, I returned home for a break. I attended the same local church I grew up in and naturally wanted to catch everyone up on my life plans. By that time, I was fixed on packaging science and wanted to one day retire as a professor. While speaking with my pastor after a service, I explained my current life plan, to which he seemed to disregard and reply, “Have you ever considered ministry? I could see you there.” I replied “Certainly not” but did not know that his question would be a ticking time bomb that would come to shape me into who I am today.
After I returned to school and continued to reflect on his question, it seemed very clear to me that I was not called to ministry. From my perspective, being a pastor would not afford me status, a fancy house, and certainly not the luxury car I hoped to have. I dismissed the idea completely.
The same summer, I stayed at school to do an internship with Clemson, during which time I was looking for a new church. I stumbled upon a United Methodist Church looking for a keyboard player to begin playing in their new, modern worship service. I auditioned and made it. I quickly became involved with the church and began seeing ministry from a very different perspective than before – being that the pastoral staff and music staff worked pretty closely. I loved taking a leadership role and being a part of the worship experience. While I had served the local church in other ways before, none were quite as experiential or transformative as serving in the worship band.
Our new service launched and while listening to the sermon one Sunday, it came across my mind that I not only enjoyed doing ministry but would love to do it for a living. I was taken back and could not believe what I had just thought. I told my new pastor immediately and my ministry discernment process, as I knew it, began. I continued meeting with her on a regular basis and asked a lot of questions that seemed to prompt more questions. “Should I be a pastor? Should I go into music ministry?” I needed answers.
Time went on and before I knew it, it was spring break and I was on a mission trip to Denver, Colorado, with Clemson Wesley, to engage in a social justice ministry within homeless communities. During my time in Denver I received a Facebook message from a local church pastor, Jenn Williams, in my hometown stating that she knew (also from Facebook) I had expressed an interest in ministry. She wanted to extend an offer for me to discern that call over the summer while working as an intern with the church she serves. I happily agreed and made Ashley Ridge Church my new ministry home during my last summer break as an undergraduate.
During my time with Ashley Ridge Church, I gained experience leading others, listening more attentively, and figuring out just what it is that pastors do other than preach sermons on Sunday morning. As I found, it’s a lot. I was able to gain instant satisfaction through tasks I completed. Because I am pursuing a design related major, I was able to do some graphics work for the church while working closely with those who led different areas of ministry within. I was able to hear their stories about their spiritual journeys and what led them to want to be leaders in the church. I was able to work with the student ministry to experience the eagerness that youth-aged people have to learn more about their faith. I worked side-by-side with the lead pastor to pilot some of the daily tasks that make the church function. All of these experiences contributed to my love for ministry and my desire to equip people to lead; but my favorite part had yet to come.
After having an opportunity to preach a sermon on measuring up to the world – about halfway through the internship – things really started to piece themselves together. I knew I loved working behind the scenes to make the Sunday service possible and preparing leaders from the backend, but I didn’t know if people would be as receptive of me as a leader preaching to the congregation. I preached the sermon and it was one of the most transformative moments of my life. When I had finished, the congregation bombarded me with praise. They made it clear that they believed my ministry – both behind the scenes and as the “sermon giver” – was far from complete.
Growing up in a small country church, it was the people who gave me love and helped me realize my love for Christ. Years later, it is the people who continue to foster my love for ministry and allow me to put worldly views of money and status aside to pursue ministry as my vocation. I believe that in the local church, leaders, both natural and made, are equipped to love and serve the world.
I love to watch people grow in their spiritual journeys and realize that God is with them all the time – even when they don’t think they deserve it. One of the most fundamental ways I find that people are able to realize this, as I was able to learn this summer, is through their relationships with other people who claim Christ as Lord of their lives. In Donald Thorsen’s book, Calvin vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice, he mentions that our view of God and what is possible through God, despite our own thoughts, is cultivated through the relationships we pursue. If we preach that people can establish a relationship with Jesus Christ despite what goes on in their lives, then “there [should be] no question about God’s ability to accomplish all that God intends to do in creation and among people.” I believe that God intends to reach all people through creation and relationships with one another. This further motivates me to pursue a vocation in ministry. As I prepare for this vocation, I yearn to pursue a formal education, and gather tools that will enable me to prepare other people in the local church for the transformation of the world through the way they live their day-to-day lives, showing them what love is in the same way that Christ loves the church.
So here I go. Duke Divinity is only a few months away and I couldn’t be more excited to meet more and new people who want to see the world as best as it can be. I’ve learned not to make plans so my post-seminary outlook is a blur, but I am sure that wherever I find myself, wherever God leads me, will be beautiful and well worth the ride.